Picture this. You’re surrounded by thick English textbooks, vocabulary guides, and maybe even a dictionary. And what you started out to do with so much enthusiasm—learning new words for your competitive exam—suddenly seems extremely daunting. It seems impossible to even wade through the long, long, lists of words, much less try to swim through them. All hope is not lost, though. In this blog, we’ll give you some tried-and-tested ways of learning vocabulary (which does not involve rote learning) and a little bit of scientific information on the number of words you can attempt to learn in a day. 

How Much Is Too Much? 

Let’s start first by saying, right off the bat, that you can’t learn any words in a single day. Logically, you can’t rattle off lists of words like abyss and gossamer and laconic (These are GRE words, by the way) in a single day and expect them to stick. You may remember a word you’ve learned for an hour or the whole day, but when you try to recall it the next day, or a week later, you’ll find that it has slipped out of your memory. 

Here’s what you can do to ensure that the words you learn stay firmly fixed in your memory:

  • First, Break Down the Amount of Time You Have. Ideally, you should begin your vocabulary learning around three to six months in advance of your exam. Learning vocabulary is not a one-time activity but an ongoing process, because you have to leave enough room for revisions. Mr. Prakash Shesh, Campus Recruitment & Competitive Exam Trainer and Spoken English Coach says to perform a little mathematical exercise’: Calculate the amount of time you have and multiply it by the number of words you have, adjusting for revisions.

    Let’s say you have 100 days (around 3 months).

    Now, decide on the number of words you’re targeting to learn. Let’s take 1500, the number of words in our GRE Vocabulary Flashcards set.  

    Adjusting for 3 revisions, we get:

    Total Number of Words (1500) x Number of Revisions (3) / Number of Days (100)

    = 4500 / 100

    = 45

    This tells you that you need to learn 45 words per day. You can adjust this formula based on the number of words or flashcards you’re targeting and the amount of time you have.

    • Be Involved in the Process. Actively linking the word to something you know or are interested in will ensure that it is easier to recall. You can make flashcards if you have more time and are dedicated to a more hands-on method of learning. Rote-learning is a big NO. Instead, read through your vocabulary lists and cement the words in your mind by creating associations between the word you’re learning and what you already know. For example, you may be a movie buff and you know that ‘climax’ refers to the turning point of a movie; thus, you associate the word climactic with it. Creating such emotional associations will help you learn new words.

    • Use the Retain and Recall Method. When you encounter information for the first time, it goes into your short-term memory. The short-term memory only retains the information you’ve learned for around 15-30 minutes. After that time, the information simply ‘passes away.’ To get the information fixed in your long-term memory, you have to repeat the words systematically, which is why we provided you with the ‘formula’ above. Practice retrieving the word from your memory, by looking at the meaning and recalling the word, or vice versa. Ideally, the more you repeat the word and practice learning it in its context, the longer it will stay with you—even for a lifetime. 

    • Explore Words in their Contexts. The best way of ensuring that a word stays in your memory is to approach learning the word in its context. Writing long lists of words and poring over them will only get you so far, but delving deep into the surroundings of a word—its meaning, its part of speech, and how it works in a sentence—will help the word remain much longer in your memory, even after your GRE, IELTS, or TOEFL exam. Create sentences for the word and practice using it in everyday contexts, while speaking or writing. The next time you have to tell someone something, tell them you have an interesting anecdote instead of a story. It might surprise you how using words where it matters most—in their contexts—helps you remember them so much more easily.

    In our GRE Vocabulary Flashcards, every word has two example  sentences that perfectly convey the meaning of the word. Take a look at  the front and back section of the vocabulary word abyss:



    • Group Words in Relevant Categories. If you’re a methodical learner, learning the words in alphabetical order may feel like the right option for you, but this method is usually not recommended because it induces brain fatigue. Instead, try grouping words together by their common characteristics—you could group words like monarchy, bureaucracy, gerontocracy, and theocracy together. (These all represent political structures). Or you could group words based on their suffixes. There are many words that end in -nation, like resignation, consternation, detonation, miscegenation, etc. Another interesting way is to place words that rhyme together—like augury and vagary! Don’t these seem like better ways to learn words than just alphabetically going in order? 

    • And Lastly, Have Fun With the Words! Remember, although your aim is to learn words for your GRE, TOEFL, IELTS, or CAT exam, it doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the process of learning. Play games with the words: Word games can stimulate the brain and increase your chances of remembering the information you’re encountering. Solve crosswords in the newspaper and read up on the etymology of words you’re curious about. Watch movies in your native language with English subtitles and research the unfamiliar words you encounter. Vocabulary learning is not an easy process, but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring.

    Resources You Can Use

    THE BIG CD’s GRE Vocabulary Flashcards contain expertly-researched GRE vocabulary words put together by a team of test prep experts. These 1,500 flashcards cover the words that appear most frequently in the GRE, CAT, TOEFL, IELTS, and other English-language proficiency exams. Each flashcard contains:

    • Pronunciation
    • Meaning
    • Word in Context—2 Example Sentences
    • Synonyms
    • Antonyms

      Also included with each box are online resources, where you’ll have access to online flashcards and quizzes. If you’ve been looking out for a vocabulary-rich resource to solve all your needs, this set may just be the perfect solution for you. 


      So now you know that learning vocabulary is not about quantity, but about quality. It’s also not about how many words you can learn but how many times you revise. We hope these quick tips have helped you understand how vocabulary can be acquired in a nearly effortless manner. 

      Start your journey of vocabulary learning today! 



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