Calling All Non-Native English Speakers: You Can Improve Your Vocabulary!

  1. Cut index cards up and make flashcards.
  2. Fold a piece of paper hot dog-style and use one side for the word and the other for the definition.
  3. Download an app on your phone that lets you review vocabulary while you’re on a crowded bus.

If you think about it, simply memorizing words is a somewhat easy—I do say this with caution—task. You’re smart and probably still relatively young so you have the brain capacity to memorize a vast number of words. But really now—I highly doubt that this is all you’ll need to do in order to get a tantalizingly awesome Verbal score on the GRE or GMAT.

There are far too many non-native English speakers who still think that they only way to learn more words for your test is to just memorize lists of possible words that may show up. This is just how they were taught to study English vocabulary. From my experience of doing this (I admit that I did it too and I’m a native English speaker), I was very disappointed to see that maybe five of the words I memorized actually showed up on the test. All that memorization of words I’d never seen or used before just proved to be a failed attempt to improve my vocabulary.

So what words did show up on the test? To be quite honest, they were words I recognized from books I’ve read, magazines articles I’ve dog-eared, blogs I follow, TV shows I watch, angry Facebook statuses that show up in my News Feed, conversations with and between friends, and professors’ lectures. Do you see where this is going? Yes, actually opening up a dictionary and looking up definitions and reviewing different synonyms are very important—you can’t always expect to know the exact meaning of a word without ever looking it up. But the key to being able to answer questions on the GRE and GMAT Verbal sections is knowing how words are used in context. A dictionary may give you a sentence or two using the word, but it’ll never provide a conversation that shows the different ways the word can be used.

Studying vocabulary doesn’t always have to be a serious and dreadful obligation; it can be fun and should be interactive. Make an effort to gradually build your vocabulary through tasks that you enjoy. The world is filled with words—why limit your resources to just flashcards? Take what you hear, pay attention to how it’s being used, look up the literal meaning, use it on your own, and play around with it even. You’d be surprised as to how much you learn by just opening your eyes and ears a little more.

 Don’t Let the GRE Surprise You


Depending on your current level of familiarity with the GRE, you may or may not know that it is somewhat similar to the SAT. Identical question types, essays, and even some particular question formats appear on both tests, leading many students to believe that a good SAT performance will translate directly to the GRE.

But although students who perform well on the SAT do have a better chance of scoring well on the GRE, this perspective can be very counterproductive. Generally, students who approach their GRE prep with this kind of mindset are doing themselves a disservice by not treating the GRE as its own unique test with its own unique challenges. The biggest reason being is that in the minds of some, the GRE doesn’t require much preparation because “it’s just like the SAT which wasn’t even that hard.” People will study for the MCAT, DAT, or LSAT for almost a year (or even more) before taking the exam because most of the material requires the test-taker to know how to take the test.

These strategies aren’t explicitly taught at school—they have to invest in taking time to practice these strategies on their own if they want to do well. What future GRE test-takers don’t realize is that this is the same for the GRE! They can’t expect their high school test-taking abilities to suffice, or depend solely on what they learned while preparing for the SAT to miraculously get them a high score on the GRE. There’s a reason why the SAT is taken before going to college and the GRE is taken before going to grad school—in high school, you learn how to solve the problems that show up on the SAT step by step, while in college, you practice applying test-taking strategies. Ultimately what all these exams are trying to test is how much you’ve learned about strategic problem-solving even when all the steps haven’t been laid out perfectly for you. So, what then, needs to be done in order to not have a brain hemorrhage while taking the exam?

The answer is simple: start studying now, and approach the GRE as if you have never seen it before. Students taking the GRE should generally invest just as much in studying as students taking the MCAT or LSAT – don’t wait until the last minute to get started! Especially with the revised format of the GRE, you’re going to need all the preparation time you can get, so take advantage of all the help Barron’s offers and take control of your grad school destiny – today!

 Why Your Admission Essay Matters


If you have been preparing for the GRE, chances are that you have already looked at the list of required applicant materials for your desired program of study. Some schools want a writing sample from you. Some schools ask for three letters of recommendations instead of two. Some say you will have to be interviewed at some point. But one thing all graduate schools will want from you is a personal statement or statement of purpose, or simply put, an admission essay.

While admission essays for college applications instructed you to show that you possess enough intelligence and character for the school, admission essays for graduate programs instruct you to do something a little (or a lot) different. Your transcript will show what kind of student you are, and your letters of recommendation will explain why you are a great candidate for the program. But the one place you yourself get to talk about where your true passions lie is the personal statement. You get to show the school that you know your stuff and that you want that knowledge to grow even more at this particular school. By evaluating your admissions essay, the office of admissions is able to carefully select students who would make the best use of the school’s and program’s resources. No school wants its students to be unhappy and potentially even quit halfway through the program; this doesn’t benefit anyone. So before you start writing, do some research on the school’s mission statement and professors who share your interests. This gives the school an idea of what you want to accomplish and how interested you really are in the program.

You may also have something on your resume or CV (curriculum vitae) which you want to further elaborate. Give details about a research project you did or a program you were a part of overseas that relates to your desired program of study. Doing so shows how devoted you are to your field.

The essay also allows you to explain any inconsistencies in your transcript. Maybe you had to take a year off of school for financial reasons. This would be where you provide more information if necessary. Maybe you were just a lazy student who later realized the importance of working hard. This would be where you tell what inspired you to be a better student and come to the decision of applying to grad school. Improvement is always a good thing; explain yourself and give them more reason to carefully consider your application.

Take the time to thoroughly write, revise, and rewrite your personal statement. The admissions essay is your chance to directly convey to the school of your dreams why you are the perfect candidate for them, and they you, so take full advantage of this great opportunity to let them know why they can’t live without you.