English Not the First Language: Improve GMAT Vocabulary

by on June 19th, 2015

I just started preparing for the GMAT. I’m not a native English speaker, so a colleague of mine gave me a list of GMAT vocabulary and I am feeling overwhelmed by it. Do you have any suggestions for how I can memorize all of these words so I’m completely prepared for my test day?


Focused on Vocab

Dear Focused on Vocab,

Although your friend meant well, it sounds like you already know that staring at a long list of vocabulary words will undoubtedly prove to be counterproductive. Before I walk you through some ways to engage with your list, consider the following questions:

  • When do you plan on taking the GMAT?
  • Have you taken a full-length practice exam to get your baseline score? If so, how did it go?
  • How much time each week can you spend preparing for the GMAT?

It’s particularly important to take your performance on practice exams into account, especially considering how difficult it will be to improve if you don’t have a clear idea of how much you need to improve by. Whether you’ve made it that far or not, the good news is that the GMAT will not test your ability to simply memorize words. However, to avoid getting tripped up by the wording of questions, you’ll still find it helpful to spend some time adding to your vocabulary.

With all of that said (phew!), here are some ways to make learning new words far more fun and productive.

1. Read stories that grab your attention

While flashcards and other memorization methods might work for some students, it quickly becomes a tedious task that doesn’t always generate results. It’s far easier to attach an emotional response (and mnemonic device) to words you’ve read in a story that resonated with you. Start by identifying your current reading level to determine what you should start reading first. The Macmillan Readers Level test will use your results to suggest titles at your current level. However, there are many reading level assessments available online (here’s another one), so feel free to choose whichever works best for you.

Not only will you remember vocabulary attached to your favorite characters and plot lines, outside reading will also show you how words are used by professional writers, which is a benefit you won’t find by simply staring at a list or a large stack of flash cards. If you want to really challenge yourself, start reading The Economist. You’ll find plenty of articles that will enhance your vocabulary as well as reading comprehension.

2. Make your flashcards smarter

While they aren’t the end-all solution to vocabulary strengthening, there is no need to completely dismiss flashcards as a study tool. If you do find that flashcards suit your learning style, make them work a little harder for you.

Instead of simply writing the word on one side and the definition on the other, try replacing the dictionary’s definition of the word with a sentence that means something to you. Include real family, friend and life events that you’ll respond to and remember easily.

3. Take your new vocabulary outside

It will take a bit of bravery on your part, but don’t restrict your growing vocabulary to your home. Be bold and slowly begin weaving new words into everyday conversation as you start grasping them.

Challenge yourself to vary the situations in which you use your new vocabulary, but don’t be afraid to bring a stack of flashcards or even a list of words along with you. Remember that you’re still learning a lot of new words all at once, so if you need to refer back to a definition, you’ll still make great gains by testing your vocabulary in real-world situations.

Now that I’ve outlined some solid places to start, feel free to be creative and build a routine that works best for you.

Best of luck!

This post appeared first on the Economist GMAT Tutor blog.

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