Vocab Journaling: Let's Do It!

Verbal | GRE prep | Reading Comprehension

Diary Writing - CC - Fredrick RubenssonIn my last post I discussed the importance of vocabulary, not as an exercise to be done in isolation but instead as a habitual tool for learning and reinforcing unknown or unfamiliar words you come across. As I noted, this skill translates not only into improvements on Sentence Completion and Equivalence problems but also on Reading Comprehension, Short Passages, and your writing skill on the essays. 

One tried-and-true vocabulary-building tool is an old fashioned journal, either in the form of a spiral notebook or (if you want to be fancy) as a note-taking app on your smartphone or tablet. Personally, I am a big fan of legal pads, but probably more because of nostalgia than utility.

For this post, I thought I would recap a couple vocab entries I wrote for our PowerScore GRE Facebook Page as examples of the kind of entries you can write for yourself, if you are feeling enterprising about your journaling. I would like to emphasize the importance of both learning the exact dictionary definition of each word as well as producing a sentence in which you use the word in an appropriate context. Since your work with difficult vocabulary on the GRE is heavily context dependent, your practice with these words should also reflect the kinds of scenarios you will encounter on the test.


For my Power Vocabulary word series, I have chosen first to present the definition; second, the word in a "real-world" example; and third, in a sentence I write myself. In my own sentence I attempt to mirror the construction of Sentence Completion problems, in which evidence is present in the rest of the sentence for the meaning of the word in question. While I'm partial to this approach, you can do more or less as you wish for your own journal so long as you include at a minimum:

  1. The word and its definition
  2. A sentence that uses the word in context

Here are three examples from my posts:


"picaresque" — adj. & noun — 1. Of or pertaining to rogues or adventurers — 2. Characteristic of a genre of Spanish satiric novel dealing with the adventures of a roguish hero

Example in context from the 1890 "Literary World" Volume 42, Page 68:
"The picaresque novel anticipates the realistic novel of modern times. It portrays the life and fortunes of the picaro, the adventurer, who tries all roads to fortune and makes himself at home in any company. Gil Blas and Barry Lindon, not to mention Defoe's less reputable heroes and heroines, both belong to this class."

Example sentence:
"The seedy rogue with a heart of gold, a trope exceedingly common in modern blockbusters, from Han Solo to Iron Man, continues the long history of the picaresque and illustrates the enduring Durkheimian dichotomy of the sacred and the profane."


"logorrhea" — adj. & noun — 1. An excessive and often uncontrollable flow of words — 2. Excessive talkativeness

Example in context from the 1901 "Medical Dial Journal" Volume 3:
"[Logorrhea] is a word-diarrhea with decided constipation of ideas. Logorrhea is not necessarily abnormal since it often appears during medical discussions."

Example sentence:
"Renowned (or perhaps reviled) for his stultifying disquisitions, some students have taken to taping Professor Smith's lectures to use as a logorrheic remedy for insomnia."


"admonition" — noun — Gentle or friendly reproof; counseling against fault or oversight; warning.

Example in context from 1800, "An Admonition Against Profane and Common Swearing" by Edmund Gibson (Bishop of London):
"Neighbour, It is out of a true Respect I have for you, and a hearty Concern for the Good of your Soul, that I put into your Hands this private Admonition against Swearing; since the publick Warnings you have heard from the Pulpit do not seem to have had their Effect upon you."

Example sentence:
"Anticipating her students' proclivity to malinger over the upcoming holiday, the history teacher issued an admonition that any student who did not submit a rough draft of his or her term paper the day school resumed would receive an automatic lowered letter grade for the semester."


You might ask yourself, "What are the odds any of my words will turn up on my GRE? What's the point?" You're right! It's quite possible that none of the words you learn will show up on your particular GRE, but here's the bottom line:

Doing a vocabulary journal and engaging actively with your reading will improve your comprehension and ability to engage with GRE questions, whether the vocabulary is familiar or unfamiliar.

As I noted in my previous post, the first and best strategy you can use to improve your vocabulary is to read a lot. This is also the one aspect of preparation that takes the most time. Along with becoming well-versed in math fundamentals, building your vocabulary and reading comprehension skills is an excellent way to prepare to prepare to succeed on the GRE. 

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