Difficult Words that the GRE Loves to Use

  1. Belie
    • This is ETS’s number one favorite word for harder questions. Period. If ETS needs to make a Text Completion or Sentence Equivalence questions difficult, all it needs to do is throw in “belie”.
    • The key to answering a text completion question that uses the word “belie” is to know how the word functions in context. Let’s take a look below:
    • Her surface calm belied her roiling emotions.
    • The effortless fluidity with which the pianist’s fingers moved belied the countless hours he had practiced.
    • Her upbeat attitude during the group project belied her inherent pessimism towards any collective endeavor.
    • In each case, note how the outward appearance does not match up with the reality. That contradiction is the essence of belie.
  2. Disinterested
    • Much as the addition of belie is a difficult vocabulary word that tends to make a question harder, the addition of disinterested into a text completion can make it a difficult question. Why? Everybody assumes that disinterested means not interested. While this is acceptable colloquially, the GRE, as you’ve probably come to learn by now, is anything but colloquial. The definition of “disinterested” is unbiased, neutral.
    • The potential juror knew the defendant, and therefore could not serve on the jury, which must consist only of disinterested members.
  3. Equivocal
    • Equivocal does not mean equal. It means vague, undecided.
    • “Equivocal”, especially in its more common form “equivocate”, has a negative connotation. If a politician is equivocating, he/she is not answering a question directly, but is beating around the bush.
    • In the academic GRE sense, if a phenomenon is open to multiple interpretations it is equivocal.
    • Whether we can glean an artist’s unconscious urges through his or her art remains equivocal – that we can ever even really tap into another person’s hidden motives remains in doubt.
    • Instead of answering the reporter’s question directly, the politician equivocated by providing an answer so vague that it could have referred to anything.
  4. Undermine
    • “Undermine” is common in all sections of the GRE, not just difficult sections. It can pop up in reading comprehension answer choices just as commonly as text completion questions.
    • “Undermine” means to weaken and is usually paired with an abstract term, such as authority. It can also have the connotation of slowly or insidiously eroding (insidious mean subtly harmful).
    • The student undermined the teacher’s authority by questioning the teacher’s judgment on numerous occasions.
  5. Sententious
    • This word looks like it would relate to a sentence. If you know the GRE, you will know this is probably not the case, as the GRE is likely to subvert people’s gut reaction. Sententious means to be moralizing, usually in a pompous sense.
    • The old man, casting his nose up in the air at the group of adolescents, intoned sententiously, “Youth is wasted on the young.”
  6. Propitiate
    • If somebody is really angry, and you want to make them less angry, then you attempt to placate or appease them. Or, if you like really big GRE words, then you propitiate them.
    • The two sons, plying their angry father with cheesy neckties for Christmas, were hardly able to propitiate him – the father already had a drawer full of ones he had never worn before or ever planned to.
  7. Feckless
    Feck, probably for its phonetic similarity to another word, has been dropped from the language. That or the lexicographers have become feckless, which means that they lacked the drive or initiative toinclude feck in the dictionary. Feckless means lazy and irresponsible. So, don’t get feckless and dropthe –less, lest somebody totally misinterprets you. In which case, you’ll have to do a fair amount of propitiating.
  8. Tendentious
    • If you are likely to espouse a controversial view, you are being tendentious. A good synonym for tendentious is biased, though biased doesn’t necessarily relate to a controversial view.
    • Because political mudslinging has become a staple of the 24-hour media cycle, most of us, despite proclamations to the contrary, are tendentious on many of today’s pressing issues.
  9. Limpid
    • This word does not relate to limp, it relates to clarity in terms of expression. Limpid is typically used to describe writing or music.
    • Her limpid prose made even the most recondite subjects accessible to all.
  10. Betray
    • To betray means to go against one’s country or friends. Right? Well, yes, but not always. Especially on the GRE. To betray means to reveal or make known something, usually unintentionally.
    • Let’s try a sentence equivalence question:
    • As we age, our political leanings tend to become less ——–; the once dyed-in-wool conservative can betray liberal leanings, and the staunch progressive may suddenly embrace conservative policies.
    • A. pronounced
    • B. obscured
    • C. contrived
    • D. earnest
    • E. diplomatic
    • In this case betray means reveal. As we age our political biases become less obvious/extreme (my own words). Which word is the closest? A. pronounced.
Card Set
Difficult Words that the GRE Loves to Use