Which vocab app is the best: introducing a new vocab resource

Davis: Hey everybody, this is GRE Bites. My name is Davis, and I’m an educator with over ten years of experience.

Orion: And I’m Orion, the founder of StellarGRE.

Davis: We’re here to bring you your weekly bite-sized episode on GRE prep and grad school admissions. Check out our top-rated GRE self-study program at stellargre.com. And don’t forget, you can use the code “BITES” for 10% off any membership.

Alright, let’s get to it today. For those of you who have listened to some of our episodes before—and if you haven’t, I suggest you go listen to every episode that we have—you know that we’ve discussed the quant section and various strategies extensively. We’ve also addressed reading comprehension strategies. Recently, we’ve talked about how one could have all the knowledge in the world and still not be able to take the test. Additionally, we’ve delved into whether feeling ready to take the test is a good metric, which it’s not.

So, one of the areas that I remember, and that I’ve heard you speak about in the past, Orion, is that a person can always improve their vocabulary. In the verbal section, sometimes you’ll encounter unfamiliar words. There are all kinds of tips and tricks you can use, such as the process of elimination, to get a sense of what a word means. However, there’s nothing as fast or as comforting as encountering a really random, difficult word and thinking, “Oh, yeah, I know that. That’s easy. I’ve got this; it means this,” and understanding it with clarity. With this in mind, and aiming to learn these vocab words, there are various approaches—from flashcards to quiz apps—specifically for GRE prep. Based on your last 15 years of GRE tutoring and experience with the GRE specifically, what is the best avenue to learn vocab words?

Orion: Thanks, Davis. So which vocab builder app is the best? Is that what you’re asking?

Davis: Yeah, yeah, put it simply: fantastic.

Orion: I think that’s a great question. And you’re absolutely right. This is one of those domains where you can always learn more. English, in its modern form, is the largest language that has ever existed in the history of the world. According to linguists, in terms of sheer vocabulary, there are literally hundreds of thousands of words. Any of them can technically be tested on the GRE. We often hear about “GRE level vocabulary.” However, this is a vague concept; there’s no definitive list of vocabulary that could appear on the test. Vocabulary, more than any other factor, limits a student’s verbal scores. If you don’t know most of the words in the vocabulary-based questions, it won’t be possible to score above a certain level on that section of the test. Therefore, to raise that potential score, you need to learn more words. This can be a daunting task because, again, there are tens of thousands of words that might be tested. It’s a slow, grueling process to master them all. Unfortunately, many people approach vocabulary learning in the wrong way, often resorting to rote memorization.

Davis: Rote memorization is extremely time consuming and energy inefficient. But it’s also not the skill that you have to produce on the test. The GRE will never ask you to define a word ever. And yet, the vast majority of people out there are memorizing definitions.

Orion: That’s right. This is not useful. It’s not efficient because you’re spending all this energy to facilitate recall, as opposed to recognition. Recall memory is harder to achieve than recognition memory. It’s also training a skill that you actually won’t use. Vocabulary-based questions, in their essence, are really just synonym and antonym prompts in disguise. What you need to know is that these words kind of go together, and that these words kind of don’t. You need to know a general, very low-resolution definition of that word. That’s why my approach to building vocabulary is based on semantic clusters. So, rather than learn the dictionary definitions of a whole bunch of very similar words, I’ve grouped together a whole bunch of GRE-level vocabulary under a single, simplified definition.

Davis: So, it’s like a data compression hack for vocabulary. In other words, instead of learning a high-resolution, dense definition for a single word, you simply associate that word with another word whose definition you already know in your working memory.

Orion: That’s correct. For example, there’s a semantic cluster for “talks too much.” In that cluster are the words “loquacious,” “garrulous,” “verbose,” and “logarithmic products”. “Verbose” was the only word I recognized. If you use any of those other words in social company, you’ll face the consequences. In most cases, these words are only used for the GRE. I mean, you could say my introduction today was loquacious. It was a bit long-winded. But, you know, it’s part of your charm, Davis.

Davis: Okay. So I hear you. You’re saying that StellarGRE has this really cool method for studying vocabulary, which involves groupings of synonym-antonym type pairings to speed up a person’s ability to learn the effective use of vocabulary for the verbal section of the GRE. I hear you have a dedicated app that might be coming out, which is different from the full StellarGRE preparation course.

Orion: Oh, yeah. So this is really exciting.

Davis: So what is the best vocab builder app on the market?

Orion: Well, it is “StellarGRE Vocabulary Flashcards,” which is now available absolutely for free on the iOS Play Store, and the Apple store. You can download it on both of the major smartphone platforms for $0; you do not even have to give your credit card information.

Davis: So it’s a completely free product? So that’s the Google Play Store and the Apple store?

Orion: That’s correct.

Davis: So, what is really cool about this app?

Orion: Well, unlike every other vocab builder in the app stores, we based this app on semantic clusters. Each flashcard, rather than having one GRE word on one side and the dictionary definition on the other, has the simplified definition on one side and the semantic cluster of words on the other. This allows you to learn five times the amount of vocabulary in the time it would take you to learn a single word completely.

Davis: And even faster. If you already know some of those semantic clusters and are just are just pairing new words with a definition that you already know.

Orion: Certainly, I’m sure that at the very least, students will recognize some of those words, making their learning process more efficient. The set also has an adaptability feature, allowing students to swipe on the cards to indicate their level of mastery. If a student swipes left on a card, it signals to the algorithm that the flashcard needs more review. This card will be represented to the student until he or she indicates a sufficient degree of mastery. Flashcards are grouped into small decks, and once a student has mastered a deck, all of that content is unlocked for the app’s quiz functionality.

The quiz feature of this app is particularly exciting. I’ve worked diligently with my engineers to create something I believe is quite captivating. Students can take an infinite number of randomly generated questions based on the content they’ve unlocked in the app, which aids in consolidating and reinforcing their understanding.

This approach also gamifies the learning experience. Instead of merely recalling dictionary definitions ad nauseam, the quiz questions mimic the skills students are likely to encounter in the verbal section of the GRE, which are typically recognition-based. The quiz has various formats; for instance, students might be presented with several words and asked to identify synonyms without any other context. This skill will be invaluable when tackling sentence equivalence questions on the verbal section of the GRE.

There are also questions that ask you to define a word by matching the word with its simplified definition and its dictionary definition, not just its simplified definition. There are also questions that ask you to identify which among a group of words matches a simplified definition.

So the point is, we’re approaching mastery from several different angles. We’re doing so in a way that more closely mimics the skill that students will actually be asked to implement when they take the time to test recognition over recall.

Davis: Absolutely. Yeah, that’s awesome. Thank you so much, Orion, for sharing that. That’s all the time we have today.

Thanks, everybody, for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with another bite-sized episode of GRE Bites. If you have a topic you’d like discussed on a future episode, let us know at stellargre@gmail.com. And if you’re ready to take your prep to the next level, check out our top-rated GRE self-study program at stellargre.com. You can use the code “BITES” for 10% off all memberships there. Talk to you soon.

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