The Only 20 GMAT Vocabulary Words You Must Know


Does the GMAT test you on vocabulary? What vocab words or phrases will you need to know to succeed on the GMAT? In this article, I’ll give you a foundational GMAT vocabulary list and study strategies for learning the GMAT vocab that will help you excel on the exam.


How Does the GMAT Test Vocabulary?

First and foremost, the GMAT does not test you directly on vocabulary words. While you need strong reading, writing, and communication skills to succeed in business school, sophisticated vocabulary is not as much of a focus as it would be in an academic grad program (say, in the humanities). You won’t be asked to provide definitions, find synonyms, complete analogies, or demonstrate your knowledge of highly sophisticated vocab. So don’t worry about memorizing any vocabulary for the GMAT!

You will, of course, need to have a good grasp of high-school and college-level English vocabulary in order to succeed in the Verbal section. Sentence Correction questions (which require you to correct errors in grammar and sentence structure) don’t require much knowledge of high-level vocab, though it certainly doesn’t hurt. The Reading Comprehension and Critical Reasoning question types don’t usually include very complex vocab, but you do need to know some key terms in order to understand what’s being asked of you. Let me show you what I mean.


Good news: you don't need to memorize any vocab definitions for the GMAT.
Good news: you don’t need to memorize any vocab definitions for the GMAT.


Your GMAT Vocabulary List: The GMAT Vocab You Need to Know

Below are some common words that you’ll see in instructions, questions, and answer choices on the GMAT, especially in the Verbal section.

You won’t need to know an exact definition of each of these words, but you do need to know how each of them will be used in the context of the exam. Even if you’re already familiar with the word itself, you may not know how it will be used on the GMAT. For each word, I’ve provided an explanation of how it’s used in the test and an example sentence. Use them as a starting point for your GMAT vocab prep.


Analyze: To examine something (usually a passage or argument, in the context of the GMAT) and break it down into its constituent parts; to inspect in detail. The Analytical Writing Assessment asks you to analyze and critique a given argument.

Our company analyzed the sales reports to prepare for next year.


Assertion: A statement, usually backed up by some kind of solid proof or reasoning. Synonyms include ‘claim’ and ‘contention.’

The assertion that excessive screen time has a negative impact on children’s development was a controversial one until a groundbreaking 2011 study.


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Assumption: The underlying reasoning of an argument. ‘Premise’ is a synonym. You’ll be asked about the assumptions of various arguments frequently in Critical Reasoning questions in the Verbal section.

On what assumptions does this prediction rely?


Cite: To refer back to your source or reasoning.

She cited her undergraduate degree in sociology as the foundation for her later interest in human rights law.


Claim: An assertion, argument, or statement.

Do you agree with the author’s claim? Why or why not?


Contention: Can mean a conflict or clash. In the context of the GMAT, usually refers to an argument or assertion, especially a controversial one. The verb form is ‘to contend.’

Her contention was that implicit, unconscious bias influenced teachers’ treatment of students even more than overtly stated, explicit biases to which they admitted.


Corroborate: To support or validate an existing opinion, belief, or argument. Other synonyms include ‘verify’ and ‘confirm.’ Often used in the phrase ‘corroborating evidence.’

The new evidence corroborated our initial theory about the connection between a lack of sunlight exposure and depression.


Faulty: Some Critical Reasoning questions may ask you if or how an argument is faulty. Faulty is a synonym for ‘flawed’ or ‘invalid.’ An argument is faulty if there’s a gap in its logic, or if the conclusion reaches doesn’t flow logically from its premise.

Her ideas were unsound and based on a series of faulty assumptions.


Imply: To imply is to suggest based on evidence (but not state explicitly). The adjective form is ‘implicit,’ which is the opposite of ‘explicit’ (overt or clear). Many students get confused between ‘imply’ and ‘infer.’ They are similar, but not exactly alike. An inference is a conclusion we can reasonably draw based on given evidence. An implication is a strong suggestion that is not directly stated.

My advisor’s carefully worded feedback implied that my research thus far needed a lot more improvement before I could make it into grad school or successfully apply for a grant.


Infer/Inference: To infer is to conclude based on given evidence/information. When a Critical Reasoning question asks you to draw a conclusion based on a passage, it is asking you to make an inference.

Based on the anthropological evidence, we can infer that that particular segment of the population frequently celebrated religious festivals and prioritized spiritual practices.


Maintain: In the context of the GMAT, ‘maintain’ means to argue, assert, or contend, particularly repeatedly or after opposition.

Despite the widespread criticism the company received on its politically charged advertisement, the CEO maintained that the ad reflected his values and the values of the company.


Mitigate: To lessen, diminish, or render less extreme or severe. Often used in the phrase ‘mitigating circumstances,’ which refers to circumstances that make a crime more understandable but don’t entirely exonerate someone of his/her crime.

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The fact that the defendant had previously been extensively bullied by the victim was a mitigating circumstance that helped to explain his behavior.


Paradox: This is common in Critical Reasoning questions on the Verbal section. A paradox is something that is seemingly contradictory or doesn’t make sense, or two facts that don’t seem to coexist logically. Clues that a GMAT question may be asking you to identify a paradox are words like ‘discrepancy’ and ‘contradiction.’

The two trends may seem paradoxical, but there is a logical explanation for their coexistence.


Posit: To posit is to present an argument or hypothesis about something that is currently unknown or uncertain.

We posited that fewer environmental activists would aid us in our efforts to curb global warming than had been previously hoped.


Premise: A premise is a statement upon which an argument or theory is based.

The new civil rights laws were based on the premise that all people are inherently equal.


Redundancy: ‘Redundancy’ refers to something (a word, phrase, or piece of information) that’s repetitive and thus meaningless or unnecessary. It comes up most commonly in Sentence Correction questions, which ask you to eliminate redundancy in the answer choice you choose.

The reason that she decided to pursue a career in higher education was because her family expected her to. (‘Reason’ already implies cause and effect, so ‘because’ is redundant.)


Sufficient: Data Sufficiency questions, on the Quant section, ask you if a given piece of information is ‘sufficient’ to solve a problem or complete an equation. ‘Sufficient,’ in the context of the GMAT, means ‘enough on its own.’ In other words, could you answer this question or solve this problem or equation with only that numerical value or piece of information?

Is the proof sufficient to convict him?


Undermine: To weaken or invalidate (usually an argument, in the context of the GMAT).

The lawmaker’s history of supporting legislation that prioritized business interests over the environment undermined her later campaign promises to aid environmental activists.


Validate: Often used interchangeably with ‘corroborate.’ (See above entry).

The evidence ultimately validated our initial hypothesis.


Warranted: ‘Warranted’ means justified, deserved, or necessary.

Due to his unjust treatment, I believe his anger was warranted.


Most of the words you'll need to know for the GMAT have to do with logic.
Most of the words you’ll need to know for the GMAT have to do with logic and reasoning.


How to Study GMAT Vocab: 4 Strategies

If you struggle with the GMAT Verbal section, you’ll want to develop some study strategies to improve your GMAT vocabulary.


#1: Do Some “Required Reading”

Particularly if you find in your prep that you find some of the vocabulary on your GMAT practice tests intimidating, it can be helpful to do some reading in similar styles to what you’ll see on the exam. The Economist, Popular Science, Psychology Today, and The New York Times can all be good resources for your GMAT prep. Reading magazines and newspapers like these will help you get familiar with the vocab you’ll see on the exam and allow you to practice your reading comprehension skills.


#2: Practice With Real Questions

You can use resources like GMATPrep free software to take official GMAT prep tests and practice with GMAT vocabulary in action. When you review questions, even ones you got right, try to break down the questions into their relevant parts and determine where you tripped up. What is being asked of you? How is “conclusion” being used different in one question than it was in another? How did you figure out what an author’s “assumption” was? Thinking backwards like this can help you to identify gaps and confusion in your GMAT-specific vocabulary.


#3: Make Your Own Unique GMAT Vocab List

When you go over your practice tests, it can be helpful to create a GMAT vocabulary list of all the words you’re unsure of in instructions, questions, passages, and answer choices. Use this personalized GMAT vocabulary list to create vocabulary flashcards and then study a few each day. This strategy won’t be necessary for everyone, but it can make a big difference if you’re a non-native English speaker or just struggling with understanding the GMAT questions.


#4: Practice Figuring Out Meanings From Context

You might encounter some unfamiliar words on the GMAT, but since you aren’t asked to provide direct definitions or synonyms, you can usually interpret their meaning from the overall passage. When you go over your practice tests, pick out a few unfamiliar words and try to discern their meanings from context. This is an important skill to build, as you can 1) start to learn the most commonly used vocab words on the GMAT and 2) begin to define vocab words in context more quickly and easily, which will be helpful on exam day.


Doing some at-home reading can help you prepare for the GMAT.
Doing some at-home reading can help you prepare for the GMAT.


Review: What You Need to Know About GMAT Vocabulary

  • The GMAT doesn’t test you specifically on vocab words.
  • However, you will need to know what questions are asking you, especially on the Verbal section.
  • Use the GMAT vocab list I provided to begin your study of vocabulary and supplement it with your own words as you continue.
  • To study GMAT vocabulary, read relevant high-level materials, practice with real GMAT questions, make your own GMAT vocab list and flashcards, and practice figuring out word meaning from context.


Vocabulary flashcards are always a handy prep tool.
Vocabulary flashcards are always a handy prep tool.


What’s Next?

For tips on the Verbal section, check out our guide to mastering the three types of GMAT verbal questions.

To master the Analytical Writing Assessment, head over to our guide to acing the Analytical Writing Assessment for some strategies.

If you’d like a further breakdown of the overall GMAT structure, our guide to the GMAT format will unpack it all for you by section and question type.

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Author: Laura Dorwart

Laura Dorwart is a Ph.D. student at UC San Diego. She has taught and tutored hundreds of students in standardized testing, literature, and writing.

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