How the Test Makers Choose Vocabulary

The test designers want to determine whether you possess a well-rounded vocabulary—the kind you need to read, write, and speak effectively in graduate school and beyond. Most advanced words are fair game. But there are certain types of words that the test designers are most likely to use, and there are other types they don’t use at all.

Note: On the , vocabulary is measured most directly through Antonyms, which is why you’re learning about Antonyms and vocabulary together in this chapter.

The test designers’ favorite types of words:

  • Those that are uncommon enough so that a large percentage of test-takers won’t know them, but not so obscure that almost no test-takers will know them
  • Uncommon words with roots and prefixes that provide useful clues about what they mean
  • “Fake-out” words—the kind that might remind you of certain other words but that mean something else
  • Distinctive words whose definitions are nearly impossible to guess, and that only well-read and well-prepared test-takers will know

Types of words the test designers don’t use:

  • Highly technical words understood only by specialists or experts in certain academic fields and professions
  • Non-English words not widely used among English speakers, and non-English words with diacritical marks or non-English characters
  • Archaic English words, which are no longer in everyday use
  • Vernacular and informal words (jargon, slang, and colloquialisms)
Note:Why won’t you encounter vernacular and informal words on the test? Because one of the basic objectives of higher education—whether it’s undergraduate or graduate study—is to help you express ideas without resorting to such words.

To help you understand how the test designers choose words to measure your vocabulary, consider these three words:

  • bib
  • bibelot
  • bibliophile

You might encounter a word like bib (a cloth hung around the neck) on the, particularly in an Analogy test item. (For example, BIB is to STAIN as “guard” is to “crime.”) But the test designers wouldn’t be interested in bib for the purpose of gauging your vocabulary, because it’s a common word with which nearly all college students are familiar.

As for the word bibelot (a small relic or artifact), you might encounter it in a Reading Comprehension passage, but only if the passage provides its meaning. Otherwise, the test designers are unlikely to use this word to measure your vocabulary. Why? Since it’s a technical word specific to one academic field—anthropology—so few testtakers would know the word that the test designers would essentially be wasting a question by using it.

On the other hand, the word bibliophile (a person who collects and/or appreciates books) is quite test-worthy indeed, for the purpose of rewarding test-takers who have a strong vocabulary and who might very well be familiar with the word. Even if you’re not, you may be able to figure out its meaning by dissecting it: It’s derived from the ek words biblio, which means “book” (think of the word “bibliography”), and philo, which means “love.”

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