How to Get About Words: Vocabulary Simplified

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Knowledge of words has always been tested in diverse forms in CAT (Computer adaptive tests) and other B school entrance examinations.  The words form the basis of any expression either spoken or written. Their importance rests not only in the way they are being used in a context but also in framing the thought process throughout an article.

Question diversity & examiner’s intention

The understanding of words (not vocabulary alone!) is being tested by the examiner in varied structures depending on his/her intent. Focused on:

  • Word definition: Questions appear in the form of synonyms / antonyms and root based word meanings
  • Connotation: Questions in the form of confusables, same word different meaning and fill in the blank formations
  • Logical structures: predominantly analogies

Vocabulary fundamentals

One of the major problems faced by the aspirants in verbal sections is to overcome the challenge, the language offers in terms of diversity of use. For instance, consider a word ‘hang’ and its usage* as detailed below:

Verb form:  

  • Hang your coat and hat on the rack over there(Connotation: fix)
  • He was found guilty and hanged later that year (Connotation: kill)

  • The falcon seemed to hang in the air for a moment before diving onto its prey (Connotation: stay)

  • The branches hung heavy with snow (Connotation: bend down)

Noun form: That coat fits you so well – the hang is perfect (Connotation: appearance)

Idiomatic formation:

  • “I’ve never used a word processor before.” “Don’t worry – you’ll soon get the hang of it” (Connotation: to learn how to do something)

  • Ideally we would settle the matter now, but I think we should hang fire until the general situation

    becomes clearer (Connotation: delay making a decision)

  • The mayor’s political future has been hanging by a thread since the fraud scandal (Connotation:

    Gross effect with a slight change in cause)

Phrasal verbs:

  • I spent most of my youth hanging around the bars of Dublin (Connotation: wandering around)

  • There’s no need to hang back – you can sing as well as anyone (Connotation: low confidence)

  • Hang on a minute – I’ll be with you in a moment! (Connotation: wait)
  • The safety of air travel hangs partly on the thoroughness of baggage checking (Connotation:


  • You still hang out at the pool hall? (Connotation: spend time)

  • Uncertainty again hangs over the project (Connotation: exist)

  • Let me speak to Melanie before you hang up (Connotation: end a telephone conversation)

From the above example, it becomes imperative to understand the context before clicking the answer.

Ways to strike the cord

To imbibe thousands of words is indubitably a discouraging task. But, like any other big task it has to be broken into smaller sub tasks with certain supplements to gain proficiency over the subject. Word lists, visual thesaurus, connecting words with videos and roots include some of the options. But all the alternatives provide memory retention techniques which are new to us.

I rather suggest creating your own wordlist, your own visual thesaurus and your own creative ways to play around with the words. I would introduce one such attempt that proved helpful to me and can be replicated for your customized growth as well.  

Your customized visual thesaurus

This customization would ensure that you start updating your word bank from the existing level. I have explained the process below; though it can be bent the way you are comfortable ensuring the concept remains the same.

1) List down few words that you use frequently in their simplest form. In fig 1, I have listed down few of the words for which I would like to create visual aids.

Figure 1 Listing down the words: Good, Anger, Criticize, Banter (Way of Speaking)

2) Choose a word from the list and surround it with its synonyms that you are aware of and keep adding as and when you come across similar meaning words from other sources (word list and reading habits). For illustration, I have taken a word ‘criticize’ (see fig 2). It will be beneficial if you can create word charts that are connected to each other with color coding. For instance, in fig 2, ‘praise’ has been connected to ‘criticize’ with a red line to demonstrate the synonym-antonym relation. It also facilitated the growth of the word tree as now the word ‘praise’ can be surrounded by its synonyms. This pattern may or may not follow endlessly, so as and when you get stuck change the word.

Figure 2 Criticize: pan, reprimand, flay, reprove, rebuke, condemn ; Praise: compliments, admiration, flattery, adulation, sycophancy, toady

3) After few weeks the number of charts on the wall will gradually increase to accommodate the array of words united with other words in a relation that would facilitate their retention. Fig 3 has been attached as an illustration.


Figure 3 Word Arrays

The above process is indubitably time consuming but the retention and results are far reaching. It also serves as a platform on which you can connect other creative ideas in sync with the earlier efforts, for instance root based diagrams, contextual usage entries within the word chart and idiomatic usages.

All the best!!!

*References: Cambridge dictionary


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