How to improve your vocabulary for SSC CGL

How to improve your vocabulary

Improving your vocabulary can be difficult. But so is everything. But it is worth putting some efforts to improve your vocabulary because a rich vocabulary not only helps you gain marks in your exam but also bolster your ability to grasp ideas, think logically and express your ideas effectively.

In the last couple of years, I’ve come a long way on a quest to improve my English vocabulary. But, what was it that compelled me to go on that quest in the first place? I was preparing for a competitive examination (SSC CGL) in which my Verbal Ability had to be tested. Previous years toppers suggested I start reading voraciously. Read, read, and read.


I started reading with some self-help books (How to make friends and influence people by Dale Carnegie, 7 Habits of Highly Successful People by Stephen R. Covey). These books are good as they are informative and have plenty of words I didn’t know. I came to know that the category of books I was reading was Non-Fiction. I could comprehend the content of the books by looking at the meanings of the words unknown to me in the dictionary. But, I was taking a lot of time to read books. It was partly because of the fact that these books were rather boring as compared to novels and partly because my vocabulary was below average.

Novels and Websites

The solution: Read what interests you. I started reading some light novels (The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and a classic, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee). Novels were interesting to read but I had not much money to invest in novels. Also, I couldn’t take the novels to read in the office. So I started reading articles online. I used to read articles on Arts & Letters Daily ( I could manage the time to read three articles daily in the office.


If you are living in a big city in India, chances are you are spending around two hours in commuting each day. That’s 8.33% of your day. So, I decided to utilize this time to improve my vocabulary. How? Reading a book or an article while you are travelling on a bus is not easy. I came across an app named There are lots of similar apps on the play store that help you increase your vocabulary. But my favourite is “ teaches you words by systematically exposing you to a wide array of question types and activities that will help you understand all the meanings and nuances of every word you’re learning.”

Root words

Still, something was hindering me from reading the text I was reading. It was annoying to look for the meaning of every new word I encounter in my reading. I needed something to guess the meaning of at least some words so that I wouldn’t have to know the exact meaning of each word to understand the text I was reading. It was then that I came across a book I would like to call ‘The bible of learning English vocabulary’. The book is: Word Power Made Easy, by Norman Lewis, a simple, step‑by‑step method to increase your knowledge and mastery of the English language. “Word Power Made Easy is the best and quickest means to a better vocabulary in the English language. As you complete the exercises in this book, you will learn how to tell if you’re using the right word as well as how to pronounce and spell it. You will also learn how to avoid illiterate expressions and how to speak grammatically, without making embarrassing mistakes. Each chapter ends with a review. Each section ends with a progressive check. Numerous tests will help you increase and retain the knowledge you acquired. Word Power Made Easy does more than just add words to your vocabulary; it teaches ideas and a method of broadening knowledge as an integral part of the vocabulary building process.”


Learning vocabulary doesn’t necessarily have to be boring. So, I started watching movies and serials in English with the subtitles on the recommendation of a cool educator. Learning this way was fun as I combined learning with entertainment. With time, I didn’t have to watch them with subtitles. In the beginning, I watched some movies after reading the novels on which they were made (One that I remember is: To Kill a Mockingbird). This way I already knew the story and watching the movie after that added another flavour of fun in learning.

Note-taking and revision

Image: Notes from my notebook
Image: Notes from my notebook

Taking notes is a great way to learn anything new. But how to take the notes? I had a pack of flashcards by TIME, an institute that provides entrance coaching for CAT. Each flashcard had around 20 words on one side and their meanings on the other. In the beginning, I started writing the meaning of the words in the flashcards, the root words from which they are derived along with their meaning, and example sentences. By the time I completed two flashcards, I quit. This process was laborious. It was downright boring. Then, I decided to write only the words I came across in my reading, with their meanings and the exact sentence containing the words. This way I knew the context of the words and find it easier to recall their meaning while revising as I remember the entire story around that sentence. “It is better for learners to write down unknown vocabulary in whole sentences to remember word meanings easier.” [1] I found that revision is also necessary to learn the vocabulary. But, I couldn’t stick to a schedule to revise what I had learnt. I revise the content sporadically. So, to track the revisions, I started putting down the ticks on the content I need to revise. This way I know how many times I’ve revised the content I’m learning.


I found that pronunciation is essential to learn along with the meaning of the words. Sometimes, pronunciation can help guess the meaning of a word. For instance, recidivist (ree-si-di-vist) means a criminal who offends repeatedly, while rectitude (rack-ti-tyood) means morally correct behaviour and/or thinking. If you know the pronunciation of the word, recidivist, you can guess something about its meaning that it does something “again”.


Sometimes a picture is better to know the meaning of a word rather than reading its description in 1000 words. For instance, wedge means a piece of wood, metal, etc. having one thick end and tapering to a thin edge, that is driven between two objects or parts of an object to secure or separate them as per its dictionary definition by Oxford. But, it becomes easier to remember what it means by looking at the following image in the results in the Google Images.

Image: google image - wedge
Image: google image – wedge

There can be numerous other ways to learn English vocabulary like reading the translated version of the text in your regional language before reading the English version of the text or learn some mnemonics to remember the meaning of the word but if you ask me one thing that is indispensable in expanding your vocabulary, my answer is: Read something daily.

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