I tell my students to learn at least 300 new words, but that is really the bare minimum. Why? It takes at least that many before you have a snowball’s chance in H-E-double-hockey-sticks of seeing enough of them on the test to actually nudge up your score.
Consider, if the GRE or SAT has 4,500 possible vocabulary words to choose from (a rough guesstimate), and you see, say, 150 on any given verbal section, what are the chances that one of the 300 new words you studied will be among them?
Answer: 300 out of 4,500 translates to a 1in 15 chance that any given vocabulary word on the GRE or SAT will be one you studied. Schmoes who play those kinds of odds end up with names like Frankie Four Fingers and Cement-Loafers Larry. You’re just begging for large men with bruised knuckles, crooked noses, and debatable fashion-sense to leave horse heads under your covers, figuratively speaking.
150 words per verbal section multiplied by that 1 in 15 chance means an average of 10 of your words will possibly show up … but again, that’s a random chance. Sometimes you may see none of the words you studied; sometimes you may see 20.
So learn as many words as you possibly can. Most of my international students learn more like 1000 new words. That means, on average, they’ll see 33 words they studied. They’re (wisely) playing the odds.
So get to work on that GRE or SAT vocabulary before Bullet-Tooth Tony comes knockin’, threatening to feed you to the pigs.