When the SAT format changed a few years ago, students hoped that meant the test and its vocabulary would be easier. While some of the more archaic words have been removed, there is still a challenge when it comes to the vocabulary in the Reading and Writing and Language sections. Before, the test would focus more on the basic definition of the word that most students would had never seen before. Some words were so antiquated their use hadn’t been common for a few centuries. This required students to basically learn lists of words that *might* be on the SAT without really learning the context. With the new format, the vocabulary is mixed into passages and the context of the greater text is more important than the meaning of one word.
So how can students improve their vocabulary if rote memorization won’t work?
- Read things that challenge you. I tell my students from kindergarten to college the best way to become a better reader is to read more. If you want to expand your vocabulary, then you need to read things with words you don’t know. It’s okay if you read a sentence and don’t immediately understand it. You can look up and learn what they mean. That’s what you did when you were just starting to read, and it’s a skill you should still use today.
- Look for synonyms in addition to the definition. It’s great to know what a word means, but it can be even more helpful to know what other words are similar to it. If you find the word “arduous” in a novel and look up synonyms, you’ll find words like “difficult” and “exhausting.” Those words might be easier to remember than the definition of arduous, which is “
- Use the words you learn. It does no good if you learn a word and leave it at that. Write it down, use it in an assignment, work it into a conversation. The more you use it, the easier it will be to remember its meaning.
- Remember secondary and tertiary meanings. As I remind my SAT students, “some words have multiple meanings, and multiple words have similar meanings.” What students need to remember, especially when it comes to SAT, is that the context of the word is just as important as the meaning. What could be the correct meaning in one instance may be completely different in another part of the passage. Always use the correct context.
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