How to Study for Vocabulary on the New SAT

Now that the SAT’s been redesigned, students who hate memorizing vocabulary words will breathe a sigh of relief–or will they? Although there are no longer any sentence completion questions that test obscure vocabulary words on the SAT, there are still plenty of vocabulary-in-context questions. Most often, these questions test multiple meanings of medium-difficulty words. The question becomes, then: how do you prepare for these questions?

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Understand vocabulary in context

One of the difficulties in preparing for the new SAT is the fact that most of the vocabulary words it tests are easy or medium-difficulty words in unconventional contexts. Consider this sample question, which asks students to select the most appropriate meaning in context for the word “intense”: is it “emotional,” “concentrated,” “brilliant,” or “determined”? All four of these answer choices would work for “intense” in different contexts. Thus, memorizing one definition of “intense” won’t help you–and, in fact, you probably already knew the general meaning of the word. What will help you is reading for context–that means reading a couple lines before and after the word appears. Because the word in this case refers to a “clustering of jobs” leading to a state of being “bloated,” the answer is “concentrated.”

Update your list of words to study

As you can see from the previous example, it isn’t like you simply need to compile a list of 2,000 difficult words. Rather, (one major concept we delve into in the Conquer SAT Vocabulary course) it’s wise to generate your own lists based on your experiences taking practice SATs and reading articles in newspapers and magazines. It’s more likely that you’ll be tested on a contextual definition for a seemingly innocuous word you’ve seen before than it is you’ll be tested on a difficult word you’ve never seen. As such, reading broadly and critically is an essential part of your new SAT vocabulary strategy.

Read articles from various disciplines

If reading is fundamental to doing well on SAT vocabulary questions, what should students read? My recommendation is that they read articles from newspapers and magazines, for these best represent the kind of passages from which the SAT will draw its questions. It’s important to read articles from a range of different disciplines, though–a student who only reads scientific articles, for example, may not have the best understanding of vocabulary-in-context for an article on government. Make use of the Internet and seek out articles in social science, natural science, and humanities–and don’t neglect to read prose fiction!

Keep a vocabulary journal

You’d be surprised at how many people, when they come across a word they don’t know in context, fail to look the word up! We live in an age when you can literally ask your smartphone to define a word for you, and yet most students can’t be bothered. The students who do best on the critical reading section–and certainly on the vocabulary questions–are those who look up new words or work to understand familiar words in new contexts.

What’s the best way to do this? Keep a vocabulary journal! Whenever you come across a word that you don’t know, practice scanning for context in an attempt to determine its meaning. Then take a moment to look up the meaning (or meanings) for the word. Write the word and its meanings down in a vocabulary journal. I

never studied a book of words back when I took the SAT, and I aced the reading section. Want to know my secret? I loved reading, and I made sure to learn the meaning of each word I encountered in my reading.

We also discuss this “natural” approach in our SAT Vocabulary course for high schoolers.

And, if you like the idea of developing wisdom and knowledge through journaling, be sure to check out our Ultimate Time Management for Teens and Students course - we cover all sorts of high-school journaling strategies and tactics in it.

Check out our vocabulary course

Want to up your vocabulary game for the SAT? We’ve worked hard to build this vocabulary course, and we think that you’ll like it! Click here to check it out.

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That’s it for now! Good luck on your quest to find the right reach school. For more SAT and ACT prep tips, as well as college readiness article, read the rest of our blog. Looking for 1-on-1 college counseling or SAT or ACT group classes or tutoring? Contact us today!

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