SAT Vocabulary: Tips for Practicing for the SAT

satvocabularyOver the years, the SAT has changed forms on numerous occasions, emphasizing and de-emphasizing different sections and topics and altering its scoring system, but always remaining the most widely taken and widely used college admissions exam. Administered by the College Board, a non-profit organization that also conducts AP (Advance Placement) exams and other standardized tests related to higher education opportunities, the SAT can often serve as the difference between a student being accepted to a prestigious university or being rejected.

For this reason, many high school students and their parents see the SAT as a high-stakes exam, and Udemy has been in the business of helping those students prepare for years. For instance, we offer comprehensive SAT prep courses, as well as specialized classes targeted at the math, reading, and writing portions of the test.

One of the most important skills in a success SAT test taker’s arsenal is a strong vocabulary. Not only is vocabulary tested directly in the SAT’s critical reading section, but a versatile command of the English language can also turn a good essay into a great one or boost a already strong test score up to near-perfect levels. Quite simply, vocabulary is and always has been an instrumental component to the SAT reasoning test. Students hoping to achieve a high score and get into their dream college, therefore, must make a point of hitting vocabulary hard as part of their study and test prep regimen.

Studying Vocabulary Words for the SAT 

Studying vocabulary words for the SAT is simultaneously easier and more difficult than studying other test subjects such as math. For instance, while it may be easier for many students to recall the meaning of a word than it is to remember a challenging mathematical theorem or concept, and while vocabulary words are literally everywhere in our day to day lives, vocab study is also incredibly difficult because of the near-limitless number of words that are contained in the English language.

Because of the open-ended nature of “vocabulary” as a testable subject, students and SAT test prep experts generally recommend one of two primary methods of building up vocabulary for the SAT test.

The first of these methods involves learning vocabulary words directly from SAT word lists. One major advantage that today’s students have over previous generations is the amount of information and knowledge that is out there about the SAT. Countless American students have taken this test since it was first established in 1926. Today, students can easily access those decades of experience online. A simple Google search for “SAT vocabulary list” reveals dozens – if not hundreds – of word lists that students can study and master in the months and weeks leading up to the SAT.

Helpfully, many of these vocabulary lists are split up into groups of 100 words – ideally sized for a week’s worth of vocabulary study. Students can easily go through a list of 100 words in a week, starting on the first day with learning and trying to memorize half the list, spending the second day reinforcing their knowledge and mastery of those words, and then repeating the process on the third and fourth days with the second half of the word list. Days five and six can be reserved for a full self-test of the entire 100 word list, while the seventh day can provide a break before the weekends and the whole cycle restarts with a second list of 100 words.

While this type of study may sound daunting, students should keep in mind that not every word on these vocabulary lists will be unfamiliar to them. On the contrary, students will likely come across more words they recognize than ones they don’t in the course of their study, a fact that can give them the push they need to memorize the more unfamiliar ones. Of course, word list work can become boring and mind numbing after a few weeks or months of this routine. While any type of extensive and thorough SAT study is going to result in fatigue, students should be careful about overworking themselves when it comes to vocabulary.

One good way to avoid fatigue from vocabulary study is to mix things up, which is why test prep experts don’t usually recommend word list study as the be all and end all of SAT vocabulary mastery. The second method students can use to help them expand their vocabulary is even simpler than the first: reading. Often, the best way of picking up new vocabulary words is to expose yourself to material with high, college-grade reading levels. From classic literature to modern “grown up” novels (rather than young adult fiction), and from well-written newspapers to scholarly journals or magazines, there is plenty of material out there filled with excellent writing and colorful vocabulary words just looking to join your lexicon.

Of course, learning words in context can present its own challenges. Most of us come across words with which we are not familiar in the majority of the material we read, but we opt to just read over those words and make assumptions about their definitions rather than think critically about them or research them.

Students who plan on mastering new words by simply absorbing a wide variety of reading material, therefore, must remain vigilant in picking out the words they do not know. Have a pencil and paper beside you while you are reading a novel or a newspaper, and every time you come across a new work, write it down.

With smartphone apps, looking up words can be as easy as just hitting a few keys and executing a search, so get a definition of the word on the spot, before you move on to the rest of the book or article. That way, you can re-read the sentence or passage from which the word came, giving yourself a better understanding of how and why it was used and of how you might see it appear in test materials.

Learning Vocabulary for Life 

During the SAT test prep stage, it’s easy for students to feel as if they are simply cramming as much information into their heads as possible for the short term. Many SAT study programs are built in this fashion, urging quick mastery and understanding of a wide sampling of material, but not encouraging deeper engagement with the subject matter at hand. In some ways, this method of studying is fine and has proven effective because it results in strong test scores.

However, in the case of vocabulary, students should be aware that the words they are learning today can benefit them in anything they do in the future. Individuals with strong vocabulary abilities and eloquent writing or speaking skills are often perceived as more intelligent and professional than those who lack those things. Written communication is especially vital in today’s job market, with professionals in virtually every field consistently required to write memos, newsletters, grants, presentations, papers, or other documents. In all of these cases, a great vocabulary is an invaluable weapon to have, so make a point to build your own while studying for the SAT.

Need a little extra help mastering vocabulary words for the big test? Check out this Udemy course for improving reading comprehension and vocabulary, or take a look at this blog post for even more tips on vocabulary study. With these resources and the tips provided above, you or your student can build the kind of burgeoning vocabulary that wins college acceptance letters and forges valuable academic and professional relationships for life.