The January 2014 SAT: Vocabulary Rants and Raves

SAT Prep

VocabI took the January SAT this past weekend, hoping to land a test with an experimental section that included some of the new questions types, coming soon to an SAT near you. You see, the test is changing in 2015, and it’s rumored that the College Board has been testing some of these secret changes on current experimental sections.


Sadly, my experimental section was another grueling reading test just like the other three grueling reading sections on my test.


But it was not a fruitless endeavor; I was able to confirm all of the vocabulary words reported by the students on College Confidential and I must say, PowerScore knocked it out of the park on this test. There were 42 words remembered and reported on the CC forums and we had 25 of them in our Free Repeat Offenders! That’s a 61% ‘hit’ rate!*


Too often SAT prep students go on the advice of their friends or faceless internet strangers when picking their word lists from which to study. They fail to make any comparisons between lists or learn which list actually has the highest hit rate. I have spent years compiling SAT vocabulary and scrutinizing the different word lists available. Two of the most popular come from Barron’s and Direct Hits. Barron’s list includes 3000 words and is comprehensive; I’ve seen that thing have a 100% hit rate! But who has time to study 3000 words? Not me (although I would recommend that 8th and 9th grade students take a look at it). Another good list comes from the two Direct Hits books, which combine for 535 words. They had 11 hits last week, which is a respectable return. Personally, though, I believe there are better resources available for free on the internet. And our Repeat Offenders are one of them.  


You can see the comparison word list on our blog. I went one step further and looked back in our blog at the last seven test administrations. Here is how our rates compared:


'Hit' Rates of 2013 SAT Tests*


PowerScore (Free)

Direct Hits ($24.95)

December 2013



November 2013 Version 1



November 2013 Version 2



October 2013



June 2013



May 2013



March 2013



January 2013





When selecting a word list, I urge you to find one written and updated by someone who still teaches, tutors, and takes the SAT. And remember that you do not need to spend good money to get good vocabulary lists



*Note that these statistics are computed using an unscientific method! The hit rate is calculated by dividing the number of hits on a word list by the total number of words reported on College Confidential after each test administration. In most cases, there is no way to prove what words appeared on the test because the tests are never released; I can only go through hundreds---and sometimes thousands—of posts of College Confidential and pull out the words reported to appear. It is doubtful that every vocabulary word that occurred on the test was remembered and reported on College Confidential. Plus, whether a word is truly a vocabulary word is subjective. If a common word like relentless is reported, I will only list it if some of the students discussing it were unclear about its definition.


I understand that some of you may question my integrity. But I’m honest to a fault. When my best friend in 9th grade stole a cassette tape (yeah, I’m that old) and gave it to me, I mailed cash to the store she stole it from. I couldn’t sleep tonight if I lied to you—or if I didn’t help you find free resources for the SAT.

Photo: "Magnetic Fridge Poetry" courtesy of Steve A Johnson