While the College Board claims the SAT is not a vocabulary test, there is no denying that a broad vocabulary is required for a high Critical Reading score on the current test. But there is no reason to invest in expensive vocabulary books, flash cards, or computer programs. The internet has everything you need to improve your vocabulary, and it’s all free!
Repeat Offenders Flash Cards and eBook
A few years ago, I spent the entire summer combing through 60 old SATs and PSATs (yes, this is what you have to look forward to in your adulthood. Giving up summers with your friends at the beach in exchange for painstaking, mind-numbing work. Makes you want to stay in school a little longer, doesn’t it?). I pulled out any vocabulary word I encountered, from the easiest (apt) to the most challenging (ignominious) and then sorted them by how often they occurred. The result? PowerScore’s Repeat Offenders, flash cards and an eBook (click on the “SAT Prep” tab) with 700 words that we offer free on our website.
You may hear about a certain other company that charges over $25 for two books with very similar lists. The books are good and they are well known for having success at predicting SAT vocabulary. Know why? The author also went through dozens of tests and pulled out vocabulary words and sorted them by frequency and the company ultimately published 539 words. But test after test, we have more “hits” than the competitor. You can see how our lists stack up at our Vocabulary Report, and be sure to watch this blog after each test administration for the words tested and a direct comparison to the words in those books. Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?
One of the best ways to learn and retain vocabulary words is to read them in context, and the least boring way to do this is through novels. You don’t need to buy new books—just reread a novel you already own or borrow a book from your parents, teachers, or friends. Or visit Project Gutenburg and download an eBook for free! As you read, write down new and unfamiliar words on a paper bookmark, taking the time to define each word as you read it. While classic literature usually offers a wealth of words, there are some newer novels that can help, too; the last two Harry Potter books are chock full of vocabulary words (check out the Chapter 1 Vocabulary from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows). But if you’re adamant about buying a new novel, consider SparkNote’s SAT Vocabulary Novels. One of my former students read these before her SAT and found them very helpful.
As you’re learning these new words, it’s important to quiz yourself on them frequently. If you are short on studying partners, consider the Free Rice website. This simple synonym quiz gets progressively more difficult through 60 levels of vocabulary, and by Level 10 you’re starting to enter SAT territory. By Level 25, you’re in the heart of it. I took the quiz today as I was writing this, and made it to Level 39 before falling back a level--this is the exact same level I reached last year, so I wonder if I've hit my vocabulary ceiling? How far can you go? Oh, and about that name. For every vocabulary word you get right, the website donates 10 grains of rice through the World Food Programme to help end hunger. I donated 1200 grains today. Where else can you study for the SAT and contribute to a good cause? The site also has a grammar section which can help with both the SAT and ACT.
Photo: Vocabulary Lover, courtesy of Michael Coghlan