Test Prep Tips from an Orange County College Consultant: Building Vocabulary

As a college prep student, you already know that vocab is important. You are writing essays left and right and you probably have an AP or honors English class under your belt or in your near future. You have participated in plenty of study groups for your upcoming SAT (don’t wait too late to book one of our Irvine SAT tutors) and you may have noticed that most of your student colleagues don’t care for the vocab sections. I’m guessing that you don’t either.

orange-county-private-tutorThere are many, many theories as to how you can improve your vocabulary score. Some will say that you don’t even need to study vocab that you just need to study test prep, others will say that you should know every single word in the English language and the multiple definitions of each of them. Other still, will tell you to study the root words or brush up on your Latin (or study it for the very first time ever) or to learn a reasonable amount of words or to look at words in context. None of these people are right or wrong. You are an individual and your learning style may fit into any of these categories or none of the above (READ: “5 Reasons Students Should Blog“).

If you are taking the SAT this October then I suggest that you get a tutor who specializes in the verbal sections to help you speed up the task of learning vocab, but if you are a freshman or a sophomore, then give these 5 tips a shot (READ: “Ask a Nerd! SAT Subject Tests“).

1. Read

Many students don’t read ‘for fun’, meaning outside of their class assignments. This is understandable because school work does become overwhelming. It is a fallacy to think that you must read from the Great Books list in order to learn new vocabulary. Students can learn new words in context by reading news articles, magazines, and “beach reads” (uncomplicated, easy to read novels). The more you read, the more vocabulary you will be exposed to. I recommend keeping a small pen and pad of paper around while you are reading on your electronic reader and write down new words. Continue to enjoy your book but look up your list of words once you have compiled a list of 20 or so. If you are interested in reading the Great Books list, then certainly do that as well (READ: “Five Books to Help You Write Well“).

2. Break it Up

Attempting to learn 3,500 new words during your junior year of high school isn’t a fun time. Start early (say freshman year) and break up the studying. Try using a SAT-worthy vocab list and learn a new word every day (CLICK: “SAT Word Lists: Vocabulary“).

3. Similar Words

Broaden your vocabulary for the SAT and in general by looking for similar words. Every time you write the word “great” or “interesting” or other commonly used words, write it down on a separate list and look them up later on at Thesaurus.com. In fact, just bookmark Thesaurus.com on your laptop as you will be referring to it ALL the time. By looking up synonyms for commonly used words, your essays and in-class assignments will still be “great” and “interesting” but now they will also be “tremendous” and “engaging”. Your test prep vocabulary will also improve.

4. Opposite Words

While you’re at it, learn the antonyms of many, commonly used words and terms. Now you will know how to correctly use “menial” and “disenchanting”.

5. Listen

In today’s world of cell phones and texting, we rarely listen to what other people are saying. If you are able to listen more to the world around you, you may learn that the lady in the theater lobby found the movie to be “enigmatic” because she didn’t understand a thing about it. There is no reason for the SAT vocab section to be an “enigma”; start your vocab study early and it will be more “facile” (easy).

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