The 2016 SAT: Vocabulary vs. Vocabulary in Context

Students across America are thrilled to learn that the cumbersome vocab section on the 2015 SAT will be a thing of the past. No longer will students have to artfully memorize words such as supercilious and bombastic. Students will not have to memorize (and then promptly forget) as many as 3,500 words in order to feel prepared for their SAT exam.


It would be easy to think that vocab is something students can simply cross off and move on; however students should not be fooled into thinking that the new SAT doesn’t require them to learn vocab,  rather it requires them to learn vocab in context. So what exactly is the difference between learning vocab and learning vocab in context?

1. Endless memorization vs. meaningful knowledge

Students who were required to take the older version of the exam likely participated in what seemed like endless world lists and mnemonic devices that they went over on their own or with their tutor. The vast majority of students forgot the meaning of these words the minute they walked out of the exam. Students who take the new SAT will get a better understanding of how a word is used and should learn the emotional meaning of words. This is a tool that will be useful in college and career, depending on what field the student enters (READ: “A Timeline Study Guide for the SAT”).

Example: Ostentatious

Meaning: Flashy, flamboyant, conspicuous.

On the older SAT, a student would have to memorize the meaning of the word ostentatious, (which doesn’t seem so hard at first), but they would have to memorize hundreds of other words as well. On the new 2016 SAT, students will have to know how ostentatious is used in a particular passage or sentence.

Example: The purse was in an ostentatious area of the room where anyone could pick it up and walk off with it. In this case the meaning of the word ostentatious is most closely related to conspicuous, meaning ‘in and easily seen position’.

Example: Her style of clothing was rather ostentatious and it was hard not to notice her even in a room full of 100 people. In this case the meaning of the word ostentatious is more closely related to flashy or flamboyant, meaning ‘things that are easily noticeable (generally referring to mannerisms or style of dress)’.

This is actually a more useful skill for students to obtain once they go off to college. They should not be worried about ‘wasting’ time spent studying for the SAT as it should also help them prepare for AP English language or literature classes and college-level classes.

Test prep tips for students:

Students who are used to the idea of memorizing lists of vocab should switch gears and think about the true meaning of words. The best way to understand vocabulary in context is to be well read. Students who feel that they don’t have time to read novels or literature outside of their school assignments should ask their tutor for short passages or excerpts from novels that contain SAT words from the new exam. Additionally, students taking high school English (that’s everyone) can ask their SAT tutor to help them with English class and SAT vocab study concurrently, thus killing two birds with one stone (READ: “5 Awesome SAT Apps”).

Bottom line

Although the vast majority of students will be thrilled to see that the vocabulary section has been tossed from the new SAT, they should still be prepared to learn and fully understand vocabulary in context, which includes emotional meanings of words, secondary meaning of words, and the use of other words in a sentence to identify an unfamiliar word. Whether they are working independently or with a tutor, students are encouraged to start their vocab test prep early so they can face the 2016 SAT reading section with ease (READ: “Tips From an Irvine SAT Tutor: The Free SAT Study Guide”).

It’s never too early to book your Orange County SAT tutor. Call us today for more information.

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