Vocab in Context Questions pop up on several sections of the SAT AND the ACT. Learning how to answer them will net you a big point payoff. Follow these four simple steps to ace them…the Ivy Lounge way.
Math is all numbers, right? Nope. Reading is fundamental—even when we're talking the fundamentals of math, like we do in math etiquette. Let me gloss some key terms!
I'm always telling freshmen and sophomores NOT to study for the ACT and SAT! But if you're the kind of student who needs to get going ASAP, here's what you can do right now.
High school girls often lack confidence in their math abilities, and that can do serious damage. Here are my top tips for firing yourself up for fearless math!
Vocab Hack #4: Supplement With The Tried And True
The last installment of my 4-part Vocab Hack Series is a list of the more traditional tutor-approved methods for increasing vocabulary. These might not be as much fun as the other methods, but I would be remiss to leave them out. For your sanity, you probably only want to try one of them…
Try a Vocab-building book:
My favorite vocabulary book – if you are a fan of straight-up learning vocab – is Hotwords for the SAT by Barron’s. The reason I prescribe this book so often is that it manages to teach 500 SAT vocabulary words by “clumping” them together into 32 or so clusters of words.
The idea is that instead of learning 1 word + 1 definition (= 2 things to memorize) for every word you learn, you instead learn 1 definition + a group of 12+ words that have that basic definition.
Thus, to learn a dozen vocab words the old way, you’d need to learn 12 words + their 12 meanings = 24 things to remember. The Hotwords way, you would only need to remember the 12 words + 1 definition they all have in common = only 13 things to remember.
See how much time that saves? In addition, you will surely know some of the words in each cluster, so you end up using the words you know as an anchor to remember the other words that are new. Super easy peasy.
Try a Vocab-building website:
If you’re more into on-line stuff, there is a plethora of newly created resources out there, and I have known some students to have success with Quizlet. Check it out, and if that’s not your style, Google “vocab games” and you’ll surely find something else worthwhile.
Get back to Latin:
Latin roots, that is. You can find a standard list of roots, prefixes and suffixes in the back of most test-prep books, or for free if you Google. You will instinctively know several already, and the ones you know will anchor the new ones.
And last but not least, for whatever reason, some students really love the feeling of completion that comes with flashcards. My advice? If you go this route, separate your cards into three piles: those you totally know already, those that might as well be Greek (or Japanese, if you, like me, ARE Greek), and those you kinda feel you should know but don’t.
- The first pile: place somewhere conspicuous in your room, like on your nightstand or near your desk. This makes it appear as if you are actively learning vocab words and the ‘rents tend to like this.
- The Greek pile: put back in the box and abandon on the bookshelf. If you get exceedingly bored of Dawson’s Creek, you can take these out at a later date.
- The middle-of-the-road pile is the low-hanging fruit that will take the least amount of effort to turn into usable knowledge. LEARN THESE FIRST. Then add them to the first pile of words you know.
And on that note, you should be all set to rapidly expand your vocab and rack up tons of extra point on the SAT and ACT! And remember, if you found this at all helpful, do me a HUGE favor and tell three of your friends!
Vocab Hack #3: Watch Smarter TV and Movies
Let me tell you a little story. When I was your age, living in Dallas, Texas, I woke up one morning at the beginning of sophomore year and decided I wasn’t going to consume any culture that wasn’t “productive”. In fact, I was convinced most books, shows, and movies were designed to make the masses dumber, so I tried to steer clear of anything that could potentially compromise my life’s Grand Plan.
I spent the next three years driving my friends and classmates crazy, refusing to read fiction, watch TV or see mainstream movies. At the time, there were only two independent movie theatres in town – the UA Cine and the Inwood Theatre – and each only ever showed two movies concurrently. I think I saw everything from The Red Violin to Existenz and Happiness. Some were whoppers, but my self-righteousness persisted.
Jump cut to now. I happily watch the likes of Vampire Diaries, Revenge, The Mindy Project, Glee, even reruns of MIOBI. And I discovered something shocking: Not All TV Is Bad! In fact, you if must spend time in front of the “boob tube”, I have discovered the singular most vocabulary-boosting show that will quench your thirst for teen melodrama:
I am soooo not joking here. After missing the show when it first aired out of intellectual snobbery, I recently decided to make up for lost time. First of all, I was shocked at how eloquent and self-expressive the main characters are. And just to test my hypothesis, I watched the majority of Season 2 with a pen and paper in hand only to discover that some episodes utilized up to 37 SAT-level vocabulary words! Not shabby for 43 minutes of indulgence.
So get thee to a Netflix account and introduce yourself to Dawson, Joey, Jen and Pacey!!
Vocab Hack #2: Scout Out Smarter Reads
The best best BEST way to increase your vocabulary is to consume a lot of high quality reads. By “high quality”, you’re probably thinking about enduring the classics that you’re forced to read anyway for school, and you’re probably wondering if you should leave your screen right now to bang your head against a wall!
Please calm yourself ;) I’ll admit, I never got past page 41 of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, try as I did. (Let’s not even talk about Anna Karenina or Crime and Punishment … thank GOD for Cliffnotes and Sparknotes!)
However, not all reading material is excruciating. The trick is to find things that ACTUALLY interest you. And the best way to do this is by reading NON-FICTION. The next major advantage of consuming non-fiction is that you’re priming yourself for the SAT and ACT, both of which are composed of approximately 75% non-fiction passages. Get used to them now, and you’ll be totally fine on D-Day. Whoops. I meant Test Day.
So what types of things can you read, especially if you don’t like to read?
Start small. Try newspaper and magazine articles geared for people a few years older than you are.
- Like fashion? Read Elle Magazine cover to cover. Especially the Ask E. Jean column, which tends to use colorful language like “driven witless” and “whipsawed by confusion.”
- Like music? Read your favorite artist’s exposé in Rolling Stone or Spin.
- If you like a variety of things, like theatre, sports, local news, travel and food, try the New Yorker, and read whatever you’d like! Or the New York Times, where several staff writers there are the Real Deal and have highly regarded books of their own.
- Into politics? Make it a point to read high quality articles like those online in the Huffington Post or the Guardian, a well-written British newspaper. Try perusing headlines and settling down on two inviting articles to read start to finish every week.
If you want to delve deeper into reading, graduate from non-fiction articles to non-fiction or memoire books about a topic with which you are fascinated.
- Perhaps something funny? Try comedic authors David Sedaris or Tina Fey.
- Want something insightful? Try anything by Malcolm Gladwell. I especially loved Blink and Outliers. Not only will the vocab soon become ingrained and more familiar, but there are two added benefits to these books: 1) You can read these books one chapter at a time without forgetting the point, as each segment tends to bring up an entirely new example, and 2) the statistics and scientific studies Gladwell brings up are AMAZING for essay examples!!!
- Are you into art/music/theatre/sports? Try a biography of your favorite actress, musician, director, basketball player, etc. Again, public figures make for killer essay examples.
- By any chance are you obsessed with psychology/personality/astrology like I was (and still am)? Go to your favorite Barnes & Noble and look up Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs or Please Understand Me II by David Keirsey. Basically, anything that categorizes people into “types” or signs or whatever is a GOLDMINE for personality-describing adjectives. Being able to psychoanalyze anyone and anything is super handy for dissecting the tone and attitudes of otherwise VANILLA reading passages. And this will also come in handy when it’s Personal Statement time ;)
Unless you are one of the few in high school who completely escapes the daily grind with enviably high-brow literature that makes your English teacher weep with joy, you probably are somewhere in the “trying to grow your vocab” phase of life. This period of several years is necessary to transition from ‘tween words and phrases like, “I don’t wanna!” to more sophisticated means of expression, like “Given the undeniable circumstances of the situation, I prefer to refrain.” (I’m only half joking here. I knew people in high school who actually talked like that, at least between more colorful words ;)
Basically, you’re growing up, and your vocabulary needs to grow up, too. And preferably ASAP, since you have standardized tests like the SAT and ACT coming up, and you NEED to nail those sentence completions and reading passages!
So, like most Test Prep Gurus and tutors, I do have some clichéd advice to expand your diction. And I would never hold out on the tried and true methods, no matter how hackneyed and BOOOORING they might seem…
BUT! – keep reading! – I know a few more ways to get the job done that I think you, my darlings, would much rather prefer! So in this 4-part series, I’m here to enlighten, and hopefully make your quest to raise your SAT Critical Reading and ACT Reading scores considerably more fun!
Let’s start with the easiest:
Vocab Hack #1: Surround Yourself With Smarter Peeps
By “smarter”, I don’t necessarily mean you should ditch your crew if they aren’t up to snuff. However, maybe you should consider adding some variety to your social circles. This could be as simple as befriending upper classmen or chatting with your parent’s friends and your older relatives when you get the chance. Maybe, just maybe, instead of shying away from crazy surgeon Uncle Andy, ask him about the grossest thing he’s ever seen on the operating table or why he prefers Fleetwood Mac to the Beatles.
Basically, partake in adult conversations with actual adults. Bonus points if Tina Fey is your close family friend.
Very likely, you will begin to uncover more sophisticated ways of expressing yourself and hear some higher-echelon vocab in context and start to feel comfortable with it.
As a side benefit, you may just find yourself becoming more emotionally mature and perhaps even collecting cool stories about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that can come in handy as a “personal experience” essay example!