The 4 Best Ways To Improve Your Vocab: Part IV



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!