Vocabulary Building

It's finally test day, and you're feeling great. You got a full night's sleep last night, you had Wheaties for breakfast this morning, and you've just written a killer essay on the assigned topic that would bring your English teacher to tears. You are just a few short sections away from your ideal test score, and you can already taste victory.

And then it hits you.

"Fetid." The word looks familiar. You know you've seen it before. Maybe you even used once it in a paper for school. But in this pressure-filled situation, the precise definition escapes you. You scan the other questions, and many of their answer choices are also loaded with vocabulary words you just can't quite remember. "Prodigal." "Serene." "Trepidation." Why didn't I study harder? you ask yourself.

Most students spend hours learning the techniques needed to perform well on the ISEE, SSAT, SAT and GRE. They work with a tutor, pore over test prep books, and take practice exams to ensure that they will be ready on test day.

But many otherwise-dedicated students ignore a crucial part of any test preparation strategy: vocabulary.

There is nothing particularly glamorous about learning new words and, in general, studying vocabulary comes down to individual effort and motivation. However, Apt Tutoring & Test Prep has compiled some tips to help you study more efficiently and to help you apply the vocabulary you learn to any standardized test you take.

Set Benchmarks

Before taking the ISEE, SSAT, SAT or GRE, you should ensure that you are familiar with, and comfortable using, the most commonly seen vocabulary words. Unless you have a photographic memory, however, you're not going to be able to cram all that information into your head in one night. It's critical that you set a study plan and stick to it.
Most students are able to learn 15-30 new words per day reasonably easily. If you start studying a few months before the test, you will have a solid grounding in these words and their definitions. Just make sure you review the words you've already learned so you don't forget them!

Make Flashcards

You've probably made flashcards for tests many times. Flashcards are a great tool because you can take them everywhere and review the information when you have five or ten minutes of downtime.

Successful vocabulary flashcards follow the same strategy you would make to prepare for a test at school: write the word on one side, and the definition on the other. However, because you will be asked to use the vocabulary on the test--and not just define it--it's a good idea to also include a sentence that uses the word in context. If you take the time to memorize the sentence along with the meaning, you'll feel much more comfortable applying it on test day.

Buy A Book

There are dozens of workbooks available at your local bookstore and for purchase online that are designed to help you study vocabulary. And because there are so many, it is easy to find one that fits your study style.

  • Do you enjoy doing crosswords, anagrams and cryptograms? Check out books like SAT Vocabulary Express, which mixes vocabulary words and word games to create a slower-paced tool for building vocabulary.
  • Like music? Guides like Vocab Rocks! and Rock the SAT! include CDs with songs that incorporate vocabulary words. Put on your headphones and you're building vocabulary. Just don't forget to use the study guide and do the written exercises, too.
  • Do you have a great visual memory? Do you enjoy humor? Books like Vocabulary Cartoons: SAT Word Power illustrate vocabulary words in easy-to-remember pictures and using funny connotations.
  • Are you a traditional learner? Do you enjoy having a ready-set study plan? Guides like 30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary (for the GRE) and Hot Words for the SAT may be what you're looking for. These books are divided into smaller lessons and include quizzes and exercises so you can monitor your progress.

Read A Magazine

Magazines like The Economist and The Atlantic and newspapers like the New York Times are high-level publications that frequently contain words found on the SAT. Take the time to read one of them a couple times a week, and make flashcards of the words you don't know. If they are appearing in The Economist, you can bet that they are fair game for the SAT and GRE.

Get In Touch With Your Right Brain

Think the best way to study vocabulary has to involve sitting quietly and flipping flashcards for hours on end? Think again!

Many of the most successful students create mnemonic devices for remembering a definition and draw related pictures on their flashcards. For example, the word "alienate" can be divided into "alien" and "ate." A picture showing two angry aliens and very one happy alien holding an ice cream cone in each of his four hands can be linked with the sentence "The chief ALIEN ATE all the ice cream and ALIENATED his crew." This example was taken from the book SAT Word Power, but if you're creative, you can easily come up with your own sentences for many vocabulary words.

Get Online. Check out VocabSushi.com and FreeRice.com, the two websites reviewed in this issue.