I’m still worked up over all the talk last summer about SAT vocabulary.

I don’t want to say farewell to “arcane words” such as “compendious,” “membranous,” “mendacious,” “pugnacious,” “depreciatory,” “redolent,” “treacly” and “jettison” — in favor of more common words like “synthesis,” “distill” and “transform!”

Having just finished Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces that Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave by Adam Alter, I see more reason to protest getting rid of obscure words.

It’s much harder to convey what’s in front of you if you don’t have words to describe it.  Young children illustrate this difficulty vividly as they acquire vocabulary — once they learn to call one four-legged creature with a tail a “dog,” every four-legged creature with a tail is a dog.  Until they learn otherwise, cats and ponies share the same features, so they seem as doggish as real dogs.

Not to mention, there is a lot of fun to be had to be had with words. Lest you doubt, check out The YUNiversity and try not to crack a smile.

Incidentally, I loved Drunk Tank Pink. “At its heart, this book is designed to show that your mind is the collective end point of a billion tiny butterfly effects.”


And on another note, I’ve just discovered the wonders of Goodreads.  LOVE!  I could spend days in there, fleshing out my shelves and talking books with everyone. How fun is that?!  And while I’m still not 100% sure about the Goodreads etiquette (i.e. please excuse all newbie blunders) — I’m going put it out there: Let’s be friends!  Come find me: Goodreads/debbiestier

Oh. Wait. I just had a thought: I wonder if I can make a shelf out of all of the books that went into my own book…

You can read an excerpt from my  book, The Perfect Score Project: Uncovering the Secrets of the SAT by clicking here, and if you’re inclined to purchase the book, it’s available for pre-order now.


Illustrations by Jennifer Orkin Lewis.


  • Alan Cashdollar

    Vocabulary is everything! Great post. – Alan C$

    • I agree! We have so much fun with vocab in our house. What is not to love about vocabulary?!

  • Jenn Cohen

    You knew I’d have to weigh in on this one :) Of course I agree! It’s so interesting watching my daughter’s language development, and I’m consciously trying to use as many “big words” as I can with her. I figure it’ll pay off in the long run…though the SAT will probably be unrecognizable by the time she takes it!

    Professionally speaking, though, the students who do well with the vocab-heavy sentence completions, also tend to do very well with reading comprehension. Not sure which of those comes first – the vocab or the reading skills – but they’re definitely correlated.

    • Vocab, I think. I’m reading E.D. Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy (finally), and it’s all about background knowledge, if he’s to be believed….and I’m a believer. Vocab is part of the background knowledge that helps you read well.

      • Jenn Cohen

        Though I haven’t read Hirsch, I’m a believer, too, just based on how our brains actually work. We can’t learn more stuff without knowing stuff. It’s the classic problem of the weak math foundation affecting later math skills – I know you can relate to that one! You might find this interesting, too:


        We need specific instruction to learn new things well! It irritates me that so many students aren’t getting explicit vocabulary instruction. I never cease to be surprised by the words that my students don’t know. Was tutoring last night, and had to explain “illuminate.” That doesn’t strike me as a particularly hard word! Vocab via osmosis is terrific if you naturally like to read challenging materials, but how many teens actually do that :)

        • I’ll have to read the Willingham post later.

          Sorry if I’m repeating myself here….I’ve said this about 100 times in the last few months — but I cannot believe what perfect “SAT practice” reading the New York Times is. It’s all in there: vocab in context, adult reading, main ideas, background knowledge.

          I’d stopped getting the paper edition of the Times years ago and promised myself that I could get that trusty blue bag again when I finished writing the book, which I did, and it has been every bit as satisfying as I imagined it would be when I didn’t have it.

          I cannot tell you the joy it adds to our mornings — not to mention, how much my daughter learns from the simple task of reading the newspaper every day. I’m stunned by how much her vocabulary has evolved over the last 8 months — and trust me, she is not studying vocab in any other way (unless she is doing it secretly, which I doubt).