Posts Tagged ‘Vocab’

Tip #17 (she says with confidence)



Tip #17

Sentence Completion (aka the Vocab Questions):

On this one, you really should take my advice, because I only got one wrong out of 7 SATs last year (yes, I’m bragging, but my Math score entitles me to brag about my Reading and Writing scores.)

Ok, here’s “The Method”: Any time you don’t know a word, look it up. Period. End of story. Even if you got the question right.**  Then, use these words ofteneven at the risk of using them incorrectly (see The Essential Mistake). I’m a big fan of Wordnick (puts them in context); I’m also a believer in homemade flashcards.

When you’re taking the SAT, read the sentence, then jot down the first words that come to mind (even if they’re not “the big fancy vocab words”). Pick the word you feel most strongly about (if there are two blanks), and see which one (or two) works in the answer choices.

CROSS OUT WRONG ANSWERS — as in, put a line through them and get them out of your line of vision. You’ll most likely be down to two answers by this point. Then, look at the second word you jotted down and see which of the two answers left works. This is as much about the process of elimination as is about knowing the definitions of the words.

Oh, and one more thing: Beware of the backwards words (i.e. those words that make the answer the opposite of what you’re thinking — words such as “however” or “but,” etc.).



**Okay, I know you’re not going to really do this (I have two teenagers, don’t forget). But, even if you do this 75% of the time — ok, even 60% of the time… will do significantly better.


Doing my best share everything I learned about the SAT last year (7 SATs over the course of 10 months). Check on the SAT Resources and SAT Tips pages for frequent updates.

Illustrations by Jennifer Orkin Lewis


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I Meant Spurious…Not Specious (whoops)

Email exchange with PWNtheSAT while on phone with very nice supervisor of credit report website.

Attempting to get charges reversed:

Me (to PWN): Is this the proper use of specious?

PWNtheSAT: I wouldn’t say specious for that…specious is really more about arguments.


Uh Oh.  Whoops.  Hopefully she didn’t notice.


Me: What about spurious

PWNtheSAT:  :) yeah that works


Spurious charges now reversed, I can return to the reason for this blog post:


What’s the Best Way to Learn Vocabulary for the SAT?


In a line:  Make abundant use of the words in your everyday life.

And if your brain refuses to remember a word?  Ask the smartest person you know to use this word in a personalized sentence for you, with real life context. Then free associate.

Below are a few of my free association words that I couldn’t remember for the life of me, until I employed this “Smart Friend Real Life Context” strategy:


Now? Seared, forever. <3

Illustrations by Jennifer Orkin Lewis

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Words: Beware of the “Easy” Ones (they can be the trickiest)

The vocabulary aspect of the SAT remains my favorite part of this whole project. I’m referring here to both the “Vocabulary Section,” as well as the Critical Reading passages.

I never tire of learning new words, parsing words I already know, or being reminded of words I want to bring back into rotation. Take, for example, my list this week:

(All from actual SATs…Love.)

And while I can’t lay claim to knowing even close to all of the vocab on the SAT, I actually haven’t gotten any of the “vocab questions” wrong on test day (miraculously).   I probably just jinxed myself.

But here’s the weird, subtle, issue with the words on the SAT that I want to shed light on:

The simple words give me more trouble than the sophisticated ones because they often require a “dictionary definition,” while I’m thinking in vernacular terms.

Take, for example, the word “nonplussed.” I was sure it meant “unfazed,” (right?), and answered the question accordingly, without it even occurring to me that there was another, older (more proper?) definition.

I got the question wrong.

The College Board was looking for the “bewildered,” or “not sure how to respond” definition of the word.

I was relieved to discover that I was in good company about the meaning of this word:

Meghan Daum, writing in the Los Angeles Times, was disappointed by Barack Obama’s use of the “unfazed” sense of the word when he said of his daughters’ response to media scrutiny, “I’ve been really happy by how nonplussed they’ve been by the whole thing.”

Here are a few other words that might not mean what you think they mean:

  • Irregardless is not the opposite of regardless.
  • Peruse might surprise you as well (hint: it’s the opposite of how most people use it).
  • And cynical doesn’t really mean pessimistic.


But here’s the example that should really drive this point home: The word “bug” — I bet you can’t imagine not knowing what it means, right?

Well try this on for size:


The good news is that there wasn’t even a question about the word. The bad news is that I perseverated over it’s meaning while reading the passage, and lost precious seconds. (Don’t you do that!)


Illustrations by Jennifer Orkin Lewis

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That It Should Come To This!*

I may have been the only one in the audience of Hamlet last week noting the plethora of SAT rich and erudite vocabulary words that were ballyhooed on stage, over the course of the evening:**

Auspicious and chary, circumscribed, confound, conjecture, dearth and discord; equivocal, pernicious, tenable, anomaly, irascible, invidious…..

…..and on and on and on —  hundreds of SAT words — all in one play — an embarrassment of riches.


Though This Be Madness, Yet There Is Method In ‘t                                                     – Hamlet (Act II, Scene II)


*Hamlet (Act I, Scene II).

**See Akil Bello comment below for explanation of phrase change.  I agree with him.

Illustrations by Jennifer Orkin Lewis

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Olfactory:   Adj. or Noun.     Concerning the sense of smell.


“Heading into NYC.  Am anticipating an olfactory wonderland out there. I may distract myself diagramming sentences from today’s paper.”


No idea whether this word shows up on the SAT, but I like it anyway.


Illustrations by Jennifer Orkin Lewis

Increase your reading score with the Critical Reading Intensive

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