Another Trick for Memorizing SAT Vocabulary

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This tip for improving your SAT score was provided by Sara Laszlo at Veritas Prep.

Do you dread studying vocabulary for the SAT? If so, you are not alone. Learning hundreds of new vocabulary words is difficult, especially in a short amount of time. In his book, SAT 2400 in Just 7 Steps, Shaan Patel provides 25 sets of 20 words, arranged thematically. These lists are a wonderful resource and will help you expand your vocabulary for the SAT in manageable chunks.

Even so, memorizing and retaining all 500 words is a daunting task. Some words will be easy to remember; others will be a struggle. No matter how much you run through your flashcards, you will probably find that certain words consistently escape your memory.

For these elusive words, you will have to do more than drill their definitions. You will have to find a way to transform each word from being just another SAT vocabulary word on another SAT vocabulary list into a real word that you can connect to the real world.

The thing is, all of these words are real words. They all refer to some real thing, action, attribute, or idea. However, when taken out of context and made into lists, these words can seem pointless. The vast lexicon of the English language, which allows us to express ourselves with such specificity, can seem like a system designed to torment high school students.

How do you turn an unmemorable vocabulary word into a real word? First, try to find some connection between that word and something familiar. You may not know the definition of “sedition,” but perhaps you recently studied the “Sedition Act” in American History, so you know that it has something to do with speech or actions against a government. Maybe you enjoy Law and Order or CSI and have heard the characters discuss “corroborating evidence,” or maybe you saw a character conduct “reconnaissance” in a spy movie last weekend.

If you cannot connect a word to something you already know, try to come up with an image that somehow captures the meaning of the word. This image will give you something more substantial than the definition alone. Try to come up with something vivid, specific, and memorable. I find silly images are the easiest to remember, and it never hurts to throw in a rhyme or a pun.

For example, for the word “pugnacious,” I think of a boxer (a “pugilist”) with a broken nose, holding a pug. The word “ominous” always makes me thing of dark storm clouds gathering on the horizon. Whenever I hear or see the word “cantankerous” I think of a grumpy old man, yelling, and waving his cane from his porch. “Daunting” conjures up an image of a tall cliff that there is no way to climb. When I hear “aloof,” I think of an antisocial cat sitting up on the roof away from everyone else.

Memorizing vocabulary for the SAT is a long and difficult process. Give yourself plenty of time before test day to commit these new words to memory. If you connect each unfamiliar word to something familiar or create a memorable image that captures the meaning of that word, memorization will be far more efficient. Eventually, these words will no longer be SAT vocabulary words; they will simply be part of your vocabulary.

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