A good vocabulary is essential to the Critical Reading portion of the SAT test. Both the sentence completion questions and the reading passages themselves are full of words many students have never seen before. So, how do you build an effective vocabulary?

First, let’s start with what NOT to do. You cannot study a long list of frequently used words from past SAT Critical Reading tests for a few weeks before you take the exam and expect any meaningful result. The human mind was not built for soaking up and retaining information over that short a period of time.

Instead, here are a few approaches that we use very effectively in our award-winning SAT prep tutoring programs:

  • Learn a fundamental set of Latin and Greek word roots so that you can decode many of the words you have never seen before. The SAT test designers always find some obscure words you are unlikely to have seen before, and good decoding skills, plus the ability to extract meaning from context of the sentence are critical.
  • Spend 30 minutes, several times each week for 3 months (that’s right MONTHS!) working to memorize and use the most common 250-500 SAT vocabulary words. This will not only help your reading comprehension and your SAT reading score, but it will improve your essay writing as well.
  • Keep a spiral bound notebook with you every time take an SAT practice test (and yes, you should be practicing taking full length SAT tests so that you improve your speed, your concentration, and your familiarity with the test format.) When you run into a word you do not know, look it up, write down its definition, and use it in a sentence.
  • Read, read and read some more. Aim for grade level appropriate books and beyond, not the easy page-turners. Include newspapers, especially those targeted at an educated audience like the Wall Street Journal.

Strong vocabularies take time to build, there are no short cuts. But they are not just important on the SAT test. A good vocabulary will enhance your reading comprehension and writing skills- both essential to success in college and in the real world thereafter!