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Chris Lele

SAT Vocabulary “Don’t”s: Strategies to Avoid

The Zombie

You may have seen them in the movies and on T.V. but zombies could actually be a lot closer than your think….

If you’ve ever crammed for a vocabulary quiz (which is probably like 99% of you), you probably recall looking at a list of 15 or 20 words, covering the definition with your right hand, looking at the word and then trying to define it. You may have well skipped the whole hand covering bit and simply looked at a word, read the definition, and thought to yourself, ‘yeah garrulous means talkative, Okay that’s easy.’ A few seconds later, after you’ve covered, in an identical fashion, a couple of more words, you’ve totally forgotten the word.

What’s happening to your brain? It’s shutting off. You are not challenging it – you are just reading from a list, your eyes glazing over.  You are essentially becoming…. a zombie.

So ditch studying directly from a list. It may help for the short-term (and I stress the word ‘may’), but zombies are not known for their long-term memory.


The Juggernaut

So you’ve gotten really excited about words, and you plow through vocab non-stop, a stack of SAT flashcards twice as high as the SAT College Board laid on it’s side. You may even trumpet your success to your friends, “Hey, dude. I studied like 2,000 SAT words. I’m totally going to rock the verbal section.” But if you only have a tenuous grasp of a word, studying a hundred more words is only going to make the memory of that word even shakier.

So instead of plowing through word lists the way that the X-men character Juggernaut plows through walls (juggernaut is an SAT word that means an indestructible force) make sure you have strong sense of a word before moving on to new words.


The Parrot

Dictionaries often define words in such way as you really aren’t sure what the word means. In this case, if you simply memorize the dictionary definition word-for-word you haven’t done yourself any favors. Do your best to simplify definitions in your own words.

Let’s say the word is disingenuous. The dictionary says, “giving a false appearance of simple frankness.”

The parrot would smugly caw the definition, blithely unaware that he or she really doesn’t understand how this word functions in a sentence. You want to be a vocab detective by looking up the word in multiple sources and, better yet, looking at example sentences (see ‘Reading – becoming a Word Detective).

Once you’ve done the above with the word disingenuous, your definition can be “pretending to be all innocent.” Now you get it and can probably apply the word (remember: use it or lose it) to describe


The Hermit

Don’t hide your SAT knowledge from friends and family. Enlist a little brother or sister to quiz you on flashcards. Outsmart the older sibling back from college for a week with words like pusillanimous and infinitesimal. Parents can sometimes be a great resource. Often they will surprise you with the number of SAT words they know.

But don’t be a hermit and hunker down with a deck of flashcards and a dog-eared copy of the College Board SAT book. Get other people involved in your vocab learning endeavor.

About Chris Lele

Chris Lele is the GRE and SAT Curriculum Manager (and vocabulary wizard) at Magoosh Online Test Prep. In his time at Magoosh, he has inspired countless students across the globe, turning what is otherwise a daunting experience into an opportunity for learning, growth, and fun. Some of his students have even gone on to get near perfect scores. Chris is also very popular on the internet. His GRE channel on YouTube has over 8 million views.

You can read Chris's awesome blog posts on the Magoosh GRE blog and High School blog!

You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook!

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