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Book Review – Insider’s Complete Guide to SAT Vocabulary

Even I—SAT vocabulary teacher—have bad memories when it comes to learning SAT Vocabulary. I was probably in the 9th grade when my Dad told me to go into my room and memorize this long list of words; I could only come out when I learned them all. It took awhile (I could come out for food and drink), but I was able to pass my dad’s impromptu quiz, but the experience of cramming words into my head from a dull, alphabetical list still haunt me to this day.

If only I’d had the Insider’s Complete Guide to SAT Vocabulary, I would not have only learned more words, but I would have had fun learning those words. See, the 500 essential words in this book are not just heaped into an ugly list, the way that Barron’s does it. Each word is broken up into a category that makes sense for the SAT. You don’t just get difficult words (duh!), but Level 4 and Level 5 words. For those who don’t know the system, the College Board ranks the hardest Sentence Completions as ‘5’ and the second hardest as ‘4’. Words that tend to show up in these questions are dutifully organized in this book. You also get other helpful sub-categories: top tone/attitude words, top “people” words, the top rhetorical advice words, etc.

But what really makes this book great is you don’t just get a mere definition after each word, but instead an entire paragraph that describes how the word is used and any relevant examples of the word. Pop culture references are dropped in there, as are interesting tidbits from history. Simply put: it’s fun to read about each word; you don’t even feel like you are learning.

Ok, so those are all the good things. How could this book have been improved? For starters, the book could have used quizzes throughout the book to reinforce words. Even though the words are broken down into categories and are each followed by snazzy paragraphs, much of the book is still a long list of words. By inserting quizzes and exercises the way that Barron’s 1100 Words does, the Insider’s Guide could have been an even more effective prep tool.

Next, I think students would have also benefitted from an example sentence for each word, to get how the writers of the SAT would actually use the word in a sentence. Then there is the entire second half of the book, “The Guide to Sentence Completions”, which is a mixed bag. Sure you get to practice many of the 500 words from the first part of the book, but the example sentences aren’t adequate preparation for an actual SAT Sentence Completion. This lack of question quality and SAT verisimilitude (that’s a good word!) also carries over to the reading passages. But this is a small quibble. After all, you should be using this book for its awesome SAT vocab boosting powers; for actual test questions you should use the College Board book.

But overall this book is pretty amazing. It’s written from an SAT mindset, so you don’t just feel like you are memorizing countless words, but understand where a word is likely to show up on the SAT. The fact that words are aptly categorized according to the SAT landscape makes the words easier to memorize and the experience of reading about the words natural and effortless. By supplementing this book with quizlet.com flashcard app, you have, quite possibly, the best SAT vocabulary preparation tool on the market.

(Psst…Wanna know if this book made my list of the Best SAT Books of 2014?)

About the Author

Chris Lele has been helping students excel on the GRE, GMAT, and SAT for the last 10 years. He is the Lead Content Developer and Tutor for Magoosh. His favorite food is wasabi-flavored almonds. Follow him on Google+!

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