High School 2 College

September 30, 2010

The Vocabulary Question

Dear Students,

Read to the bottom of this blog because I’m going to do you a favor, but you’ve got to stay with me till the end.

The SATs used to have analogies and antonyms in addition to sentence completions to gauge students’ vocabulary.  Now they only have sentence completion questions, so there seems to be less emphasis on vocabulary and more on reading comprehension.

Still, the reading comprehension section and the reading questions that follow often have vocabulary that’s very challenging for most high school juniors and seniors. And many of those words show up on test after test.  Many of the words are political in origin.  How many of you watch the news or read the newspaper regularly?  If you don’t have a good political vocabulary, you’ll miss words like gubernatorial, constituents, and even gerrymandering (which was on last year’s PSATs).

One way to improve your vocabulary is to buy a good vocabulary book and work with it. I think SAT Vocabulary for Dummies and Word Power Made Easy by Norman Lewis are the best two books on the market.  Neither of them will do you any good on your bookshelf.  Put one in your backpack and use it when you have to wait for the bus or when you have a sub or when there’s no one to eat lunch with.  Put one in your bathroom with a pencil.  You’ll use it.

Another way to improve your vocabulary is to go through your SAT book and look up any word you don’t know, whether it’s the answer to a question or not.  The writers of the SAT tend to repeat words year after year, so if you see a word on one test, it will likely show up on another.

My favorite way to improve a student’s political vocabulary is to have him watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Comedy Central).  The Colbert Report is fun, but Jon Stewart has a remarkable vocabulary and he uses it fearlessly.  If you watch The Daily Show (I know it’s on late but it repeats several times the next day, and you can also watch whole episodes online) with an ear to learning vocab, you’ll be smarter while you laugh. It didn’t win eight consecutive Emmy awards for nothing.

Here’s the favor: I’ve been collecting vocabulary words that repeat on the SATs that seem to give kids the most trouble.  I’m going to email them regularly to my students (I’m thinking weekly, but let’s see how this goes) and put them on my Facebook page (friend highschool2college).  I’ll put out a bunch of words, and you look them up and see if you can figure out what they have in common.  Believe me, if you learn these words (not memorize, but learn them — use them in your school essays, use them when you’re talking to your friends, make them your own), your scores WILL go up. Now that’s a favor!

Let me know what you think.

Wendy Segal


  1. This article is very interesting. I never knew that TV could have so much vocabulary that might be in PSATs. I will definetly pick up the book Vocabulary for Dummies and read it. I’ll make sure I learn the word not memorize it. Any word I dont know i will look up because you never know if it will show up in an SAT. I’ve never seen the Daily Show but I will watch it if it helps my vocabulary. I think this article will help me in the future. Thank You


    Comment by Elvira Pena — October 5, 2010 @ 2:49 pm | Reply

    • You sound like a very motivated and bright student. Keep up the reading and you’ll be ready for college before you know it! Good luck!


      Comment by highschool2college — October 6, 2010 @ 1:12 am | Reply

  2. This article is intersting. I never knew that vocabulary word that repeat is har for students. And I did’nt know that TV is a learning vocab. Everything that I read in this article will help me when i read.


    Comment by Bianca Nunez — October 5, 2010 @ 2:54 pm | Reply

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