High School 2 College

April 28, 2012

SAT Vocabulary Words that Don’t Mean What You Think They Mean


solicitous – it DOESN’T come from solicit (to ask for).

– it comes from solace (to provide comfort)

– it means someone who is concerned with someone else’s comfort

My son Jacob is so solicitous that he brings me a sandwich and tea when I’m tutoring even before I ask.

 dearth – it DOESN’T mean death.

– it means a lack of something or not enough

Most kids have a dearth of communication with adults, and this lack of conversation  adversely impacts their vocabulary skills.


prohibitive – it DOESN’T mean to forbid something

– it means something that is too expensive that you can’t easily buy or do it

I’d love to go to every Broadway show that opens, but at $200 a seat, the cost is just prohibitive.


machinations – it DOESN’T have anything to do with machinery

– it means cunning scheming or plotting, especially something evil or bad

The school bully’s machinations intended to catch his victim alone so he could rob him, but these machinations were foiled when the intended victim was waiting with a gang of friends.


duplicitous – it DOESN’T mean duplicate or copy or double

– it means lying, cheating, deceptive, dishonest

            You can’t trust someone with a duplicitous nature because he or she would find it just as easy to lie as to tell the truth if there were some profit to be made by the lie.


precipitous – it DOESN’T mean rain or precipitation

– it means sudden, hasty, or steep

            After they discovered that he was taking steroids, his sports career took a precipitous decline.


calculating – it DOESN’T have anything to do with math

– it means plotting, slyly planning

The calculating student told the teacher there was an emergency in the hall when there wasn’t, just so the student could sneak a peek at the grade book.


indifferent – it DOESN’T mean different or not different

– it means unconcerned or not caring

The girl was indifferent to who became the Republican candidate for president since she intended to vote for the Democrat no matter who the opposition was.


unintelligible – it DOESN’T mean the opposite of intelligent

– it means not understandable, as in garbled speech or print that can’t be read

The ancient writings were so faded that they were completely unintelligible without the right magnifying equipment.



April 14, 2012

What Makes Some People Good Test Takers?

I’ve been watching my students take tests for over 25 years.  Some consistently score better than others.  Of course, some of the difference has to do with innate ability.  But if test taking were only about ability, tutors wouldn’t help a bit, and my students usually do quite a bit better after a course of tutoring than they did before. Why do some people just test better than others?  Why do some improve and other don’t, even with tutors?

Here’s what some students do wrong:

1.  Fail to be decisive.  Standardized tests are timed.  This is not a good time to be leisurely or contemplative.

2.  Second guess themselves.  You’re not smarter now than you were a minute ago.

3.  Lunge at the right answer.  Stabbing at choices that seem right before you really understand the question is never a good strategy.

4.  Take a practice test just to get a score.  It’s not just about counting up how many you got right or wrong.

5.  Go back to the exact lines of the passage indicated by the question.  The quote may be on those lines, but the answer may not be.

6.  Talk themselves out of the right answer.  Telling yourself you aren’t good at this type of test or this type of question is bound to be a self-fulfilling prophesy.  If you think you won’t get it right, you won’t.

7.  Decide the test is boring.  If you decide it’s boring, it will be.  You’ll be right, but what have you won?

8.  Decide their answer is better than the answer in the book.  The correct answer is whatever the test-maker says it is.  Your English teacher may find you very clever when you point out an alternate interpretation, but on a standardized test, you’ll just be wrong.

Here’s what excellent test takers do:

1.  Be decisive.  The ability to pick and answer and move on is what makes boys, on average, better at the SATs than girls.  If you ask a typical boy, “Which two of these three things go together: bird, rock, tree?”he’s likely to answer, “Bird and tree because they’re alive.”  If you ask a typical girl, she might say, “Well, bird and tree are alive, but bird and rock are small and can move.  On the other hand, tree and rock usually stay in one place…” and she’ll likely come up with other combinations and reasons as well.  We need more of that thoughtful reasoning to help solve global problems, but it’s a terrible strategy for timed tests.  Just pick an answer and forge on.

2.  Be confident.  This may sound strange, but I’m convinced your brain is faster than your mind.  Sometimes you choose the right answer because your brain has made a lightening-fast connection between the question and the right answer.  If your first impulse is that the answer is B, more often than not, the answer will be B.  Have confidence in your own brain and let it choose the answer.  How many times have students told me, “Oh no, I was going to put that answer, but then I thought about it and I didn’t.”  If you were going to put it, put it!

3.  Eliminate the wrong answers rather than look for the correct answer.  Very often, students’ eyes are drawn to the answer choices before they’ve even understood the question.  Test makers include choices that may seem like a familiar phrase or fact but don’t really answer the question.  Here’s a quick story:

When I was a senior in high school, the Meadowlands race track in New Jersey had just opened up near my home.  Every weekend, a bunch of us went to the track.  Since the minimum bet was $2, we could all chip in and bet all night with very little money.  One of my friends who always came with us was Mormon.  She also owned a horse.  She was great with horses and often had a good instinct for which riders seemed most comfortable on their horses.  Because she was Mormon, she didn’t feel right telling us which horses would win, as that would be helping us to gamble.  But she gladly told us which horses she thought would lose!  With ten horses in each race, when my friend said, “Not 1, not 3, not 4, not 6, and not 9,” we had a MUCH better chance of winning – and we usually did.

It’s the same with taking a test.  If you eliminate the losers, you have  a much better chance at finding winners.  Even though this technique sounds obvious, under the pressure of time, few students are methodical enough to eliminate answers patiently.  They’re so eager to grasp at the right answer that they get the question wrong.

4.  Find out why your answer was wrong and another answer was right.  If you take a practice test and look at the answer key to find out how many you got wrong and how many you got right, you’ve only just begun.  The time-consuming part of taking a practice test – or even a section of a test – is not taking that test but in analyzing your mistakes.  When you get an answer wrong (or if you get an answer right because you guessed well but you really don’t know why you were right), spend as much time as you need to look at the other answers.  Why was your answer wrong?  Why was the right answer right?  Why were the other wrong answers wrong?  Over the course of the section or the test, is there a pattern to your wrong answers?  Are they often at the end of a test?  Is there a certain type of question you consistently get wrong?  Taking a practice test isn’t where the work is.  You are only taking a practice test so you can examine your answers to see where your thinking or reading or vocabulary needs help.  When a student of mine gets a question wrong, I try to explain where he went wrong and why the right answer is right.  When a student seems impatient with that process, I know he has very little chance of making significant improvement in his score.

5.  Understand the quote in context.  When the test mentions a specific line number, always reread from a few lines above to a few lines below that line.  I can usually convince kids to read a line above, but they rarely read a line below.  As soon as they hit the quote, they jump back to the question.  That’s a mistake.  Very, very often, the quote is explained in the sentences that follow it.

6.  Prepare for the test, and trust your preparation.  When a parent calls me to set up a tutoring schedule with her student, so often she says, “My daughter is just not a good test taker.”  I cringe.  If the parent said that to me, she probably said it to her student, or her student said it to her, and she patted her kid on the head and concurred.  If you go into a test thinking, “I’m awful at this kind of test,” of course you will be!  If you prepare well, you can take any test thinking, “I may not be the very smartest kid in the room, but no one is more prepared than I am.”  Read this blog post over a few times and trust my advice.  Then you can say, “I used to be a poor test taker, but now I have the strategies I need to be an excellent test taker.”  It’s true!

7.  The test is meant to be a challenge that you can master.  Tests aren’t light entertainment.  They aren’t a sitcom or a comic book.  They’re not even Harry Potter.  They are a challenge, and you can win.  If you read a passage on the Supreme Court, think to yourself, “How interesting!  I wonder what they’re going to ask me about this.”  In college, especially your first year, you’ll have to read lots of stuff that you’d rather not read, yet you’ll have to make sense of it before you can move on to more interesting material.  Difficult reading is excercise for the brain.  Running laps isn’t fun, either, but athletes do boring activities to build their skills and strength.  Test reading passages aren’t meant to be fun.  Look on difficult reading as something designed to test your skills and strength.  Don’t stop paying attention halfway through the passage.  Press on, mighty student!  You can do it!

8.  The answer in the answer key is correct and you are wrong.  Very rarely, the makers of tests goof.  But going through a test trying to prove that your answer is as good as or better than theirs won’t get you any prizes.  Presume that the test maker has included the correct answer in your multiple choice list, but also presume he has put in a couple of almost-right answers.  Your job is to figure out why those answers are wrong before you worry about which answer is right.  Standardized tests are battles of wits:  you against the test maker.  You can only win by choosing the same answer as the test maker.  Clever alternatives don’t win.  Your job, if you choose to accept it, is to select the same answer as the test maker did.

Do you have other tips for taking standardized tests?  Let me know!

Wendy Segal

April 8, 2012

Quiz for SAT Words with Several Meanings

Filed under: vocabulary — highschool2college @ 12:35 am

QUIZ for Words with Several Meanings

Here’s the word bank.   Each word is only used once:

discriminate       medium               modest                                economy             reserved              resigned              temper                 conviction           diverting              patent                  celebrated          flagging                                veiled

concession          substance


Here are the self-aggrandizing (look it up) sentences to fill in:

1.  He was a man of sure _______________, steadfast in his belief that his teacher was always right.

2.  She was a __________ liar, because it was obvious to everyone that she refused to tell the truth even though her teacher asked her to be honest.

3.  His energy was ___________ because he had been hard at work on the assignment for several hours, just to please his teacher.

4.  The kind teacher made a ______________ to the class’ request that the test be postponed one more day so they could make their project better.

5.  The wise teacher was able to _____________ between those who worked hard and those who hardly worked.

6.  Most of the students only put in a ______________ amount of work, but some worked all night on their homework assignment.

7.  The teacher was able to ___________ her anger with compassion when the students explained why they couldn’t complete the assignment.

8.  The students were ___________________ to completing the book without resorting to Spark Notes since the teacher created such clever exams.

9.  Some of the students were boisterous and loud, but the teacher had greater respect for the more ___________ students who never shouted out.

10.  The teacher used the ______________  of classical music to enhance her students’ understanding of the nineteenth century.

11.  Although the teacher listed to the student’s excuse without comment, in the end she found his argument lacking __________________.

12.  When the teacher told the class members that they wouldn’t like the consequences of shirking their work, it was more than a thinly ________________ threat.

13.  The ____________movie star admitted she owed her success to her English teacher.

14.  The class always found the teacher’s lessons ___________________ because she put so much planning and creativity into her teaching.

15.  Although the SATs prefer an expansive essay, most English teachers correctly value essays that have more  ____________ of language.

April 5, 2012

SAT Tip: Common Words with Several Meanings

Filed under: Uncategorized,vocabulary — highschool2college @ 4:53 pm
Tags: , ,

These words have several meanings. but the SATs usually favor one meaning over the others – and it’s usually not the most common meaning.  How many of these alternate meanings do you know?

discriminateusually means:  to be biased or prejudiced

but on the SAT, usually means:  to be able to notice fine differences  between things or to be able to judge the quality of something

His palate was so discriminating that he could tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi blindfolded, although he tried not to discriminate and choose one over the other.


mediumusually means: in the middle, not large or small

can also mean: a psychic, someone who can talk to spirits

but on the SAT, usually means: a substance OR a means of communication  (medium is the singular of media)

            When I’m painting using the medium of oil paints, I prefer the medium of   radio to the medium of television, because my psychic medium and I find radio to be a medium rather than a big distraction.

modestusually means: not flashy or showing off or bragging; humble

but on the SAT, usually means: medium, not large or small

He made a modest attempt to score well on the test; he studied a little but he could have studied more, he explained modestly to those who scored even lower than he did.

economyusually means: the money system of a region or country

but on the SAT, usually means: using as little as possible

On the writing section of the SATs, the test favors answers that have an economy of expression and so prefers shorter sentences to longer ones, no matter whether the sentences are about politics, the economy, or another subject.

reservedusually means: saved or set aside for a particular purpose

but on the SAT, usually means: shy, withdrawn, quiet

His sister was outgoing and flamboyant, but he was generally reserved so he kept to himself and let her do all the talking while he sat in the reserved section of the theater.

resignedusually means: left the job, quit

but on the SAT, usually means: to accept something as inevitable or to accept something without fighting back

He hated having his kid brother follow him everywhere, but he was resigned to the role of big brother and guardian because both of his parents worked during the day so he knew he had no choice and couldn’t resign from his responsibilities.


temper usually means: showing rage or anger

but on the SAT, usually means: to calm down, moderate, or soften

The judge was so angry with the criminal that he nearly showed his temper, but instead, he decided to temper his disapproval with mercy and compassion.

convictionusually means: being found guilty of a crime

but on the SAT, usually means: a firmly held belief

The jury voted for conviction because of their conviction that the man was guilty.

divertingusually means: turning someone onto a different course or direction

but on the SAT, usually means: entertaining, amusing, fun

The police were diverting the traffic away from Madison Square Garden, where the most diverting circus was performing that day.

patentusually means: the right to market something exclusively, like a copyright

but on the SAT, usually means: obvious

The fact that he could apply for a patent for his new discovery in physics meant that he was patently a genius in the subject.

celebrated usually means: commemorated with a party

but on the SAT, usually means: famous

They all gathered together to have a party to celebrate the birthday of the celebrated musician.

flagging usually means: to get someone’s attention by waving a flag or another object

but on the SAT, usually means: diminishing, decreasing, fading

The stranded motorist had been unsuccessfully flagging down help for hours with an old towel, but now he could barely lift the towel because his energy was flagging.

veiledusually means: wearing a veil, hidden

but on the SAT, usually means: subtle or not terribly well-hidden

The veiled bride could not hide her barely veiled frustration with the caterer who forgot to supply a wedding cake.

concessionusually means: the place where you buy snacks

but on the SAT, usually means: to concede or give in, to compromise

The girl wanted to go to a fancy restaurant to eat and her boyfriend wanted to grab a hotdog at the concession stand, but they reached a concession and decided to go to Friendly’s instead.

substanceusually means: a thing, a material

but on the SAT, usually means: weight, proof, or truth

The scientist thought the substance might be flammable, but his opinion didn’t   have substance because he was unfamiliar with the new material.

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