Tips for Learning New Vocabulary Words

10 Ways to Prepare for a Vocabulary Test


Preparing for vocabulary tests, such as the SAT or GRE Verbal, can seem quite overwhelming. A vocabulary study list could easily be 1,000 words. While you may be familiar with some of the terms already, to think of memorizing even 100 new ones is a daunting task. However, all students face the same challenge. What's to be remembered is that there are indeed ways to prepare, from practice tests to flash cards to mnemonic techniques. Find the one that works best for you and conquer those words!

1. Practice Vocabulary Tests: These tests, available online and in book form, are a great way to assess your vocabulary IQ. From analogies to sentence completion, they also give you an idea of what to expect from the actual test. In school, we're told to look at study questions at the end of a reading assignment first. The reason being is that you'll then know what to look for when reading. The same holds true for practice vocabulary tests and/or quizzes. It's even better if you take the tests under test conditions (timed, with no outside distractions).

2. Study Word Parts: Familiarize yourself with word parts. That is, the roots and affixes of words. Most of the English language comes from Greek, Latin, and Anglo-Saxon. If you become familiar with common roots, prefixes, and suffixes, it should aid you in spelling and comprehension. For instance, the Latin root "-gress" (or -grad) means "step, walk, decree." From this root, we get words like progress, digress, regress, transgress, and congress.

3. Read Vocabulary Lists: These are available online, at the bookstore, and in your library. They typically contain the most common terms found on standardized tests like the GRE. As with practice tests, to know what to expect from your real test is part of the readiness. With vocabulary lists, make note of the words you know and those that you don't. From the list of words unfamiliar to you, begin your research.

4. Mnemonics: These memory tricks can be a great help in learning and memorizing new words by way of association. Mnemonic techniques make use of what we already know, providing context to that which is new. From a cartoon to a rhyme to an acronym, mnemonics can help us make sense of the unfamiliar. For instance, with vocabulary cartoons, the new word is given a definition, a link word (rhymed; e.g. lament and cement), a visual, and a fun caption. This multi-sensory approach gives your brain a robust reference to return to later when the word is needed again. When preparing for a vocabulary test, a mnemonic technique can truly simplify what looks to be impossible.

5. Flash Cards: These are excellent for self-quizzing and can be taken wherever you go. Flash cards have been used since our earliest education years, but they remain just as effective when studying for the SAT or GRE. You can make cards yourself, which works well if you have a specific word-list to study. You can also purchase the cards in book form (for a low price) or download/print them from online sources. If you do make your own flash cards, just remember to make the definition small enough that it cannot be read in a "flash." Include the definition and sample sentences to review when simply studying from the cards.

6. Word Games: Word games like word searches and crosswords are fun ways to study. By engaging in such skill games, you're giving your brain the building blocks for new words and the memorization of them. For vocabulary tests, it can only help if when you look down at the test, the words jump out; much like they do in a word search, a crossword, or an anagram.

7. Create Sentences: Measure your progress by taking a self-quiz. As a helpful exercise, take a set of new vocabulary words (say, 25 at a time) and list them. Go down the list and try to write a sentence for each. Afterwards, check them against your study aids. If your sentence is written correctly, using the right definition, then you can check it off your list for now. For those you got wrong, put them to the side for your next quiz. As your real test approaches, begin to time yourself. Give yourself 45 seconds for each sentence, so about 12 minutes total for 25. Under test conditions, you will need to be decisive. (Note: Even for the words you get right, continue to review them - even if you're not quizzing yourself. Repetition can only help.)

8 Enroll in a Prep Course: For those studying for the SAT or GRE, it's recommended that you take a prep course. You can sign up through your school or online. Courses vary in price, format, and length, ranging from a weekend cram session to a week-long study seminar. They're also available online. Keep in mind that independent study can prove as effective, especially if you invest in a software program. Prep courses are helpful however in identifying where you should focus your "prep" the most.

9. Join the Discussion: More economical than a prep course, simply immerse yourself in an environment that's all about learning new words. Study groups, both in-class and online, can help you stay in practice while not even realizing it. Ever join a roundtable discussion about a favorite TV show? You could quote from past episodes, cite scenes and pieces of dialogue that support your opinion. You're an expert and you don't even realize how much effort you've put into becoming one. The same can be said of vocabulary. If you make it one of your interests, you could be well on your way to being a wordsmith. Try and put your new vocabulary words into practical use, such as in casual conversation with friends. By doing so, your brain will get a bit of helpful reinforcement and a mini-workout.

10. Practice Makes Perfect: Remember, you may need to learn 1,000 vocabulary words for your test. I know it sounds insurmountable, but it's not. Solid preparation can do wonders for your confidence as test-day approaches. Be confident that your studying will pay off in the end. It's of course not going to be easy, but it will be rewarding.

"A vocabulary of truth and simplicity will be of service throughout your life." - Winston Churchill, 1874-1965