Beyond Memorization: How to Master Advanced SAT Vocabulary

Test PrepMemorizing vocabulary words is a basic component of SAT test preparation. Knowing advanced vocabulary is useful in Sentence Completion questions, passage comprehension, and essay writing. Advanced vocabulary is also handy beyond standardized tests; it can be applied to both academic and professional reading and writing, and builds cultural capital. Unfortunately, many students who spend hours memorizing vocabulary words do not retain them long-term. Others gain only a patchy understanding of each definition and end up capable only of recognizing the words in context, not actually employing them in writing.

Mastering vocabulary words is far more useful than simply memorizing them. Here are a few tips and tricks for moving beyond memorization towards gaining total command of advanced vocabulary.

Learn thoroughly and actively.

Do not attempt memorization if you are too tired, hungry, or stressed to concentrate. Cramming and skimming are inefficient—and sometimes entirely ineffective—ways of learning. Take occasional snack breaks to keep yourself energized and alert in order to make the most of every minute you spend.

Review frequently.

To embed information in your long-term memory, it is necessary to revisit that information regularly. Pick one day each week to review all of the vocabulary you have learned so far.

Study with a friend or ask someone to quiz you.

Working with a friend can keep you accountable and on task. If you’re naturally extroverted, working with a friend can also energize you, improving your focus and retention.

Vary your memorization techniques.

While studying new vocabulary words, read the words and their definitions out loud. Read them in reverse order. Read them silently to yourself. Write them by hand. Type them into a word processor. Make flash cards. Use online study tools like Quizlet. Varying your memorization techniques and patterns will help you to associate each word with its definition, rather than with a specific order or type of recitation.

Use them whenever you can.

The best way to learn a new word is to actually incorporate it into your daily vocabulary. Try using new words in conversation with friends and family, school assignments, or personal journal entries. Doing so will boost your confidence and familiarity with advanced vocabulary. The frequent repetition will strengthen your associations between each word and its definition.

Get creative.

As a member of my high school debate team, I regularly printed and laminated speeches I had to memorize, then hung them up on my shower wall. An old SAT prep student of mine recited SAT vocabulary words aloud every morning on the way to school. There are countless ways to review vocabulary words; try coming up with original strategies that work with your schedule and learning style.

Memorizing advanced vocabulary doesn’t have to be difficult or boring. Move beyond rote recitation in order to make your learning experience more effective, efficient, and interesting. Happy Studying!

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Courtney Tran is a student at UC Berkeley, studying Political Economy and Rhetoric. In high school, she was named a National Merit Finalist and National AP Scholar, and she represented her district two years in a row in Public Forum Debate at the National Forensics League National Tournament.