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How will the new SAT test for vocabulary?

Analogies are no longer part of the SAT. Which means that vocabulary isn’t as important, right? Way wrong!

Most students will tend to believe that vocabulary development is no longer important. In my opinion, this is a misguided attitude: Work[ing] on vocabulary will increase your accuracy on the sentence completion questions, and it will also improve your performance on the critical reading questions. Analogies were a rather artificial way of testing vocabulary.

How will vocabulary be tested?

Vocabulary will now be tested in three areas: (1) the reading passages, (2) the sentence completion questions, which are part of the critical reading passages, and (3) the essay.

Knowing what a word means is only half the story when it comes to vocabulary,. You also need to understand how the word is used. [The new SAT] replaces analogies with more reading passages, and these passages contain the same vocabulary words that appeared in the old analogy questions, only now these words are in context.

The sentence completion questions are closer to real-life situations, but there are only 19 of these questions per test on the new SAT.

In addition, the new SAT essay section affords students another opportunity to demonstrate the breadth of their vocabulary. This is a positive change for the SAT and the students who take the exam because it is less about rote memorization and more about actually understanding the words you read.

What are SAT words?

The SAT tends to throw two types of words at you: (1) words that students aged 16 to 17 years old should already know and use (for example, discourse or innuendo), and (2) words they may not recognize but can decipher based either on the word’s structure (roots, prefixes, and suffixes) or its usage.

Take antepenultimate, for instance. If you saw this word on test day, you might panic—but only if you didn’t trust your ability to break the word down into its core components. Well, ‘ultimate’ is pretty straightforward—it means final or last. ‘Pen’ is a prefix that means before, so penultimate means ‘before last’ or ‘second to last’. And ante is another prefix that also means ‘before,’ so antepenultimate is ‘before second to last’ or ‘third from last.’

The examiners only use a limited number of words. You will find that many words are used over and over again, and these are the words that appear in a good test prep word list. So we could say that the SAT examiners have a pool of suitable words, which we can think of as SAT words.

Study tips

Any teacher will tell you that the way to improve vocabulary is to read more, But a quick-fix solution is to try to learn lists of SAT words. To memorize a word, you have to be able to associate it with an idea or know the way the word is usually used. Ask teachers, friends and parents to use difficult new words in sentences. Look out for new words in your reading to see the context in which they are used. Try them out in your schoolwork, but don’t try out really unusual words in your essay on the actual new SAT examination. You need time and practice before you can use the words effectively.


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