4 Tricks to Learn Vocab for the New SAT

The new SAT tests vocabulary in a completely different way from the old format of the test. Instead of focusing on the necessity of memorizing and using less commonly spoken, difficult words, the new SAT concentrates on your ability to recognize the meaning of words in context. The new SAT has ditched those pesky sentence completion tasks for more varied passages with vocab questions that may ask you to discern between multiple, potential definitions of a certain word, or how that word affects a passage’s meaning. Even though the vocab may seem more intuitive on the new SAT, there are several study tips that may help you snag extra points on test day. Check out these tricks to learn vocab for the new SAT:

1. Ditch the old SAT vocab lists

The new SAT is not concerned with obscure vocab words, and you shouldn’t be either. Get rid of those stacks of flashcards developed for the old test and forego straight-up memorization of definitions as you approach this new test. Remember that success on this new test does not depend on your rote memorization of information, but rather your understanding of words as they appear in passages.

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2. Focus on studying words in context by reading materials from varied disciplines

The new SAT’s Reading section now encompasses comprehension skills from various disciples, and this is reflected in its vocab questions. For example, you might be asked to discern the meaning of a word in a scientific context that would have a different meaning in an art history context. Your task would be to recognize the differing function of that word in its different contexts and to select the proper way that word functions in the context at hand. You can prepare yourself for vocab questions like this by making a habit of reading articles from varying disciplines—politics, geography, nature, health, economics, history, etc. Try selecting a few unfamiliar words from each article as you read and challenge yourself to figure out the definition of those words, as well as how they function in the article as a whole.

3. Practice understanding what the questions are asking

Unlike the old SAT, which had vocab questions that focused on applying definitions, the new SAT questions focus on application, context, and alternate meanings. Practice reading question stems via SAT practice tests and writing out your “translation” of what the question is asking before you select your answer. Though you won’t have time to write out your translations on test day, taking some time to practice this skill now can help you more automatically understand the purpose of a question the first time you read it on the actual test, preventing you from having to re-read the question multiple times. Ask yourself what “task” you have to complete as you read vocab questions and select an answer that fulfills that task the best.

4. If you must have flashcards, select your words carefully

Some students love to study from SAT flashcards, and if you’re intent on doing so for the new SAT, do so intelligently. Instead of finding the hardest words from your practice passages to write down on cards, look for words within your readings that have multiple known definitions. When making your flashcards, put the word with which you are concerned on one side and as many definitions for that word as you can find on the reverse. Prep your brain to recognize those multiple meanings available for single words in order to learn vocab for the new SAT.