Words Are Good and Stuff: 4 Reasons Why You Still Need to Study "SAT" Vocab

The College Board just turned the world upside-down: they are rolling out BIG changes to the SAT, starting in 2016. (So if you've been preparing for the SAT and plan to take it in fall of 2014 or any time in 2015, you're safe!)

Get the full story on the new test here!

What are the changes? A new, optional essay; evidence-finding questions on science and social studies topics; math questions based on real-life scenarios; and no penalty for wrong answers!  Plus, there will be no more difficult "SAT" vocab words.  This all sounds great, right?  Especially that last part -- no more burying yourself in word lists and flash cards to cram those fancy words into your skull.

But there are four reasons why you should still be studying "SAT" vocabulary, even though it will no longer live up to its name.

1. Time

Tablets, smartphones, and laptops make looking up unknown words so easy! It's crazy to learn lots of words when Google is only ever a click, tap, or voice command away, right?  Wrong.  There are two problems with that kind of thinking.  The first is that any stop - even a brief pause to ask Siri what the heck that word means - negatively impacts your comprehension.  It makes you have to go back and re-read to re-establish continuity.  Every time you stop, you actually have to use energy to get started again.

The second problem is distraction. The Internet is a big and fascinating place.  Looking up a word on Dictionary.com can easily snowball into checking your email or your Instagram feed.  Leaving your book to look something up is an invitation for procrastination, so the less often you do it, the better off you are!

2. Accuracy

Your vocabulary is like a closet full of clothes.  You can select exactly the right word for every occasion, and you can pick and choose at your leisure because you own everything in the closet.  A limited vocabulary means you either get shorts and a tank top, or a snowsuit.  Nothing in between.

organize-colour2-300x200.jpg

The more varied your vocabulary is, the more exactly you can express your thoughts!

You might think with nuance, but if you don't have the words to express subtle differences among situations, no one will be able to follow your well-founded argument about the parallels between To Kill a Mockingbird and Hamlet, or about why you are absolutely the best candidate for the summer internship.

3. Experience

A word does not become part of your vocabulary when you look it up.  The dictionary is like the clothing rack at a store.  You can get a word's denotation - its literal definition - in the same way that you can see that a shirt is blue or that those pants have pockets.  But then you have to "try on" the word!  You have to remember its denotation at each new encounter and practice using it correctly in your own writing.  This will unlock the word's connotation - its subtleties of tone and emotion.  When should you use it, and when would it be inappropriate?  When you "buy" the word, you invest time and effort in owning it.  You make a point of using it in your own speech and writing.

What this really means is that your vocabulary will only grow - your closet will only fill up with attractive, flattering clothing - if you actively work to accrue words.  Your vocabulary is the collection of words that you can use, not words you've seen before or vaguely remember.  Being able to look up the definition of an unknown word on your e-reader is fantastic!  I love "smart" features like this that allow immediate access to useful information!  But you're not finished when you look up the word.  You have to encounter the word in other contexts to understand it fully, and you have to employ it in your own writing to practice its best application.  Basically, use it or lose it!

4. Money

Say what? You need a stellar vocabulary in order to make money? Well, yes.  Like it or not, people judge you on your intelligence, and one of the major perceived indicators of intelligence is vocabulary.  I'm not saying word smarts are the only kind of smarts.  But when you go into that job interview - and even before you go in, when you write that spectacular cover letter and concise résumé - your vocabulary will make you come across as either erudite or not-so-bright.

But why the SAT words?

After all, you won't need them for the test anymore.  But this is backwards thinking. The reason there are "SAT words" is that they were considered to be words college-bound people should know!  So, really, there are no "SAT" words, there are only sophisticated words befitting college- and career-oriented people.

OK, I believe you! (But how do I do it?)

Don't go crazy.  Don't be that student whose head nearly explodes in a conflagration of SAT word lists ingested over the three-week period before the test.  Instead, add to your vocabulary constantly and at a reasonable pace.  The best way to increase and improve your vocabulary is to read. Read the newspaper (I recommend The New York Times, which is available for free online).  Read quality literature.  Read that short story collection you've been meaning to crack open. Raid your friends' "closets":  listen to the words they use and start using them yourself.  And when you do look up unfamiliar words, work on remembering them!(Click to read about strategies for memorizing vocab words!)

However you add to it, your fabulous new vocabulary will make you stick out from the crowd!