Standardized Test Prep: Above and Beyond Flash Cards

Posted by Andrew Jungclaus on 9/20/13 8:56 AM


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Use these tips and you will blow Mrs. Patmore's mind!

The week before last, I started one of my high school students in New York City who’s preparing for the SAT on a new vocabulary-building regime. It’s been working incredibly well, and includes a few really simple strategies that any student preparing for the SAT, the ACT, or the GRE can incorporate into their daily routines. I thought that I would share them here on the blog in hopes of inspiring some of our students to get a jump on their preparations for autumn and winter testing dates.

Look for new words everywhere.

Sure, lists are great – the Princeton Review and Barrons both have extensive lists of vocabulary that appears commonly on the SAT, and we at Cambridge Coaching even have our own exhaustive lists of vocabulary for the SAT and GRE. But if always have some way to write down unfamiliar words – be it an iPhone or a pad of paper – you can find new words for your vocab-building every hour of the day. Circle that word in the newspaper you can’t quite define. Write down every word your teacher says that you feel like you could use in a sentence but maybe don’t have a perfect sense of what it means. Keep your lists running and make your own flashcards from the terms you cull (“to obtain from a variety of sources”) from your everyday interactions. My students always seem to develop a more personal relationship with the words this way, and taking ownership is a great way to keep the enthusiasm up during the long season of test prep.

Memorize a phrase

Sometimes the definition just doesn’t stick right away. But one of my students insists on memorizing a particularly vivid phrase or sentence for each new word he learns, and often this is enough to conjure up the definition. For instance, expiate can be a tricky word for high school students to remember – but if you remember that a commonly used phrase involving the word is to expiate your sins, you might start to think that it has something to do with atonement, or making something up to someone. Keep your ears tuned to how people use these vocab words in common speech, and use phrases like this to your advantage. 

Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

This is the challenge that my students in New York and online seem to enjoy the most. By repeating these words that you’re learning and using them early and often, you’ll be much more likely to actually remember them. I always tell students to try using their new words with their parents – it can be fun to try to stump them, and you’ll feel less like a know-it-all than you would using words like abrogate (“to repeal or to do away with”) or aqueous (“relating to water”) with your friends.

Using techniques like this require a little bit more committment than just staring mutely at flash cards, but try it out!  You might be surprised at how much more effective they are for helping you remember words.  Remember that setting yourself a firm schedule for SAT and other standardized test prep is crucial for doing well, but equally important is making this kind of casual, constant exercise a part of every single day.

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Tags: study skills, ACT, English, SAT, GRE