Learn SAT Vocabulary
100,000 vocabulary words seems like an impossible number to master by 8th grade! I found this article to figure out the science behind how kids actually learn that many words (and just in time for the SAT test!).
I read enormous quantities of books as a child, but when I took my PSAT test in high school, I did not know enough vocabulary words to get a decent score. I think some kids are able to learn 100,000 words just through reading and inference. For others, it takes methodical study. One of my Harvard roommates memorized the dictionary. I used SAT flashcards. The repetition worked for me (and it turns out self-testing is the key to learning) and my SAT score was so markedly improved, shocking my high school guidance counselor.
There are many approaches to learning vocabulary words. I have included games, visual vocabulary cards, and cartoons.
In this American Educator article*, Brown University professor Marilyn Jager Adams says that eighth graders need to know about 100,000 words to be proficient readers of advanced texts.
How is that possible? Direct vocabulary instruction is essential, she says, but if students are taught (and actually learn) 20 words each week from Grade 1 to 12, they will have only 8,640 words by high-school graduation – not even close to what’s needed.
The only other strategy would seem to be students inferring the meaning of new words as they read.
Adams does the math:
- The average middle-class fifth grader reads about 1,000,000 words a year.
- Because most words are used multiple times, a million words include about 17,200 different words.
- An average student would know about a quarter of those words.
- This means he or she would need to learn about 12,900 new words per year.
- The likelihood of the student understanding and retaining a new word from context is about 0.05.
- This means a child’s vocabulary would increase by only 645 words a year.
- That’s just 5,160 words by high-school graduation.
So how do all those other words get learned? “To grow, our students must read lots,” says Adams. “More specifically, they must read lots of ‘complex’ texts – texts that offer them new language, new knowledge, and new modes of thought.” And they need to tackle those texts with the language, knowledge, modes of thought, and reading skills necessary to understand. Those who don’t have those need lots of support from teachers, families, and other adults to scaffold reading of challenging texts.
For SAT tests, then, what is best strategy?
Root Words: learn the roots and you can find a list of roots in any review book. So if you run across a word you will be able to still have an inkling of what it is.
Vocabulary Cards: not just to memorize them but also to incorporate them into you’re writing and maybe even occassionally use them in everyday language.
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Useful Links for Building Vocabulary
Here’s a list of 1062 Vocabulary Words.
*“Advancing Our Students’ Language and Literacy: The Challenge of Complex Tasks” by Marilyn Jager Adams in American Educator, Winter 2010-2011 (Vol. 34, #4, p. 3-11, 53)