Thursday, September 16, 2010

Words at Work and Play

I'd be willing to bet that most people agree that words are significant in our society. Just ask the Old Spice Guy, and he'll tell you the same.  Maybe you're reading this because you want your words to take on more significance, or maybe it's that time of year when you or your loved ones are being forced to take standardized tests (with the kind of vocab that makes you think that learning these inane [adj: silly, stupid, not significant] words is an antedeluvian [adj: 1. old 2. of or pertaining to the time before the flood in the Bible] form of torture). The power of words and a strong vocab can be a great thing, and can make you feel smarter than the people around you, and who doesn't love that?

There are lots of standardized tests in which vocab knowledge goes a LONG way. Trust me on that. Some tests a better vocab is essential for are the SAT, ACT, GRE, and the MAT (Miller Analogies Test-- a lesser known test that can substitute taking the GREs for some grad schools, and is much better for students with vocab skills-- but check your applications to see if it counts).  But if studying vocab is dull and boring for you, maybe you're not doing it right to suit your own needs.

First off, words and vocab can and should be fun. Word masters like Edgar Allen Poe (The Bells) and Lewis Carroll (Jabberwocky) knew that. Even Eminem knows that. Sure, I'm not a huge fan of the messages he raps about, but he's pretty great with words.

1.  READ. This one's easy. You can read pretty much anything you like and you'll improve your vocab. Yes, graphic novels and comic books included. Magazines and blogs too! The more you read, the more vocab you'll come across. Take words in context, and if you're confused, look them up! It's just that simple.

2.  CROSSWORD PUZZLES. I love crossword puzzles, and sometimes they can be really challenging. You can buy them pretty much anywhere-- drugstores, grocery stores, bookstores, you name it! They're easy and they'll make you think, but better than that, they make words a game.

3.  AUDIO -- I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Podcasts are awesome when it comes to learning new vocab. When I was studying for the GREs, I listened to vocab podcasts in the car on my way to work. This cut down on the time that I needed to actually study when I got home, because I could do it in the car. The one I used the most was the Vocabulist by Prestige Learning, available on iTunes, or on their website.  It uses mnemonics (a device used for memorization, in this case-- pairing the vocab word with a funny way of remembering it) to help aid memorization.  (To see other tips for studying for the GREs, see my previous blog entry, "GREs: Grating, Repulsive, and Enervating"). There's also this thing called Flocabulary that incorporates vocab into rap and hip-hop music. It's AWESOME.

4.  STUDY with materials that don't make you want to shove your pen in your eye. I've been there before-- you see a vast ocean of words in front of you, bobbing up and down on the waves of the pages, and you think to yourself all of the other things you'd rather do than study those words. Use materials that will be the most helpful to you for studying for your test. Companies like the Princeton Review, Kaplan, and Barron's spend a lot of time researching the words used on previous standardized tests and then include them in their lists.  

If flash cards aren't appealing (and they weren't for me unless they were foreign language flash cards), then think of fun ways to use these words in sentences or even in poems, or make up your own lyrics to your favorite songs with them. Make up mnemonic devices for them. I Googled "words that frequently appear on SAT" and found this list of 100 words that most frequently appear on the SAT, so I'll show you some examples of mnemonics:

abate: v. to lessen, reduce    mnemonic: if your friend Ab ate something, he reduced it, or lessened its amount
brusque adj. short, rude   mnemonic: If someone has one too many brewskies, he/she may become more brusque
deleterious adj: harmful  mnemonic: If you accidentally delete that 10-page paper you finished on your computer, it will be harmful to your grade.
They can be dumb or funny, but the more they are, the more you'll probably remember them. 


List of 100 Most Common SAT words (linked above also):
I don't know where they got this information from, but looking at it, it seems like a    pretty good bet.

The Prestige Vocabulist by Prestige Learning  This is a link to the iTunes listings.  This is a link to the youTube videos that the Vocabulist has (and I think are probably the same as the iTunes ones).
The audio mnemoic vocab list that you can listen to in your car or even watch videos for online. It's awesome! This is what I used when studying for the GREs, but will also help you study for the SATs.

Software: Vocabulary Synapse: The Best Software for SAT and GRE Vocabulary by Mind Sculptor Software
I've never used this before, but it may be worth checking out at only about $11 on It uses Windows Vista/XP/Mac, Linux, Mac OSX

Audio: Flocabulary!
I had never heard of this, but found it recommended for vocab on It's actually got vocabulary building songs-- mostly hip-hop and rap-- and they make them for grades 2-8 and also at the SAT level! I'm so impressed by this... It also has the lyrics in it, so you can see the words they are rapping with.

Confessions of a High School Word Nerd by Arianna Cohen and Colleen Kinder. 
It's a short book, and it's written as an actual story but incorporates SAT vocab. Wherever they use an SAT word, its definition is added as a footnote at the bottom of the page. Pretty useful... 

Vocabulary Cartoons I and II by Sam Burchers
This has incredible reviews. I've never used these before, but they are meant to help learning SAT words using cartoon drawings.

Princeton Review's Word Smart by Adam Robinson
Great resource for those learning words for the SAT or GRE, by the Princeton Review, so you know they've done their homework. Also comes on audio CD if that works better for you!

601 Words You Need to Know to Pass Your Exam by Murray Bromberg  A vocab book put out by Barron's, so you know they've also done their homework.

Wordplay: Master SAT Vocab with Entertaining Rhymes by Eric Tackeff; Uses wordplay including synonyms, antonyms, and idioms for lots of words.This is only $0.01 on, so it's at least worth a shot!

Word Play Almanac by O.V. Michaelson; A just for fun approach to words-- full of "the most intriguing collection of word wit, wisdom, and amusement ever--served up by a former puzzle columnist for the Mensa International Journal" according to editorial reviews on Amazon.  Uses palindromes, anagrams, and all kinds of other fun word puzzles to get you thinking.

There are a lot of others-- don't be afraid to Google search ways to build your vocab!

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