If you are planning on sitting for the SAT soon, you likely already have an idea of what to expect.
You have the Reading section, the Writing and Language section, a Math section, and an optional Essay section.
As you can see, a lot of these sections are testing your proficiency in reading, grammar and writing; and naturally to get the best scores, you need to able to read and write well.
Loads of SAT guidebooks come with long, extensive lists of advanced vocabulary to help enhance your writing and improve your reading comprehension.
But unfortunately, these guidebooks often don’t tell you how to learn, remember and use all these words.
Many of them tell you to study using flashcards, but learning experts and brain science says this is actually the least effective way to learn new words.
It’s exhausting and there are no pictures and associations that make memory extraordinary.
When you use flashcards, you simply repeat the same thing over and over again and your brain has no real “reason” to remember the words.
And having a robust grasp of advanced vocabulary can give you that extra advantage to boost your scores and increase your chances of getting into your dream school.
So, in this article, I’m going to share with you 4 ways to learn advanced vocabulary for the SAT – to help you naturally elevate your reading comprehension, writing and expression!
4 Ways to Learn Advanced Vocabulary for the SAT
1. Learn Advanced Vocabulary for the SAT by Chunking Your Studying
You might look at those long lists of words and stacks of flashcards and think there is no way you’ll learn all of them unless you spend every minute of the day trying.
But this is actually counterintuitive and does not align with how the brain learns.
Here’s how learning occurs, simplified:
When you learn or experience something new, your brain creates a connection between your neurons or brain cells.
Every time you encounter this information, recall it or apply it, the associated neurons fire up, and this makes that neural connection stronger, committing it to your long-term memory.
On the other hand, if you don’t review the information you learn and there are long gaps between reviewing it, your brain decides the memory is unimportant, and deletes it.
This is why memorizing long word lists doesn’t work.
You might be able to recite a long list of words now, but in a couple of hours or by the next day, there will be gaps in your memory if you don’t attempt to retain it.
The Ebbinghaus curve of forgetting illustrates why this is the case.
The curve shows that retention of learning is the strongest near the beginning (primacy) and near the end (recency) of a study session.
What you learn in the middle tends to decay faster, if no attempt is made to retain this information.
And the longer your study session, the steeper the curve of forgetting.
So, if you looked up this article after realizing that you could only remember the first couple of words on an SAT vocabulary word list and the last couple, with poor recollection of the middle – this is why.
To counter this problem, the solution is to chunk or break down your study sessions.
Spend about 25-30 minute sessions learning a set number of words.
Once that session is up, give yourself a break.
Then, before you move on to the next set of words, review what you learned before.
Ensure that you review your words at regular intervals – gradually, you can begin to space these review sessions out, from every day, to every week, to every two weeks, etc.
By frequently firing up the neurons associated with the memories of those words, you are strengthening your neural pathways, and ensuring that it gets cemented into your long-term memory.
Breaking up your study sessions also helps keep you motivated.
Shorter study sessions reduce the gap between the beginning and end, decreasing how much you might forget in the middle, and breaks ensure you don’t burn yourself out while you do this.
When you review or quiz yourself, and consistently recall the words successfully, you experience a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.
This ticks up the production of the motivation chemical dopamine in your body, which anticipates the reward after your next study session, in turn encouraging you to commit to learning.
2. Learn Advanced Vocabulary for the SAT by Creating Mental Movies
As you read above, memorizing long lists of words isn’t an effective strategy because it isn’t a brain-friendly style of learning.
But that’s not the only reason memorizing long lists isn’t the best or most conducive form of learning.
In order to recall something and commit it to your long-term memory, it needs to have personal meaning or relevance to you.
How can a bunch of words you may not have come across or used have personal relevance to you, though?
Here’s a fun trick – create images with connections and stories with the words in your mind.
Visual learners do this naturally – they are able to create images in their heads out of the information they are learning, which improves their recall of what they learn.
Compared to decoding strings of symbols, the brain processes images 60,000 times faster – about 80% of your brain engages in visual processing.
Being able to visualize what you’re learning by converting information into images in your mind, is how memory champions give meaning to randomized strings of numbers and words to recall them at will.
For every new word that you encounter, first, ask yourself, “What does this remind me of?”
Don’t have it remind you of the actual meaning of the word – just a silly, humorous connection of what it reminds you of.
For example, the Portuguese word “tia” could remind you of “tiara”.
Now “tia” actually means “aunt”.
So, on a note card, place a picture of your aunt in the middle wearing a tiara.
In the top left of the card, put the meaning of the word (aunt) and under the image place the word itself – “tia.”
Make the image in the center as lively and ridiculous as you can, because humorous images are easier to remember.
Make these images part of a bigger story – a mental movie you’re filming inside your head.
Then hold the card above your eye level and say – “tia – aunt” about 10 times while making a mental image of the words.
As another example, imagine your favorite superhero, like Batman, is the main character in your mental movie.
If one of the words on your list is “freewheeling”, a synonym for carefree, imagine a funny scene of Batman forgetting all about crime-fighting as he “freely wheels” through the grounds of Wayne Manor in the Batmobile.
“Opine”, meaning to openly express one’s opinion, might be the next word on your list.
Conjure up a silly image of Alfred the butler in a “pine” tree, opining that Batman ought to stop this carefree behavior before he crashes into something.
“Savvy” could be the next item on your list, meaning to be well-versed technically in something.
So, visualize Batman swerving around avoiding all the trees in his Batmobile, because he’s very savvy with the controls of his hi-tech car.
Creating additional stories with images like this out of the words you need to learn is not only fun, but creates personal relevance because of the images you are conjuring up in your mind.
For every new stack of words, or when you shuffle them around to review them, you can create a new story.
Not only do you enjoy a creative exercise, but this also tests out your ability to use these words in the right contexts, by applying their meaning as well as the word itself.
And this is highly important practice for the SAT, as it will be testing not your ability to remember long lists of words, but your contextual understanding and application of advanced vocabulary.
3. Learn Advanced Vocabulary for the SAT by Taking Advantage of Your Learning Style
Because of the speed and accuracy with which you can recall images, all learners can benefit from adding visual learning strategies such as the one mentioned above to their studying.
Visualization is one of the best strategies for enhancing your memory not just for advanced vocabulary but for learning overall, and with enough practice, auditory and kinesthetic learners can do this too.
But because learners have different strengths and preferences for how they learn best, the best strategy for you would depend on the unique combination of your learning styles.
Along with your visual learning strategy of making mental movies, explore whether you prefer to learn in other ways by figuring out what your primary learning style is.
Are you an auditory learner?
Then, along with the images, you might benefit from recording yourself saying the words and definitions out loud, and playing it back to yourself.
You might like to make up your stories out loud, and record those too.
If you are a kinesthetic learner, you might like to move or walk around as you recite the words.
You might remember better if you act out the meaning of the words, or time every word you recite with a ball you’re bouncing against the floor or wall, or each step you take up the stairs.
All the while, remember to keep making your mental movies – when you need to recall them, your brain retrieves these images and all their emotional and inherent meaning much faster than words.
4. Learn Advanced Vocabulary for the SAT with Vocabulary Software
As educational technology evolves, it is more and more possible to optimize the learning experience in brain-friendly ways.
Gamification of learning, when done right, is an excellent way of accomplishing this.
Gamifying a learning platform involves incorporating game-like elements into the environment – breaking learning up into levels, awarding badges and upgrading rankings, etc.
A gamified learning platform like Vocabulary Quest combines many of the strategies mentioned throughout this article into one place, creating a holistic learning experience optimized for success.
For instance, the system of rewards, levels and rankings gets the reward center of your brain activated, and dopamine circulating your system.
As you anticipate greater rewards, you feel more motivated to keep learning and therefore recall the words you’re being tested on to unlock the next stage of the game.
Because software can mold to your unique gameplay and learning style, it can also keep track of words you tend to get wrong, and prompt you with these frequently.
Vocabulary Quest lets you create custom lists of words you need a little extra help with.
For words you get wrong during a quest, the software highlights the ones you missed, and lets you play minigames using those missed words.
This reduces the gap between the primacy and recency of your learning and increases the activity of the neurons associated with your memory of those words.
This immediate feedback helps ensure you correct your mistakes early on and commit what you’re learning to your long-term memory.
By frequently testing you on words you had encountered as a part of a task to keep pursuing your dopamine-generating rewards, the game also helps you “chunk” your study sessions and review regularly.
Gamified software like Vocabulary Quest also combine the learning preferences of all learning styles in one place.
For starters, you are immediately immersed as a player character within a narrative where completing the task allows you to free the fictional Lands of Vocab, battle monsters and upgrade your items.
The dynamic visual elements of the game along with the compelling story create an engaging learning experience than if you simply had to read words off a book, stimulating your visual learning.
The challenging but attainable objectives give you the motivation you need to constantly learn, review and apply the words you are learning to keep unlocking in-game benefits.
The interactivity can be a huge plus for kinesthetic learners who may otherwise find it difficult to concentrate when reading off a page.
Auditory learners benefit as well because you can play out the pronunciation of words for yourself if you learn and recall better in this format.
The best part is, because of the fun, engaging format, learning becomes interactive, enjoyable and effective without feeling like a chore!
With these 4 ways to learn advanced vocabulary for the SAT, I hope you are not only able to conquer those word lists, but also enjoy yourself doing it!
How are these strategies working out for you? Write in, and let me know!
Jason Manilla is the Founder and owner of VocabularyQuest.com.
This site is used by both children and adults around the world.
Vocabulary Quest trains learners to master advanced vocabulary through game-based learning.