You can acquire vocabulary words in the short term as well as over a long period of time. Combining both approaches is best, but if you’re pressed for time, focus on short-term memorization and test-taking skills.
Reading your way to a larger vocabularyIn a world of DVDs, video games, and 17 billion channels on TV, the pastime of reading for enjoyment is quickly fading. To build your vocabulary, you have to read — it’s that simple. Studies consistently show that those who read for enjoyment have a much larger vocabulary than those who dislike reading. You have to see the words in print, not just hear someone say them. Besides, people can read and understand many more words than they could ever use in conversation.
That doesn’t mean you have to start with Advanced Astrophysics. In fact, if you don’t read much, you can start with your daily newspaper, a news magazine, or any type of reading material that’s just a notch or two above what you ordinarily read. Choose topics that interest you. If you’re interested in the subject matter, you’ll enjoy reading more. Plus, you may learn something new!
When you encounter a word you don’t know, try to understand what it means by looking at the context in which the word is used. For example, if you read, “The scientist extrapolated from the data,” and you don’t know what extrapolated means, you can try substituting words you do know to see whether they’d make sense. For example, the scientist probably didn’t hide from the data. She probably used the data to make some sort of decision, judgment, or guess. To confirm your understanding of the word, check your dictionary. Making predictions like this can help you remember a definition for the long term.You may even consider keeping a running list of terms you come across as you read, along with their definitions (see the following section). On the Word Knowledge subtest of the ASVAB, you often won’t be able to guess what a word means from its context (in many cases, there’s no context in the test because the words aren’t used in sentences). You also won’t be able to look the word up in the dictionary. But considering context and consulting a dictionary are two great ways to discover vocabulary words during your test preparation.
Keeping a list and checking it twiceNot long ago, an 11-year-old girl went through the entire dictionary and made a list of all the words she didn’t know. (The process took several months.) She then studied the list faithfully for a year and went on to win first place in the National Spelling Bee finals. You don’t have to go to this extent, but even putting in a tenth of her effort can dramatically improve your scores on the Word Knowledge subtest.
One way to improve your vocabulary is to keep a word list.Here’s how that list works:
- When you hear or read a word that you don’t understand, jot it down or make note of it in your smartphone.
- When you have a chance, look up the word in the dictionary and then write the meaning on your list.
- Use the word in a sentence that you make up. Write the sentence down, too.
- Use your new word in everyday conversation. Finding a way to work the word zenith into a description of last night’s basketball game requires creativity, but you won’t forget what the word means.
Arrange your list by related items so the words are easier to remember. For example, list the words having to do with your work on one page, words related to mechanical knowledge on another page, and so on.You can also find websites that offer lists of words if you spend a few minutes surfing. Try using search phrases such as “vocabulary words” and “SAT words.” Here are a few resources:
- Vocabulary.com: This site offers thousands of vocabulary words and their definitions, as well as interactive, adaptive games to help you learn.
- Dictionary.com and Thesaurus.com: Dictionary.com includes a great online dictionary and word of the day. The related site Thesaurus.com, which links back to the dictionary, gives you the same word of the day as well as lists of synonyms and antonyms.
- Merriam-Webster online: Merriam-Webster online (m-w.com) is another useful site with a free online dictionary, thesaurus, and word of the day.
Crosswords: Making vocabulary funMy grandma always kept a book of crossword puzzles in the center of her kitchen table — and she always kept an ink pen inside to complete the puzzles. (You know somebody’s good if she’s doing crossword puzzles in ink!) So, what was her secret? She’d been doing crosswords since the 1940s, long before you could play word games on a smartphone.
One of the great things about crossword puzzles (other than fun) is that you can find them at all levels of difficulty. Start with one that has a difficulty consistent with your word-knowledge ability and then work your way up to more difficult puzzles. Before you know it, you’ll be a lean, mean word machine and have loads of fun in the process. Dozens of free crossword apps are available for phones, so you don’t even need to buy a book in the checkout lane at the supermarket.
Sounding off by sounding it outSometimes you actually know a word because you’ve heard it in conversation, but you don’t recognize it when you see it written down. For instance, a student who’d heard the word placebo (pronounced “plah-see-bow”) knew that it meant an inactive substance, like a sugar pill. But when she came across it in writing, she didn’t recognize it. She thought it was a word pronounced “plah-chee-bow,” which she’d never heard before.
When you see a word on the ASVAB that you don’t recognize, try pronouncing it (not out loud, please) a couple of different ways.The following pronunciation rules can help you out:
- Sometimes letters are silent, like the b in subtle or the k in A letter at the end of a word may be silent, especially if the word is French; for instance, coup is pronounced coo.
- Some sounds have unusual pronunciations in certain contexts. Think of the first l in colonel, which is pronounced like
- The letter c can sound like s (lice) or k (despicable).
- The letter i after a t can form a sound like Think of the word initiate.
- The letter x at the beginning of a word is generally pronounced like z (Xerox).
- A vowel at the end of a word can change the pronunciation of letters in the word. The word wag has a different g sound than the word
- When several vowels are right next to each other, they can be pronounced many different ways (consider boo, boa, and bout). Try a couple of different possibilities. For instance, if you see the word feint, you may think that it should be pronounced feent or fiynt, but it in fact sounds like It means fake or pretend.