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What Does That Word MEAN?!

Definitions of words are still loosely tested on the SAT and ACT, although in a much less formulaic way now than you might remember.

Gone are the easily recognizable "Analogies" that plagued many an SAT tester in the past.

My mind still swirls from words such as *pusillanimous and *apocryphal.

Ask an adult to describe the SAT and he/she might respond with "Dog is to Cat as Hot is to Cold, right?"

They've also gotten rid of the slightly less annoying "Sentence Completions", which required you to fill in the correct vocabulary word for one or two missing blanks.

I should point out that both of these insipid question types originated from the SAT, anecdotally the more annoying of the two college admissions exams.

But you will still encounter vocabulary intermittently in the form of Contextual Questions, asking you to loosely define certain words within the context of its usage and the passage.

And regardless of how much vocabulary you actually know, it's likely that you will encounter even a few words that will leave you head scratching.

What to do?

The first key is to avoid these situations altogether by improving your overall vocabulary level. And no, this isn't the part where I tell you to memorize thousands of SAT vocabulary words. Your ROI (Return On Investment) by doing so is very poor. In fact, it amuses me that a few companies out there continue to incorporate formal vocabulary into their pedagogy. In my opinion, this is a great way to keep students busy (thereby racking up the billable hours) but without the necessary expertise (your gardener can help with you with vocab as long as he/she has the flash cards).

What you SHOULD do is find the definition of every word you don't know and MEMORIZE it moving forward.


Another strategy is Latin roots. I'll leave it to you to search for those on the internet.

But what do you do when you still see a difficult word and you're not in a position to look it up? They certainly don't let you Google during the real test.

The answer is simple:

Focus on the words you DO know and ignore the tougher words until the end.

Do NOT make up your own definitions because you "think" you remember what the words mean. That's a short road to a long testing experience.

Here's the analogy I tell my students.

Let's pretend it's your birthday, and for some reason, I'm giving you a birthday gift.

I'm giving you two choices. You may only have one.

First, do you have a dream car? (an entirely appropriate topic for new teenage drivers)

The student might say "Yes! I would love a 2018 Mercedes Benz C63 AMG Coupe Black Series with every option checked off".

Sigh. Welcome to Orange County, CA.

Wonderful. So let's pretend that's your first option.

The other option is a closed door. Behind that closed door could be ANYTHING. It might be two Mercedes Benz AMGs. It might be a million dollars. It might also be a large pepperoni pizza. It might even be kitty litter.

Which door do you choose? (inevitably the student chooses the car)

Now let's change the scenario.

The closed door remains the same. The gift behind it could literally be anything. A trained, fire breathing Dragon. Or a used toothpick from the Pick Up Stix sample box.

But the car has changed. This time, it's a 1982 Toyota Tercel with 350,000 miles, no A/C and four bald tires.

Manual. (millenial kryptonite)

Inevitably, the student makes a face when hearing the car description and chooses the closed door, effectively taking a calculated risk.

THAT'S what it should feel like when deciding between words you understand and words you don't on these exams.

Don't waste time debating what's behind the closed door and don't waste time racking your brain digging up a definition you don't possess.

Focus on what you already see and judge only what you already know.

This technique is both efficient and impassive, making you a better tester.

P.S. If it were me, I'd take the C63 AMG as well. :)

*Cowardly and *Doubtful

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