Editor's note: I asked the experts at Noodle Pros to show us how to improve verbal scores on one of the most widely-used private school standardized admissions tests, the SSAT. I am most grateful to Rebecca Scott, Clarissa Constantine, Travis Chamberlain, Karen Lister, Loren Dunn, Jonathan Arak, Garrick Trapp and Neil Seltzer for their invaluable advice and expertise. ~Rob Kennedy
1. Make learning vocabulary a family competition.
Pick two to five words a day and keep track of who in the family uses the words correctly the most. Players get extra credit for using 2 or more words in one sentence. The more students can hear words in context, the better they will be able to remember the meaning. Let your child choose the prize for the week's winner. To improve reading skills, have children read short online articles to you and explain what they mean. Ask what the main idea is and ask how the main idea is supported. - Rebecca Scott, 17 Years Tutoring
2. Study root words.
You may not know what malfeasance is, but if you recognize 'mal' you'll know that it has a negative connotation - Clarissa Constantine, 18 Years Tutoring
3. Create a word journal.
You don't have to know a new word every time you hear it, but you should write it down and then create a flashcard for each word. Memory tricks are helpful. Example: The mean truck driver was feeling truculent. - Travis Chamberlain, 15 Years Tutoring
4. Read articles, not vocabulary lists.
Lists of words that are unrelated to a deeper context are NOT the best way to build vocabulary. Instead, reading articles (perhaps a few levels above what the student might normally read) is a fabulous way of introducing new vocabulary. Learning the word's meanings becomes important in aiding a deeper understanding of the text and there is context to color the word, as well. Extracting and compiling these words is most beneficial. I encourage students to create Quizlet sets of ~10 words. Using a dictionary app can also be helpful as students can start the new words as they look them up (in tandem with Quizlet). Even more challenging than using the words in a sentence, is creating a sentence (or phrase) from an acrostic using as many synonyms as possible. In an acrostic, the letters of the word make their own words. It can be very difficult but this process alone deepens the student's understanding while strengthening their memory. Using the same example of "truculent": Truculent Randy Utters Combative, Uncooperative Language, Eager to Naysay and Taunt. - Kalen Lister, 12 Years Tutoring
5. Start with words you know.
Process of elimination, among other techniques, becomes very important in those situations. For instance, start with the words you really know, not words you've heard before or think maybe you might know. There's an infinite number of wrong definitions for every word and a handful of right ones for each, so if you don't really know the word, the odds are you're going to guess the wrong definition. That means that if the word is the right answer or is contained in the right answer, the odds are you'll incorrectly eliminate it, and then any time you spend on the question after that is wasted. Start with what you really know in order to increase your odds of landing on the right answer. - Loren Dunn, 10 Years Tutoring
6. Don't try to finish the whole test,
Don't try to finish the whole test even if you want over 700. Leaving a few blank that you can't do, and using the time on other questions you might otherwise rush and get wrong, is a wiser investment of your time. - Jonathan Arak, 27 Years Tutoring
7. Link words to sensory experiences.
Mastery occurs when the word becomes a part of the learner. Students should strive to “activate” the word in their brains by linking the word with sensory experiences: reading (seeing), speaking, hearing, writing (touch), and if possible smelling the word too! - Garrick Trapp, 15 Years Tutoring
8. Use vocabulary words in daily conversation.
If you use a word twice, in conversation, in the space of a week, you will know that word forever. I've tested this and believe it to be true. If you cannot pronounce the word, you will never use the word. If you never use the word, it will forever be one of those words that you recognize but can't really define. Somehow, the way a word sounds is linked to what the word means. Learning words solely in written form, therefore, is insufficient. To get those words to really stick, you have to get kids to use them.
Also, much of test prep is essentially a disposable skill. You use it once or twice on test day, and then never again. Vocabulary (and math and verbal fundamentals) is the opposite. It has true, lasting value well beyond test day. While learning words may be an inefficient way to raise a score, I never feel bad about making kids study vocabulary. You can even make the case that we think in words. The more words we have, therefore, the more subtle and powerful our thinking can become. Word power is brainpower. This is true whether you are learning a spoken language, a computer language, or a musical language. - Neill Seltzer, 25 Years Tutoring
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