Remembering SAT Vocab
Anyone can study vocabulary by reading over a list of
words and definitions. Simple. But not that helpful. It’s another
thing entirely to remember the words you study.
NOTE: Pronounced ni-‘mä-nik
are tricks of the memorizing trade. A mnemonic could be an image,
a rhyme, a formula—anything other than straight repetition of a
word and its definition. So, let’s say you want to memorize the
word mnemonic. You could come up with an image
of the word mnemonic branded into some guy’s brain
as he correctly answers a Sentence Completion. The image will stick
in your head much more readily than any dry old definition. With
mnemonics, you’ll remember words permanently and with less effort.
When you use mnemonics, the more outlandish the image
or rhyme you can make up, the better. The farther out the mnemonic,
the more sticky it will be in your brain. If you’re trying to memorize
the word sacrosanct, which means “holy, or something
that should not be criticized,” go all out. Imagine that scene in
the Raiders of the Lost Ark when the holy “Ark
of the Covenant” gets opened, and then everyone’s face melts off
because they dared to touch this holy, sacrosanct object.
Boom. You know this word. You’re not about to forget someone’s face
melting off. From now on, whenever you encounter an especially tough
SAT vocab word, generate a detailed phrase or image that burns the
meaning of the word into your memory.
Below are five mnemonic examples that we came up with
to help you remember the definitions of some tough SAT vocab words:
||Word in a Sentence
||Having a big butt gives you
extra support, like a buttress.
||Without a strong buttress,
the building’s front structure would collapse.
||a problem or puzzle
||Having only one-drum is a conundrum for
a rock drummer.
||The explorers figured out how to deal with
the conundrum of having only two days to hike 100
||brief and to the point
||People tend to curse when
they want to get straight to the point.
||His boss took a cursory look
at the memo and came to a decision.
||wanting harm to be done to others
||Violent males tend to be malevolent.
||The villain confirmed his malevolent wishes
by cheering when the tree fell and crushed his neighbor’s foot.
||a gift or blessing
||Pirates consider booty a boon.
||The teacher’s decision to make the test open-book
was a boon to her students.
Where the Wild Vocabs Are
SAT vocab lurks in lists and in life. You will be tempted
to ignore life and focus only on the lists. That’s up to you, but
we think that’s a mistake. You’ll learn and retain more vocabulary
if you focus on both.
Vocab in Lists
Studying vocab from a list of words seems easy, but it’s
actually quite tough. That list of words lulls you to sleep, so
you think you’re remembering what you study, but you’re actually
not. (This is another reason mnemonics are so helpful: You can’t
fool yourself into thinking you came up with a mnemonic. You’ve
either got one or you don’t.) You really need to focus to seal the
meaning of the word into your mind. Breezing over a list won’t make
There is another pitfall in studying vocab from lists.
Your mind memorizes in context. One thing clues you into another.
This can trick you into thinking that you know a word even when
you don’t—you may know it only when it’s in the order from your
list, not when it’s sitting there alone in an answer choice. So,
when you study from a list, don’t always go through it in the same
order. Switch things around, go backward, skip every other word.
Keep your head on its toes. Or use flashcards and frequently reshuffle
Vocab in Life
Remember the other day when you were watching a movie
like The Matrix and one of the characters said
a word you didn’t recognize, but you shrugged it off so you could
just enjoy the show? Those days are over. From now until the day
you take the new SAT, if you hear a word you don’t know, try to
guess its meaning from context, then look it up to see if you were
right and make a mnemonic.
This takes some effort. And if you don’t want to put out
the effort to make the world your personal vocab oyster, well, we’re
not going to come track you down. But we will tell you that paying
attention to words you encounter on lists and in
life will go a long way toward building the vocabulary you need
to beat the new SAT.