Vocabulary Builder
Reading and Dictionary Use
You’ll need a good dictionary in order to:
  • Flesh out your 92 word flashcard definitions
  • Create new word flashcards
  • Create new word-part flashcards (a good dictionary contains entries for roots, suffixes, and prefixes)
You’ll also need to use a good dictionary in conjunction with the last and least painful method for building vocabulary: reading.
Everyone has interests. Somewhere, either online or in print form, you can find well-written prose on your topic of interest. Some suggested sources for good prose include the New York Times, the Washington Post, Harper’s, the Atlantic Monthly, the Nation, the Economist, and the Wall Street Journal. Make sure you read a little bit every day, whether for schoolwork, for pleasure, or just for SAT preparation. Get in the habit of noting all unfamiliar words. Try to work out their meaning through context clues, word parts, or your knowledge of foreign languages. But don’t stop there: at the end of every day (if you have an iron will) or every week (if you’re like the rest of us), look these words up in the dictionary and make new flashcards for them. Take every opportunity to lock down the meanings of unfamiliar words. This can and should be the beginning of a lifelong practice that will enrich your life.
What makes for a good dictionary? Here’s a good rule of thumb: if the dictionary is big enough to act as a doorstop, you’re probably okay. Two suggestions: the American Heritage College Dictionary and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. For those who want the near-ultimate, purchase the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary as a book or on CD-ROM. The ultimate is the multivolume (or multidisc) Oxford English Dictionary, which costs hundreds of dollars and is definitely overkill for SAT preparation. The OED is catnip to philologists—can you figure out the meaning of this word from the lists above? The more words a dictionary has, and the more it has to say about each word, the better it is.
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