Vocabulary Builder
Tips and Self-Guided Practice
Here are some more ways you can enhance your vocabulary knowledge on your own.
  1. As you work through practice SAT tests, make sure you circle all unfamiliar words. Try to decipher them through context clues, word parts, and your knowledge of foreign languages, and use your dictionary to find their meanings. Make a flashcard for each word.
  2. When you begin using your flashcards, don’t worry too much about shuffling them. Group them according to categories you learned in this book or by others that make sense to you. The piles should contain no more than twenty cards. Take advantage of the “false context” of order and start to nail down meanings. Every time you get a word right, separate it from the pile; every time you get one wrong, leave it in the pile. This way, you’ll zero in on the tough ones. When you can provide the meaning of each word in your small pile, shuffle them and retest yourself.
  3. Once every couple of weeks, mix up all your cards, shuffle, and test your knowledge of all or a very significant chunk of them. Use between fifty and one hundred cards in each “run.”
  4. You may find mnemonics (pronounced ni-'mä-niks) helpful for especially difficult words. In this context, a mnemonic is some kind of phrase that helps you remember the meaning of a word. Often they are anagrams, such as “Please excuse my dear Aunt Sally”—the first letter of each word in this case is used to recall the order of operations in math:

Please: Parentheses

Excuse: Exponents

My: Multiplication

Dear: Division

Aunt: Addition

Sally: Subtraction

Here’s an example of a mnemonic the author used to memorize the word ambidextrous in his younger, basketball-playing days. As a play on words, the author renamed the word “ambi-dextrose” and defined it as “sweet from either side.”
Well, here’s how the mnemonic worked:
  1. Dextrose is a type of sugar.
  2. In basketball, if you can drive the lane successfully from either side—leading with your right or left hand interchangeably—you become very hard to defend.
  3. If you could drive the lane from either side, you were sweet in the playground slang of the day.
  4. Sweet led back to dextrose; either side led back to ambi; and to top it all off, if you were able to dribble equally well with either hand, you were, by definition, ambidextrous.
As you can see, mnemonics are idiosyncratic, personal, and poetic. This process is a two-edged sword. If your mnemonic quickly leads you to the proper meaning of the word, use it. If it does not lead you quickly to the proper meaning, don’t use it.
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