Saturday, 16 May 2009

How to improve your comprehension/vocabulary score for SATs, ACTs and APs

Here's something for fellow students who might be practising for a standardized exam (to the older readers: yes, remember those?). Learning vocab words and lists for standardized exams isn't what most people consider to be an enjoyable task. But I've recently figured out that it can be enjoyable... if you know what to do. People always ask me about how I have such a great vocabulary (ok, not really... but pretend that they did) and this is what I always tell them:

The best ways to improve your vocabulary are...

1. Reading (my english teacher swears by this one - according to her, you'll retain 5% of the vocabulary from anything you read):
I for one hated reading. Especially the "romance" novels that are supposed to make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Why? Because first off... they make so sense, and second, they take too much time (and did I mention, they never have any pictures in them?!) So often, I just ended up reading the first few chapters, and then never touching the book ever again.

But the truth is, you don't always have to read "the classics" or "the quintessential Socrates series" if they don't make any sense. There are several other, dare I say enjoyable, sources of inspiration that you can plunge into. Especially if you like technology, there are several other things you can read, to improve your vocabulary and improve your comprehension skills. Remember though. If you come across a word that stumps you, you might want to check out what it means (I recommend using one of the dictionaries mentioned in this post) before continuing.

Here are some "good" websites where you might find interesting (if you don't like Harry Potter and all that kind of stuff that is...)

The Onion (America's Finest News Source!) - A great news source. Although, I advise that you take everything you read on that website with a grain of salt.

e-Books online - There are a ton of e-books that you can potentially download (or even read) online. If you get board with one of them, why not just switch to another. It's easy, and who knows, you just might find something interesting.

News Websites (NYTimes, Globe and Mail and even CNet sometimes)- Like The Onion, news websites are a great source of information, provided the english they use is good. However, I would stay away from the depressing kinds of news though... you don't want any nightmares.

Crossword Puzzles - Crosswords are a great way of improving your vocabulary, especially when it comes to big words.

Write! - The best way to learn how to read, is to learn how to write. Try to use big words when you're writing though so that you get a feel for certain "esoteric" words. If you want, you can publish them online (in a blog), and if you have something to say (like I always do) I'm sure you'll build your own group of readers as well. This is good, because you'll be able to get feedback, and also do well on the writing portion of the standardized tests. Although I recommend that you practice writing too, because unless you're taking the MCAT, you'll be using a pen, and not a keyboard.

Vocab Lists - Vocabulary lists are the least preferable method of learning for me. That's because rote memorization almost always never works unless you're a savant. However, if you feel like you need to brush up on a little bit of vocabulary, here are some tips concerning vocab lists:

  • Never simply memorize the words. You'll be memorizing them for 5 minutes and then you'll forget it all!
  • Instead, what you want to do is put the word in a memorable sentence of some sort, and "use the word". This way, you'll retain the word better, and hopefully you'll be able to recall it when necessary. [Rinse and Repeat!]

Bonus: If you're Canadian, you might want to check out some columns by Rex Murphy. Even though he is from Newfoundland he never uses a word that smaller than 9 syllables.

In my opinion, there is no substitute for reading. So incase you're wondering what to do a year before the standardized test, I suggest you start reading first and then try the other tips I've mentioned here!

Good Luck!

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