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Vocabulary lists ... Pros and Cons + Old links

xiggixiggi Registered User Posts: 25,441 Senior Member
edited March 2012 in SAT Preparation
From the day I joined CC in 2003, I have seen this issue debated more than any other. From the mostly ineffective Barron's list to secretive lists such as Test$master's, there is an endless supply of lists pretending to be the Holy Grail for the SAT.

During my first months on CC, I did take the time to post several vocabulary lists. Since I was analyzing the effectiveness of such lists, I thought it would helpful to list the contents. In this thread, I will revive some very old posts from their pixelized grave.

Before you get overly excited, please note that I STILL consider the rote memorization of words to be one of the worst preparation possible. I actually compiled the Barron's list to demonstrate how ineffective and how irrelevant it was to the SAT. The only thing Barron's excels at is to "predict" the words that WERE in past tests. A blindfolded monkey pointing at a few pages of your Webster would probably do better than Barron's by a large margin.

People whose primary language is not English might find some help in READING the lists but I would never recommend to anyone to STUDY the words.

In my opinion, the shorter the list the better. Predicting the words that should show up on future tests is largely an exercise in futility. Every once in a while a blind hog might find an acorn, but repeating the feat is almost impossible.

This said here are links to the old posts with the lists:

For the list of words lovers:
College Confidential Discussion

Barron's list Revisited:
College Confidential Discussion

This is a copy of a post that appeared on Monday, April 21, 2003. From the date, you'll notice it dates from the older board ... so don't be surprised by the different format

Words that appeared on 10 Real SAT Test:
College Confidential Discussion

However, I have also posted many, many disclaimers about the use of wordlists. In a nutshell, while studying extensive lists of words can be beneficial in specific cases, it represents an extremely poor ratio of time and efforts over ... rewards. I have spent considerable time MEASURING the potential effect of knowing every word on the 3500 or even a 5000 word list on subsequent tests. The results were dismal, and this assumed a complete recall of the entire list. Further, this was at a time when analogies still existed. When it comes to the Critical Reading sections, the rote memorization of words is unfortunately a very ineffective way to prepare. In addition, very few CR questions test the direct knowledge of vocabulary.

On the other hand, spending the time to understand the specific structure of the test is critical. In this regard, the conclusion that the questions allow for imprecise and circular answers is often unfounded. Students who are left with two possible and plausible answers typically missed an opportunity to eliminate one of the two answers by changing the Process of Elimination. In many cases, it is much easier finding four incorrect answers than picking the correct --which may simply mean the best-- one with absolute certainty. What is, however, certain is that the answer can be found in the four corners of the document and that no external knowledge is needed.
Post edited by xiggi on

Replies to: Vocabulary lists ... Pros and Cons + Old links

  • manu101manu101 Registered User Posts: 592 Member
    thanks for the thread xiggi :)
  • dareallycoolguy0dareallycoolguy0 Registered User Posts: 369 Member
    I guess I fall in the "specific cases," since I actually need a larger vocabulary. While I disagree with your view on the matter, I will let the issue rest. This post thread should not just be another debate; instead, it should be a resource for anyone interested.
  • ahsanxrahsanxr Registered User Posts: 294 Junior Member
    "very few CR questions test the direct knowledge of vocabulary."

    I don't get this. What are the sentence completions, which comprise of 19 of the 67 CR questions, testing if not vocabulary?
  • Bigb14Bigb14 Registered User Posts: 2,044 Senior Member
    Most of the time, it has to do with subtle connotative meanings and secondary meanings rather than the primary book definition.

    Oh, and Xiggi, I found a book that's even better than barron's at predicting SAT words. Just memorize this list, and you'll be totally set. I guarantee it.
    Amazon.com: Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition (Red Kivar Binding with Jacket) (0081413008081): Merriam-Webster: Books

    I still hold that the best way to memorize vocab is to read a book, look up every unfamiliar word, and read it again. This process teaches vocabulary in CONTEXT, as well as with connotative meanings. Just my 2 cents though.
  • thinker88thinker88 Registered User Posts: 210 Junior Member
    I found that memorizing vocab was actually a good way to improve my score. The first time I took the test I received a 650 or 660 on CR, but the second time I received a 730. I did this primarily by using vocabulary flashcards of some of the most commonly used SAT words. I forget which prep book these flashcards came with but it may have been the blue book.
  • 112358112358 Registered User Posts: 1,944 Senior Member
    ^BB doesn't come with flashcards.
  • yettiddqq8yettiddqq8 Registered User Posts: 483 Member
    I must say I disagree. I believe in learning vocab as long as it is efficient. I spent 2 hours the day before memorizing Direct Hits and it payed off well. The first time I took the SAT I missed 3 SC's. This time I missed none. This was enough to boost my score 50 points. 2 hours for 50 points....I think it's worth it. But remember if you study vocab, make sure the list you use is good. For that Direct Hits is the best way to go. For those that say don't study vocab... I don't see the logic. Even if you can use POE, it is so much easier when you know the definitions and as a result, you can spend more time on the reading passages. Ultimately, the SC's are a vocab test.
  • Islander4Islander4 Registered User Posts: 1,532 Senior Member
    Vocabulary lists can be very useful. I used Sparknotes' list to record every word I did not have a good understanding of. In total, I went through about 601 words. On the SAT in May, I omitted one sentence completion and answered every other completion correctly.
  • Bigb14Bigb14 Registered User Posts: 2,044 Senior Member
    I think there is merit in memorizing vocab words, but the point we are trying to make is that it is not EFFICIENT. The time you spend memorizing greatly outweigh the few points that you pick up on the actual test. Especially considering the generous curve of the CR section, you could much easier master the passage based portion, miss a couple SC, and still pull an 800.
  • tikiman53tikiman53 Registered User Posts: 731 Junior Member
    Going through SAT vocab lists, in my opinion, can help, but the degree to which it does varies greatly from person to person. What works better for me is just reading for fun, and looking up every word I don't know. The thing is, though, there are so many freaking words, and you can memorize a crapload of vocab, and not run into any of them on the particular test you take. Luckily, I'm a good guesser :)
  • BilguunBilguun Registered User Posts: 1,252 Senior Member
    English not being my first language I found some vocabulary lists very helpful.
  • xyp1999xyp1999 Registered User Posts: 13 New Member
    There as several posts recommended the " direct hits" . Which volume should I buy , I or II, if I am current 700 on practice test ?
  • AstroBlueAstroBlue Registered User Posts: 573 Member
    Well, how many sentence completion questions are you missing on your practice tests?
  • xyp1999xyp1999 Registered User Posts: 13 New Member
    AstroBlue: Well, how many sentence completion questions are you missing on your practice tests?

    Varies from 2-5 :(
  • EllaVirginiaEllaVirginia Registered User Posts: 70 Junior Member
    I think that if some of the odd words are a weakness when going to the SAT then studying vocab could be very helpful. I know when I went to the SAT many of the words I found (which I studied via an SAT flashcard iPad app) were very helpful and probably boosted my score. But if your vocabulary is not already somewhat extensive (reading a lot, etc.) then the effectiveness of lists would probably be less. I wouldn't have been able to memorize more if I didn't already know a majority of the words.
This discussion has been closed.