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SAT Vocabulary: It’s not Just for High Schoolers

Submitted by on June 11, 2012 – 2:15 pm2 Comments

SAT Vocabulary

How parents can help their kids develop a strong vocabulary

by Jennifer Cohen

“SAT” and “prep” are two words fraught with tension for parents and students nationwide. Parents want their children to achieve high scores, of course, and anxiety can drive them to seek out test prep for younger and younger students. But, early test prep is usually counterproductive and stressful for middle schoolers with one notable exception – SAT vocabulary!

The critical reading section of the SAT – the one that emphasizes reading comprehension and vocabulary – is notoriously difficult to prepare for. The highest scoring students are usually already avid readers and have years of tough reading material behind them. This long term “prep” is much more effective than the few weeks or months most students devote to studying for the SAT. These students understand the college level passages on the test, and they’ve had years to organically develop a vocabulary level to match. Most still need to do some specific vocabulary work, but a lot less than the typical student.

So what can parents do to help their junior high student get on the right path to a strong vocabulary? Here are a few ideas:

  • As you’ve probably guessed, encourage as much reading as you can. I particularly like the classics. They’ve almost always got challenging vocabulary. They tend to be written in a formal style, much like those SAT passages. Even better, many of them are available free for your e-reader or online. E-readers are especially helpful since they have dictionaries already built in, making it easy to look up unfamiliar words.
  • Do a lot of reading yourself! When you have a strong vocabulary, and use it regularly, your children will soak up a lot of new words. Subscribe to high level newspapers and magazines, like the New York Times, The Atlantic, or Science. Share articles with your kids and use dinner time to discuss them a few times a month.
  • Invest in a box of SAT vocabulary flashcards. Keep it around the house and pull out a card or two during TV commercials. Take the box along on road trips. Repetition is the key to learning, so don’t be concerned if the same words keep coming up.

Above all, keep this process casual! Avoid an intense attitude and keep it fun when you can. No one wants to be browbeaten into learning. Remember the idea is to avoid a lot of work later. You have years to make an impact, so take it easy on yourself and your kids.  Good luck!

Jennifer CohenJenn Cohen is owner of Jenn Cohen Tutoring and President and Chief Word Nerd of, an SAT vocabulary website.  She specializes in tutoring ADHD students for the SAT, PSAT and ACT.  You can find her on Twitter @satprepforadhd.



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