Feb. 7, 2021
We've said it before and we'll say it again: The best way to pick up new language, whether for a test, a class or just general knowledge, is to read. However, once you've identified unfamiliar words, it helps to come up with a method for retaining those words that you've found in the wild. Here are some effective ways to practice new synonyms until they're a part of your everyday vocabulary.
If there's a new word that you're testing out, get some practice with it by trying to work it into conversations throughout the day. Actually saying the word in the right context will serve to make connections. And a broader vocabulary will allow you to express yourself more precisely and concisely. For instance, instead of saying, "I can see both sides," you could simply say, "I'm ambivalent." It's a great feeling when you're able to describe exactly what you mean in only a few words, rather than, "It's like, you know, when…"
For some, flashcards are a trusty go-to method for memorization. We offer our own flashcards for the ACT and for the SAT, but you can also make your own. When doing so, we recommend you personalize the definition: That is, write it in a way that makes sense to you. Other tactics include creating visual cues on your cards that will help you recall a word: You can color-code based on parts of speech or draw a picture that reminds you of the definition, much like a mnemonic. Coming up with your own in-context examples, the more memorable the better, can also help. For instance, to remember the word clandestine (which means "secret"), you could write: The clan of witches held a clandestine meeting at midnight. There are tons of ways to customize your flashcards, it's just a matter of personal preference.
The key to studying with flashcards is to only work on a small number each day. Even if you start out with a box of 1,000 cards, pick out 10 or so to work on each day and practice them several times throughout the day for best results. By practicing smaller blocks of vocabulary, you'll see individual words repeatedly, which will help you to remember their meanings. Plus, it's best to avoid the anxiety that comes with looking at a huge pile of cards and feeling that you have to learn 1,000 words in a month. Save yourself the worry and set a short-term goal for each day. After a few days, review the words you've spent time learning over the week. Keep up this practice, and by the end, you'll be impressed with how far you've come!
If you need a more interactive approach than having to come up with your own methods and approaches, good news! There are many websites and apps with games, exercises, videos and virtual flashcards. It's best to choose one that saves your progress so that it knows which words to keep testing you on and which words you definitely have down.
There are a lot of vocabulary books out there, both for standardized testing and general practice. Typically, these books include lists of words with definitions and sentences and corresponding quizzes at the end of each lesson or chapter. Other unique practice books even have vocabulary cartoons or stories that help you learn the words. While searching for the right resource to use, remember that if you want to write in the book or use it for more than a few weeks, you'll want to purchase it. Otherwise, you may be able to find one at your local or school library.
You have endless options when deciding what method to use for your vocabulary review. Don't be afraid to get creative! Find a friend and come up with sentences or gestures to help remember the definitions. More of an auditory learner? There are vocabulary podcasts that you can listen to while on the go. We've heard of lots of unique approaches, from students putting vocabulary words grouped by topic on their bedroom walls to others writing definitions on their shower curtains. It all comes down to what works for you! Regardless of which method you plan to use for your vocabulary practice, be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel for additional content to help you reach your goals for standardized tests, college and beyond.