SAT Vocabulary In Classic Literature


This month my book club selected Wuthering Heights by Charlotte Bronte. We usually read New York Times bestsellers, but decided we needed a change. Wuthering Heights is a novel I’ve started a few times in the past, but never managed to get past the first few chapters. This time I was motivated to finish. After the first page, I was struck by how many SAT vocabulary words I could find in this piece of classic literature.

No Such Thing As SAT Words
I always tell my SAT prep students, “These aren’t SAT words; they are college-bound words.” My point is that vocabulary has a place and purpose beyond the SAT. Students shouldn’t cram vocabulary just for the SAT. Instead, they should acquire a large lexicon because it is the language they will encounter in college.

Not only will students find “SAT” vocabulary in classic literature, but they will also hear these words in class lectures and discussions on campus. Students will encounter these words in textbooks and primary research sources. The words students need to know to succeed on the Reading portion of the SAT will help them succeed in school long after the test is over.

SAT Vocabulary Building Strategies
1. Read
Reading is the best long-term strategy for building a strong college-bound vocabulary. We work with our young children to teach them to read; we need to encourage our older kids to continue reading.

Reading won’t help build knowledge of SAT vocabulary without a little work. The student who skips over every challenging word and uses context clues to fill in the gaps may understand the overall meaning, but he or she is failing to build word knowledge. Ideally students will look up words as they read or keep a list of unfamiliar words to look up later.

Two weeks ago I finally got a Kindle. I love it! I can tap and unfamiliar word and the definition pops up on my screen. No more getting the dictionary or going to the computer to look something up.

2. Maintain Vocabulary From School
Most students have vocabulary as part of their English classes, but most only learn the words on a short-term basis. I remember vocabulary tests in high school. I would study Thursday night, take the test Friday and make an A, but by Monday I couldn’t define half the words. In school the vocabulary words fell off the face of the earth each week never to be seen again. I didn’t need to maintain that knowledge for subsequent tests, so I didn’t.

Looking at vocabulary building as a cumulative exercise helps. News words are added, but the old ones never disappear. Students who really learn the vocabulary from school will find themselves ahead when it comes to tests like the PSAT and SAT.

3. Follow A Plan For Consistent Word Acquisition
If you want your child to develop the type of vocabulary that earns points on the SAT, impresses English teachers, and puts them ahead of the curve for college, you must plan and practice. Yes, some students will have enough structure at school and others will be self-motivated. These students will probably do well in any situation. But the average teenager needs a clear plan and some accountability.

Based on my eighteen years helping students prepare for the SAT, I’ve developed a vocabulary building program ideal for students grades 7-12. Each week I’ll send you a list of 15 words that are frequently seen on the SAT. I provide short, clear definitions. To address different learning styles and to encourage correct pronunciation and usage I include and audio file of the words as well as an audio quiz. Add in a study schedule for each day of the week and a study tip and you’ve got My Vocabulary Success Coach. (Only $10 a month).

You may find many ways to build in consistency and accountability, but you can’t expect your child to build a strong vocabulary accidentally. It takes time and effort.

SAT Vocabulary In Classic Literature
It is no surprise I’m finding lots of SAT vocabulary in Wuthering Heights. The College Board clearly states that the foundation of a student’s SAT and college preparation includes a rigorous curriculum in all subjects including English. I’ve joked with my book club that I’ll bring a vocabulary quiz to our meeting. Here are the words from pages 1-4 so you can test your own knowledge:


Starting SAT Preparation Early


My son is in the 10th grade and my daughter is in the 9th grade. When should we begin preparing for the SAT?

Some  SAT preparation is long-term and is more an acquisition of basic skills – reading, math, vocabulary, writing, and analysis.  Students who fail to develop these will struggle on the SAT.  Usually students learn the necessary content in school and you would only seek extra help if your child struggles in a particular subject.

True SAT preparation is best done right before taking the test, for most students that will be sometime junior year.  Complete test prep is like training for a marathon. You have a particular date. You have a particular goal in mind and you’re going to have a singular focus on that for a period of time.

I’ve found that students don’t do well prepping over long periods, which is why I don’t recommend you begin before junior year. Students lose interest. They burn out. They lose momentum before it really counts.

High-scoring juniors who seek to qualify for National Merit Scholarships will want to prepare before the October PSAT.  Everyone else can prepare when a class best fits into his or her schedule.  Look for a time during the school year with the fewest conflicts with activities, sports, or other academic obligations.  All juniors should take the SAT by the end of the year; you find the test date that works best for your student.

If you want to give your 9th and 10th grader an advantage before you begin an SAT prep class, there are a few things you can do.

1.     Vocabulary.

50% of a student’s SAT Reading score is based on knowledge of college-bound vocabulary, something students can’t cram in a 5-8 week prep class.  I offer the My Vocabulary Success Coach program, which for $10 a month provides weekly vocabulary words, audio files, study activities, and tips.  I developed this program because I consistently found students in my SAT class lacking vocabulary necessary to succeed on the SAT.  Even my best students who attend highly competitive high schools could use some extra work in this area.  I’d recommend all students begin a program of vocabulary development as early as 7th or 8th grade.  For more on my vocabulary program visit: My Vocabulary Success Coach

2.     SAT Question of the Day

You can receive an official College Board question in your email inbox everyday if you subscribe to the SAT Question of the Day.  Even if students save the questions during the week and do them all on Saturday, seeing the types of questions on the test offers long-term benefits.  Subscribe for free at SAT Question of the Day.

So I recommend early preparation for 9th and 10th grade students and complete SAT prep for juniors.  Waiting until senior year to prepare for the SAT may be too late.

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Do You Need Extra Time On The SAT?


My son has special needs. What should we do about him taking the SAT? What accommodations can or should he have?

The answer depends in part on the type of special needs your son has. Learning disabilities range in levels and severity, so accommodations are based on the needs of the individual student.

Your first step is to work with your Case Manager or Special Education/Exceptional Education Department at your high school.  College Board, who oversees administration of the SAT and all accommodations, is going to ask for a formal request with documentation from your school.

Begin this process early because at peak times it can take 6-10 weeks to process a request.

The first thing the College Board looks at is: Does this child receive some type of modification to their regular testing at school? Students who do not have any accommodations or modifications at school should not expect to receive any on the SAT.  But just because your child has testing adjustments at school does not mean he will qualify for modified testing on the SAT.

College Board’s next question is: What accommodations can or should he have? Again, this really depends.  The most common modifications I saw as a school counselor was extended time.

Some people think: Oh, wow. That’s going to be great and he could really use some extra time.  Maybe I should try to get my child qualified for extra time. Keep in mind, extra time can be a curse rather than a blessing.  The SAT is a 4-hour long exam. Some students who are receiving 50% extra time have taken a 4-hour exam and made it a 6-hour exam plus additional time for breaks. A lot of my students with attention and focus issues have a really hard time sitting there for 4 hours; 6 hours is impossible. The extra time hurts their ability to perform on the test.

I’ve seen a variety of modifications and can’t suggest what your son should have without understanding his learning issues. I had a student with severe arthritis who couldn’t bubble in her own answers because it was such a physical strain. I’ve had other students who have had individual testing. While they may be allowed extended time they’re also in an individual setting where it becomes a little more of a self-paced extended time exam.  Other students need large print tests.  Your son’s accommodations will be based on his needs.

Keep in mind the SAT is intended to be a challenging test and accommodations should help put him on a level playing field with other test takers.  They are not intended to improve his score or give him an advantage.

My best advice is to start the process early. Talk with your Special Education Coordinator or your Exceptional Education Department at school to find out what type of modifications might be most appropriate and most helpful. Get approved by College Board before his junior year in case there are any problems that require additional documentation or explanation.

If you have questions, you can contact College Board’s Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) office directly.  I have always found them to be very knowledgeable and helpful.

Finally, I have found many special needs students score better on the ACT, so encourage your son to take both tests.  And your college search should focus on schools where your son will thrive academically.  There are many colleges and universities with programs designed to help students with special needs.



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Is the ACT easier than the SAT?


Which test is easier the SAT or ACT?

The best way to find out is to take both.  If you don’t have scores from both tests to compare, here are my top 5 factors for deciding between the SAT and ACT.

1. Shorter test or shorter sections?

With the additional writing section, the ACT consists of 3 hours and 25 minutes of tested material; the SAT is longer at 3 hours of 55 minutes.  Both are long tests.  Some prefer the ACT format with longer, but fewer sections.  The ACT has one section each of English, Math, Reading, and Science and you never need to guess what section is next.  However, fewer sections means longer periods of time to focus on each portion.  Many students find it challenging to focus on ACT math for the full 60 minutes and prefer the SAT format of multiple math sections, each no longer than 25 minutes.


2. Trig questions or trickier questions?

Test content is similar, yet different in all sections of the SAT and ACT.  Math is one part where your comfort with content may lead you to favor one test over the other.  The SAT does not test any math concepts beyond Algebra II; the ACT includes 4-5 trigonometry questions.  On the other hand, many test takers have describes the SAT math questions as “tricky” and feel the ACT questions are more like what is taught in school.  Both tests have easier, medium, and very hard questions, so you have to decide which format is better for you.


3.  Superscore or single score?

The SAT provides three different scores – Reading, Math, and Writing.  Many colleges and universities will “Superscore” your SAT results by picking the best scores from different test dates, allowing you to retest and focus on only one subject if needed.  The ACT averages your scores in the four tested sections to produce a composite score.  While there has been some discussion of superscoring the ACT, most colleges don’t.  If you have exceptionally high results on one or more sections, but average numbers on others, you may want your scores seen on their own rather than averaged.


4. Vocabulary or charts & graphs?

I’m simplifying things a little here, but the content on both tests requires different preparation.  SAT Reading is so vocabulary intensive that I unfailingly recommend students study vocabulary flashcards to enhance their knowledge of college-bound words.  The ACT tests students on knowledge of vocabulary, but not to the same degree.

The content challenge on the ACT is the science section. Don’t get excited.  It has nothing to do with science.  This section tests students’ abilities to analyze and interpret charts and graphs.  With 40 passage-based questions in 35 minutes, many students struggle to complete enough questions.


5.  Leaving questions blank or strategically guessing?

Scoring procedures on the SAT penalize students a fourth a point for wrong answers, making it strategically advantageous to leave questions blank if your desired score in a section is 650 or below.  The ACT is more like classroom tests where only correct answers count and there is no penalty for incorrect responses. Both scoring methods provide you with opportunities to increase, or decrease, your score based on knowledge of the systems and how to use each process to your advantage.

Deciding which test is best for you can be complicated.  There are more factors that could influence your decision than I’ve outlined here.  Writing the essay first or last?  Grammar passages or errors in single sentences?  Remembering standard math formulas and special triangles or having them provided for the math sections?

The SAT and ACT are like Coke and Pepsi.  They are competing brands in the same market.  Some consumers will prefer one to the other, but for many they are about the same.  Again, I encourage you to take both tests before you pick a favorite.  Know which test plays to your academic and test taking strengths and don’t hesitate to take one or both multiple times.