Yes, the SAT has changed. The 19 sentence completions have vanished just as the antonyms vanished in 1994 and the analogies in 2005. Still, don’t think that having a strong vocabulary is no longer important. The critical readings on this new test are filled with difficult vocabulary; understanding these words aids in the comprehension of the passages and helps students identify how individual sentences fit into the reading as a whole. Students with a weak vocabulary stumble over key words and miss subtleties in the passage. Many will even miss the main idea of the reading!
Here is a topic sentence of a non-fiction SAT reading: “The Second World War was a watershed event for all Americans.” Understanding the meaning of the word watershed is vital to understanding the argument of this passage. There has been much publicity that CollegeBoard has eliminated “arcane” vocabulary and that students should be rejoicing. Yet, after reading the sentence above, most students will stop rejoicing and begin lamenting. (Note – I don’t like that this word “arcane” is being used by the press to describe old SAT words. Words like superfluous, taciturn and obtuse are not “arcane” but rather are “meaningful.”)
This new test contains two types of vocabulary references:
Type 1: Specific vocabulary questions that are passage-based. These questions refer to a line within a passage and ask what a word means in context. The words are not considered “arcane” but are words with multiple meanings.
In Maine, most men and women who harvest lobsters believe their industry is healthy, perhaps even too healthy. They worry not about a population collapse but about recent lobster catches that would lead to sharp declines in prices.
“Sharp” most nearly means
In these questions, all the answers might be accurate definitions of the word in question, but the student must understand how the word is being used in this particular situation in order to answer the question correctly. What is interesting to note, though, is that sometimes “arcane” vocabulary is found within the answer choices and those students with a strong vocabulary will benefit. The question above is very difficult to answer if a student doesn’t know what “acute” and “caustic” mean.
Type 2: Vocabulary imbedded in the reading. Here are the first two sentences of a Prose passage:
One inauspicious circumstance there was, which awakened a hardly concealed displeasure in the breasts of a few of the more punctilious visitors. The founder of this stately mansion – a gentleman noted for the square and ponderous courtesy of his demeanor, ought surely to have stood in his own hall, and to have offered the first welcome to so many eminent personages as here presented themselves in honor of his solemn festival.
Inauspicious? Punctilious? Ponderous? These words look a bit “arcane” to me.
Now let us look at how most students read the above two sentences:
One ______ circumstance there was, which awakened a hardly concealed displeasure in the breasts of a few of the more ______ visitors. The founder of this stately mansion – a gentleman noted for the square and ______ courtesy of his ______ , ought surely to have stood in his own hall, and to have offered the first welcome to so many ________ _________ as here presented themselves in honor of his ________ festival.
Learning to find context clues is essential to reading success; however, if a reading begins to look like a Mad Libs game, then comprehension becomes tenuous. Plus, speed becomes a factor! Students have approximately 13 minutes to read an 800-word passage and answer 10 questions. Decoding just the two sentences above could take a student 30 or more seconds! Therefore…
Yes, Vocabulary is still KEY to testing success!
The following is a list of EXCELLENT Vocabulary websites that students should be using:
Wizcabulary – My FREE vocabulary game. Words are “everyday” words found within SAT/ACT passages. Vocabulary words tested are “medium-level” Words repeat if students get incorrect.
Professor Word – FABULOUS vocabulary tool! This online tool automatically identifies SAT/ACT vocabulary within articles and then provides a definition.
Students should be reading from the following publications and using Professor Word in conjunction:
- The New Yorker and The New York Times Book Review (literature based passages)
- The New York Times, Washington Post, Atlantic, Slate and Economist (non-fiction passages)
- Popular Science, Psychology Today (science passages)