Ah…the finish line. If you haven’t watched Lessons 1, 2, and 3, stop reading this and go watch those videos! Vocabulary for the SAT can be a royal pain in the you-know-what. But the dividends of a broad vocabulary are even greater than a higher SAT score. Stick with me as we come to the finish of our little focus on SAT vocabulary.
Vocabulary Prep for the SAT Test — Lesson 4 (transcript)
Here’s my personal story:
I grew up in a small working class neighborhood in New Jersey. My parents were non-English speakers. German was the spoken language in my house. I went to school in an obviously English speaking school and I always had a feeling growing up that my vocabulary was a lot worse than my peers. The excuse I always had for myself was that my parents didn’t speak English at home and I was not entitled at home to listen to the same caliber of English that all of my friends could listen to.
So I had this built in excuse growing up for why my vocabulary was lacking. And I used that excuse my entire middle school and high school career. I don’t know how it happened but I was lucky enough to get accepted into Princeton University. I was a very strong math and science student, was a great soccer player, and I think between those two things I wound up getting in.
So when I got to Princeton, I realized that my vocabulary was going to be even or the difference between my vocabulary and my classmates’ vocabulary was going to be even more dramatic and more drastic at Princeton than it had been in high school and grammar school.
So what did I do? I didn’t start learning my vocabulary, I just took every single math and science course I possibly could and I avoided every liberal arts class that involved the paper, a lot of reading or anything like that. So I wound up getting through Princeton and I decided I wanted to become a teacher so I decided to pursue a master’s degree.
So in part of applying to a master’s program, I had to take the GREs. The GREs are a lot like the old SATs was. There’s a math section and a verbal section. So I take the GREs, I crush the math and I do terrible on the verbal, even lower than I have done on the SATs four years before. So now I’m pretty embarrassed, but it doesn’t stop me and I wind up getting into a graduate school and I begin my studies.
Well within a month of being in the graduate program I had one teacher who had identified pretty quickly that my vocabulary was lacking. He pulls me aside after class and he says, Karl what’s the story? You’re a well educated guy, very excited about this program, you seem like a really bright guy, but why is your vocabulary so bad? And I gave him my standard excuse, I grew up in a household where they didn’t speak English and soâ€¦ there’s my excuse. He said to me listen, forget it, you’ve got to be kidding me! You’ve gone through 22 years of your life using that excuse? Vocabulary is something easy to build. It just takes time and it takes some effort. No more excuses for you, you’re starting today and I’m going to follow up with you.
When I got to class next week he said, I want to see your list of words and I want to see how many words you’ve memorized in the last week. I produced a list and I showed him that I had memorized 15 words. Good start, he said, keep it going. I then start to hear the words in life, I started to get encouraged, I became motivated, and within an eight month period, I had probably improved my vocabulary by about 2,000 words!
This is the moral of the story: I never missed a party, I never missed a work obligation, I never missed class, and I never missed anything that I wanted to do. I did all the vocabulary building in my free time. I did it in the 20 minutes I had before class, I did it in the 20 minutes I had after class before a friend of mine met me. I did it in all the pockets of free time that everybody has every single day and I changed my world.
Then on a lark what I wound up doing was I went and took the GRE again and my score had jumped 250 points in the verbal section alone! And it all came from vocabulary building. I started to feel empowered in the world; I started to feel like there weren’t too many situations that I could be in that would intimidate me.
Let me give you one last word of warning. I think building a vocabulary is one of the best things you can do for yourself to ensure that you become a powerful person in the world. But I think a lot of kids fear that if they have this great vocabulary people are going to think they are a geek or people are going to think they’re a jerk. Here’s my response to that: if you have a strong vocabulary, it doesn’t mean you need to use it. It doesn’t mean you need to wear it on your sleeve and be obnoxious about it. The word pedantic means showing off what you know. You don’t need to be pedantic but having the vocabulary will help you understand most situations you’re in and lead to a more successful life.
So I did it. I did it in an eight month period; please don’t wait until you’re 23 years old to do it. Do it now, you can do it in your free time, and you will change your world.
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