One of the greatest mistakes parents and students make in preparing for the ACT and SAT is to invest time and money in short-term test prep courses that emphasize strategy over content. While these courses can be effective for students who have already shown significant mastery of either test’s content, they cannot help those who need to review and master the verbal and mathematical skills that these tests assess.
The writing and language sections of the SAT and ACT, for example, are designed to measure how well students can read and respond to complex texts—especially on a collegiate level; therefore, the most effective way to prepare students is to help them to cultivate the long-term analytical, grammatical, and vocabulary building skills that will help them to become outstanding readers and writers both now and throughout their lives. These skills can usually be added through intensive, supplemental coursework over a period of six to twelve months. So if you’re looking for effective test preparation, focus on finding a content-based, long-term, skill-building course that teaches students the skills they really need to succeed; for the best test preparation will always be a great education.
The SAT’s Writing and Language Test often assesses whether students understand how to use transitional words or phrases. These are the terms that create cohesiveness within paragraphs by establishing logical relationships between sentences. For example, “therefore” creates a cause and effect relationship between clauses or sentences, while “however” would establish a relationship of contrast between ideas. Here’s an example of how the SAT tests whether students understand how to use these transitional elements:
“Over the past generation, people in many parts of the United States have become accustomed to dividing their household waste products into different categories for recycling. Regardless, paper may go in one container, glass and aluminum in another, regular garbage in a third.
Students have to determine whether the word “regardless” best expresses the logical relationship between the first and second sentences. Since the second sentence provides examples that illustrate how the waste products are divided, the transitional prepositional phrase “for example” should be used instead of the term “regardless,” which means “in spite of.” A comprehensive list of these transitional terms and the relationships they create are available for download at
Why Vocabulary is now more important on the SAT
Whether wittingly or unwittingly, the College Board has misrepresented the type of vocabulary and knowledge that students need for the New SAT. The New SAT, says its creators, will no longer require students to learn the difficult words that were the hallmark of the old SAT. In an attempt to explain why students will no longer have to know "obscure" words, David Coleman, President of the College Board said: "I think when you think about vocabulary on exams, you know, how SAT words are famous as the words you will never use again? You know, you study them in high school and you’re like, gosh, I’ve never seen this before, and I probably never shall. Why wouldn’t it be the opposite? Why wouldn’t you have a body of language on the SAT that’s the words you most need to know and be ready to use again and again? Words like transform, deliberate, hypothesis, right?"
In other words, according to the New SAT's authors, kids can now throw out those old SAT vocabulary flash cards filled with words like euphonious and recrudescence. The New SAT is here, and the words are much more fair. Whoo!!!That's a load off of the brain.
Ahhh, but not so fast. For while the New SAT does in fact require a more nuanced knowledge of academic vocabulary or words that students are most likely to encounter in college level texts, the test demands as much knowledge of "obscure" terms as the old test did.
Here's proof from one of the reading passages on the new test:
"To avoid...the evils of inconstancy and versatility, ten thousand times worse than those of obstinacy and the blindest prejudice, we have consecrated the state, that no man should approach to look into its defects or corruptions but with due caution; that he should never dream of beginning its reformation by its subversion; that he should approach to the faults of the state as to the wounds of a father, with pious awe and trembling solicitude."
How simple is that? And which of those words will students have to "use again and again"?