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Flashcards: the classic SAT prep tool that works

Tutor Ted's SAT vocab flashcards help students ace the Critical Reading.
Tutor Ted's SAT vocab flashcards help students ace the Critical Reading.
Tutor Ted

Pragmatic, equivocate, censure, qualify and temperate: Do you know the meanings of each of these words? If you are an SAT student, it behooves you to make sure you do, because according to Tutor Ted, they are the five most essential words on the SAT Critical Reading section. Learn why they are important and get a page with their definitions from Ted's homepage.

Five important words are a good start, but how can students manage to learn all the big words they need to master in order to achieve a top score in the SAT Critical Reading? Among the myriad books, digital apps, games and other test prep tools, flashcards still stand out – they're handy and they work. Students can make their own, use apps like Quizlet.com to study on the go, or buy a pre-printed set.

Tutor Ted, author of the terrific SAT Solutions Manual, has just come out with a great set of SAT Vocabulary Flash Cards. They come in a solid, boxy box, very tactile. Inside, the cards are smooth, thin coated cardboard, square with rounded corners. It's all pleasant to hold and handle, which makes the study task less onerous. Included are 500 top SAT words, all with definitions, clever and memorable example sentences, and parts of speech noted. Some cards also have cartoon images to help engrave the meanings. I recently emailed Tutor Ted to ask him about his new flash card set. Here is an excerpt from his reply:

Why physical cards now that everyone seems to be going digital?

I think there's a big pedagogical advantage to having the physical stack of cards to work from. You can take a stack with you to school or rehearsal or anywhere else, you can break them up into sections and work on five, or 10, or 50 at a time. There's something about having the dedicated object that works.

How did you choose which words to include? Does it make sense to include words seen on previous SATs, or can we actually exclude those words, as lightning rarely strikes the same place twice?

Some words that are more likely to be recycled, and those are the ones we included. Not to give away all my secrets, but here is how I picked them: any personal adjective from a prior SAT that also has a clear-cut antonym (words like 'amicable' and 'malevolent,' or 'prescient' and 'myopic') are likely candidates for reuse. More obscure words, especially nouns, did not make the cut. I don't think there is a high-chance that the SAT will reuse 'bureaucratization,' so I left it out. I also favored words that show up in reading comprehension questions as tone words or literary devices. Beyond that, I strove for the words at the difficulty level of those that appear on the last 2-3 questions. A few favorite obscure words did make the cut, like 'calumny.' I just love that word.

How much time should students devote to vocab-building for the SAT and how many words should they try to learn a week?

In the ideal scenario, students will use these cards over a long enough period of time in order to make it easier to differentiate each word in their heads. If they learned five words a day, it would take 100 days to get through the stack. That's three months – with a little planning, anyone can pull that off. If it turns into more of a rush job, and your SAT is in two weeks, you can still learn a BUNCH of words.

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The cards are a great investment in something that students can do that measurably adds to their skill set. Students who build their vocabulary do not only gain on their SAT. They understand more advanced readings and write more eloquently right now in high school and they will benefit from that ability in college and beyond.

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About the author: Karen Berlin Ishii, a graduate of Brown University, has 25+ years of experience as a teacher and test prep tutor. Karen teaches students in New York and internationally via Skype for the PSAT, SAT, ACT, ISEE, SSAT, SHSAT, IELTS, TOEFL and GRE, and also offers tutoring in reading, writing and math. Learn more about Karen at karenberlinishii.com.