SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

Is SAT Word of the Day Really a Good Way to Study Vocab?

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Posted by Rebecca Safier | Jun 9, 2015 11:30:00 AM

SAT Strategies , SAT Reading



How do you learn new words, especially big ones like "obstreperous" and "percipient" that you don't often hear in daily conversation? Do you pore over long lists, make flash cards, or focus on one or two at a time? 

For those playing the long game, SAT Word of the Day sites and email lists can be useful resources for gradually building your vocabulary over time. This guide will point you to the best sources of SAT Word of the Day and give you some strategies for how to use them effectively. First, why might you want to study vocabulary this way?


Is SAT Word of the Day Effective?

Using SAT Word of the Day to build your vocabulary is effective in a gradual way, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it as the only vocab studying you do to prepare for the SAT. It's a good way to start early, learn new words, and insert a little bit of SAT prep into your routine on a daily basis. That being said, SAT Word of the Day probably doesn't substitute for more extensive studying. Let's take a look at the pros and cons for studying SAT words in this way.


Pros of SAT Word of the Day

Like a trickle of water filling up a bowl, learning a word a day can build up to a great deal of knowledge if you sustain it over time. It's a low-pressure, stress-free way to start SAT prep early, rather than cramming a lot of words at once and struggling to retain them. You could start freshman year and spend just 5 minutes a day learning a word's definition and how that word is used in different contexts. 

Have you ever noticed how you learn a new word or fun fact for the first time and suddenly start seeing it everywhere? This "Baeder-Meinhof Phenomenon" could happen with new SAT words, too. You'll start to notice (and should be on the lookout for) SAT words when you're reading books, blogs, or the news. This will both aid your long-term retention of the vocab and help you understand if a given word has various uses and connotations. Widening your vocabulary is not just useful for the SAT, but also for your own writing, reading, and work throughout high school and college.

Finally, SAT Word of the Day also serves as a daily reminder to stick to your overall test prep schedule. Incorporating a word a day or an SAT Question of the Day orients you towards learning and building your skills and understanding on a daily basis. While SAT Word of the Day is useful for building up your vocabulary and retaining new words over time, what are some downsides to this approach to studying?


Cons of SAT Word of the Day

Perhaps the most obvious question about using SAT Word of the Day is whether it teaches you enough to really be effective. Since you're only focusing on one word each day, you'd have to start a long time in advance of your SAT test to learn enough words. If you don't keep reviewing and referring back to words, you might forget those you learned several months or a year ago. While you're studying a word a day in theory, likely you would end up studying more to review ones that you've already learned.

Another downside to SAT Word of the Day is that it could be more of a passive than an active approach. You're learning a word, but not necessarily putting it in context of the SAT and applying it to real SAT questions. Thus you would want to be proactive and couple your studying with answering sample questions and ensuring that you can demonstrate what you've learned on SAT passage-based and sentence completion questions.

How effective studying with SAT Word of the Day is also varies from student to student and depends on their individual learning style and focus. This approach may appeal more to you if you like spreading out your test prep over a sustained period of time, but may not be your preferred mode if you like to bunch up studying and focus intensively on more material at the same time.

In order to get the most use out of SAT Word of the Day, you want to use high quality resources, just as you should with the rest of your SAT prep. Read on for my suggestions of the best sources for SAT Word of the Day.



Where Can You Find SAT Words of the Day?

You can track down high quality SAT Words of the Day on various websites, as well as sign up for daily emails. For further reinforcement, you could also choose to create your own word of the day flashcards by writing down vocabulary, definitions, and examples from SAT vocabulary lists. Below are my suggestions for the best websites and email lists.


New York Times SAT Vocabulary

The New York Times learning blog has an SAT Word the Day 7 days a week. It gives you SAT words and definitions, as well as an example of how each word is used in a sentence. What I like about this blog is that it links you to all the New York Times articles that have used that word. This lets you gain a sense of how it's used in various contexts, which is especially helpful for passage-based vocabulary questions on the current SAT, as well as the more context-based vocabulary questions that will appear on the new SAT in 2016. Plus you can learn about current events and editorials, which might be useful to draw upon when it comes time to write your SAT essay.

To access these words you have to visit the site. Unfortunately they don't have an email option or a phone app that you could download. You can follow the New York Times learning blogs on Twitter, but not specifically the SAT Word of the Day. Word of the Day

On this straightforward site, you can find an SAT vocabulary word, definition, and one example. Unlike the New York Times blog, this site doesn't give you additional examples of the vocabulary in context. You could do your own searches, along with keeping an eye out for words you're learning in your reading. If you prefer to have daily vocabulary emailed to you, you can sign up for the email lists of any of the sites below.


Get Emailed SAT Word of the Day

These sites are all comparable to one another. They will email you a vocabulary word, definition, and example sentence every day. Again, it would be up to you to seek out the new vocabulary in other contexts beyond the one sentence example.

Signing up for an email or texting list is an easy way to keep up with the word a day. Just don't let the emails pile up in your inbox! Finally, you could also create your own vocabulary lists and words of the day on paper or online. One site that's useful for this kind of self-directed studying is Quizlet.


Make Your Own SAT Word of the Day

Quizlet has some useful preexisting SAT vocabulary lists that you could use to create your own flashcards. You can also upload your own lists and practice that way, perhaps to review words of the day that you studied in the past. If you have an iPad or tablet, you can also play vocabulary matching games and time yourself as you review.

If you start studying vocabulary in freshman year for just five minutes a day, then you could really grow your language skills over time. To make the most of your prep, use high quality resources that access the most commonly tested SAT vocabulary words. The best way to retain words and have a complex understanding is to read them in various contexts and take note when they appear in your reading. You could even try working it into conversation or your texts, though you might cause some confusion if you start throwing words like "assiduous" and "perfidious" around.

Rather than only passively reading through definitions, actively search these words out and couple your studying with answering SAT practice passage-based and sentence completion vocabulary questions. At the same time, it's important to note that this focus on vocabulary might actually be more relevant for the current version of the SAT than the redesigned one rolling out in 2016. The new SAT has less of a focus on "big" words and more focus on relatively common words that might be presented in an unusual way. Below is a quick review of the changes as they relate to vocabulary.




How Important is Vocabulary for the New SAT?

If you're taking the new SAT, you might consider readjusting your approach to studying SAT vocabulary. The new SAT is deemphasizing these common SAT words, and shaping questions around more accessible words, like "intense" and "maintain," that might have different connotations in different sentences. Instead of stand-alone sentence completion questions, the vocabulary questions will be more passage-based.

If you're taking the current version of the SAT, then SAT Words of the Day are still a very useful tool for building your vocabulary and learning the words you'll need to achieve strong scores on the Critical Reading section. If you're taking the newer version, you might still benefit from the SAT Word of the Day, but should focus on connotation and context and not worry too much about particularly obscure words. 

By learning more about what skills the new SAT will test, you can reshape your prep and continue to use older practice materials effectively. With SAT Word of the Day and all your test prep, you'll be best served by reflecting on your learning style and uncovering the tactic that works best for you.


How Do You Learn New Words?

As with all aspects of studying for the SAT, reflect on how you learn and retain information and customize your study plan to best help you improve. Even if you're someone who likes to bunch up studying, SAT Words of the Day can be a useful tool, especially if you start early.

Even though I gave several options of websites and email lists above, the "word of the day" is meant to be just that, a single vocabulary word that you examine and incorporate on a daily basis. With this approach, it's better to prioritize quality of words, definitions, and examples over quantity. Pick just one of those resources (or two, if you really want) and stick with it. Pay attention to how it's used, where you can find it, and how it helps express a thought or idea.

Even if only a fraction of the words you learn actually show up on your official SAT tests, you'll still have advanced your language and sharpened your reading, writing, and communication skills. Plus you can impress your friends and family with your ever expanding repertoire of impressive vocabulary.


What's Next?

Besides Word of the Day, you might also be learning a lot of SAT vocabulary at the same time. Learn about the "waterfall method" of studying SAT words and definitions.

Do you have a choice between taking the current version of the SAT and the new SAT? Read about the differences and how to decide between the two here.

Gunning for a top SAT score? Read our guide on how to get a perfect SAT score. Learn how to get an 800 on SAT Reading, SAT Math, and SAT Writing.


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Rebecca Safier
About the Author

Rebecca graduated with her Master's in Adolescent Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has years of teaching and college counseling experience and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals and improve their well-being. She graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University and scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT.

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