You might be surprised to learn that you really don’t have to know a lot of . . . stuff to earn a high score on certain parts of the SAT. Of course, you need to have strong analytical and comprehension skills, but you don’t need to know facts and statistics and the other bits of information you probably associate with test taking. The Critical Reading section, which comprises one-third of the SAT, requires no prior knowledge of any subject area, so earning a fantastic score on this section is well within your reach, regardless of what you remember from your subject classes in high school. This part of the test provides passages from novels, historical non-fiction, and scholarly papers and then asks questions about them. You have no way of knowing which passages will be on the test, but that’s okay, because all of the answers to these questions are in the passages themselves—the point is to read and analyze them on the fly. However, while you can’t study the passages themselves, you’ll push your score through the roof if you choose to study vocabulary.
The passages use a lot of high-level words, and if you don’t know what those words mean, you’ll have more difficulty answering the questions. There are also high-level words in the answer choices, and if you don’t know the meaning of those words, you won’t be able to recognize the correct answer even if you know it. The SAT also has sentence completion questions, which are purely based on vocabulary knowledge.
The ACT reading passages work the same way as the SAT. You don’t have to know anything ahead of time; you just have to know what high-level vocabulary words mean to understand the texts, questions, and answer choices.
And then there’s the writing section. Both the SAT and ACT have an essay (on the SAT it’s mandatory; the ACT, optional).
One of the criteria for scoring the essays is “verbal sophistication,” which is just another way of saying they want to see you use high-level vocabulary.
But how do you learn so many high level words and more importantly, how do you remember all of the definitions when you take the test? A good way to start is simply by reading . . . a lot! By reading broadly and voraciously, you’ll expose yourself to many new vocab words and you’ll get practice inferring meaning. You can also search online for SAT/ACT vocab lists and simply make paper or use online flashcards to quiz yourself. You can also learn vocabulary by playing fun and interactive word games that are based on mnemonics (memory tricks). By using memory tricks, you learn how to remember words and definitions without spending hours and hours trying to memorize them. Mnemonics make it possible for you to learn a difficult word in as little as 30 seconds, and learn it well enough that you won’t forget it. (Verbal Education offers a free demo that shows you how this timesaving, fun, and easy strategy works. You have to learn a lot of words for the SAT, but you don’t have to suffer to do it!)
More good news is that the vocabulary you learn for the SAT and ACT will also help you get better grades in high school, read and write better in college, and be better prepared for the workplace—not just a couple of tests.