Posts Tagged ‘strategies’

How to Learn SAT® Vocabulary

SAT-takers generally find the critical reading sections challenging because both the sentence completion and passage-based reading sections are so vocabulary dependent. You may not have a huge academic vocabulary, but some concentrated study and knowing the following strategies can make a significant difference in your scores on the critical reading and multiple-choice writing sections.

Sentence Completion Strategies

Vocabulary recognition is critically important for both the Passage-based Reading and Sentence Completion Questions found in the Critical Reading section. The publisher of the SAT claims that these subtests measure “verbal reasoning abilities.” Hogwash! Much of the Sentence Completions and even the Passage-based Reading subsections only measure vocabulary. Not only do these subsections simply measure vocabulary; they also frequently test this vocabulary out of context. In other words, much of the SAT vocabulary is either already known or not known.

Some SAT preparation workbooks and classes (or perhaps a friendly English teacher you might know) will suggest that you memorize huge SAT vocabulary lists of hundreds of words. This approach runs contrary to both good reading research and just plain common sense. The publisher has a word bank of over 30,000 words. Even if you retained the meanings of every single word on a twenty-word weekly vocabulary test, you would only have learned 600 or so words by the end of one school year. Chances are that you would forget many of these anyway. Time invested in memorizing huge vocabulary lists would be better spent reading a good book.

In fact, for long term SAT vocabulary acquisition, reading is the best way to grow a huge vocabulary. As you read books at your reading level (word recognition of 95%), you will learn many of those unknown 5% words though effective use of context clues. Keep track of these words on a daily basis on 3 x 5 cards or on your computer, and you will be well on your way to developing the kind of SAT vocabulary that will score you the points you need.

But, for those of you non-readers who are taking the SAT in a few short weeks, there is still hope to improve your score on both the Critical Reading and Writing sections. Fortunately, the multiple-choice design of the SAT requires vocabulary only word recognition, rather than vocabulary word knowledge. For example, you may not be able to define, or even give an example of an “octogenarian.” However, you might be able to recognize that the “oct” part of the word means “eight” because you have prior knowledge that an “octopus” has eight tentacles.

Two effective short cuts toward better recognizing SAT vocabulary include these two strategies:

  1. learning the most common Greek and Latin affixes/roots and
  2. learning how to figure out the clues to meaning of unknown words through context clues.

Both of these strategies will help your short-term goal of dealing with the SAT vocabulary. The web provides wonderful resources for frequently-used word parts to print into SAT vocabulary study game cards and context clue exercises designed for SAT-takers.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary  Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary  also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary  program.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary
Grades 4-8 Programs

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How to Answer the SAT® Sentence Completion Test Problems

SAT-takers generally think that the SAT sentence completion sections are relatively easy, but many students can be shocked to find out that these sections actually lower overall critical reading scores more than the passage-based sections. Using the TK PMC strategies, will help SAT-takers significantly increase their SAT scores on the sentence completion test problems in the critical reading section.


1. Read the sentence, paying special attention to the TONE of the sentence. The sentence may have a positive or a negative tone and the answer choice must match that tone.

Examples: The happy and _____________ young woman left without complaint.

Feeling _____________ and angry, the teacher rejected his proposal.

2. While reading the SAT sentence completions, circle any KEY words that may affect the meaning of the sentence.


always, all, necessarily, never, none, partially, completely, more than, less than, fewer, best, worse, half, most, almost, completely, minimally


as a result, because, consequently, hence, if, in order to, so, then, therefore


also, and, another, besides, for example, furthermore, in addition, in other words, moreover


but, if, nor, although, nevertheless, despite, even though, in contrast, however, in spite of, instead, on the contrary, on the other hand, rather, still, yet, conversely

3. Read the SAT sentence completions sentence again and PREDICT the word in the blank, using the tone, key words, and surrounding context clues (PS SALE) to inform your prediction. If you can’t think of an answer choice, just say “blank.”

4. Now read the answer choices, and MATCH each of these to your predicted word. Use the process of elimination to remove any answers from consideration that do not match your predicted word.

5. CHECK your answer choice by mouthing the sentence with your answer choice. If it doesn’t “sound” right, consider another choice.

Some additional hints…

Complete the SAT sentence completions first in each Critical Reading section.

For SAT sentence completions with two blank words, follow the TK PMC strategy for only the first blank word. Then read the sentence one more time, predicting the second word and matching that word to the remaining possible answer choices. Finally, make sure to check both answer choices by mouthing the words in the sentence.

The author’s Essential Study Skills is the study skill curriculum that teaches what students need to know to succeed and thrive in schoolOften, the reason why students fail to achieve their academic potential is not because of laziness or lack of effort, but because they have never learned the basic study skills necessary for success. The 56 lessons in Essential Study Skills will teach your students to “work smarter, not harder.” Students who master these skills will spend less time, and accomplish more during homework and study time. Their test study will be more productive and they will get better grades. Reading comprehension and vocabulary will improve. Their writing will make more sense and essays will be easier to plan and complete. They will memorize better and forget less. Their schoolwork will seem easier and will be much more enjoyable. Lastly, students will feel better about themselves as learners and will be more motivated to succeed. em>Essential Study Skills is the ideal curriculum for study skill, life skill, Advocacy/Advisory, Opportunity Program classes. The easy-to-follow lesson format of 1. Personal Assessment 2. Study Skill Tips and 3. Reflection is ideal for self-guided learning and practice. Contact the publisher for affordable site licenses. 128 pages

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How to Answer Passage-Based Reading Test Problems

Passage-based reading sections can produce time management challenges and difficulties for test-takers.

The publisher attempts to use unfamiliar subjects for its reading passages to compensate for outside knowledge and experience, but what you bring to the text in the way of experience and knowledge remains just as important as what they select for the readings.  So if you know the answer apart from the reading, trust your own knowledge and answer accordingly.  The reading passage cannot contradict facts. For medium-length, long, and paired reading passages…

1. Read the short INTRODUCTION to the reading passage first (if provided), reflecting on any prior knowledge or reading that relates to the subject. Try to determine if the passage is expository or narrative from reading the introduction.

2. Read the QUESTION stems that follow the reading passage twice. Previewing the question stems enhances comprehension and begins to access your outside knowledge before you begin to read. While reading the question stem the first time, circle the following KEY words:

  • “according to the author (passage)” Make sure to answer from this point of view.
  • “main idea” This is the most important thought of the passage.
  • “best” Another answer may be acceptable, but this one most closely fits.
  • “mainly” Not completely, but most importantly.
  • “chiefly” Compared to the others, this is above the rest.
  • “except” This identifies something that does not belong with the rest.
  • “some” Not all.
  • “implies (suggests)” The author has hinted at, but not directly stated.
  • “only” This means exclusively that one and no other.
  • “primarily” This means mainly or the chief one, before all others.
  • “most likely” A logical prediction or conclusion.
  • “similar” Asks for a comparison.
  • “differs” Asks for a contrast.
  • “most nearly means” Asks for the definition in context.
  • “assertions” Points to be made.
  • “most directly” Most specifically.
  • “imagery” A mental picture or image.
  • “tone” The manner in which something is said.
  • “organization” How the passage is structured.
  • “developed” How the thesis is proven throughout the passage.

3. Read the question stem a second time and mark each with a “G” if it is a GENERAL question and “S” if it is a SPECIFIC question. A general question stem is one that can be answered without looking back in the passage for specific details. “Best title,” or “the main idea,” or “the tone of the passage” are examples of general question stems on the SAT reading section. Sometimes they will have reading passage line numbers as reference; other times they will not. A specific question stem is one that cannot be answered unless you look back for the details in the passage. The specific question stem will always have a line number as reference.

If the passage is expository or persuasive:

4. PREVIEW the passage by reading the last sentence of the first paragraph. The thesis statement is found here in about 50% of all expository reading. Then read the first sentence in each body paragraph. The topic sentence is found her in about 80% of all expository reading.

5. READ the passage, carrying on a dialogue with the text. Focus on finding the sections that deal with the question stems that you have already read. Mark a CHECK by any answers to questions that you remember from reading the question stems.

If the passage is narrative:

4. PREVIEW the passage by reading the first and last sentence in the SAT reading sections. Frequently, the most important clues to the meaning of a short narrative passage are in these positions.

5. READ the passage, carrying on a dialogue with the text. Focus on finding the sections that deal with the question stems that you have already read. Mark a CHECK by any answers to questions that you remember from reading the question stems.

6. Answer the GENERAL question stems (those marked “G”) first. Guess on any general question stems of which you are not sure. Do not return to the general test problems for re-consideration. Then, go back and answer the SPECIFIC question stems. Take the time to hunt and peck throughout the passage, using the line number references, to find the right answers, if needed.

Some additional hints…

The Passage-based reading test problems are a bit different than other test problems. The passage-based test problems are mixed up in terms of order of difficulty. They do not go from easy to hard. On paired passages, some question stems relate to both passages.

For paired passages, complete the test problems for the first passage before reading the second passage. Mark a “1” after the “G” or “S” after reading the question stem the second time.

The answer to a test problem that has a line reference number will often not be in the specific line cited. Many times the answer is found up or down a few lines from the line reference.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of Essential Study Skills.

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