3 Ways to Build Your Vocabulary

By Hieu Van Do 

(English Literature, English Language, TOEFL, SSAT, English Builder Tutor at The Edge Learning Center)

It seems that a lack of vocabulary is one of the main obstacles that many people face as they shift their focus to test prep. After all, an extensive vocabulary is essential for improving scores on those tricky university entrance exams. Without a broad vocabulary in your arsenal, comprehension will remain poor and your chances of gaining entry into the school of your choice drop significantly.

So how does one effectively build vocabulary? This is a question that I hear far too often, and the answer, of course, varies from one individual to the next. Depending on each individual’s study habits and learning style, some might say that rote and drill is the most effective for vocabulary acquisition. Others might feel better suited toward learning new words through immersion in a natural setting and context. I am in no position to say one way is better than the other. However, I can recommend the following three methods that I found worked best for me.

  1. Start a vocabulary journal

vocabulary journal

Find a relatively thin or compact notebook that has at least 26 pages. Label and dedicate each page to a different letter of the alphabet. As you encounter unfamiliar words, whether it be in passing, on television, or in books and magazines, jot down the word in the appropriate section of your journal. Write the word, a short and concise definition, and common synonyms.

As you encounter new words, check your journal and read all the words listed in the appropriate section. If it isn’t listed, add it to your journal. This repetition of checking and adding words to your journal will help gradually build up your vocabulary and commit them to your long-term memory.

  1. Make online flashcards

mobile app

While I do recommend actually making physical flashcards to learn vocabulary, I find that making them online on websites/apps is much more convenient. Using these respective apps makes it extremely handy to study on the go, especially if you commute to school or work.

Some of these apps have an extensive number of features that make it easy and fun to learn new words. With a variety of learning modes, the option to add pictures, and games and quizzes to test your progress and memory, making and organizing vocabulary cards has never been easier or efficient.

If you are new to online flashcards, it’s a technology worth venturing into. I personally recommend using either Quizlet or Anki due to its user-friendly interface.

  1. Read and learn based on your interests

Ted talks recommended

If you make learning new words a chore, you won’t be able to retain this information competently. Don’t just pick up magazines and read random articles. Instead, seek out articles and podcasts about things that align with your interests. TED Talks usually has a wide range of topics that should satiate your curiosity.

Learning words based on your interests is an effective way to expand your vocabulary.

Are you a video game enthusiast? – Research the names of characters, special attacks, and weapons. These names are usually selected for a reason and not by chance. Investigate the lore of your favorite games. This background information is filled with advanced vocabulary to discover.

Are you fond of the cinema? – Summarize a movie that you like as complexly as possible. Make it a game and ask friends/family to try to figure out which movie you’re talking about.

Are music and poetry more to your liking? – Translate original lyrics and poems into your own version. Try not to just choose synonyms and replace the original words. Instead, paraphrase the song/poem and write up something novel.

These are just a few ways that I continue to use to build up my vocabulary. One important thing to note is to make learning new words a habitual and enjoyable experience. Remember, the more effort you put into it, the more you will benefit.

About The Edge

The Edge Learning Center is Hong Kong’s premier Test Preparation, Academic Tutoring, and Admissions Consulting services provider. Founded in 2008, The Edge has helped thousands of students improve their ACT and SAT scores as well as their IB and AP grades. The AC team has just finished off another successful period in which student gained early acceptance to schools such as Columbia, MIT, University of Chicago, and more! Check out the rest of our 2018-9 Admissions Results!

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