Make Vocabulary Personal

By Hieu Van Do

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

The Verbal Section of the SSAT is arguably the most difficult section on the SSAT. Not only do you need to identify 30 synonyms, but you also need to form relationships between a pair of words in 30 analogies.

Many students prepare for this rigorous portion of the SSAT by reviewing more vocabulary. They usually will find a list of words online and try to memorize it. However, a majority of these students will find themselves forgetting most of the vocabulary within days or even hours.

If you fall in the same category of students as the ones mentioned above, don’t worry too much. This is a common problem that usually stems from a lack of personal connection with the words studied. So how do you form a connection with words? The same answer is to make the new word “personal”.

Instead of listing different steps, I decided it was best to show what I meant when I said to make words personal. Below is a list of 26 words, one for each letter of the alphabet. For the purpose of this demonstration, I will only be choosing one definition for each word, and then I will use some mnemonic devices to form an association between the word and myself. In essence, I will associate unfamiliar words with my interests and experiences.

Van’s Blog: 6 Tips for Writing a College Admissions Essay, 3 Ways to Build Your Vocabulary

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Adroit – adj. clever or skillful

This word looks like android to me. Androids are amazingly skillful (e.g. Android 18 from Dragon Ball Z). Thus, adroit is related to being skillful.

Adroit – adj. clever or skillful

This word looks like android to me. Androids are amazingly skillful (e.g. Android 18 from Dragon Ball Z). Thus, adroit is related to being skillful.

Bliss – n. perfect happiness; great joy

This word reminds me of the Pokémon Blissey, a normal type Pokémon that cares for the sick or injured. Blissey is always smiling so I connect the word “bliss” with joy.


Concur – v. be of the same opinion; agree

Every time I hear this word. I think of the doctor scene from Catch Me If You Can. “Do you concur?”

Detest – v. dislike intensely

Detest looks like “the test”. I hate the test. Detest = hate

Extricate – v. free (someone or something) from a constraint or difficulty

This word looks like “extra cake” to me. If there is cake around me, I will devour it all. People need to remove the cake from my reach or I will eat it.

Famished – adj. extremely hungry

This word looks like famine. Famine means lacking food, so famished means really hungry due to lack of food.

Garrulous – adj. excessively talkative, especially on trivial matters

This word reminds me of the word gargle. When you gargle with mouthwash, you make these never-ending gurgling sounds. So when you talk excessively it sounds like you are gargling to me.

Herculean – adj. requiring great strength or effort

This word looks like Hercules. Hercules had super strength. You need super strength to be like Hercules. Thus, herculean means having great strength.

Innocuous – adj. not harmful or offensive

This word looks like the word innocent. If you are innocent, you are pure and incapable of harm.

Jeer – v. make rude and mocking remarks, typically in a loud voice

This word reminds me of the words jerk and cheer. A jerk cheering will result in rude remarks.

Kin – n. one's family and relations

This word looks like kind. Your kin is your kind.

Lassitude – n. a state of physical or mental weariness; lack of energy

To me, lassitude sounds like “let’s sit dude”. You sit down when you are fatigued. So lassitude means out of energy.

Menagerie – n. a collection of wild animals kept in captivity for exhibition

The first time I encountered this word was when I read the short story Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu. This story is about origami paper animals that come to life. So I know menagerie means a collection of animals.

Nefarious – adj. wicked or criminal

This word looks like a combination of “never” and “fair”. If you are never fair, you are always bad and wicked.

Opt – v. make a choice from a range of possibilities

This word looks like the word option. I know that this word is just the verb form of option so it’s easy to remember.

Perpetuate – v. make (something) continue indefinitely

First thing that comes to mind when looking at this word is perpetual motion machines, a hypothetical mechanism that could work forever without an energy source. I know that perpetuate is the verb form meaning to make last forever.

Quell – v. put an end to (a rebellion or other disorder), typically by the use of force

This word reminds me of the word quill. Quills are the sharp, hallow spines of porcupines. Porcupines use quills to protect themselves from potential threats. So I know quell means to stop or end something by force.

Reclusive – adj. avoiding the company of other people; solitary

This word reminds me of the brown recluse, a poisonous spider that is difficult to detect. Every time I see a brown recluse, I avoid it and run away. So I associate the word “reclusive” with avoiding.

Stupefy – v. make someone unable to think or feel properly

Stupefy is a spell in the Harry Potter series that stunned the target, rendering them unconscious.

Thwart – v. prevent someone from accomplishing something

Thwart looks like a combination of the words “the wart”. When you have a wart, you want to get rid of it and stop it completely. So I know thwart means to stop or prevent something.

Usurp – v. take (a position of power or importance) illegally or by force

This word looks like a combination of “use ur power”. If you want power, you need to take it. So I know usurp means to take a position of power with power.

Vilify – v. speak or write about in an abusively disparaging manner

This word reminds me of the words vile and villain. To me, vilify is associated with making someone a villain.

Wily – adj. skilled at gaining an advantage, especially deceitfully

For me, this word will always be associated with Wile E. Coyote. Wile E. Coyote’s antics to capture the Road Runner were always ingenious and amusing, but he was never able to find much success.

Xenophobic – adj. having or showing a dislike of or prejudice against people from other countries

Xenophobic equals “X phobic”. X represents an unknown variable to me. So xenophobic means having a fear of unknown things.

Yield – v. produce or provide (a natural, agricultural, or industrial product)

Yield rhymes with field. A field is an area where crops are grown, and yield is the amount of crops produced.

Zeal – n. great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an objective

The first thing that comes to mind is the word zealot. A zealot is someone who is extremely fanatical about religion. So a zealot has “lots” of “zeal” or passion.