Many of you are on spring break now. One of the best projects for the break is to set up a process for expanding your vocabulary.

Smart students know the best way to make sure new vocabulary words get added to their active vocabulary. You can use this method, too! For each new vocabulary word, write a sentence that makes the meaning of the word clear to a person who does not already know what the word means.

Beginners sometimes make the mistake of writing a sentence in which the new vocabulary word could mean anything. Athena Mentor Wyly Brown dubbed these sentences, “The dog rolled over.” Here are some examples:

The dog rolled over surreptitiously.
The dog rolled over petulantly.
The dog rolled over meticulously.
The hirsute dog rolled over
The indomitable dog rolled over.


It’s not the dog’s fault

Each of these assertions may be true, and the vocabulary words are not used incorrectly. Nevertheless, the sentences are ineffective as practice in using advanced vocabulary in a way that will take root in your mind–because the sentence gives no indication of what the word means!

Moreover, the vocabulary word sticks out like a sore thumb–or like the expression on the face of a guilty dog.

Athena Advises

marlena-corcoran-20160728_0647-ar-retouchlinkedinYou may have heard that the ACT and the current version of the SAT do not directly test advanced vocabulary. Instead, they test your understanding of words of medium difficulty, in context.

Some of you may be thinking, “Great! I don’t have to study vocabulary!”

Here’s why I think that conclusion is a mistake. You’re on your way to college, right? You will need more than a middling secondary-school vocabulary to understand your reading assignments in college.

Furthermore, even a medium-level vocabulary may be a bit beyond your current range. Here’s a selection of words from the ACT’s own sample questions: sublimation, avid, jaunty, tier, stingy, mundane. See what I mean?

Start today by keeping a list of words you don’t recognize in your current reading. You can also find lists of frequently-tested ACT vocabulary words online. Every day, pick three words. Look them up in a dictionary that gives an example of the word used in a sentence. Copy over the definition, and write a sentence of your own using the new word.

Make sure the sentence you write for each new vocabulary word establishes a context that clarifies the meaning of the vocabulary word. The context can be either positive (it tells you the meaning of the vocabulary word) or negative (it tells you the opposite of the word).

Expanding your vocabulary will help you write prose that is, according to your needs, unambiguous, cogent, supple or evocative; and always eloquent.

Dr. Marlena Corcoran
Founder and CEO

P.S. This issue of the newsletter is dedicated to the memory of my beloved German shepherd, who never, ever rolled over.