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SSAT and ISEE Vocabulary Tips


SSAT and ISEE vocabulary study plan tips

If your child is preparing to take the SSAT or the ISEE this fall, chances are they will need to expand their vocabulary in order to do well on the verbal sections of the tests. The SSAT and the ISEE both test vocabulary words out of context, so the only way to get them correct is to know the meaning of the word. When reading books, children can often figure out the rough meaning of an unknown word through “context clues” provided in the sentence, but that approach is not possible on the SSAT or ISEE verbal sections. Also, the SSAT, in particular, likes to test secondary definitions of words.

Given the thousands of words in the English language, it might seem fanciful or even futile (great vocab words!) to spend time learning lots of words in the hopes that one of those your child reviews will be on the test. However, based on the way the SSAT is scored, getting only 5 more vocabulary words correct can make a real difference in a student’s score. For example, if a student gets a raw score of 35 on the verbal section of the SSAT (by getting 40 questions correct and 20 incorrect, for example), they would score in the 76th percentile. If they were to get a raw score of 41 (by getting 45 correct and 15 incorrect), they would be in the 87th percentile.

Research shows that good vocabulary supports reading development

A robust vocabulary will help with more than high school admissions test scores. Research shows that good vocabulary supports reading development and increases comprehension. Students with low vocabulary scores tend to have low comprehension, while students with satisfactory or high vocabulary scores tend to have satisfactory or high comprehension scores.

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  • Kids benefit when adults explain the meaning of a new word using everyday language or language that is “accessible and meaningful to the student.” What does that mean for studying for the SSAT? Encourage kids to use a children’s dictionary as they look up words and to write down definitions or synonyms that they understand rather than simply copying text that means nothing to them from a dictionary. Try Merriam Webster’s online learner’s dictionary.
  • Parents and teachers can help by explaining how they use a word or by providing an example of how a word is typically used. They should ask students to create their own sentences using the word to check for true comprehension.
  • Analyzing word parts helps students when they encounter unknown vocabulary. If students study the meanings of root words, prefixes and suffixes, they are more likely to understand a word containing these word parts.
  • To create deep understanding of words, students might consider a technique called semantic mapping in which they write a word in the middle of a flash card and then around that word they write a synonym, an antonym, an example of the word, and a non-example.
  • Students can benefit from sketching a word. In addition to writing out a new word on a flashcard, they can draw a relevant sketch to accompany the definition.


“Sort of” -vs- “don’t know” words on the ISEE or SSAT

Obviously, it might be tough to use each of these strategies for every word that a student has to learn, but reviewing word lists and identifying which words a student “sort of” knows versus those they don’t know at all might be a good place to start in deciding where to use these strategies. Kids are more likely to quickly memorize the “sort of” familiar words that they have heard multiple times but don’t yet use themselves. Therefore, we can save the strategies above for the difficult “never heard of that one” words.

If you would like support for your children, as they prepare for the SSAT or the ISEE exam, one of our experienced tutors will be happy to create a vocabulary study plan.  Please contact us for more information on taking the SSAT, ISEE, and other academic tutoring needs.

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