Reading is the new Vocabulary

The secondary school admissions process is largely over. Visits have been made. Tests have been taken. Applications have been submitted. Regardless of the test taken, SSAT ISEE, or HSPT, these exams challenged students to answer synonyms, antonyms, and analogies, sentence completions and logical categorizations. Now that the tests are over, students never need study vocabulary again, right? Well, not exactly.

Many of the exams we see older students taking, including the PSAT, SAT, and ACT, have de-emphasized purely vocabulary based questions. Some of the SAT subject tests and graduate school exams still require specialized or advanced vocabulary. Beyond this, students may really only see their vocabulary tested in classrooms. However, there are other skills soon-to-be rising 9th graders will need to develop, even as their vocabulary study returns to pre-standardized test levels.

The Changing Landscape

Looking ahead of the next wave of admissions testing, the SAT and the ACT, students will want to work on another set of academic skills. More and more of the standardized tests beyond middle school prioritize critical reading. Admittedly, these tests are at least two years away at this point. However, it may be beneficial to get an idea of your strengths in this area sooner rather than later.

Many standardized tests require students to understand and answer questions on a variety of reading passages. Students must be able to determine the main idea, the structure of an author’s argument, identify how words are used in context, and make inferences about author and character statements and decisions. These passages are of course timed and of varying levels of difficulty. For most students, successfully navigating the reading section takes time and practice. By developing a familiarity and a strategy for reading early, students can position themselves for success on both standardized and in-school tests.

Given that more tests will require students to perform well on the reading, how does a student go about improving their critical reading skills? Success lies in approaching the goal from multiple directions.

Developing New Skills

Students can work on becoming a better reader in several ways. Perhaps, not surprisingly, if you are not an avid reader you should continue working on your vocabulary. Having a stronger command of language converts passages from esoteric, convoluted monoliths to simple, clear sentences. There is a multitude of apps, websites, games, and, yes, books that can help you bulk up your word inventory. Get creative. Try different methods and rank them. Try studying different times a day and at different locations. Practice with friends or family members. Make flashcards or create games or contests on memorizing words. Maybe crown a vocab champ for the week among your friends. Think about how you learn best and begin doing something daily.

As stated above, it’s important to spend some time each day building your reading muscles. The daily commitment doesn’t have to be long. Fifteen or twenty minutes each day translates into several books per year. Take a moment to think about your interests or something you would like to learn about. It is 98 and ¾% guaranteed there’s an article, essay, book, or journal on that topic. By determining the topic in advance, you will begin to look forward to your reading time.  Reenter a world, reconnect with interesting characters, or rejoin a dramatic mission.

Another component of a reading improvement program involves sampling different types of formats. Scan a daily news article. Spend a week working through a magazine. Keep a Spark Chart or similar info card at the kitchen table or on the couch. Listen to a streaming novel or biography. As always, keep your favorite thriller or fantasy on your nightstand for your post-screen time downtime. It is also important to read from a variety of authors. We naturally select authors we are familiar with or with whom we share a world view. However, we can accelerate the development of our critical analysis skills when we read authors we are unfamiliar with. Hearing a differing or altogether new opinion can help us better understand our own thoughts or beliefs on an issue. Reading newspapers from different cities or political periodicals are great ways to hear some new perspectives. (If you’re not into politics, try a new sports author or book of movie rankings or reviews.)

Finally, you can score some points with your parents by sharing your thoughts on what you have read. Tell them what you liked. What you disagreed with. What surprised you. Further, ask them for tips on what to read or find out their preferences. Set a family tradition of reading while a parent works in the office, or plan a weekly time to read together. Letting them know what you’re trying to do will win you some valuable allies on your quest to become a better reader.