Getting to the root of the matter

SAT vocab goes Greek

Getting to the root of the matter

If you’ve ever read any SAT test prep books, you’ll find that most of these sources recommend you learn approximately 1,000 SAT words to successfully prepare for the test. Aside from slipping these words into everyday conversation to impress your friends and teachers, having a working knowledge of this particular set of vocabulary words will help you immensely when it comes to the critical reading section of the test — and they’re also handy when it comes to writing the essay (as long as the words are used correctly).

But how in the world do you memorize such a large number of new words — especially in time for the test? Here’s a suggestion for you: go Greek! And Latin, if you want to be thorough. Don’t worry; you aren’t expected to study 1,000 vocab words AND learn Greek and Latin. But by focusing on the Greek and Latin root words (don’t forget the prefixes and suffixes) associated with your vocab list, you can study your SAT vocab much more efficiently. Here’s how:

What you will need:

  •  A pack of index cards

  •  Rubber bands or an index card box with colored dividers to organize your cards

  • Highlighter in your favorite, most studious color


Write out the SAT vocab words you still need to learn onto flashcards with each word’s definition on the back. If you already have a set of vocab flashcards, pat yourself on the back and move ahead to the next step.



Ask your librarian for a book that explains Greek and Latin roots (and definitions), prefixes and suffixes, or look up a reference chart online. Now it’s time to play the matching game. Lay out all your vocab flashcards in front of you, word side up, and make a new flashcard for each root word that you discover hidden inside a vocab word.



Gather together all the vocab flashcards that have the same root word and put them in a pile beside the root word flashcard. You may end up with some vocab flashcards that don’t have any matching root words, and that’s okay; just put those in a separate pile for words that you will have to memorize.



Organize your vocab card piles either by rubber-banding them together or by filing them into an index card holder that has dividers. Place the root word flashcard on top of the rubber-banded pile or at the front of the vocab cards in the index card holder.



You can also narrow down the meaning of a vocab word using its prefix or suffix. Go through each of your vocab flashcards with your reference chart of prefixes and suffixes and highlight each prefix that you find in your vocab words. Make flashcards for any prefixes or suffixes you are unsure about.



Study your vocab words one pile at a time, making sure you are clear on the root word definition before you move onto the next root word and its associated vocab words. As you go through the words, pay attention to the highlighted prefixes. You can also reorganize your vocab flashcards by prefix after you’ve studied the cards according to root words. For best results, garnish with consistent effort and patience.

If you can take the time to sit down and categorize your entire vocab list by root word, the rest of your vocabulary study efforts will be very simple and straightforward. Just don’t forget to take your flashcards with you everywhere you go! Practicing by root word categories is an excellent way to not only learn the SAT vocab you need to know, but also to give you the ability to figure out any new word you encounter from now on.

Suchi Rudra is a nomadic freelance writer who specializes in education, travel, sustainable architecture and business.


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