7 Tips on How to Study Vocabulary

girl flipping a big dictionary

If you’re taking college courses in the United States, you’re most likely fluent in English or a native speaker. In either case, you’re probably quite comfortable with your skill level and focusing 100 percent of your brain power on your coursework. However, studying new vocabulary is an important lifelong endeavor.

Expanding your vocabulary will help you comprehend your reading materials more quickly and easily. A more varied lexicon will also improve those papers you’re writing. Of course, if you plan to take a graduate school entrance exam, such as the GRE, you’ll definitely want to build and maintain your internal word list. Follow these seven tips for quick, fun ways to boost your vocab.

Use Word’s Thesaurus Tool

When you’re typing a paper or even just notes, you’re bound to pause from time to time to consider what the best word to use is. Whenever you stop for even a split second, try to get in this habit: type whatever basic word pops into your mind first. Then double-click it and check the thesaurus. You’ll get a list of alternative words and will most likely learn some new ones.
Note that you shouldn’t necessarily choose the longer or more complicated word every time. But knowing you have options adds more variety and interest to your writing. Many times, the more advanced words are more accurate, and sometimes, they’re even shorter. Why say “sheeplike” when you can say “ovine”?

Solve Crossword Puzzles

During your free time, pull out a crossword puzzle book, find one in a newspaper or magazine, or search for a puzzle online. Crossword puzzles have long been an essential (and fun!) tool for every word-lover and vocabulary-builder. Note that if you’re new to crosswords, you might want to skip those found in the Sunday paper, as they’re usually extremely challenging—even for seasoned experts.

Play Word Games

Crossword games are quite different from crossword puzzles. Instead of using clues to figure out predetermined words, you build your own words from a set of letters. Play Scrabble, Words With Friends, or a similar game against the computer or a brainiac friend. Make a note of the words your opponent generates, and don’t be afraid to be inquisitive. Then use a dictionary to come up with great moves of your own.

Of course, you can play the board version of Scrabble as well. Another fun board game is Balderdash, in which players make up fake definitions of advanced vocabulary words. Everybody then tries to guess the real definition. You’ll certainly learn some new terms along the way.

Find Word-A-Day Offerings

Word-a-day calendars are popular gifts; put one on your Christmas wish list. Even if you don’t learn all 365 words, the calendar is just one more vocabulary-building tool at your disposal. Alternatively, find an online word-a-day subscription service that sends new words to your inbox. Or simply bookmark and check a site such as Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day (which also offers a subscription option).

Read Attentively

Sure, you’re reading tons of material for your classes. But you may be reading passively. In other words (no pun intended), like many people, when you encounter a new word, you may very likely be skipping over it and mentally filling in the blank—even subconsciously. Instead, make a concerted effort to stop and look those new words up in a digital or old-school dictionary.

Take Online Vocabulary Quizzes

Search for “free vocabulary quizzes” or a similar term. Vocabulary.com is a great site for students to use regularly, as is knoword. But you can also try other sites or find random quizzes to take.

Get an App

You can find vocabulary-building apps for iOS or Android devices. Anytime you’re on the bus, standing in line, or getting your mani/pedi, whip out that phone and learn a few words.
Building your vocabulary doesn’t have to feel like one more course added to your load. Following these tips is actually a lot of fun and will make you feel smarter. The confidence you gain will carry over into your class studies and will surely show in your grades.

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