Resources for Building Your Vocabulary

Reading every day, especially if your reading consists of challenging and varied material and you use a dictionary actively and habitually, is a good long-term way to expand your vocabulary. Regular writing practice allows you to become more comfortable with the broader vocabulary that your reading exposes you to. But I firmly believe in the value of systematic study of new words using well-designed and informative materials. Anyone interested in becoming a better reader, a better writer, a better communicator in general, and even a better thinker should consider using vocabulary materials like the ones I have my students use.

Depending on their vocabulary level, many of my students in 8th-10th grades use Vocabulary for the High School Student (“VHSS“), which organizes words into groups according to various criteria such as related meanings, Latin roots and prefixes, and Greek word elements. Although it is not a perfect book, I like it because it is well organized, thorough, and replete with usage examples and exercises. Unfortunately, it does not contain an answer key for its exercises, and as far as I can tell the publisher has not made one available, so I have uploaded my own answer explanations for the entire book here: VHSS Answer Key.
My more advanced students, and those who are preparing specifically for the SAT or ACT, use an out-of-print book called SAT Word Flash (“SATWF“), known as In-a-Flash Vocabulary (SAT Vocabulary) in later editions, which contains a well-designed and well-chosen SAT vocabulary curriculum and can be studied a little more quickly than VHSS. Because it is out of print, it is difficult to find and usually absurdly expensive even if you can find a copy, so I have uploaded a .pdf version here: SATWF.
I have also entered numerous vocabulary lists from these books into my Quizlet account to facilitate studying. Quizlet is an extremely useful study tool that allows you to create your own flash cards (or study other people’s), play games with the terms you’re studying, and test yourself, and it keeps track of your performance as you study. I highly recommend giving it a try, especially if you struggle with traditional methods of memorization. To mitigate the possibility that these lists will be deleted by Quizlet, I have made them accessible only by password. The password for all of my lists is extremophile. (Sign up for a free account here to use my lists—registration is quick and easy.) Please note, however, that rote memorization of definitions is of limited benefit without exposure to the actual usage of the words or practice in applying them. I STRONGLY advise you to make use of the examples and exercises in the books above instead of relying on Quizlet alone. Your understanding of the words will be much, much deeper if you use the books in conjunction with Quizlet.
The Wordly Wise 3000 series of books also provides an effective long-term course of study. If you choose to use these books, make sure you buy the 2nd Edition versions, which are newer and have book numbers closer to the grade level at which the book should be used. (In other words, in the new numbering system, the words in Book 8 are more or less appropriate for 8th graders, though they may be too advanced for some.)