I am a nervous test-taker. Interviews, speaking in front of an audience, and standardized exams all my palms sweaty and my mouth dry. For many students, this feeling of nervousness stems from a lack of confidence in the material being tested. We fear that we didn't study enough, or that we'll be quizzed on items we were never taught by our teachers.
I can tell you that SAT test-makers are not out to get students, nor do they want to trick them into choosing the wrong answer. And students can increase their chances of doing better on standardized tests like the SAT or ACT by expanding their vocabulary (and root words, prefixes and suffixes, which are building blocks).
You see, vocabulary expansion goes a long way towards helping you understand a topic even if you've never heard of it before. Take this example from a PSAT practice test:
"Greta praised the novel for its ----, claiming it depicted reality so vividly that it seemed more like fact than fiction."
(A) transcendence (B) romanticism (C) impenetrability (D)loquacity (E) verisimilitude
WOW! That's a toughy!
Now, one strategy for a multiple-choice question like this is to read the word in context. The words that follow the blank can usually help you understand that meaning of the word that's missing. In this case, the word that means "depicted reality..." is (E) verisimilitude.
Pay attention now, because this is where (I think) it gets fun!
A second strategy to employ would be to break the words down. You don't need to be a spelling bee champ, just a consistent verbarian enthusiast to find the root word "simil-", a word from the Latin that means "like."
The suffix "-tude" (also from the Latin, and used in conjunction with Latin roots), usually denotes a state or condition, so "similitude" is "a state of being like" something.
You would be a true word star if you knew that "veri-" (also from the Latin) means "truth." So, verisimilitude means "being like something that is true; probability; likelihood." You may have heard that Harvard's motto is "Veritas," or truth.
All these tips are great! But the best strategy, of course, to know this word in advance, and to knock it out of the ballpark when you encounter a question of such difficulty. And this is why I advocate going one step beyond what is expected by encouraging students to start learning lots of words early on in high school. Reading is a great way to do this; so are flashcards. Make a family game night out of it, or practice in the car on your way to a game or other event (this way, the whole family can learn and use the words together!). You can use old-fashioned flashcards, but there are so many apps out there nowadays for your smartphone, too. I really like "Flashcardlet" for my iPod, as well as "Quizlet" (you can search by topic and access piles already created by other students).
Invest in a tutor who knows their stuff! I'm a person who loves words, and passing on the fun to anyone who also wants to learn! You can reach me simply by clicking on the link that will take you to my profile and sending me an email.
Whatever method you choose, start as early as possible, to give your child a leg up on the SAT! Good luck!