As students prepare for standardized tests for college admission, "Vocabulary" suddenly becomes an important subject. Both the Writing and Critical Reading sections of the SAT reward a strong vocabulary. I try to emphasize to students that having a college (adult) level vocabulary will continue to reward them far beyond a one-day test.
Studying SAT related vocabulary books is certainly worthwhile in the weeks before a test day, but I would like to reach out also to students who are still a few years away from college entrance concerns. The best way to build a rich and useful vocabulary is to read books, magazines, and newspapers that are well-written (e-books and online sources definitely count!) When you read great writing you will not only improve your vocabulary but also your writing and your critical thinking.
Your reading can and should be varied. Admittedly, I do love literature that has been relevant to the lives of so many readers that we call them "classics." For many reasons I would recommend diving into books by Austen, London, Stevenson, Twain, and Welty. There is a worthwhile author for every taste, and I would bet that you will find books you love. Still, you can increase your vocabulary through all kinds of reading that is interesting and relevant to you. Reading about art, technology, business, fashion, news, architecture, and/or music are all fantastic ways to learn about things you enjoy and develop your word skills at the same time.
By reading now you will prepare yourself not for a test but for college, for writing, for conversations, and for careers. You might also find that you really enjoy it!