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“Knowing More Words Makes You Smarter,” Says Professor

Categories: SAT Vocabulary, Vocabulary for Success, Vocabulary Improvement Tips, Vocabulary Research |

In the United States, the SAT is the standard method of testing students in their final years of high school to see how much they have learned, and where they score on math, English, and reading comprehension abilities. However, even though all three of these areas are tested separately, they’re all dependent on one thing: vocabulary. After all, if you can’t understand the words used to present a math problem, how can you solve it? But although the SAT test is given to students in the 12th grade, vocabulary development needs to start as soon as possible, in the 1st grade or even sooner, says University of Virginia professor E. D. Hirsch, Jr. He looks at the French école maternelle system that is used by nearly every child in that country, and recommends that this early-education model be used in the United States (and elsewhere) both to promote vocabulary development and to reduce the level of social inequality as the children grow up.

As Hirsch points out, a child who already has a good vocabulary when they get into standard English classes in the 4th or 5th grade will be far ahead of another child with lower vocabulary skills. A good vocabulary means fewer questions, faster reading speed, and better comprehension. As French studies have shown, providing support for vocabulary development at an early age proves to be one way to raise student abilities, even for a child who started behind the others. This is particularly important for children who don’t have parents with the time or ability to help them at home with reading, whether for school or for pleasure.

A good vocabulary does more than help children succeed in school. Because most people learn vocabulary through reading, they’re also absorbing the information contained in the text as they read. Here’s an example:

Volcanoes are generally found where tectonic plates are diverging or converging. A mid-oceanic ridge, for example the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, has examples of volcanoes caused by divergent tectonic plates pulling apart; the Pacific Ring of Fire has examples of volcanoes caused by convergent tectonic plates coming together.

When you read this paragraph, you might have to look up the words diverge and converge and tectonic. After you find out the meanings of the words, you’ll understand the paragraph, which means that not only will you have three new useful words in your vocabulary, you’ll also know something about volcanic activity, geologic processes, and the shape of the world. This knowledge will stay with you, even if you’re not consciously absorbing it. By gaining both knowledge and vocabulary, you’ll improve your ability to learn more, and more quickly, in the future.

Studies have shown that people with better vocabularies can take advantage of more educational opportunities, and people with a better education go on to become more successful in work. Hirsch cites one study that shows that a small increase in the SAT vocabulary score translates into a $10,000 increase in salary – and that was back in 1999. Consider how important a good vocabulary is in today’s knowledge-based economy!

Whether you want to be smarter or earn more money, or both, focusing on building a good vocabulary is essential. And if you’re a parent, helping your child with the same vocabulary-building goals is one of the best things you can do for them.

Read the full essay here Volcano information from Wikipedia.