Improve your Vocabulary, Improve your Writing

There are many unknowns you'll face as you begin college: what sort of roommate will you have, what major will you choose, will your professors be energetic or indifferent, what will the nightlife be like, will you find love, friendship, a career path, enlightenment. All these things remain to be seen. But one thing you can count on is that you'll be asked to write research or term papers, they will most likely be longer than what you were used to writing in high school, they will be held to a higher standard when it comes to grading and there will certainly be more of them.

One common reaction after reading the above is to quake with anxiety. Another is to boast of all your Advanced Placement courses and the long research papers you've already written. If you are thinking along either of these lines, stop. For those who have little experience with writing longer research papers, stop worrying. It is most likely something you'll be eased into incrementally. In other words, you will start out with 3 to 5 page term papers and work your way up to 10 to 20 page research papers.

For those that have experience with writing longer research papers, stop boasting. The point is to get better. Everybody can stand some improvement when it comes to expressing themselves and interpreting or relaying complex ideas.

Now that we've identified the need to strengthen our writing skills, how do we best go about it? One way to improve your writing is to improve your vocabulary. The more familiar you are with words, the easier it will be for you to use them correctly. This is not to say that to write well one needs to litter their prose with big fifty-cent words. Rather, it is much more effective to use these words correctly and sparingly. As the wordsmiths over at Princeton Review tell us, "a big word improperly used can be more dangerous than a nice safe word used correctly." But to use these words effectively one has to know what they mean and that is where strengthening your vocabulary will help. Not only will a stronger vocabulary help with your writing, it will also help you better understand what you're reading.

Speaking of reading, it has long been known that reading is one of the best ways to improve your vocabulary. In fact, the education experts at the Education Resources Information Center recently remarked that "reading is THE most efficient and effective means of acquiring vocabulary." Not only will reading help you better understand words and introduce you to new words, reading also helps you to become a better writer by exposing you to well-written prose. So if you are currently not reading a book, get yourself to the nearest library or bookstore and get started.

To sum up, success at college will depend in part on your ability to communicate through writing. One way to improve your writing is to improve your vocabulary. And one way to improve your vocabulary is to read more, which in turn also helps to improve your writing by exposing you to examples of the very thing you are trying to emulate: good writing. So what are you waiting for, go read a book.

But first, take a minute to complete the vocabulary test below, matching the vocabulary words with the definitions below them. All of the words are taken from either the SAT or the GRE vocabulary lists. These words are difficult and you needn't be upset if you don't know many of them. After you have taken the test, look up the words you didn't know in a dictionary to better familiarize yourself with the definitions. Then write one sentence for each word you got wrong, making sure to use the word correctly. Congratulations, you are already on your way to improving your vocabulary and improving your writing.

1. vitiate

2. cumbersome

3. tractable

4. abject

5. supine

6. abstemious

7. chary

8. spurious

9. mundane

10. urbane

11. itinerant


A. false, forged

B. reduce the value of, debase

C. travel from place to place

D. discreetly cautious, slow

E. temperate, abstinent

F. ordinary, commonplace

G. unwieldy, heavy

H. polished, sophisticated

I. inactive, apathetic

J. existing in a low state or condition, servile

K. easily handled or led, docile


1. B; 2. G; 3. K; 4. J; 5. I; 6. E; 7. D; 8. A; 9. F; 10. H; 11. C