Study Tips

5 ways to improve your vocabulary

Lisa Tran

April 7, 2011

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We all know that to be successful at English we need to have decent vocabulary. Any essay can risk sounding bland and monotonous if you can only express your ideas using a limited span of words. Mixing up your essay with some interesting words will:

1. improve your expression,

2. capture your marker’s interest, and

3. impress your marker.

However, a word of caution – don’t be too determined to drown your essay with vocabulary, since you – get ready for this – risk your essay resonating utterly verbose and obstructing readability for the adjudicator (or in normal terms, you risk your essay sounding overly wordy which will therefore decrease the ease and flow when reading your essay). Remember that simple is best, but sprinkling with some vocabulary will definitely spice up your essay!

How do you go about obtaining a better vocabulary?

  1. Words from your text. This is usually one that many people overlook. Your book or movie is the best place to find great descriptive words for themes and characters.
  2. Words from study guides. These also have great vocabulary for your text. A good way to start your vocabulary list is to make notes or highlight certain words that you’d like to use in your essays.
  3. Subscribe to vocabulary learning programs. Personally, I’m subscribed to Just Vocabulary podcast which teaches two new words every week. The bonus is that it’s free and each episode is only 5 minutes long – perfect for on your way to school, when you want a quick break from writing essays, between classes etc.
  4. Use your thesaurus. Whenever I suggest to my students that they should use a thesaurus, I often get the response, ‘But we aren’t allowed to bring one into the exam!’ And that’s correct, you’re only allowed your dictionary. But that shouldn’t stop you from using a thesaurus throughout VCE! Using a thesaurus is the best way to speed up your vocabulary bank and also prevent you from using the same words. With regular use, those new words will be ingrained into your memory so that you won’t need a thesaurus in the exam anyway!
  5. Write essays. It’s no good having a list of words if you don’t practice incorporating them in your essays. The more you practice using your new vocabulary, the easier it will come to you when you are doing your SAC or exam.

Although it's important to improve your vocabulary, students often get the wrong impression. You're not improving your vocabulary to sound smarter, but to optimise your ability to use the right word to express your ideas clearly. Find out more about this in the blog post - Why big words can make you look dumber.

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