Vocabulary Skills

Dealing with vocabulary tests

First of all, find out about your teacher’s testing routines!

  • Will tests be announced? If not, revise the vocabulary regularly on the day before a test may come up!
  • How many items will usually occur in a test?
  • What exactly will be tested: only individual words, phrases, complete sentences? In any case, it is advisable to study words in meaningful context – so, don’t only learn individual words!
  • Will your teacher ask for antonyms and synonyms? Usually, the vocabulary lists feature an additional column with contextualized vocabulary (examples, word relations).
  • What kind of grading system does your teacher use? Does a spelling mistake matter as much as a grammatical mistake?
  • If your tests include material from former tests, you will have to revise it!

Next, find out which material is relevant!

  • Which words on which pages of your textbook need to be learned? Which are really important? Which will come up only rarely in spoken English?
  • Sometimes, your textbook offers boxed text with additional vocabulary – does it have to be learned as well?
  • Will the test focus on the vocabulary section or do you have to learn vocabulary taken from elsewhere in the textbook?
  • Are there any extra glossaries you are supposed to learn? Your teacher may have handed out some vocabulary sheets.

Prepare for the test!

  • Start early! It’s no use doing last-minute practice. Your results may be great, but your learning is rather ineffective.
  • Plan your learning. Split your workload up into packages of about 15 words per day.
  • Make sure you revise the vocabulary on a regular basis.
  • Revise your vocabulary whenever you spot time slots not filled with activity, like when you’re waiting at the bus stop or walking to school.
  • Reading the relevant texts in your textbook may help you contextualizing the words.
  • Don’t learn the words as they appear in the vocabulary list, repeating the same sequence over and over again. Instead, use flash cards or a learning program to isolate them.
  • Testing yourself is fine, but also let someone else test you.
  • Last but not least, check your last tests for your favorite mistakes. Making a mistake once is pardonable, but making it again and again isn’t.

Do the test!

  • Calm down! It’s simply a vocabulary test and doesn’t have such a strong impact on your grades!
  • Look at the complete test before you start. Don’t forget to fill in your name.
  • Read the clues carefully! Sometimes, inflected forms may be required.
  • Don’t leave any blanks!
  • Start with the words you can do easily. Then, proceed to the more difficult ones.
  • Use all the information provided in the test. Sometimes, you’ll find hints in other parts of the test.
  • If you are not sure whether you’ve spelled a word correctly, mark all the trouble spots and come back to them later.
  • Give yourself sufficient time to revise the complete test. Check for spelling problems!

How to learn vocabulary: General rules

  • The most important thing is your attitude – you want to expand your vocabulary to become more fluent.
  • Also, never let a day pass without exposure to your target language.
  • Find out what type of learner you are - visual, auditory, reading / writing, and kinesthetic. Visual learners want to see the word and might memorize an image connected to it. Kinesthetic learners may want to write the word and act it out! Auditory learners need to hear the word and might profit from rhymes and songs!
  • Combining several channels is often better than using only one channel! Reading and listening to the same text at the same time can be very effective!
  • Use the word actively and creatively from the very beginning and as often as you can!
  • Contextualize words – make stories or connect them to other relevant vocabulary!
  • Use the background knowledge you already have! Memorizing works best if you can connect new items to what you already know.
  • Whenever you learn a new word, spend some time on it – get creative with it, write it down, whatever. After it, give your brain some time to digest what you’ve learned. Sleep over it.
  • Learn all the additional information provided along with the word: usage, style, grammatical features!
  • It’s not advisable to learn more than seven words in one go and more than 15 words in one session.
  • Always pronounce the words when you learn them. If necessary, check the internet (or textbook) for pronunciation hints.
  • Whenever possible, visualize the word to match it with a vivid mental image.
  • Whatever stirs up your emotions might help you to remember an item of vocabulary.
  • Before you start, find out which items from your list really need to be learned. Maybe some of the words don’t need to be learned because they are internationalisms or because you’ve learned them at an earlier stage.
  • Use the experience of space – connect words to your personal environment, use word tags on your shelves, desk, and wardrobe!
  • It’s often helpful to highlight difficult elements in a word – irregular spelling, surprising prepositions.
  • Revise vocabulary at regular intervals (one day, three days, a week, two weeks, one month, three months, a year). Some apps and learning programs based on an SRS (Spaced Repetition System) work like the good old card system and will test you at intervals.

How to expand your vocabulary

  • Use various kinds of dictionaries - a thesaurus, specialized dictionaries for collocations and idioms, picture dictionaries, encyclopedias, thematic dictionaries…!
  • Collect or make glossaries for areas of knowledge you’re interested in.
  • Purchase a vocabulary book (minimum: 3000 words) and work your way through it.
  • Browse English websites and change the language settings of your browser and social network profiles.
  • Subscribe to newsletters of the most important English journals, papers and TV channels (BBC, CNN, Newsweek, New York Times, Guardian…).
  • Create your own English website.
  • Take part in chats, forums and newsgroups online.
  • Get in touch with native speakers or anyone who loves to speak English.
  • Translate English song lyrics and listen to English songs!
  • Watch song videos that also feature the lyrics!
  • Play the games you usually play in English.
  • Look for an English-speaking penpal (epals.com) and start an exchange.
  • Play games that help you to practice and expand your vocabulary (Taboo, Scrabble, Categories, Snakes & Ladders …) or create some yourself (Dominoes, Happy Families, Bingo, Categories, Memory, board games…).
  • Travel abroad and keep a vocabulary log.
  • Read English texts on a daily basis!
  • Subscribe for English youth magazines or fanzines (Read On, Spot On …)
  • Read English literature – at least abridged or simplified versions (Simplified Readers, Easy Readers …)!
  • Whenever possible, read manuals and instructions in English!
  • Listen to English radio stations (AFN ... ), also the ones you get online.
  • Watch English TV programs or use online Video on Demand websites (Netflix, Amazon Prime, BBC Prime, CNN, … ).
  • Look for a tandem partner in your city and start a face-to-face exchange!
  • Join a club dedicated to language learning or intercultural exchange!
  • Start a vocabulary book of your own!
  • Make vocabulary posters!
  • Try online vocabulary trainers (LEO has one, you may also find some at Merriam-Webster, there are plenty).