When my older daughters were preparing for their SAT tests, they spent hours studying vocabulary using flash cards and SAT prep books. The practice was tedious, but it did pay off in great test scores.
I’m a firm believer that reading is the best way to learn and retain vocabulary, but it’s hard to learn a lot of words quickly for test preparation that way.
The books in the VocabCafe series, published by College Prep Genius, were written to quickly improve vocabulary. Each novel includes 300 words “specifically chosen to encourage the development of language skills.” The words are integrated into a novel. Each vocabulary word is printed in bold, and the definition is at the bottom of the page. The end of each chapter includes a list of all the new words in that chapter and there is an additional glossary at the end of the book. As I read the books, I took note of each vocabulary word and tried to ascertain the meaning (if it was unfamiliar to me). Then I read the definition at the bottom of the page and looked at it again in context. This really only took a few seconds per word and didn’t significantly impede the flow of the story. At times, the insertion of the vocabulary words seemed forced or stilted and sometimes I really wasn’t sure that the word was exactly appropriate for the context. Overall, though, I think the books are a good way to reinforce or teach new vocabulary.
The Summer of Saint Nick
This was a story about a boy who suddenly acquired a house and a large amount of money and what he decides to do with it. The situation was very unbelievable, but it was still a fun story. It felt quite easy to read, despite the vocabulary words, so I don’t think teens or even middle schoolers would get bogged down in the book.
I.M. For Murder
This mystery was fast-paced and exciting. It was intense, though, dealing with a serial murderer and there was one rather gruesome description involving a cat in the book, so parents may want to pre-read this one.
Operation High School
This story is packed with high school drama, secret clubs, and espionage. I found it appropriate for my middle-schooler.
This science-fiction title deals with schoolboys who find adventure on the mysterious Planet Exile.
My Thoughts: Overall, the books are a great idea. I think they are useful for the purpose of quickly improving vocabulary. On a few occasions, use of the target words seemed stilted. At times, I doubted whether the vocabulary word was used appropriately in the context. I also found several spelling or typographical errors in one of the books.
The VocabCafe books sell for $12.95 each or $38.95 for all 4 books. They are written for high school students, but may be of interest to many middle schoolers as well. College Prep Genius also sells the College Prep Genius SAT test preparation program, which was reviewed by other members of the TOS Crew. To read their reviews, please visit the TOS Crew Blog.
As a member of the TOS Crew, I received free copies of the four VocabCafe books to review. All opinions are my own.