than a historical compilation. The worst lists are the ones that pretend to be better by adding a lot of seemingly difficult words that miss the SAT mark. The most egregious offender is Barron's: by recycling their mostly ineffective GRE list of words, the authors of the 3500 words are doing a gross disservice to unsuspecting high school students. I performed a mathematical analysis of the number of Barron's words that have appeared on new tests, and the results confirmed my worst expectations. While Barron's provides a good indication of what showed up in the past, it does a horrible job of predicting future occurrences. The difference is important to know.
This said, there is value in working on your vocabulary, but is has to be gradual and constant. Several websites –and some tutoring companies- offer a service that sends out a number of words on a daily basis. Since it would take only a few minutes to open the emails or log in at the website, it is a good idea to start subscribe to a few of them. This is the kind of repetition that helps you prepare without really “feeling” it.
I'll leave you with a last tidbit of information. The SAT does not really test your vocabulary but you reasoning ability. The challenging questions are made difficult, not by testing arcane words, but by testing the secondary and tertiary meanings of EASY words. Examples of such meanings are "air" when used as a verb, "low" when representing a sound, and a slew of others. Do you think that "low" would ever show up on a SAT list and convey the meaning of "the characteristic sound uttered by cattle as in a moo?" Pretty doubtful!
If you want to improve your verbal scores, spend most of your energy understanding the techniques to recognize the patterns of Sentence Completion, and especially critical reading. If you truly have time to waste, spend it on the wordlists. Studying any wordlist without the absolute mastery of the verbal techniques is a recipe for disaster. On the other hand, I do support spending time to review a small number of words on a daily basis. I also support spending time on analyzing roots, prefixes, and suffixes.
On the issue of tricks and strategies
After spending time building the blocks of knowledge and confidence, students should start developing techniques to save time. The SAT is mostly a test of mental quickness. People who like to solve puzzles tend do well. One good facet of the SAT is that the “puzzles” thrown at students are rather simple and very often repeated. Again, there are no great secrets. Dedicated students should be able to learn the techniques, leave the calculator in its case, and know what NOT to do. Developing time saving techniques will help students find not only the correct answer, but the best answer in the shortest amount of time. It is worth remembering that the four incorrect answers do NOT matter: nobody needs to show the steps and confirm the answer. Well, that is fine and dandy, but how does one acquire the techniques? This is where your source books come in play. As we know, the books contain a number of tips and strategies. While most of the advice is helpful, it is important to tailor it to the individual student. In other words, by reading the various “industry” offerings, a student can acquire a set of tools that will start the process. However, the advice is really aimed at helping average students improve their scores. I