SAT vocabulary: vitiate

What does vitiate mean? Read below for the definition.

Quick vocab quiz for the word vitiate

First, before you read about the word vitiate, try this quick vocab quiz:

vitiate most nearly means

(A) corrupt
(B) slaughter
(C) enrage
(D) terrify
(E) avoid

Write your answer down, or just store it in that razor-sharp mind of yours. (If you can’t wait, the answer is below.)

Now let’s learn about the word vitiate.

Part of Speech of vitiate

vitiate is a VERB.

Pronunciation of vitiate

Here’s how to pronounce vitiate:

IPA: /’vɪ.ʃi.eɪt/

Glossary-style: [VIH-shee-ate]

Definition of vitiate

vitiate means: debase or morally corrupt (Ex: enthusiasm vitiated by years of failure). spoil, make faulty; reduce the value, quality, or effectiveness of something (Ex: to vitiate the quality of the conversation by yawning and not paying attention).

Explain more about vitiate, please

vitiate is not a terribly common word (not one that I use in my daily speech, anyway). vitiate basically means to reduce the good qualities of something. For example, if you vitiate the power of the government, you weaken it. If you vitiate the importance of something, you make it less important.

Example of vitiate

Here’s the word vitiate used in a sentence:

The TA inadvertently vitiated the professor’s attempt to make a point by letting go of a laugh at an inopportune moment.

If you’ve read this far, you’re a great student and will learn vocabulary quickly. You may now check your answer.

Answer to the quick vocab quiz

Answer Click Here to Show the Answer!

SAT vocabulary: abated

What does abated mean? Read below for the definition.

Quick vocab quiz for the word abated

First, before you read about the word abated, try this quick vocab quiz:

abated most nearly means

(A) decreased
(B) retired
(C) exploded
(D) existed
(E) appeared

Write your answer down, or just store it in that razor-sharp mind of yours. (If you can’t wait, the answer is below.)

Now let’s learn about the word abated.

Part of Speech of abated

abated is a(n) VERB.

Pronunciation abated

Here’s how to pronounce abated:

IPA: /ə.ˈbeɪ.tɪd/

Glossary-style: [uh-BAY-tid]

Definition of abated

abated means: diminished in degree or intensity; died down (Ex: His anger abated with time.).

Explain more about abated, please

If something abated, then it decreased, diminished, or went down. For example, you could say that Jessie’s interest in an athlete abated when she learned that the athlete had used steroids or other banned substances to improve his performance.

Example of abated

Here’s the word abated used in a sentence:

Unfortunately the gales had not yet abated by the time Chip and Dale approached Cape Horn, and the intrepid duo had to turn back.

If you’ve read this far, you’re a great student and will learn vocabulary quickly. You may now check your answer.

Answer to the quick vocab quiz

SAT vocabulary: hullabaloo

What does hullabaloo mean? Read below for the definition.

Quick vocab quiz for the word hullabaloo

First, before you read about the word hullabaloo, try this quick vocab quiz:

hullabaloo most nearly means

(A) time
(B) vista
(C) tumult
(D) engagement
(E) aroma

Write your answer down, or just store it in that razor-sharp mind of yours. (If you can’t wait, the answer is below.)

Now let’s learn about the word hullabaloo.

Part of Speech of hullabaloo

hullabaloo is a(n) NOUN.

Pronunciation hullabaloo

Here’s how to pronounce hullabaloo:

IPA: /ˈhə.lə.bə.lu/

Glossary-style: [HUH-luh-buh-loo]

Definition of hullabaloo

hullabaloo means: a loud, continued noise; confusion, uproar, or commotion (Ex: hullabaloo after the team’s victory).

Explain more about hullabaloo, please

hullabaloo is a great word, and not just because it’s fun to say. hullabaloo refers to a situation that is noisy, chaotic, confusion, and full of disorder. For example, in some cities on holiday nights (for example, Halloween), you might see or hear a hullabaloo when a large number of people (who’ve often had a bit too much to drink) get rowdy out on the street.

Example of hullabaloo

Here’s the word hullabaloo used in a sentence:

“What’s all the hullabaloo?!” roared irascible Uncle Fred to the children playing with their toys. The excited children quickly quieted down, grumbling to themselves that Uncle Fred was really an Uncle Scrooge.

If you’ve read this far, you’re a great student and will learn vocabulary quickly. You may now check your answer.

Answer to the quick vocab quiz

SAT essay prompts from October 2012

Creativity doesn't come easy
Writer’s block? Happens to the best of us. Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/alun/

College Board has recently released the SAT essay prompts from the October 2012 administration of the SAT. If you would like to see the full text of the essay prompts, including the “context paragraph,” the assignment question, and the instructions, visit the official College Board page with the prompts. Please note that College Board generally replaces the content of that page with the most recent essay prompts, so in a few weeks the content of that page will contain the essay prompts from the November SAT test. So here’s the gist of those topics for posterity:

  • SAT Essay Prompt #1: A question about caring about people from one’s own country vs. caring about people from other countries.
  • SAT Essay Prompt #2: Do high achievements help all or only the achiever? (This is the prompt that TestMagic students wrote on.)
  • SAT Essay Prompt #3: The value of past vs. that of the present.
  • SAT Essay Prompt #4: The value of creativity.
Discussion of the SAT Essay prompts: Ingroup vs. outgroup

This question is a classic example of the type of question whose response will differ depending on how the question is posed. For example, compare two different ways of asking a similar question:

  • “Are people from your own country more important than people from other countries?”
  • “Should people help people in their own countries before they help people from other countries?”

Depending on how the question is asked, people will probably give different responses. For the SAT, it is important not to get caught in this trap and realize that any reasonable response is acceptable. (To the credit of College Board, the SAT essay prompts are written to reduce the chance that test-takers are led to respond in a certain way.)

There are many ways that a writer could address this essay topic. The writer could easily argue that all people are equal, and those who are in the greatest need should receive help, no matter what country they are from. A good example could be any number of international charities, such as Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF, and CARE, that allocate funds according to need, not location. However, the writer could also easily argue that the people in one’s own country should take priority over those from other countries, the argument being that people from one’s own country represent a kind of home, and people have greater responsibility to their “family members” than they do to those outside of their own “family”. Some examples to use could be such natural disasters as earthquakes (the Sichuan, China earthquake of 2008) and floods (e.g., Hurricane Katrina), world hunger, lack of medicine and health care, and the like.

Discussion of the SAT Essay prompts: The effect of high achievers

Again, depending on how this is worded, writers could be pointed in different directions. If test-takers are asked about highly successful people, they might write that almost all success is good. If, however, the prompt mentions “high achievers” (as it did), writers might see some of the negative aspects of people who are extremely successful. As always, writers have multiple (if not countless) ways to interpret the prompt and could write about humanitarians, Nobel laureates, successful businesspeople, politicians, and the like. To score high, should try to dig deep into the topic and discuss whether success is always fair. For example, is it generally true that the best people tend to get ahead? Or do more aggressive  less ethical people tend to have the highest achievements? Writers could also discuss whether the ends justify the means–for example, if someone is very successful at the expense of ethics, is his success still deserving of respect? Possible examples: Bill Gates (a ruthless businessman who donates a huge portion of his wealth charity) and Lance Armstrong (American bicyclist who allegedly used drugs to improve his performance).

Note: This prompt shares some similarities with another common prompt, the one that asks whether public figures and other role models have a greater responsibility to comport themselves morally and ethically.

Discussion of the SAT Essay prompts: Past vs. present

The SAT has asked many times in the past about the importance of the past and of history, so test-takers should be at least a bit familiar with the question of whether it’s important to learn from the past. Be careful not to interpret this particular prompt solely to mean history in the sense of  History with a capital H. This prompt, especially the way it was worded in October (“why waste time dwelling on what has already happened”) could refer to any past event, even something as mundane as burning your morning toast.

We’ve all heard George Santayana’s quote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, which could work well in this essay if you choose to argue that the past is important to learn about or learn from. And if you choose to discuss history, Mark Twain’s lesser known quote “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme” might fit in somewhere as well.

Obviously it is important to study history and learn from the past. So why does this prompt appear? Well, it’s also sometimes important to forget the past. More specifically, it’s important to let go of past grievances and avoid the myopic navel-gazing that can result from fixating on past successes or wrongs committed by others against you or your nation. And as the prompt hints at, yes, the past is not changeable (at least according to the currently-accepted laws of physics).

So, if I were writing on this prompt, I would say that the past is valuable when we can learn from mistakes, but at other times, we should move on, leave the past behind, and not dwell on that which we cannot change. For this particular prompt, I would personally want to write about the U.S.’s current position in world politics and write that many Americans have become complacent about our past successes, but we need to see that the world is changing very quickly and need to adopt more modern policies.

Discussion of the SAT Essay prompts: Creativity

Ah, the “creativity” prompt. Who would ever argue that creativity is not important? Well, it’s conceivable that in some situations or professions, creativity is not important, believe it or not. Soldiers, for example, are trained to follow orders blindly, to walk straight into enemy fire simply because they were told to do so. Some workers are also expected not to think creatively, but rather to strictly adhere to procedures. And many unethical leaders know that it’s easiest to control people when they lack the ability to think independently.

This prompt, however, seems to define creativity rather narrowly (“Political leaders are not usually considered to be very creative”), suggesting that creativity should be interpreted as breaking with tradition. This interpretation is entirely possible, but again, it would still be difficult (but not impossible) to argue that no one needs to be creative.

What would I write about? I like writing, reading, and most things artistic, so I would wholeheartedly recommend creativity for all people, from the youngest to the oldest, no matter their profession or situation in life. I would further argue that even in professions in which creativity is not generally considered necessary or desirable, it is can still be important sometimes. There are myriad examples of what to write about, but off the top of my head, I’d suggest perhaps writing that leaders today need creative solutions to complex, modern problems (did that sound like an ad? Phew.).

In conclusion…

If this article was helpful, please let me know by commenting, “liking”, etc. We teachers write articles like this to help people, for that once-a-year thank-you from students, and from feedback. (All people love compliments. It’s true.) Even a simple question would be welcome. :)

8 great first lines from Stanford application essays

Stanford University Tower with stunning backdrop of sky
Imagine this view every day on your way to class at Stanford University. A dream come true?

It’s college admissions season and high school seniors all over the country are struggling to perfectly capture the essence of who they are in fewer than 1,001 characters, no easy task for anyone, let alone an overworked high school student.

Parents and university-hopefuls frequently tell us that they are unsure of what to write in their personal statements. While the standard advice is easy to give (Find something interesting and unique about you, and tell it in a compelling way), it is often painfully difficult to follow through on. Easier said than done, for sure.

We’ve all heard English teachers say that the introduction can be the most important part of an essay, as it focuses the reader, sets expectations, and grabs the reader’s attention. We often search for a hook, one that is at once unique and free of gimmicks. It is a tricky balancing act, and is certainly culturally influenced as well. Worse, we writers often lack the objectivity to effectively assess our our own writing (especially when we’ve labored over a single paragraph for hours or days), so we may not be able to tell whether our writing works or conveys the message we want.

Not helping matters at all is the conflicting advice we receive from the dozen or so English teachers we’ve had over the years. One teacher marks off for using second-person (e.g., You may not know how lucky you are until you’ve lost everything you once had), favoring the more stilted third-person (One may not know how lucky she is until she’s lost everything she once had). Another teacher may encourage you to eschew formality and find an “authentic” voice. Complicating matters is the fact that College Board has officially okayed the use of first-person (e.g., “I”) in the SAT essay, which for many students represents the definitive answer to the question of what is or is not acceptable in writing. (Folks, for the record, there are different levels of formality and myriad different styles of writing. There is truly no right or wrong in essays. My best advice to you, if you have any doubt at all, is to first learn what your particular teacher or test wants, and conform to those expectations or guidelines.)

So, what are the admissions committees looking for in writing? If you ask any of them, they will invariably tell you just to be yourself, to let your true voice come out. But… What does that mean? I could write a chapter on this topic, but for now I’ll just say that I think that that advice isn’t as helpful as it sounds. (What would happen if you were just being yourself and wrote I hecka want to go to Stanford! I mean, who wouldn’t? Dude, it’s an awesome school! You ever see those posers wearing Stanford hoodies, but you just know they didn’t go there? Yeah! I could wear a Stanford hoodie honestly, and then all my relatives would shut up about me never succeeding at anything. In yo face! )

Well, here’s some great news. Stanford published 22 opening lines of essays they liked, the writers of which were offered a place in the graduating class of 2012. Here are eight of those 22, chosen for their variety and uniqueness:

  1. On a hot Hollywood evening, I sat on a bike, sweltering in a winter coat and furry boots.
  2. While traveling through the daily path of life, have you ever stumbled upon a hidden pocket of the universe?
  3. Cancer tried to defeat me, and it failed.
  4. Flying over enemy territory, I took in Beirut’s beautiful skyline and wondered if under different circumstances I would have hopped on a bus and come here for my vacation. Instead, I saw the city from the window of a helicopter, in military uniform, my face camouflaged, on my way to a special operation deep behind enemy lines.
  5. I change my name each time I place an order at Starbucks.
  6. I was paralyzed from the waist down. I would try to move my leg or even shift an ankle but I never got a response. This was the first time thoughts of death ever crossed my mind.
  7. As an Indian-American, I am forever bound to the hyphen.
  8. Unlike many mathematicians, I live in an irrational world; I feel that my life is defined by a certain amount of irrationalities that bloom too frequently, such as my brief foray in front of 400 people without my pants.

Be sure to take a look at the rest of the opening sentences, as they offer a rare and invaluable peek inside the admissions office.

I hope those opening lines will give you some ideas of what to write and of what the admissions committees like. Remember, they are human, just like you. If you, your friends, or your family like something you’ve written, there’s a good chance others will too. And good luck with your admissions!

SAT vocabulary: vexation

This man's expression illustrates the challenge vocabulary word "vexation"
*grumble, grumble”

What does vexation mean? Read below for the definition.

Quick vocab quiz for the word vexation

First, before you read about the word vexation, try this quick vocab quiz:

vexation most nearly means

(A) annoyance
(B) activity
(C) permanence
(D) contortion
(E) dearth

Write your answer down, or just store it in that razor-sharp mind of yours. (If you can’t wait, the answer is below.)

Now let’s learn about the word vexation.

Part of Speech of vexation

vexation is a(n) NOUN.

Pronunciation vexation

Here’s how to pronounce vexation:

IPA: /vɛk.ˈseɪ.ʃən/

Glossary-style: [vehk-SAY-shuhn]

Definition of vexation

vexation means: the state of feeling annoyed, irritated, or bothered (Ex: her vexation was obvious). something that annoys or irritates (Ex: Hot weather can be a vexation for some people.).

Explain more about vexation, please

vexation sounds like a highfalutin word, and perhaps it is, but it really just basically means irritation or annoyance. In simpler language vexation just refers to being irritated, annoyed, bothered, or “bugged”.

Example of vexation

Here’s the word vexation used in a sentence:

The vexation of being lost while on vacation can often turn into something wonderful in that you may end up discovering something interesting by traveling the “road less traveled”.

If you’ve read this far, you’re a great student and will learn vocabulary quickly. You may now check your answer.

Answer to the quick vocab quiz

Answer Click Here to Show the Answer!

SAT vocabulary: obtuse

A silly face illustrates the challenge vocabulary word "obtuse"
This is how students look when they don’t study.

What does obtuse mean? Read below for the definition.

Quick vocab quiz for the word obtuse

First, before you read about the word obtuse, try this quick vocab quiz:

obtuse most nearly means

(A) shiny
(B) untimely
(C) sharp
(D) tangible
(E) dull

Write your answer down, or just store it in that razor-sharp mind of yours. (If you can’t wait, the answer is below.)

Now let’s learn about the word obtuse.

Part of Speech of obtuse

obtuse is a(n) ADJECTIVE.

Pronunciation obtuse

Here’s how to pronounce obtuse:

IPA: /əb.ˈtus/

Glossary-style: [uhb-TOOS]

Definition of obtuse

obtuse means: not intelligent. lacking intelligence or sensitivity (Ex: an obtuse statement). dull or blunt. (geometry) having an obtuse angle.

Explain more about obtuse, please
Example of obtuse

Here’s the word obtuse used in a sentence:

With a little too much alcohol in his system, Bubba made a few obtuse remarks that we would later greatly regret.

If you’ve read this far, you’re a great student and will learn vocabulary quickly. You may now check your answer.

Answer to the quick vocab quiz

Answer Click Here to Show the Answer!

SAT vocabulary: inchoate

A tadpole illustrates the challenge vocabulary word "inchoate"
These frogs in training are going to become an army of frogs one day.

What does inchoate mean? Read below for the definition.

Quick vocab quiz for the word inchoate

First, before you read about the word inchoate, try this quick vocab quiz:

inchoate most nearly means

(A) unformed
(B) lucky
(C) new
(D) layered
(E) toxic

Write your answer down, or just store it in that razor-sharp mind of yours. (If you can’t wait, the answer is below.)

Now let’s learn about the word inchoate.

Part of Speech of inchoate

inchoate is a(n) ADJECTIVE.

Pronunciation inchoate

Here’s how to pronounce inchoate:

IPA: /ɪn.ˈkoʊ.ɪt/

Glossary-style: [ihn-KO-iht]

Definition of inchoate

inchoate means: not yet completely formed; still developing (Ex: an inchoate plan). in an early stage of development.

Explain more about inchoate, please

Something that is inchoate is not fully formed; it’s still in the process of growing or becoming more fully formed. We commonly use inchoate today to talk about ideas or plans to change that have just started, i.e., that haven’t yet gotten off the ground.

Example of inchoate

Here’s the word inchoate used in a sentence:

Most of the student’s ideas for his term paper were inchoate–he had a vague idea that he wanted to write something meaningful and world-changing, but he had no specific details.

If you’ve read this far, you’re a great student and will learn vocabulary quickly. You may now check your answer.

Answer to the quick vocab quiz

Answer Click Here to Show the Answer!

What it looks like vs. *how it looks like

Summary: It’s correct to use the question word what with the preposition like, but incorrect to use  the question word how with the preposition like. So what it looks like is correct, but *how it looks like is incorrect. In grammatical terms, we need to use the noun what after the preposition like, not the adverb how.
Introduction

First, take a look at this sentence and the question that follows. Think about whether the constructions are “grammatical” in Standard American English (SAE).

*I’ve heard of John Lennon, but I’ve never seen a picture of him. How does he look like?

If you thought there was something ungrammatical in the writing above, give yourself a pat on the back because you’re right. Here is how the above could be corrected:

I’ve heard of John Lennon, but I’ve never seen a picture of him. How does he look?

This is also correct:

I’ve heard of John Lennon, but I’ve never seen a picture of him. What does he look like?

But why? What’s wrong with the original question? Let’s take a closer look. And don’t worry. We’re going to do this the easy way, so if you run away from grammar terms like conjunctive adverb, you should be okay. Of course, if you have any questions, please post below, and I’ll do my best to help.

The easy explanation

I wrote out five different explanations of why this is wrong, and in the end, I think the easiest way to explain why “how does he look like” is wrong is to use the “move the words around” method, which actually works surprisingly well for a lot of grammar explanations. First, it’s important to wrap your head around the concept that many utterances (i.e., things you say or write) in English can be worded differently and still have more or less the same meaning (although different emphases will likely result). For example, I can ask “What were you writing with?” or “With what were you writing?”, and the two questions mean pretty much the same thing, although of course, the latter sounds more formal than the former. Let’s do the same thing with our above examples.

But we’ll need to shorten things a bit. Let’s just get rid of the opening sentence and focus on the question, i.e., the “what does he look like?” part. Now, let’s rearrange the words a bit, do some other magic, and write two equivalent clauses. Let’s start with the two correct examples:

“What does he look like?” can be rearranged thus: “He looks like… what?”

Similarly, “How does he look” can be reordered like this: “He looks… how?”

Finally, and this is the important one, following the same procedure, “*How does he look like?” would be reordered like this: “*He looks… like how?” Does that sound wrong to your ears? I hope so, because it sure does mine! When was the last time you heard someone say “like how”? We hear “like me”, “like you”, “like a movie”, etc., but not “like how”. Right?

For the same reasons, these are also wrong and need to be rewritten:

  • Not good: *How does eggplant taste like? Better: What does eggplant taste like?
  • Not good: *How does goose down feel like? Better: What does goose down feel like?
  • Not good: *How does lavender smell like? Better: What does lavender smell like?
  • Not good: *How does a foghorn sound like? Better: What does a foghorn sound like?

If you noticed that I used verbs for our senses, you get bonus points.

Curious about the grammar behind all of this? Read on.

But why? Give me the grammar!

Let’s take a look at the grammar. First, we need to understand that the word “like” is a preposition. Second, we need to know this very important grammar rule:

preposition + noun

Prepositions are words such as in, of, with, like, etc. After a preposition, we should have a noun. This noun is called the object of the preposition. For example, if we say “on the table”, “on” is the preposition, and “table” is the object of the preposition “on”. (For more information, see the TestMagic page on prepositions.)

Now hold onto your hats, as this is going to get a bit technical. (Hopefully it’ll all come together in a bit.) We have established that “like” is a preposition and it needs an object (which is a noun). That object is the word “what”. Why? Because “what” is a noun; “how” is not a noun (it’s an adverb). So, if we have “like” in this question, we can’t also have “how” in it; these two words don’t get along, and they can’t be in the same sentence or question together (in this construction, of course). We need to get rid of one or the other. So, we can say “what does he look like” and “how does he look”, but we can’t say “*how does he look like”. Simply put, we need preposition + noun, not preposition + adverb.

Need more detail? Here you go: When we ask a question and expect the answer to be a noun, we use the “question word” (also known as an “interrogative“, “interrogative word“, or “WH question word“) “what” (for things) or “who” or “whom” (for people) at the beginning of the question. For example, if we want to know what you ate for lunch (a thing), we could ask “What did you eat?” Similarly, if we want to know whom you saw, we could ask “Whom did you see?” (Don’t worry right now about the difference between “who” and “whom”; that’s a whole different subject!) And to wrap this up, since we’re using these words in questions and because they’re used to ask for nouns as answers, they’re called interrogative (“interrogative” basically means “asking”) pronouns (words that substitute, replace, or refer to nouns). In other words, they are question words that function as nouns. In other words, you use a noun in the question to get a noun as the answer.

In contrast, when we ask somebody “how” (followed by a clause), we want to know the way something happened, the qualities of something, etc. In other words, we’re looking for an answer that’s an adverb or an adjective. And yes, “how” is an interrogative adverb, if you were wondering.

So that’s it! Let me know if you’d like some clarifications or further explanations.

SAT vocabulary: malleable

A bent spoon illustrates the challenge vocabulary word "malleable"
This is my spoon after a 3,000-calorie dinner at the Cheesecake Factory.

What does malleable mean? Read below for the definition.

Quick vocab quiz for the word malleable

First, before you read about the word malleable, try this quick vocab quiz:

malleable most nearly means

(A) unstable
(B) happy
(C) praiseworthy
(D) manipulable
(E) tender

Write your answer down, or just store it in that razor-sharp mind of yours. (If you can’t wait, the answer is below.)

Now let’s learn about the word malleable.

Part of Speech of malleable

malleable is an ADJECTIVE.

Pronunciation malleable

Here’s how to pronounce malleable:

IPA: /ˈmæl.i.ə.bəl/

Glossary-style: [MAHL-ee-uh-buhl]

Definition of malleable

malleable means: able to be shaped or formed. able to adapt to changes. easily controlled or influenced.

Explain more about malleable, please

When I think of malleable, I think of soft metals, such as gold, lead, or even aluminum. But malleable can refer to pretty much anything that is flexible or bendable, either literally or metaphorically. So a malleable person would be someone who can easily fit in or adapt to different situations.

Example of malleable

Here’s the word malleable used in a sentence:

Gold and lead are common examples of malleable metals; gold, for example, is so soft that you can dent it with your fingernail.

If you’ve read this far, you’re a great student and will learn vocabulary quickly. You may now check your answer.

Answer to the quick vocab quiz

Answer Click Here to Show the Answer!