How to Study for a Vocab Quiz

Strategies for Learning Those Words!

Every time you have a new unit in class, your teacher gives you a list of vocabulary words to learn. Until now, though, you haven't found a great way to study for a vocab quiz, so you never seem to get them all quite right. You need a strategy!

Your first step is to ask your teacher what type of vocabulary quiz you'll be getting. It could be matching, fill-in-the-blank, multiple choice, or even a straight "write the definition" kind of quiz. Each type of quiz will require a different level of knowledge, so before you go home to study, ask your teacher which quiz type he or she will be using. Then, you'll know how to best prepare for your vocab quiz!

The Matching/Multiple Choice Vocab Quiz: A Police Line-Up

Police Lineup
Getty Images | John Lund

Skill Tested: Recognition of a definition.

If you get a matching quiz, where all the words are lined up on one side and the definitions are listed on the other or a multiple choice quiz, where you’re given the vocab word with 4-5 definitions below it, then you have just received the easiest vocabulary quiz around. The only thing you're truly being tested on is whether or not you can identify the definition of a word when compared to others. It's kind of like being able to ID the guy who stole your cash in a police line-up. You might not have been able to draw a picture of the guy – your memory wasn't that great – but you could probably pick him out of a line-up when compared to others.

Study Method: Association.

Studying for a matching quiz is pretty simple. You'll need to remember one or two key words or phrases from the definition to associate with the vocabulary word. (Kind of like remembering that the thief had a scar on his cheek and a tattoo on his neck.) Let's say one of your vocab words and definitions is this:

modicum (noun): a small, modest or meager amount. A little bit.

To remember it, all you'll need to do is associate the "mod" in modicum with the "mod" in moderate: "Modicum is a moderate amount." If you need to, draw a picture of a tiny modicum at the bottom of a cup to illustrate the phrase. During the vocab quiz, look for your associated word in the definition list and you're done!

The Fill-In-The-Blank Vocab Quiz: Finding the Right Drill Bit

Drill bits
Getty Images | Adam Drobiec

Skill Tested: Comprehension of the word's part of speech and definition.

The fill-in-the-blank vocabulary quiz is quite a bit more complicated than the matching quiz. Here, you'll be given a set of sentences and will need to input the vocabulary word into the sentences appropriately. To do that, you'll have to understand the word's part of speech (noun, verb, adjective, etc.) along with the word's definition. It's like having to choose the correct drill bit for a drill; the bit has to be the correct type and size for the job!

Study Method: Synonyms and Sentences.

Let's say you have these two vocabulary words and definitions:

modicum (noun): a small, modest or meager amount. A little bit.
paltry (adj.): measly, inconsequential, trivial.

They're both similar, but only one will fit correctly into this sentence: “She gathered a __________ sum of self-respect after falling during her routine, bowed, and left the stage with the other dancers.” If you disregard the definitions altogether (since they’re similar) the correct choice is “paltry” since the word here needs to be an adjective to describe the noun, “sum”. “Modicum” won’t work because it is a noun and nouns don’t describe other nouns.

If you’re not a grammar master, then this could be tough to do without a strategy. Here’s a great way to remember how the vocab words function in a sentence: find 2-3 familiar synonyms or synonymous phrases for each word (thesaurus.com works well!) and write sentences with your vocab word and the synonyms.

For instance, "modicum” is synonymous with “little bit” or “smidge”, and paltry is synonymous with “tiny” or “eensie”. Check to make sure the words you’ve chosen have the same part of speech (paltry, tiny and eensie are all adjectives). Write the same sentence three times using your vocab words and the synonyms: “He gave me a tiny scoop of ice cream. He gave me an eensie scoop of ice cream. He gave me a paltry scoop of ice cream.” On vocab quiz day, you’ll be able to remember how to use those words in a sentence properly.

The Written Vocab Quiz: Sketching the Bad Guy

Review the flashcards on the day of the test
Getty Images | Phillip Nemenz

Skill Tested: Memory.

If your teacher speaks the vocab word aloud and has you write the word and the definition, then you’re not really being tested on vocabulary; you’re being tested on whether or not you can memorize things. It’s kinda like being asked to draw a picture of the guy who robbed you after memorizing his features. This is tough for students who like to wait until the day of the test to study, because it’s difficult to memorize something in just a few hours.

Study Method: Flashcards and Repetition.

For this kind of vocab quiz, you’ll need to create vocabulary flashcards, and find a study partner to quiz you every night until quiz day. It’s best to create the flashcards as soon as you’re given the list because the more repetition you can manage, the better you’ll remember. Make sure you find a study partner who is serious about helping you. Nothing is worse than sitting down to study with someone who doesn’t care whether you pass or fail!