Charlotte Brontë’s vocabulary and the SATs

SAT vocabulary pic

I was not the kind of girl who looked up words I didn’t know.  I’m sure I had an average vocabulary when I read Jane Eyre for the first time.  I most certainly skipped over the words I didn’t understand.

My vocabulary is a little better now, but I’m grateful to have the dictionary feature on my Kindle, to help me with Charlotte Brontë’s extensive vocabulary!  Here are some of the words she uses and their definitions:

inanition:  n. exhaustion caused by lack of nourishment

animadversion:  n. criticism or censure

meed:  n. a deserved share or reward

hebdomadal:  adj.  weekly

surtout:  n. a man’s overcoat

I enjoyed looking up these words.  It’s easy to imagine the Lowood Institution when you read these definitions!  I was thinking of passing these vocabulary words on to my kids, to boost future SAT scores, but now I might hold back.  Yesterday The College Board announced a huge overhaul of the SAT format – including testing vocabulary that kids will actually see in college.

Here are the major changes as reported in The New York Times (

The Key Changes

These will be among the changes in the new SAT, starting in the spring of 2016:

■ Instead of arcane “SAT words” (“depreciatory,” “membranous”), the vocabulary definitions on the new exam will be those of words commonly used in college courses, such as “synthesis” and “empirical.”

■ The essay, required since 2005, will become optional. Those who choose to write an essay will be asked to read a passage and analyze the ways its author used evidence, reasoning and stylistic elements to build an argument.

■ The guessing penalty, in which points are deducted for incorrect answers, will be eliminated.

■ The overall scoring will return to the old 1,600-point scale, based on a top score of 800 in reading and math. The essay will have a separate score.

■ Math questions will focus on three areas: linear equations; complex equations or functions; and ratios, percentages and proportional reasoning. Calculators will be permitted on only part of the math section.

■ Every exam will include, in the reading and writing section, source documents from a broad range of disciplines, including science and social studies, and on some questions, students will be asked to select the quotation from the text that supports the answer they have chosen.

■ Every exam will include a reading passage either from one of the nation’s “founding documents,” such as the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights, or from one of the important discussions of such texts, such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”

I’m a practical person, so the change in vocabulary testing makes sense to me.  And I think the other changes sound good too.  Lots of kids are learning how to beat the test. Perfect score stories are everywhere.  Maybe these changes will be a better measurement of students’ aptitudes.  What do you think?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

4 thoughts on “Charlotte Brontë’s vocabulary and the SATs

  1. I’m sure your boys would love learning words from Jane Eyre that nobody uses anymore! Seriously, the ability to memorize words that nobody uses anymore does not seem to be a very good indicator or skills needed to succeed in college or in today’s world.

  2. The word”surtout” in French means “above all” which adds a poetic touch to the English definition.

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