When I was in high school, there were three letters that haunted every student. They were the three letters that spelled college admissions. It was the SAT test. The SAT was widely used, covering the subjects of Reading, Writing, and Math. Even if a student spent several hours each day, studying and working to make good grades in high school, the several hours spent on a Saturday morning taking the SAT were as equally important. It was a standardized test, but it always felt personal.
In preparation for the test, I studied one or two workbooks. In the workbooks, there were sample tests and study guides. There were hints about how to save time when taking the SAT and reminders for the morning of the test. Do not forget to sleep well the night before. Do not forget to sharpen your pencil. Do not forget to eat breakfast. Do not forget to leave early to find the testing site.
One thing I will not forget are the classes I took in preparation for the test. In addition to workbooks and study guides, I met with a few other students and a teacher. At the beginning of the first class, the teacher gave us lists of words for us to study. They were words I did not know, and they had multiple syllables. We had to learn their definition by looking them up in a dictionary.
I remember sitting down at the kitchen table with a heavy, blue dictionary, looking up each word on the list and circling it with a number two pencil. I spent hours flipping back-and-forth through the dictionary, circling words I did not know. After spending hours with those words, I do not know if it improved my test score, but I do know that I started noticing those words everywhere. Before studying them, I did not know they existed, but afterwards, they started to show up and to stand out.
I started to hear them in conversations, read them in books, and even recognize times I could use them. Words have such an influence on us. Words can change the course of a conversation, shape an idea, or change our viewpoint.
If I opened a dictionary in front of me today, there are several words I would circle. They are words that get lost in all of the other words that are used everyday. They are words that give us meaningful direction. I think I would circle words such as dialogue. I would circle words such as forbearing, tactful, magnanimous, and amiable. They are words about connection, listening and speaking, for the sake of community. Beginning to notice those words, where they are used or where they could be used, gives us good direction and fosters meaningful connections with others.