Are You Smarter Than a Nineteenth-Century Fourth Grader?

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Schoolhouse in Wheatland District #3, Garbutt

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I’ve got a (very fragile) fourth-grade reader from 1889 on my bookshelf.  I don’t want to go so far as to say “college is the new fourth grade,” but it does strike me that the vocabulary in that reader is similar to vocabulary on college entrance exams today.

In a prior post, I suggested “sweating to the [nineteenth-century] oldies” as a way to strengthen reading skills for college.  If you’re curious what kids around that time were expected to know, here are some vocab samples (taken from occasional “dictionary lessons” following readings, instructing students to find definitions of these words).  Don’t know them all?  Look ‘em up and get in touch with your inner Victorian-era child:

Athwart, armorial, benediction, dastard, dauntless, devoid, ford, galliard, martial, patriarchal, sonorous, sublime, wan, zenith.

College-Bound? Sweat to the Oldies


The main reading romm of Graz University Libra...

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College reading requires sustained attention and concentration.  If your normal reading habits are heavy on web browsing, social networking, and texting, but light on actual books, your reading skills may need beefing up.

The best way to improve those reading skills is to challenge yourself by seeking out sophisticated material.  I suggest sweating to the Oldies: try literature from the nineteenth century.  (You might start with some frequently taught authors you likely already know, such as Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, or Louisa May Alcott.)  While you read, have a notebook handy to jot down words you don’t know; look them up, and review the definitions until you do know them (instant vocabulary builder).  In the meantime, the long sentences and florid prose style will increase your reading comprehension and perhaps your reading patience…you’ll need both to succeed in college.

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