How Many Words in Your Vocabulary?

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The Internet is littered with vocabulary tests that appeal to the small portion of the population interested in such things.

To date, one of these tests has been taken by at least two million people and has accumulated some interesting data. I discovered the site by way of an article in the Economist. According to the article, it’s “a serious research project.”

The test consists of several hundred words with check boxes beside each one. The test-taker checks the box next to known words and leaves the other blank. Questions at the end gather the following information:

Native or non-native English speaker
Date of birth
Reading habits (“Lots,” “Somewhat,” “Not Much”)
Fiction reading habits (“Lots,” “Somewhat,” “Not Much”)

Test-takers are also asked to give their SAT scores if they know them. According to the self-reporting response to this question, participation is “in roughly the 98th percentile of the American population as a whole.”

Most native English speakers who take the test have vocabularies ranging from 20,000-35,000 words. ESL speakers tend to have about 4,500. According to the site’s interpretation of results, acquisition of new vocabulary falls off in middle age. Adult vocabulary size appears to be principally determined by reading habits between ages 4 and 15.

As might be expected, the more you read, the more your vocabulary increases.

Children between the ages of four and fifteen who read “lots” learn +4.1 words a day. For those who read “somewhat,” the rate is +2.6 words a day, and for the “not much” cohort, +1.4 words a day. Reading fiction is as important for vocabulary growth as reading in general.

To take the test, go here: http://testyourvocab.com/

By the way, it’s considered bad form to reveal your score or to ask others how they scored.

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9 thoughts on “How Many Words in Your Vocabulary?”

  1. Thanks for the link. Interesting FAQ page. Would not thought that one could use such a small list to arrive at the final scores.
    At my age -70- I do not remember taking a SAT.
    I did not have a local library. We used the one in our school.
    Also I read every “comic” book I could get my hands on LOL.
    Why would it be considered bad form to give or ask? It’s not like asking how much one earns, and I even never understood that either. I never made more than the average person and was neither proud or ashamed of that. We put too much emphasis on things that just don’t matter.
    Was very surprised at my score though so there :).

  2. I’m thinking that this is not very scientific. It’s not as if they ask you to prove you know the definitions. People can check off many more words than they can actually define. Also, I know enough about other languages (like Latin) to probably figure out what a word means, if given multiple choices of possible definitions. I took the test as honestly as I could, not checking off words I couldn’t absolutely define (without multiple choice!) But there are words I’ve heard/seen before, like funambulist or sedulous, that I would understand in context, even though I can’t remember what they mean, off the top of my head. Anyway, for what it was worth, it was interesting, and just makes me annoyed that my vocabulary isn’t bigger, although I did score at the top of the range (that was a pretty large range, don’t you think?) Still, if that range is “average,” then I need to aim higher! 😉 Grrr!

  3. I think this is a scam. You can simply claim to “know” every single word on their list. I wonder if they included any non-English words? I came across some doubtful ones – but they would probably get into the OED.
    There is all the difference in the world between active and passive vocabulary -i.e. words you know and use in your own speech and writing and those you simply recognise when you come across them and can make an intelligent guess at their meaning.
    You are also invited to rate yourself as a reader – I expect everyone doing this test claimed to read “lots”.
    Whatever else this test it is can hardly be a “serious research product” – unless it is researching the gullibility of internet users!

  4. @Mary: Agreed, although I wouldn’t classify it as a scam in the sense that at worst it’s harmless. It’s not sound research by any stretch, and there are surely other studies that are way more accurate. I didn’t have time yesterday, but one of these days I’ll go back and look up EVERY WORD I didn’t know LOL!!
    Nevertheless, since at the end of the test there was a statement that they wanted more info from people under 15, I forwarded my DWT email to a friend of mine who has 2 kids, about 12 and 10, and suggested that her kids take the test. They are both avid readers and smart kids (apples not falling far from the tree and all that). Can’t hurt.

  5. Grrr is right! Is there a word for that? I wanted my own…number…to be…um…higher. More of it. That is what. More words in it. The word supply of words I know of and about. And the meanings of… those words…Dang it!

  6. As a foreigner myself, I’m very pleased with my score, not the best by far, but the average for natives. However, English has always been a passion of mine, and I use it as if it were my first language on the Web. Well, I kinda grew up learning English on my own, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised…

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