Posted May 20, 2013 by Amy in Family Fiends

Verbal Education (SAT/ACT Prep Game) Review


Schoooool’s out for summer! (But ACT/SAT prep is just beginning!)

For parents of teens, the SAT’s and/or ACT’s are a source of a lot of stress. Studying for them is often quite boring, but a lot hinges on getting a good score on the test. In today’s hyper connected world, what better way to give kids a headsup on these tests than to make studying for them a game? The Verbal Education System seeks to do just that, by teaching kids some impressive vocabulary in a fun way. By using several different mnemonic devices, Verbal Education helps players both understand and retain the meanings of words better than rote memorization – well, that’s the claim anyway. So we decided to give it a shot. I happen to keep a spare teenager on hand for just such an occasion, and both of us have given the Verbal Education System a try.

As you sign into the website (this is a subscription based game that is played in your browser), you will notice a Space Invaders-type deep space background. As you begin your “mission”, you can choose between Virtual Vocab and Mind Links, but you are instructed to complete all of the Virtual Vocab missions before attempting a Mind Link. Each of the Virtual Vocab missions contains a list of words for you to learn. First, each word is presented to you with a definition of the word, and then the technique suggested for you to remember it by. These range from taking apart the different portions of the words, to “sounds like” tools, all designed to cement the definition into your head, and all of it is read to you by a somewhat robotic voice. Once you have finished reading through the entire list, you are ready to be tested.

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The “game” portion comes next, and it is *very* basic. You have the list of words on the left side of the screen, and a bunch of meteor-ish rocks with definitions on top of them fill the rest of the screen. You click on a word on the list to select it, and then click the corresponding word meteor. That’s really all there is to it. Once in a while the meteors explode with a little burst of flame, and they make an explosion sound when the right definition is clicked, and a buzzer sound when an incorrect answer is selected. I can’t say that kids will think it is all that fun, but it does beat rote memorization.

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The Mind Links portion of Verbal Education gives you a screen filled with meteors – forty of them, to be exact – each labelled with a vocab word. Your mission is to match up words with the same definition. The catch is that there are two words in the mix that do not have a match. When you have matched all but the final “wild card” words, your mission is a success. There are rows of identical looking meteors with nothing to distinguish them other than the words on them, and there are so many that it makes it rather a chore to match them all. This is compounded by the fact that, when you select a word, there is both nothing to visually indicate it has been selected and seemingly no way to deselect a word once you’ve chosen it, save to attempt a match. On the other hand, there isn’t ahy score keeping or anything, and you aren’t penalized for mistakes, so these are minor things. When a word is selected, the word’s definition is recited, which should help cement the meanings in your head. However, it also sort of makes it easier, as if you can’t remember the meanings you only have to wait for the game to tell you.

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There are some minor other annoyances when working with Verbal Education that today’s tech savvy kids will likely notice right away. The interface isn’t particularly user-friendly. For instance, when you finish a “mission”, it doesn’t automatically take you to the next mission, or to the mission menu. The “Mission Complete” box is supposed to take you there when clicked, but it only works some of the time. Either you click the box numerous times in the hopes it will work, or you need to scroll down to the bottom of the page and select the “Home” menu to get to a new list. And while it does save your missions as “Complete” once you have finished them, if you happen to need to quit in the middle of the mission, you’ll be stuck starting over at your next play. Finally, if you time out of your session, your login credentials pop up on the page, but if you select them it won’t log you in. Instead you need to click on the “Log In” link in the top corner in order to be taken to a near identical page that will let you log in. As I said, all of these are rather minor annoyances, but some quick fixes would make the website much more intuitive and user friendly.

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There are fourteen different missions in Verbal Education, each of which can be repeated as many times as you like. Repetition is a great way to really master the definitions of some advanced words, but the fact that the game has so little variance to it (and no skill aspect involved other than mad vocab) will inevitably lead to boredom. Of course, so do most methods of study. While he isn’t likely to ask to play it for fun, Verbal Education passed the teen test with a “way better than studying a textbook” rating from my resident teen. Bottom line: Verbal Education may not be your teen’s new online obsession, but it will help them learn useful vocabulary lists in a somewhat unique way. Combined with other forms of study, it’s a useful tool that just may help your student ace those SAT’s.


U.S. Senior Editor & Deputy EIC, @averyzoe on Twitter, mother of 5, gamer, reader, wife to @macanthony, and all-around bad-ass (no, not really)