Monday, February 7, 2011

Review: VocabAhead

It is well-known that part of prepping for the SAT exam involves vocabulary study, as evidenced by the numerous vocabulary programs geared toward high schoolers prepping for this important exam.

One of the options is VocabAhead, available in DVD-Rom or book form.  I was sent the DVD version, which contains over 12 hours of audio narrations covering 1180 words in a variety of formats, to review.  Both MP4 video and MP3 audio files are included for each word to be played on a computer, a MP3 player, or an iPod.

The video segments start with the word and definition, with the part of speech in the upper right-hand corner.  Next, a cartoon is shown with the narrator giving a related story or stories, then a repeat of the word and definition.  Each video segment is about 30-40 seconds long.

The audio files are simply the same as the video, without the cartoon.  This format allows the user to use the product with a MP3 player and headphones, or while driving.

Below are some examples from the DVD:

I liked the format of hearing the definition, viewing a visual, and listening to a story.  Having the definition wrapped up in a longer story, rather than simply hearing a definition, looking it up, or being given an example of the word used in a sentence, is a great tool for improving retention.  However, I didn't always care for the story that went along with the definition.  Some showed political bias, others had a focus on poor parenting.   One definition used the story of a father questioning his child's paternity and another involved a pole dancer influencing "virtuous" men.  Were the definitions explained clearly?  Well, yes, but were such story lines really necessary? There was an obvious attempt to appeal to teenagers that resulted in a product that was of lower quality than it needed to be. 

That said, I like the approach and the questionable definitions are limited to about 2%, as determined by viewing a random sample of the videos.  The product really could be greatly improved with some rewriting of the 2% in question and a little thought behind the stories that go with the definitions. My daughter has a very high discernment and typically sees through any hidden agendas, so I was less concerned about her being influenced. Overall, she said it was "ok", which means she learned some new vocabulary, and neither the good nor the bad was overwhelming. 

Does this product improve a student's vocabulary?  Yes, I believe that it gives the student an understanding of the words presented in a way that is unique to other programs. However, I would not recommend this product for kids younger than high school, unless you are willing to preview videos.  It could be an effective tool for older kids, but parents should be aware that definitions may not always be appropriate.  I equate it to a movie that has a great story line and message, but contains enough sexual innuendos and foul language thrown in, that it starts to outweigh what makes it a good movie. The advantages of wading through the negative to be exposed to the positive greatly becomes a reflection of individual tolerance.

Fortunately, you can view about 90% of the videos on the DVD for free at the VocabAhead website along with have access to many other resources, such as the Study Room , a Word of the Day email subscription, a word list, and more, to make a personal assessment. The advantage of purchasing the DVD, which retails for $24.95 on Amazon, is that an internet connection isn't necessary for viewing and the files can be downloaded on an iPod or MP3 for on-the-go listening. Also available for purchase are a book with 300 of the words (and a link to download the corresponding videos) and applications for the iPod and iTouch.

Read what other reviewers had to say about VocabAhead by visiting the official TOS Homeschool Crew blog.

Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result in my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew. I was provided the product free of charge in exchange for my honest review. I have received no other compensation.

I strive to give a balanced overview of each product, detailing my opinion of both pros and cons and how the product worked for my family. What works for one family may not work for another. I encourage you to read reviews of other Crew members and research sufficiently to determine if any product will be a benefit to your homeschool.


Diane Allen said...

Great review -- I wish I could figure out how to get the videos on my posts!

VocabAhead said...

Thanks for reviewing our DVD, Heidi. You are absolutely correct in noticing that some of the words in the DVD are definitely beyond the range of words students in K through 8th grade should be exposed to. We do understand that there are always several ways to explain the meaning of a word. We will be editing the few flagged words in the next version of our DVD. Thanks for your feedback!