CET preparation strategies – Push or Pull? The Yao Ming solution

Can studying about Yao Ming actually help our students learn and remember more useful words for the CET test than studying former tests? Must we use boring materials to teach our students with or can we use something interesting, even fascinating to teach with? How important is it to use materials that are interesting to our students?

Further analysis of the text used in the CET test offers more ideas on the approach to use in preparing students for the CET. When we analyze the vocabulary of the CET article I told you about previously, “Caught in the Web”, we can find what types of words are needed to understand a CET text. When we understand what types of words are needed we can then examine other texts to see if they would be suitable.

In fact, if we can find texts that are not only suitable but extremely interesting, it will make our job as teachers easier as we will not need to “push” our students so much into learning as their interest in the text will “pull” them in.

Below is the vocabulary analysis of two texts, the CET article titled “Caught in the Web” and a text about Yao Ming and the globalization of sports [1]. You can see from this analysis that the text about Yao Ming actually has more target words than the CET article has. Here we are defining target words as words from the Academic Word List (ie: administrator, adults, analyst, approaches) as well as Off-List words (ie: accomplish, addicted, abdicates, anecdotal).[2]

CET percent Yao percent
Target words (AWL + Off-List Words) 13.99 15.53
(AWL – Academic Word List) 5.15 4.17
(Off-List Words) 8.84 11.36
K1 Words – first 1000 common words & names 80.17 79.71
K2 Words – second 1000 common words 5.83 4.76

But aren’t these words from an article about Yao Ming and sports dominated by sports words that may not be useful for CET preparation? No. In the article about Yao Ming and sports there are only four pure sports words. All the other words are excellent words for all kinds of topics.

What this research suggests to us is not that our students need to study about Yao Ming to pass the CET test. But it suggests to us that we can make use of the students powerful interest in their favorite topics — perhaps basketball and travel for boys, perhaps movies and fashion for girls – to make our students encounter very important CET vocabulary in a way that will be more interesting and easier for them to learn and remember.

To put it another way, we do not need to “push” our students into the vocabulary they need to pass the test but we can let students’ interests “pull” them into the vocabulary they need to pass the test.


[1] “The Whole World Is Watching”, story from the number one sports magazine in the United States, “Sports Illustrated”:


For the analysis, the first 1100 words, roughly the same length as the CET article, of the story were used.

[2] These target words are the important words that our students will need to deal with the CET tests. Let’s take a look at some of the target words from these two texts.

CET vocabulary for “Caught in the Web” (total 87 words)

Academic Word List vocabulary (43 words) : administrator, adults, brief, cited, communities, computer, conclusion, conducted, consensus, constant, constitutes, culture, defined, depressed, depression, edition, environment, established, establishment, generated, goals, intervals, intervention, involvement, job, journals, manual, medical, negative, network, physical, priorities, prioritize, professional, psychological, published, relaxed, reliance, researcher, researchers, respondents, site, sites, survey

Off-List Words (44 words): accomplish, addicted, backaches, blogs, boyfriend, chat, clinics, conceal, detaching, diagnostic, disorder, disorders, gambling, gamers, gaming, household, hygiene, infancy, internet, irritable, laptop, laundry, messaging, mood, mortgage, nonessential, offline, online, overdoing, overuse, overusers, patients, popped, porn, preoccupied, professor, psychiatrist, relief…because, scores, skeptical, skipping, specializing, symptoms, website, websites.

CET vocabulary for “The Whole World is Watching” (about Yao Ming and the Globalization of Sports) (total 134 words)

Academic Word List vocabulary ( 39 words): analyst, approaches, author, chart, commissioner, computer, consumer, contracts, cultural, designs, despite, distributor, domain, domestic, dominant, economist, evidence, expanding, features, finally, generate, globalization, goal, instituted, labor, majority, minor, monitors, overseas, periodic, plus, policy, predict, revenue, sources, team, tradition, transporting, ultimate.

Off-List Words (95 words): abdicates, anecdotal, arc, auxiliary, ballpark, blank, bounce, brand, buzzword, capitalized, charismatic, clients, colonizing, compelling, departed, depict, digital, doll, dribbling, drug, dunking, eclipse, emperor, festooned, franchise, gilded, globalized, goods, hails, headquarters, households, huge, iconic, knickknack, kronor, launching, leagues, legacy, legitimate, levitating, lieutenants, lobby, lucrative, lunching, marketplace, medieval, merchandise, monstrous, moribund, numberers, outposts, overnight, packaged, plateau, platforms, playoffs, prominent, provenance, quintessential, rebellions, reign, renowned, roster, satellite, satellites, scorers, shepherded, slickly, snowbound, soccer, solidified, sponsorships, sprawling, staggering, stares, staved, teen, teenager, telecasts, telegenic, television, tenfold, throne, tiny, traffic, transcend, tripled, vanguard, visionary, weighted, wends, widen, workday, worldwide, zones. (Pure sports words: ballpark, dunking, leagues, soccer)

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