Tricksy Little Questionses: How the ACT Tests Vocabulary with Jargon

What comes to mind when you see the phrase “SAT word”? Probably some difficult, maybe even abstruse, word that you’ve never seen before and will probably never actually use. “Abstruse” might even be a good example (but it’s an adjective meaning “difficult to understand,” in case you ever need it).

You may be thinking, though, that since you’re taking the ACT, not the SAT, you don’t need to worry about vocabulary. You may even feel sorry for your classmates who are taking the SAT; they have to deal with those excruciatingly difficult vocabulary questions. You may want to give a smug little laugh at the idea.

Well, hold on, partner, because the ACT tests vocabulary, too.

Now that I’ve sufficiently ruined your day, let’s talk about one of the ways that the ACT tests your vocabulary: jargon.

Jargon is just a fancy word for specialized vocabulary. Every profession, hobby, interest, or group has its own vocabulary that they don’t need to define within themselves Every biologist will know the terms genome and Punnett square; every decent seamstress knows her back stitch from her batting; every gamer can tell his RPG’s from his FPS’s.

It makes talking to that group really difficult when you’re not part of it! They’ll use language that will have you scrambling for a Gamer-to-English dictionary. And that’s jargon in a nutshell: vocabulary that the author didn’t need to define for his or her intended audience because they already knew what those words meant.

For you on the ACT, that means in nearly every section (I’m looking at you, Science Test!), there will be some vocabulary that is included just to intimidate you. Jargon is intended to throw you off your game and use your fear of “SAT words” against you. Basically:


Luckily, you don’t need a Biology-to-English Dictionary here! There is one surefire way to deal with jargon: Deal with it as it comes. If the word or concept is important to the passage, it will be defined or revisited later. If there’s a question about that particular vocabulary word, you have my permission to puzzle over what it means. Otherwise, don’t even pay attention to it. Keep your cool, don’t be intimidated, and handle the jargon only if you need to.


  • Catrina Coffey

    Catrina graduated from Rider University with a B.A. in English. She’s been helping students prepare for standardized tests since 2011. In her spare time, you can find her reading anything within arms’ reach, playing video games, correcting grammar, or studying word derivations. (Did you know that procrastinate comes from the Latin word cras, which means “tomorrow”?)

By the way, Magoosh can help you study for both the SAT and ACT exams. Click here to learn more!


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