New SAT Vocabulary

The new SAT is all about context, context, CONTEXT. Did you get that? Context.
This means that the old SAT rapid-fire vocab questions in the Reading section are gone! Instead of choosing from 5 very different vocabulary words to fill in the blank of a single standalone sentence, vocabulary questions are now nestled in the passages, along with other comprehension questions. Contextual vocabulary questions can appear on both Writing and Language and Reading sections!

Also check out the top 100 SAT vocabulary words you should know.

In a Passage

We know that the reading portion of the exam tests how well you comprehend passages. By including vocab questions in the passages, the SAT wants you to be able to recognize (or at least figure out) word meaning based on our favorite word: context. The new SAT tests your vocab skills as part of reading comprehension, as well as language choice. In both Verbal sections, you need to understand what’s happening in the passage in order to understand which word choice is correct.

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Of course, the SAT is as tricky as ever. Most, if not all, of your vocabulary answer options will all be words that can mean the same thing. The difference is connotation: the secondary meaning of a word. Both “retort” and “reply” are synonyms for “answer.” Retort, which means to respond in an angry or sharp manner, has a much more negative connotation than a simple reply to a question! Your job is to figure out which vocabulary words make the most sense in the passage. Let’s look at this sample line:
Uncomfortable situations can arise when three siblings all differ in opinion, but clashes are not inevitable.
As used in this sentence, “clashes” most nearly means:

  • Mismatches
  • Collisions
  • Brawls

All of those words can be synonyms for clash! Notice the difference in connotation between each vocabulary word option. Suddenly your mismatched shirt and skirt doesn’t quite mean the same thing as a collision between a bicyclist and a pedestrian!


Pippi Longstocking’s socks might clash with her dress, but her outfit definitely isn’t having an all-out brawl!

One way to decipher connotation is to substitute. Try replacing each word option back into the passage and see what happens. Unless you come from a wacky family, “mismatching” doesn’t mean sibling disagreement.

Words to Know

The old SAT loved to test you on lots of big words—there’s a reason people call long words “SAT words!” The new SAT still throws in those big words, often within questions and answer sets that aren’t primarily vocabulary-oriented. It’s still a good idea to brush up on vocabulary words with flashcards or by reading a variety of books and articles. This list will get you started, but be sure to check out more vocabulary posts from Magoosh to stay on your toes!

  • Dire  //  serious, urgent, or terrible
  • Stark  //  total, severe (often used in the phrase “stark contrast”)
  • Candid  //  straightforward, natural, sincere
  • Austere  //  strict, simple, harsh, or frugal
  • Anomalous  //  unusual, abnormal
  • Nonchalant  //  cool as a cucumber
  • Obsequious  //  excessively obedient, submissive (a person who is a “doormat”)
  • Unmitigated  //  downright, total, utter (usually negative)
  • Paradoxical  //  seemingly opposite (huge universe is made of tiny atoms)
  • Egregious  //  shockingly bad, atrocious
  • Malleable  //  easily influenced, soft enough to be shaped
  • Obsolete  //  out of date (think flip phones and cassette tapes)
  • Petulant  //  childishly pouting
  • Nuance  //  subtle differences or…wait for it…context!


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  • Emily Faison

    An avid reader and art enthusiast, Emily has degrees in English from Florida State University and Southeastern University. When she's not editing web content for a local magazine, you’ll probably find her catching up on her Netflix queue or reading a novel with a fresh cup of coffee at a local cafe.

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

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