While you may have read that the SAT doesn’t test vocabulary, this is only partly true. In this post, we’ll look at how SAT vocabulary crops up on the test, particularly in the Reading and Writing sections. No, you won’t have to define “splendiferous” anymore, but you will need to know, as the test-maker the College Board puts it, “high-utility academic words and phrases.” What’s that mean? In short, these are words that are likely to crop up in college readings.
To help you master these “high-utility” words, we’ll look at how the SAT tests vocabulary in different sections before zooming in to look at some of the most important words to know for test day, what they mean, and how to use them in context. Finally, you can test your knowledge with our SAT vocab words quiz and download the 100+ SAT Vocabulary Words to Study on the Go PDF for future reference.
All of this will give you a boost on test day—not just in terms of Words in Context questions (more on this in a second), but also in terms of your overall reading comprehension and writing abilities. (It won’t hurt your score, either!)
Table of Contents
- SAT Vocabulary in the Reading Section
- SAT Vocabulary in the Writing Section
- 100+ SAT Vocab Words You Should KNow
- SAT Word List PDF
- SAT Vocab Quiz
SAT Vocabulary in the Reading Section
Here’s the good news: the SAT doesn’t test vocabulary in and of itself. You won’t be asked to define words. And some of the more intense SAT vocab questions haven’t been around since your parents had to take the test. (For example, analogies like runner is to marathon as oarsman is to regatta? Come on, we can’t all grow up Kennedys.) On the other hand, having a broad knowledge of words with several different meanings is still important (don’t worry, “regatta” only has one).
Why is it important to know words with different meanings? Because vocabulary is primarily tested (and most directly tested) through the SAT’s Words in Context questions. Yep, in context. This is great news, because it means that you’ll have plenty of clues to help you figure out the answer. However, you’ll have a huge leg up on SAT Reading if you already know the definitions of some of these words.
The College Board provides a great example of what this question is testing. They write:
“Think about the word ‘intense,’ which is a pretty good representative of high-utility academic words and phrases. Maybe you associate this word with emotion or attitude, as in ‘He’s an intense person,’ or perhaps with determination, as in ‘She put forth intense effort in order to do well on the quiz.’ However, neither of these quite matches how ‘intense’ is used in the following excerpt from a longer passage.”
In that instance, they explain:
“… ‘intense’ is more about degree: the clustering of jobs, innovation, and productivity is, according to the author, likely to be denser, or more concentrated in fewer large cities and city-regions, in the coming decades. While prior knowledge of what ‘intense’ often means could be useful here, you’d also have to read and interpret the context in order to determine exactly how the word is being used in this case.”
On the other hand, looking at practice questions, you’ll see that possessing a little more, uh, intense vocabulary (wait, that’s not right) will definitely help you on test day. Take a look at a sample SAT Reading question, also from the College Board:
“Directly” isn’t that tough of a vocabulary word. On the other hand, “frankly” and “mediation” push the level of this question up a little higher. It’s here, in the answers to SAT vocabulary questions, that you’ll find vocabulary study really pays off. That’s not to say that knowing SAT vocab words won’t help you on the rest of this section (and in writing too, for that matter). It’s just that these are the questions that directly test vocabulary.
Tips for Mastering SAT Vocabulary in the Reading Section
- Develop your knowledge of synonyms as you read materials for school or pleasure. Look up words you don’t know, and define them in terms of words you do know.
- If you see a word used in a new context (for example, did you know that “keen” can mean to wail in grief when used as a verb?), take notes on the new usage and try to use it in a sentence.
- As you learn vocabulary words, pick two to three a day to use in conversation. Using words aloud (and defining them if your audience asks you to) is one of the best ways to remember them!
- Check out the Vocabulary Builder book!
- Don’t cram—it’s a lot of stress (and it won’t work, anyway)! Slow and steady wins the SAT vocabulary race.
SAT Vocabulary in the Writing Section
If anything, knowing the definitions of vocabulary words is almost more important on the Writing section (well, okay, it’s as important) as knowing it on the Reading section. Why? Because here, you’re asked to select the best word for a given context. You’re not looking for a synonym; instead, you’re going to find the best word to create the desired meaning.
While this may seem like it’s about grammar rather than vocabulary, it’s actually not. In the College Board’s words,
“It’s worth noting here that these language use questions aren’t directly about grammar, usage, or mechanics. Instead, these questions try to get you to think about how language should be used to accomplish particular writerly aims, such as being clearer, more precise, or more economical.”
Take a look at the following passage, excerpted here from an SAT practice test.
Now take a look at its corresponding SAT vocab question. Don’t let the form of the question scare you! Which of these is the best word for “satiated” in the context of the passage?
Now, can you answer this question without knowing what the three harder vocabulary words (“satiated,” “complacent,” and “sufficient”) mean? Possibly…but probably not. It’s key to know definitions of words in advance so that you can spend your time figuring out the context, rather than trying to figure out what the words mean on test day.
Tips for Mastering SAT Vocabulary in the Writing Section
- Look back at your old schoolwork and where you may have used more complex vocabulary. Evaluate whether you used these words correctly and, if so, if there are other words that could have worked better. (If not, look ’em up!)
- Strive to be as precise as possible in your own writing and everyday speech. Think about how using this kind of precise language changes the meaning of what you want to say and how it’s interpreted.
- As you read, look for examples of vague language or expression and come up with alternatives that the author could have used to make her meaning clearer.
- Practice for the SAT…and then practice some more!
100+ SAT Vocab Words
So now that you know the importance of learning SAT words, let’s get right to it! Here are the 100+ most important SAT vocabulary words you’ll need for test day.
|Word||Definition||Used in Sentence|
|abolish||to officially put an end to||Abraham Lincoln is perhaps best known for his efforts to abolish slavery.|
|abrupt||sudden or curt||Although she was trying to be nice, her response was still abrupt.|
|agitation||anxiety; the fast stirring of a liquid||The night before the big game, I was in a state of agitation.|
|alteration||change from a previous norm||After we missed the bus the third time, our homeroom decided that serious alterations in the schedule were needed.|
|ambiguous||open to more than one interpretation; unclear||My teacher's instructions about the paper were ambiguous; nobody knew what to write.|
|ambivalent||having mixed feelings||Due to his ambiguous instructions, I had ambivalent feelings about my teacher despite his warm manner.|
|arcane||difficult to understand||I fell asleep moments after I opened the arcane and academic book.|
|aromatic||having a pleasant smell||Smelling aromatic oils can be a good way to reduce stress.|
|assumption||an idea accepted as fact without proof||My mother made the assumption that I wanted to go to State, but she hadn't talked to me first.|
|begrudging||to envy; to give reluctantly||I begrudged my sister her new laptop, since I hadn't had a new one in three years.|
|belligerent||war-like, inclined to fight||It is hard not to provoke my cat, who is belligerent with all other animals.|
|bias||inclination for or against a group of people or a particular outcome||The scientific study seemed compelling at first, but eventually scientists found that it showed numerous biases.|
|characterize||describe distinctive features; to be typical of||I shouldn't have been surprised that Jess was so spontaneous, since that was characteristic of her.|
|condescension||disdain||My father loves to deliver lectures at the dinner table, not realizing how condescending they can make him sound.|
|consequently||as a result||I got a C on the midterm; consequently, my final grade will not be higher than a B.|
|conserve||protect||The importance of conserving our natural environment has become increasingly clear.|
|contentious||controversial||Rebecca would have become student body president if some of her proposals hadn't been so contentious.|
|conventional||aligned with general beliefs||Jake, who won the election, had much more conventional beliefs, in line with what most students thought.|
|convey||express||I tried to convey my disappointment to my parents without telling them directly.|
|corroborate||confirm; support||Lucy said that she'd been in the house all day, and her sister corroborated this statement.|
|corrupt||dishonest for personal gain||Politicians are known for being corrupt, but I think some of them must have more altruistic goals.|
|counterargument||an argument opposing an idea set forth elsewhere||While I thought I made a strong case, my debate opponent's counterarguments were just too good.|
|curtail||cut short||My neighbor had been talking for two hours and eventually, I had to curtail her.|
|deplete||use up||I was only two blocks from home when I realized that I had completely depleted my car's gas supply.|
|dismay||disappointment and distress||My father was dismayed that I wouldn't attend his alma mater, but I'm happy with my decision.|
|ebullient||highly enthusiastic||Luke laughs a lot at everything; he's always been ebullient.|
|eloquent||well-spoken||Very few presidents have been known for their eloquence, even though they give many speeches.|
|emerging||beginning; new||The emerging music scene had few followers at the beginning but soon became very popular.|
|empathetic||feeling sympathy||When I volunteered at the hospital, it was hard not to be empathetic to the patients there.|
|engagement||participation; an appointment||One component of our grades would be based on our engagement in class discussions.|
|enigmatic||mysterious||The enigmatic guy seemed compelling at first, but once the mystery was gone, so was my interest.|
|entrenched||solidly established||It can be difficult to get rid of deep-rooted, entrenched beliefs, since we often take them for granted.|
|enumerate||to list||I didn't think I was late that much, but my mother enumerated many occasions on which I had been.|
|ephemeral||short-lived||My interest in the boy band was embarrassing but thankfully ephemeral.|
|equivocal||vague||My mother's answer to my question about how she'd met my father was equivocal, and I could tell she was embarrassed by the story.|
|esoteric||known only to a select group||I thought I should have known the book they were discussing, but later I discovered it was esoteric.|
|exertion||effort||Running a marathon would take so much exertion that I just don't feel up to it.|
|exhilarating||wildly exciting||The day I got my college acceptance letters was exhilarating.|
|exonerate||free from blame||My aunt thought I'd taken the car until she saw me in the living room; I was then exonerated.|
|fastidious||nit-picky, fussing over details||There are some typos in my essay; I just hope the teacher isn't too fastidious.|
|fluctuate||to change irregularly||My grades fluctuated for a while when I was a freshman, but they're consistent now.|
|foreshadow||to allude to coming events||Looking back, my early interest in dancing foreshadowed my life in my teens.|
|fundamentally||centrally||Fundamentally, I don't believe that certain human rights are up for debate.|
|garner||gather||Before submitting my applications, I had to garner several letters of recommendation.|
|garrulous||talkative||My grade would have been better but I was too garrulous in class; my best friend sat beside me and we could never shut up.|
|gregarious||flocking, sociable||Sometimes I wish I were more gregarious, but I prefer having one or two close friends instead.|
|hasten||to do something quickly||Realizing the deadline was the next day, I hastened to put together my application.|
|hypothetical||based on a hypothesis; theoretical||Hypothetically, I'd love to travel the world, but I don't have the time or money right now.|
|imperative||absolutely necessary||The principal insisted that taking an interest in our classes was imperative to our success.|
|indifferent||expressing no opinions on a matter||The school newspaper reporter wanted to interview me about the issue, but I wasn't a good source because I was too indifferent.|
|indigenous||native to a certain area||Planting indigenous plants is one way to begin setting up a carbon sink.|
|indiscriminate||without consideration||There were so many random people at the party that it felt like Tom must have handed out invitations indiscriminately.|
|indispensable||vital||I've found that keeping my planner up to date is an indispensable practice.|
|indistinct||unclear||Her voice was indistinct and so I missed most of what she said.|
|infrastructure||the organizational structures needed for the operation of a society or project||One major challenge to foreign aid is distributing it, since infrastructure—including roads and local organizations to help with distribution—can be lacking in remote areas.|
|keen||eager; incisive; to wail||He had a keen wit, but sometimes his observations hit too close to home.|
|magnanimous||kind-hearted, likely to forgive||I'd really insulted her, but luckily she was magnanimous and we were soon friends again.|
|malevolence||hostility||I don't think that political campaigns have to be characterized by malevolence, even though many politicians see their opponents as enemies.|
|melodramatic||exaggerated||I wasn't sure how worried I should be, since his stories were always a little melodramatic.|
|menacing||inspiring fear||The grey sky was menacing, and I was sure it would rain later.|
|modification||change||I always revise my essays because I find that modifications are usually necessary to make my ideas clear.|
|naïve||innocent; likely to believe anything||I used to think it was easy to get into a top-10 school, but I was a little naïve.|
|neglect||fail to care for||I've never been able to keep a plant alive, mostly because I tend to neglect them.|
|null||invalid; related to zero||We spent years researching the problem only to find that our hypothesis was null.|
|obsolete||no longer useful||My dad thought I could use his old word processor without realizing that the technology was totally obsolete.|
|omnipotence||having unlimited power||David acted like his position as editor gave him omnipotence and was always a little mean to his "subordinates."|
|opaque||not transparent||I really prefer my tights to be opaque, because I hate how shiny the transparent ones can be.|
|oppress||to keep in a state of hardship||While we thought our allowances were low, it wasn't as though we were being oppressed.|
|ornate||highly decorated||My sister loves having a really ornate holiday season, but I think it's better to be more subdued.|
|pantheon||the group of gods of a people||I didn't know about the Greek pantheon until I read about legends containing Zeus.|
|pending||awaiting decision||Even after three days, I could see that my status hadn't been decided and was still listed as "pending."|
|preclude||to prevent from happening||To preclude my tendency to procrastinate, I set aside the same hour every day to study.|
|profuse||excessive||She thanked me so profusely that it was embarrassing and, after a minute, I had to ask her to stop.|
|regression||return to an earlier state||My uncle saw my low grade as a regression, but I just saw it as a step in the learning process rather than a set-back.|
|reinforce||strengthen; back up||I studied for the SAT in different ways to reinforce my knowledge.|
|render||to provide; to make||I was on the fence about which school to attend until one offered me a full scholarship, rendering my indecision a thing of the past.|
|renounce||to declare the abandonment of something formally||After the club refused to let Julie in, I renounced my membership in it due to the unfairness of the decision.|
|repeal||to revoke||Our school tried to pass a strict dress code but soon repealed it when students ignored the guidelines.|
|repose||rest||When the competition was over, I was exhausted and in desperate need of repose.|
|reproach||express disapproval||My mother's behavior is always perfect, completely beyond reproach.|
|restorative||possessing characteristics that allow it to return health or well-being||I felt so much better after the restorative massage.|
|reticent||not saying much||My cousin can be reticent sometimes, but I know his mind is going a mile a minute.|
|revere||respect deeply||I wouldn't say I revere my teacher, but I do like her a lot.|
|sampling||a representative group||It turned out that the three people we'd used weren't a representative sampling of the whole group.|
|scope||the extent to which something is relevant||The comments on my essay were all good except for one which called the evidence "out of scope."|
|secession||formally withdrawing from membership||The South's secession from the United States in the 19th century was unprecedented.|
|selfless||unselfish||My sister is entirely selfless and always helps me with anything I ask for.|
|simulate||imitate||The program was meant to simulate what it was like to be in space, but I didn't feel like I was there at all.|
|soporific||causing sleep||The archane book was so boring that I found it soporific.|
|spawn||produce, often in terms of offspring||Her idea, while later disproven, spawned many more hypotheses that changed the face of science.|
|spectacle||a visually impressive performance||The play used red and black scenery covered in glitter, making the performance into more of a spectacle than a simple play.|
|stimulate||build interest in||The simulation was not at all realistic and failed to stimulate my interest in the subject.|
|subsequent||following||While I didn't do well on my first paper, I used my teacher's advice on the subsequent essays and got better grades.|
|supremacy||predominance; the state of being in control of all others||Our principal was so kind that nobody ever challenged her supremacy in the school.|
|synchronized||occurring at the same time||Our answers were synchronized, as though we'd practiced speaking together.|
|tenacious||not giving in easily||I knew that to get into the school of my dreams, I'd have to work long and hard; I'd have to be tenacious.|
|undermine||make less effective||Her argument seemed compelling, but when I left her house I thought of six examples that would undermine it.|
|urbane||refined, of the city||Going to college in New York seemed like a great idea; I thought I'd come back more sophisticated and urbane.|
|venerable||deserving of respect||My grandfather didn't speak much, but he was wise when he did, making him a venerable figure in our family.|
|verbose||using too many words||If you used all these words in the same sentence, you would definitely be verbose.|
|vitality||being strong and energetic||I was exhausted and weak, but a nap soon restored my vitality.|
|warrant||justification; to justify||Andrew didn't think the punishment was warranted and argued against it successfully.|
|yield||to produce; to give way||The apple crop was great this year and yielded way more than we thought it would.|
SAT Word List PDF (100+ SAT Words to Study on the Go)
Don’t know all those SAT words yet? You will soon! Here’s a PDF version of the word list—print it out and review on the bus or during any spare moments!
SAT Vocab Quiz
Think you know your SAT vocab? Put it to the test!
If you're studying for the SAT, you may not realize just how important SAT vocabulary is! Our experts have gathered the top 100+ SAT words you should know to make learning them easier. Test out your knowledge of those SAT vocab words in context with this quiz!
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About Rachel Kapelke-Dale
Rachel is one of Magoosh’s Content Creators. She writes and updates content on our High School and GRE Blogs to ensure students are equipped with the best information during their test prep journey. Rachel has helped students around the world prepare for various standardized tests, including the SAT, ACT, TOEFL, GRE, and GMAT, and she is one of the authors of our Magoosh ACT Prep Book. Rachel has a Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Literature from Brown University, an MA in Cinematography from the Université de Paris VII, and a Ph.D. in Film Studies from University College London. For over a decade, Rachel has honed her craft as a fiction and memoir writer and public speaker. Her work has appeared in over a dozen online and print publications, including Vanity Fair Hollywood. When she isn't strategically stringing words together at Magoosh, you can find Rachel riding horses or with her nose in a book. LinkedIn
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