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The SAT can often feel like the Super Bowl of school. With a complete overview testing student knowledge in everything from math to writing, it’s easy to understand why! When prepping for the SAT, make sure that you don’t skimp on prepping for the vocabulary words that you will be tested on during the test.

Of course, there needs to be a balance of time that you spend preparing for this portion of the exam. And since your time is precious, you need a clear idea of how to study vocabulary words effectively. 

In 2016, the SAT was redesigned, and the product contained fewer vocabulary words than the test before. That being said, even though vocabulary words are more underrepresented on the test, if you are aiming for a high (or perfect!) SAT score, it will behoove (vocabulary word puns) you to study the words and prep for this portion of the test.

The test rewrite has made the vocabulary section fairer for students who are testing. Before 2016, the SAT would randomly throw out words and expect test-takers to know the word. This was problematic since you couldn’t necessarily predict what words would be on the test, and without any context clues, the likelihood that you would get the answer correct was low.

SAT Vocabulary Overview

All of the words on the SAT are categorized as medium difficulty. They are tested by pulling them out of reading passages, so you won’t be tested on a word blindly, but instead with context clues from an entire passage. This is called words in context, which is really just a fancy way of saying that you are going to gather the word’s definition by reading the words around it.

You will only see vocabulary questions on the English portion, so you won’t be caught off guard with an errant word on the math portion.

13% of the reading portion is vocabulary questions, but don’t stress! That equals about seven total questions on vocabulary words.

Two Kinds of Questions


There are two different types of questions you can expect to see on the reading portion of the test (as it pertains to vocabulary), the first a context definition and the second, a fill-in-the-blank style question.

We have already covered the basics of a context question, but for review: these types of questions will give you an entire paragraph to read, then one of the words will be underlined, and you will be required to define the word based on the context clues you’re given.

The second type of question will ask you a critical thinking question and only give you answers with applicable vocabulary words. So, it will say, “based on line 50-51, it’s safe to assume that professionals in this field are: a) qualified b)experts, etc.”

For these questions, you must be able to define each of the vocabulary words to select the correct answer.

Are There Vocabulary Words Anywhere Else on the Test?

In short, yes. Even though it’s rare, you might find 1-3 vocab questions on the writing portion of the test as well.

While the writing section focuses specifically on the grammar and mechanics of the English language, vocabulary questions will appear in the same format as the reading section– in context questions. This just means that you will read the provided passage and define the word based on the context clues.

100 Vocabulary Words You Should Know for the SAT


Any quick Google search will reveal to you endless lists of the most important words to know to ace the vocab portion of the ACT. There’s even one list the recommends you memorize 262 words for the test! These lists are created through combing practice SAT tests and pulling out the highest-frequency words.

This will give you a greater chance of a higher score, but since you can expect around ten total questions about vocabulary, it’s a substantial time commitment with a small pay off.

Of course, there is no set list of the words you will see, so it’s more important that you have a basic understanding of things like roots, the affixes, and more parts of the word that can help you define on the fly.

  released its top 100 vocabulary words, which are as follows:
  • abbreviate — (v) to shorten, abridge
  • abstinence — (n) the act of refraining from pleasurable activity, e.g., eating or drinking
  • adulation — (n) high praise
  • adversity — (n) misfortune, an unfavorable turn of events
  • aesthetic — (adj) pertaining to beauty or the arts
  • amicable — (adj) friendly, agreeable
  • anachronistic — (adj) out-of-date, not attributed to the correct historical period
  • anecdote — (n) short, usually funny account of an event
  • anonymous — (adj) nameless, without a disclosed identity
  • antagonist — (n) foe, opponent, the adversary
  • arid — (adj) extremely dry or deathly boring
  • assiduous — (adj) persistent, hard-working
  • asylum — (n) sanctuary, shelter, place of refuge
  • benevolent — (adj) friendly and helpful
  • camaraderie — (n) trust, sociability amongst friends
  • censure — (v) to criticize harshly
  • circuitous — (adj) indirect, taking the longest route
  • clairvoyant — (adj) exceptionally insightful, able to foresee the future
  • collaborate — (v) to cooperate, work together
  • compassion — (n) sympathy, helpfulness or mercy
  • compromise — (v) to settle a dispute by terms agreeable to both sides
  • condescending — (adj) possessing an attitude of superiority, patronizing
  • conditional — (adj) depending on a condition, e.g., in a contract
  • conformist — (n) person who complies with accepted rules and customs
  • congregation — (n) a crowd of people, an assembly
  • convergence — (n) the state of separate elements joining or coming together
  • deleterious — (adj) harmful, destructive, detrimental
  • demagogue — (n) leader, rabble-rouser, usually appealing to emotion or prejudice
  • digression — (n) the act of turning aside, straying from the main point, esp. in a speech or argument
  • diligent — (adj) careful and hard-working
  • discredit — (v) to harm the reputation of, dishonor or disgrace
  • disdain — (v) to regard with scorn or contempt
  • divergent — (adj) separating, moving in different directions from a particular point
  • empathy — (n) identification with the feelings of others
  • emulate — (v) to imitate, follow an example
  • enervating — (adj) weakening, tiring
  • enhance — (v) to improve, bring to a greater level of intensity
  • ephemeral — (adj) momentary, transient, fleeting
  • evanescent — (adj) quickly fading, short-lived, esp. an image
  • exasperation — (n) irritation, frustration
  • exemplary — (adj) outstanding, an example to others
  • extenuating — (adj) excusing, lessening the seriousness of guilt or crime, e.g., of mitigating factors
  • florid — (adj) red-colored, flushed; gaudy, ornate
  • fortuitous — (adj) happening by luck, fortunate
  • frugal — (adj) thrifty, cheap
  • hackneyed — (adj) cliched, worn out by overuse
  • haughty — (adj) arrogant and condescending
  • hedonist — (n) person who pursues pleasure as a goal
  • hypothesis — (n) assumption, theory requiring proof
  • impetuous — (adj) rash, impulsive, acting without thinking
  • impute — (v) to attribute an action to a particular person or group
  • incompatible — (adj) opposed in nature, not able to live or work together
  • inconsequential — (adj) unimportant, trivial
  • inevitable — (adj) certain, unavoidable
  • integrity — (n) decency, honesty, wholeness
  • intrepid — (adj) fearless, adventurous
  • intuitive — (adj) instinctive, untaught
  • jubilation — (n) joy, celebration, exultation
  • lobbyist — (n) person who seeks to influence political events
  • longevity — (n) long life
  • mundane — (adj) ordinary, commonplace
  • nonchalant — (adj) calm, casual, seeming unexcited
  • novice — (n) apprentice, beginner
  • opulent — (adj) wealthy
  • orator — (n) lecturer, speaker
  • ostentatious — (adj) showy, displaying wealth
  • parched — (adj) dried up, shriveled
  • perfidious — (adj) faithless, disloyal, untrustworthy
  • precocious — (adj) unusually advanced or talented at an early age
  • pretentious — (adj) pretending to be important, intelligent or cultured
  • procrastinate — (v) to unnecessarily delay, postpone, put off
  • prosaic — (adj) relating to prose; dull, commonplace
  • prosperity — (n) wealth or success
  • provocative — (adj) tending to provoke a response, e.g., anger or disagreement
  • prudent — (adj) careful, cautious
  • querulous — (adj) complaining, irritable
  • rancorous — (adj) bitter, hateful
  • reclusive — (adj) preferring to live in isolation
  • reconciliation — (n) the act of agreement after a quarrel, the resolution of a dispute
  • renovation — (n) repair, making something new again
  • resilient — (adj) quick to recover, bounce back
  • restrained — (adj) controlled, repressed, restricted
  • reverence — (n) worship, a profound respect
  • sagacity — (n) wisdom
  • scrutinize — (v) to observe carefully
  • spontaneity — (n) impulsive action, unplanned events
  • spurious — (adj) lacking authenticity, false
  • submissive — (adj) tending to meekness, to submit to the will of others
  • substantiate — (v) to verify, confirm, provide supporting evidence
  • subtle — (adj) hard to detect or describe; perceptive
  • superficial — (adj) shallow, lacking in depth
  • superfluous — (adj) extra, more than enough, redundant
  • suppress — (v) to end an activity, e.g., to prevent the dissemination of information
  • surreptitious — (adj) secret, stealthy
  • tactful — (adj) considerate, skillful in acting to avoid offense to others
  • tenacious — (adj) determined, keeping a firm grip on
  • transient — (adj) temporary, short-lived, fleeting
  • venerable — (adj) respected because of age
  • vindicate — (v) to clear from blame or suspicion
  • wary — (adj) careful, cautious
Again, since this isn’t a complete list, you may find that another list will be more challenging for you than the words provided. Here is a  
  for you to test your knowledge with the words above– how many do you know?

Don’t Cram for the SAT

There are numerous ways to prepare for the vocabulary section of the SAT, and using a few tried and true methods will help you avoid the pointless “ 
 ” before the test.

Studies show that cramming is the single most ineffective way to prepare for a test. Just like lifting weights, you wouldn’t walk into a competition and try to deadlift 200 pounds with no practice; cramming can produce the same results.

Extended exposure to what you’re being tested on is the most effective way to help you recall the information during high-stress situations (like the SAT!).


We have compiled a few of the best ways to prep for the vocabulary portion of the SAT. With any type of practice, the best way to learn is to set time aside each day to work on the skill. Consider setting aside even as little as 10 minutes per day to work through the vocabulary words (but also plan on bulking up that time the closer you get to testing day).

Of course, you know yourself best, and with the different learning styles out there, you might find that there is a better way for you to study than the ideas we mention here. Have you checked out our learning style series? There is excellent information about how to maximize your study time, depending on your learning style. 

Flashcards

This is the classic, old faithful form of studying. Thankfully with websites such as Quizlet, you are no longer taxed with the burden of writing out every single flashcard, but if you like to write, here are some tips to maximize your study time using flashcards.


Write down all of the words you want to practice, and on the back, write out the definitions. For the SAT, you most likely will want to write out at least 100 of the most common words (or more!).

Then run through your deck, creating two complete piles: “words I know” and “words I don’t know.” The words you already know you won’t have to practice as much (but you should still return to them every once in a while to refresh and practice!).

With the struggled pile, rerun through the cards, putting the words you knew in the “words I know pile” and creating a new “words I don’t know pile.”

Repeat this process until you get through the entire stack, then start again.

If you learn better using a resource like Quizlet, you also have the benefit of getting different practice activities directly on the Quizlet website. Quizlet also tracks your comprehension, tests you on words you commonly miss, etc.

Learn the Ingredients

As a constant lover of an extended metaphor, I think a baking reference will help us here. You know that sugar makes food sweet. Since you know this, you would never add a cup of sugar to a pot roast, and it would make the result taste weird, right?

The same is true with understanding words. When you know the basics of a word such as roots, suffixes, prefixes, etc. then you can more easily identify words even if you don’t know them.

Since we’ve already covered that you could learn 500 vocabulary words and still not be tested on them, it can be a risky move to commit to the idea that you have studied enough because you have studied a list of words.

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Workbooks
Workbooks

Instead, take time to learn about the pieces of words that help you define new words. For example, if you know that sub- means below. Then even if you have never seen the word subdermal, you already know that it’s below something. Then you might understand that derm means skin, and without ever seeing the word, you have already defined it!

Knowing the ingredients of a word is arguably more important than having some arbitrary list of vocabulary lists. Does this mean you should just throw the list away? Absolutely not, but give equal attention to the roots, affixes, etc. of a word to provide you with a better chance of defining terms on the fly.

Write the Words Down

For students who need the tactile experience of writing to help them learn (psst those are called kinesthetic learners!), try writing down the words as you are trying to learn them. 

This would be an excellent method for a short list of words that you’re trying to master. It would be tedious with a list of 100 words.

When you are working with this tactic, try writing down just the word and repeating the definition to yourself. Or you can write the word and the meaning.

Find a Study Buddy


Learning with a friend can be a helpful tool for somebody who is trying to master vocabulary words for the SAT. There are a few things to keep in mind when studying with somebody else:

  • Pick somebody who will keep you on task and has similar goals as you. 
  • Pick a time and place where you both can work without distraction. 

Of course, a study buddy can also include utilizing resources available to you to help prepare you for the test. ArgoPrep has created numerous SAT prep books to help get you ready for the big day.

Yes, there are in-person SAT prep classes, but those can be a huge financial burden, a time constraint, and unless you’re getting one-on-one tutoring, you will share the tutor’s attention with others in your class. 

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ArgoPrep’s workbooks are modeled after the SAT, meaning that you are getting high-quality practice each time you open the book. Plus, there are video explanations of every single problem available to you through ArgoPrep’s website.

If you are invested in earning a higher score on the SAT, adding a supplemental workbook is the surest way to boost your scores without spending thousands of dollars. 

Practice

The final tip is to practice the SAT troublespots until they are more manageable. Just like when you learn how to drive, you don’t jump into the driver’s seat the day of the test and expect to pass. Does it happen? Probably from time-to-time, but for the average person, they must practice the skill of driving a lot before being tested on.

Learning how to predict road hazards, other vehicles, distractions, and more are what sets people apart from okay drivers to exceptional drivers.

The same is true about preparing for the SAT. As much as we’d like, the day of the SAT will have numerous distractions (think a person who is coughing, the shuffling of papers, etc.). If you practice taking SATs in the quiet of your bedroom, you won’t be adequately prepared for the real-life experience of taking the test.

Additionally, when you take multiple practice tests, you will be able to get a sense of the time constraints, the speed that you have to work through the questions, and the format of the test. This includes the formatting of questions for the vocabulary questions.

If you have taken numerous practice tests before the actual testing day, you will feel more at ease and better prepared!

Conclusion

We covered a lot in this guide, and now all that’s left is for you to head out into the world and start digging into the SAT vocabulary lists.


Just to recap, here are a few key takeaways:

  • Vocabulary questions on the SAT are presented in two different formats. First, in context questions and secondly, in the form of a fill in the blank.
  • There are approximately ten total vocabulary questions spread out over the reading and writing sections of the SAT.
  • There are numerous lists available of high-frequency vocabulary questions on the SAT.
  • You should spend time learning the ingredients of a word, including roots and affixes.
  • There are many ways to study vocabulary questions, including flashcards (or Quizlet), workbooks, and practice exams.
  • Prepare for distractions, taking the SAT in a silent room will not prepare you for the actual testing experience.
  • If you want a high-quality resource to prepare for the SAT, check out ArgoPrep!

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