Sat Words | An Ultimate Guide to Vocabulary You Must Acquire Before the Test

The subject of SAT words (aka SAT vocabulary) has a tendency to be particularly daunting for students approaching their college admission test. For one thing, you do not know in advance which words to expect in this year’s word list. Even with the knowledge of the vocabulary used in the tests of previous years, you cannot know for sure all will be used on the day of the test this time around.

In addition, if you are concerned that your own vocabulary, in general, is not as strong as it could be, you find yourself in a particularly difficult position. You can put in plenty of reading during your free time and work on your vocab on a day-to-day basis, but you still need plenty of practice using these words in order to fully understand to use them. Find out if the most quality SAT prep books contain such vocabulary and what you will encounter in the best SAT prep courses.

Nevertheless, someone looking to get a good SAT score really has no choice but to focus heavily on SAT words. While it may not be the single most important SAT score,  you may want to ensure your vocabulary knowledge is as strong as it can be can only help boost your score and your chances of getting into the college school of your choice.In addition, find out what happens if you haven't taken the SAT by the time you finish high school - or when to take the SAT to begin with.

The SAT Approach to Vocabulary Testing

First, the good news - a major overhaul back in 2016 resulted in vocabulary becoming a significantly less important aspect of the SAT as a whole. You still need to understand plenty of tricky words when used in the context of a sentence or passage, but nowhere near as much emphasis is placed upon specific words and phrases as in previous years.

As for the bad news - anywhere up to 15% of the Reading portion of the test is all about pairing words with their respective meanings. The new approach to SAT testing presents a variety of words in context, along with a selection of multiple-choice answers. While most academics agree that the tested words used these days are nowhere near as difficult as they used to be, you will still need to understand their meaning to ensure you select the right answer.

learn about the sat scores

The easiest way to build a picture of how the whole thing works are to take a bunch of mock SAT tests online, during which you will see the use of SAT vocabulary words in context.

In addition to the above, the Writing and Language section of the test also features a variety of vocabulary based questions. In this instance, however, the future college students are simply required to replace or use certain specific SAT words on the basis of tense, transitions, or grammar.  This is therefore more about the correct usage of the words and their variants than being able to define them outright.

Should I Take the Time to Learn a Specific SAT Word List?

The answer to this common question depends entirely on who you ask. There are some who believe putting in the work to learn and memorize a list in its entirety holds the key to acing this aspect of the test.  By contrast, others advise against learning lists and suggest that doing so can actually make things more difficult than they need to be.

study cubes

It, therefore, depends entirely on your own learning style and academic preferences. There’s no one specific way to study for an SAT that is guaranteed to work - what works for one person may not work for someone else. Also, find out what happens if you you take the test multiple times.

Nevertheless, there are countless (and in some cases exceptionally long) SAT word lists doing the rounds online, compiled from numerous past tests. The following is a comparatively short example of such a list, which provides useful insights into the type of language you can expect to encounter:

Word  -  Definition



Abate v.

to become less active, less intense, or less in amount

Abstract adj. 

existing purely in the mind; not representing actual reality

Abysmal adj. 

extremely bad

Accordingly adv.

 in accordance with

Acquisition n.

the act of gaining a skill or possession of something

Adapt v.

 to make suit a new purpose

Adept adj.

 having knowledge or skill (usu. in a particular area)

Adequate adj.

 having sufficient qualifications to meet a specific task or purpose

Advent n.

 the arrival or creation of something (usu. historic)


a noisy argument or confrontation

Ambiguous adj.

unclear or vague in meaning

Ambitious adj.

 having a powerful desire for success or achievement

Ambivalence n.

 the state of being uncertain or stuck between two or more options

Analogous adj.

 similar but not identical

Annihilate v. 

to destroy or cause devastating destruction

Anomaly n.

 something different from the norm

Anticipate v.

 assume to be likely to happen

Antipathy n.

 a strong feeling of dislike

Apex n.

the highest point of something

Apprehension n.

fearful expectation of something

Articulate v.

to clearly express in words

Avid adj.

 actively interested in or enthusiastic about something

Basic adj.

 relating to the foundation or basis of something

Bear v.

 to have as a characteristic

Benevolent adj.

 kind, generous

Bias n.

 a preconception that prevents objectivity

Bittersweet adj.

 tinged with a feeling of sadness

Bolster v.

 to support, strengthen, or fortify

Boost n.

an increase or growth

Brawl n. 

an intense, loud fight

Brevity n.

 the quality of being brief or terse

Candid adj. 

direct, blunt

Candor n.

 the trait of being honest and frank

Capitalize v.

 to use to your advantage

Capture v.

 to trap or take possession of

Civic adj. 

relating to the city or citizens

Clinical adj. 

emotionally unattached (usu. used in the medical or scientific setting)

Clout n.

 special advantage or power

Coarse adj. 

indicating a rough texture

Coincide v.

to happen at the same time

Conceive v.

 to imagine or come up with

Condone v.

 to overlook, approve, or allow

Conducive adj.

 able to bring about or be suitable for

Conduct v.

 to control or manage

Confide v.

 to share something secretive with someone

Confine v. 

to put limits on; to restrict

Consensus n.

 overall agreement

Constitute v. 

to form or compose (part of) something

Contemplate v. 

to think deeply about

Contend v.

 to maintain or assert (an opinion)

Contradict v. 

to be in contrast with

Controversial adj.

 highly debatable and causing contention

Conventional adj.

 abiding by accepted standards

Cultivate v.

 to foster the growth of

Decree v. 

to declare formally and with authority

Deference n.

 respect; regard

Deficient adj.

 not enough in degree or amount

Demonstrate v.

 to do as an example

Demur v.

 to object to

Deplete v.

 to (over)use over time (usu. resources)

Desolate adj.

 bare, barren, empty

Devise v.

 to come up with (a plan)

Dilemma n.

 a problem, usually requiring a choice between two options

Diligence n.

conscientiousness; the quality of being committed to a task

Dispatch v.

to send off a message or messenger

Diversification n.

 the act of becoming diverse

Doctrine n. 

a principle, theory, or position, usu. advocated by religion or gov’t

Dominion n. 

power and authority (usu. over a territory)

Dreary adj.

 sad, gloomy, dull

Dubious adj.

 doubtful, questionable

Eccentric adj.

 peculiar or odd; deviating from the norm

Egregious adj.

 extremely bad

Endure v. 

to withstand, sustain, or hold out against

Entail v.

 to involve or include

Entrenched adj. 

firmly established

Enumerate v. 

to specify or count

Envy n. 

excessive jealousy

Erratic adj.

 having no fixed course; deviating from the norm

Establish v.

 to enact

Evoke v.

 to draw forth or call up

Exacerbate v.

 to make worse or increase the severity of

Excel v.

 to do something extremely well or to be superior in

Foment v.

 to stir up

Foreseeable adj. 

capable of being predicted or anticipated

Frankly adv.

 directly, clearly

Freewheeling adj.


Fundamental adj.

 the most essential or most basic part

Galvanizing adj.

 thrilling, exciting, stimulating

Geriatric adj.

 relating to old age

Hostile adj.

 harmful, dangerous

Hypothetical adj. 

supposed; related to a hypothesis

Ignominious adj.

 publicly shameful or humiliating

Impart v. 

to transmit, bestow, or disclose

Impartiality n.

 the equal and objective treatment of opposing views

Imposing adj.

 impressive (esp. in size or appearance)

Imposition n.

 an unnecessary burden

Imprudent adj.

 not cautious or prudent; rash

Incite v.

 to encourage or stir up

Indifference n. 

apathy, emotional detachment

Indiscriminately adv.

 randomly; with little or no distinction

Indulge v.

 to give into; to satisfy or gratify

Infer v.

 to guess, conclude, or derive by reasoning

Innovative adj. 

novel or new (esp. as an idea or invention)

Insatiable adj.

 can’t be satisfied

Inversion n. 

a reversal

Melodramatic adj.

extravagant or exaggerated (as of a melodrama)

Modest adj. 

simple and humble

Modify v.

to change, alter, or tweak

Momentous adj.

 historically significant

Novel adj.

new, innovative

Nuance n.

 a subtle difference in meaning

Null adj. 

legally void and ineffective

Objectivity n.

 judgment based on observations instead of emotions or opinions

Obsolete adj.

no longer used; rare or uncommon

Omnipotent adj.

 almighty and all-powerful

Onset n.

 the beginning or early stages

Opine v.

 to openly express an opinion

Ornate adj. 

highly detailed and decorated

Oust v.

 to remove or force out of (usu. a position or office)

Paramount adj.

 predominant, superior, most important

Peculiar adj.

 strange, bizarre

Perish v.

 to die; to pass away

Potent adj.

 having great influence

Pragmatic adj.

 practical, useful

Precedent n. 

an example or subject from earlier in time

Predecessor n.

  someone who comes before you (usu. in position or office)

Prescribe v.

 to command orders

Principle n

 basic truth, assumption, or rule

Prohibit v.

 to command against, to outlaw

Prompt adj.

punctual, on time

Promulgate v. 

to put into law or formally declare

Prosecute v.

 to bring a criminal action against someone (in a trial)

Provocative adj.

 intending to provoke, inspire or arouse

Qualitative adj.

involving qualities of something (features and content)

Quantitative adj.

 involving quantities (numbers and amounts)

Quirk n. 

a strange habit

Ramify v. 

to split into two or more branches

Rash adj. 

without attention to danger or risk

Raw adj.


Readily adv. 

right away and without difficulty

Reproach v.

 to criticize

Repudiate v.

 to refuse to recognize as true

Retention n.

 the act of keeping something

Satiated adj.

 satisfied (usu. in hunger)

Savvy adj.

 having practical intelligence or knowledge

Scandalous adj.

 morally offensive, often causing damage to one’s reputation

Scorn v.

 to look down on with disdain

Scrupulous adj.

 paying great attention to detail

Scrutinize v.

 to examine carefully and critically

Secrete v. 

to produce or release (a substance)

Sufficient adj. 

enough; just meeting a requirement

Surly adj.

 unfriendly; inclined to anger

Surmount v.

 to get on top of or overcome

Susceptible adj. 

to be vulnerable (to something)

Tactful adj. 

skilled at dealing with people

Taut adj. 

pulled tight

Teeming adj. 

abundantly filled (usu. with living organisms)

Temperament n.

 usual mood or feelings

Tentative adj. 

not yet finalized

Transparent adj.

 see-through; so thin that light can shine through

Treacherous adj. 

 dangerous and unstable

Tremendous adj.

very large, good, or bad in degree or size

Unjust adj.

 unfair; not justified

Unmitigated adj.

 downright, utter, total

Vow v.

 to promise

Warrant v. 

to prove to be reasonable

Yield n. 

production of an amount

This is just one of the dozens of SAT word lists available, which in many instances differ significantly in terms of their content and suggested words.

How to Improve your SAT Vocabulary Words Through Strategic Study

The best way to prep for your test is whichever way works best for you. Practice makes perfect, as does arming yourself with every example test from previous years you can lay your hands on.

Of all the helpful tips to give you the best shot at nailing this portion of the test, none are more universally applicable and useful than the following five:

1.Get yourself a prep book and read it several times over.  This will get you on track far better than simply attempting to read and learn the definition of several thousand words you may not even come across in the test.

2.Read plenty of other books and dedicate more of your spare time to reading. This means going beyond the usual study materials students use to prepare for tests and reading a diverse range of books to improve your vocabulary.

3.Always check dictionaries for word meanings if you have any questions or concerns regarding your understanding. Never simply assume you know what a word means - see if you’re right!

4.Create your own definitions for words if the formal definitions are not particularly easy to understand or are difficult to remember. This can make it much easier to memorize them.

5.Use your new vocabulary continuously, making every possible effort to include the new words you learn in all of your spoken and written communications. It may feel (and sound) a little weird, but it will also make them impossible to forget.


In Summary…

As with all aspects of SAT prep, the worst thing you can do for the sake of your score is freak out about the vocab section of the test and cause yourself unnecessary stress. Truth is, ask any of your friends and you’ll probably see they’re in exactly the same position as you.

Learning words can help you ace the SAT, but not nearly to the same extent as thorough all-around prep and practice. So rather than terrifying yourself with the endless lists of complex words and definitions doing the rounds online, adopt a more strategic approach and the vocab portion of your test won’t appear nearly as daunting.

Leonard Haggin

I created this site to help students like you learn from the experiences my team had learned during our extensive academic careers. I am now studying Law at Stanford, but I also make time to write articles here in order to help all you fellow students advance in your academic careers and beyond. I hope our efforts on Study Prep Lounge will arm you with the knowledge you need to overcome whatever trial or test you find in front of you.

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