SAT words can be intimidating to some first-time test-takers, especially if you do not consider yourself a strong reader or someone with a large vocabulary. But fear not. Even though a vocabulary list is not something you can bring to the SAT with you, it is not necessary to memorize a huge list of high-level SAT words to succeed. Broadening your general vocabulary is an advantage for the test, and you should work some vocabulary development into your SAT schedule to achieve a high score on the test. In this blog, we’ll look at what you need to know about SAT words, how to improve your SAT vocabulary and some practice questions to test your knowledge of common SAT words!

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SAT Words: What You Need to Know SAT Words: Strategies to Improve Your Vocabulary SAT Words: Practice Passages and Questions FAQs

SAT Words: What You Need to Know

Many students wonder what SAT words they need to know for the test and whether they need to memorize a list of high-level vocabulary to get a good SAT score.

The truth is, you will NOT need to memorize a huge list of SAT words for the test, and there are no SAT questions that will directly ask you for the correct definition of a word.

That being said, it is still a good strategy to expand your vocabulary while you study for the SAT. Having a strong vocabulary will help you achieve a better score on the test and make the overall testing experience easier for you. The SAT relies heavily on your reading comprehension and understanding of complex text passages, particularly in the Scholastic Aptitude Test Reading and Scholastic Aptitude Test Writing & Language tests.

The passages on the SAT use college-level vocabulary and more high-utility words you might expect to see in college readings or assignments. In a sense, the SAT words are preparing you for college-level work so you can better understand words in context. So, by learning some of the SAT vocabulary and expanding your knowledge of higher-level words you can not only prepare for the exam but get ready to tackle the academic challenges in college.

While you don’t need to memorize any SAT words and it’s not the single most important study strategy you need, it is a good idea to review words that commonly appear on the SAT and learn their meaning. By expanding your knowledge of college-level vocabulary you’ll better understand the passages you read on the SAT, leading to a higher likelihood of identifying the correct answer and finding it faster. Especially on the SAT Reading and Writing test.

SAT Words: the Reading and Writing Tests

Knowing some of the common SAT words comes in handy on the SAT Reading and Writing test. In recent years, the SAT underwent a redesign, meaning that vocabulary has become a less important part of the test and memorization of definitions is no longer necessary.

The SAT Reading and SAT Writing tests will only have a few “vocabulary” related questions. There are two general types of questions that will require you to have a solid understanding of SAT words:

  1. Understanding Words in Context (SAT Reading): These questions ask you to identify the meaning of a word based on context clues within the text passage. You won’t need to know the exact definition. Other questions may ask you to conclude how a certain choice of word changes the meaning or tone of a sentence.
  2. Effective Language Use (SAT Writing & Language): These questions focus on precision of word choice and eliminating wordiness or ineffective language. You might be asked to choose a better word to use in place of another to create a better sentence or achieve a particular effect.

These questions types are the primary types where a heightened vocabulary will be most important. However, a better vocabulary will make the entirety of the SAT Reading and Writing tests easier for you, since you’ll have a more nuanced understanding of the test passages.

Note that the Digital SAT combines both the SAT Reading and SAT Writing tests, but these two question types will still appear on the new version of the test! All of the SAT words are tested in the context of the reading passages, so you will not need to know the exact definition of a word. You’ll be able to use context clues within the text passage to identify the meaning and intent of a word.

On the Digital SAT, the two question types you’ll need to flex your understanding of SAT words are:

  1. Craft and Structure: These questions evaluate your ability to understand and use high-utility SAT words in the context of a passage, make connections between a pair of passages or analyze the rhetorical effect of a word or sentence.
  2. Expression of Ideas: These questions also ask you to revise a sentence or word choice to improve the written expression of a sentence or to achieve a rhetorical effect.

List of Common SAT Words

Here’s a list of some of the common SAT words you can expect, and their definitions. This list will get you started on expanding your vocabulary for the SAT!

  • Aberration: A deviation from what is normal, expected, or typical.
  • Benevolent: Showing kindness, generosity, and goodwill.
  • Capitulate: To surrender, give in, or yield, often after a struggle or resistance.
  • Debilitate: To weaken or make feeble, often by causing physical or mental impairment.
  • Esoteric: Intended for or understood by only a small, specialized group; obscure or mysterious.
  • Felicitous: Well-suited, apt, or pleasing in manner or expression.
  • Garrulous: Excessively talkative, especially on trivial or unimportant matters.
  • Haughty: Arrogantly proud, disdainful, or snobbish.
  • Ineffable: Too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words; beyond description.
  • Juxtapose: To place or deal with two or more things in close proximity for contrasting effect.
  • Kindle: To ignite or light something, often in a literal or metaphorical sense.
  • Lethargic: Feeling drowsy, sluggish, or lacking in energy and enthusiasm.
  • Malleable: Capable of being shaped, bent, or molded without breaking or cracking.
  • Nefarious: Extremely wicked, villainous, or criminal in nature.
  • Obfuscate: To render unclear, confusing, or difficult to understand, often with the intent to deceive.
  • Paragon: A person or thing regarded as a perfect example of a particular quality.
  • Querulous: Complaining or whining in a petulant or fretful manner.
  • Reticent: Inclined to keep one's thoughts, feelings, or personal affairs to oneself; reserved or reluctant to speak.
  • Sycophant: A person who acts obsequiously toward someone important in order to gain an advantage; a flatterer or yes-man.
  • Trepidation: A feeling of fear, anxiety, or nervous uncertainty about something that may happen.
  • Ubiquitous: Present, appearing, or found everywhere; widespread.
  • Vehement: Showing strong feeling or passion; fervent or forceful in expression.
  • Wane: To decrease in size, power, or intensity; to become weaker or less important.
  • Xenophobia: A strong dislike or fear of people from other countries or cultures.

SAT Words: Strategies to Improve Your Vocabulary

Not knowing or understanding the meaning of an SAT word on the test can do more than just confuse you and cause you to spend too long on a single question. It might mean you miss a key piece of information in a passage and choose the wrong answer to a question. It’s important to flex your vocabulary, especially if you want to avoid letting questions stump you or you want to achieve a very high score.

Here are a few easy ways to improve your SAT vocabulary while you’re studying for the test:

#1 Read at a higher level

One of the easiest ways to build your vocabulary is simply to read more and read at a higher level. Many of the SAT words are commonly found in college-level reading materials, so start here. Find scientific articles, literary essays or classic novels, historical or political texts, even newspapers, scripts and screenplays that may have a more advanced vocabulary so you can learn new words in context.

#2 Quiz yourself

Create a quiz for yourself, ask a friend to quiz you or create some flashcards you can use to test your knowledge of SAT word definitions and meaning. You can also include synonyms and antonyms for these common words to enhance your understanding of them.

#3 Use words in context

While you’re reading or answering practice questions, break open a dictionary or your study notes and highlight any tough words or high-level vocabulary you see. Write down some synonyms or antonyms for these words to confirm you understand their intent and meaning. Try swapping in some synonyms in the sentence you’re reading to make sure it still makes sense. Use any new words you’ve discovered in context. For instance, write some sample sentences that use these words or use them in your everyday speech.

#4 Take practice tests

Taking some official SAT practice tests will give you an idea of what level of vocabulary to expect on the real thing. The official practice tests offered through the SAT are the best, as these are the closest simulation to the real one and will most accurately reflect the SAT words most often used. This way, you can see if there are any words you don’t know and what context they’re used in, as well as practice answering questions which test your vocabulary.

#5 Don’t forget about math terms

The SAT Math test will use mathematics concepts and terminology. While these aren’t necessarily SAT words, you still need to know what they mean so you understand what a question is asking and how to solve the problem at hand. Remember to review mathematics terminology and review what concepts are on the SAT Math test!

There are colleges that do not require the SAT! Here’s why you might be able to skip the test:

SAT Words: Practice Passages and Questions

Below we have some Reading SAT practice questions and Writing SAT practice questions that will test your knowledge of SAT words. Get started with these as you broaden your vocabulary! And don't forget to work some SAT math practice questions into your SAT prep!

SAT Words: SAT Reading Sample Passages and Questions - Understanding Words in Context:

Sample Passage and Question 1

Passage (from a nature exploration journal): In the heart of the expansive forest, the intrepid explorer was utterly captivated by the sylvan surroundings, where ancient trees stood tall, their weathered bark telling the stories of centuries, and a tapestry of wildflowers blanketed the forest floor. The sylvan landscape evoked a sense of enchantment, as if the very heart of the woods whispered secrets to those who ventured into its depths.

Sample Passage and Question 2

Passage (from a film critique): The film's intricate plot and Byzantine characters left the audience in sheer awe of the director's storytelling skills. The narrative unfolded like an enigmatic tapestry, woven with complex subplots and characters whose motivations were as convoluted as a labyrinth.

Sample Passage and Question 3

Passage (from a restaurant review): The chef's culinary creations were so delectable that they left patrons raving about the dining experience. Each dish was a masterpiece of flavors and presentation, a delightful journey for the taste buds.

Sample Passage and Question 4

Passage (from a nature documentary): As the thunderstorm approached, the ferocity of the elements made it feel like the very heavens were in cacophony. Thunder rumbled like an untamed beast, and lightning lashed out in a chaotic display, illuminating the night sky in blinding flashes.

Sample Passage and Question 5

Passage (from a scientific article): The scientist's groundbreaking discovery was nothing short of epochal, marking a new era in the field of physics. This wasn't just an ordinary breakthrough; it was a revolutionary leap that had the potential to transform our understanding of the universe.

SAT Words: SAT Writing Sample Passages and Questions - Effective Language Use

Sample Passage and Question 6

Passage (from a classic literary essay): In the realm of literature, a well-crafted narrative is often defined by its eloquence, the artful use of words to convey emotions, ideas, and imagery. Within the tapestry of storytelling, authors wield language with precision, creating vivid worlds that resonate with readers. The author's writing style is known for its eloquence, and the use of vivid imagery adds depth to the text.

Sample Passage and Question 7

Passage (from a historical essay): In the arena of political discourse, the power of cogent arguments cannot be underestimated. Throughout history, leaders and statesmen have relied on their ability to persuade and convince through the clarity and persuasiveness of their arguments. The director's cogent arguments in favor of the new film's plot convinced the producers to greenlight the project.

Sample Passage and Question 8

Passage (from a historical novel): In the pages of a historical novel, the mark of a truly skilled author lies in their ability to masterfully employ juxtaposition in narrative, enriching the storytelling with layers of meaning and emotion. Juxtaposition, in the realm of literature, doesn't merely signify placing two things side by side for comparison; it signifies a powerful narrative tool, a brushstroke that paints vivid contrasts and reveals deeper truths.

When we speak of juxtaposition in narrative, we delve into the art of weaving disparate elements into a coherent tapestry. The author deftly employs juxtaposition, intertwining the tales of characters from different eras, and by doing so, juxtaposes the past with the present. This creates a narrative of interwoven lives where moments of triumph and tragedy coexist, offering readers a unique opportunity to explore the depths of human experience.

Juxtaposition is the vehicle through which the past and present collide, where the joys and sorrows of distant ages come together in a narrative that transcends time itself. It's not just a narrative technique; it's a means to reflect on the human condition and the intricate interplay of history, memory, and destiny.

Sample Passage and Question 9

Passage (from a scientific research paper): In the world of scientific research, meticulous attention to detail is often the hallmark of groundbreaking discoveries. The process of discovery requires not only precision but also a level of meticulousness that ensures every variable is accounted for. The scientist's groundbreaking research required meticulous attention to detail, from the careful design of experiments to the scrupulous analysis of data. The results, presented in the research paper, were not a testament to the researcher's carelessness but rather a testament to the thoroughness of the study.

Sample Passage and Question 10

Passage (from a political essay): In the realm of politics, the decision-making process of a leader during a crisis is a defining factor in earning the trust of the public. Prudent leaders consider not only the immediate consequences of their actions but also the long-term effects on the welfare of the citizens they serve. The politician's prudent decision-making during the crisis earned the trust of the public, for it was not recklessness that guided their choices but wisdom and a careful consideration of potential outcomes and consequences.


1. What words are on the SAT?

The SAT doesn’t have a set list of SAT words, but it does use words commonly found in college-level reading and assignments. Certain words may appear on the SAT more often, depending on the context of the passages or questions.

2. How much vocabulary is needed for SAT?

The majority of the questions on the SAT do not test your knowledge of specific SAT words. Only a fraction of the questions on the SAT Reading and SAT Writing tests will require you to know the meaning of words in context or identify specific SAT words by their definition.

3. Should I memorize words for SAT?

No, it’s not necessary to memorize words for the SAT, but you should work on expanding your vocabulary and your understanding of high-utility words that may appear on the SAT.

4. What are the hardest SAT words?

The hardest SAT words may depend on your individual perception, but some of the trickiest SAT words you might see are, for example: acrimony, assiduous, capricious, diffident, garrulous, inimical, maudlin, obsequious, perfidious, quixotic, sacrosanct, etc.

5. How do I improve my vocabulary for SAT?

The best way to improve your vocabulary for the SAT is to simply read the same level of material that will appear on the real test, and practice with sample questions or practice tests to ensure you have a better understanding of the types of SAT questions and the level of reading required.

6. Are SAT words hard?

SAT words are not necessarily extremely difficult or vague, but they will be at the college-level vocabulary. Some words may be more obscure than others, but in general you will just see a more sophisticated use of language on the test. 

7. What is the hardest part of SAT?

The hardest test of the SAT may depend on the individual student. Some students struggle most with the Reading section while others may find the Math test the hardest. One of the things that can make the Reading and Writing test difficult for some is the high-level vocabulary of SAT words. Luckily, reading widely of the same kind of texts the SAT uses can help you improve your vocabulary.

8. Do SAT words change?

Yes, every SAT may have different SAT words, passages and questions. There is not set list of SAT words, although some commonly used words may come up more often than others. 

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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