The SAT: Language of the Test, List 1

How can you perform well on the new reading section of the SAT if you don’t fully understand the language being used in the directions and in the questions? Learn this list of 25 words that are based on our analysis of the words likely to appear in question stems, answer options, and test directions.

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definitions & notes only words
  1. context
    discourse that surrounds and helps explain a word or passage
    Context is king on the new SAT! On the Reading Test, context refers to the surrounding textual "environment" where something (usually a word or phrase) is found. For example, you will only be asked for a word's meaning in the context of a particular passage. That means you should not rely on any prior association with that word when you answer a vocab question; instead, you need to figure out what the word means in the particular sentence or context as it is used on the test.
  2. argument
    an assertion offered as evidence that something is true
    Argument is the name of the game on the new SAT. In the case of the new SAT, an argument is a reading passage (with or without an informational graphic) that advances a claim and supports that claim with evidence.
  3. claim
    an assertion that something is true or factual
    Claim has many meanings but if you spot it on the SAT, it will most likely refer to an argument's main point — what the writer is trying to persuade you to believe. There could be more than one claim in an argument, but the reading passages on the SAT will most likely have one central (or main) claim that is supported by different types of evidence.
  4. counterargument
    an opinion offered in opposition to another position
    When a writer builds an argument, he or she may include a counterargument to show how others may view the issue differently. Then, the writer shoots down the counterargument to show you how superior his or her point of view is. For example, if you are arguing for year-round school, you may include a counterargument about how others think summer vacation is important. Then, you could refute that counterargument by explaining that many teenagers get in trouble over summer break.
  5. evidence
    means by which an alleged matter is established or disproved
    Evidence is not just the stuff you collect at a crime scene. On the SAT Reading Test, textual evidence is what supports an argument's central claim. It could take the form of examples, stats, facts, etc. Sometimes you will answer a question, and the next question will ask you to identify the evidence that led you to that previous conclusion or answer.
  6. rhetorical
    relating to using language effectively
    A rhetorical effect is achieved through the artful use of language. You will read persuasive arguments on the new SAT which will most likely be chock full of persuasive rhetoric. It will be your job to identify those examples and how they affect the reader. For example, Obama employed the rhetorical device of alliteration when he said, "They have served tour after tour of duty in distant, different, and difficult places..." in reference to the American armed forces.
  7. appeal
    earnest or urgent request
    On the SAT, the word appeal refers to a rhetorical appeal. Since the SAT prioritizes persuasive arguments, you may be asked to identify what types of appeals a writer has used in a passage. For example, a writer might pull on your heartstrings with the rhetorical appeal of pathos.
  8. data
    a collection of facts from which conclusions may be drawn
    Data usually refers to numbers. On the new SAT, you are most likely going to have to interpret data in the form of some type of informational graphic (e.g., a graph, a table, or a chart).
  9. graph
    a visual representation of the relations between quantities
    Not to be confusing, but a graph is a type of informational graphic you may see on the new SAT. It could be a line graph or a bar graph, or even a pie chart. Regardless of the type of graph, you will be asked to interpret it and probably have to determine how it relates to a corresponding reading passage.
  10. table
    a set of data arranged in rows and columns
    We're not talking furniture here. On the SAT, you will be expected to interpret tables of data — that means a set of facts or numbers most likely displayed in columns and rows. Think of the tables you have to complete when writing a lab report; that's the type of table you will most likely need to make sense of on the SAT.
  11. author
    a person who writes professionally
    An author is a writer, and you will spend most of your time on the Reading section of the SAT trying to figure out what messages different authors are trying to express through their writing. Be careful not to confuse an author with a narrator. A narrator is someone who is telling a story. So, an author can create a fictional narrator to tell a story. For example, J.D. Salinger was an author who created the fictional narrator Holden Caulfield to tell his story in The Catcher in the Rye.
  12. narrator
    someone who tells a story
    A narrator is the one telling a story. Jane Eyre is the fictional narrator of the novel Jane Eyre, but she didn't write it. Charlotte Brontë was the author of Jane Eyre; she is the one who put pen to paper. Beware: don't confuse a narrator with an author on the SAT.
  13. perspective
    a way of regarding situations or topics
    Your perspective is your point of view; it's how you see something. On the SAT Reading Test, you may be asked to interpret a writer's perspective (or a narrator's perspective) on an issue.
  14. explicit
    precisely and clearly expressed or readily observable
    Explicit points are made directly; you won't have to read between the lines to find them in a reading passage. If an SAT question asks you about what a writer has explicitly stated, you better head back to the passage to find it. It will be right there in front of you. Explicit is the opposite of implicit, meaning "implied."
  15. implicit
    suggested though not directly expressed
    Can you see the word imply in the word implicit? That can help you remember that implicit is an adjective to describe something that is not directly (or explicitly) stated. On the SAT, you will be continuously trying to figure out the writers' implicit messages.
  16. allude
    make an indirect reference to
    Answering reading comprehension questions often requires you to try to figure out what an author really means, even if he or she is not directly stating it. You may see the word allude used on the SAT, to connect an author with some indirect reference he or she has made. For example, an author might refer to the "flood to end all floods" as a way to allude to the flood in the Book of Genesis. The author doesn't directly mention the Bible story, but he or she is alluding to it.
  17. imply
    express or state indirectly
    To imply something is to hint at it, without directly stating it. On the SAT Reading Test, you will be asked to figure out what a passage implies. In order to answer such a question, you will have to make inferences based on the clues the writer has provided you. Think of yourself as a textual detective!
  18. infer
    conclude by reasoning
    Don't confuse infer and imply. When you are asked to infer on the SAT, you are interpreting what a writer has implied or hinted at "in between the lines." The idea, conclusion, or meaning that you infer is called an inference.
  19. foreshadow
    indicate by signs
    To foreshadow is to hint at something beforehand. For example, an author might foreshadow a tragedy in a work of fiction by describing dark storm clouds gathering before the event. On the SAT, you may be asked to identify an example of foreshadowing or the event being foreshadowed.
  20. hypothesis
    a tentative insight that is not yet verified or tested
    Since the SAT Reading Test will include science passages, you better learn that a hypothesis is a theory or idea that you test through an experiment. For example, you might have to read about an experiment and identify the main hypothesis and how evidence either supported or refuted that hypothesis.
  21. capture
    succeed in representing or expressing something intangible
    When you capture an idea, you describe it really well. On the SAT, you'll have to answer questions that may ask you to choose the best answer option that captures an author's point. This word is used like other words you may see on the SAT, like characterize and describe.
  22. characterize
    describe or portray the qualities or peculiarities of
    Even though you can see the word character inside characterize, this verb does not just apply to how an author describes or builds a fictional character. A writer could characterize anything — for example, the 1920s were characterized by many writers as a time of decadence.
  23. item
    a distinct part that can be specified separately in a group
    As weird as it may sound, an item on the SAT is a question. So, when the College Board tells you that you may want to review "the sample items," they really mean the sample questions. Go figure.
  24. summarize
    present the main points in a concise form
    To summarize is to retell something without interpreting it. You may be asked to identify the best summary of a reading passage on the SAT. In that case, choose the statement which captures or summarizes the main points of the passage "in a nutshell."
  25. analyze
    break down into components or essential features
    When you are asked to analyze a reading passage on the SAT, you are doing more than just trying to figure out what it is saying on the surface level. Analysis requires figuring out how the different parts of the passage relate to its overall message and its effects on the reader.
Created on December 2, 2015 (updated February 8, 2021)

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