The New SAT: Language of the Test - List #5

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. similar
    having the same or nearly the same characteristics
    Use similar when you are comparing two things and one is the same or almost the same as the other. Finding the properties that two things have in common is a task that comes up often on the SAT. A good way to start looking for similarities is to look for words that mean the same thing, synonyms, in the descriptions. If the words describing them are similar, there's a good chance the things themselves will be similar also.
  2. option
    one of a number of things from which only one can be chosen
    When you have to choose between several things, we say that you have a bunch of options. Having options means having the freedom to pick one or the other. On the SAT, option is a word that will show up in the directions a lot. Of course, the multiple choice questions contain several options and you have to choose one of them as an answer.
  3. reveal
    make known to the public information previously kept secret
    When you reveal something, you make known something that was being kept secret. If you break into your sister's locked diary and post what you find on the internet, you've revealed her thoughts to the world. Reveal can also mean discovering something not known until now, like a scientific breakthrough. On the SAT reveal can be used as a synonym for show. Asking what part of a graph reveals is the same as asking what that part of the graph shows.
  4. examine
    consider in detail in order to discover essential features
    To carry out an in-depth discussion of something is to examine it in detail. To use the word examine is to imply that your look into a topic is careful and covers all the bases. The SAT can ask you to recognize the difference between something being examined in detail and when it is just being briefly addressed by an author. Other words related to examine include: study, investigate, and analyze.
  5. counter
    speak in response
    When you see the word counter as a verb on the SAT, don't think about the place in your kitchen where you cut a sandwich in two! To counter someone is to disagree with someone, to make an opposing point. You will most likely see this word used in an SAT answer choice, as a way to show how an author has made a statement to counter (or disagree with) another point of view about an issue.
  6. propose
    present for consideration, examination, or criticism
    This isn't about asking someone to marry you. To propose is to suggest an idea. Propose isn't as strong as assert or contend. If assert or contend are jumping into the pool, propose is dipping your toe in the water. You propose something when you have an idea you're not sure of and you are testing it out. On the SAT, you may see propose as a part of scientific research. You may read a science passage in which a scientist proposes a hypothesis.
  7. narrative
    an account that tells the particulars of an act or event
    The narrative is the story being told. All the elements of a story (e.g., the setting, the plot, the characters, etc.) make up a narrative. Narratives can also be smaller, like the story-within-the story. Narrative is a general term and on the SAT when it is used, you will most likely be asked to answer a question about big narrative shifts in a reading passage. The passage itself may be a literary narrative or you could encounter a short illustrative narrative within an argument.
  8. graphic
    a visual image
    Graphics are the images that go along with some of the reading passages on the SAT. They can be graphs of several kinds, or illustrations, but they are items primarily using images to get their point across or to display data. Graphic is a word that will often show up in the directions to a section (i.e., "After reading each passage or pair, choose the best answer to each question based on what is stated or implied in the passage or passages and in any accompanying graphics.")
  9. expose
    show; make visible or apparent
    To expose is to reveal something that has been hidden. A synonym for this definition of expose is reveal. On the SAT, you might interpret an author's purpose as exposing some truth to his or her reader. Expose can also mean to introduce something, as in "their environment was unfortunately exposed to toxic chemicals."
  10. contend
    maintain or assert
    Remember: doing well on the SAT Reading Test will require you to determine what various authors are trying to "say." However, question writers will not use the verb say; instead, they will use lots of other verbs like claim, assert, and contend. When you contend, you are not hinting at something; you are more aggressively claiming something to be true. They often call boxers contenders and that kind of battle is what the verb contend brings to mind.
  11. provide
    give something useful or necessary to
    Provide is really a fancy way to say supply or give, and it shows up constantly in both the questions and in the answer choices of the SAT. A question may read, "Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?" or an answer to a question on author's purpose may begin, "To provide support for..." As you can see, provide is often the verb of choice on the SAT.
  12. tend
    have a disposition to do or be something; be inclined
    Tend is a word involved in discussions of what a person or some thing is most likely to do. Just like most likely, tend is used often by SAT question writers because they know that you may not know something definitively but they still expect you to infer what an author or character would tend to think or do. Questions can ask you to generalize about an author's perspective or about a person in the passage using what you have read as a starting point.
  13. evaluate
    estimate the nature, quality, ability or significance of
    To evaluate something is to give a subjective assessment of that thing. On the SAT, you will be asked to interpret and to sometimes evaluate writing. For example, if you choose to write the SAT essay, you may interpret an example of word choice in an argument, explaining what it means. Then, you may decide to go one step further — to evaluate the expression as being effective or not effective in supporting the argument's claim.
  14. concept
    an abstract or general idea inferred from specific instances
    The SAT can ask you to tell the difference between the general and the specific, and a concept is a general idea apart from specific examples. Your particular sandwich may have turkey on it one day or tuna fish on it another day, but the concept of a sandwich is food between pieces of bread. Examples are important, but when you are talking concepts, you are talking what those examples have in common. Words related to concept include idea and essence.
  15. dispute
    take exception to
    A dispute can be a disagreement or a fight, but it is also used on the SAT as a verb meaning "to reject or take exception to." To effectively dispute a claim, you should have evidence on your side that supports your stance or perspective on an issue. To dispute something is to go against it, to act in opposition to it. On the SAT the presence of dispute indicates a difference of opinion, and other words that do this include: refute, oppose, and diverge.
  16. determine
    find out or learn with certainty, as by making an inquiry
    To determine something is to figure it out. On the SAT, the word determine may show up in question stems or in answer options, since many of the reading passages will involve logical arguments where evidence is used to determine something. Determine usually implies something objective, not subjective. In other words, you don't "determine your feelings" about something. It's usually a fact you would determine. For example, you can use a thermometer to determine your temperature.
  17. intention
    an anticipated outcome that guides your planned actions
    An intention is the result you mean to happen from an action you take. On the SAT, you my be asked to interpret the intention of a certain character (which you can infer from their actions and their attitudes about what they are doing). Other words that are related to intention are purpose and reason.
  18. indicate
    give evidence of
    To indicate is to give a sign of something occuring. Large dark clouds can indicate that a rainstorm will start soon. An SAT question with indicate is asking you what something means, what it points to, or stands for. Words related to indicate include: signify, mean, and imply.
  19. discuss
    to consider or examine in speech or writing
    You may think that two people are needed to discuss something, but there is another use of the verb discuss. This discuss means to address or examine a topic, and you can do that alone. To discuss is to look at a topic thoroughly in writing or speech. In the world of the SAT, an author hasn't written about a topic, they have discussed it. Other words related to discuss include: examine, dissect, and elaborate on.
  20. discussion
    an extended communication dealing with a particular topic
    This use of discussion refers to an author's writing about a topic, particularly in the SAT reading passages. Let's say the passage is about many kinds of sea creatures. Using a phrase like "the discussion of dolphins" in the question is a way to indicate the current topic and where in the passage one should look for help in answering the question.
  21. abstract
    not representing or imitating external reality
    The word abstract comes up a lot in academic language that you may encounter on the SAT. It can be used as an adjective to describe a concept or idea — like innocence or envy — or it can be used as a noun to refer to a short summary of an academic or scientific article. A good way to remember the adjective meaning is to think of abstract art where a splash of paint may represent an emotion, and then contrast that with a realistic painting — like Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa.
  22. previous
    just preceding something else in time or order
    Previous means "just before." On the SAT, instructions often include the phrase "previous question." This means the instructions are telling you to look at the question right before this one to help with the question you are now answering. Most likely, you will have to use some decisions you made in answering the last question to help you choose the answer to the question you are thinking about now.
  23. accomplish
    achieve with effort
    When you accomplish something, you achieve it. A question on the ACT Reading Test might ask you how an author accomplishes his or her purpose. This word is related to accomplishments, or things that you have achieved in your life.
  24. vary
    be subject to change
    When something doesn't stay the same, we say that it varies. To vary is to change. Vary is used on the SAT during discussions of experiments, where scientists try to limit what varies to one thing — the variable they are testing.
  25. assumption
    a statement that is held to be true
    An assumption is something taken to be true, a belief. Sometimes assumptions are stated by an author and sometimes you have to infer them. On the SAT, you could be asked a question like, "An unstated assumption made by the author about x is..." Or, you may have to choose a statement that "best captures" an author's central assumption. As you can see, the SAT will most likely require you to infer assumptions.
Created on December 7, 2015 (updated December 22, 2020)

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