The New SAT: Language of the Test - List #2

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. purpose
    an anticipated outcome that guides your planned actions
    The word purpose shows up often on the Reading Test of the SAT. When you are being asked about purpose, you are trying to get inside a writer's head — trying to figure out why he or she made certain decisions during the writing process. You are sometimes asked to identify a reading passage's overall purpose, or you could also be asked about the purpose of a single paragraph or instance of word choice.
  2. focus
    special emphasis attached to something
    Think of a magnifying glass enlarging an image. That's what a writer does for a reader when he or she focuses on a particular idea; that idea becomes dominant. On the SAT, the word focus could be used in a question or in an answer. A question could begin, "Over the course of the passage, the main focus of the narrative shifts from..." Then, your job would be to figure out how the focus changed in the passage.
  3. central
    serving as an essential component
    You will most likely see the word central before the word claim on the new SAT. Central in this context means "main." If you are asked to identify an argument's central claim, then you are trying to figure out the main point the writer is trying to get across.
  4. point of view
    a mental position from which things are perceived
    If you flip point of view around and take out of, you get viewpoint. Your point of view is your viewpoint, your perspective, the way you see things either physically or mentally. On the SAT, if you encounter the term point of view, it will most likely refer to a writer's mental stance on an issue. In an argument, the writer's point of view is usually evident in the central claim.
  5. emphasize
    stress or single out as important
    To emphasize is to stress or call attention to something. Writers are always trying to emphasize certain ideas, so this word could show up often in answer choices in Reading Test questions on the SAT. Why does a writer use rhetorical devices? To EMPHASIZE, of course! (The hard part is trying to figure out WHAT they are emphasizing.)
  6. highlight
    move into the foreground to make more visible or prominent
    To highlight is to emphasize. Think of when you use a highlighter to make certain words stand out in color. Writers highlight ideas without highlighters; they use language. On the SAT, you may be asked a question like "The main purpose of the passage is to..." and an answer option could begin, "to highlight..." Those crafty SAT writers have to come up with multiple ways to say the same thing: highlight, emphasize, stress, underscore, etc.
  7. underscore
    give extra weight to
    To underscore something is to give it emphasis, a little extra oomph. Think about underlining something that you are reading because you want it to stand out. Authors underscore ideas by using strong word choice or rhetorical devices. This word has a lot in common with highlight; you may see either or both of these words on the SAT — used to refer to how an author makes certain ideas stand out in a passage.
  8. adapt
    make fit for, or change to suit a new purpose
    When you adapt a text, you change or tweak it in some way. You may see the word adapted in SAT reading directions to let you know that what you are about to read has been adapted from an original text. Just remember that you are not expected to know anything about the original form of the text; you are only being tested on your analysis of the adapted reading passage on the exam.
  9. validate
    give evidence for
    When you support the truth or value of something, you validate it. On the SAT, you may see that one passage validates an idea asserted in another passage. Or you may read about a scientific experiment that validates a particular principle. Validating is the name of the game when you are trying to prove a point.
  10. address
    direct one's efforts towards something, such as a question
    Although the word address might make you think of your street address, when you see address on the SAT, it is most likely referring to the verb meaning to address a topic or issue. For example, a reading passage may address the significance of pollution on the environment. It's a formal way of saying the reading passage is "about" the particular topic.
  11. refer
    make a remark that calls attention to
    On the SAT Reading Test, you'll see refer a lot, especially in questions that read, "The author refers to x primarily to suggest..." In this context refers to is a more formal way to say "brings up." You might also see the noun form reference used in a similar way (e.g., The author's reference to x ...).
  12. cite
    refer to for illustration or proof
    The verb cite has nothing to do with the nouns sight or site. When you cite something, you are giving credit where credit is due in a piece of writing. You can cite a source formally with a citation (like you would in a research paper) or you can informally cite something as you refer to it in a piece of writing. An SAT Reading question could begin, "Which choice does the author explicitly cite as...." In this case, head back to the passage to find the direct reference.
  13. tone
    a quality that reveals the attitudes of the author
    Tone refers to an author's attitude or point of view toward his or her subject. A line, paragraph, or an entire passage could be described as communicating a gloomy tone, an optimistic tone, a playful tone, a critical tone, etc. You get the idea. We think that tone is such an important concept on the Reading Test of the SAT, we created a whole other series of word lists that are dedicated to teaching words commonly used to describe tone!
  14. character
    an imaginary person represented in a work of fiction
    The word character is so important, we decided to put it in twice — one for each meaning that you will most likely see on the SAT. You may see the word being used to indicate a fictional character in a reading passage. When you read the one passage from U.S. or world literature on the new SAT, be on the lookout for this type of character.
  15. suggest
    imply as a possibility
    When you see the word suggest on the Reading Test, it means to imply or to indirectly say something. You'll see this word a lot, most often used in questions about what a passage or author most strongly suggests. However, you could also be asked to figure out what a graphic suggests or even an example of word choice.
  16. suggestion
    an idea that is proposed
    Suggestion is the noun form of the verb suggest. When you see it used on the Reading Test, it's just another way to refer to something an author has asserted, either directly or indirectly. It will most likely refer to one of many ideas being suggested in a passage, probably not the primary claim of an argument.
  17. reinforce
    make stronger
    To reinforce is to make stronger. On the SAT, if you see the word reinforce, it will most likely be referring to supporting (or making stronger) an idea. For example, you could be asked why a writer uses a lot of repetition in an argument, and the answer option might state that the writer uses repetition to reinforce a particular call to action.
  18. restate
    to say or perform again
    When you restate something, you say or write it again. However, sometimes on the Reading Test, you may see the word used more loosely: to indicate repeating an idea but not by using the exact same words. For example, a passage could restate an idea in different terms.
  19. develop
    elaborate, as of theories and hypotheses
    When you see the word develop on the SAT Reading Test, it usually has to do with developing ideas throughout a piece of writing. A writer cannot usually make his or her case in one sentence; it usually requires the development of ideas throughout multiple paragraphs. That's the art of building an argument!
  20. convey
    serve as a means for expressing something
    To convey is to communicate, either directly or indirectly. Since the SAT Reading Test is always asking you to figure out what a writer is trying to say, the test writers use a variety of words to capture the idea of communicating. There are subtle differences among these verbs, but they all have to do with getting your point across. A question stem might ask "What is the rhetorical effect of the phrase 'XYZ'?" And one of the answer options could begin: "To convey..."
  21. advance
    cause to move forward
    On the SAT, you may see the phrase "to advance a point" or "to advance a claim." This is a formal way of saying that the writer is developing or pushing that idea forward. Think of advancing an idea as giving it a little extra push so that readers will be sure to notice it.
  22. elaborate
    add details, as to an account or idea
    You are more likely to see the verb elaborate on the SAT than the adjective elaborate. The adjective means intricate, like an elaborate plot, but the verb to elaborate has to do with fleshing out ideas. Your English teacher might ask you to elaborate if you make an undeveloped point in an essay. On the SAT, you could be asked about the relationship between two passages and an answer option could read, "The second passage elaborates on the ideas of the first."
  23. comparison
    the act of examining resemblances
    A comparison is putting things together to see how they are similar, or different. On the SAT, you may be asked to try to figure out why a writer makes a comparison between two unlike things (like in a metaphor). For example, a question could read, "What is the effect of the comparison between the teacher and the witch in paragraph 6?"
  24. contrast
    put in opposition to show or emphasize differences
    To contrast two things is to point out or emphasize how they are different. You will most likely see the word contrast in answer choices on the Reading Test of the SAT. The question will most likely address an author's purpose, and one of the answer choices could say the author was out to contrast x vs. y. Contrast is an ideal word to come up in questions addressing pairs of reading passages.
  25. character
    attributes that determine one's moral and ethical actions
    The other meaning of character has to do with the moral fiber that makes you...well, you. On the SAT, you may see a question like "The description of Jimmy in the second paragraph mainly serves to..." and an answer option could read, "provide insight into his character." Character in this context means "nature."
Created on December 7, 2015 (updated December 22, 2020)

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