The New SAT: Language of the Test - List #6

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. mimic
    imitate, especially for satirical effect
    To mimic is to imitate, and you may see these words used interchangeably on the SAT. Mimic could also be used to describe similarities between things, events, or results. If one species acts just like another under a given set of circumstances, you might say that the species mimic each other in their behavior.
  2. distinct
    not alike; different in nature or quality
    To be distinct is to be separate or different from something else. When you move out of the room you shared with your little brother, it is usually because you want your own distinct space. On the SAT, you will be asked to identify when things are distinct from one another and often asked to choose a reason why that difference is so clear.
  3. interpret
    make sense of; assign a meaning to
    When you decide what something means, you interpret it. On the SAT, you may read a science passage where a scientist interprets the results of an experiment, and you may have to identify the evidence that led the scientist to his interpretation. Or, you may be asked to choose, from several interpretations, which particular one makes the most sense based on the reading passage.
  4. establish
    set up or lay the groundwork for
    When you establish something in writing, you make it clear. The word establish will come up often in answer options for questions regarding a passage's purpose. For example: Why did the author use we? Possible answer: to establish a sense of togetherness. A writer can establish tone, perspective, facts, etc. You name it. Using the word establish in this sense almost means "accomplish."
  5. trait
    a distinguishing feature of your personal nature
    Any detail or feature of something can be called a trait. Traits are things that separate, or distinguish, one thing from another, and objects or animals can also be grouped by traits they have in common. The SAT may ask you to keep track of traits that things have in common or traits that distinguish things from one another over the course of a reading passage.
  6. theory
    a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the world
    A theory is an explanation. It should include evidence and be backed by an authority. Scientific theories develop from careful observation and testing over the course of years by different people. On the SAT, it can be important to recognize when something is just a single thought and when something has grown into a detailed theory. The word theory can be used non-scientifically too; it can mean just an explanation that doesn't have to be confirmed by any outside source.
  7. development
    a process in which something passes to a different stage
    The word development on the SAT will most likely refer to the development of ideas throughout a reading passage. In other words, an author may not be able to persuade you of his or her opinion in one sentence. Instead, he or she builds or develops an argument through logical reasoning and evidence. Tracing that development of ideas will be a large part of your work on the Reading Test.
  8. favor
    promote or prefer over another
    The verb favor means to prefer something, to like one thing more than another. A good way to remember this meaning of favor is that it makes up most of the word favorite (think of favoring as choosing your favorite). On the SAT, the verb favor is often used to express an author's or character's preference for something. Or, you may also read that an author or character rejects one thing "in favor of" something else.
  9. influence
    have and exert an effect
    Influence means "to have an effect on." Influence is a word that pops up on the SAT when they want to draw your attention to how one thing acts upon another. For example, What is the influence of A on B? Does A strengthen the effect of B or does A weaken the effect of B? Since influence is a general word to describe all kinds of interactions, so you may see it used a lot.
  10. accompanying
    occurring at the same time, along with, or as a consequence
    The adjective accompanying refers to going along with, or being a part of something. On the SAT Reading Test, graphics (tables, graphs, etc.) will accompany some reading passages, and the questions on those passages will address both the text and the accompanying graphics.
  11. function
    what something is used for
    In reading passages on the SAT, it is important to be able to describe the function (or purpose) a certain paragraph serves in the passage as a whole. For example, the paragraph may provide support for the main claim of the argument, or it may provide a counterargument to be later refuted. The word function often pops up in question stems like the following: "What function does the discussion of x serve in Passage 2?"
  12. significant
    important in effect or meaning
    Something significant is important or meaningful. It's a word to cue to take notice. On the SAT, if you see the word significant, you should consider why the word was used. You may be told that a scientist's findings are significant and then it will be your job to determine why — based on evidence from the reading passage.
  13. hypothetical
    based primarily on surmise rather than adequate evidence
    When something is hypothetical, it is not real or hasn't actually happened. The opposite of hypothetical is empirical, meaning real and testable by science. Because some of the SAT reading passages deal with science, it's a good idea to keep track of things that are empirical and things that are just theoretical, or hypothetical.
  14. principle
    a basic generalization that is accepted as true
    A principle is a statement that is accepted as true and used for a purpose, sometimes to make an argument more convincing. The SAT may ask you to identify general principles as opposed to details that only apply in one case. The word principle may come up in reference to a science reading passage, where the reader is asked to interpret how an author uses scientific principles to support a particular claim.
  15. stance
    a rationalized mental attitude
    A stance is an attitude or a position on an issue of some kind. Stances can be political or personal. On the SAT, it is important to be able to identify the stances, or opinions, expressed in various reading passages. Often you will encounter two different stances on one issue — expressed in the same reading or in a pair of reading passages. It is your job to sort out which stance is whose, and to be able to pinpoint the evidence supporting each stance.
  16. mention
    make reference to
    To mention is to reference or bring up something. When you mention something, you won't necessarily be going into great detail, but you are talking about it. Mention may be found in questions when the SAT is asking why something was mentioned. Why did the author choose to mention that? Is it an example that proves a point? Knowing the answer to why something was mentioned can be very helpful when answering questions on the reading passages.
  17. evoke
    call forth, as an emotion, feeling, or response
    Evoke means "to call to mind" and is often used when something triggers an emotional response in a person. When something is evoked, it is brought to the forefront of the reader's mind or emotions. On the SAT, a certain example of word choice may evoke a particular emotion in the reader, and it may be your job to identify that emotion. Some words related to evoke include: remind, stir, awaken, and kindle.
  18. pattern
    a perceptual structure
    On the SAT, you will be asked to find patterns: patterns in the way an argument develops, or in the types of evidence supporting a claim. A pattern of evidence can start with quotes from experts and end with the author's own experiment. The next time this author writes an article, he or she may use that same pattern again. You may even be asked a question such as, "Which choice best describes the developmental pattern of the passage?"
  19. supplementary
    functioning in a supporting capacity
    When we call something supplementary, we mean it is playing a supporting role. Supplementary evidence goes along with the main piece of evidence but it is not the star of the show. On the SAT, there are reading passages that use graphs or other visual aides for one or two questions and these are called supplementary materials, because you are going to use them in addition to the reading passage, which would be the main attraction, to answer the questions.
  20. portray
    depict in words
    To portray is to describe using words, in writing or verbally. To portray someone is to describe them in such a way that the reader is left with a general sense based on specific incidents or details. On the SAT, you may be asked to find the right words to describe how an author has portrayed one of their characters. Portray is similar to other words that refer to writing, including depict and describe.
  21. possess
    have as an attribute, knowledge, or skill
    Possess is a fancy way to say have. Have is often used for things that you can physically hold, like: "I have ten dollars in my wallet." On the SAT, you'll most likely see possess being used to describe people having non-physical qualities — like possessing an ability or possessing knowledge.
  22. empirical
    derived from experiment and observation rather than theory
    Empirical means "based on fact, observation, and testing." Its opposite is theoretical (which means "thought about but not real or tested"). These are scientific words you may see on the SAT in reference to the science-based passages. If something is without empirical support, it means it is not a fact (yet).
  23. symbolic
    serving as a visible sign for something abstract
    A flag is a piece of cloth, but to people who respect it, it is symbolic of so much more: it means freedom and hope. Symbolic language is the use of one thing (a symbol) to stand for something else (usually an abstract concept). On the SAT, symbolic language occurs most often in the fiction passages. You may be asked to say what a given item is symbolic of in a narrative reading passage.
  24. substantiate
    establish or strengthen as with new evidence or facts
    When you back a statement up with evidence, you substantiate your claim. Reading passages can be filled with claims, some of which will be substantiated with evidence and some of which will not be, and the SAT questions can ask you to tell the difference and to identify the statements that serve to substantiate a certain claim.
  25. figurative
    not literal
    To speak figuratively is to replace the strict meaning of a word or passage with a metaphorical meaning. For example, a path could figuratively represent an important choice in your life. The opposite of figurative is literal, where you would be talking about a real path. On the SAT, you may have to recognize figurative language and what it represents.
Created on December 7, 2015 (updated December 18, 2020)

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