The SAT: Words to Capture Tone, List 1

On the New SAT, all of the Reading Test questions are multiple choice and are based on reading passages that may be taken from literature, science, the social sciences, or a US founding document (or a text inspired by such a document). Many of the reading comprehension questions meant to assess a student’s understanding of those passages will require students to choose words that best describe the writer’s tone or point of view, words like the 25 words you see on this list. Learn them here so when you see them in an SAT answer choice, you’ll know what they mean!

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Explore the Words

definitions & notes only words
  1. optimistic
    hopeful that the best will happen in the future
    Physicists are optimistic the mystery will be sorted out soon with more data.Scientific American (Sep 9, 2015)
  2. pessimistic
    expecting the worst possible outcome
    “But lawyers are trained to always look for the worst-case scenario. They benefit more from being pessimistic, and that takes a toll.”New York Times (May 12, 2015)
  3. neutral
    having no personal preference
    If I have strong views, I’m probably not going to be a good editor: it’s hard for me to write in a neutral way.”The Guardian (Sep 6, 2015)
  4. ambivalence
    mixed feelings or emotions
    Their different responses to the unfolding economic drama underscore the strong ambivalence Americans feel about the Greek crisis.Washington Post (Jul 16, 2015)
  5. frank
    characterized by directness in manner or speech
    She suggests that its appeal lies in its frank treatment of topics usually left undiscussed.New York Times (Jun 19, 2015)
  6. indignant
    angered at something unjust or wrong
    I seethed with envy, indignant that they enjoyed the honest freedom I had denied myself.The Guardian (May 17, 2014)
  7. empathetic
    showing ready comprehension of others' states
    “I can feel your pain without going through it myself,” says the empathetic person.The Guardian (Jun 17, 2015)
  8. appreciation
    understanding of the nature or meaning of something
    It takes only one class of art history to learn the basic tools of art interpretation and appreciation.Slate (Sep 1, 2015)
  9. critical
    of a serious examination and judgment of something
    Yet someone who’s tired or distracted will likely be less critical, and will simply accept what you say as true.Time (Sep 2, 2015)
  10. scornful
    expressing extreme contempt
    A deep, scornful hatred, like black syrup pumping thick through my heart.Salon (May 24, 2012)
  11. disdain
    lack of respect accompanied by a feeling of intense dislike
    But that didn't stop the haters, who seized the new forum to rally their disdain.Los Angeles Times (Sep 2, 2015)
  12. provocative
    serving or tending to excite or stimulate
    She’s not afraid to push buttons and be the provocative journalist she should be.”The Guardian (Aug 8, 2015)
  13. hostile
    characterized by enmity or ill will
    There are four months left for the neighbors to patch things up, but for now the mood is hostile.Reuters (Sep 3, 2015)
  14. advocate
    a person who pleads for a person, cause, or idea
    New resources, of course, have long been on the wish list of public education advocates.US News (Sep 8, 2015)
  15. amusement
    a feeling of delight at being entertained
    The most exciting aspect of this field is that we don’t know which robotic sport will ultimately drive the most attention and amusement.Time (Jul 28, 2015)
  16. sympathetic
    expressing compassion or friendly fellow feelings
    Government officials and others have called for compassion and tolerance, and the overwhelming reaction to the migrants has been sympathetic.New York Times (Aug 13, 2015)
  17. affection
    a positive feeling of liking
    Far from disrespect, there is great affection for Petersen in the Boise State football complex and throughout the campus.New York Times (Sep 4, 2015)
  18. reverent
    feeling or showing profound respect or veneration
    And while typically you speak in a reverent voice in respect for the dead, tonight, feel free to speak up and ask questions.Washington Times (Sep 6, 2015)
  19. mocking
    expressing contempt or ridicule
    Others found ways of mocking it, calling it - not so politely - a waste of time.Washington Times (Mar 30, 2015)
  20. resignation
    the act of giving up, as a claim or office or possession
    They are so overwhelmed by juggling demands that many have moved from frustration and anxiety to resignation and despair, which is worse.New York Times (Jul 31, 2015)
  21. incredulous
    not disposed or willing to believe; unbelieving
    In the case of Guzmán, many Mexicans are particularly incredulous as this was his second escape from a supposedly high-security prison.The Guardian (Aug 7, 2015)
  22. caustic
    harsh or corrosive in tone
    Saint-Saëns was on speaking terms with practically all of them, even if his prickly temperament and caustic wit tended to discourage close friendships.New York Times (Jul 20, 2012)
  23. elegiac
    resembling or characteristic of a lament for the dead
    It’s an elegiac message of farewell—whether to a romantic partner who is leaving or do life itself is subject to the listener’s interpretation.Los Angeles Times (Jun 29, 2015)
  24. vehement
    marked by extreme intensity of emotions or convictions
    Folks tend to be either hardcore cloud “fans” or vehement cloud “detractors”, and often there is not much middle ground between them.Forbes (Jul 17, 2015)
  25. traditional
    consisting of or derived from a practice of long standing
    Classicists insist the only syrup to use is Fox’s U-bet, chocolate being the most traditional flavor, though vanilla and strawberry are certainly not unheard of.Wall Street Journal (Sep 3, 2015)
Created on December 11, 2015 (updated February 8, 2021)

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