The SAT and Vocabulary (Part 1)

Posted on May 21, 2010


The Critical Reading sections of the SAT test your ability to grasp concepts presented in words, sentences, and paragraphs. One of the things that makes this difficult is the strategic placement of certain unfamiliar words. These words are used in such a way that they affect the meaning of the entire phrase, sentence, or passage. Knowing the meanings of these words, then, becomes extremely important. (If you doubt this idea, find a sentence completion question that you can’t answer. Open a dictionary and look up all the unfamiliar words contained in the question. Then go back to the question and see if it hasn’t gotten easier.)

So one of the best ways to improve your Critical Reading score is to build your vocabulary, and to become more aware of the land mines that lie waiting for you at every turn in the test. The English language is filled with contradictions, exceptions to rules, pairs of words that look alike but have opposite meanings, or sound alike but have nothing to do with each other. Every SAT takes advantage of these quirks in the language. They exploit the confusion that’s already there, hoping to lure you into wasting time, choosing the wrong answer, or just leaving a blank and moving on to the next trap. Here’s an example:

The word “condemn” means to harshly criticize. The word “condone” means to excuse or approve of. See the problem? Again, the English language is filled with pairs of words just like these. Remember: each question is designed to lead you to the wrong answer. How better to do that than by sprinkling the test with these confusing words? What makes this tendency especially challenging is that the testmakers know exactly what kinds of mental mistakes students are prone to when under pressure. And so they plant incorrect answers that will look okay to the tired, the frustrated, and the uninformed.

Be careful!

To build your vocabulary quickly and painlessly, check out 500 Key Words for the SAT, and How To Remember Them Forever!