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Test PrepSATReadingVocabulary

SAT Reading Skill Review: Vocabulary

If you’re going to be successful on the test, you need to know more than how to attack the questions. You also must know the meaning of the words you encounter within said questions (and answers)! While this is true for the test overall, it’s especially crucial for the Reading section. Reading demands strong vocabulary skills (meaning both a large vocabulary and the ability to discern the definition of unfamiliar words). These skills will help you navigate the reading passages and sentences you will be asked to complete.

Memorizing long lists of vocabulary words is of limited use as only a handful will actually appear on the exam you take. Truly, the very best way to expand your vocabulary is to READ EXTENSIVELY. Of course, this is a lifelong activity. Since your time is probably a bit more limited, we’ll focus on what you can do NOW to score well on the SAT.

Roots, Prefixes, and Suffixes

The next best (and quickest) way to learn vocabulary is to review root words, prefixes, and suffixes. Although not every word that appears on the SAT will have a recognizable root, knowing root words will still help you figure out some of the words that you don’t know. You won’t know every word on the test anyway. The test writers design it that way!

We’ve provided a list of prefixes, suffixes and root words. Print them out and study them. Thinking of a word you already know that uses each prefix, suffix, or root may help you understand what the word on the test means.


Here are some examples of how vocabulary is tested in the SAT Reading section. Both are Sentence Completion questions, but vocabulary can also be tested in Reading Passage questions as well.

  1. The ___ of the football players was unfounded as their team lost in the first round.

    (A)   conflagration
    (B)   fervor
    (C)   insolence
    (D)   autonomy
    (E)   humility

  2. Sarah, ___ and ___, was always sure to be invited to parties.

    (A)   gregarious . . . amiable
    (B)   aloof . . . reserved
    (C)   outgoing . . . reticent
    (D)   supercilious . . . altruistic
    (E)   antediluvian . . . burgeoning


  1. The correct answer is C. The players had insolence (excessive pride), but it was unfounded because they didn’t win a single game. Even though you can’t use the root chart to figure out the meaning of insolence, you CAN use it to figure out the meanings of the other words and thereby eliminate them as choices. Choice A (conflagration: a large, destructive fire) makes no sense at all. Choice E (humility: disposition to be humble) is the opposite of what we need. Feelings of humility would be founded, not unfounded (notice the prefix?) Don’t let choices B (fervor: intensity of feeling) and D (autonomy: independence, freedom) trick you. The players could have intense feelings and independence, regardless of their success.
  2. The correct answer is A. The word and tells us we’re looking for synonyms or at least words that go together. A person who is gregarious (sociable, enjoying company) and amiable (friendly, sociable) would be welcome at any party. Aloof and reserved (choice B) go together as well, but no one would want an indifferent and standoffish person at a party. Choices C and D present words that are opposites (or close to it), and choice E provides words that don’t even describe a person.

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Don Munce