Vocabulary on the Revised SAT

Instructor: Catherine Rose

Catherine taught middle and high school English and has a master's degree in Education.

In this lesson, we'll explore the changes to the vocabulary questions on the revised SAT. We'll learn the types of words that may appear on the test, see an example of a question related to those words, and discuss methods for studying for this new test.

The Revised SAT

Many people remember taking the SAT in high school, but recent revisions have changed the way students will prepare for and take the test. The test will now focus on skills and knowledge applicable to college and career-readiness, to assess students' ability to be successful in a career or college.

One major change is in the vocabulary section of the test. Gone are the days when students were asked questions about obscure words with no contextual basis to choose a definition. According to College Board, the vocabulary questions will include a 'greater emphasis on the meaning of words in extended contexts and on how word choice shapes meaning, tone, and impact.'

Let's take a look at the vocabulary questions on the revised SAT.

The Questions

The biggest change regarding vocabulary in the revised SAT is that questions related to vocabulary have been greatly reduced. There are no sentence completion questions, which required past test-takers to know the definitions of many words. Also, only 10 of the 52 reading questions and 8 of the 44 writing questions are 'words in context' questions.

What does words in context mean?

This phrase refers to the definition of a word as it used in a specific reading passage. This means that using context clues to determine the meaning of a word will be much more useful than simply memorizing a definition. Context clues are hints in a sentence or paragraph that help a reader determine the meaning of an unfamiliar word. This is great news for students, because learning to recognize context clues is much less overwhelming than memorizing hundreds of random words.

Many of the words chosen for this test are known as Tier Two words. These often-used academic words show up in written texts more than speech, whether fiction or nonfiction. This can present difficulties for some students, because they are more precise in meaning or have multiple meanings. Some examples of Tier Two words are 'formulate,' 'itemize,' or 'complex.'

Let's look at an example of a 'words in context' question that uses Tier Two words. The example below is from College Board's practice questions.

SAT Vocabulary Question

Notice that this question relies on the student's ability to read the sentence and use the context clues to determine the meaning. To answer this question, you would look at the hint that 'jobs, innovation, and productivity' would be clustered, or packed closely together in a 'smaller number' of cities. This should lead you to the correct answer, which is B.

Preparing for the Vocabulary Questions

Now you know you may not have to memorize hundreds of vocabulary words for the SAT - whew! But what is the best way to prepare for the vocabulary questions on the revised test?

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