Exploring the SAT Vocabulary List: 20 of the Most Common Word


Knowing a lot of words always comes in handy, more so in the context of the SAT exam. A good command of vocabulary is one of the key components to ace the Digital SAT. The SAT thesaurus consists of a couple of hundred words, some of which are part of colloquial culture, but many may not be. Nevertheless, there are certain College Board go-to words that have appeared (and will appear) in the aforementioned exam over and over. The present blog post is an attempt to explore the 20 most common words part of the SAT wordlist.

Understanding the Importance of SAT Vocabulary

The SAT includes a significant number of questions that directly test your vocabulary skills. Each Reading and Writing module starts with questions that require you to complete the text with the most logical and precise word or phrase, or you could also be asked to find what the underlined word most nearly means. Either way, not having a firm grasp of these words may hurt your chances. These questions can range anywhere from 2 to 8 in each of those two modules.

Additionally, the SAT exam includes a variety of reading comprehension questions which can sometimes include highfalutin words. Even though these questions more or less test your comprehension and critical thinking abilities, a half-baked understanding of certain words can cloud your decision-making. Therefore, by expanding your vocabulary, you can enhance your comprehension skills which in turn will help you answer these questions correctly.

In addition to the benefits accrued on the SAT, having a rich vocabulary has many practical applications. It benefits learners by sharpening their reading, expanding their communication skills, and increasing their performance in other areas of the curriculum. Expanding your vocabulary is a life-long skill, which will help you well after the SAT.

Top 20 SAT Vocabulary Words to Know

In this section, we will define and demonstrate through examples the usage of 20 vocabulary words frequently found in the SAT.

By breaking down each word, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of its meaning and how it can be used in context.

This knowledge will then help you identify these words should you come across them in the SAT and arrive at the most appropriate answer considering the meaning of those words.

Because the majority of these words are likely to be repeated constantly on the SAT, it is imperative that you familiarize yourself with all of them.

So, without further ado, here are 20 words that frequently show up in SAT passages and questions:

  • Abate

To lessen or decrease in intensity.

  • Ambiguous

Having multiple meanings or interpretations. The prefix ‘Ambi’ means both or multiple. Understanding how various prefixes are used can help you deduce the meanings of unfamiliar words. For example, dexterity means being skillful in physical movements, especially hands. Thus, ambidextrous would mean being skillful with both hands.

  • Benevolent

Kind, generous, beneficent, philanthropic. Antonym:- maleficent.

  • Belligerent

Combative, hostile, willing to fight. The word has its roots in the Latin word bellum, which means war. Similar words include – bellicose (warlike), antebellum (before the war), cassus belli (cause that justifies a war).

  • Deleterious

Causing harm or damage. Antonym:- innocuous.

  • Ephemeral

Lasting for a very short time. Antonym:- perennial. Another word which looks close but is not all related to ephemeral, Ethereal means other wordly.

  • Gregarious

Sociable and outgoing. Like extrovert.

  • Hackneyed

Lacking freshness or originality or just same old stuff. Synonyms include trite, banal, platitude.

  • Juxtapose

Place side by side usually for comparison or contrast. It’s a portmanteau of Latin word juxta (next) and French word poser (to place). Just for fun, look up what portmanteau means.

  • Meticulous

Extremely careful and precise. Equivalent words include fastidious, finicky, and exacting.

  • Nefarious

Wicked, evil, criminal, or malicious.

  • Obsolete

No longer in use or outdated.

  • Peruse

Contrary to popular belief, peruse doesn’t mean hasty and without attention to detail (cursory means that). As a matter of fact, it is the complete opposite of that. So, it essentially means examining or considering something with attention and detail.

  • Pervasive

Something that is all around and everywhere or spreading. For example, the pervasive feeling of euphoria that surrounded post-war America.

  • Pragmatic

Practical and realistic. Antonym:- quixotic.

  • Quell

To suppress, extinguish, or crush completely. Can be used in multiple ways. For instance, you can quell your hunger, and you can also quell any sign of dissent. Synonyms include quench and squelch.

  • Recalcitrant

Stubbornly resistant to authority or guidance. Sort of like defiant, headstrong, noncompliant.

  • Reticent

Reserved and reluctant to speak. Synonyms include laconic, and taciturn. Antonyms include loquacious and garrulous.

  • Superfluous

Unnecessary and excessive or extra. Another word that may sound similar but has no relation, Mellifluous means pleasing to the ear.

  • Tenacious

Persistent and determined. Synonyms include perseverance and dogged.

Strategies for Learning and Retaining SAT Vocabulary

Strategies for learning and retaining SAT Vocabulary

Learning and acquiring key SAT words is a process that has to be approached methodologically. Here are some effective strategies to help you build and retain a strong vocabulary:

  • Read extensively

The more exposure you have, the more you are familiar with new words and how they are likely to be used in different contexts. There are many words that are not part of pop culture, and you don’t hear them in informal conversation. So, to improve and increase your vocabulary, read books, articles, scientific publications, and other pieces of written work that could offer you difficult words to learn.

  • Create flashcards

While you come across a new word, jot it down on a flashcard and write down its meaning and an example of how it is used in context. Go over these flashcards oftentimes and make sure to try and use the words as often as possible to make it easier to remember them.

  • Use mnemonic devices

Mnemonic devices aid you in memory retention. Create associations or visual images that connect new words to something familiar or memorable.

  • Practice with context clues

Whenever you come across unfamiliar words, try to take a stab at what these words might mean based on the context in which they are used. To this end, closely examine the words in the same context or even in the subsequent sentences to guess the meaning of the unknown word.

  • Engage in vocabulary activities

Complete crossword puzzles, carry out word games and take part in word and vocabulary quizzes so that you can learn vocabulary in a more entertaining way.

Practice Exercises to Solidify SAT Vocabulary Skills

  • Sentence completions

In order to complete a sentence, use a word from the vocab list that best fits the blank. Since words can have varied meanings depending upon the context, this drill will help you better understand the meaning of a word in context. For example, the word hypocrisy can mean preaching something that you don’t intend to do or to reveal unintentionally.

  • Passage analysis

Practice reading SAT passages and try to figure out the meanings of such unfamiliar words, as much as possible, based on their contexts. Then, attempt to answer a given question based on your own understanding of the word.

  • Synonym and antonym exercises

Do a lot of synonyms (words that have meanings similar to each other) and antonyms (words that have opposite or contrasting meanings) of the SAT words. This will further add on your knowledge on word associations as well as sharpen your skills in guessing meanings from context.

  • Writing exercises

Integrate some of the words you encountered into your writing. Or as a suggestion, write them down in sentences or brief paragraphs to ensure how their meanings can be applied.

Tips for Mastering SAT Vocabulary on Test Day

Tips for mastering SAT vocabulary

On the day of the test, you want to be as ready and confident as you can be with all the different SAT vocabulary words. Here are some strategies that can assist you in that regard:

  • Review flashcards

Before the exam, flip through your flashcards randomly. It would be a fresh reminder.

  • Use vocabulary in context

While taking the exam, make sure to determine the context of the passages and the questions that are being put across. Please use your word knowledge and select the most logical answer to the question.

  • Eliminate incorrect options

When you are not sure of the meaning of a word in a multiple choice question, guess which of the choices don’t sound reasonable as far as the meaning of the word is concerned. Then, make an educated guess on the remaining options.

  • Read actively

It helps to read words in context and focus on understanding of the content while paying attention to indicators that hint at the meaning of unknown words. Take notes by underlining or highlighting possible keywords or phrases that would enable you to infer the meaning made about the text.

  • Pace yourself

Difficulty is very subjective, and there is a good possibility that you will stumble into a question wherein vague or no understanding of a word in the passage or in the options may impede your overall comprehension skills. Don’t get stuck on such killer questions. Skip these questions and come back to them later.


A word of caution: memorizing these words as it were does not guarantee a high score in the SAT. A good way to increase the efficiency of the preparation process and get a better understanding of the vocabulary section is to read books as well as use the practice tests.

However, when doing SAT vocabulary, it’s also crucial to consider the context and correct usage of the word. Some of the words on the list may have several meanings (Look up, polysemous) due to contextual differences, and it would be crucial to determine the appropriate contextual meaning.

To sum up, learning the SAT word list can be quite a useful but still rather rigorous activity in preparation for the test. With the help of the most frequently used words, as well as additional studying combined with the practice tests and extensive reading, students will be able to expand their vocabulary and enhance the probability of success in the SAT.


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What is SAT vocabulary?

SAT vocabulary refers to a list of words and phrases used in SAT examination to test a student’s lexical knowledge.

SAT vocabulary involves the groups of terms which often appear in the SAT. It refers to these words which in most cases contain complex and sophisticated terms that are expected of any student to understand and apply appropriately in context.

How many vocabulary words should one memorize for the SAT?

There is no one good answer to this question; however, effective practice involves memorizing approximately 500 – 1000 words. This range ensures there is enough lexical depth to enhance your efficacy to tackle the Reading and Writing Modules.

Is there a specific SAT vocabulary list that I can go through?

The answer is Yes. There are several lists that are specifically tailored for the SAT. Some popular ones include:

  1. Princeton Review’s Hit Parade
  2. Barron’s 3500 SAT Words
  3. Kaplan’s 500 SAT Words

Can exposure to such or similar reading materials increase SAT vocabulary?

  1. Classic Literature: May have complex language including high number of lexical words.
  2. Academic Journals: Literature in various subject areas such as science, history, and social studies can help you learn complex words and phrases.
  3. Quality Newspapers and Magazines: Some of the credible sources used include The New York Times, The Atlantic, and National Geographic.

What can I do to expand my SAT list of words?

  1. Read Widely: Read literature, newspapers, and academic journals, among other forms of literature.
  2. Use Flashcards: Create flashcards with new terms and their meaning and definition. Instead of writing down one word on a flashcard, write equivalent words/synonyms for context down. When you are trying to memorize as many words as possible in a short span of time, repetition will be the major strategy. The more frequently you see a word, the higher the chances that you will remember it are.
  3. Practice with SAT Prep Materials: Make use of official SAT practice tests and vocabulary lists.
  4. Learn Word Roots: One can know the meaning of words that are not familiar by identifying the prefixes, suffixes, and root words.

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