Cracking the SAT

Part II

How to Crack the Critical Reading Section

Chapter 8


Learning new vocabulary is an important step in maximizing your Critical Reading score. It is also a habit that will benefit you no matter what career you choose to pursue later in life. In this chapter you will find a number of ways to improve your vocabulary and maximize your SAT score.

A great way to improve your reading and essay-writing skills is to improve your vocabulary. The more words you know on the test, the easier it will be. It’s as simple as that. For this reason, it’s important that you get to work on your vocabulary immediately.

The SAT is very, very repetitive. Over and over again, the SAT tests words such as pragmatic, ambivalent, reticent, and benign. So instead of memorizing every single word in the English language, you can just focus your time memorizing those words that show up repeatedly on the SAT.

That’s where the Hit Parade comes in. The Hit Parade are the words that we at The Princeton Review have noticed show up frequently on the SAT. Why does ETS think you really need to know the definition of bombastic or capricious? Who knows? But since they’ve asked about these words so often, go ahead and learn the Hit Parade, so you can be prepared next time you see the word magnanimous. In fact, start right now. Pragmatic, ambivalent, reticent, benign, bombastic, capricious, and magnanimous are some of the most common words tested on the SAT, so try to memorize these 7 words today. Then, try to learn from 5 to 10 new words a day.

Each word on the Hit Parade is accompanied by its definition, its part of speech, and other iterations of the word that often show up on the test. We recommend that you come up with your own sentence for each word. We have included blank lines after the words where you can write your own sentences, or you may include your sentences on your flash cards. It will be easier to remember words if you come up with your own sentences, or apply the words to people you know. For instance, if you have a very loquacious friend, you are more likely to remember what loquacious means if you connect it to your talkative friend.

Only a tiny percentage of all the words in the English language are ever used on the SAT. Generally speaking, the SAT tests the kinds of words that an educated adult—your English teacher, for example—would know without having to look them up. It tests the sorts of words that you encounter in your daily reading, from a novel in English class to the newspaper.

Here are three effective methods for learning new words.

1.     Flash Cards: You can make your own flash cards out of 3 × 5 index cards. Write a word on one side and the definition and a personally relevant sentence on the other. Then quiz yourself on the words, or practice with a friend. You can carry a few cards around with you every day and work on them in spare moments, like when you’re riding on the bus.

2.     The Image Approach: The image approach involves letting each new word suggest a wild image to you, then using that image to help you remember the word. For example, the word enfranchise means “to give the right to vote.” Franchise might suggest to you a McDonald’s franchise. You could remember the new word by imagining people lined up to vote at a McDonald’s. The weirder the image, the more likely you’ll be to remember the word.

3.     Mnemonics: Speaking of “the weirder, the better,” another way to learn words is to use mnemonics. A mnemonic (the first “m” is silent) is a device or trick, such as a rhyme or a song, that helps you remember something. In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue is a mnemonic that helps you remember a date in history. The funnier or the stranger you make your mnemonic, the more likely you are to remember it. Write down your mnemonics (your flash cards are a great place for these).

What to Study

The SAT tests the same
few hundred words over
and over. Therefore, you
should make it your focus
to know all of the words
you see in this book or in
any real SATs you may
take as practice. You will
see many of the same
key vocabulary words repeated.
We have compiled
them here in this book to
save you some time. Now
it’s your turn to learn them
all as best as you can.

Even if you are not able to think of a mnemonic for every Hit Parade word, sometimes you’ll end up learning the word just by thinking about the definition long enough.

Well-written general publications—like the New York Times and Sports Illustrated—are good sources of SAT words. You should regularly read them or similar publications that are dedicated to topics that interest you. When you come across a new word, write it down, look it up, and remember it. You can make flash cards for these words as well.

Before you can memorize the definition of a word you come across in your reading, you have to find out what it means. You’ll need a real dictionary for that. ETS uses two dictionaries in writing the SAT: the American Heritage Dictionary and Merriam-Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary. You should own a copy of one or the other. (You’ll use it in college too—it’s a good investment.) Don’t feel like lugging around a giant dictionary to college? Most dictionaries (including Webster’s) are now also online.

Keep in mind that most words have more than one definition. The dictionary will list these in order of frequency, from the most common to the most obscure. ETS will trip you up by testing the second, third, or even the fourth definition of a familiar-sounding word. For example, the wordpedestrian shows up repeatedly on the SAT. When ETS uses it, though, it never means a person on foot—the definition of pedestrian with which you’re probably most familiar. ETS uses it to mean common, ordinary, banal—a secondary definition.

Very often, when you see easy words on hard SAT questions, ETS is testing a second, third, or fourth definition with which you may not be familiar. The Hit Parade will help prepare you for these tricks. So grab those index cards and get ready to improve your vocabulary!

depict    verb


to represent by drawing, portray; to characterize in words, describe

controversy    noun


a usually prolonged public dispute; an argument

undermine    verb

to weaken, sabotage, subvert, debilitate, destabilize

advocate    verb


to support or urge by argument, especially publicly

arrogant    adj.


having exaggerated self-opinion; egotistical or overproud

cynic    noun

cynical, cynicism

one who believes that only selfishness motivates human actions

dispute    verb


to engage in argument or debate; to argue vehemently, quarrel

provoke    verb

provocative, provocation

to anger or vex; to stir up or call forth (feelings, desires, or activity)

contradict    verb

contradiction, contradictory

to challenge, confront, counter, deny, or oppose

empathy    noun


identification with and understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives

perceive    verb

perception, perceptiveness, perceptual

to become aware of by means of the senses; to recognize or understand

phenomenon    noun


a fact, occurrence, or circumstance observed or observable; something remarkable or extraordinary

contempt    noun

contemptible, contemptuous, contemptuously

a feeling of disdain for anything considered mean or worthless

resolve    verb


to come to a firm decision about, determine; to settle or solve (e.g., a question or a controversy)

speculate    verb

speculation, speculative

to engage in thought, especially conjectural thought

intricate    adj.

intricacy, intricately

having many interrelated parts or facets; hard to understand, work, or make

skepticism    noun

skeptical, skeptic

a questioning or doubting attitude; doubt regarding religion

assert    verb


to state positively; declare

distinct    adj.

distinction, distinctive, distinctively, distinctly

not identical, separate; different in nature or quality, dissimilar

divisive    adj.


dissenting, at odds with, alienating; creating dissension or discord

consume    verb

consumer, consumption

to expend by use; to use up

digress    verb


to wander away from the main topic or argument in speaking or writing

innovate    verb

innovative, innovator, innovation

to introduce (something new)

diminish    verb

diminution, diminutive

to make or become smaller, less, or less important

nostalgia    noun

nostalgic, nostalgically

a sentimental longing for something in the past

practical    adj.


of, involving, or resulting from practice or action; adapted or suited for actual use

versatile    adj.


capable of turning easily from one thing to another; having many uses or applications

profound    adj.


showing deep insight or understanding; originating in the depths of one’s being

tenacity    noun


persistence, strong character, perseverance

insight    noun

insightful, insightfulness

intuitiveness, awareness, observation, understanding, wisdom

endure    verb


to tolerate, withstand, sustain, undergo, bear hardship

perplex    verb


to cause to be puzzled or bewildered; to confuse

denounce    verb


to condemn openly; to attack, accuse, or criticize

plausibility    noun


credibility, believability

vulnerable    adj.


capable of or susceptible to being wounded; open to or defenseless against criticism or attack

pragmatic    adj.

pragmatism, pragmatist

practical, sensible, logical

rigor    noun


the quality of being strict or inflexible; harshness, as of attitude, severity; hardship

adept    adj.


very skilled; expert

disparage    verb

disparagement, disparager

to speak of negatively; to belittle

aesthetic    noun, adj.

aesthete, aesthetically, aesthetician

having to do with the appreciation of beauty

superficial    adj.


being at, on, or near the surface; apparent rather than real

foster    verb


to promote the growth or development of; to bring up

ambivalent    adj.


simultaneously experiencing opposing feelings; uncertain

elaborate    adj.


worked out in great detail, painstaking; ornate, showy, or gaudy

beneficial    adj.

beneficiary, beneficent

producing or promoting a favorable result; helpful

embellish    verb


to ornament or decorate; to exaggerate

imply    verb

implicit, implication

to indicate, suggest, refer, hint

esoteric    adj.

intended for or understood by only a small group

inevitable    adj.


unable to be avoided or escaped

resent    verb

resentful, resentment

to feel or show displeasure or indignation at

scarce    adj.

scarcely, scarcer

insufficient to satisfy a need or demand; rarely encountered

ingenuity    noun


the quality of being cleverly inventive or resourceful

substantiate    verb

substantial, substantive

to support with proof or evidence; to verify

isolated    adj.

isolating, isolation

detached or separated, alone

subtle    adj.

subtler, subtleties

difficult to perceive; fine or delicate; characterized by or requiring mental acuteness

presume    verb

presumption, presumptive, presumptuous

to take for granted, assume, or suppose; to undertake (do something) without right or permission

sentiment    noun

sentimental, sentimentality

an attitude, feeling, or opinion; refined or tender emotion

rhetoric    noun


the art of using language effectively and persuasively

defiance    noun


a bold resistance to authority or force; open disregard; contempt

abstruse    adj.

difficult to understand

deliberate    adj.

deliberated, deliberately, deliberation

studied or intentional; careful or slow in deciding

bolster    verb

to hearten, support, or prop up

eradicate    verb


to get rid of as if by tearing it up by the roots; to abolish

contend    verb

contention, contentious

to struggle; to compete

indifferent    adj.


without interest or concern; having no bias or preference

conventional    adj.


conforming to accepted standards

autonomy    noun


independence; self-determination

discern    verb


to catch sight of; to recognize and understand

futile    adj.


incapable of producing a useful result; vain

trivial    adj.


of very little importance

elitism    noun


the practice of or belief in rule by an elite

endorse    verb


to express approval or support of, especially publicly

resign    verb


to give up (an office or position), especially formally; to relinquish; to submit (oneself, one’s mind) without resistance

forbear    verb


to refrain from; to be patient or self-controlled

frivolous    adj.

characterized by lack of seriousness or sense; not worthy of serious notice, trivial

fundamental    adj.


of or being a foundation or basis; basic; of great importance, essential

inadequate    adj.

inadequacy, inadequately

insufficient, incompetent, incapable, weak

erratic    adj.


inconsistent, unpredictable, wandering, irregular, unstable

persuade    verb

persuasion, persuasive

to prevail on (a person) to do something, as by advising or urging; to induce to believe, convince

exemplify    verb

exemplary, exemplification

to illustrate by example

prevail    verb

prevalence, prevalent

to be widespread or current; to occur as the most important or frequent element

exploit    verb


to utilize, especially for profit; to take advantage of

hostility    noun


meanness, bitterness, animosity, resentment

naïve    adj.


having unaffected simplicity of nature; lacking in experience, judgment, or information

negligent    adj.


guilty of or characterized by neglect

vindictive    adj.


disposed to seek revenge; revengeful, spiteful

prestige    noun


a reputation or influence arising from success, achievement, and/or rank

reconcile    verb


to cause to accept something not desired; to cause to become friendly again; to settle a dispute

tolerate    verb

toleration, tolerance

to allow without hindrance, permit; to put up with, endure

accumulate    verb


to gather or collect

adapt    verb

adaptability, adaptable, adaptation, adaptive

to adjust or become adjusted to new requirements or conditions

complacency    noun


a feeling of quiet pleasure or security, often while unaware of unpleasant possibilities

anachronism    noun


the representation of something as existing or happening in the wrong time period

disdain    noun

disdained, disdainful

hate, contempt, scorn, dislike, or ridicule

antagonism    noun

antagonistic, antagonist, antagonize

active hostility or opposition

connoisseur    noun

an expert judge in an art or matters of taste

assume    verb


to take for granted without proof; to suppose; to take upon oneself

baffle    verb

baffling, bafflement

to bewilder, perplex, astound, or confuse

benign    adj.

kind and gentle

brevity    noun

the quality or state of being brief in duration

callous    adj.


emotionally hardened; unfeeling

candid    adj.


completely honest; straightforward

collaborate    verb

collaborative, collaboration

to work with another

integrate    verb


to bring together into a unified or interrelated whole; to combine to produce a whole or a larger unit

commemorate    verb

commemoration, commemorative

to serve as a memorial of; to honor the memory of by some observance

burden    noun

burdened, burdensome

that which is carried; a load; that which is borne with difficulty

contrary    adj.

opposite in character or direction

inconsistent    adj.


lacking in harmony between the different parts or elements; self-contradictory; lacking agreement, as one thing with another or two or more things in relation to each other; at variance

convey    verb


to take from one place to another; to communicate

linguistics    noun

the study of language

drama    noun

dramatic, dramatize

the art of writing and producing plays; a series of vivid, exciting, or suspenseful events

duplicitous    adj.

duplicitous, duplicity

deceitful, dishonest, two-faced, deliberately deceptive

inquiry    noun

a seeking for information or knowledge; an investigation; a question, query

erroneous    adj.

containing an error; incorrect

gesture    noun


a movement or position of the hand, arm, body, head, or face that is expressive of an idea or an emotion

impression    noun

impressionable, impressionistic, impressive

a strong effect produced on the intellect, feelings, or senses; a somewhat vague awareness or notion

interact    verb


to act upon one another

lament    verb

lamentable, lamentation

to express grief or regret (for or over); a vocal expression of grief

contemporary    adj.


existing, occurring, or living at the same time

legitimate    adj.

according to law; in accordance with established rules and standards; valid, logical; justified

manipulate    verb

manipulation, manipulative, manipulator

to manage or influence skillfully and often unfairly

egotism    noun

egotist, egotistical

excessive reference to oneself; self-centeredness

mitigate    verb

mitigator, mitigation

to make or become less severe, intense, or painful

objective    noun


a purpose, goal; not influenced by personal feelings, unbiased

proximity    noun

nearness in place, time, or relation

obscure    adj.

obscured, obscurity

not clear to the understanding; ambiguous or vague; not easily noticed; inconspicuous

optimism    noun


a tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions; the belief that good will ultimately triumphs over evil

vigor    noun


active strength or force, intensity; healthy physical or mental energy, vitality

paradox    noun


a contradiction, a puzzle, an inconsistency

reticence    noun


the quality or state of keeping silent; reserve

penchant    noun

a strong inclination or liking

predict    verb

predictable, prediction, predictive

to tell (what will happen) in advance; foretell

refute    verb


to prove to be false or erroneous

rouse    verb


to bring or come out of a state of sleep, unconsciousness, or inactivity

somber    adj.

gloomily dark; downcast, glum; extremely serious, grave

sustain    verb

sustainable, sustenance

to bear the weight of, support; to undergo (e.g., injury, loss) without giving away; to endure

obligation    noun

obligate, oblige

a moral or legal duty; a binding promise, contract

theorem    noun

an explanation based on hypothesis and experiments

debilitate    verb

debilitating, debilitation

to impair the strength of; to weaken

steadfast    adj.


fixed in place, position, or direction; firm in purpose, resolution, or direction; unwavering

admonish    verb


to caution or advise against something

alleviate    verb

alleviating, alleviation

to ease a pain or burden

compromise    noun

an agreement, a give-and-take; a bargain or settlement

anomaly    noun


an odd, peculiar, or strange condition, situation, or quality; something abnormal

reverence    noun

reverent, reverential

a high opinion of something; admiration

contrast    verb

to compare in order to show differences

enigma    noun


a puzzle, mystery, or riddle

apathetic    adj.


feeling or showing little emotion

exaggerate    verb


to magnify beyond the limits of truth; to overstate or overemphasize

disregard    verb

to pay no attention to, ignore; to treat without due respect or attentiveness

arouse    verb

arousing, arousal

to stir up; to excite

determine    verb

determination, deterministic

to settle or resolve (e.g., a dispute or a question) conclusively

articulate    adj.


uttered clearly; capable of, expressed with, or marked by clarity and effectiveness of language

atypical    adj.

not typical; irregular

capricious    adj.


impulsive and unpredictable

dispense    verb

dispensable, dispensation

to deal out, distribute; to do without, do away with

commend    verb

commendable, commendation

to mention as worthy of confidence or attention

ascertain    verb

to find out, as through investigation or experimentation

commonplace    adj.

ordinary; dull or platitudinous

magnanimous    adj.

courageously or generously noble in mind and heart

vivid    adj.


strikingly bright or intense; brilliant; presenting the appearance, freshness, and spirit of life

conform    verb

conformist, conformity

to act in accordance; comply

ornate    adj.

fancily decorated; beautiful, brilliant, flashy, showy

anecdote    noun


a short account of an interesting, often biographical incident

indulge    verb


to treat oneself or another to; to entertain, delight, please

spare    verb

to refrain from harming, punishing, or killing; to save, as from discomfort; kept in reserve

devoid    adj.

totally lacking; destitute

mock    verb


to ridicule, mimic, imitate

neutral    adj.

neutrality, neutralize

not taking the part of either side in a dispute or war; of no particular kind or characteristic

distinguish    verb


to mark off as different; to recognize as distinct; to make prominent or eminent

incredulous    adj.


disinclined or indisposed to believe; indicating disbelief

diverse    adj.


of a different kind, unlike; of various kinds, varied

prolong    verb

to draw out, extend, stall, stretch

belligerent    adj.


eager to fight; hostile or aggressive

edify    verb


to instruct and improve, especially morally; to enlighten

negate    verb


to deny the existence or truth of (something); to nullify or invalidate (something)

ensure    verb

to secure or guarantee; to make sure or certain

voracious    adj.

craving or consuming large quantities of food; exceedingly eager

envy    noun

envied, envious

resentment of a more fortunate person; jealousy, spite, hatred

dominate    verb

dominant, domination

to rule over, control; to occupy a commanding position

hail    verb

to salute or greet; to acclaim

idiosyncrasy    noun


peculiarity, oddity, quirk, characteristic, trait, singularity

irony    noun


the use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning; an outcome of events contrary to what was, or what might have been, expected

lucid    adj.

easily understood; clear

despair    noun

loss of hope; hopelessness

modest    adj.


having or showing a moderate estimate of oneself

preoccupy    verb


to absorb, immerse, consume, engage

redundant    adj.

repetitive, excessive, unnecessary

reform    noun


the improvement of what was wrong, corrupt, or unsatisfactory; improvement, as of conduct or belief

reluctant    adj.


not willing; disinclined

supplement    noun

something added to complete a thing

evoke    verb


to call up (e.g., memories or feelings); to draw forth

repute    verb

reputable, reputed, reputedly, reputation

to consider, believe

spontaneous    adj.

spontaneously, spontaneity

coming or resulting from a natural impulse or tendency

stringent    adj.

rigorously binding or exacting; strict

temperament    noun

temperamental, temperamentally

the combination of mental and emotional traits of a person; nature

tyrannical    adj.

tyranny, tyrants

unjustly cruel or severe

insolent    adj.


insulting in manner or speech

tact    noun


skill in dealing with difficult or delicate situations

constituent    noun


serving to make up a thing; component

arbitrary    adj.

unreasonable or unsupported

unprecedented    adj.

without precedent; never before known or appreciated

urgent    adj.


requiring immediate action or attention; insistent in urging; importunate

rebellion    noun


armed resistance to a government or ruler; defiance of any authority

oblivious    adj.


unmindful or unaware; forgetful

volatile    adj.

evaporating rapidly; tending or threatening to erupt in violence, explosive

acquire    verb


to get possession of

charisma    noun


a personal magnetism that enables an individual to attract or influence people

adverse    adj.

adversely, adversity

unfavorable; opposing one’s interests or desires

disposition    noun

mental outlook; characteristic attitude

afflict    verb


to distress with mental or bodily pain

allege    verb


to assert without proof

sufficient    adj.


adequate for the purpose; enough

impractical    adj.

not practical or useful; incapable of dealing sensibly with practical matters

consensus    noun

solidarity of opinion; general agreement or harmony

personage    noun

a person of distinction or importance

anticipate    verb

anticipatory, anticipation

to realize beforehand; foresee

precursor    noun

a person or thing that precedes, as in a job or method; forerunner

demagogue    noun

demagogic, demagoguery

an orator or political leader who gains power by arousing people’s emotions and prejudices

assess    verb


to judge the value or character of

authentic    adj.

authentically, authenticated, authenticity

not false or copied; real

benefactor    noun

a kindly helper; a person who makes a bequest or endowment

characterized by goodwill; desiring to help others

bewilder    verb


to confuse or puzzle completely

captivate    verb


to attract intensely; enchant

congenial    adj.

agreeable or suitable in nature

conviction    noun

a firm belief; the act of convicting or state of being convicted

deference    noun


respectful yielding of the opinion or will of another

pretension    noun

a claim to something; an unwarranted or false claim, as to merit, importance, or wealth

detract    verb

detractor, detraction

to take away a part, as from value or reputation; to divert

alter    verb


to make different, as in size or style

dilettante    noun

a person who takes up an art, activity, or subject for amusement, especially in a superficial way; dabbler

amass    verb


to collect; to accumulate

equanimity    noun

composure, especially under strain; evenness

motive    noun

something that causes a person to act; incentive

exotic    adj.

foreign, not native; strikingly unusual or strange, as in appearance

benevolent    adj.


marked by or disposed to doing good

crude    adj.

in a raw or unrefined state; lacking culture and refinement; vulgar

forebode    verb


to predict, warn, forecast, foresee

predilection    noun

a partiality; preference

indignation    noun


strong displeasure at something considered unjust, offensive, insulting, or biased

intuition    noun

direct perception of truth and fact, independent of any reasoning process; a keen and quick insight

knack    noun

a special skill or talent; a clever way of doing something

longevity    noun

long life; length of life

context    noun

the parts before and after a statement that can influence its meaning

misconceive    verb


to interpret wrongly; misunderstand

moderate    adj.

not extreme, excessive, or intense; average in quantity, extent, or amount

pacifism    noun


opposition to war or violence as a method of settling disputes

faulty    adj.

having faults; imperfect

ambition    noun

an earnest desire for achievement, distinction, wealth, or power

prudent    adj.


wisely careful, showing good judgment

As important as Hit Parade words are, they aren’t the only words on the SAT. As you go about learning the Hit Parade, you should also try to incorporate other new words into your vocabulary. The Hit Parade will help you determine what kinds of words you should be learning—good solid words that are fairly difficult but not impossible.

One very good source for SAT words is whatever you’re already reading. Magazines that interest you and books you read for school, or just for fun, are treasure troves of good vocabulary; just take the time to look up words you don’t already know. Reading can only help your chances of earning a higher score on the SAT. In short, the students with the best vocabularies are the ones who read the most.