Vocabulary - How to Crack the Critical Reading Section - Cracking the SAT with 5 Practice Tests, 2014 Edition

Cracking the SAT with 5 Practice Tests, 2014 Edition (2013)

Part II. How to Crack the Critical Reading Section

Chapter 8. Vocabulary

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 Hit Parade

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.

Don’t Memorize the Dictionary

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.

How to Memorize New Words

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.

Look It Up

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 word pedestrian 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!

The Hit Parade


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.