What's tested on the SAT: SAT Vocabulary

How is vocabulary tested on the SAT? If you took the PSAT prior to October 2015 or the SAT prior to March 2016, you are no doubt familiar with the fill-in-the-blank style of SAT vocabulary question (also known as the “Sentence Completion”) that was a mainstay on the SAT since 1946. Times are changing, however, and the SAT Reading Test has now eliminated this style of question, a move accompanied by cheers of joy from teens across America (moment of silence for anyone force-fed vocabulary books since the age of three, with promises their hard work would come in handy on the SAT one day).

Does the SAT still test vocabulary at all?

Yes. SAT Vocabulary now falls into a testing category called “Words in Context”. Testers will receive a subscore in this category, derived from both the SAT Reading and Writing & Language Tests. It turns out a little less than 20% of your SAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score derives from the Words in Context category, so it’s critical to know what you’re in for!

How is SAT vocabulary tested?

Out of 52 SAT Reading Test questions, exactly 10 questions will task you with the following:

  1. Interpret a word or phrase use in the setting of a larger passage
  2. Analyze how a word is used rhetorically in a passage

That’s not all! Out of 44 SAT Writing & Language Test questions, exactly 8 will ask you to choose among different word or phrase choices to express an idea most concisely, precisely, and correctly.
Try out the questions below. Note that all of these fit into the context of larger passages, but enough information has been provided in these excerpts for you to answer the questions.

SAT Reading Practice Questions


….The sketches gave the scientists a starting point, and by arranging and rearranging the excavated fossils they had in their possession, they were able to use technology to piece together hypothetical bone structures until the mystery of the semiaquatic dinosaur finally emerged from the murky depths of the past.

1. As used in line 73, “hypothetical” most nearly means
A) imaginary
B) actual
C) possible
D) interesting

….It took one hundred and fifty years after the signing of our Declaration of Independence for women to win the right to vote. It took seventy-two years of organized struggle on the part of many courageous women and men….

2. As used in line 26, “organized” most nearly means
A) arranged
B) cooperative
C) hierarchical
D) patient

SAT Writing and Language Practice Questions


….Kranz was no stranger to (3) issues. After losing his father at an early age, Kranz turned to the stars for guidance—and found inspiration…

B) adversity
C) deadlines
D) maladies

…It seems that regardless of shared currency, the economies of Britain and its Eurozone neighbors are too closely (4) intertwined for one to remain unscathed by another’s crises…

B) disparate
C) identical
D) relevant

SAT Practice Question Answers and Explanations


For Words in Context questions on the Reading Test, be sure to read the full sentence containing the word for clues. Try covering up the word and replacing it with your own.

  1. (C) Here, the scientists are not sure how the bones fit together. They are using sketches and technology to put together a “possible” sketch.
  2. (B) A word like “organized” can have several meanings depending on the context. Avoid the most common ones that do not fit the situation. The word “cooperative” successfully conveys the idea of a group of people working together over a long period of time.

For Words in Context questions on the Writing & Language Test, make sure you read the surrounding context for hints as to the precise meaning of the word.

3. (B) The word “issues” follows up with a description of Kranz going through the struggle of losing his father. A better word to denote this struggle is “adversity”.

4. (A) The original word “intertwined” most accurately reflects the content of the text, implying a complex economic relationship between Britain and its neighbors.