250+ SAT Vocabulary Words Every High School Student Should Know

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

the word dictionary shown and some other blurred words

250+ SAT Vocabulary Words Every High School Student Should Know

The SAT is one of the most popular college-preparatory tests administered by the College Board. Millions of high school students decide between the equally popular ACT or the SAT (some even take both) to improve their chances of gaining admittance into their dream colleges. While both tests are designed to determine how ready a student is to take on college-level material and subjects, there are slight differences between the two. One of the primary differences between the SAT and ACT is that the latter seems to favor students who have strong writing and reading skills, leading many to incorrectly assume that the former doesn’t touch much on SAT vocabulary words.

Books piled in a table.

When searching for study tools and resources, it can be difficult to know what areas on which to focus. AdmissionSight encourages students to break down their preparation into different areas. For example, since a good portion of the SAT focuses on your ability to recall the definition of words and/or pull meanings from context, it’s helpful to dedicate a portion of your preparation to vocab specifically. While it’s not plausible (one of the SAT vocabulary words!) to study EVERY word that might appear on the test, we’ve narrowed down more than 250 of the most common and popular SAT vocabulary words to better help you prepare.

How does the SAT test vocabulary?

In 2016, the SAT test underwent some significant changes. Ever since these modifications, vocabulary has been treated with less importance. The most obvious manifestation of this change is that the newer version of the SAT has fewer vocabulary-related questions than the older version.

While some students might be making a dramatic gesture of success with their fists, this lack of stress on vocabulary doesn’t mean you can go without preparing for vocabulary for the SAT. If you’re aiming for a high or even a perfect score, studying common vocab words will still be an important part of preparing for the SAT.

an excerpt of a dictionary where "gap year" is focused

In general, most of the vocabulary words found on the SAT vocabulary words test are medium in difficulty. They’re tested within the context of passages, assessing the ability of students to pick out the meaning with a certain context. While this makes it easier to remember a meaning than just being prompted with a word, you’ll still have to harbor an understanding of the various nuances of a particular word to perform well.

Context clues are more common in the current SAT, making pure memorization not as important. In the past, you would have to remember more difficult words and remember definitions with only a short sentence as a prompt. This minimal context really made vocabulary a difficult portion of the SAT. Fortunately, the current version offers students much more context and clarity as to the use of the words.

What words should I study for the SAT?

While it’s impossible to know all of the words you’ll come across on the test, there have been enough iterations of the test for the public to get an accurate grasp on the types of words being used and the accompanying level of difficulty. Although students will undoubtedly find some words easier than others, the SAT vocabulary words don’t really jump around in terms of difficulty. While reading SAT-related material, practicing with official study guides, and taking previously administered tests is helpful for preparing for SAT vocabulary, the best practice is to simply read through common questions and their definitions. Below, we’ve provided you with over 250 SAT vocabulary words that every high school student should know.

Term Definition
Abate to become less intense or widespread
Abstract existing in thought or as an idea but not having a physical or concrete existence
Abysmal very bad
Accordingly to be in accordance with
Acquisition the process of gaining possession of something
Adapt to make (something) suitable for a new use or purpose; modify
Adept having skill in a particular area
Adequate satisfactory or acceptable in quality or quantity.
Advent the arrival of a notable person or thing.
Adversarial involving or characterized by conflict or opposition.
Advocate a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy.
Aesthetic concerned with beauty or the appreciation of beauty.
Afford have enough money to pay for.
Agitate campaign to arouse public concern about an issue in the hope of prompting action.
Allow let (someone) have or do something.
Allude suggest or call attention to indirectly; hint at.
Altercation a noisy argument or disagreement, especially in public.
Ambiguous open to more than one interpretation; not having one obvious meaning.
Ambitious having or showing a strong desire and determination to succeed.
Ambivalence the state of having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something or someone.
Analogous comparable in certain respects, typically in a way that makes clearer the nature of the things compared.
Annihilate destroy utterly; obliterate.
Anomaly something that deviates from what is standard, normal, or expected.
Anticipate regard as probable; expect or predict.
Antipathy a deep-seated feeling of aversion.
Apex the top or highest part of something, especially one forming a point
Apprehension anxiety or fear that something bad or unpleasant will happen.
Articulate having or showing the ability to speak fluently and coherently.
Artificial made or produced by human beings rather than occurring naturally, especially as a copy of something natural.
Assertion a confident and forceful statement of fact or belief.
Austere severe or strict in manner or attitude.
Authenticity the quality of being authentic.
Avenue a way of approaching a problem
Avid having an eager desire for
Basic forming an essential foundation or starting point; fundamental.
Bear carry or conduct oneself in a specified manner
Benevolent well-meaning and kindly.
Bias inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group, especially in a way considered to be unfair.
Bittersweet arousing pleasure tinged with sadness or pain.
Bolster support or strengthen.
Boost encourage (something) to increase or improve
Brawl a rough or noisy fight or quarrel.
Brevity the concise and exact use of words in writing or speech.
Candid truthful and straightforward; frank.
Candor the characteristic of being honest
Capitalize to take advantage of
Capture to take possession of
Civic relating to citizens or a city
Clinical emotionally attached
Clout special power or advantage
Coarse lacking sophistication or refinement
Coincide to occur simultaneously
Commission an instruction, command, or role given to a person or group.
Comparable ability to be compared
Competent efficient and qualified
Complacent satisfied; no desire to improve
Complement to make complete or perfect
Concede surrender or yield
Conceive to come up with
Condone to allow or overlook
Conducive to be suitable to bring something about
Conduct to manage or control; to behave in a particular way
Confide to trust someone with secrets
Confine to limit something
Consensus a majority agreement
Constitute to make up parts of something
Contemplate think deeply and at length
Contend to assert or maintain an opinion
Contradict to be in contrast with
Controversial giving rise or likely to give rise to controversy or public disagreement.
Conventional following accepted standards
Convey to transfer information
Conviction believing firmly in something
Corroborate to provide evidence for a claim
Counteract to work against
Counterargument an argument used to diminish another
Counterproductive having the opposite of the desired effect.
Culmination the climax
Cultivate to foster
Decree to declare something formally
Deference regard; respect
Deficient not a sufficient amount
Demonstrate to provide evidence for something
Demur raise objections or show reluctance.
Deplete to use something over time
Desolate empty, barren
Devise to develop a plan
Dilemma a problem
Diligence careful and persistent work or effort.
Diminish make or become less
Dire extremely serious or urgent
Discord disagreement
Disdain strong dislike
Dismay stress, hopelessness
Disparage to talk down to
Dispatch to send a messenger or message
Diversification the process of becoming diverse
Doctrine a position or theory
Dominion authority and power
Dreary dull, sad
Dubious questionable, doubtful
Eccentric odd or peculiar
Egregious very bad
Eloquent fluent or persuasive in speaking or writing.
Eminent distinguished or superior
Emit to release, discharge
Emphatic using emphasis, expressive
Empirical based on, concerned with, or verifiable by observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic
Endow to bestow or equip
Endure to sustain or withstand against
Entail to include or involve
Entrenched firmly established and difficult or unlikely to change
Enumerate to count
Envy jealousy to an excessive degree
Erratic not even or regular in pattern or movement; unpredictable.
Establish to enact or to found
Evoke bring or recall (a feeling, memory, or image) to the conscious mind.
Exacerbate to make something worse
Excel to be successful at something
Exert to put something into use
Exhilarating exciting, stimulating
Expend to use up
Exploit make full use of and derive benefit from
Facilitate to make a process easier
Feasibility the possibility of something
Ferocity violence, viciousness
Fiscal of or relating to money
Flourish to grow, prosper (esp quickly)
Fluctuate to rise and fall in an irregular pattern
Foment to stir up or instigate
Foreseeable capable of being anticipated
Frankly clearly, directly
Freewheeling carefree
Fundamental the most basic component
Galvanizing stimulating, exciting
Geriatric relating to old people, especially with regard to their healthcare.
Hostile dangerous, harmful
Hypothetical supposed
Ignominious deserving or causing public disgrace or shame.
Impart to bestow or transmit
Impartiality treating all rivals equally
Imposing impressive in size or appearance
Imposition an unwelcome and unfair burden
Imprudent rash, not cautious
Incite to stir up or excite
Indifference emotional detachment
Indiscriminately randomly
Indulge to give into something
Infer to guess through reasoning
Innovative new or novel
Insatiable unable to be satisfied
Inversion the reversal of something
Invoke to appeal to or call upon
Irreconcilable incapable of being resolved
Lament to mourn
Locomotion movement
Lucrative profitable
Malicious spiteful, harmful
Malleable capable of being changed
Materialistic superficial
Melodramatic exaggerated or extravagant
Modest humble and simple
Modify to alter, tweak, or change
Momentous significant in a historical context
Novel innovative, new
Nuance a subtle difference in or shade of meaning, expression, or sound.
Null ineffective, legally void
Objectivity the quality of being objective; impartial
Obsolete uncommon or rare
Omnipotent all-powerful
Onset the early stages of something
Opine to formally state an opinion
Ornate highly decorated
Oust to force out of
Paramount most important, superior
Peculiar bizarre, strange
Perish to pass away; to die
Persecute harass or annoy persistently.
Petulant irritable, pouty
Pinnacle highest degree
Pitiable arousing pity
Plausible possibly true
Postulate to assert
Potent having a strong influence
Pragmatic useful, practical
Precedent an example from the previous time
Predecessor a person or thing that comes before another
Prescribe to command orders
Principle n. basic truth, assumption, or rule
Prohibit to ban
Prompt punctual
Promulgate formally declare
Prosecute to put on trial
Provocative arouse, inspire
Qualitative measuring the quality of something
Quantitative measuring the amount of something
Quirk a strange trait or characteristic
Ramify to form branches
Rash done without regard to consequences
Raw unrefined
Readily without delay
Reconsideration thinking again
Reform an improvement
Refute to prove to be incorrect
Reinforce to support
Reluctantly somewhat unwillingly
Renounce to give up
Reproach to critique
Repudiate to refuse to acknowledge as true
Retention the continued control or possession of something
Satiated satisfied
Savvy practical knowledge
Scandalous morally offensive
Scorn a feeling of disdain
Scrupulous careful, thorough
Scrutinize to examine critically
Secrete to release or produce
Sentiment opinion
Sheer very thin
Simple not complex
Sinister evil, ominous
Solidarity common purpose amongst a group
Sparingly in a restricted manner
Spawn to generate
Spur to incite
Squalid sordid, run-down
Stark very plain
Static changeless; motionless
Subordinate to be lower in rank
Subsequently happening after something
Substantial very large in degree or amount
Substantiate to make stronger with evidence
Subtle difficult to detect
Sufficient enough
Surly unfriendly
Surmount to overcome
Susceptible to be vulnerable
Tactful capable of dealing with people
Taut pulled tight
Teeming to be full of
Temperament usual feelings or mood
Tentative not certain or fixed
Transparent easy to perceive; see-through
Treacherous unstable and dangerous
Tremendous very great in amount, scale, or intensity
Ubiquitous found everywhere
Unadorned plain, undecorated
Undermine to weaken gradually
Underscore to emphasize
Undulate to move in a wavy pattern
Unilateral one-sided
Unjust not justified
Unmitigated total, utter
Unprecedented entirely new
Unveil to reveal
Urge try earnestly or persistently to persuade (someone) to do something
Validate check or prove the validity or accuracy of
Viability ability to work successfully
Vital absolutely necessary; essential
Vow a solemn promise
Warrant justification or authority for an action, belief, or feeling
Yield produce or generate (a result, gain, or financial return).

Tips for studying and memorizing SAT vocabulary words

1. Rehearse with flashcards – Flashcards are an incredibly effective way of studying and memorizing vocabulary. Not only does this method make it easy to keep the material organized, but it’s also a convenient way to study on the go and for any length of time. While writing out your own flashcards could be a helpful exercise, many students will opt to use online resources like Quizlet to organize SAT vocabulary words. You can even download apps to study this content on your phone.

two flashcards piled on top of each other

2. Practice with friends – If practicing on your own gets too tedious, meet up with some friends or hop on the phone to quiz each other. You can help each other with new memorization techniques and encourage each other to study more. The extra competition will light a spark of enthusiasm too.

a woman holding a pencil checking the dictionary

3. Use SAT study guides – There are countless SAT study guides designed to help students prepare for the exam and learn SAT vocabulary words. These resources can be found both online and offline and for free or by payment. When using these guides, just make sure they’re up-to-date to reflect the most recent changes made to the SAT.

A male student studying intently

AdmissionSight is here to help

With an excellent track record of helping students get into some of the best colleges in the country, the AdmissionSight team knows what it takes to successfully prepare and score excellently on the SAT. We wouldn’t be admissions experts (which we are!) without a deep understanding of this college-prep exam. Feel free to connect with us today to learn about what we offer.






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