Studying for the Critical Reading Section of the SAT — Vocabulary Lists

The sentence-completion questions of the critical reading section of the SAT test your ability to use vocabulary in context. Oftentimes, these questions are seen as the most difficult. The harder sentence-completion questions ask you to use vocabulary that is most certainly not part of your typical lexicon (e.g. chagrin). It typically takes years of reading high-level pieces of literature and nonfiction to build a natural vocabulary suited to master the SAT.

Most high school students are legitimately preoccupied with more important matters — jobs, homework, sports, etc. — that prevent them from spending a significant amount of time exploring the writings of academics from around the world. Fortunately for them, they still have numerous tools they can use to learn enough vocabulary, albeit artificially, to successfully conquer the sentence-completion questions of the SAT.

Oftentimes, students are frightened by the massive 5,000 vocabulary word lists they see at their local bookstores. A few may diligently work through these lists, “learning” hundreds of new words at a time. Most others will instead shrink into a corner and avoid thinking about the SAT forever.

I have great news for you. These word lists are essentially useless for preparing for the SAT. They are incredibly inefficient and inaccurate. For instance, one notorious word list has compiled most of its words from old GREs. That list might be helpful for studying the GREs but unfortunately the SAT is not GRE. Companies like Barrons, Kaplan, and Princeton Review do not work for the College Board and as far as I know cannot read the minds of the test-makers. As a result, they cannot predict what new words will emerge on the SAT.

A far better method to learning new vocabulary is to read through your Official SAT Study Guide and make your own list of every word that has been used. Note the frequency of words appearing more than once. The words that appear most frequently should be your top priority, but all other words are great to practice as well. However, this can take a significant amount of time. We at the Collegiate value your time and want to make your studying as efficient as possible.

Another wonderful resource that requires significantly less work on the student’s part is Direct Hits Core