Digital SAT: How to prepare for vocabulary questions

The SAT already includes some word choice questions, but rumors suggest that the new digital SAT, scheduled to launch in early 2023 internationally and in 2024 in the US, will test vocabulary to a much greater extent. So, if you are among those who will be taking the new exam, how can you prepare yourself to succeed on these questions?

Start building your vocabulary now.

Expanding your vocabulary takes time and effort. Rather than trying to cram at the last minute, start studying now. Here are a couple of helpful ways to boost your vocabulary.

  • Read, read, and then read some more. Undoubtedly the best
    way to learn new words is to read, since you are then able to see how the words are used in context. Preferably, read material that is a little challenging but that you find interesting. As you see unfamiliar words look them up. Keep a vocabulary journal or create a set of Quizlet flashcards or physical flashcards so that you can keep track of the new words you learn.
  • Practice online. Check out vocabulary sites like Freerice. You’ll see a word followed by four answer choices, and you’ll need to choose the answer that is a synonym of the word given. You’ll start with easy words, but as you answer questions correctly, you will see more challenging ones—or you can simply adjust the difficulty level at the start. Plus, for every question you answer correctly, the site will donate ten grains of rice to the World Food Programme.

Techniques for answering vocabulary questions

While the College Board hasn’t released information on exactly what the digital SAT's vocabulary questions will look like, chances are many of them won’t be much different than the current word choice questions. Regardless of the format, however, the following techniques will be useful for any questions that test vocabulary in the context of a sentence.

  • Predict the answer. Vocabulary questions rarely have one glaringly obvious correct answer choice. Instead, two or more answer choices will usually seem reasonable at first glance. If you immediately jump to the answer choices and start plugging them into the sentence, you may not readily be able to decide which answer is correct. In fact, you could probably make a case for every single answer choice if you really wanted to. This is because every answer choice is designed to sound appealing if you don’t pay attention to the context. Instead, try covering up those tricky answer choices, and read through the passage again. When you get to the underlined part, say the first word that pops into your head. (Seriously, trust your instincts on this one!) Nine times out of ten, you’ll come up with a word very similar to the correct answer.
  • Pay attention to tone. In addition to predicting what word should go in the sentence, be sure to pay attention to the tone of the passage as a whole. Some passages will be neutral and academic while others may be more persuasive or even entertaining. The correct answer will always match the overall tone of the passage. Correct answers also tend to have a more formal tone, while answers that contain colloquial or more informal language are generally incorrect.
  • Use the process of elimination. Occasionally, you’ll encounter a word or two that you genuinely don’t know. If this happens, do not freak out! The SAT will intentionally include these words to intimidate you and get you to use up extra time. To avoid this pitfall, use the process of elimination. If one of the words you know fits the sentence, choose that one. If none of the familiar words works, choose the unfamiliar word. Don’t eliminate a choice just because it contains vocabulary you don’t understand, though! Often, you’ll still be able to find the correct answer even if you don’t know all the words. In the event that vocabulary prevents you from making any progress, the best thing you can do is guess and move on. Time lost fruitlessly trying to guess the meanings of words you’ve never seen can do real damage to your overall score.
Vocabulary questions can be a real sore spot for unprepared test-takers who do not predict their own words first or who allow unfamiliar vocabulary to intimidate them. However, if you start studying now, trust your instincts, and don’t dwell on strange words, it will be possible to get through these questions without even breaking a sweat.

Need more individualized advice?

The recommendations above are general suggestions. If you have specific questions, reach out to our experts here. We’re happy to help in any way we can.


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Lisa Mayo

About Lisa Mayo

Lisa is an authority in the test prep field, with more than 17 years of experience teaching students how to succeed on college admissions exams. Lisa has tutored students preparing for SAT, ACT, PSAT, ISEE, SSAT, GMAT, TOEFL, GRE, LSAT, and AP exams. Her students have attended some of the most prestigious schools in the U.S., including the Ivy League schools. Lisa has also contributed to numerous published works on standardized test preparation.

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