My Top 50 SAT Vocabulary List

To obtain a high score, students must memorize several SAT vocabulary terms. Although the New SAT is less vocabulary-driven, building a stronger vocabulary is an important component of the test preparation process.

The SAT vocabulary list below contains words from actual SAT exams and, even more specifically, from "Mood and Tone" questions, which are some of the hardest on the exam because of the difficulty of the vocabulary. And then, after you memorize these, read my SAT book recommendations, with a special focus on the Reading and Writing portions.

Mood and Tone Words

Mood and Tone Words PDF

Absurd- ridiculous

Admonishing- urge, advise

Aloof – detached

Ambiguous - unclear

Ambivalent- conflicted

Amiable- friendly

Amusement- humorous

Analytical- examining

Apathetic- lack of feeling

Apologetic – admitting fault

Assertive- strongly stated

Bemusement – puzzlement

Callous – unfeeling; insensitive

Capricious- unpredictable

Confrontational- argumentative

Conjecture – speculation

Contemptuous – scornful

Contrite – remorseful

NoteQuestion stems that begin with “What is the tone of the author…” or “What is the attitude of the author…” appear frequently on the New SAT. These words are rather limited in number, so if you only have time to study one SAT vocabulary list, use this one. 

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Cordial – polite

Cynical – skeptical

Debunking – prove false

Contrite – remorseful

Deferential – rebellious

Defiance – change, rebel

Derisive – ridiculing

Despondent – hopeless

Detachment – lack of concern

Didactic – instructive

Dismay – sad

Dismissive – rejecting

Disparagement – belittlement

Disquieting – unsettling

Dubious – doubtful

Eloquent- well spoken

Empathetic – feelings for others

Emphatic- stressing point

Mood and Tone Words PDF

More SAT Vocabulary Terms

Empirical – based on observation

Enigmatic – mysterious

Equivocal – doubtful

Facetious – joking

Fickle- indecisive

Flippant – disrespectful

Guarded – cautions

Idiosyncratic – peculiar trait

Impetuous – impulsive

Incredulous- doubtful

Indifference – unconcerned

Indignant- angry

Indulgent – spoiling someone

Ingenious – brilliant; clever

Inquisitive- asking questions

Ironic – unexpected

Judicious – fair

Keen – quick-witted; sharp

Mockery – poking fun at

Naïve- lacking experience

Nonchalant- casually indifferent

Nostalgic – remember the past

Objective – fact, not opinion

Pedagogical – instructive

Penitent- remorseful

Perfunctory – lack of interest

Pragmatic – practical

Resignation – adjust, adapt

Reflective – remember the past

Resolute – determined

Quixotic - unrealistic, impractical

Scathing – harsh

Scornful – strong dislike

Sentimental – emotional, nostalgic

Smugness – self-satisfied

Strident – loud; harsh

Subjective – personal opinion

Sullen- gloomy

Tentative – hesitant

Understated – mildly suggested

Wary – cautious; untrusting

Whimsical – impulsive; light hearted

Wry- cynical

Zealous – passionate; enthusiastic

Mood and Tone Words PDF

Should I Hire an SAT Tutor?

Even though I have made my living for almost twenty years coaching students privately for the SAT, you may be surprised to know that I do not think every student benefits from hiring a private coach for the SAT. If a student is smart and motivated, he or she may be just fine studying on his or her own (see my favorite SAT prep books and ACT prep books). Before you make that decision, don't forget to read "Should I Hire an SAT or ACT Tutor for My Teen?"

News & Updates

Several times each week, I post articles and test taking tips about the SAT and ACT tests as well as college admissions. These blog entries are a great way to keep current with what is happening in high school test prep and college admissions. So please bookmark this page (or subscribe to my RSS feed) and let your friends and family know about!