SAT Skills Insight
Select a score band
Determining the Meaning of Words
Skills needed to score in this band
SKILL 1: Understand familiar words in unfamiliar contexts and differentiate among multiple possible meanings for words in unfamiliar contexts
SKILL 2: Understand sophisticated and specialized vocabulary
SKILL 3: Determine the meaning of a word when there is little or no supporting context
SKILL 4: Negotiate complex syntax (the arrangement of words and phrases in a sentence), and integrate ideas within and across sentences
Understand familiar words in unfamiliar contexts and differentiate among multiple possible meanings for words in unfamiliar contextsExample
The paragraphs below are excerpted from a longer passage taken from a novel set in early twentieth-century England. Mrs. Deverell is the widow of a shopkeeper who lived and worked in Volunteer Street; their daughter Angel has become a best-selling novelist. Here, Mrs. Deverell finds herself in a new home that she and Angel share in the prosperous village of Alderhurst.
A reading passage Line Number Text At a time of her life when she needed the security of
familiar things, these were put beyond her reach. It seemed
to her that she had wasted her years acquiring skills which
in the end were to be of no use to her: her weather-eye for
Line 5 a good drying day; her careful ear for judging the gentle
singing sound of meat roasting in the oven; her touch for
the freshness of meat; and how, by smelling a cake, she
could tell if it were baked. These arts, which had taken
so long to perfect, fell now into disuse. She would never
Line 10 again, she grieved, gather up a great fragrant line of
washing in her arms to carry indoors. One day when they
had first come to the new house, she had passed through
the courtyard where sheets were hanging out: she had
taken them in her hands and, finding them just at the right
Line 15 stage of drying, had begun to unpeg them. They were
looped all about her shoulders when Angel caught her.
“Please leave work to the people who should do it,” she
had said. “You will only give offense.” She tried hard
not to give offense; but it was difficult. The smell of
Line 20 ironing being done or the sound of eggs being whisked
set up a restlessness which she could scarcely control.
The relationship of mother and daughter seemed to
have been reversed, and Angel, now in her early twenties,
was the authoritative one; since girlhood she had been
Line 25 taking on one responsibility after another, until she had
left her mother with nothing to perplex her but how to
while away the hours when the servants were busy and
her daughter was at work. Fretfully, she would wander
around the house, bored, but afraid to interrupt; she was
Line 30 like an intimidated child.
In line 26, “perplex” most nearly means
Skills needed to score in the next band
As you read a difficult text, look for familiar words that are used in ways that are unfamiliar to you.
As you read a text about a topic with which you are unfamiliar, look for words that you know to help you determine what any unknown words might mean.
When you come across a difficult word in your reading, use the context of the sentence and surrounding sentences to determine the word’s meaning. Also consider the context when determining how a word is being used. For example, does the rest of the sentence indicate that a word is being used with a certain connotation?
To improve your vocabulary, read a difficult text and look up the words you don’t know in a dictionary that provides information on the origins and history of a word.