Introduction to the SAT Reading Test
Sometimes you'll encounter a word on a difficult sentence completion that looks a lot like an easy word you know, but whose meaning is completely unrelated to the word it reminds you of. Again: be very careful about trying to figure out what a new word means on the SAT.
For example, the word impassive does not mean "not passive" (it means dispassionate, without feeling, coldly objective). The word fatalism has nothing to do with death or dying (it means being resigned to defeat). Or take the word decorum, which has nothing to do with decoration (it means socially accepted behavior). Disinterested does not mean not interested (it means neutral or impartial).
The stronger your vocabulary, the more you can rely on your ability to deduce a word's meaning. Still, trying to figure out the precise definition of a new word is dangerous. It's much safer to determine whether the unknown word is a "good" word or a "bad" word.
If You Can't Define a Word, Immediately Establish Whether It's Positive or Negative
You either know what a word means or you don't. But even when you can't define a word you will usually have enough of a sense of the word to decide whether it's positive or negative. You may have heard your English teacher referring to this concept as the connotations of a word.
Why is knowing a word's connotations so important? Often all you need to know about a word to eliminate it is whether it's positive or negative. If you know the connotations of a word, you'll often be able to eliminate it regardless of whether you can define the word or not.
When we speak of positive words on the SAT, we mean it in the most general sense. Warmth, for example, is a positive word; argument is a negative word.
Some words, like table or water, are neither positive nor negative. On the SAT, however, most words will at least lean one way or the other. Whenever possible, even with neutral words, try to decide whether a word is positive or negative.
Don't flip a coin to decide whether a word is positive or negative. It's worth spending a few seconds to try to get a "sense" of the word. Compare the spelling of the word with words you already know. You're trying to "get a feel" for the word by comparing it with words you know with similar spellings. If you know a foreign language like French or Spanish or Italian, you can use your knowledge of these words, too.
Beware of relying solely on the prefix of a word. Many students, for example, assume that any word beginning with "dis" is negative, until I point out words like discover or display. Negative prefixeslike un, dis, a, and sometimes inreverse the root following it, and so "flip" an otherwise positive or negative word. Take the word discover. Cover is a negative word, so the negative prefix dis flips the entire word to positive.
When comparing the unknown word to words you know, try to find overlaps that are at least three or four letters; the more the better. If the comparison words are positive, then the odds are overwhelming that the mystery word is positive, too.
You won't always be able to tell whether a word is positive or negative, but most of the time you will. The following drill will give you practice.
Positive or Negative Drill
The following words are very difficult; if you know more than a few I'm super impressed. Spend a moment or twono more than five seconds eachand decide whether a word is positive or negative. Indicate your choice with a plus ( + ) or a minus ( ). You'll find the answers at the end of this article.
|1. amity ( )||2. vogue ( )||3. foible ( )|
|4. placate ( )||5. virulent ( )||6. revere ( )|
|7. plaintive ( )||8. equanimity ( )||9. disparage ( )|
|10. virtuoso ( )||11. acerbic ( )||12. salutary ( )|
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From The RocketReview Revolution: The Ultimate Guide to the New SAT and the PSAT by Adam Robinson. Copyright © 2005. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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