Introduction to the SAT Reading Test
Knowing the difficulty of a word is important on the sentence completion questions because these questionsunlike the reading questionsare arranged in order of difficulty. As you'll learn in The SAT Sentence Completions: Basic Principles, the answer to an easy sentence completion will be an easy word; the answer to a hard sentence completion is almost always a hard word. Being able to judge a word's difficulty quickly is an enormously powerful tool when it comes to selecting the answer to sentence completions when you're undecided or even completely stuck.
We determine the difficulty of a word not by whether we know it, but by estimating how many people in general know it. An easy word is one everyone knows; a hard word is one very few people know. Medium words fall somewhere in between.
It's important to remember that the difficulty of a word is not your opinion of the difficulty, but rather an objective standard. You and I should be in close agreement on the difficulty of any given word. Just because you happen to know the definition of a difficult word does not make the word easy. Easy words are easy for everyone; difficult words are difficult for everyone.
So you and I both mean the same thing when we refer to easy, medium, or difficult words, I've prepared the following quick drill. With practice you should be able to recognize the difficulty of a word at a glance.
If you have trouble judging the difficulty of a word, rely on the general rule that longer words tend to be harder than shorter words. If English is not your first language, judging the difficulty of words may not be easy. If your first language is a Romance language such as French, Spanish, Italian, or Portuguese, you may have an easier time recognizing longer, harder words (which are more likely to be related to your original language) than you will recognizing shorter, easier words (which are more likely to be related to Old English or Germanic roots).
Judging Word Difficulty Drill
The following table of words are representative of the full range of difficulty you will encounter on the choices to sentence completion questions. They are in random order. Your job is to assess the difficulty of each word.
Start by deciding first whether a word is easy, medium, or hard. Once you've got a general bearing, refine your estimate up or down to easy-medium or medium-hard if necessary.
Before you rate any words, read through the whole list first so you have a sense of the words as a whole. Use a scale of 1 (easy) to 5 (hard), with 3 as average (medium). Here's a rough translation of the various difficulty levels to help guide you:
|1. easy||(most students probably knew this word in sixth grade)|
|2. easy-to-medium||(most students could give an accurate definition of this word)|
|3. medium||(most students could offer at least a rough definition of this word)|
|4. medium-to-hard||(some students would recognize this word, but many would not be able to define it)|
|5. hard||(most students would not have a sense of this word, and many might not even recognize it.)|
Remember to read through the entire list once before rating any words. Work carefully but quickly; try to spend no more than a second or two on each word. Once you've finished rating all the words, feel free to go back and reassess any words you were unsure about. As a first step, consider finding the two or three very easiest words and the two or three hardest words and rating those with 1s and 5s respectively. See the last page for the answers.
|1. voluntary ( )||10. subtle ( )|
|2. expenditures ( )||11. fertile ( )|
|3. munificent ( )||12. formal ( )|
|4. confide ( )||13. validity ( )|
|5. adequate ( )||14. serene ( )|
|6. innate ( )||15. capricious ( )|
|7. repel ( )||16. articulate ( )|
|8. somber ( )||17. viable ( )|
|9. proclivity ( )||18. apathy ( )|
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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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