SAT Exam

Interpreting Words and Phrases: Strategies for the SAT® Reading Exam

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Throughout the SAT® Reading exam, you will find questions that ask you to evaluate a specific word choice and its contexts to decipher the best synonym to replace it. You will also have to assess larger picture circumstances to answer why the author used a given word.

To answer these questions, you will need to have read the passage in its entirety to understand the tone, style, and mood.

Here are some examples of what these questions will look like. Recognizing their format can help prepare you for answering.

  1. In the context of the passage, the author’s use of the [word or phrase] “_____” is primarily meant to convey
        A. _____
        B. _____
        C. _____
        D. _____
  2. As used in line 16, “____” most nearly means
        A. _____
        B. _____
        C. _____
        D. _____

Here are some strategies to guide your approach for these questions.

Do not use outside information.

It is important to know that the words in question are often common words that operate in many ways. This means that you will face words with multiple definitions, so contextual information will be crucial when finding the correct replacement.

Words in Context questions throughout the Reading test are notorious for formatting questions that appear to have multiple correct answers.

Use the process of elimination.

These questions offer a great chance to employ the process of elimination. You can remove the confusion that occurs when presented with multiple words that mean the same thing by looking at the context. When asked to provide a synonym for a given word, you should be able to eliminate words that don’t match the style, tone, or mood of the passage.

You should also be able to eliminate words that aren’t logical in meaning for the particular location in the text. You can use the process of elimination when narrowing down the word’s definition.

While the word in question may sometimes align with many of the options in the answer choices, contextual information clarifies that it only makes sense under one of the definitions.

As you prepare for the SAT Reading exam, pay attention to the contexts around words and phrases when making interpretations or decisions about synonyms, definitions, or purpose. You can practice using UWorld’s SAT Prep Course.

We offer thousands of practice questions, detailed question explanations, and performance tracking tools to guide your studies and track improvements. Use these resources to gain experience interpreting words and phrases throughout the SAT Reading exam, and maximize your scoring potential!