The Vocabulary You Need for SAT® Reading Passages

The Vocabulary You Need for SAT® Reading Passages

In the Reading section of the SAT® exam, you will need an understanding of literary terms. Questions or answer choices use literary vocabulary to discuss various writing techniques. You will not need to define these terms directly, but you will need to know their function to pinpoint what the questions ask or what the answer choices offer as options.

Questions that ask about vocabulary

Remember, the definitions of these literary terms are not tested, but answering these kinds of questions will rely on your knowledge of the terms.

Sometimes your knowledge of literary terms is necessary to understand what the question is asking of you. Sometimes your understanding of literary terms is needed to understand each answer choice, to eliminate choices for the correct answer.

Examples of terms

Here are some terms you can expect to encounter in the Reading section: 

  • Allusion
  • Analogy
  • Analysis
  • Anecdote
  • Foreshadowing
  • Humor
  • Irony
  • Metaphor
  • Mood
  • Simile
  • Symbolism
  • Tone 

Again, don’t worry about defining these terms directly. Instead, you should expect questions that will ask about the writer’s technique. Knowing these terms as you interpret the passage is important.

Examples of questions 

Here is a sample question from the College Board® that requires knowledge of literary terms.


The author includes the descriptions of the sunset, the clouds, and the hemlock shadows (lines 51–54) primarily to

  1. suggest the peacefulness of the natural world.
  2. emphasize the acuteness of the two characters’ sensations. 
  3. foreshadow the declining fortunes of the two characters. 
  4. offer a sense of how fleeting time can be.


In order to apply the process of elimination to this question’s answer choices, you should understand the literary term “foreshadow” and how it serves the text. An understanding of each answer choice is important when making your selection. Don’t miss points in the Reading section by failing to understand how a literary term is relevant.

How to study

It is not necessary to memorize definitions. Work on having a basic understanding of the terms we have listed so that when you encounter a problem that includes these terms, you feel confident and prepared. You won’t have to identify these literary terms, but you will have to understand their function (or lack of function) in the passage.

As you prepare for the Reading section of the SAT exam, you can practice finding literary terms as you read. You can also work on analyzing an author’s writing techniques and relevant literary terms (listed above) during practice exams. Check out UWorld’s SAT Prep course for sample questions, practice exams, and to gain experience with the Reading section’s vocabulary. If you are weary of these terms, take some time studying their functions. As you read practice passages and take practice exams, focus on pinpointing the literary terms. UWorld’s SAT Prep course also offers detailed explanations for thousands of questions, so you can understand how many of these literary terms operate on the exam. You can track your performance with these questions with UWorld’s prep course as well. Gain experience and improve your scores!

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