Words in Context: Key SAT® Reading and Writing Strategies

Words in Context: Key SAT® Reading and Writing Strategies
Read the article to learn key strategies for choosing a synonym, find words that fit a specific context, and match the tone to find the correct word substitution.
Words in Context: Key SAT® Reading and Writing Strategies
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Important SAT Update: Transition to Digital SAT
Effective December 3, 2023, the traditional paper-and-pencil format of the SAT has been discontinued. Starting in 2024, all students are required to take the Digital SAT, ushering in substantial changes in duration, format, material coverage, and question types. This shift to the Digital SAT represents a departure from traditional testing methods. It is crucial for students, educators, and test-takers to acquaint themselves with the new examination structure. Read more about the Digital SAT here.

You will find words in context questions in both the Reading and Writing sections of the SAT® exam. These questions are designed to examine your skills with common words in various circumstances.

Reading Section

Words in context questions in the Reading section of the SAT exam will evaluate your ability to use the surrounding context to decide a word’s meaning. You will also need to assess the purpose of the word choice to pinpoint its effect on meaning, tone, or style.

Types of words in context questions in the Reading section:

1. Choose the best synonym.

These questions will ask you to evaluate a specific word’s context and then select a synonym for the word based on the circumstances or the passage’s tone.

2. Why is this word used?

These questions will assess how certain words affect the rest of the passage. Think of these questions as answering what the author accomplishes through the word choice.

Writing Section

Words in context questions in the Writing section of the SAT exam will ask you to improve the word choice for more concise phrasing or to match the entire passage’s style or tone. You will also be asked to combine sentences to improve the syntax. 

Types of words in context questions in the Writing section:

1. What fits best?

These questions will ask you to determine which word best fits the surrounding context. You will need to navigate some choices that could work with the passage but fail to make sense contextually. Determine if the current word fits, then select the option that is most suitable to replace it.

2. Match the tone of the passage by improving word choice.

These questions will ask you to improve the word choice to better match the passage’s style and tone. Contextual observations should include how the author writes and an understanding of word choices. You can display this skill by selecting improvements that match the style and tone of the passage.

Here are some strategies to help you succeed with words in context questions:

1. Read the entire paragraph.

While answering questions about the context of a word, you will need to read the surrounding information. When directed to a specific line or phrase, remember that your task is to evaluate the circumstances and make adjustments if necessary.

2. Practice your reading comprehension skills.

Don’t think of this section of the SAT exam as an assessment of your vocabulary. This section will focus on common words in complex contexts. You should practice deciphering meanings in various contexts by reading a lot. Pay attention to unique word uses and the effect the word choice has on tone, style, and meaning.

3. Think independently and come up with your own answer. 

After reading the question, and reading the phrase or sentence in question, look at the surrounding context and come up with an answer on your own. Reading the answer choices before thinking about your own conclusions about the word’s meaning or purpose can sway your opinions. The confusing nature of some questions is not an accident. Avoid the confusion of some answer choices by thinking independently.

4. Test the answer choices and eliminate them.

Suppose you are hung up on a question, and none of the answer choices match your opinions for improvement. In that case, you may strategize by testing the answer choices and eliminating the ones that are irrelevant or inappropriate for the context. You can also use this strategy to correct your work — reread the sentence with your selected answer to confirm its success. 

As you prepare for words in context questions on the Reading and Writing sections of the SAT exam, consider implementing these strategies. You can test their effectiveness during your practice. UWorld’s SAT Prep course offers thousands of test questions with detailed explanations. You should also consider taking advantage of our performance tracking tools to see how each strategy we have listed affects your scores.

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