Can You Ace This Difficult SAT Vocabulary Test?


By: Torrance Grey

6 Min Quiz

Image: Getty Images via Doug Wenjie

About This Quiz

Calling all language lovers, word nerds and amateur etymologists! Are you ready to test your vocabulary against our 35-question quiz?

Vocabulary -- or, more broadly, language skills -- is only one-half of the SAT. The other half is mathematics, and frankly, that's the part that most people have more trepidation about taking. (Sidenote: If you didn't recognize "trepidation" as a synonym for "anxiety," that might not bode well for your performance on this quiz! But we digress.) Vocabulary is the part of the SATs which, for many people, translates to a needed real-world skill. That is, relatively few people will need to find the area of a cylinder in real life. But the ability to choose the right word in an application essay, or on a resume, is vital. Likewise, misusing a word in conversation is likely to make you look stupid in front of someone you might want to impress. For example, saying "cursory" when you mean "foulmouthed" is a faux pas in front of someone who knows that cursory means "brief and simple." 

Our quiz will test you on your knowledge of English's harder terms. Along the way, we'll share some interesting trivia about the roots, often Latin, of these words. Even if you don't score as well as you like, you'll undoubtedly learn something along the way!

What does "deluge" mean?

You might know the French phrase, "Apres moi, le deluge" ("After me, the flood"). It means that the person sees himself/herself as the only one holding off disaster, or does not care about the disaster which will follow their withdrawal from a a situation.


Pick the best definition of "chasten."

Is "chasten," meaning to "admonish" or "dress down," related to "chaste," meaning "sexually pure"? It looks like it, but not really. The first comes from the Latin "castigare," meaning "to punish," while the second is from "castus," Latin for "pure."


Which of these is a synonym for "prowess"?

You might hear this word as, ahem, "sexual prowess." But it can refer to skill in any field.


Which of these is the best definition of "adhere"?

A common use of this is the phrase "adhering to the rules." A noun form, "adhesive," is more literal -- it actually means a substance like glue.


What does "to attest" mean?

Technically, "attest" is a little less serious than "swear." The latter term implies that you're under oath, or that there's a serious consequence for lying. "Attest" is a bit more casual in its use.


When it does not mean "a building," what is the meaning of "facility"?

To understand this, you have to go back to the Latin root, "facilis," meaning "easy." A person who has a facility with numbers is good at math. So how'd it become "a building"? Well, a "facility" isn't just any building -- a house doesn't count. It's a building set up so that you can get things done there. For example, a gym is a sports-and-recreation facility.


What does "indeterminate" mean?

Here's an example that might clear things up. "A toddler of indeterminate gender, wearing a blue onesie, sat in the high chair."


Something "avian" is like a ...

This was probably an easy one if you thought of "aviation." Both have their roots in the Latin "avis," for "bird."


If you have "rectified" something, what have you done to it?

"Rectify" is related to both "correct" and "recto," the latter being a term for a right-hand page in an open book. So it all stems from the archaic idea that "right" stands for something good, while "left" is strange, untrustworthy. It's a weird superstition, eh?


What does "intersperse" mean?

For example: "Some green-and-yellow clad Oregon fans were interspersed among the blue-and-gold Cal supporters."


Something "discordant" is what?

"Discord" generally means "disagreement." "Discordant" is often used figuratively, as in "a discordant note of acid green in a silver-and-white color scheme."


Which of these is the best synonym for "triune"?

This is just a fancy way of saying "three-part." In past decades, the theory of the "triune brain" was popular; it suggested that humans had remnants of a reptilian and mammalian brain under our advanced homo sapiens neocortex. This has been cast into doubt in recent years.


What is a "milieu"?

More broadly, a "milieu" can be a setting for an action or event. But it's often used as "the place where [a particular person] feels most comfortable and/or does their work."


Something or someone "parched" is ...

Usually, when people are referred to as "parched," it just means "thirsty." At least, we hope they haven't dried up as literally as the "parched soil" of a desert.


Someone "acquiescent" is ....

To "acquiesce" to something is to give in or succumb to it. Generally, "acquiescent" is used in reference to someone's behavior in a particular situation. A person who is habitually obedient would be called "biddable" or "tractable."


If something "enthralls" you, you find it ...

The word "enthrall" used to mean "enslave." Now, it's meaning is far more positive, referring to being charmed and fascinated.


What is the best synonym for "emancipated"?

You might know this from the Emancipation Proclamation in the Civil War. But it's also used in a legal sense -- an emancipated minor is one who supports himself or herself financially and is legally an adult.


Something "spartan" is ...

This word comes from the culture of ancient Sparta, where warriors trained in very simple living conditions. If you're using this word in its general sense, don't capitalize it.


"Tenacious" describes something that is very ...

People are often described as "tenacious." But things are too, at times -- for example, a "tenacious defense" in a basketball game.


Which of these is the best synonym for "sardonic"?

"Sardonic" and "sarcastic" are closely related. So what's the difference? "Sardonic" is a little dryer and more subtle.


Something "spurious" is ...

"Spurious" is often used to describe a claim that sounds like it should be true, but isn't. You probably wouldn't use it about a child lying about stealing a cookie.


To "scrutinize" something is to do what?

You might know this word better in its noun form, "scrutiny." That's something you might give an alibi, a car you're about to buy, or similar.


Which of these is the best synonym for "agnostic"?

"Agnostic" is most commonly used in terms of belief in God; in fact, this is often the first definition you'll see in a dictionary. But more broadly, it means that you don't adhere to any particular theory about something.


What is the meaning of "emaciated"?

"Emaciated" is thin to the point of being unhealthy. High-fashion models come to mind here.


What is a "lackey"?

If someone describes you as someone's "lackey," it's time to look for new employment.


What does a "hedonist" value?

"Hedonism" is a value system that seeks pleasure. "Epicureanism" is similar, but tends to narrowly focus on the enjoyment of food and wine.


Which of these is the meaning of "duplicity"?

"Duplicity" sounds like it refers to two of something, and in a sense it does. A duplicitous person has a hidden goal they must hide from the person they are fooling, requiring them to have a true and a phony intention.


Which of these is the best synonym for "dilatory"?

"Dilatory" doesn't mean "late," per se, but things that cause lateness, or hold up a process, as procrasinators often do. "She put off doing her taxes with a dozen dilatory errands, like dropping off the dry cleaning."


What does an "intrepid" person lack?

"Trepidation" is a fancy word for "fear." An intrepid person has very little.


A "voluptuous" person is what?

"Voluptuous" means physically curvy. For this reason, it's virtually always applied to women.


Which of these is closest to the meaning of "mundane"?

"Mundane" is really not a compliment. Which leads us to our favorite use of this word: "mundanes." In the plural, it means "people who don't read sci-fi and fantasy." That'll teach 'em to look down on us!


Which of these is the best synonym for "lachrymose"?

This word is related to the Latin "lacrima," for "tear." Our favorite use of it was on "Xena, Warrior Princess" in which the show created a (fictitious) "Lacyrmos, god of despair."


What does "peripatetic" mean?

Fun fact: There's a school of Greek philosophers called "the Peripatetics." This is because they liked to pace as they taught.


Something "pragmatic" is about ...

Either a person or a thing can be "pragmatic." So you can have a pragmatic solution devised by a pragmatic person.


True or false: Is "pornocracy" a word?

It's true that if you Google "pornocracy," hits will come up; it's said to mean "government by prostitutes." However, the prostitution in question is always figurative -- there is no historical government that was staffed entirely by sex workers!


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