SAT vocabulary: austere

What does austere mean? Read below for the definition.

Quick vocab quiz for the word austere

First, before you read about the word austere, try this quick vocab quiz:

austere most nearly means

(A) calm
(B) static
(C) severe
(D) cold
(E) firm

Write your answer down, or just store it in that razor-sharp mind of yours. (If you can’t wait, the answer is below.)

Now let’s learn about the word austere.

Part of Speech of austere

austere is an ADJECTIVE.

Pronunciation of austere

Here’s how to pronounce austere:

IPA: /ɔ.ˈstɪər/

Glossary-style: [aw-STEER]

Definition of austere

austere means: serious, severe, or stern. lacking any physical comfort or decoration (Ex: living austerely in the wilderness).

Explain more about austere, please

austere means not having comfort or decoration. The idea is that if something is austere, then it completely lacks anything unnecessary; it is the bare minimum that is needed. For example, austere living conditions would not include soft, fluffy pillows, massage chairs, or anything that makes life more relaxing or enjoyable.

Example of austere

Here’s the word austere used in a sentence:

Monks are widely known for subjecting themselves to living austere lives, eschewing all comforts in an effort to make their minds spiritually pure.

If you’ve read this far, you’re a great student and will learn vocabulary quickly. You may now check your answer.

Answer to the quick vocab quiz

SAT vocabulary: tantalize

Tantalus depicted in a painting.
So near, yet so far.

What does tantalize mean? Read below for the definition.

Quick vocab quiz for the word tantalize

First, before you read about the word tantalize, try this quick vocab quiz:

tantalize most nearly means

(A) amaze
(B) decline
(C) distance
(D) ignore
(E) tease

Write your answer down, or just store it in that razor-sharp mind of yours. (If you can’t wait, the answer is below.)

Now let’s learn about the word tantalize.

Part of Speech of tantalize

tantalize is a VERB.

Pronunciation of tantalize

Here’s how to pronounce tantalize:

IPA: /ˈtæn.tə.laɪz/

Glossary-style: [TAHN-tuh-lyz]

Definition of tantalize

tantalize means: attract, entice, or torment with the promise of something desirable but not likely to reachable or attainable (Ex: Lotteries tantalize people with the chance to win millions of dollars.).

Explain more about tantalize, please

tantalize means to show something wonderful to someone to make him want it, but then to keep it out of reach. For example, if someone dangles a shiny toy in front of you, but doesn’t let you have it, then she is tantalizing you. So mean, right?

Example of tantalize

Here’s the word tantalize used in a sentence:

Although I’ve not been a victim of this scam, nor even seen it in action, I’ve heard of it. It works like this–the scam artist waits at a busy intersection where traffic backs up cars, thus keeping them stalled for a few seconds, but only a few seconds. The scammer suddenly appears, seemingly out of nowhere, holding what appears to be the original packaging of an expensive consumer item, say a high-end notebook computer. The ne’er-do-well, hoping to make a quick buck, offers to sell the box to the driver of the car for a very low price, say $20 to $50. The victim, tantalized by the offer of a shiny new computer, perhaps after feeling the heft of the box, figures he’ll take the scammer up on the offer, figuring he has only a few dollars to lose if the deal goes south. Soon the traffic light turns green, drivers are blowing their horns, and the victim feels pressured to drive off, perhaps pulling over to examine his loot, only to find rocks or a telephone book inside.

If you’ve read this far, you’re a great student and will learn vocabulary quickly. You may now check your answer.

Answer to the quick vocab quiz

SAT vocabulary: wistful

A dog looking wistfully at the camera
"Wistful? Me? Anthropomorphize much?

What does wistful mean? Read below for the definition.

Quick vocab quiz for the word wistful

First, before you read about the word wistful, try this quick vocab quiz:

wistful most nearly means

(A) angry
(B) drenched
(C) happy
(D) yearning
(E) diverse

Write your answer down, or just store it in that razor-sharp mind of yours. (If you can’t wait, the answer is below.)

Now let’s learn about the word wistful.

Part of Speech of wistful

wistful is an ADJECTIVE.

Pronunciation of wistful

Here’s how to pronounce wistful:

IPA: /ˈwɪst.fəl/

Glossary-style: [WIHST-fuhl]

Definition of wistful

wistful means: characterized by melancholy or sadness; sad. longing or yearning for something. pensive or thinking about something deeply, especially in a sad way.

Explain more about wistful, please

wistful means sad and lost in thought, especially as if you’re missing someone or something. For example, if you get caught up in remembering good times that are long gone or someone you used to know and love who is no longer with you, you may become wistful. *sigh*

Example of wistful

Here’s the word wistful used in a sentence:

Rohit appeared wistful when someone mentioned his absence from the senior prom; he later confided that he’d long dreamt of participating in this rite of passage and knew he’d never have another chance to repeat it.

If you’ve read this far, you’re a great student and will learn vocabulary quickly. You may now check your answer.

Answer to the quick vocab quiz

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SAT vocabulary: aver

(Too) serious Caucasian male face
I am 10,000% serious.

What does aver mean? Read below for the definition.

Quick vocab quiz for the word aver

First, before you read about the word aver, try this quick vocab quiz:

aver most nearly means

(A) neglect
(B) decline
(C) deny
(D) affirm
(E) amaze

Write your answer down, or just store it in that razor-sharp mind of yours. (If you can’t wait, the answer is below.)

Now let’s learn about the word aver.

Part of Speech of aver

aver is a VERB.

Pronunciation of aver

Here’s how to pronounce aver:

IPA: /ə.ˈvər/

Glossary-style: [uh-VUHR]

Definition of aver

aver means: say, state, or affirm in a sure, confident manner (Ex: to aver one’s innocence).

Explain more about aver, please

To aver is simply to say or declare something strongly, as if you really mean what you’re saying. For example, if someone wrongly accuses of you eating the last chocolate chip cookie, and you know that Pookie actually ate the cookie, you might aver that you in fact did NOT eat the cookie. (While not dropping a dime on Pookie, of course.)

Example of aver

Here’s the word aver used in a sentence:

Many writers will aver that the best writing occurs when they are not forced to write something, but write what they want with passion.

If you’ve read this far, you’re a great student and will learn vocabulary quickly. You may now check your answer.

Answer to the quick vocab quiz

SAT vocabulary: askew

There’s something unnerving about this. And I hear you can’t go to the top anymore.

What does askew mean? Read below for the definition.

Quick vocab quiz for the word askew

First, before you read about the word askew, try this quick vocab quiz:

askew most nearly means

(A) lone
(B) off
(C) afraid
(D) big
(E) able

Write your answer down, or just store it in that razor-sharp mind of yours. (If you can’t wait, the answer is below.)

Now let’s learn about the word askew.

Part of Speech of askew

askew is an ADVERB or ADJECTIVE.

Pronunciation of askew

Here’s how to pronounce askew:

IPA: /ə.ˈskyu/

Glossary-style: [uh-SKYOO]

Definition of askew

askew means: to one side; crooked. not in the proper position (Ex: Things seem askew after moving to another country.). with disapproval (Ex: to look askew).

Explain more about askew, please

askew is an interesting word. askew can mean not straight or crooked, and by extension, askew also means wrong or awry, as if something’s not quite right. For example, you could say “the plan went askew” or someone has “an askew way of viewing the world”.

Example of askew

Here’s the word askew used in a sentence:

Jenny couldn’t tell exactly what was wrong, but she somehow felt that her life and her world had somehow become askew.

If you’ve read this far, you’re a great student and will learn vocabulary quickly. You may now check your answer.

Answer to the quick vocab quiz

Answer Click Here to Show the Answer!

SAT vocabulary: inexorable

You. You are unstoppable.

What does inexorable mean? Read below for the definition.

Quick vocab quiz for the word inexorable

First, before you read about the word inexorable, try this quick vocab quiz:

inexorable most nearly means

(A) fast
(B) slow
(C) old
(D) unstoppable
(E) new

Write your answer down, or just store it in that razor-sharp mind of yours. (If you can’t wait, the answer is below.)

Now let’s learn about the word inexorable.

Part of Speech of inexorable

inexorable is an ADJECTIVE.

Pronunciation of inexorable

Here’s how to pronounce inexorable:

IPA: /ɪn.ˈɛks.ə.rə.bəl/

Glossary-style: [ihn-EHKS-uh-ruh-buhl]

Definition of inexorable

inexorable means: not able to be persuaded, changed, or stopped (Ex: inexorable advance of technology).

Explain more about inexorable, please
Example of inexorable

Here’s the word inexorable used in a sentence:

Websites today capitalize on people’s desire to be recognized and even celebrated, resulting in an inexorable decline of privacy that is unlikely to be halted or even slowed.

Discussion: inexorable has always been one of my favorite words, probably because it implies a sense of power and immutability that denotes a great force or occasionally will.

Interestingly, inexorable shares a Latin word root with other familiar words such as orateorare, which means to argue.

Quickly checking the usage of this word over time, I see that inexorable seems to be shifting more towards a meaning of being unstoppable from its original and more literal sense of unable to be argued with or proven wrong, which is the way that I’ve most often heard it used.

Finally, this word makes me think of juggernaut, which will be an excellent word to discuss in another vocab article.

If you’ve read this far, you’re a great student and will learn vocabulary quickly. You may now check your answer.

Answer to the quick vocab quiz

Answer Click Here to Show the Answer!

Case study: 15-year-old from Egypt

300 points in two weeks? Yes.

I tell this story a lot to my local students. Some years ago, in the late 1990s, a very bright 15-year-old boy originally from Egypt came to TestMagic and told us that he needed to raise his score on the official SAT by about 300 points. I told him and his father of the challenges he would face, but told him that I’d work with him personally to help him as much as I could. After a bit of discussion, Ahmed and his father decided to focus solely on the verbal section, although I told them that it’s not always advisable to work only on your weakest section.

Blurry TestMagic window sign, with flowers in focus.
Learn. Excel.

But first, his back story. “Ahmed” (not his real name) had come to the United States only a few years earlier and was attending Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco. His father worked for the Egyptian government and was to be stationed in the U.S. for only a few years. Ahmed did not know English before he came to the U.S., but had picked it up fairly quickly, which is quite common for people of that age. In fact, when speaking to him, you might not immediately recognize him as a non-native speaker. It was only when he talked more and at length that it became apparent, at least to me, that English was not his first language. Ahmed and his father were returning to Egypt soon, but did not want to complete high school in Egypt, opting instead to go directly into the American University in Cairo. I was told that American University would accept him if he had a 900 or better on the SAT (remember, this was in the days of the two-section SAT I, in which a perfect score was 1600). He had scored only 600-something on his official SAT and had only two weeks to raise his score to 900.

Such scenarios, I should mention, are all too common. People frequently have very little time to reach a goal, but very much need to.  Happily, in the majority of cases, it seems that people do reach their goals, which speaks a lot to what people can accomplish when they give a goal their very best effort. So back to Ahmed. He had two weeks until his official SAT and needed to improve his score to 900 or better. His score breakdown was something like 350 on the math and 250 on the verbal, which again is quite typical for non-native speakers of English, and we set about on the usual diagnostics necessary for new students we work with.

It’s not such a long story, but I’ll leave out some of the details. One of the first things I check with students is simply how many empty bubbles there are on their answer sheets. Ahmed had none. Okay, I thought. First thing to point out to Ahmed. I then checked the distribution of incorrect answers. Like most people and quite understandably, Ahmed was missing more hard questions than easy questions. (Remember, most  SAT questions (but not all) progress from easier to harder within the question set.) Okay, that’s our second point to cover–how to face challenging vocabulary in the sentence completions (and analogies) and harder reading passages.

In our very first tutoring session, I sat with Ahmend and worked through some official SAT questions from the Official SAT Study Guide (always the most important book for you to have) and watched as he answered the questions. Ahmed was not leaving a single question blank, even the questions he couldn’t understand (again, quite common). Now I’ve seen many well-intentioned people and  books teach rather simplistic guessing strategies, such as If you can eliminate one answer choice, guess! Or elsewhere, If you can eliminate two answer choices as wrong, guess, since your odds of getting the right answer are in your favor. So, is it one or two? Well… It’s both. And neither. It’s just not that simple. In a word, some people are good guessers, while others seem to have bad luck. (In truth I think it really has to do with overall academic preparation.) So Ahmed and I worked on an effective guessing strategy, which ultimately resulting in his leaving a sizable number of questions blank, from about one third to one half, depending on the section.

I know you may be curious about the guessing strategy. I’ll give an example for the SAT sentence completions. For this section, which is heavily vocabulary-based, it largely boiled down to something like this–look at the question stem (the “top” part) and assess how well you understand it by counting how many words you don’t know. Then look down at the answer choices (the (A), (B), (C), (D), (E) part) and count how many words you don’t know. Come up with a threshold beyond which you should omit a question and below which you should guess. If this sounds complicated, it’s not. It’s actually relatively easy to do, and it’s one of the fastest ways to get a big score boost on the SAT if you’re not already doing it.

Ahmed and I worked through our standard curriculum (adapted to his needs, of course), which introduces students to concepts tested on the SAT and teaches them what they need to know for the test. But since it would be easier for Sisyphus to push his rock to the summit of the hill than for a mere mortal to learn in a few short weeks all of the vocabulary that could appear on the SAT, I focused less on building his foundation of knowledge and more on strategies that would give him an immediate boost. (More on strategies vs. knowledge.)

The results? Well, I’m happy to say that Ahmed reached his goal, and scored a bit over 900 on his SAT, and back to Cairo he went. He was an exceptional case for sure, but he illustrates why people should know more about their test before they take it.

SAT vocabulary: dolorous

Iranian looks dolorously off to the right
If not many dolorous years, at least a dolorous moment.

What does dolorous mean? Read below for the definition.

Quick vocab quiz for the word dolorous

First, before you read about the word dolorous, try this quick vocab quiz:

dolorous most nearly means

(A) extreme
(B) very sad
(C) angry, furious
(D) immoral or evil
(E) joyous

Write your answer down, or just store it in that razor-sharp mind of yours. (If you can’t wait, the answer is below.)

Now let’s learn about the word dolorous.

Part of Speech of dolorous

dolorous is an ADJECTIVE.

Pronunciation of dolorous

Here’s how to pronounce dolorous:

IPA: /ˈdou.lə.rəs/

Glossary-style: [DOH-luh-ruhs]

Definition of dolorous

dolorous means: very sad; sorrowful. emotionally painful.

Explain more about dolorous, please

dolorous simply means very, very sad. For example, you could say that someone wrote a dolorous note to a lost friend. Note: We generally would not say something like *the dolorous man or *I’m so dolorous today.

Example of dolorous

Here’s the word dolorous used in a sentence:

The dolorous expression on the mother’s face vanished when she learned that the free clinic could accommodate one last patient that day–her son.

If you’ve read this far, you’re a great student and will learn vocabulary quickly. You may now check your answer.

Answer to the quick vocab quiz

Answer Click Here to Show the Answer!

SAT vocabulary: impious

Man doll with impious look on his face
I am impious man. Make that MR. Impious Man.

What does impious mean? Read below for the definition.

Quick vocab quiz for the word impious

First, before you read about the word impious, try this quick vocab quiz:

impious most nearly means

(A) relating to beauty
(B) scholarly
(C) irreverent
(D) knowledgeable
(E) incorrect

Write your answer down, or just store it in that razor-sharp mind of yours. (If you can’t wait, the answer is below.)

Now let’s learn about the word impious.

Part of Speech of impious

impious is an ADJECTIVE.

Pronunciation of impious

Here’s how to pronounce impious:

IPA: /ˈɪm.pi.əs/

Glossary-style: [IHM-pee-uhs]

Definition of impious

impious means: not pious or not adhering to religious principles or ethics. rude or disrespectful.

Explain more about impious, please

impious basically means not pious. And pious basically means being a good (often religious) person. In other words, a pious person does what he’s supposed to do according to what his religion taught him, while an impious person does not. So, if someone is impious, then he doesn’t follow the rules of his religion. By extension, impious can also mean lacking respect, not being dutiful, etc.

On a related note, it’s interesting that the word impious looks like it could be related to the word imp, which is a little devil or mischievous child, but it’s not. The adjective form of imp is impish, not impious. (Of course, using a mnemonic, such as “an imp would be impious” could help you remember this word.)

Example of impious

Here’s the word impious used in a sentence:

The young student loved little more than being impious in order to get a reaction from his easily-irritated teacher.

If you’ve read this far, you’re a great student and will learn vocabulary quickly. You may now check your answer.

Answer to the quick vocab quiz

Is the word impious related to the word imp?

When I first heard (and pondered) the word impious, I assumed that it was derived from word imp, meaning little devil or mischievous child. I made this assumption simply because of the pronunciation of impious: /ˈɪm.pi.əs/. I thought that if an imp is a naughty child solemnly sworn to be up to no good, then it stood to reason, at least for me, that the adjective used to describe such a child would be “impious”. Of course, there’s the word impish, but perhaps that was sub-standard version of the more proper impious.

Some time later I learned the word pious (meaning upright, moral, ethical, or adhering to religious practices or beliefs) and realized that perhaps impious derived not from imp but from pious. And to add another wrinkle, at some point, I heard an alternate pronunciation of the word, /ɪm.ˈpaɪ.əs/, which made me think that perhaps I’d been confused when I was younger.

So to the dictionary I went to look up the etymology.

Turns out that in fact the two words, related though they may seem, come to us from two different sources. impious simply means “not pious”–“im” generally means “not” or “in”, and in this case, it means “not”. If you’re curious, pious comes from the Latin pius, which means devout or kind. So that makes sense.

More interestingly, to me at least, is the word imp. imp derives ultimately from the Greek emphuein, which means implant. What’s the connection? It appears to be something like this: to create a new plant, a shoot or sapling was used, which was a kind of implant. From this usage came the idea of something young and new. And from “young and new” came the idea of child. But I just have to opine: that the sense evolved from “child” to “child of the Devil” reflects poorly on the opinions of children at the time. I think children are miracles.