Test Prep

Boost Your Test Score by Learning Specific Root Words


Do you know your roots? Root words, that is. If you've ever studied Latin in school, you've been doing your vocab skills a big favor -- which is good news for your SAT or ACT score.

That's because the Latin and Greek languages largely inform the words we use today in the English language. In fact, Latin and Greek are at the root of over 60 percent of English words, either directly or indirectly.

By knowing certain Greek and Latin word roots, you can figure out the meaning of many words in English that are new to you, whether you encounter them in your everyday reading -- or on the Reading, Writing and Language sections of your standardized tests -- which may be a more immediate concern.

There are even several studies showing that students who take Latin in school or study Latin and Greek word roots have higher scores on standardized tests. But don't worry -- signing up for Latin class isn't the only way to boost your score. You can quickly put together a list of Latin and Greek word roots, learn them with some handy flashcards and prepare to successfully navigate your way through your upcoming SAT or ACT tests.

How the Words Appear on Tests

SAT vocabulary words used to have a reputation for being quite difficult and even obscure -- words you'd never use when writing a paper or in conversation with your friends. However, in 2016, the College Board redesigned the SAT and greatly modified its infamous vocab list, removing the most obscure words. Your English score on the SAT now comes from combining the Reading section (52 questions) and the Writing and Language (44 questions) section.

Luckily, the ACT vocab list doesn't have the same reputation as the SAT vocab list. In fact, since 2016, the SAT vocab list now looks more like the ACT vocab list. On the ACT, you'll find Reading (40 questions) and English (75 questions) sections, but some colleges consider the Science section (40 questions) part of that as well, because this section does feature long reading passages.

Get A Taste for Root Words

Below are some examples to get you going, and these can help you identify some meanings on your tests:

  • port = carry (porter, import)
  • corp = body (corpse, corpulent)
  • rupt = break (rupture, interrupt)
  • spec/t = see, look (spectacle, inspect)
  • mut = change (mutate, permutation)
  • scrib/script = write, written (scribe, inscription)
  • belli = war (belligerent, bellicose)
  • somn = sleep (insomniac)
  • form = shape (conform)
  • luc = light (translucent)
  • fid = faith (fidelity, infidel)
  • struct = build (construct)
  • tract = pull, drag (tractor, extract)
  • dol = pain (indolent, condolence)
  • dic/dict = speak (dictate)
  • vers/vert = turn (convert, vertigo)

Don't Forget Prefixes, Suffixes

As useful as root words are, sometimes you'll need a bit more information. Let's say you come across a word in an SAT reading passage, but you can't understand the word from its context, even though you recognize the root that's hiding within it.

That's when you need to take a look at how the root word is dressed up -- is there a prefix or a suffix (also mostly derived from the Latin and Greek languages) that can help you determine more about how the root word has been modified from its original meaning?

A prefix at the front of the root word could be a positive modifier (pro-) or negative (in-). A suffix at the end of the root word could help you determine if the word is an adjective (-ful, -ical), noun (-acy, -dom) or verb (-en, -ate).

Pay attention to any prefix or suffix attached to the root word -- those few letters can really shift its meaning. Putting together all of these word pieces can help you reveal a lot about the word's meaning to solve the vocab puzzle. Start brushing up on prefixes and suffixes with this list.

Practice Tests Still Matter

Knowing Latin root words can really help you crack the SAT or ACT code, it's still really important to work through as many practice questions from the SAT or ACT Reading sections as possible -- and to do so within the allotted time limits. You'll become familiar with the various formats of the questions, recognize how vocab words are used in the questions and become faster at uncovering a word's meaning by piecing together the word root, prefix and suffix.

While you might be focused on memorizing a limited list of vocabulary words and definitions for the SAT or the ACT, finding time to learn Latin and Greek word roots is actually a long-term investment. Not only will it help you on the SAT or ACT, but this knowledge will also be highly beneficial as you move onto to college-level reading and into your career.