Do you need to study vocabulary for the ACT but aren’t sure where to start? We have links to free lists of ACT vocab from around the web.
We also have found other vocab study resources – from videos to apps to browser plug-ins – to help you study ACT-specific vocabulary.
A Few Words of Advice: Don’t Overdo Vocab
Vocabulary on the ACT is far from the most important thing you can be doing to prep. You won’t be tested on obscure words or need to memorize definitions to be successful. Spending hours memorizing difficult, arcane vocab words will not help you on the ACT.
This is because the ACT tests moderate-difficulty words in the context of sentences, and focuses on words with multiple meanings. For more on this, read our article on ACT vocabulary – it’s a must read before you begin to study!
In short, make sure you don’t just memorize vocabulary and assume it will get you ready for ACT English and ACT Reading. You need to focus on being able to define vocabulary in context and recognize multiple-meaning words.
Many prep programs over-emphasize memorizing vocabulary because it’s easy to teach.
Still, learning vocabulary does matter for the ACT (we recommend using the waterfall method to study), which is why we’re including word lists and resources here. Keep in mind that you should view vocabulary as just one component of ACT Reading and English. Don’t neglect studying grammar rules or practicing for the reading section.
It's important to keep your ACT studying regimen balanced. Don't spend so much time on one skill you neglect another.
ACT Vocabulary Word Lists
As we discussed above, the ACT is all about testing vocabulary in context, rather than strange, obscure words. Beware of any super-long word lists that claim to be for the ACT – they are likely just old SAT word lists with a different title.
Focus on learning medium-difficulty words really well so you know them in context, and less on learning as many words as possible.
I recommend starting with our PrepScholar list. We focus on words with multiple meanings that are likely to appear on the ACT. Our 150 ACT words also includes some vocabulary to help you on the science section.
If you are still struggling with vocabulary after learning our 150 words, you can also learn these 100 words from Scholastic. This is technically an ACT/SAT list, but focuses on medium-difficulty words that appeared in a Scholastic publication, so it will be helpful for the ACT.
Finally, you can learn 50 more science-specific vocabulary words to help with the science section.
Once you have these words under your belt, you will have the base you need to do well on ACT Reading and English. Memorizing more words will have diminishing returns, since again, obscure words aren’t tested on the ACT. And more importantly, you need to practice being able to define words in context. Doing ACT Practice sections will be just as helpful for learning that skill. Memorizing hundreds of vocab words will not.
Flashcards, Games, and Other Resources
Here are some additional free web resources that can be really helpful for learning ACT vocabulary, and specifically for learning words in context of larger articles or passages. The first two would be great resources for any student. The last two are helpful for students who are auditory learners or learn best by example.
This is a flashcard website which you can use to learn vocabulary words. If you make an account, you can use their website but also mobile apps for iPhone and Android – meaning you can study whenever you find yourself with a free moment.
You can search through thousands of pre-existing flashcard sets on Quizlet.
You can either make your own sets using the lists above or search for “ACT vocabulary” to access pre-made flashcards other users have made. Just be careful you don’t pull up a supposed “ACT Vocab” card set that is really just old SAT vocabulary. (Any lists longer than 250 words are too long.)
You can also search for “ACT Science” to review more science vocabulary.
I personally used this app all the time in college for my language classes and found its format very helpful. I could make flashcards on Quizlet much faster than writing them out by hand. Plus, I would pull up the app whenever I found myself with spare time (waiting in line somewhere, for example) and study a few words.
This is an app for your browser that pulls ACT vocabulary words from articles and pages and defines them for you. This is really cool because if you read articles online, particularly in publications like The Economist, Time, or The New Yorker, you are encountering tons of ACT vocabulary words. This app just goes through and points them out so you don’t miss them!
This is an excellent way to learn words in context, which is super useful to prepare for ACT Reading and English. Even if you read just one article a day, by going though the highlighted words and testing your knowledge of them, you can improve your ability to define words in context. This is a great way to practice for ACT vocabulary, and also a fun way, if you like reading articles and blogs.
"No, Mom, I'm not just reading Game of Thrones recaps for fun, this is for the ACT!" Image via Wired.
If you learn better with concepts explained aloud to you, check out the videos at Vocab Ahead. Rather than just giving you a dictionary definition, they also use vocabulary words in sentences, with animations to match, to help you learn.
Head to the “Study Room” tab to find the vocabulary videos. You can go through the “SAT Common 300” list, as it has a lot of words that overlap with ACT vocabulary. You can also go to the “Master” list to look up words you are having trouble with.
If you like online quizzes, Vocab Sushi is a fun website that lets you test your vocab knowledge with quizzes and teaches vocab words by using them in sentences.
This site is especially useful for the ACT since it emphasizes meaning in context. Vocab Sushi draws example sentences from real-life newspapers and magazines, helping you see how words are actually used in the real world. This is a great way to learn vocabulary in the way the ACT tests it – through context.
What else do you need besides vocab to do well on the ACT? Learn 5 Critical Concepts you need to ace the ACT English section.
We mentioned that the ACT focuses on vocabulary in context. Read more about that and get strategies for ACT reading.
You might have heard the ACT doesn’t have a guessing penalty – but how can you use this to your advantage and guess effectively? Read about guessing strategies for the ACT.
Want to improve your ACT score by 4+ points? Download our free guide to the top 5 strategies you need in your prep to improve your ACT score dramatically.
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Halle Edwards graduated from Stanford University with honors. In high school, she earned 99th percentile ACT scores as well as 99th percentile scores on SAT subject tests. She also took nine AP classes, earning a perfect score of 5 on seven AP tests. As a graduate of a large public high school who tackled the college admission process largely on her own, she is passionate about helping high school students from different backgrounds get the knowledge they need to be successful in the college admissions process.