When taking the ACT essay section, students have 45 minutes to write a well-reasoned argumentative essay about a given prompt. The new ACT Essay prompts tend to be about “debate” topics — two sides of an issue are presented, with no obviously “right” side. Oftentimes, these subjects carry implications for broader issues such as freedom or morality. Test-takers are expected to convey some stance on the issue and support their argument with relevant facts and analysis.
In addition to some of the more obvious categories, like grammar and structure, students’ essays are also evaluated on their mastery of the English language. One way to demonstrate such mastery is through the correct usage of advanced vocabulary words. Below are 50 above-average vocabulary words sorted by the contexts in which they could most easily be worked into an ACT essay.
Context 1: Factual Support For ACT Essay
These words can easily be used when stating facts and describing examples to support one’s argument. On ACT essays, common examples are trends or patterns of human behavior, current or past events, and large-scale laws or regulations.
- Antecedent – a precursor, or preceding event for something – N
- Bastion – an institution/place/person that strongly maintains particular principles, attitudes, or activities – N
- Bellwether – something that indicates a trend – N
- Burgeon – to begin to grow or increase rapidly – V
- Catalyst – an agent that provokes or triggers change – N
- Defunct – no longer in existence or functioning – Adj.
- Entrenched – characterized by something that is firmly established and difficult to change – Adj.
- Foster – to encourage the development of something – V
- Galvanize – to shock or excite someone into taking action – V
- Impetus – something that makes a process or activity happen or happen faster – N
- Inadvertent – accidental or unintentional – Adj.
- Incessant – never ending; continuing without pause – Adj.
- Inflame – to provoke or intensify strong feelings in someone – V
- Instill – to gradually but firmly establish an idea or attitude into a person’s mind – V
- Lucrative – having a large reward, monetary or otherwise – Adj.
- Myriad – countless or extremely large in number – Adj.
- Precipitate – to cause something to happen suddenly or unexpectedly – V
- Proponent – a person who advocates for something – N
- Resurgence – an increase or revival after a period of limited activity – N
- Revitalize – to give something new life and vitality – V
- Ubiquitous – characterized by being everywhere; widespread – Adj.
- Watershed – an event or period that marks a turning point – N
Context 2: Analysis
These words can often be used when describing common patterns between examples or casting some form of opinion or judgement.
- Anomaly – deviation from the norm – N
- Automaton – a mindless follower; someone who acts in a mechanical fashion – N
- Belie – to fail to give a true impression of something – V
- Cupidity – excessive greed – Adj.
- Debacle – a powerful failure; a fiasco – N
- Demagogue – a political leader or person who looks for support by appealing to prejudices instead of using rational arguments – N
- Deter – to discourage someone from doing something by making them doubt or fear the consequences – V
- Discredit – to harm the reputation or respect for someone – V
- Draconian – characterized by strict laws, rules and punishments – Adj.
- Duplicitous – deliberately deceitful in speech/behavior – Adj.
- Egregious – conspicuously bad; extremely evil; monstrous and outrageous – Adj.
- Exacerbate – to make a situation worse – V
- Ignominious – deserving or causing public disgrace or shame – Adj.
- Insidious – proceeding in a subtle way but with harmful effects – Adj.
- Myopic – short-sighted; not considering the long run – Adj.
- Pernicious – dangerous and harmful – Adj.
- Renegade – a person who betrays an organization, country, or set of principles – N
- Stigmatize – to describe or regard as worthy of disgrace or disapproval – V
- Superfluous – unnecessary – Adj.
- Venal – corrupt; susceptible to bribery – Adj.
- Virulent – extremely severe or harmful in its effects – Adj.
- Zealot – a person who is fanatical and uncompromising in pursuit of their religious, political, or other ideals – N
Context 3: Thesis and Argument
These words are appropriate for taking a stance on controversial topics, placing greater weight on one or the other end of the spectrum, usually touching on abstract concepts, and/or related to human nature or societal issues.
- Autonomy – independence or self governance; the right to make decisions for oneself – N
- Conundrum – a difficult problem with no easy solution – N
- Dichotomy – a division or contrast between two things that are presented as opposites or entirely different – N
- Disparity – a great difference between things – N
- Divisive – causing disagreement or hostility between people – Adj.
- Egalitarian – favoring social equality and equal rights – Adj.
Although it’s true that vocabulary is one of the lesser criteria by which students’ ACT essays are graded, the small boost it may give to a student’s score could be the difference between a good score and a great score. For those who are already confident in their ability to create and support a well-reasoned argument but still want to go the extra mile, having a few general-purpose, impressive-sounding vocabulary words up one’s sleeve is a great way to tack on even more points.
To learn more about the ACT test, check out these CollegeVine posts:
Angela is a student at Cornell College of Engineering. At CollegeVine, she works primarily as ACT Verbal Division Manager. She enjoys teaching a variety of subjects and helping students realize their dreams.
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a tangible symbol signifying approval or distinction
a rough and bitter manner
an acute but unspecific feeling of anxiety
deviation from the normal or common order or form or rule
a remedy that stops or controls the effects of a poison
radically new or original
relating to an elaborately ornamented style of art and music
not counterfeit or copied
work of little or no value done merely to look busy
being of the property-owning class
a swaggering show of courage
a thick and heavy shoe
marked by rude or peremptory shortness
of or relating to or characteristic of the Byzantine Empire or the ancient city of Byzantium
loud confusing disagreeable sounds
the quality of affording easy familiarity and sociability
determined by chance or impulse rather than by necessity
complete freedom or authority to act
capable of destroying or eating away by chemical action
personal attractiveness that enables you to influence others
the experience of thinking a new situation already occurred
a classification into two opposed parts or subclasses
an amateur engaging in an activity without serious intention
in disarray; extremely disorderly
enthusiastic and assured vigor and liveliness
the feeling of being bored by something tedious
a standard or typical example
steadiness of mind under stress
be deliberately ambiguous or unclear
understandable only by an enlightened inner circle
an inoffensive expression substituted for an offensive one
an irreversible accomplishment
giving careful attention to detail
a socially awkward or tactless act
a complete failure or collapse
achieve something by means of trickery or devious methods
a slip-up that (according to Sigmund Freud) results from the operation of unconscious wishes or conflicts and can reveal unconscious processes in normal healthy individuals
artfully persuasive in speech
temperamentally seeking and enjoying the company of others
something indicating the approach of something or someone
someone motivated by desires for sensual pleasures
a belief that rejects the orthodox tenets of a religion
peculiar to the individual
charmingly simple and serene
slightly indecent, offensive, or improper
working or spreading in a hidden and usually injurious way
dessert made of sweetened milk coagulated with rennet
excessively garish or sentimental art
any long and tedious address or recital
glaringly vivid and graphic; marked by sensationalism
of or relating to amoral or conniving political principles
a general feeling of discomfort, uneasiness, or depression
avoid responsibilities and duties
literally a `sacred utterance' in Vedism
effusively or insincerely emotional
a person hired to fight for another country than their own
a conservative advocating only minor reforms in government
an incorrect or unsuitable name
someone who is excessively self-centered
the beatitude that transcends the cycle of reincarnation
a reply that has no relevance to what preceded it
characteristic of someone who has risen economically or socially but lacks the social skills appropriate for this new position
the state of being disregarded or forgotten
look at with amorous intentions
intended to attract notice and impress others
expel from a community or group
hypothetical remedy for all ills or diseases
a statement that contradicts itself
easily irritated or annoyed
hasty and without attention to detail; not thorough
a person who is uninterested in intellectual pursuits
characterized by exceptionally early development
something for something
representing the perfect example of a class or quality
diversion intended to distract attention from the main issue
take delight in
study of the technique for using language effectively
having brief brilliant points or flashes of light
unsparing and uncompromising in discipline or judgment
a symbol of disgrace or infamy
seeming unaffected by pleasure or pain; impassive
having a sophisticated charm
someone (usually maleficent) who tries to persuade or force another person to do his bidding
a person who tries to please someone to gain an advantage
a total abstainer
a private conversation between two people
a speech of violent denunciation
a secret rendezvous, especially between lovers
being present everywhere at once
not returned in kind
incapable of being defended or justified
experienced at secondhand
a long flag; often tapering
a valuable possession whose upkeep is excessively expensive
marked by active interest and enthusiasm