175 ACT Vocabulary Words You Need to Master

February 16, 2024

ACT vocabulary words vocab

Why do you need to learn ACT vocabulary words? Well, you probably already know that many schools require you to take the ACT exam and that your admission to those schools can partially depend upon your ACT score. And whether you’re as monosyllabic as Baby Yoda or you’ve loved being loquacious since you first read Fancy Nancy in preschool, the ACT will manage to throw some fairly esoteric (adj. likely to be understood only by a small number of people) vocab words your way that can make the test pretty arduous (adj. involving or requiring strenuous effort).

What’s more, the ACT is a timed test. The English section is comprised of 75 questions you’ll need to answer within 45 minutes. The Reading test has 40 questions and is 35 minutes long. And the Writing test is a 40-minute exam that will ask you to read a prompt and respond to it, analyzing your response in comparison to others.

On each of these test sections, ACT vocabulary words will appear in reading passages, questions and writing prompts. Since time is of the essence, it’s crucial to give yourself as much of it as possible! Below, we’ve compiled a list of some of the more common ACT vocab words you may find because, simply put, you’ll be able to read the passages and questions more quickly if you have mastery over these ACT vocabulary words.

Related: For more specific information on the ACT’s structure and scoring, along with the length and requirements of each section, see our ACT Score Calculator page. Additionally, click here for a list of 250 SAT Vocabulary Words.

What if I’m a poor test-taker? How will learning vocab words help me?

For starters, if you have a language barrier or disability that may hinder you from completing the ACT, be sure to seek accommodations! Everyone deserves a fair shot at taking this test, so don’t be afraid to ask for the assistance you need. But… what if you don’t qualify for testing accommodations and you’re still not great at standardized tests? Perhaps you’re one of the 10% to 30% of high school-aged students who suffers from text-taking anxiety[i] (which can be present even if you don’t suffer from anxiety in non-evaluative situations).[ii] [iii] Or perhaps, even if you don’t believe in the right-brain / left-brain dichotomy, you still feel confident in the Math and Science portions of the ACT but find that the language-based portions of the test are a personal weakness.[iv]

Never fear! Along with studying our list of ACT vocabulary words, you can bolster (v. support or strengthen) your test-taking abilities with practice tests, reading, and physical health interventions.

A Few Tips on Studying ACT Vocabulary Words

You should be happy to hear that not all of these ACT vocab words are sesquipedalian (adj. having many syllables) and one of the easiest ways to commit them to memory is to make them into flashcards. Once made, set aside time every day to flip through your cards. After you’ve mastered a word, set it aside until your pile of unknown flashcards is completely gone. Finally, revisit the words every few days or so until it’s test time. If you’ve got a knack for memorizing vocabulary words and you’re thirsty for more, be sure to check out our list of 250 SAT vocab words as well!

As you study, be careful of ACT vocab words that sound like other words (e.g. “complement” vs. “compliment”) and words that are often used both literally and figuratively (“maelstrom”). It’s also important to brush up on words that may appear in the actual test questions – not just the sample reading passages. For instance, you can bet some ACT vocab words like “narrator,” “protagonist,” “antagonist,” “climax,” “genre,” “anecdote” and “synonym” will show up in ACT question lines. Finally, don’t forget to check out the ACT practice tests themselves – these will offer a glimpse into important vocabulary words while letting you take a spin in the driver’s seat of the exam.

Reading: A Holistic Approach to Studying

Aside from practice tests and ACT vocab word flashcards, you can take more general steps to make yourself a stronger test taker. For instance, instead of loading up on Takis and Sour Patch Kids, consider adding fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and lean proteins into your diet in the weeks and months before the exam.[v] [vi] Getting good rest, drinking lots of water, and exercising will also contribute to better scores on test day.[vii] Trust me, your brain will thank you for it!

Finally, a less direct way to boost your knowledge of potential ACT vocabulary words is reading – even for pleasure! Studies have shown that those who read for pleasure often perform better on cognitive tests than those who don’t.[viii] Additionally, though our list below is a long one, it certainly isn’t exhaustive (adj. including everything; fully comprehensive) – leisure reading can provide exposure to unlisted ACT vocab words, along with practice developing your comprehension through contextual clues.

Most importantly, remember: standardized tests don’t necessarily measure your intelligence or how well you’ll ultimately do in college – they measure how well you can take tests on a given topic. So, take a deep breath, make some ACT vocab word flashcards, and good luck!

175 ACT Vocabulary Words

1 Abate v. lessen in intensity
2 Abscond v. leave hurriedly and secretly
3 Abundant adj. present in large quantities
4 Abysmal adj. extremely bad
5 Adamant adj. refusing to be persuaded or change one’s mind
6 Adulation n. high praise, flattery
7 Aesthetic adj. relating to beauty or appearance
8 Affable adj. friendly, pleasant, good-natured
9 Alacrity n. brisk and cheerful readiness
10 Aloof adj. not friendly or open; distant
11 Ambiguous adj. unclear; open to several potential interpretations or meanings
12 Amicable adj. friendly, agreeable
13 Anachronism n. something belonging to another time
14 Anecdote n. short account or description of an event
15 Annihilate v. kill or destroy
16 Antagonist n. opponent, particularly the opponent of a story’s protagonist
17 Antipathy n. dislike or aversion
18 Arduous adj. involving or requiring strenuous effort
19 Arid adj. dry
20 Assiduous adj. showing great care and perseverance
21 Asylum n. protection, sanctuary, a safe place
22 Arbitrary adj. random, based on whim
23 Arduous adj. involving or requiring strenuous effort
24 Belligerent adj. hostile and aggressive
25 Benevolent adj. kind

ACT Vocabulary List (Continued)

26 Bolster v. support or strengthen
27 Bombastic adj. inflated, but with little meaning
28 Bovine adj. cow-like
29 Burgeoning adj. growing rapidly
30 Cacophony n. harsh, discordant mixture of sounds
31 Candor n. the quality of being open and honest
32 Catalyst n. a person or thing that precipitates and event
33 Censorious adj. disapproving of others
34 Circuitous adj. indirect
35 Climax n. most exciting point of a narrative
36 Cognizant adj. being aware of
37 Complement v. add to something in a way that improves it
38 Concomitant adj. naturally accompanying or associated with
39 Condescending adj. showing patronizing superiority
40 Confluence n. act or process of merging
41 Conformist n. one who sticks to established behavior
42 Copious adj. abundant
43 Crude adj. unrefined
44 Cumbersome adj. unwieldy; heavy; difficult to move or carry
45 Cupidity n. greed
46 Deleterious adj. causing harm
47 Demagogue n. political leader who appeals to popularity rather than reason
48 Demur v. raise doubts or show objections
49 Denigrate v. criticize unfairly
50 Depict v. show or represent by a drawing

ACT Vocab Words (Continued)

51 Dexterity n. skill in performing a task
52 Diaphanous adj. light, delicate, translucent
53 Digress v. leave the main subject temporarily
54 Discrepancy n. lack of compatibility between two or more facts
55 Dismantle v. take apart
56 Ebullience n. the quality of being cheerful and energetic
57 Egregious adj. outstandingly bad
58 Emollient adj. softening, soothing or calming
59 Empathy n. the ability to understand the feelings of another
60 Emulate v. to imitate
61 Enervate v. to drain of energy; weaken
62 Engross v. to absorb the attention of
63 Ephemeral adj. lasting for a short time
64 Equivocate v. use ambiguous language to avoid committing to something
65 Esoteric adj. likely to be understood only by a small number of people
66 Expedite v. speed up
67 Exploit v. use, often in an unfair way
68 Facilitate v. make easier
69 Fallacious adj. based on a mistaken belief
70 Fastidious adj. attentive to detail
71 Fatuous adj. silly and pointless
72 Feign v. to pretend
73 Fleeting adj. lasting for a short time
74 Florid adj. intricate; in language, using complicated words
75 Fortuitous adj. happening by chance; luck

Vocabulary Words ACT (Continued)

76 Frenetic adj. fast in a wild or uncontrolled way
77 Frugal adj. sparing with money or resources
78 Genre n. a category, especially of artistic or literary composition
79 Glaring adj. obvious
80 Grandeur n. splendor and impressiveness
81 Grandiloquent adj. pompous or extravagant
82 Hackneyed adj. unoriginal
83 Haughty adj. arrogant and disdainful
84 Hedonist n. one whose primary goal in life is to pursue pleasure
85 Hegemony n. leadership or dominance
86 Hypothetical adj. supposed but not necessarily real or true
87 Iconoclast n. a person who attacks cherished beliefs or institutions
88 Impervious adj. unable to be affected by
89 Impetuous adj. acting or done quickly, without thought
90 Impute v. represent as being done or caused by someone
91 Inchoate adj. just begun; not yet fully formed
92 Inconceivable adj. not capable of being imagined
93 Indifference n. lack of interest, concern, or sympathy
94 Inevitable adj. unavoidable
95 Inimical adj. tending to obstruct or harm
96 Intransigent adj. unwilling to change one’s views
97 Intrepid adj. adventurous
98 Jocund adj. cheerful
99 Jubilation n. feeling of happiness and triumph
100 Jurisdiction n. the power to make legal decisions and judgments

ACT Vocab Words (Continued)

101 Languid adj. lazy, relaxed, slow
102 Latent adj. existing but hidden or not yet developed
103 Latter adj. situated later or near the end
104 Licentious adj. promiscuous
105 Lucrative adj. profitable
106 Lethargic adj. sleepy, sluggish
107 Maelstrom n. literally: a violent whirlpool; figuratively: turmoil
108 Malleable adj. pliable
109 Maudlin adj. self-pitying or tearfully sentimental
110 Mendacious adj. lying
111 Meticulous adj. showing attention to detail
112 Mundane adj. dull
113 Nadir n. the lowest point
114 Narrator n. the person who recounts the events of a story
115 Nonchalance n. quality of casual and calm
116 Novel adj. new
117 Nostalgia n. wistful longing for the past
118 Novice n. one who is inexperienced in a situation or field
119 Nuance n. a subtle difference
120 Obdurate adj. stubbornly refusing to change
121 Obsolete adj. no longer used or produced
122 Omnipotent adj. all-powerful
123 Omniscient adj. all-knowing
124 Omit v. to leave out
125 Opulent adj. ostentatiously rich or luxuriant

ACT Vocabulary Words (Continued)

126 Ostensible adj. appearing to be true but not necessarily so
127 Paucity n. scarcity
128 Paradox n. seemingly self-contradictory but may prove to be actually true
129 Paramount adj. the most important
130 Pensive adj. thoughtful
131 Pernicious adj. having a harmful effect
132 Potent adj. strong, having great power
133 Pragmatism n. quality of being practical and sensible
134 Precocious adj. developing earlier than usual
135 Prescience n. forethought
136 Pretentious adj. attempting to impress by pretending to greater importance
137 Prolific adj. producing in large quantities
138 Prosaic adj. lacking poetic beauty; like prose writing
139 Protagonist n. the main character of a story
140 Protean adj. tending or able to change quickly or easily
141 Prudence n. quality of acting with care and thought for the future
142 Puerile adj. childishly silly and trivial
143 Pungent adj. having a sharp odor or taste
144 Qualitative adj. involving the features, rather than the number, of something
145 Quasi adj. apparently but not really
146 Querulous adj. complaining or whining
147 Rancorous adj. characterized by bitterness or resentment
148 Redundancy n. state of being no longer needed or useful
149 Resiliency n. the quality of being able to recover quickly from difficulties
150 Ribald adj. sexually rude or irreverent

Vocab Words ACT (Continued)

151 Sagacity n. the quality of showing good judgment
152 Spurious adj. fake
153 Static adj. unchanging or unmoving
154 Strenuous adj. requiring great effort
155 Subsequently adv. after something has happened
156 Sumptuous adj. splendid and expensive-looking
157 Superfluous adj. unnecessary
158 Surreptitious adj. kept secret
159 Sustainable adj. able to be maintained
160 Synonym n. word or phrase that means the same thing as another
161 Tactile adj. related to the sense of touch
162 Tedious adj. tiresome or monotonous
163 Tenacious adj. persistent
164 Torpid adj. inactive; lethargic
165 Ubiquitous adj. everywhere
166 Unprecedented adj. never done or known before
167 Validate v. check or prove the accuracy of something
168 Venerable adj. accorded a great deal of respect, usually because of age
169 Viability n. ability to work successfully
170 Vicissitude n. change in fortune, usually negative
171 Vilify v. speak or write about in a damaging or disparaging manner
172 Vindicate v. clear of blame or suspicion
173 Vitriolic adj. filled with criticism or malice
174 Zeitgeist n. the spirit of the age
175 Zenith n. the highest point

Works Cited – ACT Vocabulary Words

[i] Putwain, David W., Kristina Stockinger, Nathaniel P. von der Embse, Shannon M. Suldo, Martin Daumiller. “Test anxiety, anxiety disorders, and school-related wellbeing: Manifestations of the same or different constructs?” Journal of Psychology, Vol. 88, October 2021, pp. 47-67. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022440521000534

[ii] Bertrams, Alex, Chris Englert, Oliver Dickhauser. “Self-control strength in the relation between trait test anxiety and state anxiety.” Journal of Research in Personality, Volume 44, Issue 6, December 2010, pp. 738-741. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0092656610001248

[iii] Even students who have a high level of emotional well-being may suffer from test anxiety, as exams can precipitate and worsen stress. Koudela-Hamila, Sousanne, Joshua Smyth, Philip Santangelo, Ulrich Ebner-Priemer. “Examination stress in academic students: a multimodal, real-time, real-life investigation of reported stress, social contact, blood pressure, and cortisol.” Journal of American College Health, 2022 May-June. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32669059/

Works Cited (Continued)

[iv] Tania Lombrozo, “The Truth About the Left Brain /Right Brain Relationship.” NPR: Cosmos & Culture, 2 December 2013. https://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2013/12/02/248089436/the-truth-about-the-left-brain-right-brain-relationship

[v] Kubala, Jillian. “The Top 9 Brain Foods for Studying and Exams.” Healthline. Last medically reviewed 12 October 2020. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/brain-food-for-studying

[vi] Spencer, Sarah J., Aniko Korosi, Sophie Laye, Barara Shukitt-Hale and Ruth Barrientos. “Food for thought: how nutrition impacts cognition and emotion.” NPJ Science of Food. 2017.  https://www.nature.com/articles/s41538-017-0008-y

[vii] Zhang, Xueyan, Wenhao Li, and Jinghao Wang. “Effects of Exercise Intervention on Students’ Test Anxiety: A Systematic Review with a Meta-Analysis.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, June 2022. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9180005/

[viii] Yun-Jun Sun, Barbara J. Sahakian, Christelle Langley, Anyi Yang, Yuchao Jiang, Jujiao Kang, Xingming Zhao, Chunhe Li, Wei Cheng, Jianfeng Feng. Early-initiated childhood reading for pleasure: associations with better cognitive performance, mental well-being and brain structure in young adolescence. Psychological Medicine, 2023