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TOEFL® Reading Question Type - Vocabulary Question

Madison Oster July 8th, 2018

As a way to test your knowledge of academic words and phrases, the Vocabulary Question type on the test is fairly straightforward. Within the passage, one or two words will be underlined, and you will be asked to choose an option that is closest in meaning to those underlined.

The best way to succeed on this question type is to know as many vocabulary words as possible , but if you really don't know the meaning of the word, we have 3 simple strategies that can help you conquer this type of question.

Let's look at the first strategy: Connect the word to one you already know

Strategy 1: Connect the word to one you already know

This strategy means you can always try to connect the unknown word with a word in the same sentence that you do know. Let's look at an example:
The assessment of past rises and falls in sea level requires study of submerged land surfaces off the coast and of elevated beaches on land. Raised beaches are remnants of former coastlines at higher levels relative to the present shoreline and visible, for instance, along the California coast north of San Francisco, the height of a raised beach above the present shoreline, however, does not generally give a straightforward indication of the height of a former sea level.

The word "remnants" in the passage is closest in meaning to

  1. remains
  2. regions
  3. pints
  4. origins

Answer explanation:

Paragraph
The assessment of past rises and falls in sea level requires study of submerged land surfaces off the coast and of elevated beaches on land. Raised beaches are remnants of former coastlines at higher levels relative to the present shoreline and visible, for instance, along the California coast north of San Francisco, the height of a raised beach above the present shoreline, however, does not generally give a straightforward indication of the height of a former sea level.

You know the meaning of the word “former”, so you can probably guess the answer is related to the meaning of “former”. Thus, the answer (A) remains is correct.

Answer: [A]

Strategy 2: Understand through context

Understanding the context of a passage is another helpful strategy for capturing the meaning of the highlighted word in this type of question. Let's look at an example:

At night, the solar energy (stored as vast quantities of heat in city buildings and roads) is slowly released into the city air. Additional city heat is given off at night (and during the day) by vehicles and factories, as well as by industrial and domestic heating and cooling units. The release of heat energy is retarded by the tall vertical city walls that do not allow infrared radiation to escape as readily as does the relatively level surface of the surrounding countryside. The slow release of heat tends to keep nighttime city temperatures higher than those of the faster-cooling rural areas.

The word "retarded" in the passage is closest in meaning to

  1. disguised
  2. added to
  3. made possible
  4. slowed down

Answer explanation:

Let's first simplify the meaning of the sentence that contains the prompt word.

The release of heat energy is retarded by the tall vertical city walls that do not allow infrared radiation to escape as readily as does the relatively level surface of the surrounding countryside.
---->
The tall vertical city walls are doing something to the heat energy because they do not allow infrared radiation to escape.

Now we can use context to answer. So what are they doing? It’s going to be something similar to “not allowed”, so we can eliminate answer choices [B] and [C]. Can heat energy be disguised? Maybe, but it doesn’t seem to match up quite right, making [D] our best choice here. So the sentence is saying that the city walls slow down the heat energy, which fits with the rest of the passage.

Answer: [D]

Strategy 3: Check if the word is an adjective, adverb, verb, or noun and eliminate incorrect choices

The third strategy is Check if the word is an adjective, adverb, or noun and eliminate incorrect choices. Keep in mind this strategy is only to help you eliminate incorrect choices. You still need to rely on other techniques to solve this question. Let's look at an example:

Several dinosaur fossil localities preserve coprolites. Coprolites yield unequivocal evidence about the dietary habits of dinosaurs. Many parts of plants and animals are extremely resistant to the digestive systems of animals and pass completely through the body with little or no alteration. Study of coprolites has indicated that the diets of some herbivorous dinosaurs were relatively diverse, while other dinosaurs appear to have been specialists, feeding on particular types of plants. The problem with inferring diets from coprolites is the difficulty in accurately associating a particular coprolite with a specific dinosaur.

The word "unequivocal" in the passage is closest in meaning to

  1. deniable
  2. unambiguous
  3. unclear
  4. largely

Answer Explanation:

Using this strategy, we know that the word “unequivocal” is an adjective, so we can eliminate choice (D) largely, which is an adverb.

Now, le's use context to answer. Both “deniable” and “unclear” carry a negative meaning, but the rest of this passage clearly describes what evidence scientists found from coprolites. Therefore, (A) and (C) can be eliminated.

(B) is the correct answer, meaning leaving no doubt.

Answer: [D]

 

 
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