The second part of our ASVAB Word Knowledge Study Guide covers context strategies. Many of the Word Knowledge questions require you to use context clues to figure out the meaning of a given word. The following strategies will help you answer these sorts of questions with ease and accuracy.
Strategy 1: Evaluate Word Usage
First, use the sentence the word is found in to evaluate how it is being used. Many times, the usage of a word can help you develop a definition. Take the following sentence for example:
The officer was rather loquacious, talking all day to anyone who would listen.
From the rest of the sentence, it is clear that loquacious is about talking, and phrases like “all day” and “anyone who would listen” make it clear that the word is being used to describe someone who talks a lot. Thus, you could draw a reasonable conclusion that loquacious means “talkative” or “verbose.”
Let’s look at one more example:
Spring was her favorite season, so she always felt jubilant when the snow started to melt and the flowers began to bloom.
We know that someone would be feeling positive emotions when thinking of or experiencing one of their favorite things, so we can conclude that jubilant means “excited” or “joyous.”
Strategy 2: Contrast Words
Many sentences may include a word that is contrasted with the word in question, which can be very helpful in pointing to a definition. Take the following sentence for example:
Jonah was not like his neurotic brother; he was much more placid and easygoing.
This sentence provides words that are meant to contrast greatly with neurotic. If we know that Jonah is very relaxed and calm, we can assume neurotic means “distraught” or “anxious.”
Words like “although,” “despite,” “however,” “rather,” and “while” are great words to look for, as they point to a contrasted word or idea. Here’s another example:
Although Sarah had a fear of heights, she found her first time on a plane to be wondrous.
The word “although” implies that Sarah’s thoughts of her plane trip were unexpected. With that information, we can guess that she felt positive emotions about the trip, and equate wondrous with words like “amazing” or “fascinating.”
Strategy 3: Figurative Language
Further, look for figurative language strategies that might give hints to a word’s meaning. Some sentences include analogies, comparisons, synonyms and antonyms, or examples that can point to the correct definition. Take the following sentence as an example:
Vulnerable people, such as young children and the elderly, should take extra precautions when going out in extreme heat.
The sentence indicates that “young children and the elderly” are vulnerable, so you know to direct your attention to qualities that those groups share. This detail makes correct answers like “defenseless” or “sensitive” make more sense than incorrect answers like “secure” or “strong.”
Let’s look at one final example:
The prodigious amount of food on the table was enough to feed a whole country!
This sentence uses a hyperbole, or extreme exaggeration, to make its point. We can evaluate what the hyperbole is trying to tell us to understand about the word in question. Calling an amount of food “enough to feed a whole country” is clearly pointing to a very large amount of food, so we can assume that prodigious means “enormous” or “tremendous.”
When you come across a word that you are unfamiliar with, its context is essential for finding the right answer. Look at both the parts of the sentence and the parts of the word to see if there is anything you recognize; whether a word is contrasted with an obvious antonym or it’s followed by an analogy, context clues are important not only for understanding the word in general, but ensuring that you know how the word is being used in a specific instance.