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Words in Context

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Words in Context

In an English Language exam, you may come across questions about words in context. These are multiple-choice questions that ask you to consider the meaning of a word. You can identify them by paying close attention to how the questions are worded. To answer words in context questions, you should look for the circumstances surrounding the passage each question is based on.

Words in Context Meaning

"Words in context" refers to how words change meaning in different circumstances. Words often mean slightly different things depending on their context.

Context is the set of facts and circumstances that surround a word or phrase in a text.

Context sometimes changes the meaning of words. For example, the word "restrain" means different things depending on its context.

  • I had to restrain my laughter when he fell over that chair!
  • The coach had to restrain the football team captain to keep a fight from breaking out.
  • These tariffs were designed to restrain international trading.

What changes the meaning of "restrain" in each of these examples? The circumstances surrounding them!

  1. In the first example, the fact that something funny happened made it clear "restrain" means to control emotions.
  2. In the second example, the mention of a possible fight indicates "restrain" means to physically hold back.
  3. In the third example, the verb "designed" and the reference to international trade made it clear that "restrain" means to limit trade.

When answering questions about words in context, you are really just identifying how the meaning of a word changes based on the circumstances that surround it.

Immediate vs Broad Context

There are two primary types of context: Immediate context and broad context.

Immediate context includes the words, phrases, and sentences of the passage surrounding the word.

Broad context includes the larger historical, biographical, and genre considerations in which the passage was written.

Consider both the immediate and broad contexts of a word when answering words in context questions.

To identify the immediate context of a word, ask yourself:

  • What is the situation being described in this passage?
  • What is the tone the author takes in this passage?
  • What other words in this passage can help me understand how this word is being used?
  • What similar words does the author use in this passage?

To identify the broad context of a word, ask yourself:

  • When was this passage written or published?
  • Where was this passage written or published?
  • Who wrote this passage? What do I know about them?
  • What type of genre is this passage?
  • What do I know about the political, social, or economical situation in which this passage was written?

Purpose of Words in Context Questions

The purpose of words in context questions is to check your understanding of how circumstances can change the meaning of the words or the passage around them. Understanding the effects of context is important for understanding language AND the world around you.

Context changes everything. Everything you read, write, watch, listen to, or do is shaped by context. Think about what it's like to learn about your favorite author. You probably first read their books with an idea of what it meant. However, once you learned more about the author's life and the time period they lived in, this probably changed what their writing meant to you. The context of their writing changed what their writing means.

Words in context questions are great practice for identifying and explaining context. They remind you of how circumstances can change what something means. Identifying context and how it changes meaning is a key feature of critical thinking.

Structure and Examples of Words in Context Questions

Words in context questions are multiple choice questions. Just like other multiple choice questions, they appear immediately after a reference passage from a story, poem, or essay.

A reference passage is the passage of text a question refers to. It appears before each set of multiple choice questions.

Here is an example of a reference passage in an English Language exam:

Words in Context, Reference Passage Example, StudySmarterReference passages have numbered lines so you can easily refer to them while answering multiple choice questions.- collegevine.

Words in context questions are based on reference passages. Reference passages have numbered lines so you can easily refer to the correct lines when answering questions about the passage.

Words in context questions include a list of possible word or phrase choices to answer the question. Your job is to select the word or phrase that best answers the question, considering the context of the passage.

In the passage, the author uses the phrase "revolutionary methods" primarily to:

(A) Contrast the needs of modern women against those of historical women.

(B) Emphasize the humanity of women.

(C) Compare the methods of modern women to those of historical men.

(D) To criticize the suffrage movement.

Did you get C for this question? If so, you're right!

There are a few different types of words in context questions you might come across. Look at the table below for different types of words in context questions. Pay close attention to the examples provided.

Ask yourself: How would I answer each type of question?

Type of questionDescriptionExamples
Interpreting words in contextGoal: Interpret the meaning of a word. Task: Select a word or phrase that is closest to the meaning of the word OR furthest from the meaning of the word.Ask Yourself: Given the immediate and broad context, what does this word probably mean?

As it is used in the passage, the word "discriminate" most nearly means:

(A) judge

(B) distinguish

(C) separate

(D) victimize

Rhetorically analyzing words in context Goal: Analyze the author's rhetorical word choices. Task: Choose a statement that most closely reflects the author's purpose for using the selected word.Ask Yourself: Given the genre, tone, and situation, what is the writer doing with this word?

The author uses the phrase “No, thank you” throughout the passage primarily to:

(A) Contrast Junior's attitude to that of his brother's

(B) Emphasize Junior's controlling, obsessive attitude

(C) Summarize Junior's general worldview

(D) Criticize Junior's failure to stop his brother's theft

Effectively using words in contextGoal: Make your own rhetorical word choices. Task: Choose a word or arrangement of words that best fits the author's purpose or intended meaning.Ask Yourself: What would I change about this word choice to make the passage more concise, effective, or appropriate to the context? In line 17, the author calls this amendment "wildly and unnecessarily repetitive" considering the language of other amendments. Which word below would be a more concise way to convey this same idea?(A) patterned(B) redundant(C) inessential(D) excessive

How to Answer Words in Context Questions

To answer words in context questions, read the reference passage, identify context clues, predict the answer, and test out each possibility. Follow this 4-step process to effectively answer questions about words in context.

1. Read the reference passage

Before looking at the questions, read the reference passage closely. Mark any words, phrases, or sentences that reflect the author's purpose.

2. Identify context clues

After reading the passage, take a moment to identify context clues.

Context clues are anything that gives you an idea of the context of a passage.

Here are some context clues you might identify:

  • Words that indicate the author's tone and attitude toward the subject
  • Sentences that indicate the genre of the passage.
  • Information on the location, time period, or other historical aspects of the passage.
  • Information on the author.
  • Words and phrases that give you a sense of the author's purpose.

3. Predict the answer

Don't look at the answer choices at first. Instead, try to make an educated guess. What do you think the right answer might be, without looking at the answer choices? This will help anticipate possible answers.

For example, you might think of a synonym for "compromise." You find your guess isn't in the list of options. However, the synonym you guessed most closely aligns with one of the answer options! You just made things a lot easier on yourself by trying to make an educated guess first.

4. Test out each possibility

Once you have an educated guess, it's time to consider the answer options. Take a moment to try out each answer. For example, if the question asks you to select the best synonym for a word, just replace that word with each answer option. See which one makes the most sense.

Words in Context - Key takeaways

  • "Words in context" refers to how words change depending on their context, the set of facts and circumstances that surround a word or phrase.
  • The purpose of words in context questions is to check your understanding of how context changes things.

  • Words in context questions appear immediately after a reference passage and include a list of possible word choices to choose from.

  • To identify words in context questions, read each question closely to see what it asks you and how it phrases the question.

  • To answer words in context questions, read the reference passage, identify context clues, predict the answer, and test out each possibility.

Frequently Asked Questions about Words in Context

"Word in context" refers to how words change meaning depending on their context, the set of facts and circumstances that surround a word or phrase.

An example of a word in context is "I had to restrain my laughter when he fell over that chair!" From the context, you can guess the word "restrain" likely means to control one's emotions.

To identify words in context questions, read each question closely to see what it asks you and how it phrases the question.

To answer a words in context question, read the reference passage, identify context clues, predict the answer, and test out each possibility.

To find the meaning of a word in context, look for context clues. Context clues include the author's tone, the genre of the passage, historical and biographical information, and words that indicate the author's purpose.

To use the word context in a sentence, refer to the circumstances surrounding something. For example, "What is the historical context of this book?"

Final Words in Context Quiz

Question

What is context?

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Answer

Context is is the set of facts and circumstances that surround a word or phrase in a text. 

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Question

Fill in the blank: 

Context sometimes changes the _______ of words.

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Answer

meaning

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Question

If one looks at the words, phrases, and sentences surrounding a word in a text to understand its meaning, this is an example of using what type of context?

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Answer

immediate context

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Question

Broad context includes which of the following considerations?

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Answer

historical

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Question

True or False:

One should consider both immediate and broad contexts when answering a words in context question.

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Answer

True! Both immediate and broad contexts can affect the meaning of a word.

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Question

What is a reference passage

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Answer

A reference passage is the passage of text a question refers to. It appears before each set of multiple questions. 

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Question

A multiple choice question asks the test taker to choose the best word from a list of choices to replace a word from the reference passage. Is this an example of a words in context question?

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Answer

Yes

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Question

A multiple choice question asks the test taker to rearrange a sentence from a passage so that it is grammatically correct. Is this an example of a words in context question?

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Answer

No

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Question

A multiple choice question  asks about the meaning of a specific word from the reference passage. Is this an example of a words in context question?


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Answer

Yes

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Question

A multiple choice question asks the test taker to determine the purpose of a piece of evidence in the reference passage. Is this an example of a words in context question?

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Answer

No

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Question

A multiple choice question asks the test taker to select a synonym or antonym of a word from the reference passage. Is this an example of a words in context question?

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Answer

Yes

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Question

A multiple choice question asks the test taker to select a word or phrase that is closest to the meaning of the word. 


What is the goal when answering this type of words in context question?

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Answer

interpret the meaning of the word

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Question

A multiple choice question asks the test taker to choose a word or arrangement of words that best fits the author's purpose or intended meaning. 


What is the goal when answering this type of words in context question?

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Answer

make one's own rhetorical word choices

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Question

What is the first step of answering a words in context question?

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Answer

The first step of answering a words in context question is to read the passage. 

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Question

What are some examples of context clues? 

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Answer

words that indicate the author's tone

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Question

True or False:

One should not predict the answer of a words in context question before they read the list of answer options. 

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Answer

False. Predicting the answer without looking can help one narrow down their choices in advance.

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Question

What is the fourth and final step in answering a words in context question?

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Answer

The fourth and final step in answering a words in context question is to test out each possibility. Use this step to see which one makes the most sense.

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