HSPT Reading : How to find the meaning of words with multiple meanings

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for HSPT Reading

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Vocabulary

While the Gutenberg press was perhaps one of the greatest inventions of all time, we should not let its importance blind us to other very important events in the history of linguistic development. Granted, the efficiency of printing allowed for the dissemination of much learning in Europe. Still, such printing was not unique to Europe, and even in the scope of world history, there are several events that are equally as miraculous regarding the transmission of knowledge.

For instance, most people overlook the amazing nature of the first time that human beings communicated with spoken language. Perhaps there were simple signs by which these early humans could indicate their needs to each other. However, when the first event of person-to-person speech occurred, it was far more marvelous than simple practical communication. Such speech was like a sharing of ideas. When true speech happened, people were able to communicate knowledge to each other, freeing it from its isolation in one lonely person. By means of such speech, knowledge could be orally transmitted from generation to generation, thus preserving wisdom in a way that is completely impossible without speech.

Of course, such spoken tradition is very fragile, relying on memories and stories that are passed down from generation to generation. For this reason, the invention of writing is extremely important. In contrast to the spoken word, the written word can continue to exist and be useful so long as it can be read intelligently. Likewise, much more can be recorded than ever could be remembered by someone with the best of memories. Indeed, once these records are written, copies can be sent to anyone who is able to read the language in question. Likewise, it can be translated into written copies to be read by others. For these (as well as many other reasons) the invention of writing was a very significant event in history, greatly expanding the possibilities for the exchange of knowledge.

Thus, the printing press is quite important, but it is part of a larger story. Like both spoken and written communication, it allows human beings to communicate knowledge not only to each other but also across multiple generations. Often, we think of the press merely in its ability to provide a great number of books in a short period of time. However, when considered as a chapter in this longer tale, it likewise appears as the means by which humanity is able to conquer time by allowing the knowledge of today to live for multiple generations.

What does the boldfaced word “across” mean in its context?

Possible Answers:

Opposed to

Upon completion of

Sitting opposite to

Spanning

Contradicting

Correct answer:

Spanning

Explanation:

The word "across" has a very general meaning of "from one side to another side." This applies not only the case of (e.g.) two people sitting across from each other, but it can also be used in many other contexts—like "travelling across the country" and "hiking across the mountain range." In this passage, the word is being used in the sense of "spanning across" multiple generations. When something "spans" a space or group of things, it fully covers it from end to end. This is the sense here. The knowledge preserved by writing and printing is able to remain for many generations.

Example Question #1 : How To Find The Meaning Of Words With Multiple Meanings

There are two great mistakes in modern times regarding the possibility of knowing whether or not God exists. On the one hand, there are a number of people who believe that any natural knowledge of God is impossible. Among the ranks of such people are included not only scientists and atheists. There are likewise very religious people who believe that God is not at all known without religion. On the other hand there are those who believe that God’s existence is easily proven. Each of these positions is inadequate, though they do note truths that should not be overlooked.

Those who defend the possibility of knowing God’s existence without religion could be said to be members of a tradition of “natural theology.” This type of thought has taken many forms over the centuries; however, its central claim is that human knowledge can consider things like motion, change, beings, beauty, or other natural realities in order to know God as the source of motion, being, beauty, and so forth. This tradition has had many defenders, and it should not be quickly dismissed as a mere “left over” from another era.

Nevertheless, many of its proponents act as though its conclusions are very obvious and easily reached. This, however, is not actually the case, for such natural theology admittedly deals with profound, difficult questions. Inasmuch as the opponents of natural theology reject such simplistic arguments, they offer an honest critique; however, it is also very important to note that this other extreme position ultimately means that religion is completely irrational. While this might perhaps be acceptable for a dedicated atheist, it is unlikely that a religious person would want to say that he has “no rational reason” to believe in God.

These two positions ultimately are too extreme in their claims. The best approach to finding the truth of the matter is in considering the strengths and weaknesses of each argument. It is important to understand how religion is more than complete irrationality, for it has had an undeniably positive influence on much of culture and history. Indeed, it is also necessary to consider how there have been honest philosophers who believed in God without being religious in any explicit manner. On the other hand, it is necessary to admit that belief does not come naturally to many people as often seems to be implied by those who strongly defend the possibility of natural theology.

What does the underlined word, "central," mean in its context?

Possible Answers:

Moderate

Indisputable

Essential

Calm

Measured

Correct answer:

Essential

Explanation:

Of course, the word "central" intially has the literal meaning, "In the middle;" however, it is often used in extended manners to express the idea of being essential or of primary importance. Just as the center of the circle is the most important point for defining the whole circle, so is a "central idea or position" the most important one found in a body of doctrines.

Example Question #1 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In Science Passages

The world described by physics is a surprisingly strange world, somewhat distant from our regular experience. Many high school students likely suspect this fact, given the difficulty that they often experience when taking physics courses. However, they are rarely instructed in the explicit difference between the world expressed by their equations and the world that they experience. Many of the concepts used in physics are related to the figures, facts, and equations that are learned in mathematics. The world is recast into a form that looks more like a geometry problem than the world as experienced in day-to-day life. All of this at first seems strange to the budding young physics student. However, after performing a number of experiments, he or she soon sees that these mathematical formulas seem to “work.” That is, these equations really do predict the outcomes of experiments in the real world, not merely in mathematical equations on paper.

Still, it is interesting to notice some examples of how much is overlooked in these kinds of mathematical models. Most obviously, there are few (if any) objects in reality that perfectly match the form and shape of a pure geometric figure. Few physical triangles are exact triangles in the manner of the shapes used in geometric problems. Likewise, motion becomes merely something to be expressed in an equation that has time as a variable. Finally, all of the physical descriptions of light waves tell us about everything except for what it is like to experience color. This last reason is perhaps the most interesting reason of all. No matter how many equations and shapes are used to describe color, none of these will have anything to do with the experience of color itself. To speak of a “rectangular surface” or an “icosahedron-like body” does not tell us anything about colors. Rectangles and icosahedrons can be any color. That is, color does not enter into their definitions at all—a red rectangle is just as much a rectangle as is a green one.

What is the meaning of the boldfaced word “recast” in its context?

Possible Answers:

Molded to fit a necessary shape

Expressed in a poetic manner

Expressed in a dramatic manner

Presented in a new form

Deceptively altered in meaning

Correct answer:

Presented in a new form

Explanation:

The word "recast" is here used in a secondary, but legitimate, manner. In its original, physical sense, to "recast" something means to melt it down and put it into a new shape. The "cast" is the mold into which liquid metal is poured in order to be given a shape. When ideas are "recast," they are given a new form. Here, the paragraph is speaking of the description of the world being recast into a form that is more geometric and mathematical than "worldly."

Example Question #4 : Vocabulary

My dear old friend Sebastian used to tell me that he had something of a sliding scale regarding the musicians to which he could listen. For him, Bach was the most celestial of musicians, and he could listen to him for an eternity without ever being wearied. Mozart was likewise favorably judged, though Sebastian said that he could only endure his music for approximately three to five hours at a time. When it came to Richard Wagner, however, my dear friend was quite unable to bear the intensity of the composer’s works. In stark contrast to his great patience and love for the music of Bach, he could spend little more than five minutes listening to compositions by Wagner.

In its context, what does "celestial" (underlined) mean?

Possible Answers:

at an extremely elevated altitude

extremely good or beautiful

astrological

extremely high-class

extra-terrestrial

Correct answer:

extremely good or beautiful

Explanation:

The word "celestial" does mean "heavenly" or "pertaining to the heavens" (that is, to space). It has a metaphorical meaning that is being used here in this paragraph. Here, it has that sense of "heavenly" that we associate with being very beautiful or good. This is implied by the love that Sebastian had for Bach.

Example Question #2 : How To Find The Meaning Of Words With Multiple Meanings

"Preparing for Standardized Tests: Two Approaches" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Generally speaking, there are two major camps regarding the appropriate manner by which one should approach a standardized test. On the one hand, there are those people and businesses that believe that you should learn the “tricks of the test.” This approach encourages the idea that the given exam relies on a set of “inside tricks” that will fool students who are not well-informed about the way such tricks are designed. It likewise focuses less on content then on strategies for answering questions. On the other hand, there is the camp that believes that the best way to approach an exam is to be a complete expert on the content that will be examined. While this approach focuses on teaching the subject matter that will be tested, it often focuses very little on the test-taking strategies that can aid students who are taking a given exam. Although there are numerous strong partisans regarding each approach, it must be admitted that both have their strengths and their weaknesses.

What does the underlined word “camp” mean in its context?

Possible Answers:

a subset of a larger group

a place where something remains safe

a political party

a group that supports a given position or belief

a specific type of decision out of a general class

Correct answer:

a group that supports a given position or belief

Explanation:

The word "camp" can be used outside its standard context of tents and other such things that are used in the wild or in military campaigns.  In an extended sense, the term can mean "a group supporting a particular doctrine or position."  When we speak of "two camps," it is like there are two groups that are "camped out" on their respective positions—not physical positions but ideological ones.

Example Question #3 : How To Find The Meaning Of Words With Multiple Meanings

"The Difficulties of Writing One's First Research Paper" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

When a high school student writes his or her first research paper, he or she likely will face a number of difficulties in finding and using sources for the essay. The single most significant of these difficulties is the finding of sources for the paper. The student will likely only know about his or her topic from the discussion that has occurred in class, based on the textbook that is being used. For a research paper, however, it will be necessary to find appropriate texts in the library to support the topic about which he or she is writing. This can be quite overwhelming, for there are often so many books on a given topic that it is difficult to know where to begin if your starting point is only a high school textbook. Many students will be tempted to use every book that they find, not focusing on the most appropriate texts for the topic. On the other hand, some students will rely heavily on a single book on the topic. In this case, many things are overlooked because of the student’s narrow research. Of course, there are a number of other difficulties involved in the writing of such a paper, but the use of sources likely remains the most troublesome by far.

What is the meaning of the underlined word “heavily” used above?

Possible Answers:

to a great degree

lazily

having a lot of fat

sluggishly

ponderously

Correct answer:

to a great degree

Explanation:

The word "heavily" can be used to describe doing something to a great degree. Of course, when we speak of a "heavy snow," we do not mean to say that the snow is necessarily physically heavy. When the word takes on a further metaphorical meaning, it can mean more generally "to a great degree" in a general way. Here, the word is used to describe the overuse of a single source by a student.

Example Question #6 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In Contemporary Life Passages

"Conservatism" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

In American politics, there is perhaps no word that is more over-simplified than “conservative.” Many people use this term as though it has a single meaning and expresses a single historical-political outlook. Nothing could be further from the truth. The development of American conservatism must be understood as a combination of a number of strands of ideology that often coexist with great tension and difficulty. Although there are many groups that are combined in this larger assortment, two examples will suffice to show the great diversity present in this seemingly simple group.

For instance, there are the “traditionalist conservatives,” who generally are concerned with preserving Western culture and tradition against the developments of modern thought and culture. In many ways, this type of conservatism is the most “conserving”; that is, traditionalists are primarily concerned with maintaining the “old order” of Western civilization and learning. Because of these concerns, the traditionalist conservatives are very wary of any kind of major governmental program that promises to bring a “new order” into existence. While not disagreeing with the idea of progress, these conservatives believe that any such changes should occur organically, in a natural manner over a period of years. 

On the other hand, there are also the “libertarians," who are often classed as “conservatives” as well. They are surprisingly different from the traditionalist conservatives. The libertarians are primarily concerned with maximizing freedom and limiting the role of government in individual lives. In many ways, they represent the kind of modern individualism disagreed with by the traditionalists.

These two opposed groups are able to come together in the general notion of “conservatism” because of their shared attitudes toward the government, particularly the federal government. The traditionalists wish to limit the role of the federal government out of a fear that it will ruin traditional culture through radically new plans and agendas. The libertarians seek to limit it out of a desire to give individual citizens maximum freedom of choice and action. While these two branches of “conservatism” are in many ways opposed to each other, they somehow manage to coexist along with many other positions that are all called “conservative” in spite of similarly striking differences.

What does the underlined word “branches” mean in its context?

Possible Answers:

An argumentative faction

An expansion

Subdivision

A piecemeal approach

Living sprout

Correct answer:

Subdivision

Explanation:

When the word "branch" is used as a verb, it means "to divide out into parts." When we consider the "branching of a tree," we are considering how the single trunk gradually becomes many branches—many divided and independent parts of the whole tree. Now, the "two branches of 'conservatism'" are parts of the whole. While they are said to be in conflict, they do indeed come together as subdivisions of the broader group named "conservatism"—like branches are parts of a single tree.

Example Question #4 : How To Find The Meaning Of Words With Multiple Meanings

"Online Shopping Options" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Often, online retailers provide special “favored customer” options that allow customers to spend a small subscription fee in order to receive special pricing and shipping options. Often, these customers believe that they are receiving a great deal of savings, particularly if this option greatly reduces the costs of having items shipped. While such an arrangement can allow someone to make previously planned purchases at a great discount, it likewise can become a great temptation to spend much more money than they would ever have spent had they not had the “favored customer” status.

What is the meaning of the underlined word “arrangement” in the context in which it is used in the passage?

Possible Answers:

Strange occurrence

Organization

Group of beautiful things

Legal proceeding

Agreement or established state of affairs

Correct answer:

Agreement or established state of affairs

Explanation:

In its most general sense, the word "arrangement" means "an ordering of things." This takes on various meanings (as in, for example, "an arrangement of flowers" and "a musical arrangement"). It can likewise have the meaning used here, namely "an agreement." For instance, one could say, "The two men had made an arrangement to pick up each other's mail when one of them was out of town." This is clearly the sense of the word used in the passage, because it discusses an arrangement regarding shipping procedures and costs.

Example Question #7 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In Contemporary Life Passages

"Conservatism" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

In American politics, there is perhaps no word that is more over-simplified than “conservative.” Many people use this term as though it has a single meaning and expresses a single historical-political outlook. Nothing could be further from the truth. The development of American conservatism must be understood as a combination of a number of strands of ideology that often coexist with great tension and difficulty. Although there are many groups that are combined in this larger assortment, two examples will suffice to show the great diversity present in this seemingly simple group.

For instance, there are the “traditionalist conservatives,” who generally are concerned with preserving Western culture and tradition against the developments of modern thought and culture. In many ways, this type of conservatism is the most “conserving”; that is, traditionalists are primarily concerned with maintaining the “old order” of Western civilization and learning. Because of these concerns, the traditionalist conservatives are very wary of any kind of major governmental program that promises to bring a “new order” into existence. While not disagreeing with the idea of progress, these conservatives believe that any such changes should occur organically, in a natural manner over a period of years. 

On the other hand, there are also the “libertarians," who are often classed as “conservatives” as well. They are surprisingly different from the traditionalist conservatives. The libertarians are primarily concerned with maximizing freedom and limiting the role of government in individual lives. In many ways, they represent the kind of modern individualism disagreed with by the traditionalists.

These two opposed groups are able to come together in the general notion of “conservatism” because of their shared attitudes toward the government, particularly the federal government. The traditionalists wish to limit the role of the federal government out of a fear that it will ruin traditional culture through radically new plans and agendas. The libertarians seek to limit it out of a desire to give individual citizens maximum freedom of choice and action. While these two branches of “conservatism” are in many ways opposed to each other, they somehow manage to coexist along with many other positions that are all called “conservative” in spite of similarly striking differences.

What does the underlined word “organically” mean in its context?

Possible Answers:

In a healthy way

In a socially responsible way

In a lively way

Without artificial additives

Gradually

Correct answer:

Gradually

Explanation:

Do not be fooled by the other meanings of "organic." Something is called "organic" if it is directly related to the idea of living. Often, it is contrasted to "inorganic" matter. The word can also be used to describe human phenomena—as it is here. The best context clue for this is the words directly following the word "organically" in the passage, "in a naturally manner over a period of years." In particular, the key expression is "over a period of years." "Organic changes" are changes that do not occur by sudden alterations or revolutions. Instead, they are "gradual"—that is, step-by-step and continuous.

Example Question #43 : Science Passages

"The Multiple Sides of Computer Science" by Matthew Minerd (2014)

It often takes some time for a new discipline to become recognized as an independent science. An excellent example of this is computer science. In many ways, this science still is a hodgepodge of several different sciences, each one having its own distinct character. For example, some computer scientists are almost indistinguishable from mathematicians. Many of the most difficult topics in pattern recognition and data communications require intensive mathematics in order to provide software solutions. Years of training in the appropriate disciplines are necessary before the computer scientist can even begin to work as a programmer in such areas. In contrast to those computer scientists who work with complex mathematics, many computer scientists work on areas of hardware development that are similar to disciplines like electrical engineering and physics.

However, computer science has its own particular problems regarding the unity of its subject matter. There are many practical applications for computing work; therefore, many computer scientists focus on learning a large set of skills in programming languages, development environments, and even information technology. All of these disciplines have a certain practical coloration that is quite distinct from the theoretical concepts used in other parts of the field. Nevertheless, these practical topics add to the broad range of topics covered by most academic programs that claim to focus on “computer science.” It can only be hoped that these disciplines will increase in orderliness in the coming decades.

What is meant by the underlined word "character"?

Possible Answers:

Morality

Personality

Temperament

Disposition

Nature

Correct answer:

Nature

Explanation:

The word "character" often has to do with someone's moral dispositions. A person of "good character" is someone who is upright and moral. However, it can more generally mean the "nature" of the person. (This is why the word is related to "characteristic.")  In this passage, this second meaning is by far the better option for the word "character." The idea is that the several topics studied in computer science are of differing natures. This is why it is so hard to tell exactly what is the single, united focus of the science.

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