HSPT Reading : How to find word meaning from context

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for HSPT Reading

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : How To Find Word Meaning From Context

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.

Based on its context in the selection above, what does the expression "sliding scale" (underlined) mean?

Possible Answers:

An instrument for measuring length

An ever-changing standard

An instrument for measuring weight

A fickle sense of music

A varying spectrum of preferences

Correct answer:

A varying spectrum of preferences

Explanation:

The use of the expression "sliding scale" is metaphorical here. The idea being expressed is that Sebastian has a spectrum or range of preferences that he applies to musicians. The word "spectrum" is used to describe things that have positions between two extremes. For instance, the "visible spectrum" is the set of colors in the rainbow that span from the highest to the lowest visible wavelengths of colors. Since Sebastian has a spectrum of judgments regarding Bach, Mozart, and Wagner, this best describes the metaphorical use of "sliding scale."

Example Question #61 : Determining Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Social Science Or History Passages

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 “dissemination” mean in its context?

Possible Answers:

Informing

Circulation

Teaching

Recounting

Procuring

Correct answer:

Circulation

Explanation:

The word "disseminate" comes from the Latin for "seed." When ideas are "disseminated," they are "spread abroad" like seeds being sown in a field. Clearly, this paragraph wishes to say that the Gutenberg press did allow for a great spreading or circulating of knowledge. While the remainder of the paragraph explains that there is a larger history to consider, in the immediate context, this is the unquestionable meaning of the word "dissemination."

Example Question #1 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Phrases In Argumentative Social Science Passages

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 is meant by the boldfaced clause, “Of course, such spoken tradition is very fragile”?

Possible Answers:

The spoken word is fracturable like glass.

The spoken word can convey meanings only in a weak manner.

The spoken word is a pitiful thing, not very impressive to modern man.

The spoken word is a very weak thing, flimsy at best.

Such a spoken tradition is easily interrupted or destroyed.

Correct answer:

Such a spoken tradition is easily interrupted or destroyed.

Explanation:

Although this metaphor can likely be discerned by its immediate context, the next several sentences should help you to understand its meaning more clearly. The paragraph goes on to discuss how the written word can continue to exist, implying that when it is merely spoken it is less likely to have such continuance. Because it relies on memories and stories, the spoken word is much more easily interrupted in its passing on. If a local "story teller" dies, it is possible that the spoken history—important though it might be—will suddenly be gone forever. This makes it very "fragile," that is, very vulnerable and easily destroyed.

Example Question #64 : Language In Social Science / History Passages

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 is meant by the boldfaced expression “a chapter in this longer tale”?

Possible Answers:

A leaf of paper within a large tome

A selection from a history book

An interesting subspecies of history

A printed version of a former handwritten book

A part of a larger context

Correct answer:

A part of a larger context

Explanation:

This paragraph opens by stating that the printing press is "part of a larger story." This metaphor is then explained when the passage states that the printing press is like spoken and written communication in that it permits information to be shared from generation to generation. This is contrasted with the common idea of the importance of the printing press, namely that it allows for the printing of many books in a short period of time. Then, in the sentence in question, it is reconsidered "in the broader context" of speech and writing.

Example Question #1 : How To Find Word Meaning From Context

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, itscentral 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, "proponents," mean in its context?

Possible Answers:

Those who disagree with a given position

Those who perceive the importance of a given position

Those who question a given position

Those who reflect upon a given position

Those who support and advocate a given position

Correct answer:

Those who support and advocate a given position

Explanation:

The word "proponent" is an antonym for the word "opponent." The "-pon-" portion of the word comes from the Latin for "to place or put." An "op+ponent" is someone who stands against (or argues against, etc) a position. The "ob" / "op" prefix means "against." (Think of the word "obstruct"). A "pro+ponent" is someone who "places something forward," the "forward" portion coming from the prefix "pro." An advocate puts forward a position in the sense of defending it and offering it as being something acceptable.

Example Question #2 : How To Find Word Meaning From Context

"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 expression “strands of ideology” mean in its context?

Possible Answers:

Opposed groups who have no desire to be in communication

Rope-like thinking that is different and inconsistent

Long discussions on matters that are very complicated

Opposed, warring factions

Distinct groups with different beliefs

Correct answer:

Distinct groups with different beliefs

Explanation:

The word "strands" is taken from the literal usage meaning "fiber" or "string." The metaphorical sense of the word is "a particular, independent group within a larger group." The strands of a rope are brought together to make one rope out of many fibers. An "ideology" is a system of ideas. Sometimes the word is used negatively to indicate that the "ideology" is detached from reality or closed-minded. However, it can have the general sense of being a system of ideas. Thus, among the options provided, the best is, "distinct groups with different beliefs."

Example Question #4 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In Contemporary Life Passages

"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 “partisan” mean in its context?

Possible Answers:

an argumentative person

a small percentage of a large whole

a member of a political party

a type of political reactionary

someone who supports a particular idea, thing or person

Correct answer:

someone who supports a particular idea, thing or person

Explanation:

The word "partisan" is indeed related to the word "part," but be careful what you infer from this. It means a person who could be said to "take the part" (or "side") of some cause. This selection is discussing two different approaches to teaching standardized tests. Those who support one or the other of these approaches could be called a "partisan" of that given approach.

Example Question #5 : How To Find Word Meaning From Context

"The Founding Fathers' Beliefs" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Frequently, people make egregiously mistaken remarks about the religious convictions of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Such errors could be said to “cut in both directions.” On the one hand, there is a school of thought that wishes to make this important founding generation into nothing more than group of Christian legislators who founded a Christian nation. This image is far too simple. It clearly distorts the religious convictions of these men, whose idea of Christianity was often far worldlier than some Christians would be comfortable with. In addition, it distorts the meaning of the American Constitution, which is not a document of Christian legislation but a very modern, secular political document. On the other hand, it is important to note that those who believe that the Founders were agnostics or even hidden atheists also overstate their opinion. The culture of these eighteenth-century men was still one that deeply imbued with Christian sensitivities, and while their religious convictions were much more varied than some imagine, they were far from being without any religious beliefs whatsoever. These beliefs certainly had an influence on their political lives, though this influence was often subtle and indirect.

What does the underlined expression “cut in two directions” mean?

Possible Answers:

These errors cause much damage, often causing people to slice many things up.

Such errors are so wrong as to be laughable.

These errors are dangerous in multiple manners.

These errors are wrong in two different and opposed ways.

Such errors are unknown by two different groups of people.

Correct answer:

These errors are wrong in two different and opposed ways.

Explanation:

The main idea of the selection gives some context to this metaphorical expression. What it intends to communicate is that the errors in question often happen in two very different ways. On the one hand, some overestimate the role of Christianity among the American Founders.  On the other hand, others under estimate this role. The idea is that the two positions "cut into" the truth in two different ways.

Example Question #2 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Argumentative Social Science Passages

"The Founding Fathers' Beliefs" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Frequently, people make egregiously mistaken remarks about the religious convictions of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Such errors could be said to “cut in both directions.” On the one hand, there is a school of thought that wishes to make this important founding generation into nothing more than group of Christian legislators who founded a Christian nation. This image is far too simple. It clearly distorts the religious convictions of these men, whose idea of Christianity was often far worldlier than some Christians would be comfortable with. In addition, it distorts the meaning of the American Constitution, which is not a document of Christian legislation but a very modern, secular political document. On the other hand, it is important to note that those who believe that the Founders were agnostics or even hidden atheists also overstate their opinion. The culture of these eighteenth-century men was still one that deeply imbued with Christian sensitivities, and while their religious convictions were much more varied than some imagine, they were far from being without any religious beliefs whatsoever. These beliefs certainly had an influence on their political lives, though this influence was often subtle and indirect.

What does the underlined word “egregiously” mean?

Possible Answers:

in an unfriendly manner

in a very differing manner

in a biased manner

in an extremely bad manner

in an idiotic manner

Correct answer:

in an extremely bad manner

Explanation:

The word "egregious" means "extremely bad." It literally means "standing out from the flock (e.g. of sheep)." This is surprising, but the word "gregarious," meaning, "friendly" likewise comes from the Latin for "flock." (A gregarious person "fits in with the flock"). The people here make very wrong remarks about the Founding Fathers of America.

Example Question #5 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In Contemporary Life Passages

"The Aging of Public Transportation Systems" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

As cities develop, their public transportation systems often show signs of aging that are mixed with aspects that are quite up-to-date.  An example of such a situation can be found in the transportation system in Washington DC. This system is made up of a mixture of buses and trains that connect people to locations in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. While the system has been well maintained and updated over the years, it still shows evidence that certain sections are older than others.

This is particularly noticeable when one considers the multiple lines that connect in Washington DC itself. Within the city, there are five different sets of tracks that run in various directions and to sundry places. A number of the newer lines are in excellent condition and rarely break down; however, the case of the red line is somewhat different. This oldest line of the metro train system often has issues because of its age, experiencing a number of track and signal issues even at rush hour when the overall system is its most efficient. Admittedly, the transportation authority is working to update this line and make it less problematic. Still, until this work is completed, it is obvious to all who are familiar with the metro train system that the red line is the oldest and most out of date.

What does the “sundry” mean in its context?

Possible Answers:

Important

Several or various

Dried areas underground

Questionable

Having beautiful vistas

Correct answer:

Several or various

Explanation:

The word "sundry" generally means "several" or "having a variety of kinds / types." This is definitely what is being expressed here, for the sentence is discussing tracks that run in various directions to different places. The word "sundry" is related to "sunder," which means "to cut apart." Things that are "varied" can be said to be, in a sense, cut apart from each other.

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