HSPT Reading : How to find word meaning from context

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for HSPT Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #11 : Language In Contemporary Life Passages

"Why Learning Multiple Languages in Graduate School is Important" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

In graduate school, students are often required to learn a number of foreign languages in addition to their regular coursework. This can be quite frustrating and difficult, for the normal courses in graduate school require significantly more reading and writing than do undergraduate courses. It is not unusual for graduate students to have regular reading assignments of several hundred pages for each course that they take. Likewise, they often write papers of much greater length than those that they wrote as undergraduate students. When language examinations are added to this difficult course load, it can be very frustrating for graduate students to try to find the time to prepare for these additional examinations.

Although these frustrations are understandable, this system has not been created solely to cause woe for graduate students. Much of the work for which these students are being prepared will focus on research. While much has been written in English about many topics, adequate research can only be done if one is able to read what people have written in other languages. For instance, there are many important articles and books written about almost every topic by European scholars. If a graduate student does not know any foreign languages, all of these article and books will be impossible to read, and hence useless to their research endeavors. This would be a great loss for a student's research. Therefore, in spite of its frustrating aspects, the language examination process is an important component of graduate school education.

What is the meaning of the underlined word, “woe,” in the passage above?

Possible Answers:

waste

fear

distress

anger

hatred

Correct answer:

distress

Explanation:

The word "woe" can mean either "significant sorrow" or also "distress." The sentence begins by saying that these students do have understandable frustrations; however, the point being made is that the system of examinations is not intended solely to cause such distressing conditions. This is the best meaning for the word "woe" among those provided.

Example Question #521 : Isee Middle Level (Grades 7 8) Reading Comprehension

"The Meaning of 'Liberal Arts Education'" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Many people use the expression “liberal arts education” but do not know much at all about the original meaning of such an education. It is often thought that a “true liberal education” is one that gives the student knowledge that is not pursued for “utilitarian values”—that is, knowledge that is not merely “for the sake of getting a job.” Sometimes, the expression “liberal education” is used to describe an education that is not a mere repetition of old beliefs, but is open-minded and “liberal” in this way.

To understand the original meaning of the expression “liberal arts” it is necessary to consider each part of the expression as it was used in its ancient and medieval senses. The word “liberal” was used to describe these “arts” insofar as they were not the “servile arts,” that is, “arts” in the sense of “artisan work.” In this regard, “liberal arts” were not a matter of “getting a job.” The word “art” still had a meaning that was related to “artisanship.” However, these “arts” were “liberal” because they were the “arts of reasoning,” that is, “the arts of the mind.” They were meant to be tools that prepared someone for more in-depth studies. Thus, they were not envisioned as “knowledge for the sake of knowledge.” Instead, they were the initial tools that enabled the young student to reason properly.  This more ancient sense of the “liberal arts” is often missed or, at least, partially overlooked in contemporary discussions about them.

What is meant by the underlined expression “utilitarian values”?

Possible Answers:

values focused on greed and luxury

values focused on selfish motives

values focused on paying utility bills

values centered on the acquisition of useful property

values focused on practical usefulness

Correct answer:

values focused on practical usefulness

Explanation:

Generally, the word "utilitarian" is used to mean "practical" and "useful." In this sentence, the expression "utilitarian values" is given context by the clause that continues, "that is, knowledge . . ."  Liberal education is said not to pursue knowledge merely for the sake of employment. Now, "utilitarian values" are not directly defined by "for the sake of a job." They describe a class of motives that might lead someone to get a particular kind of education. The best definition of "utilitarian" will be useful, or a synonym of the word. "Utilitarian values" lead someone to look for an education that one can "put to use"—for example (as in this selection) in the "job market."

Example Question #3 : Language In Contemporary Life Passages

"Addictions" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Addictions come in many forms, often quite hidden from those who should be aware of them. It is helpful to be aware of how hidden these obsessive behaviors can be. Often, they appear to be harmless, but this appearance is deceptive.  Perhaps several examples can assist in increasing the reader’s awareness of these potentially problematic habits. 

A very simple example of such an apparently innocuous addiction is the addiction that many people have to a beverage like coffee. While not as destructive as an addiction to alcohol, an extreme need for caffeine often covers a need for more sleep or an overzealous desire to be completely energetic at every waking moment. Also, a great deal of caffeine can potentially do damage to one’s heart due to the stress caused by its stimulating effects. 

Another example of a seemingly harmless addiction can be found in the case of people who are addicted to work. It is very tempting to praise such obsessive behavior, as it provides many benefits for others and even for the one doing the work. The advancement of a career certainly seems beneficial and often allows for great personal and financial fulfillment. Nevertheless, constant work often hides some sadness, insecurity, or fear that should be confronted by the person who slaves away without cessation. Likewise, over time, such continuous work often can be greatly destructive of important personal relationships.

Of course, many more examples could be brought forth, for one can obsess over almost anything. Still, even these two simple examples should make clear to the reader that it is possible for there to be apparently harmless—indeed, seemingly helpful—life practices that in reality can pose a potential harm to one’s physical or mental well-being.

What is the meaning of the underlined expression, “slaves away without cessation”?

Possible Answers:

is reluctantly working on a project

is overcome by the corporate overlords

works without stopping

is extremely hard working

has become an indentured servant

Correct answer:

works without stopping

Explanation:

The word "slaving" is a form of the verb "to slave," which means "to work very hard." This does not necessarily mean that the person who is "slaving" is a servant or a slave—though the words certainly are related. The word "cessation" means "stopping."  It is related to the English word "cease." Thus, to "slave away without cessation" is to work very hard without stopping.

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

"Addictions" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Addictions come in many forms, often quite hidden from those who should be aware of them. It is helpful to be aware of how hidden these obsessive behaviors can be. Often, they appear to be harmless, but this appearance is deceptive.  Perhaps several examples can assist in increasing the reader’s awareness of these potentially problematic habits. 

A very simple example of such an apparently innocuous addiction is the addiction that many people have to a beverage like coffee. While not as destructive as an addiction to alcohol, an extreme need for caffeine often covers a need for more sleep or an overzealous desire to be completely energetic at every waking moment. Also, a great deal of caffeine can potentially do damage to one’s heart due to the stress caused by its stimulating effects. 

Another example of a seemingly harmless addiction can be found in the case of people who are addicted to work. It is very tempting to praise such obsessive behavior, as it provides many benefits for others and even for the one doing the work. The advancement of a career certainly seems beneficial and often allows for great personal and financial fulfillment. Nevertheless, constant work often hides some sadness, insecurity, or fear that should be confronted by the person who slaves away without cessation. Likewise, over time, such continuous work often can be greatly destructive of important personal relationships.

Of course, many more examples could be brought forth, for one can obsess over almost anything. Still, even these two simple examples should make clear to the reader that it is possible for there to be apparently harmless—indeed, seemingly helpful—life practices that in reality can pose a potential harm to one’s physical or mental well-being.

What is the meaning of the underlined word, “innocuous,” in its context?

Possible Answers:

lacking disease

vigorous

healthy

harmless

sanitary

Correct answer:

harmless

Explanation:

Do not be confused by the relationship of "innocuous" to "inoculate." To be "inoculated" is to be provided with immunity so that exposure to a given disease is made to be harmless for the inoculated person. When something is "innocuous" it is harmless. This is the sense used here. This could be gleaned from the first paragraph, which states that these behaviors can "appear to be harmless."

Example Question #32 : Hspt Reading

"Commentaries" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

The idea of a commentary is not anywhere as simple as most people think. To the popular imagination, the commentator makes a few observations based on a text, not going far beyond its contents. This standard opinion completely misses the various types of commentaries that can be written. Indeed, even the notion of “literal commentary” is itself so variegated that it is incorrect to imagine that such “literal” work is merely a slavish repetition of an original text.

Some literal commentaries truly are “literal,” that is, based on the letters and words of the text. Such philological studies investigate the language structures and meanings of a text. The interpretation of the text proceeds based on these linguistic investigations. Often, this process will note the types of rhetoric being used, the dialects utilized, and any odd language structures that might imply something with regard to the text’s meaning. All of these methods remain very concerned with the “letter of the text” in a very direct manner.

Indeed, even the Medieval commentaries on Aristotle’s works could be considered “literal,” though they do differ from such linguistic approaches. Men like Thomas Aquinas would very carefully read Aristotle’s text, giving what was called a divisio textus for every section of the text in question. This “division of the text” sought to provide a succinct but correct outline of the text in question so that its literal meaning might be more easily noticed. Certainly, the commentary that followed this divisio textus did express some aspects of Aquinas’ own thought. However, he (like other literal commentators of this type) would attempt to remain as close to the literal meaning of the text as possible, always using the divisio textus as a guide for understanding the structure of the original author’s thought.

What does the underlined word “philological” mean in context above?

Possible Answers:

brotherly or familial

pertaining to the study of language

rational or intellectual

pertaining to love

zealous

Correct answer:

pertaining to the study of language

Explanation:

The word "philological" is quite a vocabulary word that you might not know at first sight. It means "pertaining to the study of languages (historically, in form, and so forth)." The prefix "phil-" means "love," as is found in the name of the city Philadelphia, which means "The city of brotherly love (phil-)." Philology is the love of languages or the love of learning. (The "-logy" suffix can mean everything from "words" to "reason" to "learning.") From the context, you can likely realize this word's meaning. Note the whole sentence: "Such philological studies investigate the language structures and meanings of a text."

Example Question #41 : Context Dependent Meanings Of Words And Phrases In Argumentative Humanities Passages

"Commentaries" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

The idea of a commentary is not anywhere as simple as most people think. To the popular imagination, the commentator makes a few observations based on a text, not going far beyond its contents. This standard opinion completely misses the various types of commentaries that can be written. Indeed, even the notion of “literal commentary” is itself so variegated that it is incorrect to imagine that such “literal” work is merely a slavish repetition of an original text.

Some literal commentaries truly are “literal,” that is, based on the letters and words of the text. Such philological studies investigate the language structures and meanings of a text. The interpretation of the text proceeds based on these linguistic investigations. Often, this process will note the types of rhetoric being used, the dialects utilized, and any odd language structures that might imply something with regard to the text’s meaning. All of these methods remain very concerned with the “letter of the text” in a very direct manner.

Indeed, even the Medieval commentaries on Aristotle’s works could be considered “literal,” though they do differ from such linguistic approaches. Men like Thomas Aquinas would very carefully read Aristotle’s text, giving what was called a divisio textus for every section of the text in question. This “division of the text” sought to provide a succinct but correct outline of the text in question so that its literal meaning might be more easily noticed. Certainly, the commentary that followed this divisio textus did express some aspects of Aquinas’ own thought. However, he (like other literal commentators of this type) would attempt to remain as close to the literal meaning of the text as possible, always using the divisio textus as a guide for understanding the structure of the original author’s thought.

What does the underlined word “variegated” mean in context above?

Possible Answers:

multiplied indefinitely

marked by variety

interpretive in nature

confusing

out of date

Correct answer:

marked by variety

Explanation:

The word "variegated" is related to the words "various" and "variety."  Strictly speaking, it is used to describe mixed colors, such as those found on "variegated leaves."  Here, the context indicates that the notion of "literal commentary" is more complex than one thinks, having a variety of forms that could equally be called "literal commentaries."  The remainder of the selection provides examples of such different types.

Example Question #11 : How To Find Word Meaning From Context

"Chesterton on Virtues and Vices" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

The British author G.K. Chesterton once wrote that the modern world was not really a combination of evils brought about by mere vices being unleashed.  Instead, following his normal paradoxical style, Chesterton spoke of the modern world as having been filled with “virtues gone mad.” He believed that Christian notions of things like pity and truth had been split apart in an unhealthy way. Without a sense of honesty, pity could become quite untruthful and deceptive.  Likewise, unbridled truth could be come quite nefarious and pitiless. Without a broader context, such virtues could become quite wild and indeed vicious.

Chesterton’s remark is more insightful than might appear at first glance. For instance, it has been confirmed, in part at least, by the historical research undertaken by men like Professor Étienne Gilson. Gilson, an historian of philosophy in the twentieth century, did much of his early work proving that many of the strange positions of Rene Déscartes, a modern man, were actually made up of pieces taken from earlier Christian theologies and philosophies. Although Gilson’s work must be supplemented by newer research, his work remains a confirmation of at least some aspects of Chesterton’s lighthearted reflection. Indeed, a contemporary of Gilson’s, Jacques Maritain, likewise performed similar researches, though his perspective was not historical but speculative.

What is the meaning of “unbridled” in this context?

Possible Answers:

undomesticated

unrestrained

anti-Christian

wicked

related to horses

Correct answer:

unrestrained

Explanation:

The general idea of the word "unbridled" is to be unrestrained, as if one had a horse that did not have a bridle on it.  The idea being expressed in this portion of the selection is that just as pity without limitations from honesty becomes deceptive so too does truth (or honesty) become quite pitiless and nasty if it is deparated from pity.

Example Question #31 : Hspt Reading

Adapted from The Principles of Breeding by S. L. Goodale (1861)

The Jersey cow, formerly known as the Alderney, is almost exclusively employed for dairy purposes, and may not be expected to give satisfaction for other uses. Their milk is richer than that of any other cows, and the butter made from it possesses a superior flavor and a deep rich color, and consequently commands an extraordinary price in all markets where good butter is appreciated.

Jersey cattle are of Norman origin, and are noted for their milking properties. The cows are generally very docile and gentle, but the males when past two or three years of age often become vicious and unmanageable. It is said that the cows fatten readily when dry.

There is no branch of cattle husbandry which promises better returns than the breeding and rearing of milch cows. In the vicinity of large towns and cities are many cows which having been culled from many miles around, on account of dairy properties, are considerably above the average, but taking the cows of the country together they do not compare favorably with the oxen. Farmers generally take more pride in their oxen, and strive to have as good or better than any of their neighbors, while if a cow will give milk enough to rear a large steer calf and a little besides, it is often deemed satisfactory.

“Milch cows” are most probably __________.

Possible Answers:

female cows

Jersey cows

male cows

cows raised for their milk

cows raised for their meat

Correct answer:

cows raised for their milk

Explanation:

A “milch cow” is a cow that produces milk for the farmer, but it is highly likely you have never encountered this term before. You must therefore read in context. The author makes the statement “There is no branch of cattle husbandry which promises better returns than the breeding and rearing of milch cows” immediately after he spends two paragraphs talking about the immensely productive dairy-producing qualities of Jersey cows, so you may infer that a “milch cow” is a dairy cow, or a cow raised for its milk.

Example Question #91 : Sat Critical Reading

Adapted from “Birds in Retreat” in “Animal Defences—Active Defence” in Volume Four of The Natural History of Animals: The Animal Life of the World in Its Various Aspects and Relations by James Richard Ainsworth Davis (1903)

Among the large running birds are forms, like the African ostrich, in which the absence of powers of flight is largely compensated by the specialization of the legs for the purpose of rapid movement on the ground. For straightforward retreat in open country nothing could be more effective; but another kind of adaptation is required in birds like rails, which are deficient in powers of flight, and yet are able to run through thickly-growing vegetation with such rapidity as to commonly elude their enemies. This is rendered possible by the shape of their bodies, which are relatively narrow and flattened from side to side, so as to easily slip between the stems of grasses, rushes, and similar plants. Anyone who has pursued our native land-rail or corn-crake with intent to capture will have noted how extremely difficult it is even to get within sight of a bird of this sort. 

Certain birds, unfortunately for themselves, have lost the power of flight without correspondingly increased powers of running, and have paid the penalty of extinction. Such an arrangement, as might be anticipated, was the result of evolution in islands devoid of any predatory ground-animals, and a classic example of it is afforded by the dodo and its allies, birds related to the pigeons. The dodo itself was a large and clumsy-looking species that at one time abounded in the island of Mauritius, which, like oceanic islands generally, possessed no native mammals, while its indigenous reptiles were only represented by lizards. The ubiquitous sailor, however, and the animals (especially swine) which he introduced, brought about the extinction of this helpless bird in less than a century after its first discovery in 1598. Its memory is now only kept green by a few contemporary drawings and descriptions, certain museum remains, and the proverb "as extinct as a dodo.” A similar fate must overtake any organism suddenly exposed to new and unfavorable conditions, if devoid of sufficient plasticity to rapidly accommodate itself to the altered environment.

Based on the way in which it is used in the passage, what is the meaning of the underlined word “ubiquitous”?

Possible Answers:

brave

traveling everywhere

careful

not widely known

staying in one place

Correct answer:

traveling everywhere

Explanation:

Even if you don’t know what the word “ubiquitous” means, you can work out its meaning from the way it is used in the passage. “Ubiquitous” is used in the following line in the second paragraph:

“The ubiquitous sailor, however, and the animals (especially swine) which he introduced, brought about the extinction of this helpless bird in less than a century after its first discovery in 1598.”

Let’s consider each of the answer choices. “Staying in one place” doesn’t make sense, as the sailor clearly visited New Zealand. “Careful” doesn’t seem correct in that the sailors brought animals that hurt the indigenous species, and neither “brave” nor “not widely known” are supported at all. The only answer choice that makes sense is “traveling everywhere.” If sailors traveled everywhere, it would make sense that they would travel to New Zealand.

Note: "ubiquitous" is defined as located or existing everywhere, but "traveling everywhere" is in line with the author's use of the term in the passage.

Example Question #61 : Determining Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Humanities Passages

Adapted from "The Writing of Essays" in Certain Personal Matters by H.G. Wells (1901)

The art of the essayist is so simple, so entirely free from canons of criticism, and withal so delightful, that one must needs wonder why all men are not essayists. Perhaps people do not know how easy it is. Or perhaps beginners are misled. Rightly taught it may be learnt in a brief ten minutes or so, what art there is in it. And all the rest is as easy as wandering among woodlands on a bright morning in the spring.

Then sit you down if you would join us, taking paper, pens, and ink; and mark this, your pen is a matter of vital moment. For every pen writes its own sort of essay, and pencils also after their kind. The ink perhaps may have its influence too, and the paper; but paramount is the pen. This, indeed, is the fundamental secret of essay-writing. Wed any man to his proper pen, and the delights of composition and the birth of an essay are assured. Only many of us wander through the earth and never meet with her—futile and lonely men.

And, of all pens, your quill for essays that are literature. There is a subtle informality, a delightful easiness, perhaps even a faint immorality essentially literary, about the quill. The quill is rich in suggestion and quotation. There are quills that would quote you Montaigne and Horace in the hands of a trades-union delegate. And those quirky, idle noises this pen makes are delightful, and would break your easy fluency with wit. All the classical essayists wrote with a quill, and Addison used the most expensive kind the Government purchased. And the beginning of the inferior essay was the dawn of the cheap steel pen.

The word "withal" as Wells uses it in the first sentence most likely means __________.

Possible Answers:

nevertheless

however

in addition

undoubtedly

Correct answer:

in addition

Explanation:

The word "withal" is an archaic term that means additionally or in addition.

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