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 #51 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In Literature 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 "paramount" as Wells uses it in the second sentence of the second paragraph most likely means __________.

Possible Answers:

primary

having supreme power

most important

leading

Correct answer:

most important

Explanation:

"Paramount" is an adjective that means of highest importance.

Example Question #32 : Vocabulary

Adapted from "The Treatment of Rattlesnake Bite by Permanganate of Potassium, Based on Nine Successful Cases" by Amos W. Barber, M.D. in Scientific American Supplement No. 841, Vol. XXXIII (February 13th 1892)

Poisoned wounds, inflicted by the fangs of the rattlesnake, are happily rarer each year, since, as the country is becoming more populated, the crotalus is rapidly being exterminated. Yet, considering the disregard that characterizes the cowboy in his treatment of this reptile, it is astonishing that this class of injury is not more common.

It is the invariable custom among the cattlemen to dismount and destroy these snakes whenever they are seen. This is readily accomplished, since a slight blow will break the back. This blow is, however, generally delivered by means of the quirt, a whip not over two and a half feet long, and hence a weapon which brings the one who wields it in unpleasant proximity to the fangs of the reptile. A still more dangerous practice, and one which I have frequently seen, is a method of playing with the rattlesnake for the humor of the cowboy at the expense of a "tenderfoot." It is well known that unless a snake is coiled or in other specific positions, it cannot strike. On this theory, a mounted cowboy first puts a rattler to flight, then seizes it by the tail, and, swinging it so rapidly around his head that it is impossible for it to strike, sets off in pursuit of whoever has exhibited the most terror at the sight of the reptile. When within fair distance, he hurls the snake at the unfortunate victim, in the full assurance that even should it hit him it cannot bury its fangs in his flesh, since it cannot coil until it reaches the ground. This is a jest of which I have frequently been the victim, nor have I yet learned to appreciate it with unalloyed mirth.

The first case of rattlesnake wound to which I was called occurred in 1885. A cowboy was bitten on the foot, the fang penetrating through the boot. I saw him about twenty-four hours after he was struck. There was enormous swelling, extending up to the knee. There was no special discoloration about the wound; in fact, the swelling disguised this to such an extent that it was impossible to determine exactly where the fangs had entered. The patient was suffering great pain. His mind was clear, but he was oppressed with a dreadful anxiety.

In this context the underlined word “unalloyed” most probably means __________.

Possible Answers:

angry 

theoretical

surprised

metallic

genuine

Correct answer:

genuine

Explanation:

Based on the context of the sentence—the author has just had a rattlesnake thrown at him—you can probably reasonably infer that he would have a difficult time enjoying the experience. “Mirth” means happiness or good-humor. The author says, “This is a jest of which I have frequently been the victim, nor have I yet learned to appreciate it with unalloyed mirth.” Apparently people have often thrown rattlesnakes at him, which must be unpleasant. So, when he says he has not learned to “appreciate it with unalloyed mirth,” you can infer he probably fakes being part of the joke, but really does not feel genuine good-humor at the situation. The word “unalloyed” is usually used to describe a metal that is not mixed with another metal, like pure copper. An “alloy” is a mix of metals.

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

Adapted from "Address to the Court" by Eugene Debs (1918)

Your Honor, I have stated in this court that I am opposed to the form of our present government; that I am opposed to the social system in which we live; that I believed in the change of both—but by perfectly peaceable and orderly means.

Let me call your attention to the fact this morning that in this system five percent of our people own and control two-thirds of our wealth; sixty-five percent of the people, embracing the working class who produce all wealth, have but five percent to show for it.

Standing here this morning, I recall my boyhood. At fourteen I went to work in a railroad shop; at sixteen I was firing a freight engine on a railroad. I remember all the hardships and privations of that earlier day, and from that time until now my heart has been with the working class. I could have been in Congress long ago. I have preferred to go to prison. The choice has been deliberately made. I could not have done otherwise. I have no regret.

In the struggle, the unceasing struggle, between the toilers and producers and their exploiters, I have tried, as best I might, to serve those among whom I was born, with whom I expect to share my lot until the end of my days. I am thinking this morning of the men in the mills and factories; I am thinking of the men in the mines and on the railroads; I am thinking of the women who, for a paltry wage, are compelled to work out their lives; of the little children, who in this system, are robbed of their childhood, and in their early, tender years are seized in the remorseless grasp of Mammon, and forced into the industrial dungeons, there to feed the machines while they themselves are being starved body and soul. I see them dwarfed, diseased, stunted, their little lives broken, and their hopes blasted, because in this high noon of our twentieth-century civilization money is still so much more important than human life. Gold is god and rules in the affairs of men.

What does the author most nearly mean by the statement “Gold is God”?

Possible Answers:

Without money the world would be a godless, spiritual void.

The American government has failed the American people.

Religion has been rendered obsolete by the allures of consumerism.

Money, and the acquisition of it, is the primary ruling force in the world.

Gold blights the senses of men and brings out the worst in them.

Correct answer:

Money, and the acquisition of it, is the primary ruling force in the world.

Explanation:

When the author says that “Gold is God” in the last sentence of the concluding paragraph, he means that money, and the acquisition of it, is the primary motivating factor in the world. The key to understanding this phrasing can be found in the preceding sentence, where the author states this idea at greater length: “. . . because in this high noon of our twentieth-century civilization money is still so much more important than human life.”

Example Question #12 : Word Meaning

Adapted from "The Study of Poetry" in Essays in Criticism: Second Series by Matthew Arnold (1888)

"The future of poetry is immense because in poetry, where it is worthy of its high destinies, humanity, as time goes on, will find an ever surer and surer stay. There is not a creed which is not shaken, not an accredited dogma which is not shown to be questionable, not a received tradition which does not threaten to dissolve. Our religion has materialized itself in the fact, in the supposed fact; it has attached its emotion to the fact, and now the fact is failing it. But for poetry the idea is everything; the rest is a world of illusion, of divine illusion. Poetry attaches its emotion to the idea; the idea is the fact. The strongest part of our religion today is its unconscious poetry."

Let me be permitted to quote these words of my own as uttering the thought which should, in my opinion, go with us and govern us in all our study of poetry. We should conceive of poetry worthily, and more highly than it has been the custom to conceive of it. We should conceive of it as capable of higher uses, and called to higher destinies, than those which in general men have assigned to it hitherto. More and more mankind will discover that we have to turn to poetry to interpret life for us, to console us, to sustain us. Without poetry, our science will appear incomplete, and most of what now passes with us for religion and philosophy will be replaced by poetry. Science, I say, will appear incomplete without it. For finely and truly does Wordsworth call poetry “the impassioned expression which is in the countenance of all science,” and what is a countenance without its expression? Again, Wordsworth finely and truly calls poetry “the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge”; our religion, parading evidences such as those on which the popular mind relies now; our philosophy, pluming itself on its reasonings about causation and finite and infinite being; what are they but the shadows and dreams and false shows of knowledge?

The underlined word "pluming" near the end of the second paragraph most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

evaluating

developing

fortifying

priding

founding

Correct answer:

priding

Explanation:

"Pluming" appears in the following sentence: "Again, Wordsworth finely and truly calls poetry “the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge”; our religion, parading evidences such as those on which the popular mind relies now; our philosophy, pluming itself on its reasonings about causation and finite and infinite being; what are they but the shadows and dreams and false shows of knowledge?"

In this sentence, "pluming" is grammatically parallel with the word "parading." Since religion and philosophy are being lumped together in this quotation in the sense that they are referred to using the pronoun "they" at the end of the sentence, it's reasonable to assume that these two verbs might have similar meanings. Whatever "pluming" means, the author does not perceive it as being very effective, as the sentence is calling religion and philosophy "shadows and dreams and false shows of knowledge." Given this, we can look for the answer choice that reduces the perceived importance philosophy's "reasonings about causation and finite and infinite being" and has a meaning similar to "parading." The correct answer is thus "priding." It is the only answer choice that reduces the perceived value of philosophy's "reasonings about causation and finite and infinite being." Specifically, "pluming" means preening, which means the act of a bird cleaning and organizing one's feathers, but can also mean act in a self-congradulatory manner. The latter meaning is being used in the context of the word's use in the passage.

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

Adapted from "How the Soil is Made" by Charles Darwin in Wonders of Earth, Sea, and Sky (1902, ed. Edward Singleton Holden)

Worms have played a more important part in the history of the world than most persons would at first suppose. In almost all humid countries they are extraordinarily numerous, and for their size possess great muscular power. In many parts of England a weight of more than ten tons (10,516 kilograms) of dry earth annually passes through their bodies and is brought to the surface on each acre of land, so that the whole superficial bed of vegetable mould passes through their bodies in the course of every few years. From the collapsing of the old burrows, the mold is in constant though slow movement, and the particles composing it are thus rubbed together. Thus the particles of earth, forming the superficial mold, are subjected to conditions eminently favorable for their decomposition and disintegration. This keeps the surface of the earth perfectly suited to the growth of an abundant array of fruits and vegetables.

Worms are poorly provided with sense-organs, for they cannot be said to see, although they can just distinguish between light and darkness; they are completely deaf, and have only a feeble power of smell; the sense of touch alone is well developed. They can, therefore, learn little about the outside world, and it is surprising that they should exhibit some skill in lining their burrows with their castings and with leaves, and in the case of some species in piling up their castings into tower-like constructions. But it is far more surprising that they should apparently exhibit some degree of intelligence instead of a mere blind, instinctive impulse, in their manner of plugging up the mouths of their burrows. They act in nearly the same manner as would a man, who had to close a cylindrical tube with different kinds of leaves, petioles, triangles of paper, etc., for they commonly seize such objects by their pointed ends. But with thin objects a certain number are drawn in by their broader ends. They do not act in the same unvarying manner in all cases, as do most of the lower animals.

The underlined word “unvarying” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

inherent

consistent

creative

wondering

wonderful

Correct answer:

consistent

Explanation:

In context, the author is talking about how worms react to different circumstances, with regard to choosing objects to plug the holes of their burrows by selecting different materials. The worms show some sort of creative judgment which clearly greatly impresses the author. The author says, “They act in nearly the same manner as would a man . . . for they commonly seize such objects by their pointed ends. But with thin objects a certain number are drawn in by their broader ends. They do not act in the same unvarying manner in all cases, as do most of the lower animals.” Here it is clear that “unvarying” means not varying, staying constant and consistent. The worms are “do not act in the same unvarying manner . . . as do most of the lower animals.” Instead the worms are not consistent, able to change based on circumstance. To provide further help, “inherent” means naturally possessed or natural; “wondering” means thinking; and “wonderful” means great and brilliant.

Example Question #41 : Hspt Reading

Adapted from Chapter One of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)

You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt Polly—Tom's Aunt Polly, she is—and Mary, and the Widow Douglas is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I said before.

Now the way that the book winds up is this: Tom and me found the money that the robbers hid in the cave, and it made us rich. We got six thousand dollars apiece—all gold. It was an awful sight of money when it was piled up. Well, Judge Thatcher he took it and put it out at interest, and it fetched us a dollar a day apiece all the year round—more than a body could tell what to do with. The Widow Douglas she took me for her son, and allowed she would sivilize me; but it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her ways; and so when I couldn't stand it no longer I lit out. I got into my old rags and my sugar-hogshead again, and was free and satisfied. But Tom Sawyer he hunted me up and said he was going to start a band of robbers, and I might join if I would go back to the widow and be respectable. So I went back.

The widow she cried over me, and called me a poor lost lamb, and she called me a lot of other names, too, but she never meant no harm by it. She put me in them new clothes again, and I couldn't do nothing but sweat and sweat, and feel all cramped up. Well, then, the old thing commenced again. The widow rung a bell for supper, and you had to come to time. When you got to the table you couldn't go right to eating, but you had to wait for the widow to tuck down her head and grumble a little over the victuals, though there warn't really anything the matter with them—that is, nothing only everything was cooked by itself. In a barrel of odds and ends it is different; things get mixed up, and the juice kind of swaps around, and the things go better.

Based on the context of the third paragraph, what does “victuals” most nearly mean?

Possible Answers:

Common silverware

A warm, thin broth

A fancy tablecloth

Food

A type of container for holding liquids

Correct answer:

Food

Explanation:

Based on the passage, “victuals” are something that appear on a table at suppertime. The narrator notes that there isn’t “anything the matter with them—that is, nothing only everything was cooked by itself,” so they must be something edible. The particular “victuals” in this passage are contrasted with “victuals” that have many ingredients cooked together in the same pot, so “food” is a better fit than “a warm, thin broth.”

Example Question #41 : Hspt Reading

Adapted from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighborhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.

"My dear Mr. Bennet," said his lady to him one day, "have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?"

Mr. Bennet replied that he had not.

"But it is," returned she; "for Mrs. Long has just been here, and she told me all about it."

Mr. Bennet made no answer.

"Do you not want to know who has taken it?" cried his wife impatiently.

"You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it."

This was invitation enough.

"Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs. Long says that Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England; that he came down on Monday in a chaise and four to see the place, and was so much delighted with it, that he agreed with Mr. Morris immediately; that he is to take possession before Michaelmas, and some of his servants are to be in the house by the end of next week."

"What is his name?"

"Bingley."

"Is he married or single?"

"Oh! Single, my dear, to be sure! A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!"

Based on the context of the passage, to what is “four or five thousand” referring?

Possible Answers:

Acres

Wives

Prospective suitors

Servants

British pounds

Correct answer:

British pounds

Explanation:

Here, “four or five thousand” is part of a large fortune that a man owns, so “prospective suitors,” “servants,” and “wives” don’t make sense in context. It’s also something that the man receives more of every year, so “acres” doesn’t make sense. “British pounds,” which is a type of money, is the most logical answer.

Example Question #42 : Hspt Reading

Adapted from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighborhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.

"My dear Mr. Bennet," said his lady to him one day, "have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?"

Mr. Bennet replied that he had not.

"But it is," returned she; "for Mrs. Long has just been here, and she told me all about it."

Mr. Bennet made no answer.

"Do you not want to know who has taken it?" cried his wife impatiently.

"You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it."

This was invitation enough.

"Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs. Long says that Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England; that he came down on Monday in a chaise and four to see the place, and was so much delighted with it, that he agreed with Mr. Morris immediately; that he is to take possession before Michaelmas, and some of his servants are to be in the house by the end of next week."

"What is his name?"

"Bingley."

"Is he married or single?"

"Oh! Single, my dear, to be sure! A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!"

Based on the context of the passage, what does the underlined word “let” most nearly mean?

Possible Answers:

Furnished

Allowed

Decorated

Discovered

Rented

Correct answer:

Rented

Explanation:

Here, we can deduce that the house being “let” will result in a rich man and his servants coming to live in it. The passage says nothing about furniture or decoration, and it’s implied that the property is already in good shape, so “furnished” and “decorated” don’t make sense. The speakers in the passage obviously already know about the house, so there is no new discovery happening here. Although the verb, “to let,” often means “to allow,” it doesn’t make sense that a house would be “allowed;” therefore, the best choice is “rented.”

Example Question #21 : Ap English Language

Adapted from "The Study of Poetry" in Essays in Criticism: Second Series by Matthew Arnold (1888)

"The future of poetry is immense because in poetry, where it is worthy of its high destinies, humanity, as time goes on, will find an ever surer and surer stay. There is not a creed which is not shaken, not an accredited dogma which is not shown to be questionable, not a received tradition which does not threaten to dissolve. Our religion has materialized itself in the fact, in the supposed fact; it has attached its emotion to the fact, and now the fact is failing it. But for poetry the idea is everything; the rest is a world of illusion, of divine illusion. Poetry attaches its emotion to the idea; the idea is the fact. The strongest part of our religion today is its unconscious poetry."

Let me be permitted to quote these words of my own as uttering the thought which should, in my opinion, go with us and govern us in all our study of poetry. We should conceive of poetry worthily, and more highly than it has been the custom to conceive of it. We should conceive of it as capable of higher uses, and called to higher destinies, than those which in general men have assigned to it hitherto. More and more mankind will discover that we have to turn to poetry to interpret life for us, to console us, to sustain us. Without poetry, our science will appear incomplete, and most of what now passes with us for religion and philosophy will be replaced by poetry. Science, I say, will appear incomplete without it. For finely and truly does Wordsworth call poetry “the impassioned expression which is in the countenance of all science,” and what is a countenance without its expression? Again, Wordsworth finely and truly calls poetry “the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge”; our religion, parading evidences such as those on which the popular mind relies now; our philosophy, pluming itself on its reasonings about causation and finite and infinite being; what are they but the shadows and dreams and false shows of knowledge?

The underlined word "dogma" in the first paragraph most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

a set of principles

illusions

laws

whims

thoughts

Correct answer:

a set of principles

Explanation:

Let's consider the sentence in which the word "dogma" is used: "There is not a creed which is not shaken, not an accredited dogma which is not shown to be questionable, not a received tradition which does not threaten to dissolve." This sentence places "creed" and "received tradition" in parallel with "dogma," and the reader can infer that these words all mean similar things since they all appear to be things that poetry will eventually shake up. Which of the answer choices is closest in meaning to "creed" and "received tradition"? "Set of principles"—and it is the correct answer. More specifically, a "dogma" is a set of principles that is presented as absolutely true.

Example Question #3 : Humanities Passages

Adapted from "On the Death of Marie Antoinette" by Edmund Burke (1793)

It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the Queen of France, then the Dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she had just begun to move in, glittering like the morning star full of life and splendor and joy.

Oh, what a revolution! and what a heart must I have, to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall! Little did I dream, when she added titles of veneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom; little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her, in a nation of gallant men and of cavaliers! I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards, to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult.

But the age of chivalry is gone; that of sophistry, economists, and calculators has succeeded, and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever. Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom! The unsought grace of life, the cheap defense of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise is gone. It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honor, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil, by losing all its grossness.

In context, the reference to “cavaliers” conveys a sense of __________.

Possible Answers:

temerity

conflict 

arrogance 

foolishness 

heroism 

Correct answer:

heroism 

Explanation:

The word “cavalier” is traditionally used in English language to convey either as an adjective meaning conveying a sense of arrogance or jaunty disregard or as a noun meaning a gallant and chivalrous gentleman. The reference to “gallant men” in the phrase immediately preceding “cavalier” should also clue you in that when the author uses “cavalier,” it is to convey a sense of chivalry or heroism.

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