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 #31 : How To Find Word Meaning From Context

Adapted from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)

The studio was filled with the rich odor of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.

From the corner of the divan of Persian saddlebags on which he was lying, smoking, as was his custom, innumerable cigarettes, Lord Henry Wotton could just catch the gleam of the honey-sweet and honey-colored blossoms of a laburnum, whose tremulous branches seemed hardly able to bear the burden of a beauty so flamelike as theirs; and now and then the fantastic shadows of birds in flight flitted across the long tussore-silk curtains that were stretched in front of the huge window, producing a kind of momentary Japanese effect, and making him think of those pallid, jade-faced painters of Tokyo who, through the medium of an art that is necessarily immobile, seek to convey the sense of swiftness and motion. The sullen murmur of the bees shouldering their way through the long unmown grass, or circling with monotonous insistence round the dusty gilt horns of the straggling woodbine, seemed to make the stillness more oppressive. The dim roar of London was like the bourdon note of a distant organ.

In the center of the room, clamped to an upright easel, stood the full-length portrait of a young man of extraordinary personal beauty, and in front of it, some little distance away, was sitting the artist himself, Basil Hallward, whose sudden disappearance some years ago caused, at the time, such public excitement and gave rise to so many strange conjectures.

As the painter looked at the gracious and comely form he had so skilfully mirrored in his art, a smile of pleasure passed across his face, and seemed about to linger there. But he suddenly started up, and closing his eyes, placed his fingers upon the lids, as though he sought to imprison within his brain some curious dream from which he feared he might awake.

Based on its context in the passage, what does the bolded and underlined word "laburnum" refer to?

Possible Answers:

A tree or shrubbery

A rare songbird

A popular style of nineteenth-century architecture

A type of low shed

A woodland creature

Correct answer:

A tree or shrubbery

Explanation:

From the sentence in which it appears, we can see that a laburnum has branches and blossoms, so the only definition that makes sense in context is a tree or shrubbery.

Example Question #32 : How To Find Word Meaning From Context

Adapted from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)

The studio was filled with the rich odor of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.

From the corner of the divan of Persian saddlebags on which he was lying, smoking, as was his custom, innumerable cigarettes, Lord Henry Wotton could just catch the gleam of the honey-sweet and honey-colored blossoms of a laburnum, whose tremulous branches seemed hardly able to bear the burden of a beauty so flamelike as theirs; and now and then the fantastic shadows of birds in flight flitted across the long tussore-silk curtains that were stretched in front of the huge window, producing a kind of momentary Japanese effect, and making him think of those pallid, jade-faced painters of Tokyo who, through the medium of an art that is necessarily immobile, seek to convey the sense of swiftness and motion. The sullen murmur of the bees shouldering their way through the long unmown grass, or circling with monotonous insistence round the dusty gilt horns of the straggling woodbine, seemed to make the stillness more oppressive. The dim roar of London was like the bourdon note of a distant organ.

In the center of the room, clamped to an upright easel, stood the full-length portrait of a young man of extraordinary personal beauty, and in front of it, some little distance away, was sitting the artist himself, Basil Hallward, whose sudden disappearance some years ago caused, at the time, such public excitement and gave rise to so many strange conjectures.

As the painter looked at the gracious and comely form he had so skilfully mirrored in his art, a smile of pleasure passed across his face, and seemed about to linger there. But he suddenly started up, and closing his eyes, placed his fingers upon the lids, as though he sought to imprison within his brain some curious dream from which he feared he might awake.

Based on its context in the passage, what do the bolded and underlined words “gracious and comely” most nearly mean?

Possible Answers:

Hideous and deformed

Ornate and antiquated

Pleasing to the eye

Unsightly

Astonishing and unbelievable

Correct answer:

Pleasing to the eye

Explanation:

“Gracious and comely” is used to describe the portrait of the “young man of extraordinary personal beauty.” “Unbelievable” is too strong a word, although “astonishing” may be accurate. The better choice is “pleasing to the eye.”

Example Question #13 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In Contemporary Life Passages

"The Pets of the Elderly" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Many younger people think that it is a bit strange to see elderly widows and widowers fussing greatly over their pet dogs and cats. While it is perhaps amusing to see a mature adult babying an animal, this aspect of life often is of crucial importance for the health and happiness of these aging persons. Although they have lost their spouses and often have a dwindling number of friends, these people often have a social network outside of the house that can be deceptively large and active. All of this activity can hide the great loneliness that these people experience when they return home. Often having been the shared refuge with the loving presence of a spouse, the widow’s house or apartment can become a lonely isolation cell, no matter how active he or she might be. Pets often are a solution to this loneliness, becoming dear companions in a life that would otherwise be very devoid of personal contact every morning and night. They offer great joy and consolation to these elderly people. It is therefore understandable that their owners often give them such large amounts of attention.

What is the meaning of the underlined word “dwindling?”

Possible Answers:

passing

diminishing

dying

abandoning

mortifying

Correct answer:

diminishing

Explanation:

The word "dwindle" in general means reducing in number and size. The sentence itself implies that the aging person has lost his or her spouse and likewise a number of friends; however, it also indicates that they do have a social network that is larger than expected. (The fact that this network is larger than expected shows that it is also a fact that their number of friends has nevertheless been dwindling. That is what makes the large network surprising).

Example Question #51 : Hspt Reading

"American Students and Foreign Languages" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

American students often find it difficult to understand the need for learning a foreign language. In part, this lack of understanding seems to occur because of the insulated nature of American geography. Unlike Europe, America is a massive country, comprised of states that all speak the same language. When an American travels from state to state, he or she is not confronted with a completely different language group as is the case when, for example, a Frenchman travels from his native land to the neighboring country of Italy or to England. Although America does have Canada to its north and Mexico to its south, it still does not have the great internal variety of languages as one finds in the small European continent. Therefore, students often do not experience the practical importance of knowing other languages.

Of course, America has always been called the “melting pot,” for many peoples have arrived on its shores, bringing their own distinctive cultures and languages with them. Still, this very expression—“melting pot”—shows that these immigrant cultures do not forever retain their own particular manners and languages. With time, these varied cultures become part of the American culture as a whole. While they do influence and change the culture, they likewise become assimilated into it. Their spoken language often becomes English. Even if they retain their mother tongue, they generally speak it privately. This is done as a matter of personal heritage, not as part of the day-to-day life in the culture. 

Additionally, America’s global dominance likewise allows Americans to avoid learning other languages. Since America has such influence over the rest of the world, it is generally in the interests of other peoples to learn English in order to be part of the economic, political, and military world in which America operates. Therefore, even at international meetings that are filled with people from many nationalities and language groups, English-speakers are at an advantage because they can talk with the many individuals who speak English. The work and learning of other peoples thus allows the Americans to convince themselves that there is no need to learn another language. 

Lastly, American education has come to emphasize mathematics and science to such a great degree that things such as language can often seem unimportant. The main goals of education are said to be the training of students for the technology workforce. If this is presented as the main goal of school, few children will understand why any of the non-scientific subjects are included in the curriculum. If a subject does not help in learning math and science, it will appear to be irrelevant. In particular, foreign languages do not seem to add to the teaching of math and science, which can be done very easily and effectively in English alone. 

Of course, many other reasons could be considered, and a more detailed discussion would undertake such a lengthy investigation. Still, the factors discussed above do provide some sense as to why American students find it difficult to understand the importance of learning a foreign language.

In the second paragraph, what does the underlined word “assimilated” mean in its context?

Possible Answers:

To argue about one's place in

To become integrated into

To work to bring about changes in

To forge ahead in

To produce copies of

Correct answer:

To become integrated into

Explanation:

The word "assimilate" is related to the English "similar." To become "assimilated" literally means to become similar to (something else). This meaning can be inferred in part from the sentence in which it is found. The initial dependent clause states, "While they do influence and change the culture. . ." The "while" is being used like "although." The sentence could be simplified and read as stating, "While they do influence the culture, they are likely influenced by it." This initial reading can at least help you to come close to the meaning of "assimilated," which generally means to become part of or to become integrated into something foreign.

Example Question #1 : Language In Contemporary Life Passages

"American Students and Foreign Languages" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

American students often find it difficult to understand the need for learning a foreign language. In part, this lack of understanding seems to occur because of the insulated nature of American geography. Unlike Europe, America is a massive country, comprised of states that all speak the same language. When an American travels from state to state, he or she is not confronted with a completely different language group as is the case when, for example, a Frenchman travels from his native land to the neighboring country of Italy or to England. Although America does have Canada to its north and Mexico to its south, it still does not have the great internal variety of languages as one finds in the small European continent. Therefore, students often do not experience the practical importance of knowing other languages.

Of course, America has always been called the “melting pot,” for many peoples have arrived on its shores, bringing their own distinctive cultures and languages with them. Still, this very expression—“melting pot”—shows that these immigrant cultures do not forever retain their own particular manners and languages. With time, these varied cultures become part of the American culture as a whole. While they do influence and change the culture, they likewise become assimilated into it. Their spoken language often becomes English. Even if they retain their mother tongue, they generally speak it privately. This is done as a matter of personal heritage, not as part of the day-to-day life in the culture. 

Additionally, America’s global dominance likewise allows Americans to avoid learning other languages. Since America has such influence over the rest of the world, it is generally in the interests of other peoples to learn English in order to be part of the economic, political, and military world in which America operates. Therefore, even at international meetings that are filled with people from many nationalities and language groups, English-speakers are at an advantage because they can talk with the many individuals who speak English. The work and learning of other peoples thus allows the Americans to convince themselves that there is no need to learn another language. 

Lastly, American education has come to emphasize mathematics and science to such a great degree that things such as language can often seem unimportant. The main goals of education are said to be the training of students for the technology workforce. If this is presented as the main goal of school, few children will understand why any of the non-scientific subjects are included in the curriculum. If a subject does not help in learning math and science, it will appear to be irrelevant. In particular, foreign languages do not seem to add to the teaching of math and science, which can be done very easily and effectively in English alone. 

Of course, many other reasons could be considered, and a more detailed discussion would undertake such a lengthy investigation. Still, the factors discussed above do provide some sense as to why American students find it difficult to understand the importance of learning a foreign language.

In the second paragraph, what does the underlined expression “mother tongue” mean?

Possible Answers:

The type of baby-talk used by mothers when taking to their infants

Inherited characteristics found in the mouth

Native language

The guidance and wisdom of a former country

The kinds of words spoken by parents to their children

Correct answer:

Native language

Explanation:

The expression "mother tongue" means the language that one learns while growing up. Often, this expression is also used in a sense like "mother country," as in the country in which one was born and, likely, raised. The idea of this whole paragraph is that while immigrants bring their native languages, they do learn English, often retaining their original language only privately for reasons of personal heritage. This original language is called the "mother tongue" of these people.

Example Question #1 : Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908)

The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters, then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash, 'till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said "Bother!" and "O blow!" and also "Hang spring cleaning!" and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat. Something up above was calling him imperiously, and he made for the steep little tunnel which answered in his case to the gaveled carriage-drive owned by animals whose residences are nearer to the sun and air. So he scraped and scratched and scrabbled and scrooged and then he scrooged again and scrabbled and scratched and scraped, working busily with his little paws and muttering to himself, "Up we go! Up we go!" 'till at last, pop! His snout came out into the sunlight, and he found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow.

"This is fine!" he said to himself. "This is better than whitewashing!" The sunshine struck hot on his fur, soft breezes caressed his heated brow, and after the seclusion of the cellarage he had lived in so long, the carol of happy birds fell on his dulled hearing almost like a shout. Jumping off all his four legs at once, in the joy of living and the delight of spring without its cleaning, he pursued his way across the meadow 'till he reached the hedge on the further side.

"Hold up!" said an elderly rabbit at the gap. "Sixpence for the privilege of passing by the private road!" He was bowled over in an instant by the impatient and contemptuous Mole, who trotted along the side of the hedge chaffing the other rabbits as they peeped hurriedly from their holes to see what the row was about. "Onion-sauce! Onion-sauce!" he remarked jeeringly, and was gone before they could think of a thoroughly satisfactory reply. Then they all started grumbling at each other. "How STUPID you are! Why didn't you tell him—" "Well, why didn't YOU say—" "You might have reminded him—" and so on, in the usual way; but, of course, it was then much too late, as is always the case.

In context, the underlined word "contemptuous" most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

scornful

respectful

patient

admiring

confused

Correct answer:

scornful

Explanation:

To be "contemptuous" of something is to be scornful of it. We can tell what the meaning of "contemptuous" is by considering the context in which it appears: the elderly rabbit attempts to stop the mole, but the mole ignores him and bowls him over. So, the mole is "contemptuous," or scornful, of the elderly rabbit's request, because he does pay it any attention or bother to stop at all.

Example Question #51 : Narrative Humanities Passages

Adapted from Scientific American Supplement No. 1082 Vol. XLII (September 26th, 1896)

The rowboat Fox, of the port of New York, manned by George Harbo, thirty-one years of age, captain of a merchantman, and Frank Samuelson, twenty-six years of age, left New York for Havre on the sixth of June. Ten days later the boat was met by the German transatlantic steamer Fürst Bismarck proceeding from Cherbourg to New York. On the eighth, ninth and tenth of July, the Fox was cast by a tempest upon the reefs of Newfoundland. The two men jumped into the sea, and thanks to the watertight compartments provided with air chambers fore and aft, it was possible for them to right the boat; but the unfortunates lost their provisions and their supply of drinking water. On the fifteenth they met the Norwegian three-masted vessel Cito, which supplied them with food and water. The captains of the vessels met with signed the log book and testified that the boat had neither sail nor rudder. The Fox reached the Scilly Islands on the first of August, having at this date been on the ocean fifty-five days. It arrived at Havre on the seventh of August.

Cost what it might, the men were bent upon reaching this port in order to gain the reward promised by Mr. Fox, of the Police Gazette. Thanks to the wind and a favorable current, they made one hundred and twenty-five miles in twenty-four hours. One slept three hours while the other rowed. Their skins and faces were tumefied by the wind, salt water, and sun; the skin of their hands was renewed three times; their legs were weakened; and they were worn out.

The underlined word “tempest” most probably means __________.

Possible Answers:

ship

fish

blessing

joke

storm

Correct answer:

storm

Explanation:

In the context that the word "tempest" is used, the author says, “On the eighth, ninth and tenth of July, the Fox was cast by a tempest upon the reefs of Newfoundland. The two men jumped into the sea, and thanks to the watertight compartments provided with air chambers fore and aft, it was possible for them to right the boat; but the unfortunates lost their provisions and their supply of drinking water.” So, a “tempest” is something that causes a boat to be thrown off of its usual course and passengers to be forced into the open water. From this clue, you can reasonably infer that a “tempest” is a storm.

Example Question #51 : Hspt Reading

"Cacti" by Ami Dave (2013)

Cacti are plants suited to the desert, and we must always keep this factor in mind when growing ornamental cacti in our gardens, for it helps us provide cacti with conditions that allow them to survive and thrive. For example, a cactus should never be watered over its body, as it will start to rot. This is because it is covered with a waxy coating which prevents water loss through evaporation. When one waters the cactus over its body, the waxy coating is washed away and the plant begins to rot. The amount of water that one must supply to the cactus is very much dependent upon the season and upon the climate of the place. During the summer season one should water cacti every four days, whereas in the rainy season, once every fifteen days is quite enough.

Cacti need a minimum of two and a half hours of sunlight per day; however, they should not be kept in the sun all day because they may wrinkle when exposed to too much bright sunlight. Unlike other plants, cacti produce carbon dioxide during the day and oxygen during the night, so they are ideal plants to be kept in bedrooms to freshen up the air at night.

If a cactus is to thrive and prosper, the size of the pot in which it is grown needs to be monitored carefully. The pot should always be a little smaller than the plant itself because it is only when the plant has to struggle to survive that it will thrive. If the pot is too spacious and the plant does not need to struggle, chances are that the cactus will die. Similarly, if a cactus shows no signs of growth, stop watering it. Watering should be resumed only when the plant begins to grow again.

The substrata of a cactus pot is ideally composed of pieces of broken bricks at the bottom, followed by a layer of charcoal above the bricks, and then coarse sand and pebbles above the charcoal. Leaf mould is the best manure.

Grafting cacti is very simple. A very small piece of the cactus plant should be stuck with tape to the plant that needs grafting. The smaller the piece, the easier it is to graft. To reproduce cacti, one has to simply cut off a piece of the cactus, allow it to dry for a few days, and then place it over the cacti substrate. It will automatically develop roots.

It is very easy to differentiate between cacti and other plants that look like cacti. All cacti have fine hair at the base of each thorn. The so-called “thorns” are in fact highly modified leaves which prevent loss of water through transpiration. If one ever gets pricked by cacti thorns, one should take tape, place it over the area where the thorns have penetrated the skin, and then peel it off. All of the thorns will get stuck to the tape and will be removed.

What is the most reasonable definition of the underlined word "transpiration," as it is used in the last paragraph of the passage?

Possible Answers:

An act of revealing something

The evaporation of water from peripheral regions of the plant

An act of going across something

The act of watering something

The occurrence of an important event

Correct answer:

The evaporation of water from peripheral regions of the plant

Explanation:

The keywords here are "loss of water." This implies that transpiration has something to do with how the plant gets rid of water. The only answer choice that has anything to do with water is the one that addresses the evaporation of water, which is indeed how the cactus rids itself of water.

Example Question #11 : Determining Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Natural Science Passages

"Cacti" by Ami Dave (2013)

Cacti are plants suited to the desert, and we must always keep this factor in mind when growing ornamental cacti in our gardens, for it helps us provide cacti with conditions that allow them to survive and thrive. For example, a cactus should never be watered over its body, as it will start to rot. This is because it is covered with a waxy coating which prevents water loss through evaporation. When one waters the cactus over its body, the waxy coating is washed away and the plant begins to rot. The amount of water that one must supply to the cactus is very much dependent upon the season and upon the climate of the place. During the summer season one should water cacti every four days, whereas in the rainy season, once every fifteen days is quite enough.

Cacti need a minimum of two and a half hours of sunlight per day; however, they should not be kept in the sun all day because they may wrinkle when exposed to too much bright sunlight. Unlike other plants, cacti produce carbon dioxide during the day and oxygen during the night, so they are ideal plants to be kept in bedrooms to freshen up the air at night.

If a cactus is to thrive and prosper, the size of the pot in which it is grown needs to be monitored carefully. The pot should always be a little smaller than the plant itself because it is only when the plant has to struggle to survive that it will thrive. If the pot is too spacious and the plant does not need to struggle, chances are that the cactus will die. Similarly, if a cactus shows no signs of growth, stop watering it. Watering should be resumed only when the plant begins to grow again.

The substrata of a cactus pot is ideally composed of pieces of broken bricks at the bottom, followed by a layer of charcoal above the bricks, and then coarse sand and pebbles above the charcoal. Leaf mould is the best manure.

Grafting cacti is very simple. A very small piece of the cactus plant should be stuck with tape to the plant that needs grafting. The smaller the piece, the easier it is to graft. To reproduce cacti, one has to simply cut off a piece of the cactus, allow it to dry for a few days, and then place it over the cacti substrate. It will automatically develop roots.

It is very easy to differentiate between cacti and other plants that look like cacti. All cacti have fine hair at the base of each thorn. The so-called “thorns” are in fact highly modified leaves which prevent loss of water through transpiration. If one ever gets pricked by cacti thorns, one should take tape, place it over the area where the thorns have penetrated the skin, and then peel it off. All of the thorns will get stuck to the tape and will be removed.

The term "substrata" as it is used in the passage refers to __________.

Possible Answers:

the scientific classification of the cactus

a layer of dirt beneath the surface soil

the foundation of a ceramic pot

the stalk of a cactus

the thorns of a cactus

Correct answer:

a layer of dirt beneath the surface soil

Explanation:

As used in the passage, "substrata" most likely refers to a layer of dirt beneath the surface. Context clues, such as "coarse sand and pebbles above it" and "leaf mould" hint at this definition of the term. 

Example Question #52 : Hspt Reading

Adapted from Once on a Time by A. A. Milne (1922)

The Princess was still puzzled. "But I'm grown up," she said. "I don't want a mother so much now."

The King turned his flagon round and studied the other side of it.

"A mother's—er—tender hand," he said, "is—er—never——" and then the outrageous thing happened.

It was all because of a birthday present to the King of Barodia, and the present was nothing less than a pair of seven-league boots. The King being a busy man, it was a week or more before he had an opportunity of trying those boots. Meanwhile he used to talk about them at meals, and he would polish them up every night before he went to bed. When the great day came for the first trial of them to be made, he took a patronizing farewell of his wife and family, ignored the many eager noses pressed against the upper windows of the palace, and sailed off. The motion, as perhaps you know, is a little disquieting at first, but one soon gets used to it. After that it is fascinating. He had gone some two thousand miles before he realized that there might be a difficulty about finding his way back. The difficulty proved at least as great as he had anticipated. For the rest of that day he toured backwards and forwards across the country, and it was by the merest accident that a very angry King shot in through an open pantry window in the early hours of the morning. He removed his boots and went softly to bed.

It was, of course, a lesson to him. He decided that in the future he must proceed by a recognized route, sailing lightly from landmark to landmark. Such a route his geographers prepared for him—an early morning constitutional, of three hundred miles or so, to be taken ten times before breakfast. He gave himself a week in which to recover his nerve and then started out on the first of them.

As it is used in the passage, the underlined word “flagon” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

mug

mace 

ring 

sword 

bowl 

Correct answer:

mug

Explanation:

A “flagon” is a container for liquids that usually has a handle, spout, and lidit is almost the same as a cup or “mug.” We can infer this from the word's root, which is the same root as that of the word “flask,” which is also a vessel used for holding liquids.

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