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 : Natural Science Passages

Adapted from The Evolutionist at Large by Grant Allen (1881)

I am engaged in watching a brigade of ants out on foraging duty, and intent on securing for the nest three whole segments of a deceased earthworm. They look for all the world like those busy companies one sees in the Egyptian wall paintings, dragging home a huge granite colossus by sheer force of bone and sinew. Every muscle in their tiny bodies is strained to the utmost as they pry themselves laboriously against the great boulders that strew the path, and that are known to our Brobdingnagian intelligence as grains of sand. Besides the workers themselves, a whole battalion of stragglers runs to and fro upon the broad line that leads to the headquarters of the community. The province of these stragglers, who seem so busy doing nothing, probably consists in keeping communications open, and encouraging the sturdy pullers by occasional relays of fresh workmen. I often wish that I could for a while get inside those tiny brains, and see, or rather smell, the world as ants do. For there can be little doubt that to these brave little carnivores here the universe is chiefly known as a collective bundle of odors, simultaneous or consecutive. As our world is mainly a world of visible objects, theirs, I believe, is mainly a world of olfactible things.

In the head of every one of these little creatures is something that we may fairly call a brain. Of course most insects have no real brains; the nerve-substance in their heads is a mere collection of ill-arranged ganglia, directly connected with their organs of sense. Whatever man may be, an earwig at least is a conscious, or rather a semi-conscious, automaton. He has just a few knots of nerve cells in his little pate, each of which leads straight from his dim eye or his vague ear or his indefinite organs of taste; and his muscles obey the promptings of external sensations without possibility of hesitation or consideration, as mechanically as the valve of a steam engine obeys the governor balls. The poor soul's intellect is wholly deficient, and the senses alone make up all that there is of him, subjectively considered. But it is not so with the highest insects. They have something that truly answers to the real brain of men, apes, and dogs, to the cerebral hemispheres and the cerebellum that are superadded in us mammals upon the simple sense-centers of lower creatures. Besides the eye, with its optic nerve and optic perceptive organs—besides the ear, with its similar mechanism—we mammalian lords of creation have a higher and more genuine brain, that collects and compares the information given to the senses, and sends down the appropriate messages to the muscles accordingly. Now, bees and flies and ants have got much the same sort of arrangement, on a smaller scale, within their tiny heads. On top of the little knots that do duty as nerve centers for their eyes and mouths, stand two stalked bits of nervous matter, whose duty is analogous to that of our own brains. And that is why these three sorts of insects think and reason so much more intellectually than beetles or butterflies, and why the larger part of them have organized their domestic arrangements on such an excellent cooperative plan.

We know well enough what forms the main material of thought with bees and flies, and that is visible objects. For you must think about something if you think at all; and you can hardly imagine a contemplative blow-fly setting itself down to reflect, like a Hindu devotee, on the syllable Om, or on the oneness of existence. Abstract ideas are not likely to play a large part in apian consciousness. A bee has a very perfect eye, and with this eye it can see not only form, but also color, as Sir John Lubbock's experiments have shown us. The information that it gets through its eye, coupled with other ideas derived from touch, smell, and taste, no doubt makes up the main thinkable and knowable universe as it reveals itself to the apian intelligence. To ourselves and to bees alike the world is, on the whole, a colored picture, with the notions of distance and solidity thrown in by touch and muscular effort; but sight undoubtedly plays the first part in forming our total conception of things generally.

It can be inferred from the passage that the underlined word “Brobdingnagian” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

colossal 

indefatigable

infinite 

ignorant 

minuscule

Correct answer:

colossal 

Explanation:

The word appears in a section in which the author is talking about the brains of humans and those of ants. “Every muscle in their tiny bodies is strained to the utmost as they prise themselves laboriously against the great boulders which strew the path, and which are known to our Brobdingnagian intelligence as grains of sand.” The author is comparing the minuteness of the ants to the human mind, which is giant in comparison. Therefore, “in our colossal intelligence” best fits. The adjective "Brobdingnagian" itself is derived from the name of the giants that Lemuel Gulliver encounters in the book Gulliver's Travels.

Example Question #53 : Vocabulary

Adapted from The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Van Loon (1921)

During the first twenty years of his life, young Napoleon was a professional Corsican patriot—a Corsican Sinn Feiner, who hoped to deliver his beloved country from the yoke of the bitterly hated French enemy. But the French revolution had unexpectedly recognised the claims of the Corsicans and gradually Napoleon, who had received a good training at the military school of Brienne, drifted into the service of his adopted country. Although he never learned to spell French correctly or to speak it without a broad Italian accent, he became a Frenchman. In due time he came to stand as the highest expression of all French virtues. At present he is regarded as the symbol of the Gallic genius.

Napoleon was what is called a fast worker. His career does not cover more than twenty years. In that short span of time he fought more wars and gained more victories and marched more miles and conquered more square kilometers and killed more people and brought about more reforms and generally upset Europe to a greater extent than anybody (including Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan) had ever managed to do.

He was a little fellow and during the first years of his life his health was not very good. He never impressed anybody by his good looks and he remained to the end of his days very clumsy whenever he was obliged to appear at a social function. He did not enjoy a single advantage of breeding or birth or riches. For the greater part of his youth he was desperately poor and often he had to go without a meal or was obliged to make a few extra pennies in curious ways.

He gave little promise as a literary genius. When he competed for a prize offered by the Academy of Lyons, his essay was found to be next to the last and he was number 15 out of 16 candidates. But he overcame all these difficulties through his absolute and unshakable belief in his own destiny, and in his own glorious future. Ambition was the main-spring of his life. The thought of self, the worship of that capital letter "N" with which he signed all his letters, and which recurred forever in the ornaments of his hastily constructed palaces, the absolute will to make the name Napoleon the most important thing in the world next to the name of God, these desires carried Napoleon to a pinnacle of fame which no other man has ever reached.

The underlined word “obliged” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

suggested

determined

allowed

required

encouraged

Correct answer:

required

Explanation:

In context, the author is talking about how Napoleon was clumsy and uncomfortable in social settings and never made a good impression with his looks or the way he carried himself, so when the author says that he was “obliged to appear at a social function,” we may reasonably infer that Napoleon would have had to be forced or “required” to attend.

Example Question #41 : Ssat Middle Level Reading Comprehension

Adapted from The Struggles of Charles Goodyear by George C. Towle (1916)

Never did any man work harder, suffer more keenly, or remain more steadfast to one great purpose of life, than did Charles Goodyear. The story of his life—for the most part mournful—teems with touching interest. No inventor ever struggled against greater or more often returning obstacles, or against repeated failures more overwhelming. Goodyear is often compared, as a martyr and hero of invention, to Bernard Palissy the potter. He is sometimes called "the Palissy of the nineteenth century." But his sufferings were more various, more bitter, and more long enduring than ever were even those of Palissy; while the result of his long, unceasing labors was infinitely more precious to the world. For if Palissy restored the art of enameling so as to produce beautiful works of art, Goodyear perfected a substance which gives comfort and secures health to millions of human beings.

It was by accident at last that he hit upon the secret of how to make India-rubber durable. He was talking one day to several visitors, and in his ardor making rapid gestures, when a piece of rubber that he was holding in his hand accidentally hit against a hot stove. To his amazement, instead of melting, the gum remained stiff and charred, like leather. He again applied great heat to a piece of rubber, and then nailed it outside the door, where it was very cold. The next morning he found that it was perfectly flexible; and this was the discovery which led to that successful invention which he had struggled through so many years to perfect. The main value of the discovery lay in this, that while the gum would dissolve in a moderate heat, it both remained hard and continued to be flexible when submitted to an extreme heat. This came to be known as the "vulcanization" of India-rubber.

Goodyear was terribly afraid that he should die before he could make the world perceive the great uses to which his discovery might be applied. What he was toiling for was neither fame nor fortune, but only to confer a vast benefit on his fellow men.

At last, after infinite struggles, the absorbing purpose of his life was attained. India-rubber was introduced under his patents, and soon proved to have all the value he had, in his wildest moments, claimed for it. Success thus crowned his noble efforts, which had continued unceasingly through ten years of self-imposed privation. India-rubber was now seen to be capable of being adapted to at least five hundred uses. It could be made "as pliable as kid, tougher than oxhide, as elastic as whalebone, or as rigid as flint." But, as too often happens, his great discovery enriched neither Goodyear nor his family. It soon gave employment to sixty thousand artisans, and annually produced articles in this country alone worth eight millions of dollars.

Happily the later years of the noble, self-denying inventor were spent at least free from the grinding penury and privations of his years of uncertainty and toil. He died in 1860 in his sixtieth year, happy in the thought of the magnificent boon he had given to mankind.

The underlined word “mournful” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

somber 

jubilant 

deranged 

permissive 

prohibitive 

Correct answer:

somber 

Explanation:

In context, the author says “The story of his life—for the most part mournful—teems with touching interest. No inventor ever struggled against greater or more often returning obstacles, or against repeated failures more overwhelming . . . But his sufferings were more various, more bitter, and more long enduring." From this excerpt, we can infer that his life was “mournful” because it was full of “repeated failures” and “bitter, long enduring sufferings.” This information suggests that “mournful” means sad and serious, which is very close in definition to “somber.” To provide further information, “jubilant” means very happy, “permissive” means allowing things that others might stop or ban, “prohibitive” means preventing something from being accomplished; and “deranged” means crazy and dangerous.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Meaning, Purpose, And Effect Of Specified Text In Humanities Passages

Adapted from “The Influence of the Conception of Evolution on Modern Philosophy” by H. Höffding (1909) in Evolution in Modern Thought (1917 ed.)

When The Origin of Species appeared fifty years ago Romantic speculation, Schelling's and Hegel's philosophy, still reigned on the continent, while in England Positivism, the philosophy of Comte and Stuart Mill, represented the most important trend of thought. German speculation had much to say on evolution; it even pretended to be a philosophy of evolution. But then the word "evolution" was to be taken in an ideal, not in a real, sense. To speculative thought the forms and types of nature formed a system of ideas, within which any form could lead us by continuous transitions to any other. It was a classificatory system which was regarded as a divine world of thought or images, within which metamorphoses could go on—a condition comparable with that in the mind of the poet when one image follows another with imperceptible changes.

Goethe's ideas of evolution, as expressed in his Metamorphosen der Pflanzen und der Thiere, belong to this category; it is, therefore, incorrect to call him a forerunner of Darwin. Schelling and Hegel held the same idea; Hegel expressly rejected the conception of a real evolution in time as coarse and materialistic. "Nature," he says, "is to be considered as a system of stages, the one necessarily arising from the other, and being the nearest truth of that from which it proceeds; but not in such a way that the one is naturally generated by the other; on the contrary [their connection lies] in the inner idea which is the ground of nature. The metamorphosis can be ascribed only to the notion as such, because it alone is evolution.... It has been a 

What is a good definition for the term "Romantic" as it is used in this passage?

Possible Answers:

Academic

Emotional

Affectionate

Loving

Unrealistic

Correct answer:

Unrealistic

Explanation:

In addition to the common use of "romantic" in our day-to-day speech, the word can also mean "idealistic" or "unrealistic." Think of when we speak of a "romanticized portrait" of some event, person, or thing. This implies that it is represented in a way that is not 100% true to the reality, making it seem more "stylized" and perfect than it actually is. This is the meaning here in this passage, for these philosophers had an "ideal" view of evolution, not a realistic one.

Example Question #61 : Meaning And Structure In Single Answer Questions

Adapted from Seven Discourses Delivered in the Royal Academy By the President by Joshua Reynolds (1778)

All the objects which are exhibited to our view by nature, upon close examination will be found to have their blemishes and defects. The most beautiful forms have something about them like weakness, minuteness, or imperfection. But it is not every eye that perceives these blemishes. It must be an eye long used to the contemplation and comparison of these forms—and which, by a long habit of observing what any set of objects of the same kind have in common, that alone can acquire the power of discerning what each wants in particular. This long laborious comparison should be the first study of the painter who aims at the greatest style. By this means, he acquires a just idea of beautiful forms; he corrects nature by herself, her imperfect state by her more perfect. His eye being enabled to distinguish the accidental deficiencies, excrescences, and deformities of things from their general figures, he makes out an abstract idea of their forms more perfect than any one original—and what may seem a paradox, he learns to design naturally by drawing his figures unlike to any one object. This idea of the perfect state of nature, which the artist calls the ideal beauty, is the great leading principle by which works of genius are conducted. By this, Phidias acquired his fame. He wrought upon a sober principle what has so much excited the enthusiasm of the world—and by this method you, who have courage to tread the same path, may acquire equal reputation.

The word "discerning" in this passage means __________.

Possible Answers:

solving imperfections

judging art

understanding an object

creating beauty

ignoring issues

Correct answer:

understanding an object

Explanation:

The context notes that what is discerned is "what each wants in particular," referring to natural objects; therefore, the painter is understanding the details of the object being studied.

Example Question #61 : Vocabulary

Adapted from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (1876)

Within two minutes, or even less, he had forgotten all his troubles. Not because his troubles were one whit less heavy and bitter to him than a man's are to a man, but because a new and powerful interest bore them down and drove them out of his mind for the time—just as men's misfortunes are forgotten in the excitement of new enterprises. This new interest was a valued novelty in whistling, which he had just acquired, and he was suffering to practice it undisturbed. It consisted in a peculiar bird-like turn, a sort of liquid warble, produced by touching the tongue to the roof of the mouth at short intervals in the midst of the music—the reader probably remembers how to do it, if he has ever been a boy. Diligence and attention soon gave him the knack of it, and he strode down the street with his mouth full of harmony and his soul full of gratitude. He felt much as an astronomer feels who has discovered a new planet—no doubt, as far as strong, deep, unalloyed pleasure is concerned, the advantage was with the boy, not the astronomer.

The summer evenings were long. It was not dark, yet. Presently Tom checked his whistle. A stranger was before him—a boy a shade larger than himself. A newcomer of any age or either sex was an impressive curiosity in the poor little shabby village of St. Petersburg. This boy was well-dressed, too—well-dressed on a weekday. This was simply astounding. His cap was a dainty thing, his close-buttoned blue cloth roundabout was new and natty, and so were his pantaloons. He had shoes on—and it was only Friday. He even wore a necktie, a bright bit of ribbon. He had a citified air about him that ate into Tom's vitals. The more Tom stared at the splendid marvel, the higher he turned up his nose at his finery and the shabbier and shabbier his own outfit seemed to him to grow. Neither boy spoke. If one moved, the other moved—but only sidewise, in a circle; they kept face to face and eye to eye all the time.

Based on the way in which it is used in the passage, what does the underlined word "natty" mean?

Possible Answers:

Cheap

Dapper

Heavy

Rugged

Waterproof

Correct answer:

Dapper

Explanation:

The passage uses the word "natty" to describe the new boy's clothing, along with other adjectives like "well-dressed," "dainty," "new," and "citified." We are also told that the new boy "even wore a necktie, a bright bit of ribbon," and his clothing is called "his finery." Based on this description, we can guess that "natty" means something like "fancy," and that is correct: "natty" means dapper or well-dressed.

Example Question #51 : Ssat Middle Level Reading Comprehension

Adapted from Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads by John A. Lomax (1910)

The big ranches of the West are now being cut up into small farms. The nester has come, and come to stay. Gone is the buffalo and the free grass of the open plain—even the stinging lizard, the horned frog, the centipede, the prairie dog, the rattlesnake, are fast disappearing. Save in some of the secluded valleys of southern New Mexico, the old-time round-up is no more; the trails to Kansas and to Montana have become grass-grown or lost in fields of waving grain; the maverick steer, the regal longhorn, has been supplanted by his unpoetic but more beefy and profitable Polled Angus, Durham, and Hereford cousins from across the seas. The changing and romantic West of the early days lives mainly in story and in song. The last figure to vanish is the cowboy, the animating spirit of the vanishing era. He sits his horse easily as he rides through a wide valley, enclosed by mountains, clad in the hazy purple of coming night,—with his face turned steadily down the long, long road, "the road that the sun goes down." Dauntless, reckless, without the unearthly purity of Sir Galahad though as gentle to a woman as King Arthur, he is truly a knight of the twentieth century. A vagrant puff of wind shakes a corner of the crimson handkerchief knotted loosely at his throat; the thud of his pony's feet mingling with the jingle of his spurs is borne back; and as the careless, gracious, lovable figure disappears over the divide, the breeze brings to the ears, faint and far yet cheery still, the refrain of a cowboy song.

As used in the passage, the underlined word “vagrant” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

unpredictable

traveler

accidental

wandering

beggar

Correct answer:

wandering

Explanation:

First off, we can eliminate “beggar” and “traveler” because they are nouns, and the context calls for an adjective. “Accidental” does not make sense for a puff of air, and it doesn’t seem relevant whether or not it’s "unpredictable." “Wandering” is the best answer; not only is it a standard definition of “vagrant,” but it also makes the most sense in the context of the sentence.

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