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TOEFL Reading Skill 1: Understand Vocabulary From Context

In the Reading section of the iBT TOEFL test, you may be asked to determine the meaning of a word or phrase. It may be a difficult word or phrase that you have never seen before, or it may be an easier-looking word or phrase that has a number of varied meanings. In any of these cases, the passage will probably give you a clear indication of what the word or phrase means. 

 The following chart outlines the key information that you should remember about questions testing vocabulary in context.  

IDENTIFY THE QUESTION

The word (or phrase) X is closest in meaning to ...
The word (or phrase) X could best be replaced by ...

FIND THE ANSWER

Information to help you to understand the meaning of an unknown

phrase can often be found in the context surrounding the word or phrase.


ANSWER THE QUESTION

1. Find the word or phrase in the passage.
2. Read the sentence that contains the word or phrase carefully.
3. Look for context clues to help you to understand the meaning.
4. Choose the answer that the context indicates.

Look at an example of a difficult word that perhaps you have never seen before; in this example, the context helps you to understand the meaning of the unknown word.

Reading Passage: The Moho
 

The dividing line between the Earth's mantle and crust is called the Moho, which is short for Mohorovicic discontinuity and is named .J after the scientist who discovered it. The mantle is the region of the Earth that extends from the outer edge of the core almost to the surface; it is 2,900 kilometers thick and encompasses about 84 percent of the total volume of the Earth. The crust, on the other hand, is the thin outer layer of the Earth. The term Moho is used to indicate where the mantle ends and the crust begins.

Using the reflection of seismic waves at thousands of different locations, scientists have been able to draw some interesting conclusions about the Moho. First of all, the crust is very thin, averaging only about 15 to 20 kilometers in thickness, compared with tens of thousands of kilometers in width. In addition, the Moho varies to a considerable degree in depth and is deepest below the highest mountain ranges and shallower below regions with lower surface elevations. The Moho reaches depths of about 70 kilometers beneath massive mountain ranges, approximately 40 kilometers beneath average continental regions, and only 6 kilometers beneath the ocean floor.

Question 1: The word encompasses in paragraph 1 is closest in meaning to: 
          a. contains              
          b. searches              
          c. encircles               
          d. directs

This question asks about the meaning of the word encompasses. In this question, you are not expected to know the meaning of this word. Instead, you should see in the context that the mantle ... is 2,900 kilometers thick and encompasses about 84 percent of the total volume of the Earth. From this context, you can determine that encompasses is closest in meaning to contains. To answer this question, you should click on the first answer.

Next, look at an example of a word that you often see in everyday English. In this type of question, you should not give the normal, everyday meaning of the word; instead, a secondary meaning is being tested, so you must study the context to determine the meaning of the word in this situation.

Question 2: The word draw in paragraph 2 could best be replaced by:

            a. sketch            
            b. pull                
            c. draft      
         
            d. make

In this question, you are asked to choose a word that could replace draw. You should under­stand that draw is a normal, everyday word that is not being used in its normal, everyday way. To answer this type of question, you must see which answer best fits into the context in the passage. It does not make sense to talk about being able to sketch, pull, or draft some interest­ing conclusions, but it does make sense to make some interesting conclusions. To answer this question, you should click on the last answer.

Finally, look at an example of a phrase that perhaps you do not know; in this example, the context again helps you to understand the meaning of the unknown phrase.

Question 3:The phrase toa 90rJsiderc1bledegree in paragraph 2 is closest in meaning to:

            a. grandly            
            b
significantly          
            c. geometrically        
            d. considerately

This question asks about the meaning of the phrase to a considerable degree. In this question, you are again expected to determine from the context what the phrase means. The passage states that the Moho varies to a considerable degree in depth. From this context, you can deter­mine that to a considerable degree is closest in meaning to significantly. To answer this question, you should click on the second answer.