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Words in context — Worked example

Learn the best way to approach a words in context question on your SAT. Remember, it's not about fancy words, it's about understanding the context A "precise" word is one that means exactly what it should in a given situation: it will fit its sentence perfectly and reinforce the text's meaning. You can use the context clues to make a prediction, then look for the closest match to your prediction in the choices.
Created by David Rheinstrom.

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Video transcript

- [Narrator] Hello. Hello. Let's take a look at this question from the reading and writing test. Let's begin with the question stem. Which choice completes the text with the most logical and precise word or phrase? And let's skip the answer choices for now 'cause I want to talk about strategy. I'll work through this question slowly a bit later in the video, but if you'd like to read it to yourself now, pause the video. The question stem is asking me to complete the text with a word or phrase. So that tells me I'm dealing with a words in context question. You can safely expect several words in context questions on test day. And to answer these questions successfully you need to identify the most logical or precise word or phrase in the context where it appears. So what does that mean, the most logical and precise word? We're looking for a word that reinforces the meaning of the text. It's not about choosing the fanciest sounding word or the word that sounds important. In order to succeed at a word in context question you have to understand the context. It's equally important to understand the rest of the passage as it is to understand the words in the answer choices. So how do we do that? Time for some strategy. Step one, read the text carefully, covering up or ignoring the answer choices. You'll look at them later. These passages usually state their key idea not just once, but twice. One of the times the blank will play a key role but the rest of the passage will tell you what you need. As you read through the passage look for transition words or phrases which can help us figure out what the key idea is. Now, define that key idea. Try to step two, summarize the text in your own words. I know, I know there's a blank in the text so your summary is also gonna have a gap in it. That's okay. So then using your summary and those context clues the third step is to make a prediction. Make up your own word or phrase that plugs into that blank, into that gap. And then finally uncover the choices and match your prediction against those choices. Let me make this concrete by going back to the question and putting this strategy into practice with our prehistoric huntresses. First, with the answer choices covered. I'm going to read the text carefully and not skim it. You don't wanna skim these prompts because they're full of context clues. As an undergraduate researcher in anthropology Jennifer C. Chen contributed to a groundbreaking study challenging the accepted view that among prehistoric people's female participation in hunting was blank. Okay so I'm looking at this sentence and I'm seeing words like groundbreaking and challenging. There's an accepted view about female participation in hunting. The groundbreaking study is challenging. I wonder what that view is. Well, what I know for sure is that the second part of this text is going to tell us, so let's move on to the second sentence to see if there's more clues there. The research team's review of data from late Pleistocene and early Holocene burials in the Americas revealed that in fact, in fact, as many as half of the hunters in those populations were female. So I think the most important thing in this sentence is that phrase. In fact. In fact, as many as half of prehistoric hunters were female. Okay. So that's cool. New research is challenging a more traditional view that female humans didn't hunt in pre-history. But in fact, a lot of female humans hunted. I think I'm ready to make a prediction. The accepted view is probably that female participation in hunting was low. That's my guess about what fills in the blank but the study reveals in fact, that it was pretty darn high, as many as half. So let's look for a word that matches with low in the choices, challenging the accepted view that female participation was low. Time to unveil our options. Okay, choice A, commonplace, well that's the opposite. It means high or frequent, right? Cross it out. Satisfactory. Female participation in the hunt was satisfactory. That doesn't match low. Choice C, negligible. That means like barely there or small or unimportant. And that sure feels like the best choice right off the bat. But let's check the choice D just to make sure. But I got a good feeling I'm gonna put a check mark there. Choice D, inevitable. That means unavoidable. So that also cuts against the key idea of female participation being low. We can eliminate this one. And that means that choice C is our answer. Even if you're not quite sure what negligible means you can trust your prediction. In this case you might know the other choices well enough to see that they don't mean low. Here, we were able to use some strong context clues to simplify the key idea the passage was conveying. Let's talk about why prediction is so powerful by way of a warning. Many students who just read the passage, then read the choices and then choose the one that sounds best make impulsive decisions and get questions wrong. But when you take the time and care to make a prediction based on solid context clues you force yourself to slow down and understand the task and figure out what you're looking for before you start looking at the choices. This extra step can be a game-changer for many students. Trust yourself. You might bump into words you've never seen before. Before you go off choosing the most abstruse, esoteric words just 'cause they're obscure and weird and long and you don't know 'em, hold up. All that glitters is not gold. Those words might be shiny bait. Eliminate what you can based on the words you already recognize and then make your selection from the remainder. If you can eliminate all the other choices only then should you go with the unfamiliar word. Good luck out there test takers. You've got this.