To most of us, the answer is obvious: to "want" something is to "A. desire" it.
But look at what happens when you turn "What does the word want mean?" into the vocabulary-in-context question:
What does the word want mean in the following passage from William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet?
A thousand times the worse to want thy light.
Love goes toward love as schoolboys from their books,
But love from love, toward school with heavy looks.
Now, a test taker must ignore the more common definition of want and instead choose an obscure definition that matches the context provided. Romeo loves Juliet's "light," so (answer A) "desiring it" wouldn't be "worse." What's "worse" is not having it, which points to answer C, "lacking it." Miss the context clue, the Businessweek post concludes, and you're likely to get the question wrong:
The question is not asking you for the most common dictionary definition of the word. Instead, it’s asking only for how the word is used in the context of the passage.…English words often have many meanings, common and esoteric. A commonly used word often takes on a secondary definition within SAT passages. Do not assume that the common meaning is the correct answer; there may be several meanings you do not know.
Tricky as they may be, vocabulary-in-context questions are important. They're one of the hallmarks of the Common Core, play an important role in the SAT, and more to the point, reflect the nuanced mastery of language you need to do well in school.
Which is why we are so committed to teaching words in context in our word-learning game. Here's how we prepare you to answer vocabulary-in-context questions like the one on "want" above.
- When we teach a word, we teach every sense of its meaning. This helps your brain internalize not only the definitions you're learning, but the concept that words have many possible meanings. The deeper your understanding of that idea, the more often you'll pause to consider an answer carefully, even when the first one you see seems like an obvious choice.
- We vary the types of questions you'll see on any word, with as many of them as possible asking you to determine the meaning of the word in context. Jump at an obvious first answer before reading the text and you may get that question wrong.
- But that's okay! In fact, it might be good. When you get a question wrong, we give you a chance to look at the question and the word's blurb together so you can see where you went wrong. In the example above, our blurb on want would have let you know, "You can want or desire something you’d like, or you can be in want of something you need."
- We repeat questions you get wrong until you're solid on them. We can't promise to be there in the test with you, saying "Hmm...are you sure?" But if you play our game enough, you'll find yourself asking that question all on your own.
Why not try for yourself? Our word-learning game lives right on our homepage. Or dive into our list designed for test prep: The Vocabulary.com 1000. And then knock those vocabulary-in-context questions out of the park!
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