The vocabulary MCQ section can be a headache for students. The usual way of telling students to improve their vocabulary is to read more. This is true! If you do not read widely, you will not be able to come into contact with newer and more sophisticated vocabulary.
However, other than building up your vocabulary bank in daily life, exam strategies to tackle vocabulary questions are important, too! Today, I will be sharing 3 useful tips that you can apply when you are handling the Vocabulary MCQ section.
1. Know your prefixes and suffixes
Frequently, the Vocabulary MCQ section tests you on words that look very similar. That can mean that they have the same prefixes or suffixes.
Prefixes are words or letters placed before another root word. For example, ‘unable’ is made up of the prefix ‘un-‘ and the root word ‘able’. With different prefixes, the meanings of the root words change! Take a look at the table below for some common prefixes.
You may go to https://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/word-formation/suffixes to find out what other prefixes there are!
Suffixes are letters or a group of words added at the end of a root word to form a new word.
The new word will usually become a different word class from the original word. In English, adding different suffixes can result in the formation of a noun, verb, adjective or adverb. See the table below for common suffixes!
You may go to https://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/word-formation/suffixes for more suffixes!
In any MCQ section, practising elimination helps you to increase the chances of choosing the right answer. Imagine: out of 4 options, you only have a 25% chance of success but with 2 options, your chances of getting it right would become 50%!
However, even though we know that we should eliminate the wrong answers, how do we go about doing it, especially for vocabulary? Well, here are a few ways to do so:
Widen your vocabulary knowledge. Eliminate answers whose meanings you know are wrong.
Look at the prefixes of the options (if there are any). Guess the meanings based on the prefix and eliminate the options that seem the most wrong.
Look at the suffixes of the options. See the meaning and word class needed for the question.
Look at the question and practise elimination! Based on my understanding of options 1 (person who eats vegetables and not meat) and 2 (animal doctor), I will eliminate them as they do not fit the context of the question. I am now left with options 3 and 4. Now, do I immediately choose (3) just because three out of four options have words with the same -ian suffix?
The answer is no! Even though some questions may provide 3 out of 4 options with the same prefix or suffix, it does not always mean that the answer will be one of them!
You must still consider the meanings of each word: ‘Valedictorian’ refers to a student who has the highest grade and makes a speech at the graduation ceremony. ‘Veteran’ refers to a person who has fought in a war.
Hence, the answer should be option 4.
3. Read the vocabulary cloze closely for clues
a) Read the cloze carefully to identify contextual clues that point to the meaning of the word.
Treat the vocabulary cloze like a cloze passage: Identify clues that point you to the main ideas and meanings of a given word. To do it more systematically, follow these steps:
Read the whole text once to understand the context.
Read it again carefully. This time, scan for clues for each word. Pay close attention to sentences right before and after the given word.
Look at the options for the word. Eliminate the obviously wrong answers first.
Based on clues from the passage and your knowledge of vocabulary, choose the best answer
Let’s practise the four steps! After reading the passage once through, we should scan the passage for clues. The sentence before the word tells us that the calculator was disallowed, so Jack probably could not bring one openly into the examination hall.
Now, let’s look at the options. Based on the context, we should eliminate options 1 and 3 because they do not replace the bolded word. Then, eliminate option 2 because ‘hijacked’ is only used for vehicles. So, we are left with option 4.
Remember, the correct option usually replaces the word in the sentence and fits well with the context (the other details around the word).
b) Understand the entire situation in the vocabulary cloze
Sometimes, the clues for the meaning of a given word lies in understanding the entire situation in the vocabulary cloze. That means that there may not be clear clues in the sentences before and after the word.
For this question, even if you read the sentences nearby, you might still not find any explanation for ‘ignorant’. However, the passage will always give you a clue! In this case, you will have to use the entire passage to help you.
The criminal in question was a swindler; someone who went around selling fake antiques.
Ask yourself: If you were en expert in antiques, would you be scammed by him? No, right? What does this tell you about the housewives who had fallen for the man’s scam? Would they be experts in antiques? Most likely, no. Hence, these housewives were likely to know little about antiques! The closest possible answer would likely be ‘(2) unknowing’.
Do apply these exam strategies consistently so that you can make an educated guess even when you do not understand most of the options in a vocabulary MCQ question! However, in the long run, also ensure that you are keeping up a good reading habit. All the best!