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Vocabulary Questions Type 1 : So Similar but Different! | PSLE English

In this post, I am going to break down the Vocabulary MCQ section of Paper 2. I hope you will find the tips I am going to share with you useful. The vocabulary MCQ section is a nightmare to many children and it is not hard to see why. While grammar and visual text comprehension have specific question types that will be tested, almost anything can appear in the vocabulary MCQ section!

Your knowledge of words will definitely increase with your exposure to words and that is why reading is extremely important. However, what can we do during the examination to help increase our chances of choosing the correct answer? Let us first understand what you will be tested on. In this section, there are 5 MCQ questions. They can be classified into 3 types, namely:

  1. Similar but different! – Choosing the most appropriate word in the given context

  2. Knowledge of phrasal verbs

  3. Familiarity with common English idioms

Before you raise the white flag, today’s post aims to take a closer look at the first type of questions which can be very tricky. For each type of question, I will be going through 3 examples taken from school papers. Let’s find out what are some steps that you can take to help yourself increase your chances of choosing the correct answer.

Vocabulary MCQ Type 1: Similar but different!
(Selecting the most suitable word)

For this type of question, you are normally given four options of words whose meanings are similar but with subtle differences. You need to choose the word that fits the context of the given sentence.

Step 1: Read the entire question carefully. It is important to get a sense of the entire sentence’s meaning instead of only looking at the blank. Meaning clues for the answer can be picked up from here.

Step 2: Eliminate with content clues. This means to cross out options which you know are a definite misfit to the question. (If you already know the meanings of certain phrasal verbs and that they do not fit, eliminate them first by putting a cross beside the option. This helps to prevent making careless mistakes.)

Step 3: Decide with language clues. Due to the fact that the options given are rather similar, it is very important for you to pick out language clues in the question that will point us towards the correct answer. Remember to look for language clues based on the words around the blank. The chosen answer must be grammatically sound when fitted with the words around it.

Looking at this example:

vocabulary MCQ

Step 1: Read the entire question carefully. 

Step 2: Eliminate with content clues.

The content clues such as ‘hoping’ and ‘famous writer’ suggests a very quick action is needed. You may find yourself saying, “No, ‘stare’ takes a long time.” and “There is no reason to be angry with the famous writer so ‘glare’ is out.”

Hence, it makes sense to cross out ‘glare’ and ‘stare’, leaving only ‘glance’ and ‘glimpse’. Narrowing down your choices brings you a step closer to choosing the most reasonable answer.

Step 3: Decide with language clues. For instance, ‘glance’ and ‘glimpse’ are similar in the sense that both mean ‘to give a quick look’ but in the sentence ‘I was hoping to catch a ______ of the famous writer’, ‘glimpse’ is the correct answer because of the phrase ‘hoping to catch a’.

This means that in order to choose the correct answer, you need to be aware of the proper usage for the word. You should also look at the surrounding words for clues. However, do take note that elimination may not work for all questions as you can see in one of the examples below! Hence, use the steps with discretion.

Now that you are clear on the steps to take, let’s try the steps with 3 questions from past-year papers!


Example 1

Example 1

Step 1: Read the entire question carefully. 

Step 2: Eliminate with content clues.

All the options given for this question are related to sound or noise. In order to select the correct answer, first look at the surrounding words for clues, such as ‘could not concentrate on her studies’ and ‘creating a’.

The first phrase tells you that the sound that is created is loud and unpleasant since it hinders Mary’s concentration. ‘symphony’ and ‘patter’ are out since they are both not unpleasant noises.

Step 3: Decide with language clues. 

The answer, therefore, is (3) ruckus. ‘ruckus’ refers to ‘a noisy situation or argument’. You know you have gotten the right answer because of the phrase ‘creating a’. You can only ever create a ruckus, not a blast, patter or symphony.

Example 2

Example 2

Step 1: Read the entire question carefully. 

Step 2: Eliminate with content clues.

For this question, the four options given relate to creating or making something. The first clue you should have picked out is the phrase ‘a story’, which indicates that the culprit created a story. The other clue is the phrase ‘to throw the detectives off his trail’, meaning he wanted to steer suspicion away from himself. Hence, ‘evoke’ which means to ‘make someone remember or feel something’ is out. ‘manufacture’ is not used with story as well so it is out too.

Step 3: Decide with language clues.

When you take both clues together, it is clear that the culprit had told a lie because he did not want the detectives to suspect him of being guilty of the crime. Hence, the most suitable answer is (2) fabricate, because the word ‘fabricate’ means ‘to invent something false so as to deceive someone’.

Example 3

Example 3

Step 1: Read the entire question carefully. 

Step 2: Eliminate with content clues.

The options for this question all relate to a plan that is hatched to deceive or harm someone. For this question, we may not be able to eliminate based on the content clues.

Step 3: Decide with language clues.

The clue word ‘sales’ is helpful to help us make a choice. The company is giving away things that have no real value because it wants to encourage customers to buy from them. The other options do not make sense because they do not go with the word ‘sales’. The right answer is (4) gimmick.

Therefore, the most important thing to remember for this type of question is knowing the subtle differences between the four options given to you. Moreover, you should look out for clues in the other parts of the sentence.

The only way to improve in answering the Vocabulary MCQ is of course to read, read and read; be it books, newspapers, brochures and even signboards and the backs of cereal boxes! This is often the best way to not only learn new words but to also study how they are used in the given context.

Thank you for reading this post. Remember to keep a lookout for Parts 2 and 3. All the best for your revision!


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Ms. Nora

 Nora is an English Teacher at Lil’ but Mighty. She is committed to providing students with a dynamic and nurturing environment in which they can grow and develop. One of her greatest strengths as an educator is instilling a love for the English Language in her students.

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