One of the more challenging parts of the ASVAB battery of tests is the Word Knowledge section. Unless you memorize every word in the English language (good luck with that!), then you need a plan of attack to determine the meaning of unfamiliar words. Several techniques can help you define unknown words and find their synonyms, which is what this test section asks you to do.
Use Those Context Clues
One of the most common techniques students of all ages are encouraged to use when they encounter a new word is to consider the context clues. This means looking at the words around the unknown word to see if there are hints as to its meaning. Sometimes, an example or implied definition might be close at hand. What does the rest of the sentence say and how does it relate to the unknown word? This technique only works in the test questions that include the word in the context of a sentence, however. Some of the questions will just give you a word and ask what word it most nearly means. And the answer options they provide may be just as unfamiliar as the tested word. In that case, a different strategy is needed.
Analyze the Word
Another popular strategy for determining the meaning of a word is to break it down by word part. If it is a compound word (e.g., doghouse), break it down into its separate parts to help gain meaning. If there are discernible prefixes and/or suffixes, can you identify a familiar root? What are those prefixes and suffixes doing to the root word? There are hundreds of prefixes, suffixes, and roots that serve as the building blocks of the English language. Studying some ahead of time and seeing their effect on word meanings will help you when you see them at work in new words.
“Speak” Aloud and Make an Educated Guess
If context clues and word parts aren’t getting you anywhere, try looking at the word and saying it out loud to yourself (quietly!). What word(s) does it remind you of visually? What word(s) does it sound like? Sometimes, there are visual or audio clues that will remind you of another word with a similar meaning, and then you can make an educated guess. When all else fails, it’s important to do this. That’s because the ASVAB does not penalize test-takers for not answering a question or for getting a question wrong. So, if you can make an educated guess about a word, you may get it right and boost your score. But remember, this is a timed test, so whichever strategies you employ, apply them quickly and move on to the next question.
Who knows, throw in a few of these strategies and you may just improve your odds of a good score! We sure hope so!