Page 2 - Paragraph Comprehension Study Guide for the ASVAB

Single-Word Meaning Using Context Clues

The meaning of a word can change when used in a different context. You can easily determine the meaning of a single word—even if the word is entirely foreign to you—by looking at the surrounding words and the topic discussed. To study for this portion of the test, practice identifying unknown words using nothing but the context surrounding the word. For instance, the word tempestuous may not ring a bell with you. But if you describe a stormy sea as tempestuous as well as an angry man, you might infer that the word tempestuous means stormy, roiling, or without peace.

TEST TIP: Don’t just look in the sentence the word appears in, but also look at the sentences that come before and after. For example:

Andre worked hard at making friends. He sought out other people and tried to entertain them with his many jokes and gags. Unfortunately, Andre was oblivious to the fact that people did not appreciate his sense of humor. He had no idea that they were not laughing a bit, because he was so busy laughing at himself.

As used in the paragraph, the word oblivious is closest in meaning to:

  • appreciate

  • unaware

  • uncooperative

  • joking

You may never have heard of the word oblivious, but read the next sentence. It explains that Andre “had no idea,” which is another way to say that he was oblivious. Combine this with the first word, unfortunately, which tells that Andre was doing something wrong, and you can be pretty sure that unaware is the correct answer.

Inferences Made by Readers

The final type of question on the ASVAB is in regard to reader-created inferences. Inferences are created by taking the information presented in a paragraph and deducing the meaning that the author intends to convey. A paragraph may provide the reader with information about the history of mermaids, for instance. Using the information, readers can infer information about mermaids that is not stated overtly within the body of the text. To study for this type of question, consider reading a series of paragraphs, and cataloging what you think the author is saying or intending to convey.

As you study for the Paragraph Comprehension section of the ASVAB test, remember that practice of any kind can sharpen your paragraph comprehension skills.

TEST TIP: As you make inferences, be sure that you are referring only to information from the paragraph, and not drawing on your own experiences or information you have read elsewhere. For example:

It was a gray, rainy day. The trees were blowing and puddles were forming on the streets and sidewalks. All of the baseball games had been postponed.

Now, you can infer all kinds of things from this paragraph, like: the playground was muddy, people carried umbrellas, and the road was slicker than usual. You cannot, however, infer that there is going to be a tornado warning in the afternoon. This is what might happen where you live, or you may have heard that tornadoes are more likely on rainy days, but none of that information is indicated by this paragraph. The paragraph gives no indication of the threat of severe weather.

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