Words That Contain Helpful Clues

In addition to using Greek, Latin, and other non-English word branches that you might need to memorize for the test, the test designers also like to use words with other commonly known root words, in one form or another. In an easier question, an uncommon word’s meaning will be similar to, or at least consistent with, its root word.

Note: If you were paying attention to the preceding paragraph, you no doubt got the hint that knowing Latin and Greek (as well as Anglo-Saxon) roots and prefixes will help you score high on the Verbal Reasoning section.

Here are three examples:

  • EFFLUENT (n): waste matter emitted by a sewage treatment or industrial plant (the imbedded root is fluent)
  • OBEISANCE (n): a physical demonstration of respect—e.g., bowing or saluting (the root is obey)
  • RECIDIVISTIC (adj): characterized by habitual repetition of or return to unlawful or immoral behavior (the root is recede)

But don’t count on words with common roots always being so easy to figure out. A tougher word might contain a root that provides only a vague clue as to what the larger word means, as in these two examples:

  • GAINSAY (v): to deny, refute, or contradict
  • UPSTART (n): a person who has become arrogant or overly confident as a result of a sudden rise to a position of higher status

And words that contains two roots (a compound word) sometimes send mixed messages about what they mean, as in these two compound words:

  • SPENDTHRIFT (n): a person who is overly free or undisciplined in spending money
  • VERISIMILITUDE (n): the appearance of truth

The bottom line is this: When you encounter an unfamiliar word in a Antonym, Analogy, or Sentence and Complex Text Completion, by all means look for a familiar root to help you guess the word’s meaning.

But never assume that your guess is always going to be right—or even close. If you know for certain what the other words mean, that knowledge should trump your educated guesswork when it comes to settling on an answer choice.

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