PSAT Reading: Vocab-in-Context Questions

PSAT Reading: Vocab-in-Context Questions

Vocab-in-Context questions require you to deduce the meaning of a word or phrase by using the context in which the word or phrase appears. You can recognize Vocab-in-Context questions because the wording of the question stem is often like this: “As used in line 7, ‘clairvoyant’ most nearly means . . . ”

Expert Tip

Some Vocab-in-Context questions ask about infrequently used words that you don’t know or that may not have a common meaning. Approach these questions exactly the same way you would any other Vocab-in-Context question—by using the Kaplan Strategy.

Kaplan’s Strategy for Vocab-in-Context questions relies heavily on Step 3 of the Kaplan Method for Reading Comprehension: Predict and answer.

To answer Vocab-in-Context questions efficiently and correctly, employ the following Kaplan Strategy:

  • Pretend

    Pretend the word is a blank in the sentence

  • Predict

    Predict what word could be substituted for the blank

  • Select

    Select the answer choice that best matches your prediction

Let’s look at the following example of a test-like passage and question set. After the mapped passage, the left column contains questions similar to those you’ll see on the PSAT Reading Test on Test Day. The column on the right features the strategic thinking test experts employ when approaching the passage and questions presented. Pay attention to how test experts vary the approach to answer different question types.


PSAT passages often use primary source material, which means the language can seem antiquated to modern readers. In some instances, we have modified this language. Don’t let that distract you from making a Passage Map focusing on the central ideas.

Sample Connections and Vocab-in-Context Questions

Questions 1-3 are based on the following passage.

The following excerpt is from a speech delivered in 1873 by Susan B. Anthony, a leader in the women’s rights movement of the nineteenth century.

Friends and fellow-citizens: I stand before you tonight under indictment for the alleged crime of having voted at the last Presidential election, without having a lawful right to vote. It shall be my work this evening to prove to you that in thus voting, I not only committed no crime, but, instead, ¶1: voting isn’t a crimesimply exercised my citizen’s rights, guaranteed to me and all United States citizens by the National Constitution, beyond the power of any State to deny.
The preamble of the Federal Constitution says: “We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common de- fense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

It was we, the people; not we, the white male ¶2: Const. guarantees rightcitizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union. And we formed it, not to give the blessings of liberty, but ¶3: “we the people” includes womento secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity, but to the whole people— women as well as men. And it is a downright mockery to talk to women of their enjoyment of the blessings of liberty while they are denied the use of the only means of securing them provided by this democratic-republican government—the ballot.

For any State to make sex a qualification that must ever result in the disfranchisement* of one entire half of the people is a violation of the supreme law of the land. By it the blessings of liberty are forever withheld from women and their female posterity. To them this government had no just powers derived from the consent of the gov- erned. To them this government is not a democracy. It is not a republic. It is an odious aristocracy; a hateful oligarchy of sex; this oligarchy of sex, which makes father, brothers, husband, sons, the oligarchs over the mother and sisters, the wife and daugh- ters of every household—which ordains all men ¶4: should be unlawful to prevent women from votingsovereigns, all women subjects, carries dissension, discord and rebellion into every home of the na- tion. Webster, Worcester and Bouvier all define a citizen to be a person in the United States, entitled to vote and hold office.

The one question left to be settled now is: Are women persons? And I hardly believe any of our opponents will have the hardihood to say they are not. Being persons, then, women are citizens; and no State has a right to make any law, or to enforce any old law, that shall abridge their privileges or immunities. Hence, every discrimination against ¶5: women are citizenswomen in the constitutions and laws of the several States is today null and void, precisely as is every one against African Americans.

* disfranchisement: to deprive of the right to vote

1. In line 7, “exercised” most nearly means
(A) used.
(B) practiced.
(C) angered.
(D) trained.

2. The author suggests that without the lawful right to vote, women
(A) can still hold elected office.
(B) cannot be considered citizens.
(C) can still receive the blessings of liberty.
(D) cannot consent to be governed.

3. Based on the passage, which of the following is necessary to secure the blessings of liberty?
(A) A republic
(B) The ballot
(C) A constitution
(D) The people

¶1: voting isn’t a crime
¶2: Const. guarantees right
¶3: “we the people” includes women
¶4: should be unlawful to prevent women from voting
¶5: women are citizens

Step 2: Examine the question stem

  • What kind of question is this? A Vocab-in-Context question
  • How do you know? The question uses the phrase “most nearly means.”

Step 3: Predict and answer

  • Pretend “exercised” is blank in the sentence from the passage. What word or phrase can you substitute for the blank? Acted within
  • Which answer choice matches your prediction? Choice (A)

Step 2: Examine the question stem

  • What kind of question is this? An Implicit Connections question
  • How do you know? By using the word “suggests,” the question stem describes a “cause,” so the correct answer must describe an implied effect.

Step 3: Predict and answer

  • Which paragraph discusses the results of “disfranchisement”? Paragraph 4
  • What is the cause of women not being able to vote, according to the passage? Government has no “just powers derived from the consent . . . ” (line 36)
  • Which answer choice best matches this? Choice (D)

Step 2: Examine the question stem

  • What kind of question is this? An Explicit Connections question
  • How do you know? Because the question stem is asking for a cause “based on the passage,” the correct answer must describe a stated cause.

Step 3: Predict and answer

  • Where in the passage does the author discuss this relationship? The last sentence of the third paragraph
  • What question describes this relationship? What has to happen to secure liberty?
  • Which answer choice best matches this? Choice (B)

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