ATI TEAS Vocabulary Strategies

TEAS Vocabulary: Strategies

Of the 24 scored English and language usage questions on the TEAS, 6 (25%) will be in the sub-content area of Vocabulary Acquisition. To answer these questions, you will need to determine the meaning of words and phrases from their parts, such as prefixes and roots, as well as from the context in which they appear. Here are our top strategies for tackling TEAS Vocabulary.

[ RELATED: What’s a Good TEAS Score? ]


Context clues are the words and phrases in a sentence that help the reader understand unfamiliar terms. There are many types of context clues that can help you infer the meaning of a word.


When you are unsure of the meaning of a word in a sentence, look for clues that point to a similar idea. Another word or a phrase with a related meaning may appear in the sentence.

Example: The witness intentionally tried to obfuscate the facts of the case by confusing the detective with conflicting accounts of the event.

Analysis: The clues “confusing” and “conflicting” point to the meaning of the verb obfuscate, which means “to confuse” or “to make unclear.”

Contrast Words

You can determine the meaning of an unfamiliar word by looking for clues that point to a contrasting idea in a sentence.

Example: The team members were surprised by their manager’s churlish behavior at the meeting, since he was usually polite and pleasant to everyone on the staff.

Analysis: The clues “surprised” and “usually” indicate that the word churlish means the opposite of “polite” and “pleasant.” Churlish is defined as “rude” or “uncivil.”

Tone Words

Positive or negative tone words can provide clues to the meaning of an unfamiliar word in a sentence.

Example: The pernicious rumor threatened to ruin her reputation.

Analysis: The clues “threatened” and “ruin” set a decidedly negative tone for the sentence, which indicates that pernicious also has a strongly negative meaning. Pernicious is defined as “extremely harmful.”

Words in a Series

When a word appears in a series of similar or related terms, use context clues to determine whether the word’s meaning is related to the meanings of the other terms.

Example: My grandfather was well-known for his generosity to schools, hospitals, orphanages, and other philanthropic organizations.

Analysis: The word philanthropic appears in a list of organizations that help people in different ways. Philanthropic is an adjective that describes a person or act that is “dedicated to the ensuring the welfare of people.”

Cause and Effect

Some context clues help the reader understand the relationship between the ideas in the sentence. Recognizing a cause-and-effect relationship between the unfamiliar word and another portion of the sentence can help you understand the word’s meaning.

Example: The incontrovertible evidence presented at the trial proved the defendant’s involvement in the crime.

Analysis: This sentence describes a cause-and-effect relationship between the type of evidence presented at the trial and the level of certainty regarding the defendant’s participation in the crime. Since the evidence “proved” that the defendant was involved, the term incontrovertible must mean “undeniable” or “completely certain.”

General Idea of a Sentence

Context clues can provide information about the general subject matter or situation described in the sentence. These details can help you predict the meaning of an unfamiliar word that appears in that context.

Example: The mother admonished her daughter for driving recklessly on the icy roads.

Analysis: The word admonished is used to describe how a mother reacted to her daughter’s dangerous driving. Since “reckless driving” is a risky behavior and a mother would likely want her child to drive safely, admonish must mean “to scold” or “reprimand.”


Many words are built by combining smaller word parts. By taking an unfamiliar word apart and analyzing the meaning of each of its components, you can often decode the word’s general meaning.

Common Affixes

The smallest meaningful unit of grammar in a language is called a morpheme. An affix is a morpheme that attaches to the beginning or end of a word root to make a new word. Although affixes cannot stand alone, they do have specific meanings and roles. Affixes that change the grammatical function or essential meaning of a word are known as derivational morphemes. Affixes that do not change a word’s meaning but indicate tense, number, possession, or comparisons are called inflectional morphemes. By becoming familiar with the meanings and functions of the most common affixes, you will be able to understand how they shape the definitions of the words they help build.
A prefix is a type of affix that is added to the beginning of a word root to create a new word. Some prefixes, such as in-, can have several meanings, so you may also need to use context clues in your analysis of a word’s general definition. Examine the table to familiarize yourself with some of the most common prefixes.
anti- againstantisocial
de- opposite, down deactivate
dis- not, opposite of disinterest
en- to cause to be entangle
in- In, into, toward, near indoctrinate

Word roots can also combine with suffixes to form new words. A suffix is an affix that attaches to the end of a word, and it can change both a word’s meaning and its grammatical function or part of speech. The following list outlines some of the most common suffixes in the English language.
-able, -ible capable of being passable
-acy state or quality democracy
-en becomeenlighten
-er, -or one who teacher
-ful full of joyful
-ify, -fy make or become magnify
-ious, -ous characterized by pious
-ist one who pianist
-ize, -ise becomeenergize
-ly characteristic of happily
-ment action or resulting state retirement
-ness state of being fullness
-ology study of biology
-s, -es plurallights
-ship position held, character friendship
-sion, -tion state of being tension
-y characterized by weepy

Word Roots

Understanding the meaning of an unfamiliar word’s root can help make decoding the word much easier. Many terms in the English language take their roots from Greek and Latin words. For example, the root word derma- is from the Greek word for skin, and a doctor who cares for the skin is called a dermatologist. The root appears in many other words as well—epidermis, hypodermic, and dermatitis, to name a few. Once you are familiar with the meaning of a root, you can apply that knowledge to decoding several words.
As a healthcare professional, you will especially benefit from becoming familiar with the common roots that appear in medical terminology; however, the TEAS will ask you to determine the meaning of words and their roots that do not have strictly medical usage. The table highlights some common roots that appear in medical terms.

By putting your knowledge of prefixes, roots, and suffixes together, you will be able to decode even the most complex words on the TEAS:

Example: neonatologist = neo (new) + natal (born/birth) + ologist (one who studies)

Analysis: A neonatologist is one who specializes in the development and health concerns of newborns.

Try a question that asks you to take apart an unfamiliar word to decode its meaning.

Marjorie’s primary physician referred her to a hematologist for a second opinion on her condition. Marjorie likely has a condition related to which of the following?

(A) Hands

(B) Lungs

(C) Blood

(D) Liver

Step 1: This question asks for what condition someone would see a hematologist. The answer choices relate to different parts of the body. Taking the word “hematologist” apart into its components will identify this area of expertise.
Step 2: The root of “hematologist” is hemato-, which has to do with blood. Another word with this root is hemoglobin, which is an important part of blood. The suffix -ologist indicates one who studies something. Therefore, a “hematologist” is one who studies or specializes in blood conditions.
Step 3: Answer choice (C) matches the prediction. The other choices all relate to other parts of the body.


  1. Analyzing context clues in a sentence can give you enough information to predict the meaning of an unfamiliar word.
  2. When possible, take a challenging word apart into its prefixes, roots, and suffixes and combine the meaning of each component to infer the word’s general meaning.

Check out our section-by-section breakdowns to keep studying: