It’s All about Context

Question:  Why do students have trouble with vocabulary on the High School Daily Quiz and on the new 2024 SAT word-in-context questions?


Answer:  Students think vocabulary = definition.  However, students will only get the question correct if they think vocabulary = context clues.




“Nature’s imagination, as physicist Freeman Dyson likes to say, is richer than ours, and he speaks, marveling, of this richness in the physical and biological worlds, the endless diversity of physical forms and forms of life.  For me, as a physician, nature’s richness is to be studied in the phenomena of health and disease, in the endless forms of individual adaptation by which human organisms, people, adapt and reconstruct themselves when faced with …



In context “richness” most nearly means:


  1. biological importance
  2. economic wealth
  3. meaning
  4. variety
  5. resources


The Problem:

Students answer the word-in-context questions too quickly, jumping at an answer.  They think of the definition of “richness,” and then simply look at the answer choices and pick the answer that most closely means “richness” – economic wealth (some might pick resources).


The Result:

An incorrect answer.



Because 90% of the time the most common definition is the incorrect answer. Students should ALWAYS go back to the line reference, look at the line above and below and then substitute in the answer choices.


Students need to think, “What is the sentence saying in context to the piece as a whole?” To answer word-in-context questions, students need to look for the context clues. The answer choice that best reflects the main point of the sentence/paragraph will be the right one.  So, if we take out the word “richness” and plop in the answer choices while systematically recognizing the key phrases in the paragraph, “the endless diversity…in the endless forms,” the answer is clearly Choice D: Variety. “And he speaks, marveling, of this VARIETY in the physical and biological worlds.   The other answer choices just don’t make sense in the context of this paragraph.


Understanding this approach will turn what many students consider the most difficult reading questions into the easiest!


Students on the High School Daily Quiz ( practice answering word-in-context questions every day.  Students are provided with six questions – vocabulary, grammar, word-in-context, reading and math – five days a week.   For more information about the High School Daily Quiz, please watch this video and/or contact  This online program is for 8-11th graders.

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