ASVAB Test Blog

Oct 30th, 2020

“Related Definitions Strategy” for the Word Knowledge Test!

related definitions strategy word knowledge

Preparing for the ASVAB Word Knowledge Test

There are an estimated 171,146 words currently used in the English language. For the ASVAB Word Knowledge exam, candidates are expected to learn the definitions of each of these words and how to put these words into context.

Not really.

If that were the challenge, nobody would pass the exam.

But that said, candidates are expected to have a rounded and comprehensive knowledge of vocabulary – both military and non-military vocabulary. Given the sheer number of words that need to be learned, it’s simply not practical to sit down with a dictionary and get memorizing. It just won’t wash.

However, there are a number of realistic and effective techniques you can learn to increase the probability of working out the correct answer. Of course, you should always aim to improve your vocabulary – but you should do that in tandem with learning the strategies we outline here.

We have already covered the popular strategy of prefixes, roots, and suffixes. Here, we discuss the related definitions strategy.

What is the “related definitions strategy”?

You know the meaning of more words than you think you do.

That’s because many words are constructed in similar ways. For example: think of the prefix bene- and words such as benefit, beneficiary, beneficent, benevolent.

Perhaps you never heard of the word, “benevolent”, before. But based on words with the same prefix – such as benefit, you can work out its meaning.

Imagine if on the ASVAB test you were presented with the four following answers:

  • Cold
  • Indifferent
  • Kind
  • Angry

The correct answer is clearly “kind”, or something that relates to kind. The prefix bene- derives from the Latin to mean “well” or “good”. Therefore, the meaning of benevolent must have some relationship to that meaning – and the only word in the four possible answers that most matches that meaning is “kind”. A benevolent person, then, is a kind person.

Perhaps you never knew what the prefix bene- meant to begin with. But it doesn’t really matter. Now that you are armed with the possibility of working out other questions, you can think through what similar words mean. Let’s take a look at another example – this time, try to work out the answer for yourself using this strategy:

Prefiguration most nearly means:

  • Statue
  • Foreshadow
  • Costings
  • Historic

If you haven’t yet arrived at an answer, you must focus on the prefix pre-.

Think of related words: prehistoric, premeditated, predetermined, predominate.

Pre- refers to something that is “previous or before”. In this case, “pre-figur-ation” refers to something that was “previously figured out”. In other words, knowledge of something was known in advance. The only word that relates to anything close to this vague meaning is “foreshadow” – and that is the correct answer. To prefigure something is to figure out something in advance; to foreshadow something that is likely to happen in the future.

Even if you weren’t going to exactly work out the definition of pre-, you can quite safely rule some answers out. Costings, historic, and statue bear no relevance to the meaning of the prefix pre-. All you need to do is identify related words that you know and work out the common denominator of word meaning:

  • In all cases of pre-, it refers to previous or before.
  • In all cases of bene-, it refers to good or well.

So rather than memorize a list of prefixes, all you need to do to apply this strategy is to think of a list of words of related definitions. We did it with bene- and we’ve now done it with pre-, but the principle applies.

Why this Strategy Works

The reason this strategy words for the ASVAB word knowledge exam is that it doesn’t rely on learning a list of prefixes. That can help, but one of the challenges of learning a list of prefixes is that many of them can be very vague in meaning – and this can make working out answers difficult.

However, by conjuring up lists of related words you know – and by comparing them to the target word in the question – you can realistically come up with a far more accurate way of working out the answer that doesn’t rely on memorization technique.

In fact, now that you know the related definitions strategy, you can begin to use it right away in answering as many ASVAB test questions.

Check back to ASVAB Test Practice soon for even more tips and top strategies to help you dominate the exam and make it through to boot camp!

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