Language Skills - Trivium Test Prep Online Courses
Reading Comprehension
English Language
The Essay
Product Test

Language Skills

Language Skills

Word Structure

On the test, you may be asked to identify the meaning of certain words. Often, these words will only appear in a single sentence, not in a passage, so you’ll have minimal context clues. To answer these questions, you’ll need to learn how to use the word itself to find the meaning.

Root words are bases from which many words take their foundational form and meaning. The most common root words are Greek and Latin, and a broad knowledge of these roots can greatly improve your ability to determine the meaning of words in context. Knowing root words cannot always provide the exact meaning of a word, but combined with an understanding of the word’s place in the sentence and the context surrounding the word, it will often be enough to answer a question about meaning or relationships.

Prefixes are added to the beginning of a word and frequently change the meaning of the word itself by indicating an opposite or another specifically altered meaning.

A suffix, on the other hand, is added to the end of a word and generally indicates the word’s relationship to other words in the sentence. Suffixes can change the part of speech or indicate if a word is plural or related to a plural.

These tables in the links below list common root words, prefixes, and suffixes. You don’t need to memorize all of them, but it will help to be familiar with them.

Common Roots

Common Prefixes

Common Suffixes

Words In Context

If you are confronted with unfamiliar words in a text, you can use the passage itself to clarify their meaning. That means determining the definition of words in context, meaning as they appear within the text. This can be slightly more difficult than simply knowing the definition of a word, as you may be required to figure out how the author is using the word in the specific text.

To grasp the meaning of unfamiliar words, readers may use context clues or hints in the text. Using context clues is especially helpful for determining the appropriate meaning of a word with multiple definitions.

Read the sentence with each answer choice plugged in for the vocabulary word to see which choice best matches the context.

One type of context clue is a definition or description clue. Sometimes, authors may use a difficult word and then say “that is” or “which is” to signal the reader that they are providing a definition. An author may also provide a synonym or restate the idea in familiar words:

Teachers often prefer teaching students with intrinsic motivation; these students have an internal desire to learn.

The meaning of intrinsic is restated as internal.

Similarly, authors may include example clues by providing an example of the unfamiliar word close to the word:

Teachers may view extrinsic rewards as efficacious; however, an individual student may not be interested in what the teacher offers. For example, a student who is diabetic may not feel any incentive to work when offered a sweet treat.

Efficacious is explained with an example demonstrating the effectiveness (and lack thereof) of extrinsic rewards.

Another commonly used context clue is the contrast/antonym clue. In this case, authors indicate that the unfamiliar word is the opposite of a familiar word:

In contrast to intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation is contingent on teachers offering rewards that are appealing.

The phrase in contrast tells the reader that extrinsic is the opposite of intrinsic.

Figurative Language

Figures of speech are expressions that are understood to have a nonliteral meaning. Instead of meaning what is actually said, figurative language suggests meaning by speaking of a subject as if it is something else. When Shakespeare says, “All the world’s a stage, / And all men and women merely players,” he isn’t stating that the world is literally a stage. Instead, it functions like a stage, with men and women giving performances as if they were actors on a stage.

Figurative Language

Figure of Speech
an analogy that uses something familiar and obvious to help the reader understand something that is new or hard to describe
“We need to discuss the elephant in the room.”
directly points to similarities between two things (usually using like or as)
“He runs as fast as lightning.”
an overstatement or exaggeration intended to achieve a particular effect
“I am so hungry I could eat a horse.”
attributing human characteristics to objects, abstract ideas, natural forces, or animals
“We stood in the forest listening to the murmuring pine trees.”

Homophones and Homographs

Homophones are words that sound the same but have different meanings; homographs are words that are spelled the same way but have different meanings. On some tests, you may be asked to identify which homophone is appropriate in the given context, or you may need to identify the correct definition of a homograph as it is used in a sentence.

A good knowledge of homophones is especially important as many words applicable to medicine (heel/heal, oral/aural) may be homophones. Is a patient healing, or do they have a heel problem? Should medication be administered orally or aurally? Does the patient have a tic, or has the patient been bitten by a tick?

Examples of homophones include:

  • tic/tick
  • gait/gate
  • mail/male
  • pain/pane
  • oral/aural
  • heel/heal

Examples of homographs include:

  • tear (to rip/liquid produced by the eye)
  • compound (to mix/an enclosed area that includes a building or group of buildings)
  • bank (a place to store money/the side of a river/a stockpile)
  • novel (a piece of fiction/something new)
  • change (to make different/money left over after a transaction)
  • rose (a flower/to move upward)
  • die (to pass away/a six-sided, numbered cube)
    Your Cart
    Your cart is empty