One way to arrive at the correct answer on test day is to use word charge. This is similar to a strategy used in antonyms. Recognize the positive, negative, or neutral charge of what would go in the blank and eliminate answer choices based on that. This is very helpful if you don’t know the vocabulary in the sentence or in the answer choices.
Lets say we had this question:
First the context clues. We have a “rusted swing-set” and a “worn-down sandbox” that SUDDENLY appears as _________ . Suddenly is a structural clue indicating contrast. In other words, while initially the swingset and sandbox looked worn down, suddenly they appeared as… we would expect something positive in the blank.
Now, looking at the answer choices, lets see if there is a positive sounding word. A says tarnished, which is definitely a negative word meaning dirtied or marred. So eliminate A. Choice B has immaculate, if you’re not sure what it means, keep it. But you might know that it has a positive connotation. Choice C says mundane… this is a neutral to negative word meaning ordinary or commonplace, so that can’t be the answer. Eliminate C. Choice D says sullied. If you’ve never heard this word before, keep it. And choice E says formidable, like in the phrase “formidable opponent.” This is definitely not a positive word as it means threatening or menacing. Eliminate E.
So just going by the words charge we can eliminate the majority of the answer choices! Now we are in a much better position to get this question right. Let’s say you were down to B and D but you really didn’t know the meanings of the words….Which word do you think has a positive connotation “immaculate” or “sullied”?
Immaculate does. Immaculate means perfectly clean or spotless… this fits our sentence very well as it contrasts with the worn down playground equipment. So choice B is our answer.
Sullied might remind you of the phrase “sullied his sheets” or “sullied his pants” , or it might call to mind the verb “soil” which means to make dirty. Sullied means dirtied or defiled. It has a definite negative connotation so it cannot be our answer.
So, keep this tip in mind if you are having trouble predicting or just want to eliminate answer choices– use word charge to help you.
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