Vocabulary Review for Firefighter Exam Study Guide (page 5)
Many firefighter exams test vocabulary. There are two basic kinds of questions.
- Synonyms: Identifying words that mean the same as the given words
- Context: Determining the meaning of a word or phrase by noting how it is used in a sentence or paragraph
A word is a synonym of another word if it has the same or nearly the same meaning as the other word. Test questions often ask you to find the synonym or antonym of a word. If you are lucky, the word will be included in a sentence that helps you guess what the word means. If you are less lucky, you will just get the word, and then you have to figure out what the word means without any help.
Questions that ask for synonyms can be tricky because they require you to recognize the meaning of several words that may be unfamiliar—not only the words in the questions but also the answer choices. Usually the best strategy is to look at the structure of the word and to listen for its sound. See if a part of a word looks familiar. Think of other words you know that have similar key elements. How could those words be related?
Try your hand at identifying the word parts and related words in these sample synonym questions. Circle the word that means the same or about the same as the italicized word. Answers and explanations appear right after the questions.
- incoherent answer
- not understandable
- not likely
- ambiguous questions
- covered with debris
- good excuses
- transparent material
- scattered rubble
- protective material
- inadvertently left
- exorbitant prices
- compatible workers
- belligerent attitude
The explanations are just as important as the answers because they show you how to go about choosing a synonym if you don't know the word.
- a. Incoherent means not understandable. To cohere means to connect. A coherent answer connects or makes sense. The prefix in- means not.
- d. Ambiguous questions are vague or uncertain. The key part of this word is ambi-, which means two or both. An ambiguous question can be interpreted two or more ways.
- c. Debris is scattered fragments and trash.
- a. Inadvertently means by mistake. The key element in this word is the prefix in-, which usually means not, the opposite of.
- d. The key element here is ex-, which means out of or away from. Exorbitant literally means "out of orbit." An exorbitant price would be an outrageous one.
- c. Compatible means harmonious.
- a. The key element in this word is the root belli-, which means warlike. The synonym choice, then, is hostile.
Context is the surrounding text in which a word is used. Most people use context to help them determine the meaning of an unknown word. A vocabulary question that gives you a sentence around the vocabulary word is usually easier to answer than one with little or no context. The surrounding text can help you as you look for synonyms for the specified words in the sentences.
The best way to take meaning from context is to look for key words in sentences or paragraphs that convey the meaning of the text. If nothing else, the context will give you a means to eliminate wrong answer choices that clearly don't fit. The process of elimination will often leave you with the correct answer.
Try these sample questions. Choose the word that most nearly means the same as the italicized word in the sentence.
- The fire inspector was appalled by the attitude of the building's owners when she pointed out the locked fire doors.
- Even though he seemed rich, the defendent claimed to be destitute.
- The woman was distraught because she could not reach her child due to the amount of smoke and fire in the hallway.
- To protect the hearing of the firefighters, the new Rescue 5 truck had features to attenuate the sound of the engine, horn, and sirens.
Some tests may ask you to fill in the blank by choosing a word that fits the context. In the following questions, choose the word that best completes the sentence.
- Professor Washington was a very _____ woman known for her reputation as a scholar.
- His _____was demonstrated by his willingness to donate large amounts of money to worthy causes.
Check to see whether you were able to pick out the key words that help you define the target word, as well as whether you got the right answer.
- a. The key words in the question are attitude and locked. These show that the inspector was pointing out a violation and the building's owners did not seem to be concerned. Appalled is the proper answer, as the other words are too mild for the reaction of the inspector.
- d. The key word here is rich, but this is a clue by contrast. The introductory Even though signals that you should look for the opposite of the idea of having financial resources.
- d. The key phrases are could not reach her child and amount of smoke and fire, showing that she tried and failed to reach her child. She would be naturally upset and worried; therefore, she is distraught or anguished about the fate of her child.
- d. Attenuate means to reduce in amount. The key is that the sentence starts with To protect the hearing of the firefighters. Although directing the sound might help a little, the noise would be the same. Silencing the sounds would also help, but then no one could hear the siren or horn outside. Increasing the sound would not help at all.
- b. The key words here are professor and scholar.
- d. The key words here are large amounts of money to worthy causes. They give you a definition of the word you are looking for. Even if you don't know the word altruism, the other choices seem inappropriate to describe someone so generous.
For Nonnative Speakers of English
Be very careful not to be confused by the sound of words, which may mislead you. Be sure to look at the word carefully, and pay attention to the structure and appearance of the word as well as its sound. You may be used to hearing English words spoken with an accent. The sounds of those words may be misleading in choosing a correct answer.
The best way to improve your vocabulary is to learn word parts: roots, which are the main part of the word; prefixes, which come before the root word; and suffixes, which come after. Any of these elements can carry meaning or change the use of a word in a sentence. For instance, the suffix -s or -es can change the meaning of a noun from singular to plural: boy, boys. The prefix un- can change the meaning of a root word to its opposite: necessary, unnecessary.
On the next page are some of the word elements seen most often in vocabulary tests. Simply reading them and their examples for five to ten minutes a day will give you the quick recognition you need to make a good association with the meaning of an unfamiliar word.
Common Word Elements
Below are some common elements of English words, including root words and prefixes. Take the time to look up any unfamiliar example words in a dictionary. Expanding your vocabulary will help you recognize more words on the test.
More Vocabulary Practice
Here is another set of practice exercises with samples of each kind of question covered in this chapter. Answers are found at the end of the exercise.
Choose the word that means the same or nearly the same as the italicized word.
- congenial company
- conspicuous mess
- meticulous record-keeping
- superficial wounds
- impulsive actions
- tactful comments
- Though flexible about homework, the teacher was adamant that papers be in on time.
- The condition of the room after the party was deplorable.
- Her position as a(n) _____ teacher took her all over the city.
- Despite her promise to stay in touch, she remained _____ and difficult to locate.
Using the context, choose the word that means the same or nearly the same as the italicized word.
Choose the word that best completes the following sentences.
How to Answer Vocabulary Questions
- The key to answering vocabulary questions is to notice and connect what you do know to what you may not recognize.
- Know your word parts. You can recognize or make a good guess at the meanings of words when you see some suggested meaning in a root word, prefix, or suffix.
- Use the process of elimination. Think of how the word makes sense in the sentence.
- Don't be confused by words that sound like other words, but may have no relation to the word you need.
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