ASVAB Word Knowledge Questions

The ASVAB Word Knowledge test measures your ability to understand the meaning of words through synonyms. Synonyms are words that have the same or nearly the same meaning as other words. Your ability to recognize synonyms is an indicator of how well you comprehend what you read. Word Knowledge, along with Paragraph Comprehension, is part of the verbal ability portion of the AFQT.

Some Word Knowledge questions present a vocabulary word and ask you which of four answer choices the word "most nearly means." Other Word Knowledge questions present a vocabulary word in a sentence. You can use the meaning of the sentence to help you decide which of the four answer choices has the same meaning as the vocabulary word. The tested vocabulary words are not difficult scientific or technical terms. They are words that you are likely to encounter in your ordinary reading or conversation but which may be unfamiliar to you. This chapter will teach you ways to figure out the meaning of unfamiliar words and improve your score on the Word Knowledge test.

If you take the CAT-ASVAB, you have only about half a minute to answer each Word Knowledge question. If you take the paper-and-pencil ASVAB, you'll have even less time, so you'll have to work fast if you want to get a good score. That's why it pays to spend time studying ways to build your vocabulary and tackling plenty of sample ASVAB Word Knowledge questions.

How Good Is Your Vocabulary Now?

Start your preparation for the Word Knowledge test by taking this short quiz. It will determine your level of strength in the area of vocabulary. Beside each word, write a word or phrase that helps to define the word. Correct definitions are given at the end of this chapter. Compare your definitions to the correct definitions. If your definition is the same or nearly the same as the correct definition, give yourself 1 point. If your definition is very different from the correct definition, give yourself 0 points.

18–20 points: pretty good work

15–17 points: not too bad

Below 15 points: you need some work

Start Building A Better Vocabulary

If it's clear that you need to brush up on your vocabulary for the ASVAB, here's what you can do to start studying for this test.

Memorize (Not!)

It may help you to memorize some common prefixes, suffixes, and word roots. However, memorizing word lists will not be particularly helpful, especially if your study time is limited. You need to use study methods that are far more useful than memorizing words and definitions.

Read, Read, Read, and Read Some More

Read everything you can get your hands on, including school books, newspapers, magazines, and fiction and nonfiction books. The more you read, the more new words you'll come across that you can add to your vocabulary.

Develop a Word List

As you read and find words you don't know, start developing a word list. Use the Word List Chart provided at the end of this section. Write down each word you don't know. Take a guess at the meaning. Write down your guess. Then go to a dictionary, your thesaurus, or your word processing program to find synonyms (words that mean the same thing). Write the synonyms in the last column of the chart. You don't need to write down the formal dictionary definition because the synonyms are what the ASVAB asks for. Also use the Word List Chart for words that you hear people say, but that you do not know.

Often just writing down a word and some synonyms will help you retain the meaning. You may also want to use the Word List Chart to create flash cards that you can take with you anywhere to study when you have some free time. Using something like 3" × 5" cards, write the word on one side and some synonyms on the other. Later in this section, you will have a set of words that can be used for these flash cards or whatever other study system you decide to use.

Review, Review, Review

Once you have developed your word list, listed synonyms, and worked through the sample tests, you still need to keep reviewing. Review on the bus to work or school. Review during TV commercials. Review during your spare time. Review during study sessions. Review before you go to sleep at night. Review with your parents. Review with your friends. Review with a study group. Review in whatever way is most convenient and efficient for you. Be realistic. If reviewing with your friends ends up as a chat session or a party, then that's not helping you reach your goal of scoring high on the ASVAB. Stay disciplined. Stay focused. Stay on track.

Use Word Parts to Figure Out Meaning

Many words are made up of several parts: a root (the basic idea) and a prefix and/or a suffix (short letter combinations that change the meaning in some way). A prefix is attached to the root at the beginning of the word. A suffix is attached to the root at the end of the word. Not all words have prefixes and suffixes, but many do. On the ASVAB test, you will find many words that have roots with prefixes and/or suffixes. If you learn the most common word roots, prefixes, and suffixes, you can use what you know to pick apart unfamiliar words and figure out what they mean.

Below you will find tables of common prefixes, common word roots, and common suffixes. Study these tables carefully. The more you know about these word parts, the better able you will be to figure out the meaning of unfamiliar words.

Study Some Examples

Now that you have studied these common word parts, you can start using what you know to figure out the meaning of unfamiliar words. Here are a few examples of picking words apart to find their meaning.

  • Antibiotic. Anti- is a prefix that means "against," and bio is a root that means "life," so the word has something to do with "against life." An antibiotic is a substance that is designed to kill germs.
  • Inaudible. In- is a prefix that means "not," aud has something to do with sound, and the suffix -ible mans "capable of," so the word means something like "not capable of being heard."
  • Audiovisual. Audio- is a prefix that has something to do with hearing, and visual relates to seeing, so audiovisual involves both hearing and seeing.
  • Precede. Pre- is a prefix that means "before," and cede is a root that means "to go," so the word means something like "going before."
  • Captain. Capit is a root that means "head," so the word relates to the head of something (in this case, a ship's crew).
  • Capital. Capit is a root that means "head," so the word has something to do with the head of something (in this case, the symbolic "head" of a country, the location of the government).
  • Chronometer. Chron- is a prefix that has to do with time, and meter relates to measuring, so the word has to do with measuring time.
  • Pedicure. Pedi- is a prefix that has to do with "foot," so this word has to do with something related to feet.
  • Visage. Vis has something to do with seeing or looking, so the meaning of this word is "how a person looks."
  • Transform. Trans- is a prefix that means "go across," so this word means "going across" or "changing form."
  • Microbiology. Micro- is a prefix that means "small," bio is a root that has to do with life, and -ology is a suffix that means "the study of," so the word has to do with studying small living things.
  • Multitalented. Multi- is a prefix that means "many," so this word has to do with many talents.
  • Thermometer. Therm- has to do with heat, and meter means measuring, so this word has to do with measuring heat.
  • Geology. Geo is a root that means "earth," and -ology is a suffix that means "the study of," so this word has to do with studying the earth.
  • Revolve. Re- is a prefix that means "again," and volve means "to turn," so this word has something to do with turning again or turning repeatedly.
  • Mispronounce. Mis- is a prefix that means "wrong" or "to do wrongly," so this word has to do with pronouncing something in a wrong way.
  • Vacate. Vac means "empty," so this word has to do with making something empty or leaving an empty space.
  • Aerate. Aero is a root that has to do with air, so this word has to do with putting or placing air in a particular place.

Look up each of these words in a dictionary to see the precise definition.

Start Using What You Know

Use the following activity to further expand and strengthen your vocabulary.

Use Context Clues to Figure Out Meaning

One good way to figure out the meaning of an unfamiliar word is to use what are called context clues. The context of a word is the phrases and sentence or sentences that surround it. Often, even if you have never heard a word before, you can guess its meaning by looking at the context in which it appears. The context may give you clues to help you figure out the meaning.

Study Some Examples

Here are some examples of how to use context clues to figure out the meaning of an unfamiliar word.

  • During the snowstorm, the government sent home all nonessential personnel. (Nonessential must mean "not important" or "not needed.")
  • When giving a person driving directions, you must be very explicit, or else the person may make a wrong turn. (Explicit must mean "precise" or "exact.")
  • Even though the club members disagreed about the project, their conversation was amicable. (Amicable must mean something that is the opposite of disagreeing.)
  • The chairperson convened a panel of experts to discuss global warming. (Convened must mean something related to bringing together a group of people.)
  • They commemorated the end of the war by holding a big parade. (Commemorate must mean something like "get together to remember.")
  • Even though there was no sign of a problem, Kisha had a premonition that something would go wrong. (A premonition must be a suspicion or feeling about something that is going to happen.)
  • Gene was only in fourth grade, but he was precocious in his school subjects because he studied with his older brothers. (Precocious must mean something related to being advanced or ahead of what is expected.)
  • Scientists are worried that this new disease, which spreads rapidly and for which there is no vaccine, may cause a pandemic. (A pandemic must be a disease outbreak that is widespread and out of control.)
  • Brad was usually stable and predictable, but to our surprise, his behavior in this instance was unorthodox. (Unorthodox must mean something like "different from stable and predictable.")
  • Though most people in the audience were calm and quiet, Sally was bubbly and loquacious. (Loquacious must mean the opposite of calm and quiet.)
  • Brian took vicarious pleasure in Joan's debut on stage, even though he was not able to attend the performance. (Vicarious must have something to do with experiencing pleasure without being there.)
  • Even though the hurricane is expected to arrive on shore at any moment, the sea is still placid. (Placid must have something to do with not being stirred up with high surf and waves. It may mean "calm.")
  • The weapons and stolen cash were tangible evidence that the defendant was guilty. (Tangible must mean "real" or "concrete.")

Start Using What You Know

Use the following activity to further expand and strengthen your vocabulary.

Use It Or Lose It

Many experts say that the best way to learn a new word is to use the word in your speech and writing. When you learn a new word, use it in different sentences. Say the word out loud. Do this several times. If you don't use it, you are likely to forget it. Make up new sentences with the word. Find ways to use the word in your daily life. The following activities will help you practice these skills.

Answering ASVAB Word Knowledge Items

When you take the ASVAB Word Knowledge test, use the knowledge and skills you have learned in this chapter to figure out the meanings of unfamiliar words. Here are seven steps you can follow to attack Word Knowledge items:

  1. When you read the item, see if there are any context clues.
  2. Mentally guess at the meaning of the word.
  3. Scan the possible answers.
  4. Eliminate those that are clearly wrong.
  5. Pick the word that is the closest match—the best answer.
  6. If you can't make an initial determination, try picking the word apart. Look for the prefixes, roots, and suffixes.
  7. Give it your best shot and don't be afraid of guessing, as there is no penalty for a wrong answer on the paper-and-pencil version.

Word List Chart

Use the following chart to record unfamiliar words that you read or hear. Write down your guess at the meaning of the word. Then look up the word in a dictionary or thesaurus to identify synonyms.