Contextual Vocabulary

Hopefully by this point you believe in the merits of working on your vocab sills for the MCAT and are ready to get started on improving them. To that end let’s take a deep dive into contextual vocabulary and start learning how we can use context to determine the meaning of an unknown word, when to use this skill, and begin mastering these types of questions with some practice problems.

Using Context

Recently, I moved to Mexico and my Spanish leaves a lot to be desired. Despite this I manage well enough and am amazed at how quickly I learn unfamiliar words from context alone. For example, I didn’t know the meaning of the word izquierda, until I asked for directions a couple of times and had people point to the left while saying that word. Here the physical context of pointing helped me learn that izquierda translates to left.

While the MCAT doesn’t have physical gestures in the CARS section looking for context clues that surround an unfamiliar word act in exactly the same way. There are tons of different clues we can look for some oblivious and other subtler. For the sake of brevity we are going to look for three key things to help us figure out unknown words from context.

  1. Surrounding Words and Phrases
  2. Comparisons
  3. Examples and Explanations