The Art of Guessing

Oops! IELTS reading, and then those unfamiliar words, really stressing, is not it?

Whenever you read IELTS passages, you will come across words that you do not know. Therefore, let us develop strategies for dealing with unknown words.

Before you start agonizing over unknown words, ask yourself a question ‘Do I need to know the meaning of the word?’ If not, just move ahead. Sometime you may not need t0. It is difficult to know the exact meaning, however, you can guess it. Use the following methods to guess an approximate meaning.

Techniques for guessing

How to guess unknown words in IELTS reading: Synonyms and definitions:-

The writer may provide a word similar in meaning to the unfamiliar one.  Although it may not have the exact meaning, it may be close enough to give us an approximate definition.

The politician was in the wrong occupation.  When called upon to give a campaign speech, he was so reticent that his long silences made everyone uncomfortable.   From the example above, the unfamiliar word is the word “reticent”. The phrase, “long silences” is the context clue that comes after the “unknown word (reticent)”, and from that a reader can probably guess that the word reticent means “unwilling to speak”. So that, we call it guessing the meaning from the context through synonym.

How to guess unknown words in IELTS reading: Antonym and contrast

If a sentence suggests a contrast or a contradiction, the context clue may be in the form of an antonym, a word that means the opposite of the word in question.  If we know the antonym, then we may be able to figure out the new word.

“A well-known writer was most upset when he learned that his publisher planned to release his new novel, which contained profanity and steamy sex scenes, in an expurgated version.  Instead, he canceled the contract and found a company that would publish the book without removing any of the objectionable parts.”   From the example above, the unfamiliar word is a word “expurgated”. The reader can guess that the word “expurgated” is contrast to “objectionable”. It is also called guessing the unknown word from the context through antonym.

When guessing the meaning of a word by finding a possible opposite meaning, look for contrast words such as:

although but on the contrary however on the other hand yet rather compared with

How to guess unknown words in IELTS reading: Cause and effect

This kind of context clue is less direct and consequently more difficult to rely on.

Some critics of mass media of mass media blame daytime television talk shows for their insidious influence on the viewing public, because these programs parade their guests’ bizarre and deviant behaviors and create an unhealthy appetite for ever more grotesque revelations.   The obvious critical nature of this sentence suggests that insidious” is something bad, and indeed it is, because it means “progressing or spreading in a harmful way”, a reader can  probably guess that the tone or opinion of the following paragraph given by the writer explains that the word “insidious” has negative meaning.
  • Examples

The meaning of an unfamiliar word may be suggested by proximate examples and illustrations.  In this case, no one word or phrase implies the definition, but taken together, the examples help us infer the meaning.

“The squalid conditions of many American inner cities-with their burned-out buildings, high crime rates, crumbling schools, and high unemployment – pose a problem for parents trying to raise their children in such grim circumstances.”   The examples or illustration printed between the dash marks, a reader can probably determine that squalid means “wretched and neglected”. Because the phrases located between the two dashes are illustration and example explaining the condition of American inner cities is disorder. So that, it is called guessing the unknown word from the context through example and illustration.

How to guess unknown words in IELTS reading: Word forms

You may be able to guess the meaning of words by understanding prefixes. Prefixes are a group of letters that come at the beginning of some words. They have specific meanings that you should learn, as they will help you to understand the words they are in. Below are some :-

anti – against, oppositeantitoxin – substance used to neutralise toxins
auto – selfautobiography – a self-written account of one’s life
bi – two, twicebilingual – in two languages
counter – in opposition tocounterclaim – a claim in opposition to another
de – down, reverse, removedesensitise – to make less sensitive
dis – negativedishonest – not honest
hyper – extremely, overhypercritical – too critical
hypo – under, belowhypothermia – dangerously low body temperature
inter – between, amonginternational – involving two or more nations
mal – bad, wrongmalnutrition – lack of proper nutrition in one’s diet
micro – extremely smallmicro-organism – extremely small organism
mis – wrongmisunderstanding – failure to understand
mono – one, alonemonoculture – the use of land to grow only one crop
multi – manymultimedia – involving several types of media
post – afterpostpone – delay to a later time
pre – beforeprecondition – an existing condition
re – again, backrediscover – discover again
semi – halfsemi-conscious – half (not fully) conscious
sub – under, not quitesubordinate – belonging to a lower rank, less important
  • Definition

In some cases, a definition or explanation of a word is given in the text. This is often the case for special or technical words or expressions. Look at the following examples:-

Note that writers often use commas to indicate a definition.