Decoding Unfamiliar Words

When faced with a new or complex reading passage, one of the biggest obstacles for students is finding meaning in an unknown or unfamiliar word. While Siri, Alexa, or Google can instantly provide the definitions of tricky words in everyday life, these “tech advisors” are not available on test day! So what can you do when you run into a difficult word or phrase?

Catch a Clue

One of the best methods of attacking these word-blocks is to use context clues. Simply put, this means using the context (all of the other words and phrases in a passage) to decode the meaning of the unknown word. This can include using what you already know about a topic, looking for examples in the text, or identifying synonyms and antonyms.

In a recent eBoard post, Word Wars, we discuss some examples. It’s important to remember that these seemingly difficult words are not a trap designed by the test makers to trick you. They are often a means to measure your ability to think through and critically read for understanding. Building vocabulary isn’t an overnight task. But with a little prep and the right resources, you will be well on your way to becoming a strong, confident reader, no matter the words you encounter.

Looking for more test-prep resources? Essential Education can help. Get the education you need with adult-focused content on your time and schedule. Reach out today for more information. Call 1-800-460-8150 or visit

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