ACT Reading Strategy: Vocabulary in Context Questions


On every ACT Reading test, you’ll find a few questions that fall into the category the ACT calls “Meaning of Words,” or what is often referred to as “Words in Context.” This episode of TuesdACT is all about the perfect strategy to get this question type right.


ACT Reading Vocabulary Question Example

Words in context questions are the ones that look like this:

In context, the word support most nearly means:

Liam got a 35 on the ACT. Get a higher ACT score with Magoosh.

A. reinforce
B. assist
C. approve of
D. provide evidence for


You’re never likely to see very hard vocabulary words on these questions. Instead, it will be a common word with multiple meanings. Your job is to determine which meaning was intended in the sentence, hence the “in context” part of the phrasing of the question.


ACT Reading Words in Context Key Strategy

Your go-to strategy on a question like this one should be to completely ignore your answer choices. That’s right. Just at first. Go back to the passage and put a blank where the word appears. Fill in that blank with your own choice of word.

For example, let’s say this is the sentence the question above refers to:

The inhabitants of Millsbury were reluctant to support the proposed measure to use tax money for infrastructure fixes, for money appropriated for roads in the past had not seemed to bear the promised fruit.

Cross out “support” and insert your own answer in the blank:

The inhabitants of Millsbury were reluctant to __________ the proposed measure to use tax money for infrastructure fixes, for money appropriated for roads in the past had not seemed to bear the promised fruit.

Maybe you might write “approve of” in the blank, in which case you would hit this one on the nose. (Ding ding ding, the answer is “C”). Or maybe you would write something like “agree with,” “vote for,” “side with.” Any of these would work.

The point is you are not letting the other wrong answer choices tempt you into thinking they might be correct because they sound good. Or because you know they are definitions of the word in question.

Figure out the meaning of the sentence first by putting it in your own words and then find the answer choice that best matches up with this. You will be far more likely to get these words in context questions right if you do so!



  • Kristin Fracchia

    Dr. Kristin Fracchia has over fifteen years of expertise in college and graduate school admissions and with a variety of standardized tests, including the ACT, SAT, GRE, GMAT, and LSAT, with several 99% scores. She had a PhD from the University of California, Irvine, an MA degree from The Catholic University, and BA degrees in Secondary Education and English Literature from the University of Maryland, College Park. She was the recipient of the 2013 Excellence in Teaching Award and the Chancellor’s Club Fellowship from the University of California, Irvine. She’s worked as a high school teacher and university professor, as an independent college and graduate school admissions counselor, and as an expert tutor for standardized tests, helping hundreds of students gain acceptance into premier national and international institutions. She now develops accessible and effective edtech products for Magoosh. Her free online content and YouTube videos providing test prep and college admissions advice have received over 6 million views in over 125 countries. Kristin is an advocate for improving access to education: you can check out her TEDx talk on the topic. Follow Kristin on LinkedIn!

By the way, Magoosh can help you study for both the SAT and ACT exams. Click here to learn more!

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