MAT Strategies: Alternative Meanings

mat strategies alternative meanings

One of the best MAT strategies is also the easiest to forget in the midst of the exam: consider alternative word meanings. The MAT looks for ways to challenge students who are verbally focused and well-read. Crafting analogies that rely on less common word meanings is one of the MAT’s favorite ways to do this.

You spent all that time studying words with two, three, and maybe even four definitions; put that knowledge to good use!

Alternative Solutions

Look at the following:

Cleave : Split : Join : (a. nioj b. loin c. sever d. lance)

Immediately, you notice that “cleave” and “split” are synonyms. But what about “join”? None of the answer choices are synonyms for “join.” If you fixate on the relationship between “cleave” and “split,” pretty soon you will be wondering whether the question is a typo.

Now you only have about 30 seconds per question on the MAT, so you need to get used to the idea of changing your approach at a moments notice.

Maybe that easy relationship was wrong?

It’s true that “cleave” and “split” are synonyms, but maybe that isn’t the important relationship. It’s time to consider alternative word meanings. Do “cleave” and “join” have a relationship?

“Cleave” actually has not just alternate meanings, but alternate OPPOSING meanings. “Cleave” can mean to “split” or to “join” (the complete opposite).

The correct answer then is actually choice C:

Cleave is a synonym of Join.

Split is a synonym of Sever.

When to Consider Alternatives

The above analogy should serve as a model for when to consider alternatives. Quite often, if you see an obvious relationship for two terms but not for the other two, you should immediately consider an alternative meaning.

Solving an MAT analogy offers an “aha moment” similar to solving a riddle: it should all seem simple and obvious once you know the answer.

If the relationship you identify does not give you this feeling, then there is a good chance you have not yet figured it out yet.

The MAT often dangles an obvious relationship in front of you so that you fixate on it and then waste time trying to force the other two words into the same type of relationship. Avoid this mistake by considering alternatives.

For other MAT strategies, check out our posts on MAT Strategies: Parts of Speech and Pacing Strategies for the Miller Analogies Test. Happy studying!



  • Bertrand

    Bertrand is a remote tutor and a MAT blogger for Magoosh. He received a B.A. from Fairleigh Dickinson University and studied education theory at Rutgers Graduate School of Education. He has been studying and working in education since 2010. Born and raised in New Jersey, he now resides in Philadelphia. When he isn’t helping students study or writing blogs for Magoosh, he spends his time practicing mixed martial arts and reading as much as his schedule permits.