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TOEFL and GRE Reading Practice Adventure Novel, Chapter 4

English vocabulary can be your best friend on test day… if you’ve managed to master it. English vocabulary can feel like your worst enemy while you’re trying to learn new words. Fortunately, Magoosh here to make vocabulary fun. In this post, enjoy the fourth chapter in an ongoing Magoosh TOEFL Blog novel about action and intrigue in the Korean Peninsula. If you’re just joining us, you can read the previous adventures of Commander Roger Prestwich and his band of brothers here:

Of course, this action-adventure tale isn’t all fun and games. I have some vocabulary-building activities for you to do as you read.

Reading activity instructions:

Step 1:

Look at the words and phrases below. Study any unfamiliar language on These terms are a mix of TOEFL and GRE level language. Some of the words could probably be found on either exam:

chaos, erupt, smirk, chamber, conveyance, to and fro, interlude, wispy, climate, parched, buckle (as a verb), surreal, atmosphere, village, bunker, muggy, typical, arid, subterranean, shiver, frigid, momentarily, sensation, respite, allay, impromptu, framework, capacity, nebulous, smirk, derive, undermine, instance, taunt

Practice for your TOEFL exam with Magoosh.

Step 2:

Read the following passage, which uses all of the words in the list above. (Although some of the words may be in slightly different tenses or forms.) Do your best to recall your studies from step 1, but don’t look back at the online dictionary or your notes. Instead, see if you can remember the meanings of the words. For words you can’t remember, try to guess them in context. When you’re done reading, you can then return to notes to double-check your guesses and memory.


Chapter 4: Prestwich Loses Control

Prestwich surveyed the chaos that had erupted in the previously peaceful underground room. He surveyed the antics of the five soldiers under his command. Lieutenant Taylor smirked as he played with the model train in the back of the room. He had turned on the train so that it moved around the track that ran back and forth at the rear of the chamber. He playfully used the small toy conveyance to move his pack of cigarettes to and fro on the tracks.

The train had clearly last been used months—maybe even years—ago. During the interlude since its last use, the train had gathered a lot of dust. The dust flew off the toy train in wispy little clouds. It gave the train the appearance of an ancient steam engine in the old American West, kicking up dust in a Texan climate, filling the parched air with hot, dry sand and crushed clay. One nearly expected the concrete floor underneath the tiny train tracks to dry up and crack, buckling in Southwestern heat. The effect was surreal, because the atmosphere in the village above the bunker was downright muggy—very hot and damp, as one would expect on a typical summer day in the southernmost part of North Korea that ran along the DMZ.

And the underground bunker itself was far from arid. Its cool subterranean air was so cool that there were moments when the soldiers shivered and felt frigid. As Prestwich himself shivered, he momentarily felt like it was February back in Indiana. He had the sensation that he was insufficiently dressed, and needed to put on an extra overcoat to get respite from the winter cold.

Prestwich was soon able to allay his shivers, not by finding warm clothes to ease his discomfort, but by becoming so distracted that he forgot he was cold. He no longer felt the coldness at all as he looked over at Lieutenant Perry, who had begun an impromptu song in broken Korean. Perry’s unplanned, unrehearsed song was beyond Prestwich’s comprehension, as Prestwich did not know any Korean. Perry, on the other hand, was on his third tour of duty in the Korean peninsula and had learned the local language reasonably well. So he knew the basic framework of the Korean language, and had the capacity to use it at a basic level.

To the ears of Sargent Valencia, who was just beginning his second tour of duty in Korea, most of what Perry was singing was nebulous. Still, Valencia howled with laughter, because he could make out a few of the words Perry was singing. Valencia could understand all of the Korean swear words. He could also understand the Korean words for “our commander” and “senile.” As Perry sang those words, he spun around to point at Prestwich, smirking.

Although Prestwich couldn’t understand Korean, he knew that those two men were deriving laughter and entertainment from him. That had to mean they were undermining his authority in some way, weakening his position as their leader. He knew that the moment Perry pointed at him and Valencia laughed at him was an instance of disrespect. Briefly Prestwich felt intimidated by this obvious taunt that Perry and Valencia were making toward him. It was not the first time he had felt afraid of these men. It would also not be the last time he sensed that the men were making fun of him.

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