How to Derive Meaning from Context for the GED RLA

By Achim K. Krull, Murray Shukyn

The GED Reasoning Through Language Arts test features some questions that challenge your ability to derive meaning from context — the situation or setting in which a statement is made or a word or phrase is used.

For example, the word around may be used to describe people gathering around (near) the town square or meeting around (approximately) 7:00 p.m. The word has a very different meaning depending on the context in which it’s used. Context also often provides the clues you need to figure out the meaning of an unfamiliar word.

For example, suppose you encounter the following sentence in a passage about the honesty of politicians: “At a political rally, voters need to carefully question the veracity of any candidate’s statements.” Even if you don’t know what the word veracity means, you can figure out from the context that it probably means something along the lines of “truthfulness.” Here’s another example:

When the shooting started, the troops ran for cover in a nearby bunker. Ducking bullets, they ran for the doorway, and the last man slammed the steel doors shut. Shells pounded the roof, and machine gunfire rang off the door, but they were safe inside.

What is a bunker?

  • (A) a building that has been around for a long time

  • (B) a fireproof shelter

  • (C) a building constructed to resist shelling and gunfire

  • (D) a central building in a military compound

From the context, you can easily figure out that a bunker is some sort of shelter designed to resist shelling and gun fire. It may have been around for a long time or be fireproof, but the context is enemy fire, so neither is of prime importance. Choice (D) isn’t the best answer either; whether a bunker is a central building in a compound has no relevance to protection against enemy fire. Based on the context in which the passage uses bunker, Choice (C) is the correct answer.

You can also detect bias in the way information is presented — the context of the presentation. If someone prefaces a statement with “In my opinion…” or “All XYZ are…” you should question what follows. In the first instance, the mere use of the word opinion warns you that the facts may have been selected to present a particular point of view. The second example contains the word all, which often signals the beginning of an overgeneralization — a conclusion about something that claims more than the limited evidence supports.

For example, claiming that all pit bulls are vicious dogs is an overgeneralization because some are very gentle. As you analyze passages on the GED test, watch out for words such as all, none, everybody, nobody, always, and never, which often introduce overgeneralizations and an opportunity for you to pick apart the argument.