Which 7 vocabulary tips help in academic exams?

This is the second and final chapter about Reading New Vocabulary. To complete this reader, read each chapter carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.   

– Focus specifically on dealing with vocabulary during examinations when research and practise are not possible

– Provide seven strategies for dealing with vocabulary more effectively in university exams

– Complete worksheets that check comprehension and improve English proficiency

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This topic now has an interactive unit: Dealing with New Vocabulary
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Chapter 2

In the first chapter of this reader on reading new vocabulary, we explored the seven most helpful strategies for learning, remembering and using new words. While it’s of course true that the more vocabulary a student learns in advance, the better their reading comprehension will be in general, during an academic examination (particularly a language-based one) there will always be some unknown words to deal with. As you may not always be allowed – or have the time – to check a dictionary to look up word meaning, we next explore seven additional strategies for dealing with vocabulary in high-pressure situations. 

Strategy 1: Continue Reading

Identical to Chapter 1, our first and most important strategy is to continue reading without hesitation as there may be meaningful clues in the upcoming sentences. There probably won’t be enough free time in your exam to stop and think about every unknown word you encounter. Remembering that comprehension doesn’t have to be 100%, perhaps try to continue reading and if you find yourself too confused later on, then consider going back and attempting Strategies 2-7 below.


Strategy 2: Look for Definitions

Because authors quite often define some of the more complex words they introduce during a text, it’s always worth looking out for any definition language that indicates an upcoming description and then study that description closely. Definition language such as ‘which is’ or ‘one of the key defining features’ is highlighted for you in the three examples that follow:

Strategy 3: Identify Synonyms

Synonyms– words or phrases with similar meaning – are also often included by authors within a text, particularly to create sophisticated cohesion in a paragraph or essay by varying and connecting key vocabulary. Referring to the same concept or idea repeatedly and in different ways tends to make a piece of writing more coherent and convincing for a reader, and it makes the language more dynamic too. As can be seen in the short paragraph about ‘malaria’ below, the use of synonyms also helps to explain a concept to the reader should its key vocabulary be unknown:

Strategy 4: Notice Cohesive Clues

In addition to the ‘this + noun phrase’ structure used in the previous paragraph, other cohesive devices can be useful for indicating relationships between ideas and concepts, helping to further explain that vocabulary. As the examples below highlight, students would benefit from noticing the language of comparison and contrast (‘like/unlike’ and ‘similar/dissimilar’), further explanation (‘although/even though’ and ‘however/while’) and cause and effect (‘because/therefore’):

Strategy 5: Understand Prefixes and Suffixes

Another strategy which can be useful for understanding the meaning of a vocabulary item on-the-spot is the analysis of any prefixes or suffixes which form that word. Take the word ‘unlikely’ for instance. By separating the affixes ‘un-’ and ‘-ly’, we are able to determine that this word is an adverb that has an opposite meaning to ‘likely’. For the most part, suffixes such as ‘-ly’ are less useful as they indicate word form and grammar, whereas prefixes such as ‘un-’ tend to indicate differences in meaning. Some examples are provided for you below:

Strategy 6: Guess a Polysemous Meaning

Having an understanding of polysemy can also assist students when dealing with unknown vocabulary in an exam-like situation. Polysemy is the idea that identically spelled or pronounced words can have different but related meanings, such as is demonstrated in the following examples:

Most non-native speakers studying in English at university should understand the meaning of ‘bow’ in example (a) and may therefore be able to infer that the meaning of ‘bowed’ in example (b) refers to having legs that curve outwards, much like the weapon. However, students should be careful as not all words are polysemous. The homonym ‘bow’ in (c), for example, may share identical spelling, but its meaning is not connected. What this shows is that while polysemy can be useful, it can be misleading also. Saying that, seeing as around 40% of English words are polysemous, guessing meaning based on polysemy may still be useful.


Strategy 7: Study the Word in Context

The final strategy is related to Strategy 1: Continue Reading. More often than not, an investigation of the expressions surrounding the vocabulary item you do not understand will provide you with additional descriptive information. While this includes the study of structural language such as synonyms, definition language and cohesive markers as mentioned earlier, the investigation of more general descriptive language can also help students accurately guess the meaning of a word:

From the above short paragraph about marsupials, for example, we’ve learned that:


  • marsupials are animals, namely mammals
  • they live in Australia, Papua New Guinea and the Americas
  • kangaroos, koalas and opossums are examples
  • they carry and suckle their young in a pouch


Clearly then, there is more than enough information in this example paragraph to understand the new vocabulary item ‘marsupial’ without researching on a computer. However, if a student had panicked or stopped reading when encountering that word, they could have cost themselves valuable time during an examination that the use of Strategies 1-7 would have saved.

Great work on finishing this reader on reading new vocabulary. Hopefully you now feel more confident in learning vocabulary at home and dealing with it during an examination. To check your knowledge of these concepts, unlock, download and complete our Chapter 1-2 Worksheets on the topic and continue studying.

2 of 2 Chapters Completed


Once you’ve completed both chapters in this short reader about Reading New Vocabulary, you might then wish to download our Chapter Worksheets to check your progress or print for your students. These professional PDF worksheets can be easily accessed for only a few Academic Marks.

Chapter 1 explores the topic: What are 7 strategies for learning new vocabulary? Our Chapter 1 Worksheet (containing guidance, activities and answer keys) can be accessed here at the click of a button. 

Chapter 2 explores the topic: Which 7 vocabulary tips help in academic exams? Our Chapter 2 Worksheet (containing guidance, activities and answer keys) can be accessed here at the click of a button. 

To save yourself 1 Marks, click on the button below to gain unlimited access to all of our Reading New Vocabulary Chapter Worksheets. This All-in-1 Pack includes every chapter, activity and answer key related to this topic in one handy and professional PDF.

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