Textual Cues and Clues, Part 2

So we made through the book’s example — let’s try one from the practice test.

Although it stayed in business for several months, the company was actually ____________ and met its financial obligations only by engaging in _____________________ activities.”

(a) insolvent………..fraudulent
(b) prudent………….speculative
(c) autonomous…………subordinate
(d) bankrupt…………….charitable
(e) stable……………….manipulative

Clue words here include:

Although — this word indicates that something is wrong — it means that even though the company looked like it was stable (it stayed in business for several months), it wasn’t. Although is a SIGNAL word — it signals that something is going to disagree.
actually — means that even though something looks one way, the reality is that the appearance is wrong.
only — means that something is wrong here

“Although it stayed in business several months” tells you that the next part will CONTRADICT, or go against, what seems to be true — that the business functions. So “the company was actually _____________________” or the company was actually NOT FUNCTIONING.

So stop right there. We know that the word for the first blank needs to be a word that means that the company has no money, or isn’t running properly. Let’s look at the options.

(a) insolvent
(b) prudent
(c) autonomous
(d) bankrupt
(e) stable

Option (a), insolvent — remember when we discussed prefixes? “in” and “im” can often mean “not” in relation to the rest of the word. So “insolvent” means “not solvent,” and “solvent” means “has enough money.” So “insolvent” means “does not have enough money.” So the company was not functioning, or didn’t have enough money — option (a) is a possibility.

Option (b), prudent — this means “to behave properly and wisely.” So if the blank should be something that means “not functioning,” and “prudent” means “behaves properly and wisely,” then  the word does NOT fit and we can cross off choice (b).

Option (c), autonomous — words that have the prefix “auto” often mean “by oneself” or refer to the speaker. So in this case, “autonomous” means “self-supporting.” In the case of this sentence, option (c) CANNOT work, because the business is not functioning and is NOT self-supporting. So we can cross off answer (c).

Option (d), bankrupt — this means not only do you have no money, it means that you cannot pay your debts to others. So if the answer should reflect that the company is NOT FUNCTIONING, “bankrupt” CAN fit, because a company that owes money that it cannot pay is NOT functioning. So option (d) is a possibility, along with option (a).

Option (e), stable — this means reliable and dependable. Again, this is the OPPOSITE of NOT FUNCTIONING, so we can cross off answer (e).

We have answers (a) and (d) as possibilities, so let’s look at the second blank to figure out which is correct.

Using option (a)’s first word in the first blank, and second word in the second blank, we have “the company was actually insolvent and met its financial obligations only by engaging in fraudulent activities.”

Answer (a)’s second word is “fraudulent,” which you will notice has the word “fraud” in it. “Fraud” refers to a deception or a lie. So could that sentence be true? Is the company actually “insolvent” (has no money) and did it meet its financial obligations by engaging in “fraudulent” (or deceptive, lying) activities? Does it make sense that a company with no money lies to get money? Yes, it does. So option (a) is still a possibility.

Answer (d) would make the sentence look like this: “the company was actually bankrupt and met its financial obligations only by engaging in charitable activities.” So answer (d)’s second word is “charitable,” which has the root word “charity” in it. “Charity” means something that relies on gifts to survive, so to engage in “charitable” activities means the company GIVES MONEY to others in order to meet its financial obligations. So does it make sense that in order to pay its debts, a company gives away money to charities? No. It cannot give money as gifts to pay its bills. That makes no sense. So answer (d) is incorrect, and the answer would be (a). 

Prefixes and root words can serve as excellent clues to the meanings of words, but you can still see that if your vocabulary is too small, you will either spend a lot of time guessing on the SAT, or you will spend all of your testing time trying to figure out what the words mean. Memorizing definitions is simply something you will have to do in order to do well on the test. 


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