Vocabulary Questions in TOEFL Reading

Learn about Vocabulary questions in TOEFL reading with an overview and practice questions.

by Tim Martyn

desks in a school classroom


Vocabulary questions test your ability to identify the meanings of individual words and phrases in the reading passage.

Here are some key points about Vocabulary questions:

  • They ask you to identify the meaning of a word as it is used in the reading passage. Many words can have more than one meaning depending on the context. You need to demonstrate that you understand which meaning the author is using in the reading passage.
  • They’re easy to identify because they say something like The word “X” in the passage is closest in meaning to… or In stating “X”, the author means that…
  • There’s no “list of words” you need to learn. The words that are chosen for these questions occur naturally in the reading passage.

Example question

Here’s an example Vocabulary question from a passage about intelligence.

You can try this question in the practice section.

1.  The word cite in the passage is closest in meaning to

Practice questions

Now it’s your turn to practise. Answer the Vocabulary questions below.

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High Intelligence: Nature or Nuture?

Where does high intelligence come from? Some researchers believe that intelligence is a trait inherited from a person’s parents whereas others claim that it is determined by environmental influences. Scientists who support the genetic origin of intelligence typically cite evidence from twin studies. One of the most well-known is the Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart. In this investigation, researchers found that identical twins raised together, as well as identical twins raised apart, exhibit a higher correlation between their IQ scores than siblings or nonidentical twins raised together. These findings suggest a genetic component to intelligence. At the same time, other psychologists believe that intelligence is shaped by a child’s developmental environment. According to this theory, if parents were to provide their children with intellectual stimuli from before they are born, it is likely that they would absorb the benefits of that stimulation, and it would be reflected in intelligence levels.

The reality is that aspects of each idea are probably correct. In fact, one study suggests that although genetics seem to be in control of the level of intelligence, environmental influences provide both stability and change, which trigger manifestation of cognitive abilities. Certainly, there are behaviors that support the development of intelligence, but the genetic component of high intelligence should not be ignored. As with all heritable traits, however, it is not always possible to isolate how and when high intelligence is passed on to the next generation. One theory that offers an explanation for the interaction between genetics and environmental factors is the Range of Reaction theory, which postulates that each person responds to the environment in a unique way based on his or her genetic makeup. According to this theory, your genetic potential is a fixed quantity, but whether you reach your full intellectual potential is dependent upon the environmental stimulation you experience, especially in childhood.

Another challenge to determining origins of high intelligence is the confounding nature of our human social structures. It is troubling to note that some ethnic groups perform better on IQ tests than others—and it is likely that the results do not have much to do with the quality of each ethnic group’s intellect. The same is true for socioeconomic status. Children who live in poverty experience more pervasive, daily stress than children who do not worry about the basic needs of safety, shelter, and food. These worries can negatively affect how the brain functions and develops, causing a dip in IQ scores. Mark Kishiyama and his colleagues determined that children living in poverty demonstrated reduced prefrontal brain functioning comparable to that of children with damage to the lateral prefrontal cortex.

The debate around the foundations and influences on intelligence exploded in 1969, when an educational psychologist named Arthur Jensen published the article How Much Can We Boost IQ and Achievement in the Harvard Educational Review. Jensen had administered IQ tests to diverse groups of students, and his results led him to the conclusion that IQ is determined by genetics. He also posited that intelligence was made up of two types of abilities: Level 1 and Level 2. In his theory, Level 1 is responsible for rote memorization, whereas Level 2 is responsible for conceptual and analytical abilities. According to his findings, Level 1 remained consistent across the human race. Level 2, however, exhibited differences among ethnic groups. Jensen’s most controversial conclusion was that Level 2 intelligence is most prevalent among Asians, then Caucasians, and then African Americans. Robert Williams was among those who called out racial bias in Jensen’s results.

Obviously, Jensen’s interpretation of his own data caused an intense response in a nation that continued to grapple with the effects of racism. However, Jensen’s ideas were not unique; rather, they represented one of many examples of psychologists asserting racial differences in IQ and intellectual ability. If, however, you believe that intelligence is more than Levels 1 and 2, or that IQ tests do not control for socioeconomic and cultural differences among people, then perhaps you can dismiss Jensen’s conclusions as a single window that looks out on the complicated and varied landscape of human intelligence.

“Psychology” by OpenStax is licensed under CC BY 4.0. A small excerpt was extracted from Chapter 7 and edited. This textbook can be downloaded free from https://openstax.org/details/books/psychology.

1.  The word cite in the passage is closest in meaning to

2.  The word postulates in the passage is closest in meaning to

3.  The word dismiss in the passage is closest in meaning to


Click below for the answers.

The correct answer is “mention”.
The correct answer is “suggests”.
The correct answer is “reject”.