Test your ability to work out the meanings of words from context

Now see if you can work out the meanings of new/unknown words in the following reading and remember to use the strategies below to help you guess what the words mean.

  1. Consider common knowledge and the title as a guide in narrowing down the guesses of unknown words.
  2. Look at the unknown word and identify its part of speech. Is it a noun, verb, adjective or adverb? Knowing this information will help you to establish what its role is in the sentence.
  3. Look at the sentence to locate any words that signal a relationship between parts of the sentence. Sometimes the relationship is signaled by a linking word such as ‘while, however, but’, which shows a contrast and can help you think logically about the meaning.
  4. Look at the previous sentences. The often give information which can be useful in working out the meaning of a word.
  5. Break down the word into parts if it is possible e.g. look at its prefix, root and suffix. This will help you to understand the part of speech and possibly its meaning.
  6. Look for a definition, explanation, synonym or restatement of the word nearby.
  7. Decide if the word is positive, negative or neither.
  8. Look at the previous sentences or the ones after. They often give useful information/clues to help you work out the meaning.

The reading is divided into five parts. Read each part and fill in the table with possible meanings before moving onto the next part. Click on Answers to check if your meanings are similar to the ones given in the Answer Table.




On October 1, 1982, the first commercial compact disc, Billy Joel's "52nd Street," was released in Japan. In the 30 years since, hundreds of billions of CDs have been sold, Joel has stopped recording pop music and the music industry has moved on to the next hot medium.  When the first CD player was released that same day, it was described as a "new digital record player, using laser beams" by United Press International. Spun out of the far less successful Philips' laser disc technology, the CD was a result of Philips and Sony combining forces.

The compact disc was actually invented several years earlier. The first test CD was Richard Strauss's "Eine Alpensinfonie," and the first CD actually pressed at a factory was ABBA's "The Visitors," but that disc wasn't released commercially until later. Mass adoption didn't happen immediately -- CDs wouldn't overtake cassette tapes until the late 1980s. The first album to sell 1 million copies in the CD format and outsell its vinyl* version was Dire Straits' "Brothers in Arms," released in 1985.

Vinyl =

As with most new technologies, one reason for the slow spread of CDs was their steep price tags. The Sony CDP-101 player sold for the equivalent of $730 when it first hit Japanese shelves in 1982. Accounting for inflation, that's about $1,750 today. The audio CDs themselves were $15, which is $35 in 2012 dollars.  Because getting a new player and replacing an entire music collection was costly, audio manufacturers were savvy enough to market the first CD players to classical music fans, who were more likely to care about sound quality and have extra disposable income.

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Spun out of

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Spun out of A verb. A comparison is used to describe how the first CD player used laser beams in place of the far less successful Philips’ laser disc technology. Out of also implies the CD ‘came from’ something else. Philips and Sony also combined forces, which suggests Philips’ technology may have been useful. Based on
Outsell The word can be divided into two parts out and sell. When ‘out’ forms the first part of a verb it can mean ‘to do better’ e.g. outdo, outperform, outsmart To sell in greater amounts
Steep An adjective to describe prices.
Result – the slow spread of CDs
Reason – steep price tags
Very high
Savvy An adjective. The word because signals a relationship between the high cost of getting a new player and the manufacturers catering to the needs of classical music fans. Clever/intelligent
Disposable It is an adjective describing income and the word extra tells us that the classical music fans had more than enough income to spend on expensive CD players. Disposable income means income available to spend on what you want.

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When they arrived, CDs were hailed for their pristine sound. But whether the audio quality of CDs is greater than vinyl remains a hotly debated topic among hi-fi enthusiasts. “For most people who weren't audiophiles, the switch to CDs was a revolution. It took away all the audio noise," said Mark Katz, a music professor at the University of North Carolina and author of "Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music."

Some will still argue that records sound better than CDs, but that is only plausible when people take meticulous care of their albums, listening to them in scratchless, snap-crackle-and-pop-free condition. Most people don't consume music in a vacuum. Even today, the average music fan will listen to tunes on cheap earbuds in an environment filled with background noise, and is likely unable to be able to tell the difference between a CD and an MP3, says Katz.

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Hailed A positive verb. Approved of enthusiastically
Pristine An adjective describing sound. The next sentence refers to the possible greater sound quality of CDs. High quality Sound in its ‘pure’ state
Audiophiles A noun. A synonym of hi-fi enthusiasts. ‘phile’ as a suffix (Greek) means who loves something e.g. Sinophile, Anglophile People interested in high-fidelity sound production
Plausible An adjective. The word but signals a relationship with the first half of the sentence … argue that records sound better than CDs, but that is … Possible or likely
Meticulous An adverb describing the kind of care taken by people in looking after their albums. The second half of the sentence also gives clues … scratchless, snap-crackle-and-pop-free condition Meticulous care means extreme care

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The compact disc changed technology, and went on to be used for data and video storage, evolving into re-writeable media and Blu-Ray DVDs. The shiny little platter also changed how people interacted with their music. "Changing formats usually has greater impact on the way people listen, consume and disseminate the music, but it also does have an impact on the creative side," said Katz.

The first compact discs could hold up to 74 minutes of music (the rumor was that the length of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony established that standard) or at least several songs more than a vinyl LP. This longer length allowed composers to write longer works without worrying about side breaks -- where listeners would have to flip over a record or cassette.

Convenience was another huge change. The discs were small, just 4.5 inches in diameter, and could be carted around far more easily than records. Listening to music on a CD was easier -- there was no standing up to flip over the record or tape, less time spent searching for the song you wanted to hear right then. Some CD players even allowed you to program what songs played or didn't, and in what order.

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The shiny little platter
Flip over
Carted around

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Evolving A verb. The previous part of the sentence provides information of a process of change happening. The Compact disc changed technology, and went on to be used for … Developing gradually from a simple to more complex form
The shiny little platter The words The shiny … and also both signal that it is referring to something that has already been mentioned, i.e. The compact disc The compact disc
Disseminate A verb that is describing what people do with music. Listen and consume have already been mentioned, so here is an example where common knowledge is a clue. What else do people do with music? Distribute/share
Flip over A verb. Common knowledge again is a clue here as it refers to what people need to do with cassettes and records to hear the other side. Turn over
Carted around A verb. The previous sentence gives the clue convenience and the preposition around indicates movement. Carried with them

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Three decades later, it may be surprising to some that CD sales, and Billy Joel's career, are still alive. Though their market share is plummeting, CDs still account for the majority of album sales in the U.S. In the first half of 2012, 61% of all albums sold were CDs, according to the Nielsen Company and Billboard. Even so, CDs are gradually being overtaken by digital files. At first, MP3s were burned from CDs onto computers, traded on peer-to-peer networks such as Napster and the Internet's back alleys. Then Apple released the iPod, and its iTunes store turned digital music files into a legitimate business. Now popular services like Spotify and Pandora let users stream music from anywhere, and Amazon and Apple are encouraging people to store their digital libraries in the cloud.

Like CDs before them, this new format is changing both the creation and consumption of music. Musicians no longer have to wait until an album is finished to release tracks -- they can sell them one at a time. Length of a song isn't an issue, just file size. Listeners have more flexibility than ever, with unlimited mix-and-match options. And increasingly, they're opting to download single songs over albums. And in an age when computer users can conjure almost any song they want with a few taps or mouse clicks, music stores themselves are disappearing.

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Plummeting A verb. The word though signals a contrast between the negative first half of the sentence their market share is plummeting and the second positive half of the sentence CDs still account for the majority of album sales in the US. Going down suddenly and steeply
Legitimate AN adjective. The previous sentence explains the reason why digital files overtook CDs and how music was downloaded illegally. The next sentence describes a contrast from the past illegal practices to the present legal ones introduced by Apple. Legal/lawful
Stream A verb. Common knowledge. To access a continuous flow of music without downloading it
Opting A verb. The previous sentence describes how listeners have more flexibility with unlimited options. The word over signals their preference for single songs over albums. Choosing
Conjure A verb. The second part of the sentence … conjure almost any song they want with a few taps or mouse clicks, … provides information that a song can be found extremely easily and effortlessly, just like a magician can make a rabbit suddenly appear out of a hat. Download/get access to Make something appear as if by magic

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Katz doesn't think CDs and physical music storage will ever vanish altogether. People like tangible things, and form meaningful relationships with objects they can hold and look at -- more so than strings of ones and zeros. That explains why vinyl sales are up, often among young hipster types who weren't even alive when vinyl was the dominant medium. "There is the basic human fact of connection with physical objects, that won't change," said Katz.

Compact discs are unlikely to evoke* the nostalgia many people feel for vinyl records, with their spiraling black groove. And to people born in this century, they're already becoming a retro curiosity*.

*Evoke = to produce a strong feeling or memory
*Curiosity = a desire to know about something


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Spiraling black groove

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Vanish A verb. The next sentence describes how people like tangible things, and form meaningful relationships with things they can hold. Disappear
Hipster A noun. The word can be divided into two parts hip and ster. ‘Hip’ means fashionable or trendy. ‘ster’ is a suffix that makes the word into a noun, usually a person, such as youngster, gangster, trickster. Young people who follow the latest trend/fashion
Nostalgia A noun. People ‘feel’ nostalgia. Vinyl records are a product of the past. A good feeling about the past
Spiraling black groove Common knowledge.
Retro An adjective. They're already becoming a retro curiosity. They refers to vinyl records. We know from the article (and common knowledge) that people listened to vinyl records in the past before CDs were invented. From the recent past The sentence means there is a new interest in the way people used to listen to music i.e. on vinyl

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Reprinted with permission from the CNN (cnn.com)
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