Imperiled by excessive logging activity, the Canadian snow goose is unusually sensitive to any encroachments into its territory, displaying a(n) ______________ rare amongst waterfowl.
Imperiled by excessive logging
After reading the sentence, we should consider what, specifically, the blank is looking for. In this case, it’s looking for an emotional reaction to a situation. So we want to do a couple things here: we want to determine the situation, and then we want to think about logical reactions to that situation, which we can then match to the answer choices to decide what goes in the blank.
Start by posing, and answering, questions
Let’s start by asking a general question about the situation: What’s happening here?
As we answer this question, let’s focus on key nouns, adjectives, and verbs.
We are told that the snow goose is “imperiled,” which means it is in danger of being killed, by “excessive logging activity.” So from these words, we can see that loggers are destroying the snow goose's habitat and putting it in danger.
Now, a second question: What is its reaction to this situation?
We should look for description to answer this question. How is the snow goose described?
We are told that because of the logging activity, the snow goose is “unusually sensitive” to anything that comes near its territory. This sensitivity is shown when it “display[s]” a certain behavior or attitude. This behavior or attitude is our blank.
Think logically based on the information you have
“Unusually sensitive” could mean many things, so from here, we should start to think about logical reactions to this situation. I found it helpful to ask myself how I would react to the situation being described. For example:
How would I feel if a bunch of people started destroying my house around me?
This is the same situation the snow goose is in. Its territory is being destroyed by loggers, which means its life is in danger. So I might feel scared, or I might feel angry — both of those responses make sense.
Turn to the answer choices
We know that the blank needs to be a word that describes how the snow goose is reacting when someone “encroach[es] into its territory” after its territory has been destroyed by loggers. I thought of fear and anger as logical reactions to this. So with that in mind, now we should turn to the answer choices to see if a set of two words fit either of these reactions. We want to match the answer choices to the word we came up with.
Briefly, here are the words and their definitions for reference:
- valor — bravery and courage
- pugnacity — the act of being hostile or aggressive
- arrogance — the feeling of superiority to others
- haughtiness — arrogance
- truculence — ferociousness or aggressiveness
- benignity — mildness or gentleness
Well, off the bat, we can see that these are a difficult set of words! Some of them are easier than others: “valor,” for example, or “arrogance” are fairly common words. But words like “benignity” or “pugnacity” aren’t common at all! Fortunately, there are a couple tricks for dealing with uncommon words like these.
It’s helpful to look at the root words. For example, “benignity” comes from the word “benign.” We see this in medical terminology, such as a “benign tumor.” A benign tumor is not dangerous (whereas a cancerous tumor is!). So “benignity” is related to something being not dangerous. And as you see above, the technical definition is “mildness.” So looking at the root word can help you navigate some of these difficult terms.
Connotation is important, too. Look at “pugnacity,” which comes from “pugnacious.” This is a rude-sounding word! It makes me think of an animal with its teeth bared. Turns out, that’s close to the meaning: aggressive. The word’s connotation — the feeling it gives us — can help to reveal its meaning. This isn’t a guaranteed trick for figuring out a word, but noting connotation as you study vocabulary is very important! As you become more familiar with words over time, you are able to more easily draw conclusions from connotation.
Match the answer choices to the words you came up with
I suggested fear and anger originally. Let’s start with fear. Do any of these answer choices reflect that? No — so we can say, “OK, the snow goose is not reacting in a fearful way.”
*** Side note! *** It still makes logical sense for the snow goose to react with fear. But remember that we have to work with the answer choices we are given! If fear was your first thought, you should immediately notice that none of these words mean, or even suggest, that. Don’t waste time trying to make a word fit the first idea you had. You need to have a second logical reaction in mind in case your first was wrong.
So, that’s why we have anger. Let’s look through the choices individually to see if words match that feeling.
Valor, we know, means bravery. Anger can be connected to bravery, but it’s not the first thing you think of. In fact, valor’s connotation is that of a noble knight, so this doesn’t quite work.
Pugnacity, as we mentioned above, represents hostility or aggression. That sounds angry!
Arrogance is thinking you’re better than other people. Usually we don’t associate this with anger. And besides, does it make logical sense for the snow goose to display “arrogance” toward people encroaching on its territory? No, it doesn’t.
Haughtiness is like arrogance. The root word is “haughty,” which is uncommon, but used to describe someone who thinks they’re better than others. (I always think of a rich baron.)
Truculence … this is a strange word! Let’s come back to it.
Benignity, as we said above, is related to mildness. If something is benign, it’s not dangerous. That wouldn’t make sense in the context of our sentence.
So “pugnacity” makes sense, and then we were able to eliminate all of the others. But what about “truculence”? Well, we should go with it, since we eliminated the other choices. And as it turns out, “truculence” does indicate anger!
(B) pugnacity means hostility or aggression.
(E) truculence also means aggression.
If someone is angry, they very likely could display hostility or aggression. Does it make sense for the snow goose to respond by displaying aggression to anyone who comes near its territory, given that people are trying to destroy it? Absolutely! It makes a lot of logical sense for the snow goose to display aggression or anger, given the situation described.
Obviously, knowing the definition for “truculence” would be a huge help in knowing to pick it — but if you don’t know the definition, then you want to work through the other answer choices first to see if you can eliminate them. And we can, so I would feel comfortable picking “pugnacity” and “truculence.” So (B) and (E) fit very well here — they are our answers.
*** Most Commonly Missed Answer Alert! ***
Let’s highlight “haughtiness”. If someone is haughty, they are acting arrogantly. Sometimes we use this word to indicate that someone or something is rude or unkind — but this does not have the same aggressive or angry meaning as (B) and (E), so it doesn’t fit as well.
*** But Doesn’t This Other Word Fit? ***
Why can’t we say the snow goose is being brave — why not “valor”? We can imagine a situation where someone responds bravely to an attack — this often happens in movies, after all! But valor doesn’t work here for two reasons.
- This is the most obvious reason: We don’t have another word that means the same thing. We can’t choose valor because there isn’t another word whose key meaning is bravery among the answer choices!
- While movie characters or knights in shining armor might respond to imminent danger with courage and bravery, it’s much more of a leap for us to say that a bird in danger of being killed would show bravery. Animals might show aggression, but this is not the same thing as bravery, which implies a much more human element of honor.
1. Break the sentence down by asking yourself questions. For example: What is the situation that is being described? What kind of word am I being asked to fill in the blank with?
2. Connotation and context are your friends! Pay attention to what the words imply, especially the key nouns and verbs. Focus on them to see what kind of situation is being described. Connotation can be applied to the answer choices, too, as a way to work through some of the uncommon words.
3. Sometimes SE questions are open to possible interpretations. In these cases, you should come up with two words that you think fit the sentence. If a sentence seems open to interpretation, then it’s very helpful to have a backup in case your first word isn’t represented with two options in the answer choices.
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