In the context in which it appears, “exceed” most nearly means

The most plausible justification for higher taxes on automobile fuel is that fuel consumption harms the environment and thus adds to the costs of traffic congestion. But the fact that burning fuel creates these “negative externalities” does not imply that no tax on fuel could ever be too high. Economics is precise about the tax that should, in principle, be levied to deal with negative externalities: the tax on a liter of fuel should be equal to the harm caused by using a liter of fuel. If the tax is more than that, its costs (including the inconvenience to those who would rather have used their cars) will exceed its benefits (including any reduction in congestion and pollution).

In the context in which it appears, “exceed” most nearly means

  1. outstrip
  2. magnify
  3. delimit
  4. offset
  5. supplant

An important thing to keep in mind about the Reading Comprehension section of the GRE as we use PowerPrep online to study is that it is just that—reading comprehension. In other words, as difficult as it may seem, and it can be pretty tricky, the test makers will always give us all the information we need in the passage to answer the question. Word in context questions, like question 19 of the second Verbal section on practice test 1, are a key example of why the answer MUST come from the context.

Alright, our approach to this should actually be fairly similar to our approach to a text completion question. Before we look at the answers, we should examine the context and predict what might be a good answer.

“Economics is precise about the tax that should, in principle, be levied to deal with negative externalities: the tax on a liter of fuel should be equal to the harm caused by using a liter of fuel. If the tax is more than that, its costs (including the inconvenience to those who would rather have used their cars) will exceed its benefits (including any reduction in congestion and pollution).”

The passage explains how, although there are reasons to tax the use of fuel, taxes can be too high. These last two sentences elaborate on this idea and tell us that the tax on a particular amount should be equal to the harm. The final sentence, where our word appears, suggests that if taxes are too high, they can do something to (“exceed”) the benefits. Well, we know from earlier in the passage that the author is arguing against making taxes too high, so we can perhaps predict that if they are too high they will “outweigh” the benefits. Let’s see if there’s an answer that matches this interpretation.

  • outstrip

“Outstrip” certainly sounds like it could mean “outweigh,” but if we aren’t sure we should continue to check out our other answers before making a decision about A.

  • magnify

To “magnify” something is to make it bigger, so to “magnify” the benefits would, it seems, be a good thing. We know, however, that the author’s point is that taxes shouldn’t be too high, so B would not make sense here.

  • delimit

To “delimit” something is to “mark its limits,” but having taxes that are too high will not merely mark the limits of the benefits. Also, while we don’t want to base our answer solely off the meaning of the word, there aren’t any contexts in which “delimit” and “exceed” would be interchangeable, making C an incorrect answer.

  • offset

Hmm. This answer may seem like it works, but “offset” really means “compensate for,” and we couldn’t say that taxes that are too high “compensate for” the benefits. In fact, it should be the other way around: benefits should “offset” the taxes, and here, they don’t! We can eliminate D.

  • supplant

“Supplant” describes something taking the place of something else, but taxes being too high couldn’t “take the place of” benefits, so we can eliminate E.

So, yes, it seems we were right about “outstrip” being a synonym of “outweigh.” Let’s plug this back into the sentence to make sure that it works in place of “exceed” in order to double-check.

“If the tax is more than that, its costs (including the inconvenience to those who would rather have used their cars) will outstrip its benefits (including any reduction in congestion and pollution).”

Yes, this sentence retains the same meaning, so A is the correct answer.

 

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