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General Advice for Answering Reading Comprehension Questions

  • Reading passages are drawn from many different disciplines and sources, so you may encounter material with which you are not familiar. Do not be discouraged if you encounter unfamiliar material; all the questions can be answered on the basis of the information provided in the passage. However, if you encounter a passage that seems particularly hard or unfamiliar, you may want to save it for last.
  • Read and analyze the passage carefully before trying to answer any of the questions, and pay attention to clues that help you understand less explicit aspects of the passage.
    • Try to distinguish main ideas from supporting ideas or evidence.
    • Try to distinguish ideas that the author is advancing from those he or she is merely reporting.
    • Try to distinguish ideas that the author is strongly committed to from those he or she advances as hypothetical or speculative.
    • Try to identify the main transitions from one idea to the next.
    • Try to identify the relationship between different ideas. For example:
      • Are they contrasting? Are they consistent?
      • Does one support the other?
      • Does one spell the other out in greater detail?
      • Does one apply the other to a particular circumstance?
  • Read each question carefully and be certain that you understand exactly what is being asked.
  • Answer each question on the basis of the information provided in the passage and do not rely on outside knowledge. Sometimes your own views or opinions may conflict with those presented in a passage; if this happens, take special care to work within the context provided by the passage. You should not expect to agree with everything you encounter in the reading passages.

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