Reading Skills and Knowledge for Praxis II ParaPro Test Prep Study Guide (page 5)
Practice questions for this study guide can be found at:
ETS, the maker of the ParaPro Assessment, says there are seven key skills to know for the reading section of the test. The key skills are as follows:
- understand the main idea or primary purpose
- understand supporting ideas
- understand the organization of a passage
- understand vocabulary in context
- draw inferences or implications from directly stated content
- distinguish between fact and opinion
- interpret graphic text
The next seven sections explain each type of skill, with examples that shouw how you might see the concept tested on the ParaPro Assessment.
Main Idea or Primary Purpose
For this question type, you need to be able to identify the main idea or primary purpose of the passage or a specific paragraph in the passage.
When standardized reading tests ask you to find the main idea of a passage, they are asking you to determine an overall feeling or thought that a writer wants to convey about his or her subject. To find the main idea, think about a general statement that brings together all of the ideas in a paragraph or passage. Look out for statements that are too specific—a main idea must be broad enough to contain all of the concepts presented in a passage. Test takers often confuse the main idea of a passage with its main topic. The topic is the subject—what the passage is about. The main idea is what the author wants to express about the subject.
Textbook writing and the passages on the Para- Pro Assessment often follow a basic pattern of general idea → specific idea. In other words, a writer states his or her main idea (makes a general claim about the subject) and then provides evidence for it through specific details and facts. Do you always find main ideas in the first sentence of the passage? The answer is no; although a first sentence may contain the main idea, an author may decide to build up to the main point. In that case, you may find the main idea in the last sentence of an introductory paragraph, or even in the last paragraph of the passage.
Read the following paragraph and answer the practice question that follows.
Experts say that if you feel drowsy during the day, even during boring activities, you haven't had enough sleep. If you routinely fall asleep within five minutes of lying down, you may have severe sleep deprivation. Microsleep, or a very brief episode of sleep in an otherwise awake person, is another mark of sleep deprivation. In many cases, people are not aware that they are experiencing microsleeps. The widespread practice of "burning the candle at both ends" in many societies has created so much sleep deprivation that what is really abnormal sleepiness is now almost the norm.
- What is the main point of this passage?
- If you fall asleep within five minutes every time you lie down, you are sleep deprived.
- If you experience enough microsleeps, you can attain the sleep you need to function.
- Sleep deprivation is a pervasive problem in many cultures.
- If trends in sleep deprivation continue, our society will experience grave consequences.
Choice a is a true statement, but too specific to be a main idea. Choice b is a false statement. Choice d is a speculative statement that is not implied in the passage. Only choice c represents a general or umbrella statement that covers all of the information in the paragraph.
Notice that in the sample passage, the author does not present the main idea in the first sentence, but rather builds up to the main point, which is expressed in the last sentence of the paragraph.
Some of the questions on the reading section of the ParaPro Assessment will ask you identify a detail from a passage. You will need to be able to locate specific information in the passage, such as a fact, figure, or name. How can you distinguish a main idea from a supporting idea? Unlike main ideas, supporting ideas present facts or specific information. They often answer the questions what? when? why? or how?
How can you locate a supporting detail in a passage that is 200 words long? One thing you don't have to do is memorize the passage. This test does not require that you have perfect recall. Instead, it measures your ability to read carefully and know where to look for specific information. Here are some tips for finding supporting details.
- Look for language clues. Writers often use transitional words or phrases to signal that they are introducing a fact or supporting idea. As you read, keep your eye out for these common phrases:
- Focus on key words from the question. Questions often contain two or three important words that signal what information to look for in the passage. For example, a question following a passage about the American car industry reads, "The passage states that hybrid automobiles work best if…" The key words are hybrid automobiles and best. They tell you to look for a sentence that contains the phrase hybrid automobiles and describes an optimal situation. Instead of rereading the passage, skim through the paragraphs looking for the key words. Keep in mind that the passage may use a slightly different wording than the key words. As you scan, look for words that address the same idea.
- Pay attention to the structure of the passage. Take note of how the passage is organized as you read. Does the author begin with or build to the main point? Is information presented chronologically? Where does the author offer evidence to back up the main point? Understanding how a passage is structured can help you locate the information you need. Read on for more about common organizational models.
Read the following paragraph, focusing on its main idea and the details that support the main idea. Then, answer the practice questions that follow.
- What inspired Leeuwenhoek's invention of the microscope?
- his training in science
- the great microbiologists of his era
- the lenses used by the practitioners of his profession
- the desire to observe bacteria
- In which sentence does the author give Leeuwenhoek's description of living bacteria?
- sentence 1
- sentence 2
- sentence 4
- sentence 5
(1) The history of microbiology begins with a Dutch haberdasher named Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, a man with no formal scientific education. (2) In the late 1600s, Leeuwenhoek, inspired by the magnifying lenses used to examine cloth, assembled some of the first microscopes. (3) He developed a technique for grinding and polishing tiny lenses, some of which could magnify an object up to 270 times. (4) After scraping some plaque from between his teeth and examining it under a lens, Leeuwenhoek found tiny squirming creatures, which he called "animalcules." (5) His observations, which he reported to the Royal Society of London, are among the first descriptions of living bacteria.
- c. The first paragraph provides the supporting detail to answer this question. Leeuwenhoek, a haberdasher, was inspired by the magnifying lenses used to examine cloth. One of the key words from the question—inspired—leads you to the location of the detail in the passage. Choice a is refuted by a detail presented in the line: a man of no formal scientific education. Choice b is untrue, because the first sentence of the passage states that the history of microbiology begins with Leeuwenhoek. Choice d is also incorrect, because Leeuwenhoek did not know what he would discover under his microscope.
- c. You can find Leeuwenhoek's description of bacteria in sentence 4: tiny squirming creatures, which he called "animalcules." You may have been tricked into selecting choice d because of its repetition of the phrase descriptions of living bacteria, from sentence 5. Be sure to always refer back to the passage when answering a question—do not rely on your memory. Choice d is incorrect because it does not refer to Leeuwenhoek's own description, but rather the significance of his observation. This question highlights the importance of taking note of where crucial details are located in a passage. Again, do not try to memorize or learn facts or details, but have an idea about where to find them.
Organization questions in the reading section of the ParaPro Assessment ask you to identify how a passage is structured. You need to be able to recognize organizational patterns, common transitional phrases, and how ideas relate within a passage. Understanding the structure of a passage can also help you locate concepts and information, such as the main idea or supporting details.
To organize their ideas effectively, writers rely on one of several basic organizational patterns. The four most common strategies are:
- chronological order
- order of importance
- comparison and contrast
- cause and effect
Chronological order arranges events by the order in which they happened, from beginning to end. Textbooks, instructions and procedures, essays about personal experiences, and magazine feature articles may use this organizing principle. Passages organized by chronology offer language cues—in the form of transitional words or phrases—to signal the passage of time and link one idea or event to the next. Here are some of the most common chronological transitions:
Order of importance organizes ideas by thematic significance instead of by time. Instead of describing what happened next, this pattern presents what is most, or least, important. The structure can work two ways: Writers can organize their ideas either by increasing importance (least important idea to most important idea) or by decreasing importance (most important idea to least important idea).
Newspaper articles follow the principle of decreasing importance; they cover the most important information in the first sentence or paragraph (the who, what, when, where, and why about an event).As a result, readers can get the most important facts of an event without reading the entire article. Writing that is trying to persuade its readers or make an argument often uses the opposite pattern of increasing importance, saving the most important details for the end of the piece. By using this structure, a writer creates a snowball effect, building and building upon the original idea. "Saving the best for last" can create suspense for the reader and leave a lasting impression of the writer's main point. Just as a chronological arrangement uses transitions, so does the order of importance principle. Keep your eye out for the following common transitional words and phrases:
Comparison and contrast arranges two things or ideas side by side to show the ways in which they are similar or different. This organizational model allows a writer to analyze two things and ideas and determine how they measure up to one another. For example, this description of the artists Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse uses comparison and contrast:
The grand old lions of modernist innovation, Picasso and Matisse, originated many of the most significant developments of twentieth-century art [comparison]. However, although they worked in the same tradition, they each had a different relationship to painting [contrast]. For example, Picasso explored signs and symbols in his paintings, whereas Matisse insisted that the things represented in his paintings were merely things: The oranges on the table of a still life were simply oranges on the table [contrast].
Writers use two basic methods to compare and contrast ideas. In the point-by-point method, each aspect of idea A is followed by a comparable aspect of idea B, so that a paragraph resembles this pattern: ABABABAB. In the block method, a writer presents several aspects of idea A, followed by several aspects of idea B. The pattern of the block method looks like this: AAAABBBB. Again, transitions can signal whether a writer is using the organizing principle of comparison and contrast. Watch for these common transitions:
Cause and effect arranges ideas to explain why an event took place (cause) and what happened as a result (effect). Sometimes one cause has several effects, or an effect may have several causes. For example, a historian writing about World War I might investigate several causes of the war (assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, European conflicts over territory, and economic power), and describe the various effects of the war (ten million soldiers killed, weakened European powers, and enormous financial debt).
Key words offer clues that a writer is describing cause and effect. Pay attention to these words as you read:
A writer might also describe a contributing cause, which is a factor that helps to make something happen but can't make that thing happen by itself. On the opposite end of the spectrum is a sufficient cause, which is an event that, by itself, is strong enough to make the event happen. Often, an author will offer an opinion about the cause or effect of an event. In that case, readers must judge the validity of the author's analysis. Are the author's ideas logical? Does the author properly support the conclusions?
Read the following excerpt and answer the practice question.
When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white person in Montgomery, Alabama, in December 1955, she set off a train of events that generated a momentum the Civil Rights movement had never before experienced. Local Civil Rights leaders were hoping for such an opportunity to test the city's segregation laws. Deciding to boycott the buses, the African-American community soon formed a new organization to supervise the boycott, the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). The young pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., was chosen as the first MIA leader. The boycott, more successful than anyone hoped, led to a 1956 Supreme Court decision banning segregated buses.
Source: Excerpt from the Library of Congress exhibition The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship.
- The author implies that the action of Rosa Parks directly resulted in
- the 1956 Supreme Court decision banning segregated buses.
- Martin Luther King, Jr.'s ascendancy as a Civil Rights leader.
- the formation of the Civil Rights movement in Montgomery, Alabama.
- the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama.
The correct answer is choice d. According to the passage, Rosa Parks's action directly inspired local Civil Rights leaders to institute the Montgomery bus boycott. Although Rosa Parks's action may have been a contributing factor to King's emergence as a Civil Rights leader (choice b) and the Supreme Court's later decision to ban segregated buses (choice a), it was not the direct cause of these events, according to the passage. Choice c is incorrect because the passage makes clear that a local Civil Rights movement already existed and was not the result of Rosa Parks's refusal to give up her bus seat. Rosa Parks may have furthered the national Civil Rights movement, but she was not its direct cause.
This question type asks you to determine the meaning of a word as it is used in the passage. If you encounter an unfamiliar word when you are reading, you may likely grab a dictionary or go online and look it up. During the ParaPro Assessment, however, you can't use a dictionary to check the meaning of new words—and you can't use a computer. Fortunately, you can use a number of strategies to figure out what a word means.
Vocabulary questions measure your word power, but they also evaluate an essential reading comprehension skill, which is your ability to determine the meaning of a word from its context. The sentences that surround the word offer important clues about its meaning. For example, see if you can figure out the meaning of the word incessant from this context: The incessant demands of the job are too much for me. The responsibilities are endless!
- The word incessant most likely means
The best answer is choice c. The second sentence, The responsibilities are endless, restates the phrase in the first sentence, incessant demands. This restatement, or elaboration, suggests the meaning of incessant: continuing or following without interruption.
If the context of an unfamiliar word does not restate its meaning, try these two steps to figure out what the word means:
- Is the word positive or negative? Using the context of the passage, determine whether the unfamiliar word is a positive or negative term. If a word is used in a positive context, you can eliminate the answer choices that are negative. In the preceding example, you can guess that the word incessant is used negatively. The phrase too much for me, suggests that the demands of the job are overwhelming and negative. Thus, you can eliminate the answer choice d because it represents positive terms.
- Replace the vocabulary word with the remaining answer choices, one at a time. Does the answer choice make sense when you read the sentence? If not, eliminate the answer choice. In the previous example, choice a, inaccessible, simply does not make sense in the sentence. Choice b, difficult, is too general to be a likely synonym. Only choice c, unceasing, makes sense in the context.
Inference questions on the ParaPro Assessment test will ask you to make an inference, or draw a logical conclusion, about what you read. Sometimes a writer does not explicitly state the main idea or offer a conclusion. The reader must infer the writer's meaning. To make an inference, you need to look for clues in the context of the passage.
The trick to making inferences on passages on the ParaPro Assessment is finding the answer choice that is supported. The exact answer will not be spelled out exactly, but the author's position should be clear.
Inference questions may ask you to identify the author's assumptions and attitudes and evaluate the weaknesses and strengths of the author's argument or logic. To determine a writer's underlying assumptions or attitude, you need to look for clues in the context of the passage. One revealing clue to the writer's meaning is word choice.
Word choice, also called diction, is the specific language the writer uses to describe people, places, and things. Word choice includes these elements:
- particular words or phrases a writer uses
- the way words are arranged in a sentence
- repetition of words or phrases
- inclusion of particular details
Writers can reveal their attitude toward a subject through the use of positive or negative expressions. Additionally, an author's style can alert you to his or her underlying message. Style is the distinctive way in which a writer uses language to inform or promote an idea. Lastly, writers who want to persuade a reader of something may rely on emotional language. Emotional language targets a reader's emotions—fears, beliefs, values, prejudices—instead of appealing to a reader's reason or critical thinking. Just as advertising often uses emotional language to sell a product, writers use emotional appeals to sell an idea.
Try the following inference question, based on a passage about Jane Austen.
- The passage suggests that Jane Austen
- never left the comfort of her Hampshire village.
- may have enjoyed being unmarried.
- did not get along with her brothers.
- wished that she married the Irishman.
Jane Austen died in 1817, leaving behind six novels that have since become English classics. Most Austen biographers accept the image of Jane Austen as a sheltered spinster who knew little of life beyond the drawing rooms of her Hampshire village. They accept the claim of Austen's brother, Henry: "My dear sister's life was not a life of events."
Biographer Claire Tomalin takes this view to task. She shows that Jane's short life was indeed tumultuous. Not only did Austen experience romantic love (briefly, with an Irishman), but her many visits to London and her relationships with her brothers (who served in the Napoleonic wars) widened her knowledge beyond her rural county, and even beyond England. Tomalin also argues that Austen's unmarried status benefited her ability to focus on her writing. I believe that Jane herself may have viewed it that way. Although her family destroyed most of her letters, one relative recalled that "some of her [Jane's] letters, triumphing over married women of her acquaintance, and rejoicing in her freedom, were most amusing."
To solve this inference problem, you need to choose the answer choice that is most supported by the passage itself. Because the passage mentions that Jane Austen had "many visits to London," it is not true that she never left her village, eliminating choice a. There is nothing in the passage to support the idea that she did not get along with her brothers, choice b. The relative mentions at the end of the passage that Austen wrote letters "triumphing over married women" and "rejoicing in her freedom." You can infer from those statements that she may have enjoyed being unmarried, choice b—and that she did not wish to marry the Irishman, eliminating choice d.
Fact and Opinion
Just because something is in print does not mean that it is fact. Most writing contains some form of bias—the personal judgment of a writer. Sometimes a writer's beliefs unknowingly affect how he or she writes about a topic. In other cases, a writer deliberately attempts to shape the reader's reaction and position. For example, a writer may present only one perspective about a subject or include only facts that support his or her point of view.
Questions on the ParaPro Assessment will ask you to distinguish between fact and opinion. To separate fact from opinion, consider these differences:
- A fact is a statement that can be verified by a reliable source.
- An opinion is a statement about the beliefs or feelings of a person or group.
When determining whether a statement is factual, consider whether a source gives researched, accurate information. The following is an example of a factual statement—it can be supported by the recent national census:
The U.S. population is growing older—in fact, adults over age 85 are the fastest-growing segment of today's population.
Opinions, on the other hand, reflect judgments that may or may not be true. Opinions include speculation or predictions of the future that cannot be proven at the present time. The following statement represents an opinion—it offers a belief about the future. Others may disagree with the prediction:
Many believe that the population boom among elderly Americans will create a future healthcare crisis.
Language clues can alert you to a statement that reflects an opinion. Look for these common words that introduce opinions:
Exhibit A: Evidence
Most writing presents reasonable opinions, based on fact: A writer asserts an opinion and supports it with facts or other evidence. A writer can use different types of evidence to build an argument—some forms of proof are more reliable than other types. When you read, look for the forms of evidence listed here and consider how accurate each might be:
Read the following excerpt and answer the practice question.
- Which sentence from the passage presents an example of an opinion rather than a fact?
- "In the long… as Pelé."
- "Born in Brazil… of his career."
- "Pelé's 1,281 goals… soccer player."
- "In fact, Pelé's… Olympic Committee."
In the long history of soccer, no single player has changed the game as much as Pelé. Born in Brazil in 1940, Pelé's played professional soccer for 20 years—including a season in an America soccer league at the end of his career. Pelé's 1,281 goals are recognized as the most goals by any professional soccer player. In fact, Pelé's athletic skills were so impressive that he earned the title "Athlete of the Century" by the International Olympic Committee.
The correct answer is choice a. It cannot be proven that one player changed the game of soccer more than any other player. The other three choices provide statements that can be verified, such as the year and place of his birth (choice b), the number of goals he scored (choice c), or that he was given a title from a large institution (choice d).
The reading section of the ParaPro Assessment will include several questions about a graphic text, such as a table of contents, chart, table, or index. These questions will make sure that you know how to interpret the information from these graphics. The graphic texts that are part of a book, such as a table of contents or an index, will likely have at least two questions associated with them.
It may help to review how a table of contents and an index are organized. Most textbooks will have these graphics; the table of contents will be at the beginning of the book, and the index should be at the end. Whereas the table of contents will be organized in the order of the book, the index will be arranged alphabetically. Both graphic texts serve to help readers find information quickly and effectively. They also show how the information is organized throughout the resource.
The graphs that appear on the ParaPro Assessment include line graphs, bar graphs, circle graphs, and tables. Each type of graph serves a different purpose. A line graph is generally used to show how data changes over time. A bar graph shows how different amounts are related. A circle graph compares parts to a whole.
Be sure to use the title and the labels for the axes when interpreting the data in one of these types of graphs. These parts of the graph provide critical information to understanding what the graphic is showing. The graph may also include a legend, which is a key that shows what different aspects of the graph means. (For example, a double-bar graph may show the population for two different cities; the legend will explain what each bar stands for.)
A question on the ParaPro Assessment may ask you to find a particular piece of information in the graphic text. It may also ask you to identify the organizational structure of the graphic. Try your hand at the following problem:
- On which page would you most likely find information about Woodrow Wilson's decision to enter World War I?
This question is asking you where you would find not just information about Woodrow Wilson, but specific information about World War I. You can look through the list of subheadings under the main topic, Woodrow Wilson. The subheading that corresponds to WWI is "military involvement." Because the index says that information is on page 47, choice c is the correct answer.
Practice questions for this study guide can be found at:
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