Reading Passage Organization for Praxis I: Pre-Professional Skills Test Study Guide
Organization questions on the PPST Reading test 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 rank 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 → most important idea) or by decreasing importance (most important idea → 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 facts of an event without reading the entire article. Writing that is trying to persuade its readers or make an argument often uses the pattern of increasing importance. By using this structure, a writer creates a snowball effect, building and building upon her 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).
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