Paragraph Comprehension for Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) Study Guide (page 3)
Because reading is such a vital skill, the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery includes a reading comprehension section that tests your ability to understand what you read. The tips and exercises in this article will help you improve your comprehension of written passages so that you can increase your score in this area.
Memos, policies, procedures, reports—these are all things you will be expected to understand if you enlist in the armed services. Understanding written materials is part of almost any job. That's why the ASVAB attempts to measure how well applicants understand what they read.
The Paragraph Comprehension subtest of the ASVAB is in multiple-choice format and asks questions based on brief passages, much like the standardized tests that are offered in schools. For that matter, almost all standardized test questions test your reading skills. After all, you can't answer the question if you can't read it. Similarly, you can't study your training materials or learn new procedures once you are on the job if you can't read well. So, reading comprehension is vital not only on the test but also for the rest of your career.
Types of Reading Comprehension Questions
You have probably encountered reading comprehension questions before, where you are given a passage to read and then have to answer multiple-choice questions about it. This kind of question has advantages for you as a test taker: You don't have to know anything about the topic of the passage because you are being tested only on the information the passage provides.
But the disadvantage is that you have to know where and how to find that information quickly in an unfamiliar text. This makes it easy to fall for one of the wrong answer choices, especially since they are designed to mislead you.
The best way to do your best on this passage/question format is to be very familiar with the kinds of questions that are typically asked on the test. Questions most frequently ask you to:
- identify a specific fact or detail in the passage
- note the main idea of the passage
- make an inference based on the passage
- define a vocabulary word from the passage
In order for you to do well on a reading comprehension test, you need to know exactly what each of these questions is asking. Facts and details are the specific pieces of information that support the passage's main idea. The main idea is the thought, opinion, or attitude that governs the whole passage. Generally speaking, facts and details are indisputable—things that don't need to be proven, like statistics (18 million people) or descriptions (a green overcoat). Let's say, for example, you read a sentence that says "After the department's reorganization, workers were 50% more productive." A sentence like this, which gives you the fact that workers were 50% more productive, might support a main idea that says, "Every department should be reorganized." Notice that this main idea is not something indisputable; it is an opinion. The writer thinks all departments should be reorganized, and because this is his opinion (and not everyone shares it), he needs to support his opinion with facts and details.
An inference, on the other hand, is a conclusion that can be drawn based on fact or evidence. For example, you can infer—based on the fact that workers became 50% more productive after the reorganization, which is a dramatic change—that the department had not been efficiently organized. The fact sentence, "After the department's reorganization, workers were 50% more productive," also implies that the reorganization of the department was the reason workers became more productive. There may, of course, have been other reasons, but we can infer only one from this sentence.
As you might expect, vocabulary questions ask you to determine the meaning of particular words. Often, if you've read carefully, you can determine the meaning of such words from their context, that is, how the word is used in the sentence or paragraph.
Practice Passage 1: Using the Four Question Types
The following is a sample test passage, followed by four questions. Read the passage carefully, and then answer the questions, based on your reading of the text, by selecting your choice. Then refer to the previous list and note under your answer which type of question has been asked. Correct answers appear immediately after the questions.
In the last decade, community policing has been frequently touted as the best way to reform urban law enforcement. The idea of putting more officers on foot patrol in high crime areas, where relations with police have frequently been strained, was initiated in Houston in 1983 under the leadership of then-Commissioner Lee Brown. He believed that officers should be accessible to the community at the street level. If officers were assigned to the same area over a period of time, those officers would eventually build a network of trust with neighborhood residents. That trust would mean that merchants and residents in the community would let officers know about criminal activities in the area and would support police intervention. Since then, many large cities have experimented with Community-Oriented Policing (COP) with mixed results. Some have found that police and citizens are grateful for the opportunity to work together. Others have found that unrealistic expectations by citizens and resistance from officers have combined to hinder the effectiveness of COP. It seems possible, therefore, that a good idea may need improvement before it can truly be considered a reform.
- Community policing has been used in law enforcement since
- the late 1970s.
- the early 1980s.
- the Carter administration.
- Lee Brown was New York City Police Commissioner.
Question type _____
- The phrase "a network of trust" in this passage suggests that
- police officers can rely only on each other for support.
- community members rely on the police to protect them.
- police and community members rely on each other.
- community members trust only each other.
Question type _____
- The best title for this passage would be:
- "Community Policing: The Solution to the Drug Problem"
- "Houston Sets the Pace in Community Policing"
- "Communities and Cops: Partners for Peace"
- "Community Policing: An Uncertain Future?"
Question type _____
- The word "touted" in the first sentence of the passage most nearly means
- a. praised.
Question type _____
Answers and Explanations
Don't just look at the right answers and move on. The explanations are the most important part, so read them carefully. Use these explanations to help you understand how to tackle each kind of question the next time you come across it.
- b. Question type: 1, fact or detail. The passage identifies 1983 as the first large-scale use of community policing in Houston. Don't be misled by trying to figure out when Carter was president. Also, if you happen to know that Lee Brown was New York City's police commissioner, don't let that information lead you away from the information contained in the passage alone. Brown was commissioner in Houston when he initiated community policing.
- c. Question type: 3, inference. The "network of trust" referred to in this passage is between the community and the police, as you can see from the sentence where the phrase appears. The key phrase in the question is in this passage. You may think that police can rely only on each other, or one of the other answer choices may appear equally plausible to you. But, your choice of answers must be limited to the one suggested in this passage. Another tip for questions like this: Beware of absolutes! Be suspicious of any answer containing words like only, always, or never.
- d. Question type: 2, main idea. The title always expresses the main idea. In this passage, the main idea comes at the end. The sum of all the details in the passage suggests that community policing is not without its critics and that therefore its future is uncertain. Another key phrase is mixed results, which means that some communities haven't had full success with community policing.
- a. Question type: 4, vocabulary. The word touted is linked in this passage with the phrase the best way to reform. Most people would think that a good way to reform something is praiseworthy. In addition, the next few sentences in the passage describe the benefits of community policing. Criticism or a negative response to the subject doesn't come until later in the passage.
Detail and Main Idea Questions
Main idea questions and fact or detail questions are both asking you for information that's right there in the passage. All you have to do is find it.
Detail or Fact Questions
In detail or fact questions, you have to identify a specific item of information from the text. This is usually the simplest kind of question. You just have to be able to separate important information from less important information. However, the choices may often be very similar, so you must be careful not to get confused.
Be sure you read the passage and questions carefully. In fact, it is usually a good idea to read the questions first, before you even read the passage, so you will know what details to look out for.
Main Idea Questions
The main idea of a passage, like that of a paragraph or a book, is what it is mostly about. The main idea is like an umbrella that covers all of the ideas and details in the passage, so it is usually something general, not specific. For example, in Practice Passage 1, question 3 asked you what title would be best for the passage, and the correct answer was "Community Policing: An Uncertain Future?" This is the best answer because it's the only one that includes both the positive and negative sides of community policing, both of which are discussed in the passage.
Sometimes the main idea is stated clearly, often in the first or last sentence of the passage. The main idea is expressed in the last sentence of Practice Passage 1, for example. The sentence that expresses the main idea is often referred to as the topic sentence.
At other times, the main idea is not stated in a topic sentence but is implied in the overall passage, and you will need to determine the main idea by inference. Because there may be much information in the passage, the trick is to understand what all that information adds up to—the gist of what the author wants you to know. Often some of the wrong answers on main idea questions are specific facts or details from the passage. A good way to test yourself is to ask, "Can this answer serve as a net to hold the whole passage together?" If not, chances are you have chosen a fact or detail, not a main idea.
Practice Passage 2: Detail and Main Idea Questions
Practice answering main idea and detail questions by working on the questions that follow this passage. Circle the answers to the questions, and then check your answers against the key that appears immediately after the questions.
There are three different kinds of burns: first degree, second degree, and third degree. It is important for firefighters to be able to recognize each of these types of burns so that they can be sure burn victims are given proper medical treatment. The least serious burn is the first-degree burn, which causes the skin to turn red but does not cause blistering. A mild sunburn is a good example of a first-degree burn, and, like a mild sunburn, first-degree burns generally do not require medical treatment other than a gentle cooling of the burned skin with ice or cold tap water. Second-degree burns, on the other hand, do cause blistering of the skin and should be treated immediately. These burns should be immersed in warm water and then wrapped in a sterile dressing or bandage. (Do not apply butter or grease to these burns; despite the old wives' tale, butter does not help burns heal and actually increases chances of infection.) If second-degree burns cover a large part of the body, then the victim should be taken to the hospital immediately for medical care. Third-degree burns are those that char the skin and turn it black, or burn so deeply that the skin shows white. These burns usually result from direct contact with flames and have a great chance of becoming infected. All third-degree burns should receive immediate hospital care. They should not be immersed in water, and charred clothing should not be removed from the victim. If possible, a sterile dressing or bandage should be applied to burns before the victim is transported to the hospital.
- Which of the following would be the best title for this passage?
- Dealing with Third-Degree Burns
- How to Recognize and Treat Different Burns
- Burn Categories
- Preventing Infection in Burns
- Second-degree burns should be treated with
- cold water.
- warm water.
- First-degree burns turn the skin
- Which of the following best expresses the main idea of the passage?
- There are three different types of burns.
- Firefighters should always have cold compresses on hand.
- Different burns require different types of treatment.
- Butter is not good for healing burns.
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