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.
Answers and Explanations
- b. A question that asks you to choose a title for a passage is a main idea question. This main idea is expressed in the second sentence, the topic sentence: 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 treatment. Choice b expresses this idea and is the only title that encompasses all of the ideas expressed in the passage. Choice a is too limited; it deals only with one of the kinds of burns discussed in the passage. Likewise, choices c and d are also too limited. Choice c covers types of burns but not their treatment, and d deals only with preventing infection, which is only a secondary part of the discussion of treatment.
- d. The answer to this fact question is clearly expressed in the sentence, "These burns should be immersed in warm water and then wrapped in a sterile dressing or bandage." The hard part is keeping track of whether "These burns" refers to the kind of burns in the question, which is second-degree burns. It's easy to choose a wrong answer here because all of the answer choices are mentioned in the passage. You need to read carefully to be sure you match the right burn to the right treatment.
- a. This is another fact or detail question. The passage says that a first-degree burn "causes the skin to turn red." Again, it's important to read carefully because all of the answer choices (except b, which can be eliminated immediately) are listed elsewhere in the passage.
- c. Clearly this is a main idea question, and c is the only answer that encompasses the whole passage. Choices b and d are limited to particular burns or treatments, and answer a discusses only burns and not their treatment. In addition, the second sentence tells us that "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."
Inference and Vocabulary Questions
Questions that ask you about the meaning of vocabulary words in the passage and those that ask what the passage suggests or implies (inference questions) are different from detail or main idea questions. In vocabulary and inference questions, you usually have to pull ideas from the passage, sometimes from more than one place.
Inference questions can be the most difficult to answer because they require you to draw meaning from the text when that meaning is implied rather than directly stated. Inferences are conclusions that you draw based on the clues the writer has given you. When you draw inferences, you have to look for such clues as word choice, tone, and specific details that suggest a certain conclusion, attitude, or point of view. You have to read between the lines in order to make a judgment about what an author was implying in the passage.
A good way to test whether you have drawn an acceptable inference is to ask, "What evidence do I have for this inference?" If you can't find any, you probably have the wrong answer. You need to be sure that your inference is logical and that it is based on something that is suggested or implied in the passage itself—not by what you or others might think. You need to base your conclusions on evidence—facts, details, and other information—not on random hunches or guesses.
Questions designed to test vocabulary are really trying to measure how well you can figure out the meaning of an unfamiliar word from its context. Context refers to the words and ideas surrounding a vocabulary word. If the context is clear enough, you should be able to substitute a nonsense word for the one being sought, and you would still make the right choice because you could determine meaning strictly from the sense of the sentence.
For example, you should be able to determine the meaning of the italicized nonsense word below based on its context:
The speaker noted that it gave him great terivinix to announce the winner of the Outstanding Leadership Award.
- In this sentence, terivinix most likely means
Clearly, the context of an award makes c, pleasure, the best choice. Awards don't usually bring pain, sympathy, or anxiety.
When confronted with an unfamiliar word, try substituting a nonsense word and see if the context gives you the clue. If you are familiar with prefixes, suffixes, and word roots, you can also use this knowledge to help you determine the meaning of an unfamiliar word.
You should be careful not to guess at the answer to vocabulary questions based on how you may have seen the word used before or what you think it means. Many words have more than one possible meaning, depending on the context in which they are used, and a word you have seen used one way may mean something else in a test passage. Also, if you don't look at the context carefully, you may make the mistake of confusing the vocabulary word with a similar word. For example, the vocabulary word may be taut (meaning tight), but if you read too quickly or don't check the context, you might think the word is tout (meaning publicize or praise) or taunt (meaning tease). Always read carefully and be sure that what you think the word means fits into the context of the passage you are being tested on.
Practice Passage 3: Inference and Vocabulary Questions
The questions that follow this passage are strictly vocabulary and inference questions. Select the answers to the questions, and then check your answers against the key that appears immediately after the questions.
Dealing with irritable patients is a great challenge for healthcare workers on every level. It is critical that you do not lose your patience when confronted by such a patient. When handling irate patients, be sure to remember that they are not angry at you; they are simply projecting their anger at something else onto you. Remember that if you respond to these patients as irritably as they act with you, you will only increase their hostility, making it much more difficult to give them proper treatment. The best thing to do is to remain calm and ignore any imprecations patients may hurl your way. Such patients may be irrational and may not realize what they are saying. Often these patients will purposely try to anger you just to get some reaction out of you. If you react to this behavior with anger, they win by getting your attention, but you both lose because the patient is less likely to get proper care.
- The word "irate" as it is used in the passage most nearly means
- irregular, odd.
- happy, cheerful.
- ill-tempered, angry.
- sloppy, lazy.
- The passage suggests that healthcare workers
- easily lose control of their emotions.
- are better off not talking to their patients.
- must be careful in dealing with irate patients because the patients may sue the hospital.
- may provide inadequate treatment if they become angry at patients.
- An "imprecation" is most likely
- an object.
- a curse.
- a joke.
- a medication.
- Which of the following best expresses the writer's views about irate patients?
- Some irate patients just want attention.
- Irate patients are always miserable.
- Irate patients should be made to wait for treatment.
- Managing irate patients is the key to a successful career.
Answers and Explanations
- c. This is a vocabulary question. Irate means ill-tempered, angry. It should be clear that b, happy, cheerful, is not the answer; dealing with happy patients is normally not a great challenge. Patients that are a, irregular,
odd, or d, sloppy, lazy, may be a challenge in their own way, but they aren't likely to rouse a healthcare worker to anger. In addition, the passage explains that irate patients are not "angry at you," and irate is used as a synonym for irritable, which describes the patients under discussion in the very first sentence.
- d. This is an inference question, as the phrase "The passage suggests" might have told you. The idea that angry healthcare workers might give inadequate treatment is implied by the passage as a whole, which seems to be an attempt to prevent angry reactions to irate patients. Furthermore, the last sentence in particular makes this inference possible: If you react to this behavior with anger…you both lose because the patient is less likely to get proper care. Choice c is not correct, because while it maybe true that some irate patients have sued the hospital in the past, there is no mention of suits anywhere in this passage. Likewise, choice b is incorrect; the passage does suggest ignoring patients' insults, but nowhere does it recommend not talking to patients—it simply recommends not talking angrily. And while it may be true that some healthcare workers may lose control of their emotions, the passage does not provide any facts or details to support choice a, that they "easily lose control." Watch out for key words like easily that may distort the intent of the passage.
- b. If you didn't know what an imprecation is, the context should reveal that it's something you can ignore, so neither choice a, an object, nor choice d, a medication, is a likely answer. Furthermore, choice c is not likely either, since an irate patient is not likely to be making jokes.
- a. The writer seems to believe that some irate patients just want attention, as is suggested by, "Often these patients will purposely try to anger you just to get some reaction out of you. If you react to this behavior with anger, they win by getting your attention." It should be clear that choice b cannot be the answer, because it includes an absolute: "Irate patients are always miserable." Perhaps some of the patients are often miserable, but an absolute like always is almost always wrong. Besides, this passage refers to patients who maybe irate in the hospital, but we have no indication of what these patients are like at other times, and miserable and irate are not exactly the same thing, either. Choice c is also incorrect because the purpose of the passage is to ensure that patients receive proper treatment and that irate patients are not discriminated against because of their behavior. Thus, irate patients should be made to wait for treatment is not a logical answer. Finally, d cannot be correct because though it may be true, there is no discussion of career advancement in the passage.
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