Paragraph Comprehension Study Guide for McGraw-Hill's ASVAB (page 3)

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Mar 16, 2011

Type 3: Specific Details Questions

The third kind of ASVAB Paragraph Comprehension question will ask you to pick out specific details in the paragraph that you have read. In these paragraphs, a lot of information is often provided. You have to find the specific item or detail that the question asks about. For this kind of question, it is very helpful to read the question before you read the paragraph. Here is an example.


Dental assistants perform a variety of patient care, office, and laboratory duties. They work chairside as dentists examine and treat patients. They make patients as comfortable as possible in the dental chair, prepare them for treatment, and obtain their dental records. Assistants hand instruments and materials to dentists and keep patients' mouths dry and clear by using suction or other devices. Assistants also sterilize and disinfect instruments and equipment, prepare trays of instruments for dental procedures, and instruct patients on postoperative and general oral health care.

In the above paragraph, where is the dental assistant when the doctor is examining the patient?

  1. Right next to the dentist and the patient
  2. In the laboratory
  3. Finding dental records
  4. Sterilizing instruments

The correct answer is choice A. The detail you are looking for is found in the sentence, "They work chairside as dentists examine and treat patients." So the correct answer is "right next to the dentist and the patient." At other times, a dental assistant may be in the laboratory (choice B), finding dental records (choice C), or sterilizing instruments (choice D), but when the dentist is working with the patient, the assistant is right by the dentist's side.

Sequence of Steps Questions   One type of specific details question will ask you about the sequence (order) of steps in a process. The process may be something in nature, or it may be preparing a food item, operating a machine, making a repair, or something similar. To answer this kind of question correctly, you need to pay close attention to the order in which things happen or in which things are done. Reading the question before reading the passage is a very good strategy with this type of item. Here is an example.


Making a Brownie

Preheat the oven to 350° and lightly spray the pan with cooking oil. In a saucepan, combine the butter and chopped chocolate. Set this over a low heat until melted. Stir the mixture and set aside to cool. In a mixing bowl, mix together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Measure the sugar into a large bowl and mix in the cooled butter-chocolate mixture. Add the eggs, vanilla, and water. Mix very well. Add the dry ingredients and mix until blended. Spoon the batter into the pan and bake for 23 to 25 minutes. Cool in the pan and cut into squares.

When should you add the eggs, vanilla, and water?

  1. After melting the chocolate
  2. Before cooling the melted butter and chocolate
  3. After spooning the batter into the pan
  4. Before adding the dry ingredients

The correct answer is choice D. There is a lot of detail in this paragraph, but the time for adding the eggs, vanilla, and water is before combining the melted butter and chocolate with the dry ingredients.

Type 4. Interpretation Questions

The fourth type of ASVAB Paragraph Comprehension question will ask you to interpret something that you read. Often an author will suggest or hint at a certain idea, but will not state it directly. It is up to you to figure out the author's meaning by "reading between the lines" and drawing your own conclusion. When you do this, you analyze the author's words, you think about what they mean, and you put your ideas together to create something new and original. This process is called making an inference. Here is an example of a question that asks you to make an inference.


The dinosaurs became extinct at the end of the Cretaceous Period. Reasons for this event are still undetermined. Some scientists attribute it to a cataclysmic occurrence, such as a meteor that struck the Earth, kicking up vast quantities of dust. Another possibility is the great increase in volcanic activity that is known to have taken place at the end of the Cretaceous period. Either cause could have filled the atmosphere with enough dust and soot to block out the sunlight, producing a dramatic climate change. Recent discoveries indicate that in many places on several continents, there is a layer of iridium in geologic strata associated with the Cretaceous Period. Iridium is an element associated with lava flows.

An inference test item might look like this:

According to this passage, the dinosaurs became extinct because of which of the following conditions?

  1. Disappearance of vegetation
  2. Radiation from the sun
  3. Climate changes
  4. Volcanic activity

The best answer is choice C, climate changes. The paragraph does not come to a conclusion about which of the two events caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, but both seem to point to the fact that climate changes were the eventual cause of their disappearance. This conclusion is not stated in the passage. You needed to infer this from reading the passage.

Answering ASVAB Paragraph Comprehension Questions

Here are a few basic tips for answering ASVAB Paragraph Comprehension questions.

  1. Read the questions before reading the paragraph. This is an absolute must—no exceptions. You need to do this so that you can focus on the pertinent parts of the paragraph and ignore the remainder. Remember that you have a very limited amount of time and you need to get to the right answer as quickly as possible.
  2. Read the paragraph next. When you read the paragraph, focus on the answers to the questions and ignore all the extraneous information that might be in the paragraph. There will be a lot of fluff in the passage that has nothing to do with the questions you are being asked. Don't try to fully understand all the information that is given. Your job is to answer the question, not to be an expert on the subject at hand.
  3. In your mind, try to answer the question as you read each paragraph. Try to guess the answers in your own mind. Your answer will probably be similar to one of the answer choices.
  4. Now look at the answer choices to see which one matches the answer you reached in your mind. Pick the choice that is closest.
  5. Guess if you must. If you cannot decide which answer choice is correct, try to eliminate choices that are clearly wrong. Then guess, even if you cannot eliminate more than one or two choices. The more choices you eliminate, the better your chance of guessing correctly. There is no penalty for wrong answers on the paper-and-pencil version, so be sure to mark an answer for every question, even if you have to guess.
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