Reading - Unmasking the Main Idea for CBEST Exam Study Guide (page 5)
Main idea questions can be put in three categories. The first asks for a simple sentence or title that includes the main topic of the passage. The second asks questions about the author's thoughts or intentions in writing the passage. Then there are those that ask for a paraphrase of all the main ideas in the passage.
Main Idea Questions
Main idea questions take a variety of forms:
- What is the main idea of the passage?
- The best title for this passage would be …
- What is the theme of the passage?
- The central thought of the passage is …
How to Find Main Idea Answers in the Passage
To answer main idea questions, you sometimes do not have to read the whole passage. The main idea is often stated at the beginning or end of the passage. Sometimes you can glean the main idea by looking for the topic sentences of each paragraph of the passage.
Sample Passage and Question
This passage continues the passage on DNA that you began in the previous section.
The goal is to discover the sequence of bases in the DNA. If this is a mitochondrial DNA fragment, the sequence will match the person's mother and maternal relatives. The DNA is divided down the center like a zipper. Heat is used to cause the division. Only one half of the DNA (one side of the zipper) is used. The sequence of bases will be discovered by re-creating the other half of the DNA.
The next goal is to use the half of the DNA that was saved to reconstruct the other half. This process will show the sequence of bases. Bases A and T always bind to each other, and bases C and G always bind to each other. The idea is to put one-half of a DNA strand in a test tube with some free bases and an enzyme that causes the free bases to attach to the half strand, rezipping the zipper. Modified bases are also added so that the location of that base on the "zipper" can be marked. In this way, the sequence of bases can be discovered. Each test tube contains thousands of copies of the saved half of the DNA strand, and a radioactive primer that will attach at the start location of every strand so that all operations start at the same place on every strand. Also included are DNA polymerase, which is an enzyme that acts as a "glue" to attach the free bases to the half DNA strand, and all four bases, which are free and unattached. There is also a modified base; each test tube has a different base that has been modified to act as a marker during reconstruction.
At the end of the process, thousands of reconstructed strands will be in each test tube. Some of these strands will be complete, but some of them will have been terminated by a modified base so they will be shorter. Each strand will have the same sequence of bases, but the strands will terminate at different positions where A is found. The reason that some of the strands do not terminate at base A is that a normal instead of a modified base A has attached at some of the base A locations. There is a test tube for each base. Therefore, there are reconstructed strands that terminate with C in the test tube with modified C bases, strands that terminate with G in the test tube with modified G bases, and strands that terminate with T in the test tube with modified T bases. The four test tubes are used in order to tell the difference between bases, since the strands and bases all look alike. However, the same test can be done in one test tube if fluorescent dyes are used to tag the modified bases.
- Which of the following best describes the main topic of the passage?
- DNA can be linked to clues in a criminal investigation.
- Learning about the genetic code is important.
- The role of modified bases is part of the pieces of reading DNA.
- Dyes are used to tell the difference between bases.
- Reading base A strands is done at the end of the process.
Use the Success Steps to help you answer the question.
- The general topic seems to have to do with the DNA strands in the test tube and some marked ends that help people read them.
- It looks as though a is off the topic because the passage does not mention criminal investigations.
- Choice b seems too broad.
- There don't seem to be any answer choices that are on the general topic but not the specific topic.
- Choices d and e have to do with only one part of the passage.
You don't have to use steps 6 and 7, because you have one answer left: Choice c seems to fit.
Sample Passage and Question
Try your hand at another passage and main idea question.
Successful programs make the extended-time curriculum challenging but not overwhelming. Research indicates that a challenging curriculum should accommodate individual student needs, coordinate with other instruction, and focus on more than remedial work. For example, the TAP Summer Youth Employment Program, which serves a large number of students living in housing projects, teaches basic skills that students need for communicating with employers and coworkers, and it also provides students with the challenge of putting these skills to use while working in their communities.
- Which of the following would be the best title for the passage?
- An Appropriately Challenging Curriculum
- Some Successful Programs
- Implementing Individualized Learning
- Steps in Curriculum Innovation
- The TAP Summer Youth Employment Program
Again, apply the seven Success Steps.
- The passage seems to be about the curriculum for a program outside of school.
- It looks as if all the choices are on the general topic.
- Choices b and d are too broad.
- Choice c is on the general topic, but not on the subject of the paragraph.
- Choice e has to do with only a part of the passage. The paragraph is mostly about the elements of a challenging curriculum. Therefore, choice a would make the best title. Once again, you did not have to use steps 6 and 7.
There will probably be at least one question that asks you to paraphrase an entire passage. Paraphrase questions can be troublesome because the choices are so long. However, only one of the five answers is correct, and a careful, attentive approach will help you find it.
Seven Success Steps for Paraphrase Questions
- Read or skim the passage, noting or underlining main ideas as they flow from one to the other.
- Look for phrases that restate the main ideas you underlined.
- Eliminate answers that contain phrases that contradict ideas in the passage.
- Eliminate answers that are off the topic or only address part of the passage.
- Eliminate answers that include ideas that the author has not mentioned.
- If you are left with two choices, choose the most complete one.
- If you have eliminated every choice, take the paraphrase that contains the most main ideas without adding new ideas.
Paraphrase questions tend to start out like this:
- Which of the following best paraphrases the ideas in the passage?
- The best summary of the passage is …
- Which of the following is the best summation of the ideas in the passage?
- Which of the following best restates the main ideas of the passage?
How to Find Paraphrase Answers in the Passage
The main ideas of the passage can be found in each of the paragraphs, or in sections of the paragraphs. If you can follow the way the author has logically arranged the passage, you are more likely to find the correct answer to a paraphrase question.
Sample Passage and Question
Extended-time programs often feature innovative scheduling, as program staff work to maintain participation and respond to students' and parents' varied schedules and family or employment commitments. Offering students flexibility and some choice regarding when they participate in extended learning may be as simple as offering homework sessions when children need them most—after school and before dinner—as Kids Crew and the Omaha After-School Study Centers do. Or, it may mean keeping early and late hours to meet the childcare needs of parents who work more than one job or support extended families, as the Yuk Yau Child Development Center does. Another example of such flexibility is the Florida Summer Institute for At-Risk Migrant Students, which is a residential program so that students' participation does not disrupt their migrant families' travels.
- Which of the following paraphrases best summarizes the passage?
- After-school programs should help children finish their homework after school.
- Kids Crew and other programs meet the needs of children.
- There are several ways to schedule programs outside of school time to meet the needs of students and families.
- Extended-time programs can be innovative, and Yuk Yau Child Development Center is an example of this.
- Extended hours may need to be late or early to accommodate families' needs.
- The flow goes like this: innovative scheduling—family needs—examples: after school, early and late care, residential.
- Choices a, c, d, and e have words and ideas noted in Step 1.
- None of the choices is contrary to the passage. That tactic is usually used with persuasive passages.
- The choices are all on the topic, but a, b, and e deal with only part of the paragraph.
- All the ideas are in the passage.
- You are left with choices c and d. Choice d only mentions only one example, and the passage gives three. Choice c does not mention any examples specifically, but encompasses all the examples as well as the idea of the paragraph. You can conclude that the answer is choice c, and you don't have to use step 7.
Six Success Steps for Author Questions
- For author-purpose questions, eliminate answers that do not match the general topic. If it is a scientific passage, the author is probably objectively trying to disseminate information, so you might eliminate answers that suggest the author is trying to change the reader's behavior in any way. If it is a persuasive paragraph, however, the author is not simply conveying information. For questions on the author's intended audience, eliminate audiences that are significantly less or more technical than the author's style.
- Eliminate answers that say the opposite of what the author is trying to say.
- Look for a climax in the passage, a sentence or two that describes the author's purpose or audience. Then look for an answer that says the same thing in different words. Also, be on the lookout for clue words that could hint at the audience.
- Look for words that indicate a change or shift in the author's meaning. Sometimes the author's purpose will follow words such as however, or be found somewhere in sentences beginning with words like although or instead of.
- If you are looking for an author's tone, put the answer choices in order from very negative to very positive. Look for adjectives that describe the way the author feels about a topic; then look for synonyms or the same tone in the answer choices.
- If you are left with two choices, look at the topic of the passage and decide what might be an appropriate response to the topic. If the topic discusses a dangerous future situation, an appropriate response of the author might be a warning.
Preparing for Main Idea Questions
For extra practice, check out some test books from the library that have reading comprehension sections and practice answering main idea questions until you feel very confident.
Add your own comment
- Kindergarten Sight Words List
- The Five Warning Signs of Asperger's Syndrome
- What Makes a School Effective?
- Child Development Theories
- 10 Fun Activities for Children with Autism
- Why is Play Important? Social and Emotional Development, Physical Development, Creative Development
- Should Your Child Be Held Back a Grade? Know Your Rights
- Bullying in Schools
- First Grade Sight Words List
- Test Problems: Seven Reasons Why Standardized Tests Are Not Working