Reading Comprehension Practice Exercises: GED Language Arts, Reading (page 7)
The study guide for these practice exercises can be found at:
Practicing Main Ideas and Themes
Try your hand at identifying the topic and main idea for each of the following passages. Underline the topic and circle the main idea in each passage as you read it through; this will help you in answering the questions.
Reading is an important part of life. Critical reading, however, is a demanding process. To read critically, you must slow down your reading and perform specific operations on the text—with pencil in hand. Mark up the text with your reactions, conclusions, and questions. When you read, become an active participant.
- The topic of this passage is
- how to pass reading tests.
- the hard work of critical reading.
- a pencil is an important tool when reading.
- active participation is essential when reading.
- This paragraph best supports the statement that
- critical reading is a slow, dull, but essential process.
- the best critical reading happens at critical times in a person's life.
- readers should get in the habit of questioning the truth of what they read.
- critical reading requires thoughtful and careful attention.
- critical reading should take place at the same time each day.
The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures. No search of a person's home or personal effects may be conducted without a written search warrant issued on probable cause. This means that a neutral judge must approve the factual basis justifying a search before it can be conducted.
- This paragraph best supports the statement that the police cannot search a person's home or private papers unless they have
- legal authorization.
- direct evidence of a crime.
- read the person his or her constitutional rights.
- a reasonable belief that a crime has occurred.
- requested that a judge be present.
- The topic of this paragraph is
- the Constitution of the United States.
- the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.
- a judge's role in search and seizure.
- the origin of search warrants.
- factual bases for search warrants.
Mathematics allows us to expand our consciousness. Mathematics tells us about economic trends, patterns of disease, and the growth of populations. Math is good at exposing the truth, but it can also perpetuate misunderstandings and untruths. Figures have the power to mislead people.
- This paragraph best supports the statement that
- the study of mathematics is dangerous.
- words are more truthful than figures.
- the study of mathematics is more important than other disciplines.
- the power of numbers is that they cannot lie.
- figures are sometimes used to deceive people.
- The topic of this paragraph is
- expanded consciousness.
- using math to mislead.
- how math can help society.
When you hear the word potato, you probably picture a rounded brownish vegetable with thick skin. But the truth is that there are thousands of different types of potatoes, and the differences between varieties can be quite striking. The United States alone produces an estimated 560 different types of potato! More than 2,400 varieties are grown in the Andes Mountains. One notable area of the Andes produces around 125 different varieties of potato, and many individual potato farmers specialize in 10 or 15 different types. The potato is much more than just the brown-skinned type that most Americans know.
- Approximately how many types of potatoes are grown in the Andes Mountains?
- 10 to 15
- Which of the following statements is an opinion?
- Abraham Lincoln was the sixteenth president of the United States.
- Abraham Lincoln was the greatest president of the United States.
- Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth.
- Abraham Lincoln had a son named Robert Todd.
- President Lincoln was born in Kentucky.
Some cities have recently decided to outlaw burning wood in a home fireplace. This is an outrageous infringement upon traditional American liberties, and should be resisted at all costs. New Englanders once rose up and rebelled against laws that affected their right to drink tea, and this rebellion became famous as the Boston Tea Party. Those Americans were unwilling to support a government that passed laws restricting their basic human liberties. What America needs is a modern version of the Tea Party, in the form of a modern Fireplace Rebellion.
- Which of the following statements from the text is a fact?
- "Some cities have recently decided to outlaw…"
- "This is an outrageous infringement…"
- "… should be resisted at all costs."
- "Those Americans were unwilling…"
- "What America needs…"
Read the following sentences, and then write F for fact or O for opinion in the blank.
- Hybrid cars use a combination of gasoline and electricity for power.
- Hybrid cars get better gas mileage than traditional gas-powered cars.
- Hybrid cars are safer than gas-powered vehicles.
- Hybrid cars are a better investment than traditional gas-powered cars.
- Hybrid cars cannot accelerate as quickly as comparable gas-powered cars.
You'll notice from these examples that some facts can easily be converted into opinions. For example, sentence 11 could easily be debated: One person might claim that hybrid cars get better gas mileage than gasoline-powered cars, while another person might argue that the gasoline savings is nullified by the hybrid's use of electricity.
This is where it becomes important to be a careful reader, learning to be on guard against opinions that are stated as if they were indisputable facts. It's actually very easy to write an opinion in words that suggest it's a proven fact. For example, a newspaper article might tell you that the president's policy on taxes will cause an increase in poverty levels. This is stated as though it is a proven fact, but you know that it's merely an opinion because it discusses something that might happen in the future. Nothing in the future can be considered a proven fact simply because the future hasn't happened yet.
Try taking a fact and converting it into an opinion. For example:
- A loaf of bread today costs about 10 times as much as it did 30 years ago.
- A loaf of bread today isn't as healthy as it was 30 years ago.
Read the following statements of fact, and then convert each into an opinion.
- Fact: The movie Crash won the Best Picture Academy Award in 2006.
- Fact: There are four distinct seasons: summer, fall, winter, and spring.
- Fact: Evergreen trees stay green year-round, while deciduous trees lose their leaves in winter.
- Fact: Coffee is a beverage made from beans, many of which are grown in Colombia.
- Fact: Most states and provinces in North America use Daylight Saving Time in the summer months.
The following passage is from a memo written by the manager of a parking garage. Read through, asking yourself what information you might infer from what the writer says.
Radios have been stolen from four cars in our parking garage this month. Each time, the thieves have managed to get by the parking garage security with radios in hand, even though they do not have a parking garage identification card, which people must show as they enter and exit the garage. Yet each time, the security officers say they have seen nothing unusual.
- Which of the following statements can be accurately inferred from this passage?
- The parking garage is very busy.
- Security guards at parking garages don't care about their jobs.
- The identification card system isn't working at the parking garage.
- There is a problem with the security at the parking garage.
- People should be more careful about locking their cars.
This passage is from a police report concerning a traffic accident. Again, see what you can infer from it.
John Smith was driving the car that collided with the telephone pole on Main Street on Thursday at 9 A.M. Witnesses said that they saw Smith's car drift from the left lane, through the right lane, and finally hit the pole. One witness also claims to have seen Smith at the traffic light two blocks earlier, and at that time the witness claims that Smith was "looking pretty sleepy." Smith admitted that he had worked a double shift the night before the accident. There were no injuries.
- Which of the following might be inferred from this traffic report?
- Smith was drunk.
- Smith fell asleep at the wheel.
- The witnesses lied.
- Smith's car had a mechanical problem.
- Smith's job is wearing him out.
Sometimes you can make inferences based on the choice of words that a writer uses. Read the following, paying attention to the writer's descriptions and choice of words.
Coach Lerner, my basketball coach, is six feet ten inches tall with a voice that booms like a foghorn and the haircut of a drill sergeant. Every morning, he marches onto the basketball court at precisely 8:00 and dominates the gymnasium for the next three hours. He barks orders at us the entire time and expects that we will respond like troops on a battlefield. And if we fail to obey his commands, he makes us spend another 45 minutes under his rule.
- Which of the following statements can be inferred from this passage?
- Coach Lerner is a bad basketball coach.
- Coach Lerner is a good basketball coach.
- It's hard work being a new member of a basketball team.
- Playing on Coach Lerner's team is like being a soldier in training.
- Basketball players need strict discipline if they are to play well.
This element of word choice is very important. If you pay attention to the words and phrases that a writer uses, you will very often get a good sense of what he or she is implying, even though the author may never directly state his or her true opinion. This is especially true of a newspaper or news magazine—periodicals that claim to be unbiased news reports, but that may actually be reflecting a writer's own bias.
The following passage is an excerpt from a newspaper article. It seems at first glance to be a straightforward account of a factual event, but read it carefully and notice the writer's use of words and phrases. See if you can detect what the author really thinks of President Bush.
President Bush visited his family's large estate in Kennebunkport, Maine, over the weekend. The huge compound is surrounded by high walls topped with barbed wire, and protected by armed guards at every corner, and once inside the Bushes enjoyed a relaxing weekend away from the pressing affairs of government. They played tennis, swam in the pool, and invited select friends for dinner. President Bush did not, however, answer questions concerning the war in Iraq.
- Which of the following statements can be supported by this passage?
- The writer thinks that President Bush is a good leader.
- President Bush does not care about poor people.
- The president should always be protected by guards and barbed wire.
- It's good to get exercise, even if you're a world leader.
- The author feels that President Bush is avoiding his duties as president.
Literature will very often demand that a reader make inferences from a passage. This is especially true in poetry, but no less true in fiction and drama. Read the following passage from Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer, and see what you can infer. Young Tom has been commanded by his Aunt Polly to whitewash (paint) the fence, but he's been trying to bribe his friend Jim to do it instead. He has finally persuaded Jim by offering him a marble (alley) and a peek at Tom's sore toe.
Jim was only human—this attraction was too much for him. He put down his pail, took the white alley, and bent over the toe with absorbing interest while the bandage was being unwound. In another moment he was flying down the street with his pail and a tingling rear, Tom was whitewashing with vigor, and Aunt Polly was retiring from the field with a slipper in her hand and triumph in her eye.
- Which of the following statements are supported by the passage?
- Aunt Polly hit Jim with her slipper.
- Tom was wrong to bribe Jim.
- Jim is a coward.
- Aunt Polly is abusive.
- The fence is hard to paint.
Read the following sentences and then list the cause and effect in each.
- Example: James overslept this morning, and was late for work.
- Cause: James overslept
- Effect: He was late for work.
- We recently hired three new salespeople, and our income has doubled.
- Since I met you, I've been very happy.
- When Jim's car stalled, he immediately wished that he'd bought some gas.
- Tom skipped breakfast, and found himself famished around noon.
- Jane lost 35 pounds once she started on this new diet.
You will notice that cause and effect may not be directly stated, and also that they may not be given in any particular order. You may need to read carefully to detect that one event in the passage caused another event.
For example, question 27 does not state that Jim ran out of gas; it doesn't even state that Jim chose not to buy gasoline. The writer actually tells you that Jim wished that he'd bought some gas; you must infer from this that he didn't buy gas, and then infer that the lack of gasoline led to the car stalling.
You can make this sort of inference if the writer makes a deliberate connection between two events. Notice that the writer in question 27 makes a connection between Jim's failure to buy gas and the car stalling—without directly stating that there is a connection. He implies the connection; you must infer the connection, then draw a cause-and-effect relationship between them.
There are certain signal words and phrases that can also tip you off to cause-and-effect relationships. Some words that indicate cause include because, since, created by, caused by, and similar words and phrases. Some words that indicate effect include since, therefore, consequently, hence, so, and similar words and phrases.
… she thought about back home, about how she had been all alone most of the time then too, but this lonesomeness was different. Then she stopped staring at the green chairs, at the delivery truck; she went to the movies instead. There in the dark her memory was refreshed, and she succumbed to her earlier dreams. Along with the idea of romantic love, she was introduced to another—physical beauty. Probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Both originated in envy, thrived in insecurity, and ended in disillusion.
—From The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison.
- What caused this character to go to the movies?
- a desire to see the movie
- a desire to become an actress
- romantic love
- What effect did the movie have on the character?
- She decided to change careers.
- She stopped being bored.
- She learned a dangerous lesson about love.
- She became insecure.
- She remembered something that she'd forgotten to do.
- When Megan refused to lie to her parents about where she was spending the night, she was completely ostracized by her usually loyal friends, who had never shunned her before.
- covered with feathers
- Zachary is too inexperienced for the managerial position, but he is a willful young man and obdurately refuses to withdraw his application.
- She read her supervisor's memo four or five times, but she still found his rambling message ambiguous.
- When people heard that timid Bob had taken up skydiving, they were incredulous.
- The suspect gave a plausible explanation for his presence at the scene, so the police decided to look elsewhere for the person who committed the crime.
- c. The topic sentence in the paragraph is the first sentence, Reading is an important part of life. It introduces the topic, which is reading. Notice that some of the other options, such as d, are actually statements that need to be proven—and therefore, they cannot be the topic.
- d. This concept is suggested by the thesis statement in the paragraph, which is the second sentence: Critical reading, however, is a demanding process.
- a. This is a thesis, a statement that needs to be proven, and the passage makes the thesis statement in the last sentence.
- b. The topic of the paragraph is the Fourth Amendment. You could argue that choice a is correct as well, but the topic of the passage is actually not the Constitution as a whole but merely one aspect of it: the Fourth Amendment, which deals with search and seizure.
- e. This thesis statement is given in the final sentence of the paragraph.
- e. The topic of this paragraph is mathematics. Choices c and d are certainly addressed in the passage, but notice that they are both statements that would need to be proven—and therefore, they cannot be topic statements.
- b. There are many numbers given in this passage, and it would be easy to pick the wrong one if you merely skimmed your eye along looking for numerals. The question is designed to test whether you are paying attention to what you're reading, and also to test whether you can go back through the passage and find specific details. In this case, the fourth sentence tells you that more than 2,400 varieties of potato are grown in the Andes Mountains. Remember also to look for those signal words that we discussed earlier:
- b. Abraham Lincoln was the greatest president of the United States is an opinion. The other statements are all provable facts, but this one statement is an opinion; there might be someone who would disagree that Abe Lincoln was the greatest president in the history of the United States. On the other hand, you can easily verify whether Lincoln was the sixteenth president by doing a little research. It's a fact; it's not open to debate.
- a. This sentence tells you that some cities have decided to outlaw burning wood in a home fireplace; this is a strict fact, which can be proven true. The statement in choice d might at first appear to be a statement of fact, but notice that it addresses the motives of the colonists who participated in the Boston Tea Party. What actually motivated the Boston Tea Party is not a strict matter of fact, because people might have joined the rebellion with many different motives. Only choice a can be considered a strict statement of fact versus opinion.
- F. This is a statement of fact that makes no value judgment or debatable assertions.
- F. This is probably a statement of fact, although it's a good example of so-called facts that are actually debatable.
- O. This is an opinion because what determines safer or less safe is clearly open to debate.
- O. This is an opinion: One person's good investment is another person's money waster.
- F. This statement can easily be tested and proven true.
Following are some possible opinion statements that could be written from the facts.
- The movie Crash deserved to win the Best Picture award in 2006.
- Summer is the most pleasant of the four seasons.
- Deciduous trees lose their leaves in winter, so evergreens are a better choice for landscaping.
- Coffee is brewed from beans, so instant coffee is not natural.
- Daylight Saving time actually costs more than it saves.
- d. It can be inferred that there is a problem with the security at the garage. There is nothing to suggest that the garage has been busy lately, so choice a is not supported by the passage. Choice b is far too sweeping a conclusion to draw, suggesting that all parking garage security officers are slackers; the passage does not deal with parking garages in general, only with one garage in particular.
One of the fundamental rules in drawing inferences is that the passage must support what you infer. The passage does not make any sweeping statements about parking garages in general, nor does it address the question of whether the identification card system is working. The main idea of the passage is that there is a problem within this particular garage, and the writer is focusing on the garage's security officers in particular. Therefore, we can conclude that the writer is implying that the security guards aren't doing their jobs, even though he does not directly make that statement.
- b. There is no evidence given in the report that Smith had been drinking, so choice a is not supportable. It is, of course, entirely possible that the witnesses lied, but the passage itself makes no mention of that possibility, so choice c is not correct. The only statement that can be supported by the passage is that Smith fell asleep while driving down Main Street.
- d. Notice the words and phrases that the writer has used to describe Coach Lerner: drill sergeant, marches, barks orders, troops on a battlefield, and so forth. The writer is deliberately using expressions that make the reader think of being in the Army and undergoing basic training. There is nothing in the passage to suggest that Coach Lerner's techniques are either good or bad, so choices a and b cannot be supported. The author does not say whether he is new to the team or an old hand, so answer c cannot be supported.
- e. Choice b might be tempting, and in fact the author might actually want you to believe that Bush doesn't care about poor people, but the passage does not address poor people or how Bush deals with them, so it cannot be supported.
Notice, however, the words that the writer has used. The president visited his family's large estate, which is actually a huge compound. The writer could just as easily have described it as the old family homestead, but those words would have brought a very different picture into the reader's mind. Pay attention to how a writer describes a thing or person or event, and ask yourself what other words could have been used to describe it. These clues will help you quickly understand what a writer is implying, and you can then safely infer related conclusions.
- a. The passage supports the statement that Aunt Polly whacked Jim with her slipper. None of the other statements has any support in the passage. You can find this answer by asking yourself why the author is telling you this.
Notice the last sentence in the passage:… he was flying down the street with his pail and a tingling rear. Why does Twain tell you that Jim had a tingling rear? Then the author adds another fact that, at first glance, may seem irrelevant: He tells us in the last sentence that Aunt Polly had a slipper in her hand and triumph in her eye. Why does he mention triumph? And why does Aunt Polly have a slipper in her hand instead of on her foot?
When you encounter something in literature that seems odd or out of place, ask yourself why the author included that information. Your answers will help you understand what the author is implying, and what information you can infer.
- Cause: We hired three salespeople.
- Cause: I met you.
- Cause: Jim didn't buy gas.
- Cause: Tom skipped breakfast.
- Cause: Jane started a diet.
Effect: Sales have doubled.
Effect: I've been happy.
Effect: His car stalled.
Effect: He got hungry at noon.
Effect: She lost 35 pounds.
- a. The author tells you that the character was suffering from lonesomeness, and that she decided to go to the movies to stop feeling lonely.
- c. The author hints at the effect of the movie by saying that there… she succumbed to some message in the movie. This message, the author tells us, is one of the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. The author is letting us know that the movie was the cause of some dangerous idea that the character believed, so the dangerous idea is the effect that the movie had on the character.
- a. Ostracized means shunned or avoided by others. The context tells you that Megan's friends had never shunned her before, so you know that ostracized has something to do with being shunned or excluded.
- d. Obdurately means stubbornly. The context tells you that Zachary keeps on applying for the managerial position, even though he is unqualified—and this suggests that he is stubborn.
- d. Ambiguous means unclear or having more than one meaning. The context tells you that the person read the memo four or five times, but still could not understand it; it was unclear.
- d. Incredulous means disbelieving. The context tells you that Bob is timid, and that people reacted strongly when they heard that he had taken up skydiving. The only choice that makes sense in this context is d.
- b. Plausible means believable or likely to happen. The context tells you that the police looked elsewhere for the criminal, which suggests that they found his explanation believable.
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