Reading Comprehension Study Guide: GED Language Arts, Reading
Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:
Before considering the various types of literature that you'll find on the GED, you should start with some basic concepts on reading comprehension. The following chapters will address poetry and fiction and so forth, but those chapters will build on this chapter—you need the basic skills of reading comprehension before getting into the specifics of literary genres.
In this article, you will learn the six basic tools that are vital in understanding anything that you read:
- determining main ideas and themes
- identifying supporting facts and details of a main idea
- distinguishing between facts and opinions
- making inferences
- identifying cause-and-effect relationships
- understanding words in context
You will actually use these basic skills whenever you read virtually anything: fact, fiction, poetry, newspaper articles, and just about anything else. These form the basic toolbox of reading, so it will be important that you master these skills before proceeding to the next chapter.
Determining Main Ideas and Themes
In order to understand the main idea of a passage, you must first understand the difference between the passage's topic and the point that it's making—or its main idea. Consider the following passage, and ask yourself these questions: What is this passage talking about? What point is the author trying to make?
There are many different types of paint available today, from latex house paint to lacquer paints used on car bodies to the oil paints used by artists to paint great masterpieces on canvas. Selecting the right paint to use for your hobby can be a difficult matter if you don't know that different paints have different purposes for which they are designed. When painting miniature lead soldiers, for example, you would want to use paints that are specifically designed for use on metal. The selection is further complicated, however, by the fact that even metal paints are available in a variety of formats. You would need to choose between acrylic paints, which clean off with plain water, and enamel paints which require paint thinner to clean your brushes. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each type of paint will make your job much easier.
This passage is about paint, so paint is the topic of the selection. But paint is not the point that the author is making. The author is explaining that there are many different types of paint, and that each type has a specific application.
So the topic of this passage is what the author is talking about in general terms, while the main point is the idea that he is trying to get across—in this case, his main point is that it's important to select the right type of paint for your project.
One way to distinguish between topic and main idea is to ask yourself, What is the author trying to prove here? A main idea is generally an opinion or assertion that the writer is making, something that needs to be proven. In this passage, the writer is trying to prove that you must use the correct type of paint on your project, whether you're painting your house or working with miniature lead soldiers.
This concept of proving a point is important, and will lead into the next skill as you learn to identify the points of proof which an author provides in supporting the main idea—the supporting facts and details. These supporting details will often follow a main topic statement, so let's consider how to identify topic sentences.
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