Reading Comprehension for Police Officer Exam Study Guide (page 6)
Reading comprehension is an important skill for understanding the material taught during the police academy. Information presented to you will include a large number of legal principles and court decisions; detailed reports, procedures, and forms; suspect descriptions; and many other documents that you will refer to regularly in the course of your work. To make sure that you are able to understand the material that will be presented to you in the academy and throughout your career, the reading comprehension portion of the written test is designed to measure how well you understand what you read.
These tests are most often multiple-choice; you will be given brief passages to read and then you will be asked a series of questions based on each. They are very similar to exams you have probably taken in high school and college. Along with sample questions, this chapter provides you with advice and strategies for maximizing your test score.
In addition to spending time with this chapter, consider adding more reading to your daily schedule of activities. Just as you can become a better baseball pitcher by practicing your pitches, you can become a better—and more thorough—reader by practicing reading. After you read something, think about what you read. Did you understand it? Were there words or phrases you should look up in the dictionary? Were issues presented that were unfamiliar to you? Ask yourself these and other questions to be sure that you not only read the words themselves, but that you understood what you read.
After studying the sample questions later on in the article, make up similar questions for yourself for passages you read on your own. Do not be intimidated; the passages you will be given on your written exam are no more difficult than a newspaper article or a high school or college textbook. Practicing, though, will raise your current level of reading comprehension and will benefit you not only on the exam, but in all aspects 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 two advantages for you as a test taker:
- Any information you need to know is right in front of you.
- You're being tested only on the information provided in the passage.
The disadvantage, however, is that you have to know where and how to find information quickly in an unfamiliar text. This makes it easy to fall for one of the incorrect answer choices, especially since they're designed to mislead you.
The best way to excel 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 fall into one of the following four categories:
- fact or detail
- main idea or title
- inference or interpretation
- vocabulary definition
In order to succeed on a reading comprehension test, you need to thoroughly understand each of these four types of questions.
Fact or Detail
Facts and details are the specific pieces of information that support the passage's main idea. 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). While you may need to decipher paraphrases of facts or details, you should be able to find the answer to a fact or detail question directly in the passage. This is usually the simplest kind of question; however, you must be able to separate important information from less important information. The main challenge in answering this type of question is that the answer choices can be confusing because they are often very similar to each other. You should read each answer choice carefully before selecting one.
Main Idea or Title
The main idea of a passage is the thought, opinion, or attitude that governs the whole passage. It may be clearly stated, or only implied. Think of the main idea as an umbrella that is general enough to cover all of the specific ideas and details in the passage. Sometimes, the questions found after a passage will ask you about the main idea, while others use the term title. Don't be misled; main idea and title questions are the same. They both require you to know what the passage is mostly about. Often, the incorrect answers to a main idea or title question are too detailed to be correct. Remember that the main idea of a passage or the best title for a passage is general, not specific.
If you are lucky, the main idea will be clearly stated in the first or last sentence of the passage. 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 a lot of information in the passage, the trick is to understand what all that information adds up to—what it is that the author wants you to know. Often, some of the wrong answers to 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.
Inference or Interpretation
Inference or interpretation questions ask you what the passage means or implies, not just what it actually says. They are often the most difficult reading comprehension question because they require you to draw meaning from the text that might not be directly stated. When you draw inference, you are like a detective looking for clues, because inferences are conclusions that you draw based on the clues the writer has given you. The clues might come from word choice or from specific details that suggest a conclusion or point of view. When you speak with someone, the person's tone of voice is a clue. So is a facial expression or body language such as a shrug or a nod. But when you read something, these important clues are not available to you—only the words and their arrangement can help you draw inferences. In a sense, you are reading between the lines to make a judgment about what the author is saying. In this way, inference or interpretation questions are really judgment questions.
A good way to test whether you have drawn a correct inference is to ask yourself: What evidence do I have for this inference? If the answer is none, you probably have reached an improper conclusion. You need to be sure that your inference is based on something that is suggested or implied in the passage itself, not on your own ideas about the subject matter. Like the good detective that you might someday become, you need to base your conclusions on evidence—the information you are given–not on random hunches or guesses.
Improving Your Ability to Make Inferences
What are the most important ways to improve your ability to make inferences? Two were already given to you; the first is to read more and quiz yourself on what you have read, and the second is to improve your vocabulary. The wider your knowledge of the English language, the better the chances that you will be familiar with all the words in a reading passage and won't have to guess at what the subject matter is about. A third tip is to read slowly and carefully, trying not to skip over words that you do not think are important. In today's multitasking world, where people are often doing so many things at one time, it is easy to forget that the more things we do at once, the more likely we are to make mistakes.
By reading carefully, you will learn to beware of absolutes. Questions that contain the words always, only, never, and similar words should be answered carefully against what the passage said. The passage might have said sometimes, frequently, or almost never, which means that an answer with absolutes will almost always be wrong. To get you in the mindset for these questions, try to treat the reading passage samples as seriously as you would an actual exam. Read the directions, read each passage carefully, and check your answers before going on to the next passage.
Tips for Improving Your Reading Comprehension Score
Before the test:
- Practice, practice, practice!
- Working with a friend or family member, select paragraphs from an article in the newspaper and have your partner create questions to ask you about it.
- Read short passages from articles or books and make up questions for yourself.
During the test:
- Read the questions first, before you read the passage, so you will know what words and ideas to look out for.
- Focus your attention; don't let your mind wander during the reading of the test passages.
- If one part of a passage confuses you, just read on until you are finished. Then go back and look at the confusing part again.
- Look at each one of the multiple-choice answers, then compare each with the paragraph to see which ones can be eliminated.
- Focus on the main idea of the text. What is the passage mostly about?
- Don't skip any sentences when reading the passage.
- Don't let your own knowledge of the subject matter interfere with your answer selection. Stick with the information that is given in the passage.
- Read the passage actively, asking yourself questions about the main idea and jotting down notes in the margin.
Reading Passage Sample Questions
Read each passage carefully and then answer the questions based on it. Read carefully the first time; if you are unsure of an answer, return to the passage to locate the material the question asks you about.
Practice Passage 1
In the last two decades, 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 between the police and residents have often been strained was initiated in Houston in 1983 under the leadership of then-Chief Lee Brown. He argued that officers should be accessible to the community at the street level and believed, as others in law enforcement began to see, that officers assigned to the same area over a period of time had a better chance to build a network of trust with neighborhood residents. The trust would translate into merchants and residents in the area letting police officers know about criminal activity in the neighborhood and would support police intervention. Once out of their police cars, Brown and others believed, the officers would also be more involved in community activities that could prevent crime. Since then, many large cities have initiated Community Oriented Policing COP), but the results have been mixed. Some cities found that the police and the residents were grateful for the opportunity to work together. Others have found that unrealistic expectations by citizens and resistance from officers who were not pleased with this style of policing worked to preventCOP from being effective. It seems possible, therefore, that even a good idea may need improvement before it can be truly called a reform—and that what may work in one city may not work as well in others.
- Community policing was introduced in Houston
- in the late 1970s.
- in the early 1980s.
- when Carter was president.
- when Lee Brown left to join another department.
- The phrase a network of trust in this passage suggests that
- police officers can rely only on each 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.
- Lee Brown was
- the only police chief who believed in community policing.
- the mayor at the time community policing was introduced.
- the last police chief to consider community policing in Houston.
- none of the above
- The best title for this passage would be
- Community Policing and Lee Brown's Career.
- Community Problem: The Solution to Drug Problems.
- Communities and Cops: Partners for Peace.
- Community Policing: An Uncertain Future.
- The word touted in the first sentence of the passage most nearly means
- b. Choice b comes most directly from the passage, which provides you with the year 1983 and which falls within the definition of the early 1980s. Choice a is not supported by the passage. Choice c is not related to information in the passage. Choice d may have tricked you if you knew that Lee Brown left Houston to become the police commissioner in New York City. Choice d makes an important point: Do not let knowledge that is not part of the passage influence your choice of answers.
- c. The passage is very specific as to who or what the network of trust referred to. Notice that choices a and d use the word only, one of the absolutes you were reminded earlier to give careful consideration to when answering questions.
- d. Choice a is incorrect because the passage states that Brown and others believed; choice b again presents outside information that may confuse you (Brown became the mayor of Houston many years after he instituted community policing); choice c is not discussed in the passage.
- d. A good title should express the main idea of the passage. In this passage, the main idea comes at the end. You should read first sentences and last sentences very carefully because they often summarize the main idea of the passage, on which the title will often be based. While this is not always true, it is smart reading to check these sentences first whenever a question asks you to indicate the main idea or a suggested title.
- a. Even if you do not know the definition of the word touted, since the paragraph speaks positively about community policing, the other words do not fit the passage.
Practice Passage 2
Over the years there has been some evidence that crime rates are linked to social trends such as demographic and socioeconomic changes. Crime statistics showed a decline in the post-World War II era of the 1940s and 1950s. Following the Vietnam War in the 1970s, however, reported crime was on the rise, only to be followed by lower numbers of reported crimes in the 1980s. One of the reasons for these fluctuations appears to be age. When the population is younger, as it was in the 1960s when the baby boomers came of age, there seems to be a greater incidence of crime throughout the nation. A second cause for this rise and fall of crime rates appears to be economic. Rising crime rates seem to follow falling economies. A third reason cited as a reason that crime rates seem cyclical is the ebb and flow of public policy decisions. These decisions sometimes protect personal freedoms at the expense of government control but at other times seem to swing in the opposite direction. A youthful, economically disadvantaged population that is not secured by social controls of family or community or by government authority is likely to correlate with an upswing in reported crime.
- Crime statistics seem to rise when populations are
- The main idea of the passage is that
- times of prosperity show lower levels of reported crime.
- when the economy slows, crime rates rise.
- the incidence of reported crime is related to several social and economic variables.
- secure families are less likely to be involved in crime.
- The passage describes police as
- having no role in crime prevention.
- having no influence on crime statistics.
- influencing crime statistics by the number of police they arrest.
- none of the above
- The best title for this passage would be
- Wars and Crime Statistics.
- Why Crime Rates Rise and Fall.
- Youth and Crime Rates.
- Poverty and Crime Statistics.
- Crime statistics can be used to argue that crime is
- a. The word young appears in relation to the baby boomers; the other choices present descriptions that do not appear in the passage.
- c. Choice c is the only one that summarizes what the entire passage is about; the other choices pull small details from the passage but do not provide an overview.
- d. The passage does not mention police at all; while you might infer from this that choices a and b are correct, the question asks you what the passage describes.
- b. It is the only one that expresses the sum of the details that each of the other answers give a small piece of.
- b. The passage mentions the cyclical nature of crime statistics.
Practice Passage 3
In recent years, issues of public and personal safety have become a major concern to many Americas. Violent incidents in fast food restaurants, libraries, hospitals, schools and colleges, offices, and shopping malls have led many to seek greater security inside their homes and in many public buildings and areas. Sales of burglar alarms, motion detectors, and closed circuit television systems (CCTV) have skyrocketed since the 1990s. Convenience stores, gas stations, jewelry stores, and even the United States Postal Service have barricaded their staffs behind safety glass enclosures and focus cameras on many work stations that involve handling money. Communities employ private security forces and encourage homeowners to install alarm systems and other security devices. While some people sympathize with the reasons behind these efforts, others have voiced concern that these measures, are helping to create a siege mentality. There is fear that such a mentality will lead to a general distrust of others among people that could foster a dangerous isolationism within neighborhoods and among neighbors.
- The passage suggests which of the following about community security?
- Communities are more dangerous today than they were before the 1990s.
- Too much concern for security could destroy trust among neighbors.
- Poor security has led to an increase in public violence.
- Isolated neighborhoods are unsafe neighborhoods.
- The word foster in the last sentence most nearly means
- The author believes that
- more security is needed to make neighborhoods safer.
- people should spend more on home security.
- people such not ignore the problems created by excessive safety concerns.
- security devices are the best protection against violent crime.
- The violent incidents described in the passage include
- school shootings.
- parking lot crime.
- employees shooting their co-workers.
- none of the above.
- In the last sentence, the phrase siege mentality means
- b. The key word is distrust, which implies that neighbors will become suspicious of one another if they are worried about safety.
- b. Foster means nurture or help to grow. Even if you are unfamiliar with this word, the phrases general distrust and dangerous isolationism should indicate to you that the two are interconnected in the way that foster tells you.
- c. The phrase dangerous isolationism should convey the author's disapproval of the move toward more reliance on security devices. The other choices imply approval of the trend.
- d. Although the passage mentions locations where each of the types of crimes listed in the other choices might occur, the passage never mentions any actual crimes; it speaks only of public concerns over personal safety.
- b. A siege mentality is felt by those who believe they are under attack; such people want to defend themselves, the root of the word defensive.
Practice Passage 4
At 2:20 A. M., while on regular patrol in their marked police car, Police Officers Turner and Thompson were told by their dispatcher to respond to a call from Tom's All Night Wash and Dry at 69 Coleville Street. They arrived at 2:30 A. M. and found two paramedics trying to revive 70-year-old Jonathan Jones, who was semiconscious on the tiled floor. The manager of the Wash and Dry, Tim Thomas (a brother of the owner, Tom) and a patron, Joe Murphy, told the officers that two young men they had never seen before rushed into the laundry, grabbed a few items from one of the dryers, and on their way out brushed by Mr. Jones, who fell and hit his head. Another patron, Suzanne Solaro, disagreed that the young men were not regular patrons of the laundry. She said she regularly did her wash after midnight and saw them often; she volunteered to the officers that the young men's names were Manny and Jack. While the patrons were speaking with the officers, Mr. Jones seemed to regain more of his senses and resisted the par amedics' attempts to place him on a stretcher and take him to Victory Hospital. The officers convinced Mr. Jones that he should go to the hospital; the ambulance left Tom's Wash and Dry at 2:54 A. M. Although Ms. Solaro provided the officers with descriptions of Manny and Jack, no arrests were made. An investigation is pending.
- Which of the following persons most likely called police to Tom's Wash and Dry?
- Tim Thomas
- Joe Murphy
- Suzanne Solaro
- Tom Thomas
- The main reason Manny and Jack were said to have entered the laundry was
- to commit a robbery.
- to pick up their laundry.
- to attack Jonathan Jones.
- none of the above
- What was the main reason Manny and Jack were removed from the laundry?
- They were arrested for assault.
- They were injured when they slipped on the tile floor.
- They were identified by the offices as wanted for questioning in a past crime.
- none of the above
- According to the passage, which of the following statements is accurate?
- Tim's All Night Wash and Dry is located at 69 Coleville Street.
- Police Officers Turner and Thompson were dispatched to a call at the laundry.
- Jonathan Jones died at the scene.
- Manny and Jack are regular patrons at the laundry.
- It would be correct to infer that
- Manny and Jack know Jonathan Jones from the laundry.
- Joe Murphy and Suzanne Solaro are dating.
- there were no other patrons in the laundry.
- none of the above
- a. The manager of the establishment, particularly since he is the brother of the owner, would have been the most likely to be concerned about the victim being injured on the premises. While choices b and c are logical, they are not as good an inference as choice a. Choice d is incorrect; there is no indication that Tom Thomas was on the premises at the time of the incident.
- d. The officers do not have sufficient information to draw a conclusion. Based only on the statements of the manager and the male patron, it might appear that choice a was correct, but if the female patron recognized the men as regulars, they might not have chosen to commit a robbery where they were known, even though it stretches the imagination that the laundry they grabbed was their own (choice b). Based on the information, choice c is also unlikely, but not impossible if the officers assume the men were better at masking their intentions than they probably were. Based on what the officers know, it is impossible to answer the question.
- d. Manny and Jack were not removed from the laundry; according to the witnesses, they left on their own.
- b. Choice b is the only one that does not contain inaccuracies; choice a provides an incorrect name of the laundry; choice c is contrary to Jones speaking with the paramedics and the police officers; choice d may or may not be accurate based on different accounts of the witnesses.
- d. There are not facts to support any of the other choices; police officers must take care when reporting on incidents to which they responded to provide only the facts they know to be true.
If English Isn't Your First Language
When nonnative speakers of English have trouble with reading comprehension tests, it's often because they lack the cultural, linguistic, and historical frame of reference that native speakers enjoy. People who have not lived in or been educated in the United States often don't have the background information that comes from reading American newspapers, magazines, and textbooks.
A second problem for nonnative English speakers is the difficulty in recognizing vocabulary and idioms (expressions like chewing the fat) that assist comprehension. In order to read with good understanding, it's important to have an immediate grasp of as many words as possible in the text. Test takers need to be able to recognize vocabulary and idioms immediately so that the ideas those words express are clear.
The Long View
Read newspapers, magazines, and other periodicals that deal with current events and matters of local, state, and national importance. Pay special attention to articles that are related to law enforcement.
Be alert to new or unfamiliar vocabulary or terms that occur frequently in the popular press. Use a highlighter pen to mark new or unfamiliar words as you read. Keep a list of those words and their definitions. Review them for 15 minutes each day. Though at first you may find yourself looking up a lot of words, don't be frustrated—you will look up fewer and fewer words as your vocabulary expands.
During the Test
When you are taking your written exam, make a picture in your mind of the situation being described in the passage. Ask yourself, "What did the writer mostly want me to think about this subject?"
Locate and underline the topic sentence that carries the main idea of the passage. Remember that the topic sentence—if there is one—may not always be the first sentence. If there doesn't seem to be one, try to determine what idea summarizes the whole passage.
As you probably noticed, the last sample reading passage was different from the first four. The intention was to show you that your ability to read, understand, and draw inferences from passages is applicable to many different types of reading exercises. Depending on the test you take, you might be asked questions about a number of different types of passages. Your plan of action, though, should always be the same. Read the passage carefully and take a moment to think about it before going on to the questions. Then read the questions carefully, looking for key words or phrases. Try to answer the questions in the order they are presented, but if one question confuses you and you cannot find the answer by glancing back at the passage, go on to the next one. Sometimes questions are interrelated, and the one that seemed confusing may become clear as you read through the additional questions.
If you approached the practice passages under conditions similar to the actual written test, you might want to give yourself a short break before going on to the judgment section of this chapter. While it is true that during the actual test you are unlikely to get any break between test parts, since you are still in practice mode it would be good to stretch your legs and think about why you did well—or did not do well—on the reading passages.
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