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Reading Comprehension for Nursing School Entrance Exam Study Guide

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Updated on Aug 12, 2011

Because reading is such a vital skill, many nursing school entrance exams include a reading comprehension section that tests your ability to understand what you read. The tips and exercises in this chapter will help you improve your comprehension of written passages so that you can increase your score in this area.

As a nursing professional, you will do a lot of reading—memos, policies, and manuals, as well as medical and technical reports, charts, and procedures. Understanding written material is a key part of the job. Reading comprehension is also an essential skill for students of nursing programs—most likely, you will need to read and understand scientific and medical textbooks as part of the training for your career. As a result, nursing school entrance exams attempt to measure how well applicants understand what they read.

The reading comprehension section of your test will look much like reading comprehension segments you have encountered before on other standardized tests. You read a passage one to five paragraphs long, usually scientific in nature, and then answer one or more questions based on what you have read. You do not need to have any prior or specific knowledge to answer the questions—you need only the information presented in the passage. You will be asked to interpret passages, identify the author's purpose, look at how ideas are organized and presented, and draw conclusions based on the information in the passage.

Types of Reading Comprehension Questions

As a test taker, you have two advantages when answering multiple-choice questions about reading passages:

  1. Before you start reading, you don't have to know anything about the topic of the passage.
  2. You're being tested only on the information the passage provides.

The disadvantage is that you have to know where and how to find that information quickly in an unfamiliar text. This makes it easy to fall for one of the wrong answer choices, especially since they are designed to mislead you.

The best way to do well 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 ask you to:

  • Identify a specific fact or detail in the passage.
  • Note the main idea of the passage.
  • Make an inference based on the passage.
  • Define a vocabulary word from the passage.

Facts and details are the specific pieces of information that support the passage's main idea. The main idea is the thought, opinion, or attitude that governs the whole passage. 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). Let's say, for example, you read a sentence that says, "After the department's reorganization, workers were 50% more productive." A sentence like this, which gives you the fact that 50% of workers were more productive, might support a main idea that says, "Every department should be reorganized." Notice that this main idea is not something indisputable; it is an opinion. The writer thinks all departments should be reorganized, and because this is his opinion (and not everyone shares it), he needs to support his opinion with facts and details.

An inference is a conclusion that can be drawn based on facts or evidence. For example, you can infer—based on the fact that workers became 50% more productive after the reorganization, which is a dramatic change—that prior to the reorganization, the department had not been efficiently organized. The fact sentence, "After the department's reorganization, workers were 50% more productive," also implies that the reorganization of the department was the reason workers became more productive. There may, of course, have been other reasons, but we can infer only one from this sentence.

As you might expect, vocabulary questions ask you to determine the meanings of particular words. If you have read carefully, you can determine the meaning of a word from its context—that is, how the word is used in the sentence or paragraph.

Because most of the texts you will read as a nursing student and professional are scientific in nature, you are most likely to find fact or detail and vocabulary questions on your entrance exam. However, because all four types of questions are important to reading comprehension (because not all scientific texts are objective fact, and because analysis and interpretation are important parts of the scientific process), you will find main idea and inference questions on the tests as well.

The following is a sample test passage, followed by four questions. Read the passage carefully, and then answer the questions, based on your reading of the text, by circling your choice. Note under your answer which type of question has been asked (fact or detail, main idea, inference, or vocabulary). Correct answers appear immediately after the questions.

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