Reading Comprehension for Nursing School Entrance Exam Study Guide (page 2)
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:
- Before you start reading, you don't have to know anything about the topic of the passage.
- 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.
Practice Passage 1:
Using the Four Question Types
The immune system, which protects the body from infections, diseases, and other injuries, is composed of the lymphatic system and the skin. Lymph nodes, which measure about 1 to 25 centimeters across, and small vessels called lymphatics compose the lymphatic system. The nodes are located in the groin, armpits, throat, and trunk, and are connected by the lymphatics. The nodes work with the body's immune system to fight off infectious agents like bacteria and fungus. When infected, the lymph nodes are often swollen and sensitive. The skin, the largest organ of the human body, is also considered part of the immune system. Hundreds of small nerves in the skin send messages to the brain to communicate pressure, pain, and other sensations. The skin encloses the organs to prevent injuries and forms a protective barrier that repels dirt and water and stops the entry of most harmful chemicals. Sweat glands in the skin help regulate the body's temperature, and other glands release oils that can kill or impede the growth of certain bacteria. Hair follicles in the skin also provide protection, especially of the skull and groin.
- Lymph nodes are connected by
- blood vessels.
- smaller nodes.
- small vessels.
- According to the passage, pain in the lymph nodes most likely indicates that the
- skin is dirty or saturated with water.
- nodes are battling an infection.
- brain is not responding properly to infection.
- lymphatics are not properly connected to the nodes.
- Which of the following best expresses the main idea of the passage?
- The immune system is very sensitive and registers minute sensations.
- The skin and its glands are responsible for preventing most infections.
- The lymphatic system and the skin work together to protect the body from infection.
- Communication between the lymphatic system and the brain is essential in preventing and fighting infection.
- As it is used in this passage, the word compose most nearly means
- create, construct.
- arrange, put in order.
- control, pull together.
- form, constitute.
Question type: _______
Question type: _______
Question type: _______
Question type: _______
Answers and Explanations for Practice Passage 1
Don't just look at the right answers and move on. The explanations are the most important part, so read them carefully. Use these explanations to help you understand how to tackle each kind of question the next time you come across it.
- d. Question type: fact or detail. The third sentence of the passage says that the nodes are connected by the lymphatics, which are defined in the second sentence as small vessels. You may know that nerves and blood vessels make a web of connections in our bodies, but the passage specifically states that lymphatics—small vessels, not blood vessels (choice a)—connect the nodes.
- b. Question type: inference. The passage says that when lymph nodes are infected, they are often swollen and sensitive. Thus, if nodes are painful, they are probably swollen and sensitive, and they are swollen and sensitive because they are fighting an infection. This is also the best answer because none of the other answers are clearly connected to pain in the lymph nodes. Dirty or saturated skin (choice a) may indeed result in infection, but that is not what the question is asking. Choices c and d describe malfunctions of the immune system, a subject that is not discussed in the passage.
- c. Question type: main idea. The idea that the lymphatic system and the skin work together to protect the body from infection is the only answer that can serve as a "net" for the whole passage. The other three answers are limited to specific aspects of the immune system and therefore are too restrictive to be the main idea. For example, choice b refers only to the skin, so it does not encompass all of the ideas in the passage.
- d. Question type: vocabulary. Although all of the answers can mean compose in certain circumstances, choice d is the only meaning that really works in the context of the passage, which says that the lymph nodes and the lymphatics "compose the lymphatic system." The passage makes it clear that the lymph nodes and the lymphatics are the two parts of the lymphatic system. Thus, they form or constitute the lymphatic system. They don't create it, arrange it, or control it; they are it.
Detail and Main Idea Questions
Detail or fact questions and main idea questions both ask you for information that is right there in the passage. All you have to do is find it.
Detail or Fact Questions
In detail or fact questions, you have to identify a specific item of information from the text. This is usually the simplest kind of question. You just have to be able to separate important information from less important information. However, the choices may often be very similar, so you must be careful not to get confused.
Be sure you read the passage and questions carefully. In fact, it is usually a good idea to read the questions first, before you even read the passage, so you will know what details to look out for.
Main Idea Questions
The main idea of a passage, like that of a paragraph or a book, is what it is mostly about. The main idea is like an umbrella that covers all of the ideas and details in the passage, so it is usually something general, not specific. For example, in Practice Passage 1, question 3 asked about the main idea, and the correct answer was the choice that said the skin and the lymphatic system work together to prevent infection. This is the best answer because it is the only one that includes both the skin and the lymphatic system, both of which are discussed in the passage.
Sometimes, the main idea is stated clearly, often in the first or last sentence of the passage. The main idea is expressed in the first sentence of Practice Passage 1, for example. The sentence that expresses the main idea is often referred to as the topic sentence.
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 given in the passage, the trick is to understand what all that information adds up to—the gist of what the author wants you to know. Often, some of the wrong answers on 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.
Practice answering main idea and detail questions by working on the questions that follow this passage. Check your answers against the key that appears immediately after the questions.
Practice Passage 2: Detail and Main Idea Questions
Because the body responds differently to different allergens, allergic reactions have been divided into four categories. Type I allergies, the most common, are characterized by the production of immunoglobulin E (IgE), a type of antibody the immune system releases when it thinks a substance is a threat to the body. IgE releases chemicals called mediators, like histamine, which cause blood vessels to dilate and release fluid into the surrounding tissues, usually resulting in a runny nose and sneezing. Type I allergies include allergic asthma and hay fever as well as reactions to insect stings and dust. Type II allergies, far more rare, are usually reactions to medications and can cause liver and kidney damage or anemia. The body sends immunoglobulin M (IgM) and immunoglobulin G (IgG) to the site to fight the infection. Type III allergies are usually caused by reactions to drugs like penicillin. The body releases IgM and IgG, but these allergens cause IgM and IgG to bind away from cell surfaces. This creates clumps of allergens and antibodies that get caught in the tissues and cause swelling, which can affect the kidneys, joints, and skin. Type IV allergies cause the release of mediators that create swelling as well as itchy rashes. These are usually skin reactions to irritants like poison ivy, soaps, cosmetics, and other contact allergens.
- Which type(s) of allergic reactions result in swelling?
- Types I and III
- Types III and IV
- Type III only
- Types II and IV
- IgE, IgG, and IgM can be classified as
- Which of the following would be the best title for this passage?
- Preventing Allergic Reactions
- Determining the Causes of Allergies
- Allergens and the Human Body
- Four Types of Allergic Reactions
- Which of the following best expresses the main idea of the passage?
- Allergies cause different responses in the body.
- People should avoid things that may cause allergic reactions.
- Type I allergies affect the most people.
- Mediators play an important role in allergic reactions.