Test Tips and Strategies: GED Test Prep (page 4)
The GED Language Arts, Reading Exam in a Nutshell
This GED Language Arts, Reading Exam consists of 40 multiple-choice questions about texts from three different time periods: pre-1920, 1920–1960, and 1960–present. Each exam will include a poem, an excerpt from a play, a commentary on the arts, a business-related document such as a memo or report, and at least one excerpt from a work of fiction. Each passage (except the poem) will be approximately 300–400 words long.
Questions will test your basic comprehension (20%) of the texts, your ability to analyze the texts (30–35%), your ability to "synthesize" (draw inferences from) ideas from the texts (30–35%), and your ability to apply information or ideas from the texts to different contexts (15%). You may be asked about the main idea or theme of a text, about a character's feelings or motivations, or the significance of a symbol. You may be asked to identify a specific fact or detail or to predict the effect of an action described or implied in the text. You might be asked about the effect of a rhetorical technique or to identify the tone of a passage.
Getting Ready for the Exam
The GED Language Arts, Reading Exam covers a lot of material. It tests your comprehension not just of functional texts but also of the many genres and time periods of literature. Between now and test time, one of the best things you can do is to read as much as possible, especially the genres with which you are least familiar. The more comfortable you are with literature, the easier it will be to understand what you read, and the more comfortable you will be at test time.
As you read various texts, remember that you don't necessarily have to like what you read. Hopefully, you will find the experience enjoyable and rewarding. But if you don't like every poem you read, that's okay. Different writers have different styles, and sometimes the writer's style and subject matter may simply not appeal to you. What matters is that you are able to appreciate the text and understand what the author is trying to say. Whether you like the writer's style or not, whether the subject matter thrills you or bores you, keep reading and developing your reading comprehension skills. You may find some authors and texts that have a profound impact on you. You might also develop a love for a genre that will last throughout your life.
Finding the Main Idea
Remember that the main idea is the thought that controls the text. What is the author trying to say? What point does he or she want to get across? The main idea may be explicitly stated in a topic sentence (for a paragraph) or a thesis statement (for a complete text). It can also be implied. In literature, the main idea is called the theme. The theme is the "sum" of all of the elements of literature, including plot, character, symbolism, tone, language, and style.
Here are some specific tips for finding the main idea:
- Remember that themes and main ideas are general and should cast a "net" over the whole passage or text.
- Consider the author's purpose. What do you think the writer is trying to accomplish with this text? Why do you think he or she wrote it?
- Try to fill in the blanks:
- This story (poem, play, essay, etc.) is about ______ (insert topic).
- The writer seems to be saying ______ (general thematic statement) about this topic.
- Try giving the text a new title that conveys the main idea or theme. What would you call the passage?
If you can support your statement with specific evidence from the text, and if that statement is general enough to encompass the whole passage, you have probably successfully identified the main idea or one of the themes of the text. (Literary texts, especially long ones such as novels, can have more than one theme.)
Finding Specific Facts and Details
Specific facts and details are often used to support the main idea of a text. Here are some tips for questions about specific facts and details:
- Remember the difference between main ideas and their support. Note the specific examples, facts, and details the writer uses to develop his or her ideas.
- Look for key words in the question to tell you exactly what information to look for in the passage.
- Think about the structure of the passage and where that information is likely to be located.
Distinguishing between Fact and Opinion
An important reading comprehension skill is also a critical thinking skill: the ability to distinguish between fact and opinion. It is often important to know whether a writer is stating a fact or expressing an opinion. Here are two quick tips for distinguishing between the two:
- When you are unsure whether something is a fact or opinion, ask yourself, Is this statement debatable? Can others take a different position?
- Look for signal words and other clues that the author is expressing a fact or an opinion. Signal words include phrases such as I believe and words such as should and ought.
- Remember that good writers will usually provide facts to support their opinions.
The ability to draw logical conclusions from a text is essential to reading comprehension and to doing well on the GED Language Arts, Reading Exam. Remember that your conclusions must be based on evidence from the text. If a writer wants you to infer something, he or she will give you clues so you can make that inference. If you have a hunch about what the writer is trying to say, search for evidence in the text to support your ideas.
Here are some more specific tips for making effective inferences:
- Pay careful attention to word choice, details, actions, and structure. If the writer wants you to infer something, he or she will leave you clues to guide you to the right conclusion.
- Test your inference. Double back to find specific evidence that will support your conclusion.
Inferring Cause and Effect
- Look for basic clues like transitions that signal cause and effect: since, because, therefore, as a result, etc.
- Make sure you can establish a direct link between cause and effect. Remember that many effects have more than one cause and that there is often a chain of causes that lead to a specific event.
- Again, make sure you have evidence to support your inferences about cause and effect.
When you read a work of fiction, remember the eight elements of fiction that work together to create meaning:
- point of view
- language and style
Here are some specific tips for handling questions about fiction on the GED Language Arts, Reading Exam:
- Pay attention to details, especially details about characters and setting.
- Use your mind's eye to visualize people, places, and actions.
- Think about motivations. Why do the characters say what they say, feel what they feel, do what they do? Many of the questions will be about the reasons for characters' thoughts and actions.
- Remember that stories aim to help us better understand our world and ourselves. Think about what message the story might be sending that would meet this goal.
Drama is literature that is meant to be performed. But you can still be greatly entertained and moved by simply reading a play. Here are some tips for understanding dramatic excerpts on the GED Language Arts, Reading Exam:
- Remember to read any stage directions carefully. These notes from the playwright can provide important clues to the characters' emotions as they speak and to the relationships between characters. Stage directions about setting are also important clues to the play's theme.
- As with fiction, think about motivations. Why do the characters say what they say and do what they do? What has happened between the characters or to the characters to make them feel, say, and do these things?
- Use the stage directions and other clues to "stage" the play in your head. Create a "theater of the mind" and imagine the action taking place on stage. Try to hear the characters saying their lines and see them moving about on the stage.
Every GED Language Arts, Reading Exam will include at least one poem. Remember that while there are many different types of poems, most poems aim to tell a story, capture a moment, embody an emotion, or make an argument. In a poem, word choice is limited by the poem's length and often by structure and rhyme scheme, so poets are especially deliberate in their choice of words. Because poems are usually short, every word counts. Pay attention to every detail.
Here are some more specific tips for dealing with poems:
- Read the poems aloud in your head so you can "hear" how they sound. Read each poem at least twice: first to get a general sense of the poem and its sound, second to get a better understanding of its meaning.
- Poems don't have a narrator, but there is still a specific voice speaking to the reader, telling the story, painting the picture, or capturing the emotion. Use tone and word choice to determine as much as you can about the speaker of the poem. Who is this person? How does he or she feel about the subject of the poem? Does he or she seem to be talking to someone in particular or to a general audience?
- Look at the overall structure of the poem. Is there a rhyme scheme or meter? Does the structure fit a particular pattern or design? Think about how the structure might reflect the subject or meaning of the poem.
- Look at the line breaks and stanzas, if any. Where are the line breaks? Do any of the end words seem significant? Are the lines separated into stanzas? If so, what holds the lines in the stanzas together? Are any words separated to stand out for readers?
- Try to determine the purpose of the poem. Is the speaker telling a story? Explaining an idea or emotion? Making an argument? Capturing a moment? Celebrating or mourning a person, place, or thing? Determining the type of poem is central to determining the poem's theme.
- Pay attention to repetition. If a word or line is repeated, especially if it is repeated at the end of a line or stanza, it is significant and may be symbolic.
- Look carefully at word choice. Because poems are so compact, each word must be chosen with special care, and some words may be chosen because they have multiple meanings.
- Remember that poems are about real people and real emotions. Think about how the poem makes you feel. Think about the emotions conjured up by the words and rhythm of the poem.
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