Following Instructions Study Guide

Updated on Aug 25, 2011

Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Following Instructions Practice Exercises


The ability to follow directions is a key skill for test takers, and it is also useful in daily life. This lesson shows you how to interpret and follow instructions.

Suppose you want to fix the brakes on your bicycle. Your friend lends you a bicycle repair guide and says, "Good luck!"

How can you find the information you need? How will you know what all the steps mean? Instructions can be intimidating, but careful readers have a major advantage in successfully following directions. That's because good readers notice the key words in instructions and they use logic to follow the steps carefully. Good readers can also evaluate instructions to decide whether they make sense, because even professional writers sometimes make mistakes!

You practice interpreting instructions all the time. When you learn a new game, follow a recipe, or complete a homework assignment for class, you are already using many interpretive strategies. Directions on assignments and standardized tests can be particularly tricky, so in this lesson you'll learn strategies to build your direction-following skills.

Why Read Instructions?

Suppose your teacher has just handed you a social studies exam. Should you skip the directions and spend your time writing answers, instead? The directions might tell you how long you have to complete the exam, or how many points each question is worth, or whether you can ask questions or use your notes. If you skip over the instructions, you might miss important information or waste time doing the exam incorrectly.

We read instructions to learn. Whether you want to learn how to make peanut butter cookies or how to put your bicycle back together, instructions give you the information to do it yourself. Even if you think you know what the instructions will say, it is important to read them closely, every time. It only takes a few seconds or minutes to read the instructions, but it could take a long time to fix your mistakes if you skip this step!

Read Ahead

Have you ever started to cook or bake something, only to realize that you're missing one or two necessary ingredients? Reading ahead can help you avoid silly mistakes and prepare you for what is coming next. Try this exercise:

  1. Read all the directions first.
  2. Think of your favorite fruit.
  3. Focus on the first letter of that fruit.
  4. Think of a person's name that starts with that letter.
  5. Write that person's name on a piece of paper.
  6. Fold the paper in half, then in half again.
  7. Think of how many years you have known that person.
  8. Write the number of years on the folded paper.
  9. Do only step 2.

Did you follow the instructions correctly? You probably won't come across instructions like this in a real text, but it's a good reminder that if you don't read all the instructions, you only have part of the information. You could see instructions like this, however, on an exam:

      Read the article about deep-sea exploration.
      Underline the main idea in each paragraph.
      Then use these main ideas to develop an outline of the author's argument.

If you only read the first sentence, you won't know to underline the main ideas. It will take extra time if you have to go back and do this step later. The third sentence tells you why you're underlining ideas—you'll need to use them to build an outline. Reading all the directions at once, before you start the test or project, can save you time in the long run. You'll know what's coming and how each step fits into the big picture.

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