Page 1 ESL Reading Skills Study Guide for the ACCUPLACER® test

How to Prepare for the ESL Reading Skills Test

General Information

While the ESL Listening Skills portion of the ACCUPLACER test measures your ability to listen to and understand English, the Reading Skills test evaluates your ability to read and comprehend English. With a total of 20 questions, the test is divided into two parts. One section gauges your ability to paraphrase, locate information, identify vocabulary, and pronoun references, while the other section places greater emphasis on intuitive thinking, measuring your ability to identify the main idea, irrelevant information, what fact is versus opinion, logic using cause and effect, and point of view.

First Half:


To paraphrase is to take a large section of text and identify the basic idea of the passage in only a few sentences (or a single sentence). Part of English comprehension is the ability to take information in a large span and shift it into a more concise, focused explanation. Practice doing this with everything you see, from ads to articles.

For example, as you read, think of a way to paraphrase this paragraph:

The world used to be a lot bigger. No, not actually physically bigger, but when Alexander Graham Bell shrank it when he invented the telephone. In a short time, distance between family or friends began to feel much less important as people were suddenly able to communicate despite living far away. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that it was probably the most important factor to shape twentieth century communication.

Which one of these would be the best choice?

a. The telephone was an invention that greatly changed the way people communicated.
b. Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone.
c. Twentieth century communication was an improvement.
d. The world is a very large place.

The best answer would be a.The telephone was an invention that greatly changed the way people communicated. The other choices mention only one piece of information from the paragraph and do not really summarize it, as you do when you paraphrase.

Locate Information

Reading comprehension is being able to pluck a single piece of information out of a larger passage. To practice for these questions, ask yourself simple questions about the facts embedded in a passage or article. This may include identifying facts, figures, or opinions embedded within a paragraph.

Read this paragraph and see if you can answer the following question:

World War II was one of the most horrific events in the modern era, with countries all around the globe vying for power. The Allies and the Axis fought on for 6 years, from 1939 to 1945, with the war only ending when Japan surrendered after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Question: When did World War II begin?

a. Hiroshima
b. 1945
c. 6 years
d. 1939

There can be only one correct answer here: 1939. It can be found in the second sentence. Be sure to use clues in the questions. In this one, the question begins with “When,” so you can immediately eliminate “Hiroshima” and “6 years” because they do not answer a “when” question.

Identify Vocabulary

Questions requiring you to identify vocabulary highlight a single word within a passage and ask you which answer best fits that word. If you are unsure of the word’s meaning, look at the phrases surrounding the word to narrow down the possible meaning. From there, choose the answer that makes the most sense in the context of the passage.

Read the following question and see if you can work out the meaning of the word obsolete:

With so many people using credit cards these days, I believe that carrying money in the form of cash is going to become obsolete.

Which of these would be the best answer?

Obsolete most closely means ____.

a. silly
b. old-fashioned
c. difficult
d. easier

The best answer here is b. old-fashioned. The passage discusses the advance in technology represented by the use of credit cards and makes the point that cash is becoming outdated. It does not discuss ease or difficulty, and it does not state an opinion on the change.

Pronoun References

Pronoun references require you to understand what a pronoun is being used to refer to. “It,” for instance, is a pronoun used to replace an object or idea. “He” is a pronoun used to replace a male figure, and “they” is a pronoun used to replace a collection of people. To prepare for questions of this nature, read as much as possible and pay close attention to pronoun use. Consistent reading and practice can help you to readily identify pronoun references.

As you read the following paragraph, make sure to focus on the pronoun they and to what it refers:

Pianos are usually the first instrument that students learn how to play, owing to the ease of learning, initially. They are percussion instruments, which produce sound when the musician applies pressure to the white and black keys, activating a hammer inside the piano.

Choose the correct answer to the following question:

What does the pronoun they refer to in sentence 2?

a. students
b. pianos
c. keys
d. hammers

The correct answer can only be a. pianos. Students are not musical instruments, while keys and hammers are only parts of the instrument.