The main idea of a passage is the driving force of the passage, or the purpose for writing. Questions regarding the main idea require you to read a passage and use deductive skills to determine what the main purpose or point of a passage is. To practice this, you may use practice tests, or you may simply read essays, articles, or nonfiction works and pick out the main idea.
As you read, remember to ignore details and try to focus on what the general point, or main idea, of the passage is.
Obtaining a driver’s license is a rite of passage in many countries where residents are dependent on personal vehicles for transportation. Especially in areas which lack developed public transit systems, such as the western regions of the United States, the day that one receives his or her driver’s license changes everything, giving a certain freedom to the new driver which they didn’t have before.
What is the main idea of the passage?
a. Having a driver’s license can change a person’s life.
b. Western regions of the United States lack public transportation.
c. Residents are dependent on personal vehicles.
d. Public transportation is necessary in developed nations.
The answer can only be a. Having a driver’s license can change a person’s life. Answers b and c are details from the passage, but not the main idea. Answer d is an opinion that we may conclude the author believes, but again, it is not the main idea of the passage.
Questions asking you to identify irrelevant information require you to evaluate all of the facts presented in the passage and choose the fact or piece of information that does not relate to or support the main idea or purpose of the passage.
Read the next passage and think about its main idea. When you already know the main idea, identify the part of the passage that doesn’t belong.
When Susie was young, she loved fishing. Her father would take her on fishing trips with her brothers and their friends, and she grew up not realizing that it wasn’t a very common hobby for little girls. It was when she started to become a teenager that she realized her hobby was different. All the other girls were interested in make-up and pop singers, and Susie began to refuse to go on fishing trips. Her brothers really liked trucks and airplanes too. After high school, Susie decided that it was all right to have different hobbies than her friends, and she started to go along on these “boys” trips again.
Which of the following statements does not support the main idea of the passage?
a. When Susie was young, she loved fishing.
b. She grew up not realizing that it wasn’t a very common hobby for little girls.
c. The other girls were interested in make-up and pop singers.
d. Her brothers really like trucks and airplanes too.
The correct answer is d. Her brothers really like trucks and airplanes too. The main idea of the passage is that Susie grew up with a different hobby than other little girls. The other three answers support that main idea. The fact that her brothers like trucks and airplanes is not important information for the main idea of the passage.
Questions regarding fact versus opinion require you to evaluate the information offered up, and choose what information is based on fact and what information is subjective. The easiest way to separate one from the other is to ask yourself whether the information provided is based on science, math, or other infallible sources, or whether it is simply what one man or woman thinks about a subject.
Think about what this author actually states about climate change:
While the majority of scientists and politicians have agreed that climate change is a very real and very serious problem, there is still a small minority who insist that global warming either doesn’t exist, or should not be a cause for concern. Luckily, fewer and fewer of the members of the public are listening to that minority and climate change is finally being discussed in terms of the massive threat that it poses to human society as we know it.
Which best completes the following statement?
The author states that
a. Climate change is a threat.
b. Climate change is not a cause for serious concern.
c. People should listen to the politicians.
d. The majority of scientists and politicians should bring change to human society.
In the last sentence, the author states that a. Climate change is a massive threat. He does not give an opinion on what people, scientists, or politicians should do. We can deduce that he probably holds strong opinions. But the question does not ask about opinions; it asks about what the author states. This removes c and d as possible answers. Answer b is the opposite of what the author states.
Cause and effect is a relationship frequently found in essays and articles. Identifying cause-and-effect relationships is generally quite easy; when seeking out one such relationship, ask yourself “Did A cause B?” or “What was the result of
____?” If the first question is negative, or the second question cannot be answered, the relationship is not cause and effect.
As you read the next passage, think about the reasons that the author does not cook now:
As a child, I would follow my mother into the kitchen and beg for cooking lessons. She obliged, and I think I’m quite decent, especially at baking. After all, she was the famous Marie Montague, and people would stop us in the street to ask her how she got her cakes so fluffy, or for a definitive answer on the best way to boil an egg. Funny that I don’t cook much now that I’m older. It’s not exactly that I don’t like it anymore… perhaps it’s because deep down I feel I will never be able to live up to people’s expectation of me, given my upbringing. I think one day I might pick it up again though.
Now, which of the answers gives the best reasons for why the author doesn’t cook anymore?
a. Her mother didn’t teach her.
b. Her husband doesn’t like her cooking.
c. She feels that she will not be able to cook as well as people want her to.
d. She prefers baking.
The best answer is c. She feels that she will not be able to cook as well as people want her to. Near the end of the passage, the author clearly states that she believes that the reason she doesn’t cook anymore is that she “will never be able to live up to people’s expectations.” In other words, she is afraid that she will disappoint them with her cooking.
Point of view is a phrase used to describe the nature of the author of a piece. First person point of view may be identified by the use of “I” or “we” in a passage. Second person point of view may be identified by the use of “you”—a word used to speak directly to the audience. Finally, third person point of view may be identified by its lack of “I” and “you.” With a little bit of observation, identifying point of view should come to you with greater ease.
As you read, consider the relationship between the author and Raj. Who is the author?
We had never even seen each other before the wedding day. That’s how it is in our country, in some families, you see. The morning before, my mother showed me his photograph, and I suppose his mother showed him one of me as well. Raj was not a handsome man, and I cried when I first saw him. In time though, we formed a bond, and now I would not have any other man in my life.
Who is the author?
a. Raj’s wife
b. Raj’s daughter
c. Raj’s friend
d. Raj’s mother
The correct answer is a. Raj’s wife. The author discusses the wedding day, and how she had never seen Raj before the wedding, but now she would not choose another man. It is clear that she married Raj at that wedding. Raj’s daughter and Raj’s friend are not mentioned, so answers b and c can be omitted. Answer d is impossible as the passage states that the author had never seen Raj before the wedding day.