Next Generation Reading Study Guide for the ACCUPLACER Test
This test is designed to assess your ability to read and understand material at the late high school through early college/career readiness reading levels. Each of the reading prompts contains all you need to know to answer the questions and no prior knowledge of the subject is required. This is important because the passages are on a variety of subjects and are written in one of several modes.
The Reading Passages
Reading passages on the Accuplacer Next Generation Reading Test vary in subject matter, style, mode, and length. Additionally, one set of questions is based on a pair of passages that were written on the same topic. The questions for these will require you to compare and contrast components of the two passages.
The passages on this test range from 75 to 400 words. The total word count for the pair of passages will be no more than 400 words. Some passages are followed by several questions and others just one. Practice reading passages that are varied in length according to the variations included in this test.
Passage Subject Matter
The Accuplacer Next Generation Reading Test contains at least one literary passage, but most of the reading material is informational, from the subject areas of careers/history/social studies, the humanities (arts), and natural sciences. There is no poetry or drama on this test.
Passage Reading Level
To fully understand the passages on this test, you need to be comfortable reading at least at a late high school/early college reading level. The reading material included varies between these two reading levels and some of it can be quite challenging.
The mode of a passage used in this test could be a simple narrative: someone telling the story of something that has happened. This type focuses on a sequence of events. Other modes include argumentative, where the author attempts to persuade the reader, and informative/explanatory, where the author presents new ideas and information.
To adequately prepare for the Accuplacer Next Generation Reading Test, you must practice being a thoughtful, critical reader. Each of the questions on the test assesses one of these areas of reading comprehension:
Information and Ideas
Reading for information and ideas means closely reading a text to determine the central ideas and themes, as well as being able to summarize those ideas and themes and understand their relationship to one another. When you read for information and ideas, you are trying to understand and identify the big picture as well as the textual clues that lead you to that conclusion.
When you read a text closely, it means that you are thoughtfully analyzing the text and using it to identify important information and key ideas. You are reading not just to find explicitly stated ideas, but are also to be able to point to key passages or words in the text to defend your understanding of implied ideas or themes. You use what the text says to draw logical conclusions and make reasonable inferences, looking not only at what a text says, but also how it says it and the patterns the writer creates.
Find the Main Idea and Theme
Finding the main idea or theme of a text is not always easy. When you were younger, you may have been told that the main idea is always in the first sentence or at the beginning of the paragraph. In more complex texts, however, the main idea may be buried within the passage. It may not be explicitly identified and you may have to infer the main idea or theme from textual clues. You will know you have found the main idea of a text when all, or mostly all, of the sentences speak to, or support, that idea.
Summarizing means identifying the main points of a text and condensing them into a brief statement of understanding. Summarizing is completely objective, which means you are simply identifying the author’s main ideas without adding your own commentary or opinion to those ideas. It would be as if you were trying to explain, in 10 seconds or less, the ideas of a text to someone who had not read it—what were the main ideas and themes that you identified?
Define Relationships Between Characters and Ideas
Strong reading comprehension means that you can identify and explain the relationships between characters or ideas in a text. Sometimes the relationships will be explicitly stated and sometimes you will have to infer the relationships, using context clues such as cause-and-effect relationships, compare-and-contrast statements, or sequencing of events or ideas.
An example of an explicit character relationship might be “Sally was short-tempered and mean; no one liked to be around her.” In this example, the author directly explains to the reader the type of person Sally is. Implicit characterization would look more like “Her coworkers tiptoed cautiously around Sally, lest she should snap at one of them short-temperedly and storm off to her office, as usual.” In this example, we can infer that Sally is not well-liked by her coworkers and that she has a tendency to throw fits, which makes her coworkers try to avoid interactions with Sally.
Rhetoric is the art of persuasion through the use of language. It is an ancient Greek term, derived from the Greek verb “to believe.” Rhetoric tries to get the audience to believe an idea and to accept its validity. Rhetoric surrounds us each day and our brains have actually become accustomed to discerning some valid points or arguments from invalid ones, automatically. For example, if someone were to claim “The sun is blue,” your brain rejects that argument and you are not convinced. If, however, your favorite sports hero claims that his or her deodorant is the best product to use to fight odor, you might be convinced by his or her rhetoric. Rhetoric is everywhere—from the advertising we see on TV commercials and billboards to the conversations we have with our friends to convince them to come to see a particular movie with us when they say they want to see a different one.
Analyzing rhetoric in text means looking closely at an author’s techniques, analyzing not only what they say, but how they say it. Being able to identify and analyze rhetoric makes us less susceptible to being fooled by someone’s argument and believe something we might otherwise disbelieve. Authors use particular word choice, structure, and point of view to achieve a particular purpose. They are acutely aware of their audience and, if their rhetoric is effective, they craft their argument to move their audience in a particular way. Authors may appeal to an audience’s emotions (Pathos), rationale (Logos), or set themselves up as a trustworthy source (Ethos); but the most effective authors use all three techniques at the same time to convince their audience.
Choice of Words
An author’s choice of words has a huge impact on an audience’s reaction to the text. To call someone thin or skinny, for example, elicits a much different response from a reader than using emaciated, malnourished, or starving. They may be similar in meaning, but each paints a very different image in a reader’s head. When you analyze word choice, you need to consider how the author’s selection of a particular word or phrase shapes the tone of the text. Ask yourself, “Why does the author use that word as opposed to another word with similar meaning, and what effect does that word have on me, as a reader?” An author’s pattern of word usage shapes meaning and tone in the text. Word choice can enrage readers, can move them to pity, can cause them to doubt, or can make them laugh—the possibilities are almost endless.
Structure of Text
Analyzing the structure of a text just means looking at its organization. When you analyze the structure, consider: In what order does the author present his or her ideas? Be on the lookout for some of these more common structural patterns:
Natural Order or Sequencing—The argument has a basic beginning, middle, and end. This is not to say basic in terms of easy; there can be very complex arguments structured in a natural order.
Compare/Contrast—The author sets up two or more ideas for comparison to show the similarities between the ideas and contrasts the differences between them.
Cause and Effect—The author presents an issue or cause and then rhetorically convinces the reader of a particular effect as a result.
Argument/Counter-argument—The author presents an argument then presents the counterargument. This structure may also include a rebuttal as to why the counter-argument should be seen as invalid.
Authors structure their text purposefully. This means that they not only put ideas in a certain order to achieve a particular effect, but they also intentionally structure sentences. When you analyze the structure of a text, consider the author’s use of sentences. Consider the length of the sentences: Are they short and choppy? Long and complex? A mix of lengths? What impact does that structure have on the reader? Do short sentences make the argument easier to understand? Do the long sentences cause the reader to get lost?
Sentence structure can also affect tone. If the author uses short, simple sentences, then you may feel that he or she is speaking down to you or assuming you cannot understand more complex sentence structure. If the sentences are all complex and lengthy, you may feel the author is too wordy or is trying to speak too loftily.
What types of sentences are used? Is there any pattern of dashes or semicolons used? Are there exclamatory sentences? Does the author use rhetorical questions to encourage the reader to think about an idea or consider a position from a different perspective? Imperative sentences can give a sense of urgency to a text—“We must join together and fight against our common enemy!” Interrogatory sentences, by contrast, can make the reader feel like he or she is under attack by the author—“Do you want to live like this? Do you want your children to suffer the wrath of this injustice?” None of the sentences in a piece of rhetoric happen by accident; each is carefully crafted to produce a specific effect upon the reader.
Point of View
Point of view means perspective or angle of looking at a text. When you are looking for the point of view, you are looking to identify what perspective the author has on the subject and how effectively the author considers the point of view of his or her readers. Authors write from a particular point of view and readers read from a particular point of view. The bias that people bring from their own experiences and understanding can affect their point of view. In this sense, bias does not have a negative connotation; it is simply the reflection of our opinions that affects how we take in the world around us. Effective authors recognize this and structure their writing such as to consider the point of view of their audience.
An author writes from a particular point of view and analyzing this perspective can help a reader figure out the author’s purpose.
Every author has a purpose in writing. When you read a text, consider the tone and structure to help you determine author’s purpose. Why did the author write this piece? What textual elements lead you to this conclusion (consider word choice, structure, point of view, and tone)? The author may be writing to inform an audience about a topic or idea, convince an audience to agree with a position, persuade an audience to take action, manipulate an audience to do or believe something they may not otherwise have done or believed, or simply entertain an audience. You must be able to point to specific textual elements to defend your understanding of the author’s purpose; do not make a claim about an author’s purpose if you cannot back it up with evidence from the author’s writing.
Arguments and Their Validity
Authors may make arguments in their writing, but that does not mean that every argument is valid. Validity doesn’t necessarily mean truthfulness, but rather how logically sound an argument is and how easily an audience can accept it. Remember, rhetoric is the art of persuasion, which means the author may make invalid claims to convince or persuade the audience.
Effective authors use a combination of logos (appeal to logic or reasoning), pathos (appeal to emotion), and ethos (appeal to authority) to persuade their audience. While these may be convincing, critical readers will test the author’s use of evidence to support his or her claims. When the author makes a statement that seems to make logical sense, is there any other conclusion that might be drawn? Have all possibilities been considered? When the author appeals to the audience’s emotions and moves them to feel pity or pride, what does the logical, reasonable part of your brain say? When the author makes a claim without evidence to back it up, can the audience trust him or her and the “expertise” that is claimed? Who is this person? What right does he or she have to speak about this topic? What training has he or she gone through? These are the critical types of questions that a reader must ask of an author’s arguments.
You must analyze the claims the author makes and assess the soundness of his or her reasoning. Does the author provide proof of his or her claim? Where does that proof come from? Is the author using a reliable source? Is he or she making claims that the reader can trust? An author’s arguments may sound good and seem to make logical sense or be crafted in a way to move you emotionally, but where do the arguments come from and do they hold up when questioned or challenged? In the same way that you are asked to use evidence to support your conclusions, authors should also have evidence to support their assertions and it is your task to evaluate their evidence for strength.
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