Paragraph Comprehension Study Guide for the ASVAB

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General Information

The Paragraph Comprehension section of the ASVAB test measures your ability to comprehend and explain information imparted via paragraph. Similar to many reading tests, the ASVAB provides you with a passage, followed by a series of questions designed to measure comprehension and the ability to synthesize given information. The passages in this test are not long, however, and are limited to a single paragraph. If you take the CAT test, this section has 10 questions with a 27-minute time limit. The paper and pencil test version gives you 13 minutes to answer 15 questions.

This section of the ASVAB test has four types of questions, each of them designed to compel students to select and analyze information from the paragraph in a different way. When studying for this section of the test, pay attention to the following guidelines and practice pulling information from the text in a paragraph.

TEST TIP: One positive aspect is that you can refer back to the paragraph to be sure of your answer, so you don’t just have to rely on your memory. The most important thing is to be sure you understand exactly what the question is asking and look back in the paragraph to confirm the answer.

Detail-Oriented Questions

The first type of question on the ASVAB is detail-oriented. These questions require you to identify details or nuances embedded within the paragraph. The items typically ask a general question that must be answered using supporting details inside of the text. To prepare for this portion of the test, practice reading paragraphs and pulling out supporting details on your own. This can be as simple as reading a child’s book (even Dr. Seuss), and pulling out adjectives. Whatever your medium is, train yourself to pay attention to what details support the ideas found in a text.

TEST TIP: Keep in mind that the answers may not be an exact copy of words in the paragraph, but you should be able to “get” this information by what the paragraph says. For example, read this paragraph and the question that follows:

Jane had a huge appetite and she loved almost every food. When it was cold outside, Jane headed to her favorite Mexican place for a hot bowl of chili. When the weather was warmer, she might pick a deli for a cold sandwich. There was one food Jane would never pass up on a hot day: homemade ice cream.

Question: According to the paragraph, what is most likely Jane’s favorite cold food?

  • Mexican food

  • chili

  • homemade ice cream

  • cold deli sandwiches

Be aware that all of the answer choices may be mentioned in the paragraph, but you have to find the one that actually answers the question. First, you can rule out chili (not cold) and Mexican food (not traditionally cold). Now, the paragraph doesn’t say that ice cream is her favorite, but “never passes up” is a stronger statement than “might pick” for the deli cold sandwich, so homemade ice cream is the best choice.

TEST TIP: Be aware that there may be more than one answer choice that might fit, but you need to choose the best one.

Purpose Identification

Some of the questions in the Paragraph Comprehension section involve determining some aspect concerning the purpose of the passage: why it was written, the main idea, or what the author was intending to do by writing it.

Determining the Purpose

The purpose identification portion of the ASVAB requires you to read a passage and then determine its purpose. A paragraph concerning education, for instance, might be written for the purpose of encouraging readers to support local educational efforts, or may simply be constructed to inform the audience about the current education system. To determine the purpose of a paragraph, pay attention to the intended audience and the language used. A persuasive piece is likely to use emotive words, while an informative article is likely to use a formal, academic tone. Paying attention to these two elements helps in determining the purpose of a paragraph.

TEST TIP: This is when you need to try to get into the author’s head. Why did the author write this in the first place? Does the author want you to do something, think a certain way, or buy something? Or does the author simply want to tell you a story or help you know more about the subject? What is the main point—to inform, persuade, entertain, etc?

NOTE: Most, if not all, of the sentences in the paragraph will support the purpose and the main idea.

Finding the Main Idea

A question may ask you to find the main idea of a paragraph. This is a little different from the purpose in that it is just a statement about the topic of the passage. What overall statement is the author making, not why is the author writing the material.

Try to figure this one out:

If you are looking for a sport, consider tennis. All sorts of muscles are exercised, from the arms that swing the racquet to the legs that run across the court. Your stamina will also be improved, as you will be almost constantly moving. Whenever you start, you can play tennis for the rest of your life. Tennis is a good sport to learn and practice.

The main idea of this paragraph is:

  • Tennis is great exercise

  • You can play tennis all of your life.

  • You can improve stamina by playing tennis.

  • Tennis is a great sport.

If you were asked to find the topic of the passage, it would be tennis. The main idea is a statement about the topic—tennis, in this case.

The correct answer is not any of the first three choices. They are simply supporting facts for the last choice, “If you are looking for a sport, consider tennis.”, which is the main idea. Often, the main idea is the first sentence of the paragraph, but sometimes, it is found elsewhere—even at the end. This author actually uses different words to restate the main idea in the final sentence.


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