Support Union Test Prep

Support us and begin preparing Ad-free for your tests with
Union Test Prep.

At Union Test Prep, we are a small team dedicated to bringing the best test-prep material to you, free of cost. But we cannot do it without your support.

Support us today and start preparing for your test without the intrusion of ads.

Support Now

Finding the Main Idea

Many times throughout your education, you’ll be asked to find the main idea of a passage- the “big picture” or point/purpose of the story. While the main idea is frequently obvious and clearly stated, it occasionally takes a little detective work to suss it out. Here are three steps to follow to make sure you correctly identify the main idea of a story every time:

1. Look for the topic. What person, place or thing is discussed in the paragraph? This person, place, or thing is typically brought up repeatedly throughout the text.

2. Look for clues. Still confused what is being discussed? There are a few clues that can help:

The most common place to find the main idea is the first sentence of the text, but occasionally it shows up as the last sentence, and more rarely, somewhere in the middle.

Also be sure to pay special attention to the heading or title of the passage. What does it say? It’s likely pointing you to your main topic or something very close to it.

3. Identify supporting information. Once you have what you think is your main idea, make sure the surrounding information supports it.

Let’s break it down using the three steps and a simple example:

Why I Think Track is Better than Ice Hockey

Track is a better sport than ice hockey. In track you are less likely to be injured and it costs less because there is no equipment. You can run almost anywhere but you need a specific space to play ice hockey. Many people run well into retirement, but it’s difficult to play ice hockey as you age because it’s hard on your body and people in leagues are much younger. For these reasons and more, I think track is a better sport than ice hockey.

Step 1: What topic is being discussed? The subject is definitely track vs. ice hockey.

Step 2: What clues point us to the topic? In this case, the first sentence and title seem to also serve as the main idea: “Track is a better sport than ice hockey.” Let’s see if that fits with our supporting sentences.

Step 3: Some of the supporting sentences around this idea are:

In track you are less likely to be injured and it costs less because there is no equipment.

You can run almost anywhere but you need a specific space to play ice hockey.

Many people run well into retirement, but it’s difficult to play ice hockey as you age because it’s hard on your body and people in leagues are much younger.

In this example, the main idea is “Track is a better sport than ice hockey.”

Here is another example that is more difficult:

Cotton Candy Grapes are a Healthy Alternative to Their Namesake Treat

Love cotton candy, but hate the sticky mess and all the empty calories? Enter cotton candy grapes, green grapes that taste exactly like the dessert you loved as a kid–with much less guilt! The grapes, made by hybridizing two different species, are not genetically modified and contain no artificial sweeteners. Full of antioxidants, they help regulate blood sugar and pack the same nutritional value as traditional grapes. So next time you’re getting a craving for a sweet treat, reach for these little guys instead of your usual sugary pick-me-up–your waistline (and taste buds!) will thank you.

Let’s break it down using our three steps:

Step 1. What topic is being discussed? The healthiness of cotton candy grapes seems to be the most talked about item in this passage.

Step 2. What clues point us to the topic? While many passages put the main idea right at the front of the passage, this example is a little tricky- the first sentence discusses cotton candy, but not cotton candy grapes. In this case, let’s check the title, “Cotton Candy Grapes are a Healthy Alternative to Their Namesake Treat.” That seems to be in line with what our main idea should be, but let’s make sure the surrounding information supports that.

Step 3. Some of the supporting sentences around this idea are:

Enter cotton candy grapes, green grapes that taste exactly like the dessert you loved as a kid–with much less guilt!

The grapes, made by hybridizing two different species, are not genetically modified and contain no artificial sweeteners

Full of antioxidants, they help regulate blood sugar and pack the same nutritional value as traditional grapes.

Do the surrounding sentences seem to support the idea that cotton candy grapes are healthy? Yes! So the main idea of this passage is that cotton candy grapes are a healthy alternative to actual cotton candy.

Finding the Main Idea

Recent Posts

Language and Word Choice in the Digital Age

Language and word choice always matter, but selecting the correct langu…

There Ain’t No Problem with Double Negatives—Except There IS!

Although we often think of English and math as being two very different…

“Text-Speak” versus “Real” Writing

Oh, how far language and writing have come in human history! From early…


Keep Reading

English Basics Blog

Language and Word Choice in the Digital Age

English Basics Blog

“Text-Speak” versus “Real” Writing

English Basics Blog

When to Use a Comma