Language Arts: Reading Study Guide for the HiSET Test

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General Information

This is a test to determine if you can read, understand, and analyze texts in both literature and informational categories. You will be asked to read passages that are between 400 and 600 words in length and answer questions about them. You should also anticipate having two passages (totalling the same length) on the same topic as a prompt for questions. Additionally, some questions may refer to one passage and some type of visual (such as a graph, chart, or map) on the same topic.

You will have 65 minutes to complete 50 multiple-choice questions. The passages may be narratives, memoirs, essays, biographies, editorials, or poetry.

Use this study guide as an outline of things to study and practice, then do just that: practice the skills by reading a lot and making notes of these things as you read.

Basic Comprehension

Reading comprehension means being able to understand what you read and apply that understanding to contexts beyond a particular text. To comprehend text, a reader must interact and engage with the text deeply. Evaluating an author’s diction, looking for context clues to draw a conclusion, and being able to evaluate main ideas and separate them from supporting details are all important skills for basic comprehension.

Finding Facts

Basic comprehension includes understanding, on a very simple level, the basic facts of a passage. This means being able to identify the who, what, when, where, why, and how that an author includes in his or her writing. Depending on the author and the genre of text, it may be difficult to separate fact from fiction. This means you must be a critical reader and gather facts. You must look for essential information presented in a way that makes logical, reasonable sense.

Understanding Restatement

Restatement is a comprehension tool for students. Being able to restate what you have read in your own words checks your level of comprehension and identifies any points you might need to go back and reread to strengthen your understanding.

You may also encounter restatement in test question answer choices. In this context, test writers may restate an idea or an author’s point and you need to be able to recognize the reference, even with the new wording. Look for similarities in the wording of the question or answer options to key words and ideas that you remember from the text.

Using Context Clues

Context clues are hints that authors use in their writing to give suggestions to the reader about the meaning of a word with which the reader might be unfamiliar. Context clues are either a single word or a phrase that helps offer insight to a word’s meaning. That insight may be overt, like a definition provided within the sentence, or it might be covert and you have to piece together the clues and make an inference.

Context clues may be found within the same sentence as the unknown or challenging word, or they may be in a sentence before or after the sentence where the unknown word is located. Look for context clues in the form of definition or example clues, restatement or synonym clues, contrast or antonym clues, and inferences.

Evaluating Word Choices

In analyzing an author’s diction (word choice), consider how word usage affects meaning and tone. The English language has many words with similar meanings but subtle differences in tone or connotation. This is why you should look to evaluate an author’s word choice and consider why the author would choose word A as opposed to word B—what is the effect on the reader?

Authors choose each and every word very carefully, so consider why an author might make the selections they make in terms of their audience and purpose and how those selections affect the meaning and tone of a passage.

Inference and Interpretation

Inferences are conclusions a reader makes based on the argument, evidence, and reasoning provided by an author. Inferences require looking at a set of facts and then coming to a conclusion based on those facts, like a detective attempting to solve a crime.

Interpretation takes things a step further and makes an inference from a particular point of view. This means that two people with the same set of facts may have a different interpretation of those facts based on their own experiences and understanding.

Making Inferences

An inference is an assumed fact based on analysis of information provided and personal experience. It is an educated guess based on what we know and what logical conclusion we can draw from information or evidence given by an author.

As a reader, you can make inferences about a character (what is this person likely to do in this situation?), people’s feelings (based on what I know about this person, what do I think his or her reaction would be to xyz?), traits (I see this character behaving in this way, making these comments, so what else can I infer about his or her personality?), or motives (knowing this person as I do, what do I think motivates him or her to take these actions?). Chances are you know people like this, or have read books or seen movies with characters like this, so relying on that background and prior experiences, what conclusions can be drawn in this context? That is making an inference: making a logical, educated guess based on facts.

Drawing Conclusions

In drawing conclusions, a reader uses his or her experiences and understanding to form a conclusion based on the next logical steps. This requires deducing meanings that may not be specifically found in the text, but inferred through careful reading and looking for hints and clues. Conclusions are drawn based on the facts of a situation and are logically derived from the information available. You may find it helpful to use your inferences to help you draw conclusions.

Applying Information

Applying information means applying your inferences to other scenarios or contexts to determine if they hold true in the same way. You can apply information by predicting whether something will happen in the same way if the context changes.

Applying information requires active reading where you are engaged with the text and asking questions of it: Why does a particular passage stand out to me? What is the author’s argument and do I agree or disagree with the author’s claim? What new questions does this claim bring up for me?

When you are actively thinking about what you are reading and the ideas contained therein, you can stretch beyond the current context and hypothetically apply the information to other situations. For example, you could ask yourself how a character might react if faced with a certain challenge. Based on what you know about this character, you would apply that information and predict how she might react to that challenge.

You might apply the information you are reading about to your own life—how can I use this author’s advice to overcome my own adversities? How can I apply her argument in my own life? Applying information requires you to take it off the page and consider how it might look in other scenarios.

Interpreting Nonliteral Language

Words can be taken one of two ways: literally and non-literally. Literal language includes using words as the dictionary would define them (they literally mean this). Nonliteral language, however, goes beyond the actual dictionary definition and uses words in a creative way to help the reader understand something or gain a better mental picture of a situation. Nonliteral language can come in a variety of forms, but the most common is idioms.

Here is a sentence using words literally:

“The lamp lit up the room.”

Here is a sentence using words in a nonliteral way:

“Her eyes lit up when she saw her grandchildren walking up the front steps.”


Idioms are word combinations that mean something vastly different from the actual, literal meaning of each word. They are phrases that are used in order to create a certain image for the reader or audience. Here are some examples of idioms:

“That leather jacket costs an arm and a leg.”

No one is going to expect you to saw off limbs to get this jacket. The implication is that it’s really expensive and the cost is quite dear.

“The teacher said, ‘I want all eyes on me!’”

Well, if 30 kids threw their eyeballs up to the teacher, that would be really gross. Instead, what the teacher is asking for is everyone’s attention, which can be indicated by the students looking in the teacher’s direction.

“Getting an A on the test was a piece of cake because he had studied the materials for three days.”

Unfortunately, this has nothing to do with literal cake. The phrase “piece of cake” implies that something is simple, easy to do, or not challenging.


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