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Page 1 Reading Study Guide for the PERT

How to Prepare for the PERT Reading Test

General Information

The PERT Reading section will test how well you can not only read and comprehend, but also analyze a passage. It will be important to understand the terms used in the test and be able to extract the requested details from the written material. Here are some study points to help you do just that.

Terms to Know

It will help to be familiar with certain terms so you will know exactly what information you are seeking in order to select the correct answer.

Main Idea

The main idea of a piece is the overarching theme or point. In an argumentative essay arguing against the use of kill shelters in animal care, the main idea would likely be something akin to, “Kill shelters demonstrate inhumane treatment of animals and should be banned immediately.” The main idea is frequently used as a synonym for thesis: both provide the main point and purpose of a single work.

Implied Main Idea

Similar to a main idea, an implied main idea is one that is the purpose and overall thesis―but one that is not clearly stated by the author. In the example used above, that sentence is likely to function as an actual sentence in the opening (and closing) paragraph. An implied main idea is not spelled out like this, but is hinted at or spelled out by the supporting details and arguments.

Supporting Details

Supporting details are found in the body of a work, rather than the opening or closing paragraphs/chapters. Supporting details are the framework of an argument or piece, providing evidence or ideas used to support the main idea. These typically make up the bulk of a paragraph, and are used to expound on a paragraph’s topic sentence and the paper’s main idea.

Author’s Purpose

The author’s purpose is simply the reason behind the author’s writing. In the argumentative essay discussing kill shelters, the author’s purpose is likely to be “to provide reasons and evidence to support the notion that kill shelters are inhumane, thereby persuading the audience to come to his/her way of thinking.” This will be the case in a persuasive essay. A narrative essay will likely be different: rather than writing to persuade, the author is writing to deliver a story. The author’s purpose is usually most easily identified by identifying the type of work being read.

Author’s Tone

Tone can be difficult to find. An author’s tone is used to clue the audience in to how the author feels about the subject matter. In a narrative essay, the author’s tone might be sad, or nostalgic. In an informative essay, the author’s tone is usually formal and detached. Tone lends insight into the purpose of a paper and the expected reaction to the piece.


An inference is an idea that is assumed based upon available knowledge or evidence. If a friend rushes into a party late, with work clothes still on, you might infer that the said friend got off of work late. If a paper offers evidence to support the notion that global warming is a serious issue, you might infer that the author considers this a serious threat and is writing to persuade his/her audience to take action. Inferences are used regularly in both academic and informal writing.


A bias in writing occurs when an author fails to consider the possibility of any outcome or idea but one. Bias is often seen in both argumentative essays and compare/contrast essays; rather than offering ideas from both sides of the proverbial coin, an author will simply provide information to reinforce his/her ideas, rather than giving equal weight to both sides.

Fact and Opinion

Fact is irrefutable, or assumed to be true. Facts are typically found in more formal writing, discussing concrete matters such as history, science, and current affairs. In a newspaper, facts may be found everywhere, from sports reporting to the headlines.

Opinion is refutable and is simply a reflection of the author’s ideas. In a newspaper, opinions are typically found in the editorial section―a section dedicated to authors voicing their opinions.

In academic writing, facts and opinions should not be mixed up; facts are used to support ideas, while opinions are used to influence the audience.

Reasoning and Rhetoric

The reasoning of a piece describes the manner in which an author lays out his/her information and arguments. Reasoning may involve using facts to support ideas, or appeals to emotion. Rhetoric is the delivery of reasoning and includes three types of delivery: logos, ethos, and pathos. Logos is reasoning using logic (appeal to reason). Ethos is reasoning using an appeal to ethics. This is most often used in discussions of morality and wrongdoing. Pathos is reasoning using an appeal to emotion. This is most commonly found in persuasive essays and even narrative essays.

To evaluate what type of rhetoric (or reasoning) is being used in a piece, identify the type of language being used. Is the language primarily academic or formal in nature? Are facts the most commonly used support? This is logos rhetoric. Is the language emotionally charged, conjuring images of pain or suffering? This is pathos rhetoric. Is the language focused on similarities between the author and the audience? Does it cast the author as an authority on the subject? This is ethos rhetoric.

Specific Skills to Practice

Being able to do the following things quickly will enhance your ability to score well on this test.

Picking Out the Most Important Information

Picking out important information requires first perusing the given passages. As you read, highlight (or simply make a note) of all information that directly supports or relates to the main idea, the topic sentence, or simply a given idea you are working to support. After separating these points from the rest of the text, sift through them to locate the ideas, sentences, or phrases that pertain wholly to the point you are working with―these will be the most important tidbits of information.

Finding Evidence

Finding evidence may, at first glance, seem difficult or daunting, but can actually be quite simple. When looking for evidence, first clearly identify what exactly you are working to support. From there, search the sentences and paragraphs surrounding the introduction of that idea, and identify facts and figures that directly support that idea. This is important because it allows you to either confirm an idea presented in the passage or refute that idea.

Using Context Clues

Context clues are an invaluable tool when analyzing a passage. Context clues may be used to determine the meaning of a single word, or the meaning of an entire passage. To use this tool effectively, you must conduct a close reading of the text. If you are searching for the meaning of a specific word, look at the words and information surrounding that word. The tone, topic, and word choice should make identifying the word an easy task. For instance:

“Violet and Ana were hesitant to invite Claudia to the senior recital. While she was talented, Claudia was known for her tempestuous temperament. The recital could go off without a hitch, or it quickly morph into World War III.”

In this sentence, what is the meaning of the word “tempestuous”? Given that her friends are hesitant to invite her, and inviting her might mean the beginning of a world war, it is safe to assume that tempestuous is, first of all, a negative description. Next, given the mention again of a world war, it is safe to assume that the word suggests a violent or unpredictable temperament. Viola! You have the basic meaning of the word.

In a paragraph, this progress is even easier: simply read the sentences and ideas surrounding the confusing sentence or phrase, and determine the meaning based on the tone, ideas, and word choice immediately surrounding.

Analyzing Word Choices

Analyzing word choice is an integral part of evaluating a text. Word choice is important, in that it can lend insight into the tone, organization structure, and purpose of a text. Choosing emotional or descriptive language, for instance, will elicit a sympathetic response from the audience, resulting in a positive response to a persuasive essay, an emotional tie to a narrative, etc. Choosing formal or academic language will paint the author as an authority on the subject, and may sway skeptical readers, inform the uninformed, etc. Word choice lends tremendous insight into the purpose and rhetoric of a piece.

Organization choice is also able to lend insight into a piece and its author. Organization could be in chronological order (most often in narratives), but may also be laid out in another way. A cause-and-effect relationship denotes the passage of time and the effect one point has on another. A problem/solution organization structure provides readers with an in-depth analysis of a problem, before offering an equally extensive solution. Question and answer structures are typically used to address the most common questions posed about a subject, while organization structures using least to most important (or vice versa) are most often used to create a sense of urgency by building up to a large conclusion. Using the descriptions above, you can readily identify the type of organization used in a given work.

Analyzing the Relationship of Events

Analyzing the relationship of events in a piece is important because it can reveal the purpose of that piece and direct the audience to a conclusion more easily. The most common relationship of events is the cause-and-effect sequence. “Cause and effect,” as the name suggests, describes a relationship where something occurs, triggering a chain reaction. In a paper, this is characterized by bringing up a single point, which then brings up another point, etc.

Another relationship of events is the compare-and-contrast relationship. In writing, this involves taking an idea, and either comparing it (finding similarities) or contrasting it (finding disparities).

As you analyze the possible relationship of events, look at the beginnings of each paragraph―is the topic sentence a jumping-off of the preceding topic sentence? This is cause and effect. Is the topic sentence being compared to the preceding topic sentence? Contrasted? This is a compare-and-contrast relationship.

Determining Relationships within and between Sentences

There are four different relationships between sentences. These include: addition/listing, time order/process, restatement, and comparison.

Addition/listing is the most common relationship and is denoted by the presence of words such as “and,” “also,” “too,” “in addition,” etc.

Time order/process involves identifying a sequence of events or a process and usually includes words such as, “first,” “next,” “then,” “after,” etc.

Restatement simply restates an idea from one sentence to another. These relationships are usually denoted by the use of small phrases, such as “in other words,” “that is to say,” etc.

Finally, comparative relationships compare two sentences and include words such as, “similarly,” “in the same vein,” etc.

Extracting Character Traits and Motivations from Text

Character traits and motivations are usually detailed in passing in texts, rather than being stated overtly. To extract these, pay close attention to the actions of characters, even in small passages. A character’s words, actions, and even word choices are all clues as to the character’s traits, motivations, thoughts, and purposes―in both fiction and nonfiction.

To find these traits, ask yourself, “why?” When a character says something, ask why. When a character completes an action, ask why. When a character has a thought or makes any move whatsoever, ask why. This will start you on the road to determining what your character’s traits and motivations are.

From there, start threading the answers to your why” questions together. A pattern will likely emerge. Is a character constantly making self-focused decisions? Narcissism is both a trait and a motivation. Is a character regularly thinking negatively? Pessimism is a trait, while self-defeating may be a motivation. Though it may take some time, both traits and motivations may readily be discovered with a bit of digging.

Comparing Two or More Passages on Similar Topics

Comparing two or more passages on similar topics will usually lead you to analyze three different aspects of writing: style, point of view, and type of essay/argument. First up: style. Style is the manner in which an author delivers a piece. Is the pace quick and witty? Slow and methodical? Average, but passionate? These are different styles that may be used to discuss the same topic.

Point of view next: there are numerous points of view, including first person, second person, and third person (both limited, and omniscient). First person uses “I” and “we” statements. Second person uses “you.” Third person limited is told from an outside perspective with a focus on one character, while omniscient is an outside perspective with equal weight on and insight into multiple characters.

Finally, type of essay/argument. The type of essay ranges, but it includes argumentative, persuasive, narrative, informative, etc. Although these types are quite different in delivery, they may each be used to cover the same topic.

Although these are only three ways essays may differ from each other despite covering similar or even identical topics, there are many ways to differentiate one similar article from another. The key is looking for nuanced differences.

Tips and Tricks

  • Read each passage and the accompanying questions thoroughly.

  • Be sure you know what the question is asking and that you know how to determine an author’s purpose and a main idea.

  • Practice finding things that are not exactly stated in a passage, but may be inferred from it.

  • It helps to note words such as best choice and main purpose in questions. This means that other answers may seem to be correct, but that there is only one that is the best.

  • You will notice that many questions include the phrase, according to the passage. This means that you are only to consider information that is written in that passage. You may have lots of background information on the topic, or your own opinion, but this is not to be considered when searching for the correct answer.

  • A phrase like the writer seems to is your cue that every single thing written by this writer may not lead to a certain conclusion, but that there are at least a few pieces of evidence within the passage that do.

  • Refrain from yielding to the temptation to choose one answer without thoroughly reading and considering all of them. There may be a one- or two-word difference in two answer choices, but those tiny differences can make one answer correct and the other incorrect.