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Page 1 Reading Literacy Study Guide for the TASC Test

How to Prepare for the TASC Reading Literacy Test

General Information

The TASC Reading test assesses your ability to not only understand what you read, but also to form additional thoughts and opinions based on what you have read. The answers won’t always be found directly in the text, but may require some analysis and deep thought on your part. The best way to study for this test is to read a lot and practice doing the things in this study guide.

Structure of the Test

The Reading section of the TASC test contains about 44 questions and you are given 85 minutes to complete them. Most of the questions are in a typical multiple-choice format, but you may see one or two that are “technologically-enhanced,” meaning that the answer will still be there for you to choose, but it may involve selecting a section or part of the screen or moving items around on the screen.

Types of Passages

About 75% of the reading material on this test is classified as informational (nonfiction) and the other 25% is literary in genre. Some of the passages will likely be historical documents and scientific articles.

Question Content

The greatest emphasis in test questions is on locating key ideas and details in the text, followed by knowledge of craft and structure of the passage. Lesser emphasis is placed on vocabulary and integrating knowledge and ideas, but these two areas are represented in some questions.

Skills to Master

Find Evidence in the Text

Evidence within a text is used to support the main idea of the piece itself, or the main idea of a paragraph. When searching for evidence, first be sure you know and understand the main idea in need of support. Next, identify and isolate any bits of information that reinforce or support that idea. Evidence is not inference; an inference requires that the reader apply his/her own knowledge to understand something not directly stated, while evidence is explicitly stated within the text.

In some instances, evidence will not be within the text at all. To discover whether or not this is the case, you must first (again) identify the main idea. From there, you can determine whether any evidence is provided in support of the idea.

In an essay discussing E. coli outbreaks, for instance, evidence will likely come in the form of statistics collected by the CDC. In a more relaxed essay such as an expository essay, evidence will be more anecdotal and might come from a small aside in a story.

Determine the Main Idea

The main idea of a piece is the overall purpose and idea of that piece. If a piece focuses primarily on wastewater and its role in contaminating the environment, the main idea is going to be something along the lines of, “Wastewater is a blight on modern industrial use, and its creation should be heavily regulated.” A piece discussing the potential problems with various medicines might have a main idea along the lines of, “You should always consult your practitioner before enlisting the use of a new medicinal product.”

Identify Details that Contribute to the Main Idea

Details that contribute to the main idea might include evidence (or supporting details), but may also come in the form of summarization or allusion. Ideally, each sentence within a work will contain details contributing to the main idea; this is how you construct a well-organized, concise essay. This is not always the case, however, and finding details may require some digging.

To locate details contributing to the main idea, isolate any and all sentences or phrases that pertain to the main idea. If the main idea is the importance of establishing your role as the pack leader while training dogs, search for details that reinforce this idea, such as the nature of dogs as pack animals, the potential behavioral markers of a dog who has assumed his role as the pack leader, and the possible responses a dog will have to commands from someone who has not adequately taken on this role.

Summarize the Text

Before summarizing a text, read everything and solidify understanding. When you have accomplished this, identify the overall purpose and meaning of a work. If the work is focused on the necessity of forensics in modern crime-solving, you might summarize a paper as follows:

“Author A. Writer discusses the use of forensics in modern crime-solving, illustrating its vast usage and importance in developing time-efficient, accurate hypotheses. The prevalence of crime is, ultimately, no match for advanced forensic applications and will eventually supersede modern crime.”

Analyze the Author’s Use of Order and Structure

Order and structure within a piece can be extremely important, as many authors arrange events, evidence, and arguments in a sequence for a specific purpose. Authors may also use a certain structure in a piece to emphasize a point or highlight important details.

First, identify order. In an argumentative essay, for instance, identify which proofs are provided first, middle, and last. Then, identify which of these is the most compelling and which are less compelling. Did the author start out with the most compelling argument and end on the least compelling, or did the author slowly build his argument to crescendo at the end? Identifying order will allow you to understand how much importance the author wishes to place on certain pieces of information.

The structure of a piece is equally important, as different structures draw attention to different parts within a work. A five-paragraph essay, for instance, is a short, simple, and concise option and is typically used to create a compact, somewhat shallow work. An in-depth study of a work of literature, with a paragraph corresponding to each chapter within the novel is much different, and aims to provide a deep, probing argument regarding the novel as a whole. As you analyze structure, think about what the author is drawing more attention to and what his/her purpose is in doing so.

Analyze Character and Idea Development

Character and idea development are pivotal in creating a compelling, well-reasoned work. First, we’ll discuss character development.

Character development is typically exclusive to fiction and creative nonfiction and is an essential aspect of creating a story. Just as real-life people change and grow (or devolve, depending on the person), characters must react to the changes around them and grow―or, at the very least, change in some way. Failing to develop or grow a character results in a static character―a character who is not compelling and who does not possess characteristics the audience can relate to. These are called static characters, and should be reserved for background characters or, on occasion, villains. For a character to develop, he or she has to interact with both internal and external occurrences and respond in a way that is appropriate for his or her personality.

Idea development is similar―though, of course, idea development is usually found in nonfiction work or more classical literature. For an idea to develop, it must undergo a similar process. As an essay is constructed, the main idea should interact with supporting evidence and topic paragraphs to expand the audience’s initial understanding of the main idea. A static main idea is one in which the author has not invested effort or explanation, and it remains as simplistic and misunderstood as it was in the essay’s introduction.

Use Context Clues for Word Meaning

Context clues are excellent tools for providing insight into an unfamiliar word or phrase. To use context clues, first identify the word you do not understand, such as the word pretentious. Next, analyze the area surrounding the word. What are the surrounding sentences discussing? What is the attitude of the author in the preceding sentences? The following ones? Take what you can glean from these sources, and identify the best possible meaning of the word, based on what would fit in with the surrounding sentences. For instance:

“The party-goers glanced at Aleisha, rolling their eyes. She sat, loudly denouncing the host’s decision to own a television, citing it as a blight on modern society. Those immediately surrounding her looked uncomfortable, while the host stood, steaming, in a corner, frustrated by her pretentious behavior.”

We have already identified the word in need of explanation as pretentious. From there, look at the overall reaction to Aleisha. Those around her are uncomfortable, annoyed, and the host is steaming. Thus, we can deduce that Aleisha is not viewed favorably. Next, look at Aleisha’s words. She is declaring a television―a common fixture in modern America―an unspeakable horror. It can be surmised, then, that pretentious might mean something along the lines of “being condescending,” or “behaving as though she is better than others.”