Page 1 Reading Study Guide for the TSI

How to Prepare for the Reading Section of the TSI Assessment

General Information

To pass the Reading placement section of the TSI Assessment and be entitled to enroll in college-level courses, without remediation, you will need to achieve a score of 351, according to the most recent information available. The state of Texas may revise this number, so check with current online information just before you take the test.

If you do not achieve a passing score, you will be given shorter diagnostic tests in the areas in which you demonstrate need. Then, you will be directed to remediation options. The idea is to be sure you are prepared for the level of reading that is required in college courses.

The TSI Assessment Reading test is multiple-choice and contains about 24 questions on passages you will be given to read. Passage length ranges from fairly short (75 words) to more lengthy (400+ words). Shorter passages will usually have only one question pertaining to them, but there may be up to four questions about longer passages.

The questions are not only about the content of reading passages, but also require you to analyze how the writer presents the material. Be sure you understand and can use all of the critical reading skills discussed here. These skills fall into four main areas:

  • Literary Analysis
  • Main Idea and Supporting Details
  • Inferences in a Text or Texts
  • Author’s Use of Language

Literary Analysis

Literary analysis is the close, careful study and examination of a piece of literature. In literary analysis, readers give detailed scrutiny and study to the elements of an author’s writing and give their (readers’) interpretation of the effect of those elements.

As a result, a discussion of literary analysis can be incredibly academic and enlightening or insanely maddening. That is because literary analysis is actually argumentative in nature. Because we all read and interpret what we read a little bit differently, our understandings of a text can vary, sometimes widely. Your interpretation of an author’s use of color symbolism may be very different from another reader’s interpretation of that author’s use of color symbolism. In this way, you are arguing your interpretation and defending your understanding using textual evidence and support.

Literary analysis questions might ask you to explain the significance of a work’s title, or to explain the development of a recurring theme presented throughout a piece of writing. You might be asked to explain the significance of a name given to a character or a symbol that is introduced. Literary analysis questions can cover a broad range of literary elements.

Style, Tone, and Mood

Style, tone, and mood are similar in meaning but are not, in fact, synonymous. Each has a slight nuance of meaning that makes it unique and being able to talk about all three as separate elements is a good thing.


When we talk about an author’s style, we are looking at an author’s diction (word choice) and how he or she develop his or her writing to create a certain mood and meaning for the reader. Style is evident in an author’s word choice, sentence structure, use of figurative language, and overall structure of development.


Tone and mood are often used interchangeably, but they do not mean quite the same thing. Tone is the attitude an author takes toward his or her subject or audience. It can be described using adjectives like sarcastic, sad, melancholy, formal, and so on. Tone can be neutral, which means the author is trying to be impartial and not sway the reader one way or another, but most pieces of writing have some level of tone. Tone is created by an author’s word choice and it reveals the author’s attitude, perspective, or opinion about his or her subject or audience. Tone also helps to create mood.


When you are asked to identify the mood of a piece of writing, you are being asked to explain the “atmosphere” of a text, or how it makes you, the audience, feel. Mood involves evoking certain feelings from a reader, tapping into a reader’s emotions in some way. Mood is created through an author’s use of setting (a short story set in a cemetery at midnight is going to have a very different mood than a short story set in a park on a sunny day), theme, voice, and tone. Mood, like tone, can be neutral (mainly in nonfiction writing), but generally, if you are being asked to discuss or analyze it, it is because there is some level of mood present.


Consistency means just that: being constant, uniform, and regular throughout a piece of writing. If a piece of writing has a solemn and serious tone, it would be a bad idea to include a joke in the middle of it. So a writer must make conscientious choices about style, mood, and tone to maintain consistency.

When you are looking at consistency in the context of literary analysis, however, you are generally being asked to be on the lookout for shifts in mood or tone and then trying to analyze why an author would have decided to have that shift take place. What is its effect? What purpose does it serve to break the consistency at that point? It may be a subtle shift, so read carefully.

Author’s Purpose and Position

An author’s purpose and position are two slightly different things and there are clues that will alert you to each. Purpose refers to why someone writes; position indicates the stand or preference the author takes with regard to the topic.

Author’s Purpose

An author’s purpose is his or her reason for writing. Generally speaking, an author may have four main purposes: to inform or explain, to describe, to entertain, or to persuade.

  • Informational/Explanatory—writing that is done to present information in a factual, easily accessible way or to explain a process

  • Descriptive—writing that creates a vivid, descriptive image in the reader’s mind, generally through the use of imagery

  • Entertaining—writing that engages the reader with interesting or amusing stories (Its intention is simply to provide an escape from reality and delight the audience.)

  • Persuasive—writing that appeals to a reader’s sense of logic and emotion to convince them to take a specific stance on a topic (This type of writing must be scrutinized carefully as it can manipulate an audience’s emotions and present logical fallacies.)

An author’s purpose is usually fairly obvious from the beginning of a piece. If it is not obvious, it may not be a very effective piece of writing. Elements of the different types of purposes may also be present in one piece of writing (e.g., a humorous, entertaining anecdote may be used in a persuasive essay or some description might be used in an informational text).

Author’s Position

Everybody has bias. Although it has taken on a negative connotation, bias simply means a partiality or preference to one thing over another. We all have preferences and authors are no exception. An author’s position is the stance or belief the author takes on in his or her writing. The reader might either agree or disagree with the author’s position, or the reader might start out with his or her own position and then be convinced by the author to see things from a different perspective and take a different position.

Characteristics of a Passage

There are four basic writing passage types: narrative, expository, technical, and persuasive. Understanding what type of writing you are reading will help you determine how you should read it. The skills you use to read and analyze persuasive writing are somewhat different than the skills you use when you are reading a narrative. It’s generally easier and quicker to read through a narrative because it’s entertaining and you can understand the gist without having to concentrate on every word. An expository piece can be more challenging as expository writing tends to be a little more “dry” and may require that you pay more attention and keep your mind focused. Here are some distinctions to keep in mind.


Narrative writing is storytelling. It is “narrating” the events of a story in an entertaining and engaging way. There are certain characteristics unique to narrative writing. For example, narratives have characters, a plot, and some sort of conflict or struggle.

If you were to draw a picture of a storyline, this is what it might look like:


The exposition “exposes” the reader to the characters, introducing who they are and what kind of people they are; the rising action includes the events in the story that lead to a conflict or struggle. That conflict may be internal or external but causes the character(s) some level of discomfort or angst. The climax is the turning point in a story: a character (usually the protagonist) faces a moment of decision and that decision will affect the rest of the story. The falling action refers to the events that happen as a result of the decision the character made at the climax, and the resolution is how everything is “resolved” or how it all works out in the end. In this way, a story is told about the character(s) and his or her adventures and the struggle(s) faced. Narratives come in all lengths and styles, from short stories to book series, myths and legend to fantasy novels.


Expository writing is meant to instruct or inform an audience. It is generally “drier” and less interesting and engaging than the other types of writing. Expository writing often involves directions or steps in a process and is written in second-person voice (you and your). Sequencing words like “first,” “second,” “next”, and so on are often present in expository writing as the author takes the reader through the instructions or process. Expository writing examples would include instruction manuals or cookbooks.


Technical writing is very practical and often includes the use of charts, graphs, and data to inform the audience of certain pieces of information. Technical writing is generally aimed at a specific audience who will understand the terms and jargon used that are unique to the subject being discussed. Technical writing is not for a general audience’s consumption.


Persuasive writing is meant to convince an audience to believe or accept something they might not currently believe or accept. It is intended to change opinions. The topic, author’s position, and main arguments are delivered in a clear, concise thesis statement (generally found at or near the end of the introduction paragraph) with body paragraphs working to provide evidence and support for the claims made by the author. These pieces of evidence are interpreted and explained by the author, who wants the reader to interpret the evidence in the same way and therefore be convinced by the argument.

Effective persuasive writing uses logical arguments and trustworthy sources to convince the audience. Ineffective persuasive writing relies on logical fallacies and usually includes a strong bias that can come across as aggressive to an audience. Readers should be very critical of persuasive writing and test the claims made for validity and credibility.

Historical Context

Reading historical literature can be very enlightening because it gives the reader a glimpse into a world much different from today. However, one must be aware when reading historical literature that its viewpoints or diction or values may be outdated and no longer accepted. Keeping that in mind, it is not a good argument that Mark Twain was a racist, for example, because The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn includes racial references that are deemed unacceptable in today’s society. When he was writing, that diction was commonplace and socially acceptable. This is what is meant by being aware of the historical context of a piece of literature; times may have changed since the original publication, but we can still read and appreciate the literature for the ideas they present to the reader and look beyond what we might now see as stereotypes or prejudice. The interpretation of an eighteenth century text by a twenty-first century reader is going to be different than the interpretation by an eighteenth century reader.

Cultural Themes

We are all human. We all share certain qualities or hopes or beliefs regardless of time or space. It is what is known as the human condition. This is what makes certain pieces of literature seem “timeless” and what earns them the title of “classic.” It means that, even now, we can appreciate, understand, sympathize with, empathize with the characters or conditions of texts written generations ago. It’s how the “green-eyed monster” that plagued Othello in 1604 can show up in a contemporary song in 2008 and make the audience today understand the power of jealousy just as well as Shakespeare’s audience did in the seventeenth century.

Literary Genres

Literary genres include novels, short stories, poetry, and drama. Under those broad categories are all sorts of sub-genres including: fantasy, historical fiction, romance, thriller, mystery, crime dramas, etc. Identifying the genre of a literary passage can help you anticipate the type of content you will read and assist you in analyzing that content to answer questions. To help you identify the genre, keep in mind that novels and short stories tend to use plot, characterization, and setting to help tell a story with a particular theme. Poetry relies on figurative language, symbolism and poetic devices of the sound of language to address a particular theme. And drama uses dialogue and actors’ body language to deliver its message about a particular theme.