The Reading Test is 60 minutes long and usually contains 40 questions. It consists of passages of approximately 200 words, shorter passages of approximately 100 words, and short statements of one or more sentences. Each passage or statement is followed by questions based on its content.

This section tests your ability to understand the content of the passages and any of the following: its main idea, supporting ideas, or specific details; the author's purpose, assumptions, or tone; the strengths and weaknesses of the author's argument; inferences drawn from the passage; the relationship of the passage to its intended audience; supporting evidence in the passage; and so forth.

No outside knowledge is necessary; all questions can be answered on the basis of what is stated or implied in the passage. The test is composed of the following content areas and approximate number of questions.

Literal Comprehension

These are 22 straightforward questions used to determine whether you comprehend the passage and its direct meaning:

  • its main idea or supporting ideas

  • the primary purpose or organization of the passage

  • the meaning of words used in the passage

Critical and Inferential Comprehension

These 18 questions require you to read "beneath the surface" and understand deeper meanings that are directly implied by the passage:

  • the argument's strengths or weaknesses, the relevance of its evidence, or whether the ideas presented are fact or opinion

  • implications or assumptions of the passage or the author's underlying attitude

  • generalizations or conclusions that can be drawn or related to new situations

General Procedure for Answering Reading Comprehension Questions

  1. Skim the questions. Underline or circle the word or phrase that stands out in each question. Don't read the answer choices.

  2. Read and mark the passage. Pay special attention to information relevant to the questions you've skimmed.

  3. Answer the questions. Base your answers only on the material given in the passage. Assume that the information in each passage is accurate. The questions test your understanding of the passage alone; they do not test the historical background of the passage, the biography of the author, or previous familiarity with the work from which the passage is taken.

Suggested Approach

Two strategies that will improve your reading comprehension are prereading the questions and marking the passage. Readers who become comfortable using these strategies tend to score higher on reading tests than readers who do not use these strategies.

Prereading the questions

Before reading the passage, read the question or questions that follow it. Do not read the multiple-choice answers. Underline or circle the operative phrase in each question, that is, what you are being asked to answer.

SAMPLE QUESTION: The author's argument in favor of freedom of speech may be summarized in which of the following ways?

  1. If every speaker is not free, no speaker is.

  2. Speech makes us different from animals.

  3. As we think, so we speak.

  4. The Bill of Rights ensures free speech.

  5. Lunatic speeches are not free speeches.

In this example, the operative phrase is "author's argument . . . may be summarized (how?)." So you might underline the words "author's argument" and "may be summarized." Thus, prereading allows you to focus on and clarify exactly what you're being asked to answer.

Marking the passage

After prereading the questions, read and mark the passage. Underline or circle those spots that contain information relevant to the questions you've read as well as other important ideas and details. However, don't overmark. A few marked phrases per paragraph help those ideas stand out.

Five Key Questions for Understanding and Interpreting What You Read

Main idea

What is the main idea of the passage? After reading any passage, try summarizing it in a brief sentence. To practice this very important skill, read the editorials in your local paper each day and write a brief sentence summarizing each one.


What details support the main idea? Usually such details are facts, statistics, experiences, and so on, that strengthen your understanding of and agreement with the main idea.


What is the purpose of the passage? Ask yourself what the author is trying to accomplish. The four general purposes are (1) to narrate (tell a story), (2) to describe, (3) to inform, and (4) to persuade.

Style and tone

Are the style and tone of the passage objective or subjective? In other words, is the author presenting things factually or from a personal point of view? If an author is subjective, you might want to pin down the nature of the subjectivity. Ask yourself, is the author optimistic? pessimistic? angry? humorous? serious?

Difficult or unusual words

What are the difficult or unusual words in the passage? Readers who do not mark words that are difficult or used in an unusual way in a passage often forget that the words occurred at all and have difficulty locating them if this becomes necessary. By calling your attention to difficult or unusual words, you increase your chances of defining them by understanding their meaning in context.

Pop Quiz!

The solution x = –3 and equation is the solution for which of the following system of equations?

Back to Top