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Basic Comprehension Questions

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Basic Comprehension Questions

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[edit section] Inside SAT Reading Comprehension Guide

  1. Reading a Passage
  2. Basic Comprehension Questions
  3. Analytical Questions
  4. Vocab-in-Context Questions
  5. Advanced Comprehension Questions
  6. Two Passage Questions
  7. More on Analytical Questions
  8. Extension Questions
  9. Summary and Review


[edit section] Basic Comprehension Questions

Comprehension questions test you on your ability to recall and understand what you read in a passage. For example, you may be present for a long lecture from a teacher and still not understand a word he said. Similarly, reading on the SAT goes beyond simply answering questions – the College Board expects you to be able to take what you read and recall it in different forms.

Basic comprehension questions require you only to recall what a passage “says,” whereas more difficult comprehension questions test you on what a passage “means.” For example, consider the following paragraph:


1 Well, we were not all sure in those days if that

2 was what we wanted; after all, perhaps it was

3 some sort of scandalous trick or knavery. Still,

4 we persisted, putting up with the long hours,

5 destitute working conditions, abysmal pay,

6 and dangerous environment in the hope that

7 perhaps someday we too could improve our

8 lives and move beyond this social abyss.


Now, after reading the small snippet of a passage above, see if you can understand what is going on. You should always be able to answer these questions:


  • Who is speaking? A passage is written by somebody, a real person, and therefore you should be able to tell who is speaking. Obviously, in the passage above, you cannot definitely give a name to the speaker, but you can suffice a description: obviously, it is a sympathetic person, a person who has endured long and suffering working conditions hoping to improve his or her life.
  • Who is the speaker addressing? You should know what the audience of the speaker is. For example, this passage may be from an auto-biography or a prepared address, but it is certainly formalistic in nature and therefore meant to be taken seriously. So, you know that this passage is addressed to a serious and mature audience.
  • What is the speaker’s main point? The College Board wants you to be able to focus on one “point” for the entire passage. Think of it not as a summary, but a purpose. What is the passage above trying to tell the audience? It should be clear that the point of the passage is not to simply give an account of a bad experience.
  • How does the speaker articulate his point? That is, you must know how the speaker puts his message forth. In the above example, the speaker uses language of desolation and misery to help the reader empathize with the speaker. In other example, a speaker may simply be explaining a scientific endeavor and therefore use factual details.


These are considered “guiding” questions as you read the passage. However, many comprehension questions test you on your knowledge of a specific area of text within the passage and its meaning:


Based on lines 1-8, who does the author speak on behalf of?

A) Workers in poor working environments user posted image Mothers of disabled children C) Newly wealthy members of society D) Sportsmen at retirement age E) Environmental ecology advocates


Although the question and its responses may seem somewhat abstract or generic at first glance, carefully examine the question first to make it simpler. “Speak on behalf of” is a fancy way of asking, “Who’s talking?” That is, who is the “we” in the passage? It couldn’t be mothers, as maternity was not mentioned in the passage nor could it be sportsmen. The passage reflects a destitute person, so choice C is unlikely. Finally, although the word “environment” is used in the passage, the context of “environment” is to describe the place in which the speaker works.

Sometimes, comprehension questions will simply ask you to restate what is already said. Consider the following passage and question:


1 Ask any modern astrophysicist and he will tell

2 you that the future of physics is found in

3 string theory. Ask that same physicist to

4 justify how string theory works and he will

5 undoubtedly come up short. See, string theory

6 is one of those hyped-up, overrated movies

7 that are endlessly promoted and may very

8 well flop. Sure, it’s a great idea on paper, but

9 it is still a theory and there exist many logical

10 inconsistencies with string theory. Just take

11 what “experts” tell you with a grain of salt.


On the paragraph from lines 1-11, the main idea or focus is that

A) Superstring theory has yet to mature.

user posted image In science, there are many questions to be asked but few are answered.

C) Science is hyped-up and overrated

D) Superstring theory is fundamentally flawed

E) Superstring theory is only a theory


The answer is E, but can you see how choices A, B, C, and D might seem appealing? Let’s take a look:


  • A) Although we can infer that the superstring theory has yet to mature, we were not specifically told that, so A is not likely the answer.
  • user posted image This generality seems “correct” enough, but simply does not address the main point. It’s a cliché.
  • C) Although superstring theory is compared to an overrated movie, the author does not condemn all of science in that vain.
  • D) Although the author is critical of superstring theorists (the people who are proponents of the theory), he does not actually criticize the theory for its lack of merit


In our next lesson, we will explore some new ways of examining Critical Reading passages. For now, take the SAT CR Comprehension I quiz and see how you stack up!


[edit section] Additional Resources



[edit section] Inside SAT Reading Comprehension Guide

  1. Reading a Passage
  2. Basic Comprehension Questions
  3. Analytical Questions
  4. Vocab-in-Context Questions
  5. Advanced Comprehension Questions
  6. Two Passage Questions
  7. More on Analytical Questions
  8. Extension Questions
  9. Summary and Review

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