Detail Questions are readily identifiable if you know what you’re looking for. The prompt “According to the passage,” is perhaps the greatest giveaway that you are dealing with a Detail Question. Other phrasing includes:

  • “The author cites…”
  • “The author indicates explicitly,…”
  • “Which of the following statements about…is supported by information in the passage?”
  • “Which of the following…would the author of the passage most likely agree with?”

The core concept behind these question stems, and this question type, is that you are looking for something specific within the paragraphs of the passage that collectively adds up to the greater whole of the passage.

It’s best to keep in mind that these questions are also known as ‘supporting ideas’ questions for the simple reason that these questions ask you to find the little details that support or back all of the main points that drive or hold up the entire passage. This is precisely why to answer a detail question, you need to first know the main idea. From there, you will probably need to go back and re-read some particular sentences to see how the specific details fit together to give the main idea it’s final form and shape.

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Detail questions are for both short and long passages. Because of the very specific nature of these question types, the benefit surrounding these questions is that you don’t need to entirely focus on the piece as a whole, but can focus on the specific areas that the test administrators want you to concentrate on. As with all reading comprehension questions, of course the most basic strategy is to read the question thoroughly and make sure that you understand what you are being asked. If you can tell that the test administrators are only interested in a specific portion of the passage, you know you’ve hit a detail question. Now, at this point it’s important that you not get intimidated by the nature of the question, or the time you imagine it will take you to crack it. The great thing about these questions is that the answer has to be there somewhere in the text, so you know you can’t get it wrong if you look hard enough and have made a good enough map of the passage. In fact, these types of questions are usually more straightforward than the “main idea questions”.

How to look for the answer?

Usually the biggest clues that indicate where to begin your search for the answer, can be found in the actual words used in the question itself. A good way to start is by looking for references to those specific words in the passages. However, it is also a good idea to occasionally broaden the scope of your search to synonyms and antonyms of those words as well. When you look for the references to the words, ensure that you look for both the direct as well as indirect references. Don’t just expect to find your answer right next to every mention of these words in the passage. Remember that the test likes to trap you by using references to the topic words to directly correlate with the answer, instead of simply feeding the answer right to you. More often than not, you will likely have to a dig a little deeper for your answer. Too many students just look for the “key words” in the passage, from the question and answer accordingly.

As you must’ve understood by now, understanding the wording of the question is paramount, because misunderstanding the question will make you reach the right answer to your version of the question and not the correct version of the question.

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