Perhaps the most common of all the reading comprehension (RC) question types, the “main idea” questions can be expected in almost every passage within the RC section. Identifying the main idea is in fact a very basic and quintessential reading skill, so practice is of paramount importance.
When these questions are to be tackled, usually the most useful strategy lies with reading at a relaxed pace (2.5 minutes for a short RC passage, 3.5 for a long passage) and taking notes voraciously (an essential skill that also evolves with practice of course).
You need to be able to think more like the test-writers with practice, so ensure that you understand the explanation behind each solution after having solved a question, even if you’ve got the answer right! By practicing diligently, you’ll begin to notice how to weed out trap answers and how to select the best answer from the available options.
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The question idea
In the “Main Idea” question type, we’re ideally looking for the answer choice that matches the scope of the entire passage. For example, if the passage you’re reading is about the “Richest countries of the world” and how these countries may or may not have easy access to social and economic privileges, then naturally, names like the USA and the UK will come up with perhaps entire paragraphs dedicated to them. However, it would be incorrect to believe in that case, that the main idea of the passage was “The United State of America” or “The United Kingdom”. The “Main Idea” would need to be something like “to discuss the prospects and privileges of the world’s richest countries. since that would be a more general focus.
For “Main Idea” questions, we need to try and see the picture that is being formed by all of the puzzle pieces, and not get distracted by the individual pieces themselves. This task itself is not very difficult, provided you make note of the purpose of the passage, by active reading and note-taking before you have read the first question. When you see a “Main Idea” question, you can quickly refer back to your Purpose to form a prediction. In addition to this, in the very passage itself, there are a few good places to look for the “Main Idea”, like the last few sentences of the opening paragraph, where the author may be including a thesis statement/strong point of view or prediction that could just as well holistically summarize the main point he/she is trying to make.Another good place to look is the concluding paragraph. Does the author re-iterate a main purpose here? What is he summarizing? As a reader, you must in fact, focus especially on the first and final sentences of the passage at hand, to grasp the entirety of what has been said.