Tackling Comprehension Questions
As you read the passage
Ø Identify the CONTEXT and AUDIENCE by noting the text type (is it a narrative, a formal exposition, a personal exposition, a personal recount, a factual recount, an informative text…) and text form (where is this text likely to have appeared? As an article in a broadsheet newspaper – in which section? As an extract in a sci-fi novel?)
Ø Annotate the passage carefully, paying close attention to CONTENT (how ideas are connected and organised), STYLE (use of language devices) and PURPOSE (attitude, tone). Note the main point / idea of each paragraph along the margins of the passage.
Ø Skim through the passage once, making sure you understand the gist of the passage. Next, skim through the questions. Finally, read the passage carefully again before attempting the questions.



S/N
Skill Tested/ Types of Questions
Examples
Approaching the question
Level of difficulty
1
Identifying main/ supporting/ relevant ideas
Ø These are questions that test whether you can recognise and pick out specific factual details or ideas provided in the text.
- “Give two examples of…”
- “What is the reason for…”
- List three incidents that…”
- You can lift from the passage, but be careful to lift only points / ideas that are relevant and necessary to answer the question.
- Excess information will deny you the mark, as it suggests that you do not fully comprehend the question and/or ideas. E.g. do not give more than two examples if the question only requires you to provide two examples.
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2
Analysing style / Use of language
Ø These questions test your paraphrasing skills and your ability to use your own words in expressing ideas.
Ø These questions also test for understanding of rhetoric / poetic devices such as imagery, analogy and irony.
- “Use your own words…”
- “Identify the analogy in… and explain how it is used”
- “What is ironic about….”,
- “Explain the irony in…”
- “Suggest a word that has the same meaning as…”
- “Identify the literary device used in line xx…”
- You have to USE YOUR OWN WORDS.
- Be careful not to use other forms of the words that appear in the passage
- Ensure that you consider the tone and subtle nuances of meaning when substituting the given words.
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3
Understanding relations within a sentence and between parts of a text through lexical and grammatical cohesive devices
- “Which group of people does ‘they’ in line xx refer to?”
- “What does ‘this’ in line xx refer to?”
- This question is generally a 1m question, but is usually not as straightforward as it looks.
- Read the entire sentence carefully; if need be, read the sentences before and after as well, to ascertain that your initial interpretation is accurate
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4
Recognising intent, attitude, bias and tone
- “What is the author’s attitude…”
- “Use a word to describe the author’s tone…”
- “Quote a word from the passage that reflects the author’s attitude towards…”
- For 1m questions, you will generally be required to identify / describe the tone or attitude by providing a one-word adjective (eg. sarcastic / humorous tone, cynical / amused [attitude])
- Therefore, to score well for this sort of question, you will need to arm yourself with a plethora of adjectives that describe tone and attitude.
- A 2m question, or a question with an accompanying part (b) will usually require you to pick out specific words / phrases that convey the writer’s tone / attitude, or explain the writer’s reason for having that attitude.
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5
Recognising inferences/ making judgement
Ø These are traditionally known as “inferential” questions which test your ability to read between the lines and make connections about the ideas in the text.

- Many students make the mistake of simply lifting from the passage for these type of questions, because the question does not specifically require you to ‘use your own words’.
- However, as this sort of question requires you to explain a deduction / inference or interpretation of textual detail, the answer will not be explicitly evident in the passage and will require you to express an idea in your own words nevertheless.
- You may, however, use words in the passage to help you convey some ideas.
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6
Deducing meaning of unfamiliar lexical items through contextual clues
· This is the vocabulary section.

- The words will come from a range of different parts of speech, e.g. noun, adjective, adverb, verb etc.
- Pay special attention to how each word is used in the passage.
- Be careful to provide the answer in the same form as the word provided. eg. a noun should be explained with a noun, or a noun phrase
- As far as possible, the replacement word(s) suggested should fit in the passage grammatically.
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