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.

Skill Tested/ Types of Questions
Approaching the question
Level of difficulty
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.
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.
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

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.
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.
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.