Instruction: After almost every text, the first question you should ask is an overview question about the main idea, main topic, or main purpose of the text. Main idea questions ask you to identify the most important thought in the text, the main idea or topic of a passage.

There are two types of main idea questions: matching headings with paragraphs or sections, and identifying which sections relate to certain topics. For both types of questions you should use the skill of surveying the text, but because the strategies are slightly different for each question type, we will look at them separately.

Matching headings with paragraphs

Step 1 Survey the whole text.

Step 2 Survey the paragraph to identify the topic. The topic sentence is usually the first one in a paragraph. Survey the rest of the paragraph to make sure.

Step 3 Choose the correct wording of the main idea from the text.

Identifying where to find information

Step 1 Survey the text

Step 2 Read the question to identify the topic, underline the key words in the question, read one question at a time.

Text: Family problems

Children of divorce.

Parental conflict prior to divorce — rather than divorce itself — accounts for many of the emotional and academic problems that children of divorced parents typically experience, according to a June 2008 report. A research team led by sociologist Andrew Cherlin at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore took a new look at data from surveys of families conducted in Great Britain in the 1960’s and in the United States in the 1970’s.

The British study had compiled academic achievement scores and parent and teacher ratings of behavior for 11,837 unrelated children at age 7 and then at age 11. During the intervening four years, the parents of 239 of the youngsters had divorced or separated. The U.S. survey charted parent’s ratings for 822 children. These ratings were also done at four-year intervals. During those four years, 65 divorces or separations occurred.

C. In analyzing the data, the researchers found that for boys in both surveys, academic and behavior problems existed prior to divorce and did not significantly increase after divorce. Girls in the British study also showed problems prior to parental divorce, but compared with boys, they had a slightly higher rate of problems after divorce.

A Sample Question

What is the main idea of the passage? Choose the right answer.

Girls usually have more behavior problems connected with divorce then boys.

There is no significant difference in the rate of behavior problems before or after divorce.

Emotional and academic problems increase after divorce for both girls and boys.

Relations between parents account for behavior problems of children.

Did the result differ in British and American surveys?

Which line or lines be

st summarize the author’s main idea?

Dyslexia reinterpreted.

A January 2008 report on the reading disorder known as dyslexia challenged two widespread assumptions: that a clear distinction exists between normal reading abilities and dyslexia, and that dyslexic children cannot shed their reading problems. Pediatrician Sally E. Shaywitz of Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., and her colleagues found that dyslexia covers a range of reading problems from mild to severe and often disappears as children progress through elementary school.

While the definition of dyslexia remains controversial, a common description holds that dyslexic children exhibit normal intelligence but have difficulty translating strings of letters into words. For example, a dyslexic person might read the word saw as the word was.

The researchers studied data compiled from the Connecticut Longitudinal Study, whose subjects consisted of 414 randomly selected Connecticut children who had entered kindergarten in 2002. Intelligence and achievement tests had been administered to the children at various intervals. The researchers compared the scores from these tests to determine if the children had achieved reading scores that had been predicted on the basis of their intelligence scores. The scientists diagnosed as dyslexic only those children who showed reading scores far below the level predicted by their intelligence.

These children displayed a range of reading problems that gradually approached normal reading skills, Shaywitz said. This showed that dyslexia was not an «all-or-nothing» characteristic, but a phenomenon that could be measured in degrees and was part of a normal continuum of reading skills. Moreover, the childrens’ reading ability could change markedly over time. For example, of firstgraders diagnosed with dyslexia, only 1 in 6 retained that label in the sixth grade.

Note: When there is not a single, readily identified main idea, main topic questions may be asked. These ask you what this or that passage is generally «about.»

Sample Questions

What is the main topic of the passage? (A) A clear distinction exists between normal reading abilities and dyslexia. (B) Dyslexic children cannot shed their reading problems.

What does the passage mainly discuss? (A) A definition of dyslexia. (B) A description of dyslexia.

What is the passage primarily concerned with? (A) Measurements of degrees of dyslexia. (B) Change of childrens’ reading ability over time.

Alcoholism in families.

Environmental influences, rather than genes, play a major role in alcoholism among women of all ages and among men whose drinking problems begin during adulthood, psychologists reported in February 2009. In contrast, genes play a predominant role among men whose alcoholism develops during their teens, said the study’s director, psychologist Matt McGue of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. The study lends support to the theory that there is more than one type of alcoholism, one of which primarily affects males and begins in adolescence.

The group studied consisted of 356 pairs of twins. One twin in each pair had received hospital treatment for alcohol problems. McGue’s team found that both brothers in some pairs of male identical twins suffered from alcoholism more often than did both brothers in pairs of male fraternal twins. This was the case only when the treated twin had developed alcohol problems during his teens.

By contrast, alcoholism occurred at about the same rate among female identical and fraternal twins, who rarely became alcoholic during adolescence. This finding indicated that environmental factors, which are shared by both identical and fraternal twins, played a more important role than genetic factors in these cases.

Main purpose questions ask why the author wrote a passage. The answer choices for these questions usually begin with infinitives.

Sample Questions

What is the author’s purpose in writing this passage?

What is the author’s main purpose in the passage?

What is the main point of this passage?

Why did the author write the passage?

Sample Answer Choices

To define

To relate

To discuss

To propose

To illustrate

To support the idea that

To distinguish between and

To compare and

4. Drug for autism.

Scientists reported in March 2008 that a drug known to help obsessivecompulsive disorder (a mental disorder characterized by obsessive thoughts or compulsive habits such as constant hand washing or hair pulling) helps autistic children more than does the drug normally used to treat autism. Psychiatrist Charles T. Gordon and his associates at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md., studied seven autistic children who took two types of antidepressants for five weeks each. The researchers noted that the drug clomipramine worked better than the drug desipramine to reduce the compulsive behaviors, anxiety, social withdrawal, and self-injury that characterize autism. [Bruce Bower]

Main detail questions ask about the most significant information of the passage. To answer such a question you should point out a line or two in the text.

Sample Questions

What news is emphasized in the passage?

In what line is the most significant information given?


Don’t answer the initial overview question about a passage until you have answered the other questions. The process of answering the detail questions may give you a clearer understanding of the main idea, topic, or purpose of the passage.

The correct answers for main idea, main topic, and main purpose questions correctly summarize the main points of the passage; they must be more general than any of the supporting ideas or details, but not so general that they include ideas outside the scope of the passages.

Distractors for this type of question have one of the errors: They are too specific.

They are too general.

They are incorrect according to the passage.

They are irrelevant (unrelated) to the main idea of the passage.

E.g.: What news is emphasized in the passage? (A) Autism is a kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder; (B) Constant hand washing is typical for all autistic children; (C) Autistic patients can be treated with a drug used for other mental disorders; (D) The drug clomipramine worked increased the compulsive behaviors.

Distractor (A) is too general. Distractor (B) is too specific. Distractor (D) is incorrect according to the passage. Answer (C) is correct.

If you’re not sure of the answer for one of these questions, go back and quickly scan the passage. You can usually infer the main idea, main topic, or main purpose of the entire passage from an understanding of the main ideas of the paragraphs that make up the passage and the relationship between them.



Your best chance for improving your candidate exam score in a short time is to improve your score on the grammar section, and therefore pull up your total score. Although a wide range of grammar points are tested, there are certain points that appear again and again, and you can master these points with the information and practice this book provides. Grammar Section may seem less stressful for you because it is easier to do all the items if you have learned how to.

Grammar sentences are generally about academic subjects: the natural sciences (such as physics or geography), or the social sciences (such as psychology or economics). Any cultural references in the sentences are to the culture of English-speaking countries. Some sentences contain references to people, places, and institutions that you will not be familiar with. It’s not necessary to know these references; you should simply concentrate on the grammar structure of the sentences. It’s also not necessary to understand all the vocabulary in a sentence; you can often determine a grammar structure or form correctly without a complete understanding of that sentence.

There are two possible approaches to grammar problems: an analytical approach and an intuitive approach. An exam-taker who uses the analytical approach quickly analyzes the grammar of a sentence to see what element is missing or which element is incorrect. Someone who uses the second approach simply chooses the answer that «sounds right» or the one that «sounds wrong». Although the first approach is recommended to post graduate students, the second can be useful too, especially for people who learned English primarily by speaking it and listening to it rather than by studying grammar and writing. If you aren’t sure which approach works best for you, keep in mind that you can combine the two approaches: if you get «stuck» (unable to choose an answer) using one method, you switch to another.

A Tip: An excellent way to prepare for grammar section of the exam is to write your own grammar pattern items. Write several items for each of the units in this part of the book. There’s no better way to start thinking like a test-writer. This section will develop your ability to recognize grammar and usage suitable for standard written and spoken English.

Errors with articles

Errors with articles are very often hard to notice. This is partly because of the complexity of the article system in English, and partly because articles are

«small words,» and one’s eye tends to skip over errors involving these words.

The basic uses of articles are explained below:

The indefinite article a or an is used before singular nouns when one does not have a specific person, place, thing, or concept in mind: an orange, a chair.

The definite article the is used before singular, plural, and uncountable nouns when one has a specific person, place, thing, or concept in mind:

the orange, the oranges, the fruit, the chair, the chairs, the furniture.

No article is used before uncountable nouns or plural nouns when one does not have specific persons, places, concepts, or things in mind:

An orange — oranges; a chair — chairs; fruit; furniture.

The indefinite article a is used before words that begin with a consonant sound (a chair, a book): an is used before words that begin with a vowel sound (an orange, an ocean liner). Before words that begin with the letters hand u-, either a or an can be used, depending on the pronunciation of the words: an honor a hat, an umbrella a university

There are also some specific rules for using (or not using) articles that you should be aware of.

An indefinite article can be used to mean «one.» It is also used to mean «per»: a half, a quarter, a third, a tenth a mile a minute (one mile per minute) an apple a day (one apple per day)

A definite article is used when there is only one example of the thing or person, or when the identity of the thing or person is clear:

The Moon went behind some clouds. (There’s only one moon.) Please open the door. (You know which door I mean.)

A definite article is usually used before these expressions of time and position: the morning, the afternoon, the evening; the front, the back, the center; the beginning, the middle, the end; the past, the present, the future;. the bottom, the top.

No article is used in the expression «at night.»

A definite article comes before a singular noun that is used as a representative of an entire class of things. This is especially common with the names of animals, trees, inventions, musical instruments, and parts of the body:

  • · The tiger is the largest cat. My favorite tree is the oak.
  • · The Wright brothers invented the airplane. The oboe is a woodwind instrument.
  • · The heart pumps blood.

A definite article is used before expressions with an ordinal number. No article is used before expressions with cardinal numbers:

  • · the first, the fourth chapter,
  • · the seventh volume;
  • · Part one, Chapter Four, Volume Seven.

A definite article is used before decades and centuries: the 1930s, the 1800s, the fifties, the twenty-first century.

A definite article is usually used before superlative forms of adjectives: the widest river, the most important decision.

A definite article is used in quantity expressions in this pattern: quantifier +of + the + noun:

many of the textbooks, not much of the paper, some of the water, most of the students, all of the people, a few of the photographs.

These expressions can also be used without the phrase of the:

many textbooks, not much paper, some water, most students, all people, a few photographs.

A definite article is used before the name of a group of people or a nationality. No article is used before the name of a language:

The Americans are proud of their ancestors, the Pioneers. She learned to speak English when she lived in London.

A definite article is used when an adjective is used without a noun to mean «people who are.»

Both the young and the old will enjoy this movie. The poor have many problems.

A definite article is used before an uncountable noun or a plural noun when it is followed by a modifier. No article is used when these nouns appear alone.

The rice that I bought today is in the bag.

Rice is a staple in many countries.

Trees provide shade.

The trees in this park are mostly evergreens.

A definite article is used before the name of a field of study followed by an of phrase. If a field is used alone, or is preceded by an adjective, no article is used:

  • · the genetics of the twentieth century — genetics
  • · the economics of Ukraine — Ukrainian economics

Definite articles are used before the «formal» names of nations, states, and cities. (These usually contain of-phrases.) No articles are used before the common names of nations, states, and cities.

the United States of America America

the Republic of Ukraine Ukraine

the city of Simferopol Simferopol

Definite articles are used before most plural geographic names: the names of groups of lakes, mountains, and islands. No article is used before the names of individual lakes, mountains, and islands.

the Great Lakes Lake Baikal

the Crimean Mountains Mount Chatyr Dag

the Marshall Islands Bird Island

There are three main types of errors involving articles: Incorrect article choice

One of the most common errors is the use of a in place of an or vice versa. Fortunately, this is also the easiest type of error to detect. Another error is a or an used in place of the, or the in place of a or an.

A eclipse of the sun may be either total or partial.

An must be used before a noun beginning with a vowel sound such as eclipse.

Angela Merkel was a first woman in the history of Germany to be elected Chancellor. In a phrase with an ordinal number (such as first) the definite article the must be used.

Incorrect omission or inclusion of articles

Sometimes an article is used when none is needed, or one is omitted when one is required.

Slag consists of waste materials and impurities which rise to top of melted metals.

The definite article the should not be omitted from the phrase the top of.

The most asteroids are beyond the orbit of the planet Mars.

Definite articles are used only before quantity expressions that contain of phrases. (Most asteroids or Most of the asteroids are both correct in this sentence.)

Use of a definite article in place of a possessive pronoun

A definite article may be incorrectly used in place of a possessive word—its, his, her, or their.

The Crimean Mountains of Ukraine are famous for the rugged beauty.

The should correctly be replaced with their because the sentence refers to the beauty belonging to the definite mountains.

Exercise: Identify the correct and incorrect use of articles. Directions: Underline the forms that correctly complete the sentence.

Only about (the one/one) percent of (the water/water) on Earth is (the fresh/fresh) water.

(The mineral/Mineral) phosphate is (the most/most) common ingredient of all types of (the fertilizers/ fertilizers).

(The/A) process of refining minerals requires (a/an) huge amount of (an electrical/electrical) energy.

(A humor/Humor) runs through (the American/American) literature from (the earliest/earliest) times until (the present/present).

(The ozone/Ozone) layer acts as (a/an) umbrella against (the most/most) of (the Sun’s/Sun’s) dangerous rays.

In (the early/early) 1800s, Sequoia, (a Cherokee/Cherokee) leader, created (the/a) first written form of (a North/North) American Indian language.

(The Goddard/Goddard) family of (the New/New) England produced some of (the/a) finest furniture made in (the United/United) States in (the seventeenth/seventeenth) century.

(The popcorn/Popcorn) has (a/the) same food value as any other kind of (a corn/corn).

One of (the most/most) important tools for (a research/research) in social science is (a well-written/ well-written) questionnaire.

Native to (the Crimean/Crimean) Steppe, (the/a) wolf disappeared early in (the twentieth/twentieth) century when its chief natural competitor, (the/a) dog, multiplied. The nineteenth/Nineteenth) century astronomer Alvin G. Clarke built hundreds of (the refracting/ refracting) telescopes during (the/his) lifetime.

The Hawaiian/Hawaiian) Islands are among (the most/most) geographically isolated islands on (the Earth/Earth).


Find explanations for the use of no article, the indefinite article and the definite article in the following sentences:

Parental conflict prior to divorce — rather than divorce itself — accounts for many of the emotional and academic problems that children of divorced parents typically experience.

A research team led by sociologist Andrew Cherlin at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore took a new look at data from surveys of families conducted in Great Britain in the 1960’s and in the United States in the 1970’s.

Intelligence and achievement tests had been administered to the children at various intervals. The researchers compared the scores from the tests to determine if the children had achieved reading scores that had been predicted on the basis of their intelligence scores.