IMPORTANT: The Reading Exam has 84 questions, and the questions are associated with passages. Many of the passages are quite lengthy. When approaching the exam, students should be prepared for a long-term "focusing session." The comment heard most often from students who have failed the reading exam is, "I just got tired of sitting there, and I rushed through the last half." The exam has easy and difficult questions scattered randomly throughout. Hurrying through the end means a student might miss questions that he could have gotten with a little concentration. DON'T LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU!
Some tips when dealing with the vocabulary portions of the exam:
- "What is the meaning of the word _______ as it is used here?" is a typical question. If you don't know the meaning of the underlined word, consider the meaning of the sentence as a whole. Which answer among the choices best describes the other words in the sentence that give an idea about the meaning of the unknown word?
- Substitute the choices for the unknown word. Read the sentence to yourself with the new word "plugged in" where the unknown word is. Does it fit? Sometimes there will be a noun choice plugged into a verb slot. That just does not sound right when you read it.
- Read the passage as a whole and think of its overall meaning. Somewhere in the passage there is almost always a "near definition" of the unknown word.
- Sometimes an unknown word will be one that has two or three definitions. For example, if I say that someone is backward, do I mean that he is turned around or that he is not well-informed? It is important to read an entire passage before making an assumption about the meaning.
Tips for dealing with the reading portion of the exam:
- When answering questions that deal with details in passages, the distracters (wrong answers) will often seem logical, but remember that they must be stated in the passage. The distracter that seems like it should be true is not the same as the answer that is spelled out This is a trick designed for students who don't go back and check details.
- The questions that seek the main idea of the passage as a whole often use the main idea of the first paragraph as a distracter. When looking for the main idea, consider what happened in the beginning, what happened in the middle, and what happened at the end. Pull all of that together... now, what's the main idea of the passage? Also, don't confuse one little detail that happened in the passage with the main idea of the passage as a whole.
- Sometimes you will be asked for the "lesson learned" or the moral of the passage. Don't select any distracters that are so strict they are just way too extreme to be correct. For instance, the old Jack London story, "To Build a Fire" was about a man who was a bit too confident and not quite prepared for the winter storm he faced. The moral of that story would not have been "People should never go outside in the winter." Come on! Think about being overconfident... think about not being prepared.
- Some questions ask for the main idea, some for the central thought, some for the major theme-- these are basically several ways of asking for the same thing.
- When asked for the author's purpose in writing a passage, you are generally expected to determine whether the author was trying to write something to entertain the reader with something he could just enjoy, to inform the reader or give him information that he might need, or to persuade the reader to do, buy, or believe something. Sometimes other words are used:
- entertain = amuse
- persuade = promote, sell, or convince
- inform= explain or demonstrate
- Some students believe that fact and opinion questions are other ways of saying "what really did happen in the passage" as opposed to "what did not really happen in the passage." That is not what these fact and opinion questions are looking for. They want to know "what is undisputed, can be proven time and time again, and can be agreed upon by all who know about it" as opposed to "what does this person think is true and will argue is true but will have others who will disagree and say that it is not true." The first is fact. The second is opinion.
- Along those same lines, some questions will look for faulty logic in arguments. This is usually a leap from a little bit of fact to a whole lot of opinion. For instance, if I state that a Chevy Nova beats nothing, and if I then state that nothing beats a Mercedes, can I draw the conclusion that, therefore, a Chevy Nova beats a Mercedes? What if I have an argument that advocates Americans eating more sugar because people in our society need to be sweeter and sugar is logically the sweetest substance around? Do you see a problem with this logic? Read persuasive passages carefully to determine when the writer is actually using facts and when he adds a little opinion to them or assumes something that just can't be correct.
- Get out the old English literature textbook and make sure you know the definitions of theme, character, tone, setting, mood, plot, and point of view.
- Can you pick out a simile, a metaphor, and a hyperbole? Can you recognize personification and imagery?
- When taking this exam, I would encourage you to read the questions (not the answers to them...just the questions), read the passage, and then read the questions. I advocate this because it gives you a way of knowing what you are going to be looking for when you start reading. Remember, you can write in the AHSGE test booklets, so underline or circle the parts that seem familiar and then keep reading. Don't stop and go back to answer something. So many questions require you to draw conclusions or summarize that stopping in the middle of a passage just throws you off. Keep reading. When you get to the end, go back and answer the questions by referring to your "underlines" and circles" from the text. One of my students who had great difficulty with the reading test said the strategy that finally worked for him was to read the passage and answer the questions, then read the passage again with his answers covered to verify that he would answer the same way twice. If he did not, he triple-checked that answer!
- Don't jump back and forth between the test and the answer document. Stay focused. Take the entire test by marking your answers and notes in the book. When you feel comfortable with your responses, pullout the answer document and bubble-in those answers. Not only does this allow you to focus on the test questions when you are reading, it allows you to focus on making clean and accurate pencil marks with few erasures on that answer document.
Everything above is the direct result of the hard work of Susan Hayes, Principal in the Hartselle City School System. Thank You!