English Language Proficiency Test : Main Idea

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Main Idea

This passage is adapted from Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser (1901)

The nature of these vast retail combinations, should they ever permanently disappear, will form an interesting chapter in the commercial history of our nation. Such a flowering out of a modest trade principle the world had never witnessed up to that time. They were along the line of the most effective retail organization, with hundreds of stores coordinated into one, and laid out upon the most imposing and economic basis. They were handsome, bustling, successful affairs, with a host of clerks and a swarm of patrons. Carrie passed along the busy aisles, much affected by the remarkable displays of trinkets, dress goods, shoes, stationery, jewelry. Each separate counter was a show place of dazzling interest and attraction. She could not help feeling the claim of each trinket and valuable upon her personally and yet she did not stop. There was nothing there which she could not have used—nothing which she did not long to own. The dainty slippers and stockings, the delicately frilled skirts and petticoats, the laces, ribbons, hair-combs, purses, all touched her with individual desire, and she felt keenly the fact that not any of these things were in the range of her purchase. She was a work-seeker, an outcast without employment, one whom the average employé could tell at a glance was poor and in need of a situation.

The main purpose of the passage is to ________________.

Possible Answers:

contrast the prosperity that is represented in the store with Carrie's poor economic condition

argue that department stores should be replaced by smaller specialty stores

explain why Carrie is currently living in poverty

explain why Carrie feels such a sense of disgust when she enters the store

Correct answer:

contrast the prosperity that is represented in the store with Carrie's poor economic condition

Explanation:

Carrie is amazed by the wonders of the department store, "She could not help feeling the claim of each trinket and valuable upon her personally," yet she is aware that she cannot afford to buy any of these goods until she has a job.

Example Question #2 : Main Idea

1 Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress. 2 Her hand and wrist were so finely formed that she could wear sleeves not less bare of style than those in which the Blessed Virgin appeared to Italian painters…

3 Miss Brooke's plain dressing was due to mixed conditions, in most of which her sister shared. 4 The pride of being ladies had something to do with it: the Brooke connections, though not exactly aristocratic, were unquestionably "good:" if you inquired backward for a generation or two, you would not find any yard-measuring or parcel-tying forefathers—anything lower than an admiral or a clergyman; and there was even an ancestor discernible as a Puritan gentleman who served under Cromwell, but afterwards conformed, and managed to come out of all political troubles as the proprietor of a respectable family estate. 5 Young women of such birth, living in a quiet country-house, and attending a village church hardly larger than a parlor, naturally regarded frippery as the ambition of a huckster's daughter.

What is the primary purpose of this passage?

Possible Answers:

To advance an argument

To develop an authorial voice

To establish character

To question a preconceived notion

To introduce a counterargument

Correct answer:

To establish character

Explanation:

Every sentence in this passage is devoted to providing information about Miss Brooke. Whether it’s discussing her beauty, her clothing, her ancestry, her current social standing, or her opinions, each sentence develops the personality and appearance of Miss Brooke. This is a prime example of sustained characterization.

Passage adapted from George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1871)

Example Question #3 : Main Idea

1 Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress. 2 Her hand and wrist were so finely formed that she could wear sleeves not less bare of style than those in which the Blessed Virgin appeared to Italian painters…

3 Miss Brooke's plain dressing was due to mixed conditions, in most of which her sister shared. 4 The pride of being ladies had something to do with it: the Brooke connections, though not exactly aristocratic, were unquestionably "good:" if you inquired backward for a generation or two, you would not find any yard-measuring or parcel-tying forefathers—anything lower than an admiral or a clergyman; and there was even an ancestor discernible as a Puritan gentleman who served under Cromwell, but afterwards conformed, and managed to come out of all political troubles as the proprietor of a respectable family estate. 5 Young women of such birth, living in a quiet country-house, and attending a village church hardly larger than a parlor, naturally regarded frippery as the ambition of a huckster's daughter.

Based on this passage, what is Miss Brooke’s predominant personality trait?

Possible Answers:

Diligence

Alacrity

Propriety

Patience

Indecorousness

Correct answer:

Propriety

Explanation:

Miss Brooke is careful to attend church, dress carefully, and maintain her good family name. Thus she is interested in decorum and propriety (an antonym for indecorousness).

Passage adapted from George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1871)

Example Question #4 : Main Idea

1 "Camelot—Camelot," said I to myself. 2 "I don't seem to remember hearing of it before… Name of the asylum, likely."

3 It was a soft, reposeful summer landscape, as lovely as a dream, and as lonesome as Sunday.  4 The air was full of the smell of flowers, and the buzzing of insects, and the twittering of birds, and there were no people, no wagons, there was no stir of life, nothing going on.  5 The road was mainly a winding path with hoof-prints in it, and now and then a faint trace of wheels on either side in the grass—wheels that apparently had a tire as broad as one's hand.

6 Presently a fair slip of a girl, about ten years old, with a cataract of golden hair streaming down over her shoulders, came along. … 7 The circus man paid no attention to her; didn't even seem to see her.  8 And she—she was no more startled at his fantastic make-up than if she was used to his like every day of her life. 9 She was going by as indifferently as she might have gone by a couple of cows; but when she happened to notice me, then there was a change! 10 Up went her hands, and she was turned to stone; her mouth dropped open, her eyes stared wide and timorously, she was the picture of astonished curiosity touched with fear. 11 And there she stood gazing, in a sort of stupefied fascination, till we turned a corner of the wood and were lost to her view. 12 That she should be startled at me instead of at the other man, was too many for me; I couldn't make head or tail of it.

Which of the following is one of the passage’s main goals?

Possible Answers:

To evoke childhood

To demand sympathy

To provoke nostalgia

To establish setting

To develop character

Correct answer:

To establish setting

Explanation:

The passage spends most of its sentences describing the landscape that the main character is walking through. From the type of scenery (“It was a soft, reposeful summer landscape”) to the sensory details (“The air was full of the smell of flowers, and the buzzing of insects, and the twittering of birds”) to the people encountered (the young girl and the circus man), the passage is intent on providing details that clarify setting. The other answer choices might be addressed minimally in different places in the passage, but they are not the main purpose.

Passage adapted from Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889)

Example Question #5 : Main Idea

1 "Camelot—Camelot," said I to myself. 2 "I don't seem to remember hearing of it before… Name of the asylum, likely."

3 It was a soft, reposeful summer landscape, as lovely as a dream, and as lonesome as Sunday.  4 The air was full of the smell of flowers, and the buzzing of insects, and the twittering of birds, and there were no people, no wagons, there was no stir of life, nothing going on.  5 The road was mainly a winding path with hoof-prints in it, and now and then a faint trace of wheels on either side in the grass—wheels that apparently had a tire as broad as one's hand.

6 Presently a fair slip of a girl, about ten years old, with a cataract of golden hair streaming down over her shoulders, came along. … 7 The circus man paid no attention to her; didn't even seem to see her.  8 And she—she was no more startled at his fantastic make-up than if she was used to his like every day of her life. 9 She was going by as indifferently as she might have gone by a couple of cows; but when she happened to notice me, then there was a change! 10 Up went her hands, and she was turned to stone; her mouth dropped open, her eyes stared wide and timorously, she was the picture of astonished curiosity touched with fear. 11 And there she stood gazing, in a sort of stupefied fascination, till we turned a corner of the wood and were lost to her view. 12 That she should be startled at me instead of at the other man, was too many for me; I couldn't make head or tail of it.

Which of the following is another of the passage’s main goals?

Possible Answers:

To present the main character as sympathetic but untrustworthy

To deceive the reader into believing the main character

To disarm critics who believe the work is unoriginal

To indicate that something strange is happening to the main character

To elaborate upon themes that interest the main character

Correct answer:

To indicate that something strange is happening to the main character

Explanation:

In addition to developing its setting, the passage takes care to note how unnerved the main character is by it. We see that he does not recognize the name of the place he’s in, that he and the other characters are mutually startled by each other, and that even the mode of transportation (wide wheels) are unusual to him. Thus, the passage is indicating that something strange is afoot.

Passage adapted from Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889)

Example Question #6 : Main Idea

"The period under five years of age is one of very rapid growth. There is probably no other time in the life history of the individual when the body and mind are so responsive to environment and impressions, and when so much can be done to build up good health as during the preschool age." 

-Passage adapted from Healthy Children: A Volume Devoted to the Health of the Growing Child, by Sara Josephine Bake (1920)

What is the main idea of the above excerpt?

Possible Answers:

Parents should help to build good health in their children

All children have good health in the period under five years of age

Preschool is very important for young children

The most critical time in child development is in the first five years

Correct answer:

The most critical time in child development is in the first five years

Explanation:

Although the other options are either true, or have information from the excerpt, the central/main idea is that the most critical time in child development is in the first five years. 

Each sentence in the excerpt supports this main idea. In the first sentence children under 5 develop rapidly. The second sentence states that "there is no other time in the history of an individual," which in turn suggests that this time but be the most important/critical. 

 

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