GED Language Arts (RLA) : Identifying Main Idea

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for GED Language Arts (RLA)

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Example Questions

Example Question #12 : Isee Middle Level (Grades 7 8) Reading Comprehension

"Newton's Mistakes" by Daniel Morrison (2014)

Isaac Newton has often been thought of as the greatest thinker in human history. His insight into the role that gravity plays in existence and physics completely changed our collective understanding of the universe and our place in it. He was understood in his own time as a genius. One famous quote by Alexander Pope (himself quite an intelligent man) demonstrates the deep affection felt for Newton: “Nature, and nature’s mysteries, lay bathed in night, God said 'Let there be Newton,’ and all was light.”

Yet, when the famous economist John Kenneth Galbraith purchased Newton’s journals and diaries at auction, he found to his astonishment, and partial dismay, that more than half of Newton’s work was dedicated to the practice of alchemy—the pursuit of turning ordinary materials into precious metals. Our current understanding of science tells us that this is impossible and that Newton was wasting a significant proportion of his time.

Another famous story about Newton tells of his attempts to figure out the effect of direct exposure to sunlight on the human eye. To carry out this experiment he decided to stare at the sun for as long as humanly possible to see what would happen. The effect, as you might have guessed, was that he very nearly went permanently blind and was indeed completely unable to see for two days.

One might determine from these stories that Newton was not the genius we consider him to be—that he was, in fact, a fool; however, it should tell us something about the nature of genius. It is not merely deep intelligence, but the willingness to try new things and the rejection of the fear of failure. Newton was not a genius in spite of his mistakes, but because of them.

The main argument of this essay is __________.

Possible Answers:

That in spite of his many breathtaking achievements, Newton should be best remembered for his foolishness

That genius is born, not made

That the pursuit of alchemy ultimately led to the intellectual ruin of Isaac Newton

That Newton was a genius because of his willingness to make mistakes, not in spite of this

That Newton’s contributions to science make him the greatest mind in human history

Correct answer:

That Newton was a genius because of his willingness to make mistakes, not in spite of this

Explanation:

Throughout this essay, the author is primarily contrasting Newton’s scientific contributions and esteemed reputation with examples of his whimsy and foolishness in order to lead the reader to his main argument and conclusion. This is, “But, really it should tell us something about the nature of genius. It is not merely deep intelligence, but the willingness to try new things and the rejection of the fear of failure. Newton was not a genius in spite of his mistakes, but because of them.” So, the correct answer is “That Newton was a genius because of his willingness to make mistakes, not in spite of this.”

Example Question #6 : Inferences And Predictions In Poetry Passages

 
Adapted from "On the Sonnet" by John Keats (1848)
 
If by dull rhymes our English must be chain'd,
   And, like Andromeda, the Sonnet sweet
Fetter'd, in spite of pained loveliness;
Let us find out, if we must be constrain'd,
   Sandals more interwoven and complete
To fit the naked foot of poesy;
Let us inspect the lyre, and weigh the stress
Of every chord, and see what may be gain'd
   By ear industrious, and attention meet:
Misers of sound and syllable, no less
   Than Midas of his coinage, let us be
   Jealous of dead leaves in the bay wreath crown;
So, if we may not let the Muse be free,
   She will be bound with garlands of her own.

Which of the following is most central to the speaker's argument?

Possible Answers:

The translation of poetic works

The sonnet form

The process by which sandals are made

The story of King Midas

The use of complex references in poetry

Correct answer:

The sonnet form

Explanation:

"The sonnet form" is most central to the speaker's argument. The poem is urging poets to consider the inherent properties of language in order to make the poetic forms that they use best suit the language of the poems they compose. The sonnet form, an example of one of these strict poetic forms, is mentioned in the second line of the poem: "If by dull rhymes our English must be chain'd, / And, like Andromeda, the Sonnet sweet / Fetter'd." The poem never discusses the translation of poetic works or the use of complex references in poetry, and while sandals are mentioned ("Let us find out, if we must be constrain'd, / Sandals more interwoven and complete / To fit the naked foot of poesy,") they are mentioned as part of a figurative construction; the speaker is not literally wanting to make a pair of sandals; the "sandals" are here comparable to forms that better suit language. Similarly, while the story of King Midas is alluded to later in the poem ("Misers of sound and syllable, no less / Than Midas of his coinage"), it functions as part of a comparison and is not as central to the speaker's argument as is the sonnet form.

Example Question #1 : Identifying Main Idea

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. 

(1910)

What is the main idea in this text?

Possible Answers:

People should only attempt to do what they know they are capable of doing

People should not criticize those who try and fail unless they have strived for greatness themselves

People who have achieved great success are more likely to criticize those who have failed

Everyone who has ever succeeded has first experienced defeat

Correct answer:

People should not criticize those who try and fail unless they have strived for greatness themselves

Explanation:

Roosevelt points out the essential difference between those who try, even if they should fail. He identifies those only criticize as "cold and timid souls who neither know victory, nor defeat."

Passage adapted from Citizenship in a Republic, a speech given by Theodore Roosevelt on April 23, 1910.

Example Question #2 : Identifying Main Idea

The isolation of every human soul and the necessity of self-dependence must give each individual the right to choose his own surroundings. The strongest reason for giving woman all the opportunities for higher education, for the full development of her faculties, her forces of mind and body; for giving her the most enlarged freedom of thought and action; a complete emancipation from all forms of bondage, of custom, dependence, superstition; from all the crippling influences of fear--is the solitude and personal responsibility of her own individual life. The strongest reason why we ask for woman a voice in the government under which she lives; in the religion she is asked to believe; equality in social life, where she is the chief factor; a place in the trades and professions, where she may earn her bread, is because of her birthright to self sovereignty; because, as an individual, she must rely on herself.

To throw obstacles in the way of a complete education is like putting out the eyes; to deny the rights of property is like cutting off the hands. To refuse political equality is to rob the ostracized of all self-respect, of credit in the market place, of recompense in the world of work, of a voice in choosing those who make and administer the law, a choice in the jury before whom they are tried, and in the judge who decides their punishment. Shakespeare's play of Titus and Andronicus contains a terrible satire on woman's position in the nineteenth century--"Rude men seized the king's daughter, cut out her tongue, cut off her hands, and then bade her go call for water and wash her hands." What a picture of woman's position! Robbed of her natural rights, handicapped by law and custom at every turn, yet compelled to fight her own battles, and in the emergencies of life to fall back on herself for protection.

(1892)

What is the main idea of this passage?

Possible Answers:

Men who do not support the idea of equal educational opportunities for women risk being attacked by women who are angry about their treatement

If women are given the right to an equal education, they will quickly become the dominant gender on the planet

Women are not being given the right to an equal education because men don't believe they are intelligent enough to benefit from it

Denying women the right to same education available to men is denying them the opportunity to become truly self-sufficient

Correct answer:

Denying women the right to same education available to men is denying them the opportunity to become truly self-sufficient

Explanation:

Stanton's thesis states that the need for education stems from "the isolation of the human soul and the necessity of self-dependence." In the second paragraph, she states that denying women educational opportunities is "like putting out the eyes", or not allowing women access to the tools they need to become truly self-sufficient.

Passage adapted from The Solitude of Self by Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1892)

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