TOEIC : Main idea and thesis

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for TOEIC

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Main Idea And Thesis

I was born in the working-class. Early I discovered enthusiasm, ambition, and ideals; and to satisfy these became the problem of my child-life. My environment was crude and rough and raw. I had no outlook, but an uplook rather. My place in society was at the bottom. Here life offered nothing but sordidness and wretchedness, both of the flesh and the spirit; for here flesh and spirit were alike starved and tormented.

Above me towered the colossal edifice of society, and to my mind the only way out was up. Into this edifice I early resolved to climb. … In short, as I accepted the rising of the sun, I accepted that up above me was all that was fine and noble and gracious, all that gave decency and dignity to life, all that made life worth living and that remunerated one for his travail and misery.  

Adapted from "What Life Means to Me" by Jack London (1909)

Which of the following is one of the main ideas of the passage?

Possible Answers:

The desire to increase one's social position

The yearning the prosperity of days gone by

The post-secondary education options available in the early 20th century

An optimism that the government will provide needed services

Correct answer:

The desire to increase one's social position

Explanation:

This passage is all about the desire to attain a higher social position. The author states that he started as a working-class citizen, and that his ambition was "to climb" to a better position for multiple reasons, including comfort and nobility. He does not address the government's influence on matters, nor the role of higher education. He also does not seem to long for days gone by. For these reasons, the best choice is "The desire to increase one's social position."

Example Question #2 : Content Comprehension

If you wanted to build a house, of what should you build it? In a new country, people generally use wood; but after a time wood grows expensive. Moreover, wood catches fire easily; therefore, as a country becomes more thickly settled and people live close together in cities, stone and brick are used. Large cities do not allow the building of wooden houses within a certain distance from the center, and sometimes even the use of wooden shingles is forbidden. Of late years large numbers of "concrete" or "cement" houses have been built. Our grandfathers would have opened their eyes wide at the suggestion of a house built of sand, and would have felt anxious at every rainfall lest their homes should suddenly melt away. Even after thousands of concrete buildings were in use, many people still feared that they would not stand the cold winters and hot summers of the United States; but it has been proved that concrete is a success provided it is properly made.

From Diggers in the Earth by Eva March Tappan (1919)

What is the main idea of this passage?

Possible Answers:

Grandfathers have tremendous wisdom and should be respected

Wood was easily accessible to early American settlers, and made strong houses

Cement is a more practical building material than wood

As more people moved to America, it became harder to find more housing for the growing population

Correct answer:

Cement is a more practical building material than wood

Explanation:

The correct answer is "Cement is a more practical building material than wood." Most of the passage emphasizes the reasons why cement is more practical than wood--the author mentions cost as well as fire safety, and discusses how these buildings have been a success. The main focus of the passage is on cement as a good replacement for wood in house-building, and not on respecting elders, difficulties finding housing for the population, or the accessibility of wood. 

Example Question #3 : Content Comprehension

      About forty years ago, M. Henry Dimont, a native of Switzerland, having witnessed the unnecessary suffering of the wounded, from lack of care, at the battle of Solferino, was so much impressed that he published a book, pointing out the necessity of forming a corporation of nurses to work in the cause of humanity in time of war, regardless of nationality of the injured, and who should be permitted to aid the wounded on the battle-field, under the protection of a flag which should be recognized as neutral.

      So much interest was taken in the idea that the outcome was a convention held at Geneva in 1864, which was attended by representatives from sixteen of the great nations of the world, who signed an agreement that they would protect members of the association when caring for the wounded on the field of battle. The society adopted for its colors the Swiss cross, as a compliment to its birthplace; they, however, reversed the colors, and the flag is therefore a red cross on a white field, and is the only military hospital flag of civilized warfare; it protects persons from molestation who work under the emblem performing services in aid of the wounded.

      It was decided that the work of the Red Cross Society should not be confined to times of war, but that in case of disasters and calamities, which were always to be apprehended, the organization was to provide aid. During the past seventeen years the American Red Cross Society has served in fifteen disasters and famines, and Russians, Armenians, and Cubans have received aid from this society.

Adapted from The Great Wide World, Vol. II No. 24, by C. F. Kroeh (1898)

Which of the following is the main idea of the passage?

Possible Answers:

The Red Cross Society is an international organization that helps provide aid to people in need

The Red Cross Society is a neutral organization

The flag of the Red Cross Society was adapted from the Swiss flag

The Russians, Armenians, and Cubans have received help from the Red Cross Society

Correct answer:

The Red Cross Society is an international organization that helps provide aid to people in need

Explanation:

The correct answer is "The Red Cross Society is an international organization that helps provide aid to people in need." This sentence summarizes the most important information from the passage; the other options are details but not main ideas. 

Example Question #4 : Content Comprehension

Six years before Vasco da Gama made his famous voyage to India around Africa and opened a new trade route for the Portuguese merchants, another seaman had formed and carried out a much bolder plan. This was Christopher Columbus, and his plan was to sail directly west from Europe into the unknown ocean in search of new islands and the coast of Asia. Columbus, who was a native of Genoa in Italy, had followed his younger brother to Portugal. Both were probably led there by the fame of Prince Henry's explorations.

The brothers became very skillful in making maps and charts for the Portuguese. They also frequently sailed with them on their expeditions along the coast of Africa. All the early associations of Columbus were with men interested in voyages of discovery, and particularly with those engaged in the daring search for a sea route to India.

Adapted from Introductory American History, by Henry Eldridge Bourne and Elbert Jay Benton (1912)

Who is this passage mostly about?

Possible Answers:

Christopher Columbus

Vasco de Gama

Prince Henry

Elbert Jay Benton

Correct answer:

Christopher Columbus

Explanation:

The best choice is Christopher Columbus. Although Vasco de Gama is mentioned in the first line, the focus is quickly shifted towards Christopher Columbus, who is the main subject of the first and second paragraphs. Prince Henry is mentioned, but only in passing, and Elbert Jay Benton is one of the authors of the passage, not the main focus. That is why the best choice is Christopher Columbus. 

Example Question #5 : Content Comprehension

Some species of sharks grow to an enormous size, often weighing from one to four thousand pounds each. The skin of the shark is rough, and is used for polishing wood, ivory, &c.; that of one species is manufactured into an article called shagreen: spectacle-cases are made of it. The white shark is the sailor's worst enemy: he has five rows of wedge-shaped teeth, which are notched like a saw: when the animal is at rest they are flat in his mouth, but when about to seize his prey they are erected by a set of muscles which join them to the jaw. His mouth is so situated under the head that he is obliged to turn himself on one side before he can grasp any thing with those enormous jaws.

Adapted from Stories of the Ocean by Volney Beckner (1852)

What is the main idea of this passage?

Possible Answers:

Sailors have great knowledge of sharks

Sharks are large, powerful, and dangerous

Sharks prey on many different kind of fish

Sharks can grasp their prey in their enormous jaws

Correct answer:

Sharks are large, powerful, and dangerous

Explanation:

The correct answer is "sharks are large, powerful, and dangerous." This is the main idea because it summarizes the focus of the passage as a whole. The passage talks about the size of sharks, the power of their teeth and jaws, and the danger they pose to sailors. The other answer choices are not main ideas--they are supporting details, and/or not mentioned in this passage. For those reasons, the best choice is "sharks are large, powerful, and dangerous."

Example Question #6 : Content Comprehension

The natives of Australia were always few in number. Australia produced no grain of any sort naturally; neither wheat, oats, barley nor maize. It produced practically no edible fruit, excepting a few berries, and one or two nuts, the outer rind of which was eatable. There were no useful roots such as the potato, the turnip, or the yam, or the taro. The native animals were few and just barely eatable, the kangaroo, and the koala being the principal ones. In birds alone was the country well supplied, and they were more beautiful of plumage than useful as food. Even the fisheries were infrequent, for the coast line is unbroken by any great bays, and there is thus less sea frontage to Australia than to any other of the continents, and the rivers are few in number.

Adapted from Peeps at Many Lands: Australia by Frank Fox (1911)

What is the main idea of this passage?

Possible Answers:

Kangaroos and koalas are the best source of nutrition in Australia

Australia has harsh living conditions that made it hard for natives to thrive

The coastline of Australia is rocky

There were few edible fruits in Australia

Correct answer:

Australia has harsh living conditions that made it hard for natives to thrive

Explanation:

The correct answer is "Australia has harsh living conditions that made it hard for natives to thrive." The other answer choices are details, but they fail to summarize and capture the larger main idea of the passage. The first sentence states that there were few natives in the country, and the rest of the passage is an explanation of the harsh living conditions in Australia. The sentence "Australia has harsh living conditions that made it hard for natives to thrive" captures all of the information in the passage, so it is the best choice. 

Example Question #7 : Content Comprehension

      Japan is a very beautiful country. It is full of fine mountains, with rivers leaping down the steep slopes and dashing over the rocks in snowy waterfalls. At the foot of the hills are rich plains and valleys, well watered by the streams which rush down from the hills. But the mountains are so many and the plains are so few that only a small part of the land can be used for growing crops, and this makes Japan poor. Its climate is not unlike ours in Great Britain, but the summer is hotter, and the winter is in some parts very cold. Many of the mountains are volcanoes. Some of these are still active, and earthquakes often take place. Sometimes these earthquakes do terrible harm. The great earthquake of 1871 killed 10,000 people, injured 20,000, and destroyed 130,000 houses.

      The highest mountain of Japan also is the most beautiful, and it is greatly beloved by the Japanese, who regard it as a sacred height. Its name is Fujisan, or Fusi-Yama, and it stands near the sea and the capital city of Tokyo. It is of most beautiful shape, an almost perfect cone, and it springs nearly 13,000 feet into the air. From the sea it forms a most superb and majestic sight. Long before a glimpse can be caught of the shore and the city, the traveller sees the lofty peak, crowned with a glittering crest of snow, rising in lonely majesty, with no hint of the land on which it rests. The Japanese have a great love of natural beauty, and they adore Fujisan. Their artists are never tired of painting it, and pictures of it are to be found in the most distant parts of the land.

Adapted from Peeps at Many Lands: Japan, by John Finnemore (1919)

What would make the BEST new title for this passage?

Possible Answers:

"The Natural Beauty of Japan"

"Japanese Art and Culture"

"A History of Japan"

"The Many Problems of Japanese Farmers"

Correct answer:

"The Natural Beauty of Japan"

Explanation:

The correct answer is "The Natural Beauty of Japan." This passage is primarily about the natural features of Japan, and the author emphasizes what makes them beautiful. There is no mention or art or culture, and the problems of the farmers of the nation's history are not main ideas--they are only details. For those reasons, the best choice is "The Natural Beauty of Japan."

Example Question #8 : Content Comprehension

Bees live in a house that is called a hive. They are of three kinds,—workers, drones, and queens. Only one queen can live in each hive. If she is lost or dead, the other bees will stop their work. They are very wise and busy little creatures. They all join together to build cells of wax for their honey. Each bee takes its proper place, and does its own work. Some go out and gather honey from the flowers; others stay at home and work inside the hive. The cells which they build, are all of one shape and size, and no room is left between them. The cells are not round, but have six sides. Did you ever look into a glass hive to see the bees while at work? It is pleasant to see how busy they always are. But the drones do not work. Before winter comes, all the drones are driven from the hive or killed, that they may not eat the honey which they did not gather. It is not quite safe for children to handle bees. They have sharp stings that they know well how to use in their defense.

From McGuffey's Second Eclectic Reader by William Holmes McGuffey (1879)

What is the main idea of this passage?

Possible Answers:

Only one queen can live in each hive

The beehive stores honey

Bee stings can be painful

Bees have important roles within the hive

Correct answer:

Bees have important roles within the hive

Explanation:

The correct answer is "bees have important roles within the hive." This idea is emphasized throughout the passage as the author talks about the queen, the workers, and the drones, and the different jobs they do. The other answer choices are details, but they are not the main idea of the passage. For those reasons, the best choice is "bees have important roles within the hive."

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