TOEIC : Theme

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for TOEIC

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Theme

      A dog, crossing a bridge over a stream with a piece of flesh in his mouth, saw his own shadow in the water and took it for that of another Dog, with a piece of meat double his own in size. He immediately let go of his own, and fiercely attacked the other Dog to get his larger piece from him. He thus lost both: that which he grasped at in the water, because it was a shadow; and his own, because the stream swept it away.

-Aesop's fables, Aesop

What is the theme of this story?

Possible Answers:

Always attempt to get help from others

Appreciate the things you have instead of wanting more

Do not attempt to do the impossible

Stop evil before it gets out of control

Correct answer:

Appreciate the things you have instead of wanting more

Explanation:

The correct answer is "Appreciate the things you have instead of waning more." The dog in the story had a piece of meat, but since he wasn't satisfied with what he perceived to be a smaller piece of meat than the one in the reflection, he lost it. He did not appreciate the meat he already had. The story does not have to do with getting help from others; the dog was attacking the "other." It does not deal with stopping evil or attempting the impossible. For these reasons, the best answer is "Appreciate the things you have instead of waning more."

Example Question #2 : Theme

An ant, walking by the river one day, said to himself, “How nice and cool this water looks! I must drink some of it.” But as he began to drink, his foot slipped, and he fell in.

“Oh, somebody please help me, or I shall drown!” cried he.

A Dove, sitting in a tree that overhung the river, heard him, and threw him a leaf. “Climb up on that leaf,” said she, “and you will float ashore.”

The Ant climbed up onto the leaf, which the wind blew to the shore, and he stepped upon dry land again.

“Good-by, kind Dove,” said he, as he ran home. “You have saved my life, and I wish I could do something for you.”

“Good-by,” said the Dove; “be careful not to fall in again.”

A few days after this, when the Dove was busy building her nest, the Ant saw a man just raising his gun to shoot her.

He ran quickly, and bit the man’s leg so hard that he cried “Oh! oh!” and dropped his gun.

This startled the Dove, and she flew away. The man picked up his gun, and walked on.

When he was gone, the Dove came back to her nest.

“Thank you, my little friend,” she said. “You have saved my life.”

And the little Ant was overjoyed to think he had been able to do for the Dove what the Dove had so lately done for him. 

Aesop's Fables: A Version for Young Readers by J.H. Stickney (1915)

What is the theme of this story?

Possible Answers:

The most guilty are not always the ones who are caught

When you help others, they may help you in return

It is wise to respect elders

Always try your best, no matter the task

Correct answer:

When you help others, they may help you in return

Explanation:

The correct answer is "When you help others, they may help you in return." This theme supports the events of the story: the dove saved the ant's life, and later, when given the opportunity, the ant repaid the favor and saved the dove's life. The other choices are not supported by the events in the story.

Example Question #3 : Theme

An old man had many sons, who were often quarreling. He tried to make them good friends, but could not. As the end of his life drew near, the old man called them all to him and showed them a bundle of sticks tied tightly together.

“Now,” said the father, “see if you can break this bundle of sticks.”

Each of the sons in turn took the bundle and tried with all his might to break it, but could not. When all had tried and given it up, the father said, “Untie the bundle, and each of you take a stick and see if you can break that.” This they could do very easily. Then said the father:

“You saw when the sticks were bound together how strong they were; but as soon as they were untied, you broke them easily. Now, if you will stop quarreling and stand by each other, you will be like the bundle of sticks—no one can do you any harm; but if you do not keep together, you will be as weak as is one of the little sticks by itself, which anyone can break.” 

Adapted from Aesop's Fables: A Version for Young Readers by J.H. Stickney (1915)

What is the theme of this story?

Possible Answers:

Children should always respect their parents

Strength comes from unity

If you want to do something, do it right

Be grateful for what you have and do not take anything for granted

Correct answer:

Strength comes from unity

Explanation:

The correct answer is "Strength comes from unity." This is the best answer based on the events in the passage. The story is about a father who is trying to teach his sons a lesson--he shows that that by binding sticks together they are strong and can't be broken, while individual sticks can be easily snapped. This lesson matches the theme, "strength comes from unity." The other themes do not fit with the events in this story. 

Example Question #4 : Theme

A Lion lay asleep in the forest, his great head resting on his paws. A timid little Mouse came upon him unexpectedly, and in her fright and haste to get away, ran across the Lion's nose. Roused from his nap, the Lion laid his huge paw angrily on the tiny creature to kill her.

"Spare me!" begged the poor Mouse. "Please let me go and some day I will surely repay you."

The Lion was much amused to think that a Mouse could ever help him. But he was generous and finally let the Mouse go.

Some days later, while stalking his prey in the forest, the Lion was caught in the toils of a hunter's net. Unable to free himself, he filled the forest with his angry roaring. The Mouse knew the voice and quickly found the Lion struggling in the net. Running to one of the great ropes that bound him, she gnawed it until it parted, and soon the Lion was free.

"You laughed when I said I would repay you," said the Mouse. "Now you see that even a Mouse can help a Lion."

Adapted rom The Aesop for Children, by Aesop (1919 ed.)

What is the theme of this passage?

Possible Answers:

A kindness is never wasted

Liars are not believed even when they speak the truth

It is easy to be brave when there is no danger

You are judged by the company you keep

Correct answer:

A kindness is never wasted

Explanation:

The correct answer is "a kindness is never wasted." The other options are incorrect because they have no basis in the story; there are no characters who are liars, the characters are not keeping company with others throughout the story, and no one is acting brave while not being in danger. In this story, the lion was kind to the mouse even though he doubted that the mouse would ever be able to repay him. In fact, the mouse did repay the lion by saving his life while he was tied up, so his kindness was not wasted. For this reason, the theme of the story is "a kindness is never wasted."

Example Question #5 : Theme

One fine day in winter some Ants were busy drying their store of corn, which had got rather damp during a long spell of rain. Presently up came a Grasshopper and begged them to spare her a few grains, "For," she said, "I'm simply starving." The Ants stopped work for a moment, though this was against their principles. "May we ask," said they, "what you were doing with yourself all last summer? Why didn't you collect a store of food for the winter?" "The fact is," replied the Grasshopper, "I was so busy singing that I hadn't the time." "If you spent the summer singing," replied the Ants, "you can't do better than spend the winter dancing." And they chuckled and went on with their work.

Adapted from Aesop's Fables, translated by V.S. Vernon Jones (1912)

Which of the following is a theme of the passage?

Possible Answers:

Working too quickly can lead to mistakes

One cannot simply live a life of leisure; work is necessary as well

Thieves cannot be trusted

Always look out for yourself

Correct answer:

One cannot simply live a life of leisure; work is necessary as well

Explanation:

The correct answer is "one cannot simply live a life of leisure; work is necessary as well." The story is about a grasshopper who sung, or made leisure, all summer instead of working and preparing for the winter. As a result, he does not have enough food stored away for himself. The lesson that matches with these events is that you can't just have fun all the time--you must be serious and work sometimes. The other options do not make sense based on the events in the story. That is why the best answer is "one cannot simply live a life of leisure; work is necessary as well."

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