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PRAXIS I Exam Cram: Reading

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This chapter will help you prepare for the PRAXIS I Pre-Professional Skills Test (PPST) in reading.
This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

The Pre-Professional Skills Test (PPST) in reading is designed to measure your ability to understand, analyze, and evaluate a written passage. A written passage or text may include information that is explicitly stated and requires thinking within the text. You must gather and remember the essential information necessary to understand the main ideas in the text. Alternatively, test questions may require you to think beyond the literal meaning of the text in order to reflect critically or infer the author’s message.

The paper-based version of the Reading test (0710) consists of 40 questions; the computer-based version (5710) is slightly longer, with 46 questions.

Both versions of the Reading test consist of multiple choice questions based on long and short reading passages as well as brief statements.

  • Long passages: Approximately 200 words followed by 4 to 7 multiple-choice questions
  • Short passages: Approximately 100 words followed by 2 or 3 multiple-choice questions
  • Brief statements: Followed by a single multiple-choice question

The questions on the Reading test fall into one of two categories:

  • Literal comprehension
  • Critical and inferential comprehension

The literal comprehension questions test your ability to think within the text and consider what has been literally and explicitly stated. More specifically, your ability to

  • Identify the main idea/primary purpose of a reading passage in summaries or paraphrases.
  • Identify ideas that support the main idea/primary purpose in the summaries and paraphrases
  • Recognize the organization of a reading passage, including how language is used to connect ideas
  • Identify the meanings of words as they are used in the text

Sometimes readers need to think beyond the literal meaning of the text to critically analyze and evaluate the information in the text and to make inferences about the main idea or the primary purpose of the passage. Questions based on critical and inferential comprehension test your ability to critically evaluate a reading selection and its messages. Critical comprehension is more than stating an opinion about the text. It requires you to make judgments about what you are reading, and it needs to be based on an evaluation of several text grounded factors. So, you can expect to encounter multiple-choice questions that test your ability to

  • Evaluate arguments presented in a reading passage
  • Draw conclusions (inferences) based on information in a reading passage
  • Identify fact from opinion
  • Identify the author’s attitude toward a topic

Literal Comprehension

Achieving success on the PRAXIS Reading test depends on your literal comprehension or your ability to understand what you read. Comprehension at this level involves understanding the surface meaning or identifying information explicitly stated within a passage (thinking within the text). The following sections look more closely at literal comprehension and how to approach questions within this area.

Identifying the Main Idea

For the Reading test, you need to identify the main idea of a reading passage. The main idea is the central point the author is trying to get across. In some cases, the main idea is easy to identify because the author explicitly states what the main idea is directly in the text (normally at the beginning of the passage or in the concluding paragraph).

In some cases, the main idea of a reading passage is not always directly stated, which means you have to figure it out. When trying to identify the main idea of a passage, identify the topic of the passage first, and then identify what point the author is trying to get across:

  • Look for sentences that provide examples about the topic. Examples can lead you to the main idea of the passage.
  • The main idea may be introduced through facts given in the opening paragraph that relate to the topic.

Let’s take a look at two different passages. In the first passage, the author clearly states the main idea in the first sentence. In the second passage, the author implies the main idea through a variety of examples.

The main idea in this paragraph is that “home computers are used for a variety of different tasks.”

The main idea of this paragraph is why it is important to keep your computer passwords safe.

On the Reading test, main idea questions will typically ask you to select the statement that best summarizes or expresses the main idea of the passage.

Identifying the Purpose

People write for a reason, whether it is to inform or entertain readers. The purpose of a passage identifies why the author chose to write the text. For the Reading test, you should determine the author’s purpose for writing the passage. There are four different reasons for writing:

  • To entertain: The writer uses humor or some other technique to amuse the reader.
  • To describe something: The writer gives the reader information.
  • To explain something: The writer explains something to the reader, such as how to perform a specific task.
  • To persuade: The writer attempts to convince the reader that the opinion in the essay is true.

Purpose questions will typically ask you to select the statement that best describes the author’s motivation for writing the text. When identifying the primary purpose, keep in mind that the author may explicitly state what the purpose is (usually in the beginning of the passage); if it is not explicitly stated, however, you have to figure it out using information in the passage.

Supporting Ideas

Supporting ideas are additional pieces of information that further explain or support the main idea of a reading passage. Supporting ideas might include facts, ideas, or descriptions. When distinguishing between a main idea and a supporting idea, remember that the main idea reflects the meaning of the entire reading passage while a supporting idea adds to the main idea.


Organization refers to an understanding of how the author has created the shape or structure of the text. It also includes an understanding of how the author compares and contrasts information, how the writer presents problems and solutions, the writer’s use of descriptive language, how the author organizes events in chronological sequence, and how the writer uses language to reveal cause and effect. For example, an author may introduce and describe a theory within the introductory paragraph and then go on to offer different points of view to refute the theory in proceeding paragraphs. However, it may also refer to how the author connects the words within the sentences and the ideas between the sentences, and paragraphs to deliver the message. As an example, an author may present a series of events in chronological order using transition words such as first, then, and next. Understanding the organization of the text from the writer’s point of view or from the writer’s decisions will help you to better understand the text.

There are several different methods for organizing a reading passage:

  • Cause-effect: Presents an action or event that causes an effect or outcome. Some signal words and phrases include consequently, hence, because, and for this reason.
  • Problem-solution: Presents a problem along with a solution. Some signal words and phrases include finally, next, in fact, more important, and best of all.
  • Comparison-contrast: Presents similarities and/or differences between ideas. Some signal words or phrases include similar, different, however, and on the other hand.
  • Chronological (sequence): Presents items in the order that they occurred or in which they were planned. Some signal words used include first, before, after, later, and next.

Questions on the Reading exam prompt you to identify how a reading passage is organized. For example, based on a given reading passage, you may have to identify whether an author has presented a series of interrelated ideas or a series of events in chronological order.

Vocabulary in Context

The PRAXIS Reading test will test your knowledge of vocabulary in context. More specifically, you will be expected to have the skills to identify the meaning of a specific word as it is used within the context of a reading passage. Although this might seem simple, these types of questions can be difficult. You might know the common definition of a word, but the word’s meaning can change based on the context in which it is used. For example, the word run may have up to 40 different meanings in context. Before taking the PRAXIS Reading test, you should have experience using context clues.

Context clues can determine the meaning of a word within a specific text. The context includes the other words and sentences leading up to and surrounding a particular word. You can gather clues from the context to figure out the meaning of a word.

Using vocabulary in context is important because it allows you to read without having to continually look up the meanings of words in a dictionary. To answer vocabulary in context questions, you should think about the context in which the word is used within the passage. The organization of the text, including how the author uses language and how key words and phrases are used in the text, will assist you in determining the meaning of a word.

You can watch for different types of context clues that can help you determine what the meaning of a word is. These include

  • Synonyms
  • Antonyms
  • Examples
  • General sense and knowledge about the topic
  • Substitution
  • Inference


A synonym is a word that has the same meaning as another word. Sometimes a sentence may include a synonym for the word you need to define. Take the following sentence as an example. What is the meaning of the word dissipate?

The storms clouds did not dissipate until early morning when they dispersed and disappeared.

You can use context clues within the sentence to determine the meaning of a word.

By reading the entire sentence, you can deduce that the words dispersed or disappeared are synonyms for the word dissipate. Therefore, the meaning of the word in this particular sentence is “disperse and disappear.”


An antonym is a word that has the opposite meaning of another word. A sentence may contain an antonym for the word you are trying to define. For example, the following sentence contains an antonym for the word effusive:

During class, the young girl was silent; however, she was effusive on the playground.

As you can see from the example, an antonym for the word effusive has been embedded in the sentence, thereby enabling you to unlock the meaning of the word.


Sometimes you will be able to unlock the meaning of a word through examples. A writer might provide an example of the word in context. For example:

The fans wreaked havoc after the game by throwing food and chairs, smashing windows, and yelling profanity.

From the examples provided in the sentence, you can easily unlock the meaning of the word havoc.

General Sense and Knowledge About the Topic

Sometimes you will have to resort to your own general sense and knowledge of a topic to determine the meaning of a word within a specific context. In such situations, try to recall any prior knowledge or any personal experiences you may have with the topic to help you figure out the meaning of the word.


Sometimes you can use your prior knowledge of a topic to determine the meaning of a word. For example:

The lemon juice was very tart.

From your general knowledge of lemon juice you can determine the meaning of the word tart as sour, bitter, or acidic.


Substitution is another context clue that you can use to unlock the meaning of a word within a specific context. When you are asked to identify the meaning of a term, reread the sentence and substitute another word that may make sense for the unknown word. Take the following sentence as an example:

By the end of winter, the mass of firewood used to heat the house was starting to dwindle.

If you have to unlock the meaning of the word mass in the preceding sentence, try substituting the term with another word that might make sense, such as supply, stockpile, or hoard.

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