What's on the ASVAB: Paragraph Comprehension

Know What to Expect

The ASVAB includes a reading section among its several subtests. This section, called the ASVAB Paragraph Comprehension (PC) section, presents short passages for you to read and then asks questions based on those passages. While the subject matter of each passage will vary, no outside knowledge is required to answer the questions correctly. For each question in this section, everything you need to answer the question will be contained in the passage above it.
On the paper-and-pencil version of the ASVAB, the PC section will ask 15 questions about 13 or 14 short passages. Timing is extremely important in this version of the test, as you are only given 13 minutes to answer these 15 questions. On the CAT-ASVAB, you are given 22 minutes to answer 11 questions. The extra time allows for the fact that question difficulty can increase as you accumulate correct answers.

The Kaplan Method for ASVAB Paragraph Comprehension Questions

To be successful in both the paper and pencil and CAT versions of the ASVAB Paragraph Comprehension subtest, you will need to read the passages in an effective and efficient manner. Keep in mind that your goal in this section is not to learn the subject matter of the passages but simply to answer the questions correctly. Therefore, your focus should be on understanding each question’s task rather than absorbing every detail in the passage. In this chapter, you’ll learn how to use Kaplan’s approach to PC questions to help you answer each type of question you’ll see on the PC subtest.
Having a consistent and repeatable method will help you quickly and confidently answer questions in this section. Use Kaplan’s 4-Step Method for Paragraph Comprehension Questions to attack every question you see in your practice and on Test Day.
  • Step 1: Read the question stem to identify your task.

    How you read and analyze a passage will vary depending upon the task defined by the question stem, so it’s important to always read the question before you look at the passage. After you read the question stem and identify the specific type of question you’re being asked, it’s time to read the passage strategically. In this chapter, we will cover all the different types of questions you might see on Test Day.

  • Step 2: Read the passage strategically.

    Once you know your task, read as much of the passage as necessary to answer the question. In a question that asks you to identify the main idea of a passage, separate supporting details from opinions and recommendations to determine the author’s overall point. Other PC questions may ask you to identify specific details, or to determine the meaning of a word. The key in this step is to read the passage in the way that is appropriate to answer the specific question that is being asked.

  • Step 3: Make a prediction.

    As mentioned earlier, every question in this section can be answered by the information in the passage that precedes it; no outside information is necessary. For each question, take a few seconds to predict what the correct answer will look like. Sometimes you’ll know the answer without even looking at the answer choices. Other times, you’ll have only a general idea of the phrasing of the correct answer. Either way, taking the time to predict will make it easier to find the correct answer.

  • Step 4: Find the correct answer.

    Once you come up with a prediction of the correct answer, simply find the answer choice that is the closest match. If you are unable to make a prediction, you’ll still have an opportunity to find the correct answer by eliminating answer choices that you know are incorrect. Many will be incorrect because they stray beyond the scope of the subject matter in the passage. Other answer choices are incorrect because they are too extreme, or they distort details in the passage. After you’ve eliminated the wrong answer choices, select the one that remains and move on to the next question.

Conquering ASVAB Paragraph Comprehension Questions

Global Questions

A common question type in the ASVAB Paragraph Comprehension section is one that asks you to identify a passage’s main idea or theme, the author’s purpose, or the tone of the passage. Here’s what a Global question stem might look like:
Which of the following is the main idea of the passage?
The author’s tone in the passage above can be characterized as
The purpose of the passage above is to
The passage above is primarily concerned with
In order to find the main idea in a passage, you must be able to distinguish the values an author assigns to different statements. In each passage that asks you to determine a main idea, the author will use supporting details to establish a main idea. Things like simple facts, other people’s opinions, and background information can all operate as supporting details in a passage. Those details are then used to support an author’s claim, which often comes in the form of a strong opinion, a recommendation, a prediction, or a rebuttal to another person’s position.
Sometimes, like when the author expresses a strong opinion, the main idea will be clear. Words and phrases like thus, therefore, I suggest, and I believe all indicate that the author is providing a strong conclusion. Other times, a passage’s main idea will be more difficult to identify. In those passages, be prepared to work a little harder to separate supporting ideas from the main idea. Often, one of the tricks to zeroing in on the main idea of a passage is to pay attention to structural clues that indicate a contrast. Words such as but, though, however, although, and yet provide subtle clues into an author’s point of view: the statement after the contrast word is frequently a reflection of the author’s opinion, especially in passages where the author disagrees with someone else’s opinion.
Finally, on Global questions it is often easy to eliminate a few answer choices immediately. Wrong answer choices for Global questions usually do one of the following:

  • They’re too specific, dealing with just one small detail of the passage.
  • They’re too general, going beyond the scope of the passage.
  • They’re contradictory to the information presented in the passage.
  • They’re too extreme; that is, they distort the author’s opinion by overstating it

Detail Questions

Detail questions ask you to find specific information that is explicitly stated within the passage. Here are some examples of Detail question stems:
According to the author, which of the following is a type of rug found in French castles?
The second step in constructing a picket fence is to
Which of the following is cited in the passage as an advantage of a retirement account?
Notice how these questions are very different from Global questions. In these types of questions, you do not have to read for the author’s main idea. In fact, it is crucial in Detail questions not to overanalyze or read too much into the question. The correct answer to these questions will almost always be a paraphrase of something found directly in the passage.
Beware of the difference between simply recognizing text from the passage and recognizing text from the passage that answers the question. Wrong answer choices will sometimes be pulled from irrelevant areas of the given text. For Detail questions, always research the text, make a prediction, and then find a match for that prediction among the answer choices.

Inference Questions

Sometimes the ASVAB will ask you questions about the passage to which the answers are not directly stated in the text, but are instead implied by the passage. Here are just a few of the ways an Inference question might be worded:
Which of the following is implied by the passage?
The author apparently feels that It can be inferred from the passage that
As you can see, the wording in
Inference questions rarely points you to a specific part of the passage, as Detail questions do. And Inference questions won’t necessarily ask you about the ideas that are most important to the author, as Global questions do. Instead, Inference questions require you to consider multiple statements in a passage and, from them, determine what else the author must believe. Because there are many inferences that can be made from a given piece of text, it’s not necessary to predict before considering the answer choices. Rather, paraphrase the passage and move through the answer choices, selecting the one that is supported by the given text.
Because the correct answer to an Inference question is simply the one answer choice that is strongly supported by what is stated in the passage, you can also eliminate wrong answer choices because they commit one of the following errors:

  • They contradict information in the passage.
  • They bring in outside information that is not discussed in the passage.
  • They distort the information presented in the passage.
  • They make an extreme claim that is not completely supported by the passage.

Vocabulary-in-Context Questions

One final type of question found in the PC section will ask you for the meaning of a word used in the paragraph. These questions, which we call Vocabulary-in-Context questions, are pretty straightforward: the correct answer will be a word that can replace the word in question without altering the meaning of the sentence.
To handle this question type, focus on the word in the question stem while you are reading the passage. Then, predict an answer by defining the word as it is used in context. Finally, attack the answer choices by looking for a word that matches your prediction. Once you have selected an answer choice, reread the initial sentence with the answer choice in place of the vocabulary word to be sure the meaning is the same.

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