What's Tested on OAT Reading Comprehension?

To do well on OAT Reading Comprehension on Test Day, you need to read critically and understand why the author presents certain information. Preparing for this section, therefore, is an interesting task. You won’t see any lengthy calculations, and you don’t need to memorize complex science concepts. Instead, the best ways to study involve learning strategies, applying them to the reading you do from now until Test Day, and completing practice passages.
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The Reading Comprehension Passage

The Reading Comprehension portion of the exam contains three passages consisting of approximately 14 paragraphs each. Each passage will pertain to a scientific topic. The intent of the author may be to inform, persuade, or speculate, but usually the author’s tone remains roughly neutral due to the nature of the content. Subtle clues may indicate an author is for or against certain ideas, but these opinions will rarely be extreme.
Outside knowledge of each field is not required to answer questions correctly in this section, and the passages are meant to cover material you do not already know. Nevertheless, rough familiarity with the general vocabulary and writing style used in each field can build your confidence and speed you up on Test Day. Reading through recent editions of journals, such as the Journal of the American Optometric Association and Science, and magazines, such as National Geographic and Scientific American, will increase your familiarity with this type of material. These publications tend to have articles of a similar style to those seen on the OAT. Regardless of whether you’re reading OAT passages or any other material, reading more often helps improve both your reading speed and comprehension.
Each of the three passages will be accompanied by 16–17 questions for a total of 50 questions per section. Because you will have 60 minutes total to complete this section, allot 20 minutes per passage: up to 8 minutes for reading the passage and at least 12 minutes for answering the questions. This will give you approximately 40–45 seconds per question. Neither every passage nor every question should take the same amount of time due to varying difficulty and length, so use these numbers as guidelines rather than hard rules.

OAT Reading

Reading Comprehension questions are always about the corresponding passage. You are not necessarily looking for the answer choices that are the most factual but rather those that correspond best with the author and the passage. If you do have prior knowledge in a field, you must be careful not to apply that to the questions and instead only answer based on the information in the passage. Therefore, before you can tackle a Reading Comprehension question, you must read at least some of the corresponding passage.
There are four things you really need to know about Reading Comprehension:
  • 1. You’re not reading to learn anything.

    This is not information you need to carry with you for years, months, weeks, or even hours. You just need to use it in the next few minutes, and you will even be able to refer back to the passage when you need it.

  • 2. You’re not reading to remember anything.

    If you try to remember what you read, you’ll rely on memory—which is notoriously faulty—and your mind will be taken up with what you’re trying to remember. That’s not helpful. Your mind needs to be open and focused on the really important parts of the OAT: the questions.

  • 3. You don’t need any outside knowledge or your own leaps of logic to read the passage well.

    All the correct answers are supported in the passage. As stated previously, if you use what you already know, you’ll be tempted to answer questions based on your own knowledge and not on the passage. That’s a classic way to choose wrong answers.

  • 4. You’re not reading to understand everything.

    After all, if there’s no question on the part you didn’t understand, it doesn’t matter anyway. So you’re not going to read and reread; you’re just going to keep moving ahead and let the questions determine what you need to reread.

Considering all these points together shows that reading on the OAT is quite different from reading almost anything else. Therefore, how you approach the passages in the Reading Comprehension section should be different from how you read anything else. Don’t fall into the easy trap of approaching the passages as you would a novel or even a textbook; instead, read critically to set yourself up for success when you get to the questions. After all, answering those questions correctly is your primary goal on Test Day, so everything you do should directly serve that goal, including how you read.

OAT Reading Comprehension Question Types

The OAT test makers use the same types of questions in every Reading Comprehension section. You’ll see some comprehension questions that test about basic facts from the passage, but you also can expect other questions that test a deeper understanding of the ideas through analysis and evaluation, so it’s important to be prepared for various levels of critical thinking. Although you won’t earn any points directly by identifying what type each question is on Test Day, identifying question types will help you make efficient predictions and avoid wrong answers.


Global questions test how well you understand the passage as a whole and ask for the main idea, conclusion, or thesis of a passage or paragraph. You can identify Global questions by their use of phrases such as main purpose, title, or overall point. Although each passage generally does not have more than one Global question, these can be quick points on Test Day.


Detail questions are by far the most common question type and ask about statements found explicitly in the passage. These questions are often preceded by the phrase according to the passage. Detail questions are not asking about your own logic or opinions but merely about a statement directly from the passage.  You should be able to find phrasing in the passage that exactly or nearly exactly matches the correct answer choice. A common version of a Detail question includes one or two statements and asks you to determine if those statements are from the passage. If you find yourself frequently missing Detail questions, ensure you are spending enough time researching; one hint is to not let yourself select the correct answer until you can point to the place in the passage that directly supports the answer choice you believe is correct.


Many questions ask you to choose the one answer that is true based on the passage. Detail EXCEPT questions reverse this and ask you to choose the one answer that is FALSE. These questions have phrasing similar to the author mentions all of these items EXCEPT. Four of the answer choices will appear in the passage, and one won’t, so using the process of elimination is useful for these questions. Note, however, that finding four separate facts from a passage can be a slow process, so consider making quick educated guesses and saving thorough evaluation of these questions for last if you are running out of time in a section.


Function questions require you to evaluate the way the author constructed his argument. A limited knowledge of rhetorical strategies is helpful in answering these kinds of questions. Authors might use rhetorical questions, analogies, counterexamples, or other techniques that can be asked about in Function questions. There are three subtypes of Function questions: Structure, Evaluation, and Relationship.


Inference questions test your ability to use the information in the passage to draw conclusions. They may be worded in a variety of ways, such as it can be inferred from the passage or the phrase X implies. Inference questions ask you to read between the lines and find the relationships between ideas. The correct answer will be a small step from what is said directly in the passage—but only a small step. Most Inference questions have strong clues in the passage, such as a specific detail, word choice, or tone, that will help you determine just what the author is trying to convey. Although the correct answer may not be stated explicitly in the passage, you can still determine it by restating something that was said or by combining ideas from two different sentences in the passage. Stick to the evidence in the text and avoid any answer choices that seem far-fetched.
A specific type of inference question you may see on Test Day is a Definition-In-Context question. These questions will present you a word or phrase from the text and ask you to infer what that word most nearly means. Specifically, you must identify the meaning intended by the author given the context in which it was used. A common wrong answer for these types of questions is a commonly used definition of the word or phrase. To effectively answer these questions and avoid those traps, your prediction should involve paraphrasing the definition of the word or phrase as used in the passage.


The final question type tends to be the least common and includes two fairly unique question types: Strengthen/Weaken and Tone. Strengthen/weaken questions may ask you to find the statement among the answer choices that most strengthens or weakens an argument, such as, “Which of the following best supports the author’s contention that X?” Other Strengthen/Weaken questions may give you new information in the question stem and ask you to determine whether it strengthens, weakens, or has no effect on a position from the passage. In either format, your task is to determine how the new information fits with what the author has already written.
The author’s tone or bias is rarely stated directly in a passage but is often heavily implied. Although the author of a passage may not say “I love penguins” verbatim, he may use words to describe them that indicate his opinion, such as fascinating, remarkable, interesting, and superior, to make his bias clear. Looking for these types of Opinion keywords while initially reading makes answering Tone questions straightforward, and a good prediction is one based on the overall tone of positive, negative, or neutral from your passage map.
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