Determining the Main Idea in a Reading Passage

Main Idea Web

Main Idea Web

When studying for a skills assessment test, such as the Praxis I or a state basic skills test, it is important to familiarize yourself with the different content areas and concepts that will be on the test.  One important concept in the area of reading comprehension is the main idea. It is important to be able to find the main idea of a reading passage to accurately understand what the author is trying to convey.  A reading passage contains a topic, main idea, and supporting ideas or details.  TeachRite has hundreds of reading comprehension practice questions but here are a few tips to help you spot the main idea quickly.

As you are reading a passage, note the topic and try to determine what the overall theme of the passage is.  For example,  the author may write a passage about winter and continue to state why winter is the best season.  This would be the main idea of the passage.  The author would then give reasons or supporting details of why winter is the best season.

To easily determine the main idea in a passage on the Praxis I or other state basic skills test, think about what the author is trying to communicate in the passage when you are finished reading.  The main idea can typically be summarized in one sentence.  It may be helpful to write down what you believe the main idea of the passage to be.  If it is longer than one sentence, it is a good possibility that you are including the details of the passage in as well.

It may also helpful to preview a passage before reading it in its entirety to find the main idea.  To preview a passage, simply skim through the passage.  Pay close attention to the first and last few sentences of the passage since this is typically, but not always, where the main idea can be found.  After you have skimmed through the passage, write down or make a mental note of what you believe the main idea to be.  Next, read through the entire passage carefully and determine if what you originally thought was the main idea is correct.

Next, text features are important keys that can help you to identify the main idea of a passage in a skills assessment test.  The title of a passage can give you the main idea or, at a minimum, a clue to what the main idea is.  Headings within a passage can also give you clues to the main idea.

Finally, practice finding the main idea in different reading passages before you take the skills assessment test.  Use a variety of types of texts, both fiction and nonfiction.  Even with the practice exams in TeachRite, some find it beneficial to use a graphic organizer when you are studying to help you organize your thoughts and guide you in determining the main idea. For example, a web graphic organizer uses a circle in the middle with circles around the outside. The circles on the outside all connect back to the circle in the middle. When using this type of graphic organizer to find the main idea, write the main idea in the center and the supporting details in the circles around the outside. With this you should be able to quickly identify if you correctly found the main idea.  Of course, nothing helps like the practice you get with TeachRite!

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