Whether you are taking the TOEFL, SAT, ACT or any other standardized test, the key skill you need is the ability to use Process of Elimination (POE).
POE is the ability to recognize and eliminate wrong answers so that you can focus on the possibly correct ones. Understanding how test makers create wrong answers makes it easier. Obviously the tests are designed for the majority of students to get the majority of questions wrong. Answers are carefully crafted so that there will be attractive choices that are wrong.
Wrong answers tend to fall into these categories
- Opposite of what is stated
- Too broad
- Too narrow
- partly right BUT partly wrong
- True but not from the right part of the passage
However, just because POE is a useful technique doesn’t mean you no longer need to read and think about the passage, question and answers. Removing some of the choices makes this easier but not fool-proof.
Let’s look at an example passage and questions.
Excerpt from a speech given in 1883
Of course, in one sense, the first essential for a man’s being a good citizen is his possession of the home virtues of which we think when we call a man by the emphatic adjective of manly. No man can be a good citizen who is not a good husband and a good father, who is not honest in his dealings with other men and women, faithful to his friends and fearless in the presence of his foes, who has not got a sound heart, a sound mind, and a sound body; exactly as no amount of attention to civil duties will save a nation if the domestic life is undermined, or there is lack of the rude military virtues which alone can assure a country’s position in the world. In a free republic the ideal citizen must be one willing and able to take arms for the defense of the flag, exactly as the ideal citizen must be the father of many healthy children. A race must be strong and vigorous; it must be a race of good fighters and good breeders, else its wisdom will come to naught and its virtue be ineffective; and no sweetness and delicacy, no love for and appreciation of beauty in art or literature, no capacity for building up material prosperity can possibly atone for the lack of the great virile virtues.
- What is the author’s purpose?
A) To persuade the reader to have more children
B) To connect the qualities of manliness to those of citizenship
C) To denounce men who are poor fathers
D) To explain how Americans are superior to other nationalities
2. According to the author, why are children important to a nation?
A) They provide the first round of defense against enemies
B) Children will provide joy for their fathers
C) They will create prosperity for the nation
D) Children perpetuate the knowledge and goodness of their fathers
3. To whom is this passage directed?
A) All citizens
Do you have your answers?
Let’s start with identifying the Main Idea and Tone of the passage. The author (Theodore Roosevelt) is writing about “Duties of American Citizenship”. This is the introduction in which he is setting up his argument. He indicates that a man cannot be a good citizen if he is not first a “good man”. So, the main idea of this paragraph is that men must be virtuous men before they can be good citizens. The tone is positive.
Question 1 is a purpose question which means we can start our eliminating by looking at the function words at the beginning of each answer: To Persuade, To Connect, To Denounce, To Explain. Right away, I can get rid of “To Denounce” because it is negative and the passage’s tone is positive. The remaining choices we need to examine more closely.
A) To persuade the reader to have more children– the main idea is about citizenship and manliness and so this is much too narrow event though it does say that having children is an important aspect of manliness.
B) To connect the qualities of manliness to those of citizenship–this lines up with our main idea, so we will hold on to it while we look at the remaining answer choice
D) Top explain how Americans are superior to other nationalities–this is much too broad and off topic. The author actually does not mention America at all, so unless you were already familiar with the passage you wouldn’t know that it was an American speaking.
B is the closest to the Main Idea and is the correct answer.
Question 2 is a literal comprehension question and is asking you to identify the correct part of the passage and understand what it is literally saying. The key sentence where the answer will be found is the following:
A race must be strong and vigorous; it must be a race of good fighters and good breeders, else its wisdom will come to naught and its virtue be ineffective;
A) They provide the first round of defense against enemies –Too narrow. There is no information about children being the “first round of defense”
B) Children will provide joy for their fathers–There is nothing said about children bringing joy. This may be true in general, but it is not stated in the passage and therefore cannot be correct
C) They will create prosperity for the nation –This is the trap answer. The term “prosperity” comes shortly after the reference, but it is talking about how money won’t make up for a lack of manly virtue in a society
D) Children perpetuate the knowledge and goodness of their fathers–This answer paraphrases the idea that without children, knowledge will be lost because there is no one to pass it on to and virtue will be useless because there will be no one to be virtuous towards.
D is the best choice here.
Question 3 is an inference question. You must be able to assemble to pieces of information provided and make the most logical connection. Our first piece of evidence is in the italicized intro that states the speech was given in 1883. In 1883 women did not have the right to vote in the United States (and wouldn’t for another 37 years!). The second piece of evidence is that the passage refers directly to men, manliness and virility. (Men are virile while women are fertile). So while your modern mind would like to talk you into answering A, in fact in the time when this speech was given men would have been the primary audience and the most logical choice.
But we can also use Process of Elimination here. There is no mention of mothers or women, so B is eliminated and if B is eliminated then A must be as well. Children are only referenced as being a necessary aspect of a strong society, but children are not directly addressed in the same way as men are.
C is the best choice.
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