There are six kinds of reading questions:

  • Comprehension
  • Detail Questions
  • Following Directions Questions
  • Main Idea Questions
  • Inference
  • Sequence

Below are patterns for each, including a description, the typical phrases or language we see in text or on tests, and strategies to help identify the kind you are looking at.


Comprehension means understanding or mentally grasping the meaning of something. The answer to a comprehension question usually is something you can point to in the paragraph or passage.

Forms of Comprehension Questions

  • According to this paragraph, . . .
  • According to this passage, . . .
  • According to this article, . . .
  • According to this book, . . .
  • You are to find . . . (answers will include phrases or sentences)
  • This means . . .
  • It is clear from this passage that . . .

Strategies for Comprehension Questions

  • Look for the word, phrase, or sentence(s) that answers the question directly.
  • Be aware that some questions are just another way of saying something in the paragraph or passage.

Detail Questions

Detail questions specify smaller chunks of information than comprehension questions. The answers deal with specific, small items in the paragraph or passage such as a number, a date, or a name.

Forms of Detail Questions

  • Your answer to this question will be in: number of miles, number of hours, or speed. (The answer will be very specific, as the question suggests: a number, a specific time, etc.)
  • What college did Alice attend?
  • How old was Alice when she won the Pulitzer Prize?
  • Hilda has all-gray hair, a wrinkled face, and a cane, so that we know she is what? (old)

Strategies for Detail Questions

  • Look for answers in the paragraph or passage that are limited to only one or a few words, a date, some numbers and other very specific items.

Following Directions Questions

Following directions is a particular kind of comprehension. You are asked to understand how to answer a question, not to answer the question itself.

For example, the directions could tell you to underline the subject once, underline the verb twice, and put parentheses around the prepositional phrases.

If you do not read the directions, you would not know what to do or how to write the answers the correct way.

Forms of Following Directions Questions

  • This question asks you to find . . .
  • Maria answered the question this way. Did Maria answer correctly? or Did Maria follow directions?

Strategies for Following Directions Questions

  • Do not worry if the answer contains the correct information. Worry about whether the answer is written in the correct way or about how the question is answered.
    • For example, the directions might tell you to underline, but you drew a circle around the correct answer. Therefore, you answered the question itself correctly but wrote your answer in the wrong way or how you answered was wrong.

Main Idea Questions

The main idea covers most of what a paragraph or passage is about; it may answer who, what, where, when, why, or how. It includes a topic and something specific about that topic.

For example, a topic might be the Civil War. A main idea about the Civil War might be: The two most important causes of the Civil War were disagreements regarding slavery and states’ rights.

Forms of Main Idea Questions

  • This paragraph is mostly about __________.
  • Passage talks mainly about __________.
  • Text tells as a whole __________.
  • Story tells as a whole __________.
  • Article tells as a whole __________.
  • Reading tells as a whole __________.

Strategies for Main Idea Questions

  • In the answers, look for one or two sentences that are mini-summaries of the whole paragraph or passage.
  • Refer to SSS Main Ideas Guide
    • If you find mostly reasons or explanations, the main idea will deal with “why.”
    • If most of the sentences talk about a place, the main idea will deal with “where.”
    • If most of the sentences are about time, the main idea will deal with “when.”
    • If most of the sentences give steps to do or make something, the main idea will deal with “how.”
    • If most of the sentences are about one person or several people or even a group of people, the main idea will deal with “who.”
    • If most of the sentences describe something, or, if none of the other answers seems right, then the main idea may deal with “what.” (“What” main ideas can be very different kinds of things.)
  • Make sure your choice is not too narrow. In other words, make sure your choice for a main idea cannot be answered by only one sentence of the paragraph or passage. Most of the sentences must be about this/these reason(s), place(s), time(s), person(s), (how) process(es), or thing(s).
  • Make sure your choice for the main idea is not too broad. Can your choice include more things not in the paragraph or passage? If it can, then it is not specific enough.


In contrast to facts or information stated directly in the paragraph or passage, inferences are decisions, conclusions, or judgments made by the reader from information in the paragraph or passage.

The information is like a hint, and the inferred ideas are not stated directly. The reader must reason or think about her answer.

Forms of Inference Questions

  • . . . probably . . .
  • We can tell from this . . .
  • We can figure out that . . .
  • We can guess that . . .
  • We can expect that . . .
  • The writer seems to expect . . .
  • Pick the answer that seems most reasonable to you.
  • The reason he did that was probably . . .
  • You can assume . . . probably . . .
  • You can conclude from this paragraph/passage that . . .
  • The author suggests that . . .
  • Which is more likely to happen . . . ?

Strategies for Inference Questions

  • Refer to SSS Drawing Conclusions Guide
    • Look for limiting words to help you decide which group fits the answer (all, some, a few, none).
    • Look for comparisons
      • Two things may be compared in the paragraph or passage
      • One thing in the passage may be compared to something you already or should already know.
    • Look for logical results or endings of a chain of reasons or events. Then you can predict what will probably happen next.
    • Look for pairs of concepts in special relationships such as cause and effect, general and specific, or time and place. The best answer will be one part of the pair. For example, President Jordan is the first deaf president of Gallaudet University. You can generalize, “Deaf people can get good jobs now.” (This example showed a specific fact, and you chose a generalization that matched the specific fact.)
  • Look for evidence for your inference in the reading passage.


Sequence shows the chronological order of events: what happened first, second, and sometimes more. Note that the sequence is not the same as the order of events presented in the paragraph or passage.

For example, the passage could start talking about what happened last, and then jump back to the beginning.

Strategies for Sequence Questions

  • Write the rule for after / after order (If you do not know about this rule, please ask!)
    • After 1st event, 2nd event.
    • Before 2nd event, 1st event.
    • 1st event, before 2nd event.
    • 2nd event, after 1st event.


    • (1st Event): Randy walked the dog …
    • (2nd Event)… before he went to work.

    One sentence may include more than two events; it could use both before and after in one sentence. These sentences are a little trickier.


    • (2nd Event): Randy walked the dog …
    • (3rd Event): before he went to work and …
    • (1st Event): … after he took out the trash.
  • Make a list of all the events in the passage or paragraph to help you answer the question(s).
    • (Person’s name) did things in this order:
    • (Name) first worked for . . .
    • The oldest person here is . . .
    • Terry hired Frank after/before . . .
    • Who was born first?

    The events are scrambled. Please unscramble them and put them in the right order.

Developed by Carie Palmer and Shirley Shultz Myers, Gallaudet University English Department

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