Digital SAT Reading Practice: Main Idea Questions

1. The following text is adapted from Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1888 book The Black Arrow—A Tale of the Two Roses:

One afternoon, the bell upon Tunstall Moat House was heard ringing at an unaccustomed hour. Far and near, in the forest and in the fields along the river, people began to desert their labors and hurry towards the sound. By the bridge, there was a stone cross upon a knoll, and here a group had collected—half a dozen women and one tall fellow in a russet smock—discussing what the bell betided. An express had gone through the hamlet an hour before, and drunk a pot of ale in the saddle, not daring to dismount for the hurry of his errand; but he had been ignorant himself of what was forward, and only bore sealed letters to Sir Oliver Oates who kept the Moat House in the master’s absence.

What is the main idea of the text?
A. The church bell has called people together to learn happy news from a stranger.
B. A messenger has brought news that is yet unknown, yet important enough for all the local people to be called together.
C. The bell upon Tunstall Moat House is broken, causing it to ring at an unknown time. A group of people gather together to discuss the issue and the unknown solution.
D. A sealed letter has arrived, causing the messenger to ring the bell at Tunstall Moat House and bring together all the people.

2. The following text is adapted from Arthur Morrison’s novel The Dorrington Deed-Box:

Dorrington looked grave. “It’s really extraordinary,” he said, “most extraordinary; and it isn’t often that I call a thing extraordinary, with my experience. But it’s plain something must be done—something to gain time at any rate. We’re in the dark at present, of course, and I expect I shall have to fish about a little before I get at anything to go on. In the meantime, I think you must disappear as artfully as we can manage it.” He sat silent for a little while, thoughtfully tapping his forehead with his finger-tips. “I wonder,” he said presently, “whether or not those Italian fellows on the steamer are in it or not. I suppose you haven’t made yourself known anywhere, have you?” “Nowhere. As you know, you’ve been with me all the time”

What is the main idea of the text?
A. The man Dorrington is speaking to has an extraordinary talent which has lead to him being chased by the Italians.
B. Dorrington is in trouble and looking to gain time in which to solve a problem he is facing.
C. The man to whom Dorrington is speaking is in some sort of mysterious trouble and Dorrington, in order to help, suggests that he disappear.
D. Two fishing buddies hatch a plan to excel in their hobby, despite the odds being against them.

3. The following text is adapted from Baroness Orczy’s The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel. In it, Madeleine Lannoy is promised help in finding her lost child.

Dante, in his wild imaginations of hell and of purgatory and fleeting glimpses of paradise, never put before us such a picture of a soul that was lost and found heaven, after a cycle of despair. Nor could Madeleine Lannoy ever explain her feelings at that moment, even to herself. To begin with, she could not quite grasp the reality of this ray of hope, which came to her at the darkest hour of her misery. She stared at the man before her as she would an ethereal vision; she fell on her knees and buried her face in her hands.

What is the main idea of the text?
A. Dante’s picture of hell and redemption shows us what Madeleine Lannoy has suffered in her despair and grief for her child.
B. The hope that Madeleine Lannoy feels is such a transformation for her that not even Dante’s literary move from hell to heaven could compare with the change.
C. A man appears before Madeleine Lannoy, and, not knowing if he is from heaven or hell, she sinks to her knees and trembles in fear.
D. Madeleine Lannoy, in her agony, despairs at ever finding her lost child, and compares her life to Dante’s inferno.

4. The following text is adapted from John Buchan’s novel Mr. Standfast:

He leaned forward and tapped me on the knee. “I reverence the British Intelligence Service. Flies don’t settle on it to any considerable extent. It’s got a mighty fine mesh, but there’s one hole in that mesh, and it’s our job to mend it. There’s a high-powered brain in the game against us. I struck it a couple of years ago when I was hunting Dumba and Albert, and I thought it was in New York, but it wasn’t. I struck its working again at home last year and located its head office in Europe. So I tried Switzerland and Holland, but only bits of it were there. The center of the web where the old spider sits is right here in England, and for six months I’ve been shadowing that spider.”

What is the main idea of the text?
A. There is an issue with the netting around the characters which is letting in spiders and other creatures.
B. The British Intelligence Service, and the speaker specifically, is struggling to update its files on issues around the world.
C. The speaker is trying to follow a covert operative who is continually moving through Europe, with his headquarters in England.
D. The speaker is following and learning of an unknown threat which is centered in England and has reach in countries around the world.

5. The following text is adapted from James Fenimore Cooper’s 1826 novel The Last of the Mohicans:

The route taken by Hawkeye lay across those sandy plains, relived by occasional valleys and swells of land, which had been traversed by their party on the morning of the same day, with the baffled Magua for their guide. The sun had now fallen low toward the distant mountains; and as their journey lay through the interminable forest, the heat was no longer oppressive. Their progress, in consequence, was proportionate; and long before the twilight gathered about them, they had made good many toilsome miles on their return.

What is the main idea of the text?
A. A party of people undertakes a journey across many different terrains and finds that they can progress at a decent rate.
B. Hawkeye alone travels across plains, valleys, and swells in search of a party of people who have become lost.
C. Let by Magua, Hawkeye finds a route through the wilderness as a larger party of people make good time in their journey.
D. Surrounded by wilderness, a group of people, led by their guide, struggles to reach the mountains across plains and valleys, and through a dense forest.

6. The following text is adapted from Sir Walter Scott’s 1819 novel Ivanhoe

“Cedric is not her father,” replied the Prior, “and is but of remote relation: she is descended from higher blood than even he pretends to, and is but distantly connected with him by birth. Her guardian, however, he is, self-constituted as I believe; but his ward is as dear to him as if she were his own child.”

What is the main idea of the text?
A. Cedric and the girl are not related to one another even though they love each other.
B.  Cedric’s daughter is from a very noble family on her mother’s side and this separates her from him and his low birth.
C. Cedric and his ward are only distantly related. But despite this and their difference in nobility, Cedric loves her as a daughter.
D. Cedric’s ward is not his daughter and will not let her guardian forget that she is of nobler birth than he.

7. The following text is adapted from George Eliot’s 1872 novel Middlemarch:

Dorothea trembled while she read this letter; then she fell on her knees, buried her face, and sobbed. She could not pray: under the rush of solemn emotion in which thoughts became vague and images floated uncertainly, she could but cast herself, with a childlike sense of reclining, in the lap of a divine consciousness which sustained her own. She remained in that attitude till it was time to dress for dinner.

What is the main idea of the text?
A. Dorthea has read an upsetting letter which has caused her to fall to her knees and seek comfort in the divine.
B. While reading a letter, Dorthea was overcome by emotion and loses her consciousness to grief and fear.
C. Overcome by the contents of a letter Dorthea kneels in prayer of thanksgiving that she has been sustained through terrible news.
D. Having fallen ill, Dorthea seeks comfort in her letters and in divine providence as she drifts through her consciousness.

8. The following text is adapted from William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1848 novel Vanity Fair. In it the author discuss a woman who, despite already having a large house and many servants, desires to move up in society.

And so—guiltless very likely—she was writhing and pushing onward towards what they call “a position in society,” and the servants were pointing at her as lost and ruined. So you see Molly, the housemaid, of a morning, watching a spider in the doorpost lay his thread and laboriously crawl up it, until, tired of the sport, she raises her broom and sweeps away the thread and the artificer.

What is the main idea of the text?
A. Molly, lost in dreams of a better position in society, slacks on the job, choosing to watch a spider instead of cleaning.
B. The mistress of the house, in following her social aspirations, has lost the respect of her servants.
C. Molly, instead of doing her work, spends her time watching spiders and mocking her employer.
D. Desiring a spot in society, the mistress of the house allows her home to fall into disrepair and uncleanliness.

9. The following text is adapted from Mark Twain’s 1882 novel The Prince and the Pauper:

“He must be the prince!  Will any be in all the land maintain there can be two, not of one blood and birth, so marvellously twinned?  And even were it so, ’twere yet a stranger miracle that chance should cast the one into the other’s place. Nay, ’tis folly, folly, folly!”

Presently he said— “Now were he impostor and called himself prince, look you that would be natural; that would be reasonable.  But lived ever an impostor yet, who, being called prince by the king, prince by the court, prince by all, denied his dignity and pleaded against his exaltation?  No!  By the soul of St. Swithin, no!  This is the true prince, gone mad!”

What is the main idea of the text?
A. The boy who is called the prince is not the prince, but rather an imposter.
B. The prince must have gone mad—no other explanation makes sense to the speaker.
C. The speaker, the king, and the listener are all trying to determine if the boy in question is the prince.
D. No one knows if the boy in question is the prince or an imposter.

10. The following text is adapted from Charlotte Bronte’s 1849 novel Shirley: I did not find it easy to sketch Mr. Yorke’s person, but it is more difficult to indicate his mind. If you expect to be treated to a Perfection, reader, or even to a benevolent, philanthropic old gentleman in him, you are mistaken. He has spoken with some sense and with some good feeling to Mr. Moore, but you are not thence to conclude that he always spoke and thought justly and kindly.

What is the main idea of the text?
A. The author struggles to describe Mr. Yorke’s personality and therefore gives up, leaving the reader with no clear picture of the man.
B. Mr. Yorke is best know to the reader for how kindly he treated Mr. Moore. It therefore is best for the reader to understand Mr. Yorke as a kind man.
C. The author feels he cannot well describe Mr. Yorke’s personality, but attempts to make sure that the reader knows that Yorke is not a kindly old gentlemen despite his actions toward Mr. Moore.
D. Mr. Yorke, despite being known as a kind man for his actions toward Mr. Moore, is actually more than that. He is generous with his money, just, and kind toward all around him.

  1. B. The passage does not explain what is in the letter that the messenger has brought. However, the people gathered have connected the letter to the bell which is ringing to gather the people together. This best fits with answer option B. Answer option A is incorrect because it claims to know that the news is happy. Answer option C is incorrect as there is not evidence that the bell is broken. Answer option D is incorrect as there is no evidence that the messenger himself is ringing the bell.
  2. C. In the passage, Dorrington is commenting on an “extraordinary” situation that they don’t know much about and that necessitates the other character’s disappearance. We can surmise that the other character must be in some trouble and since Dorrington is going to “fish about a little” for him he must be trying to help. This best fits with answer B. Answer A is incorrect as there is no evidence of an extraordinary talent or the Italians chasing him. Answer B is incorrect as it seems that the other man, not Dorrington, is in trouble. Answer D is incorrect as it misreads the fishing comment and other parts of the passage as literal when they are figurative.
  3. B. The first sentence points out that even Dante’s description of hell and heaven “never put before us” an example like that of Madeleine who has been pulled from the hell of losing her child and given a ray of hope. This best fits answer B. Answer A is incorrect as the passage says that Dante’s work is not enough to describe the situation. Answer C is incorrect as the man before her is not actually an ethereal vision, she merely looks at him like one. Answer D is incorrect as Madeleine now feels some hope, not despair.
  4. D. The speaker talks about how there is a hole in the mesh and it’s his job to fix it. In trying to fix it he has traveled the world looking for the “spider” and discovered that while parts of it are in different places around the world, the spider is in England and he has been following it. This spider is a threat that is unknown. Which makes option D the best answer. Answer A is wrong as the spider and mesh are literal, not figurative. Answer B is wrong as it misunderstands the reference to the files. Answer C is incorrect as there is no evidence that the spider is a single covert operative.
  5. A. The main idea of the text centers around the discussion of the journey being made by the group. The journey’s path is described and then the passage ends with a note that due to the relative cool the group managed to progress many miles. This best fits with answer A. Answer B is incorrect as the passage does not focus on Hawkeye’s individual journey nor does it indicate that the people are lost. Answer C is incorrect as Magua is not Hawkeye’s guide. Answer D is incorrect as we do not know if the group is trying to reach the mountains or another destination.
  6. C. Cedric is not the girl’s father as is plainly stated. He is, however, a “remote” relation, meaning they are distantly related. In addition, Cedric has taken on the role of guardian and loves the girl as his own child. There is no evidence that her high birth has caused any issues between them. This makes option C the best option. Option A is incorrect as it claims they are not related at all. Option B is incorrect as the girl is not Cedric’s daughter. Option D is incorrect as there is no evidence that the girl holds his birth against him.
  7. A. Notice that Dorthea trembles even as she reads the letter and, when finished, seems to fall apart. It would seem that the contents of the letter have caused this reaction. This excludes option D: it is not a physical malady that has cause Dorthea’s reaction. We have no evidence that Dorthea is specifically fearful, or even that she feels grief, which eliminates option B. We know that Dorthea does not pray, which eliminates option C. This only leaves option A. Dorthea cannot pray but she does cast herself “into the lap of a divine consciousness which sustains her own”. So, while she does not pray, she does seek comfort in the divine.
  8. B. The woman discussed in the first sentence must be the mistress of the house, given the background information shared before the passage. She is described as wanting “a position in society” which has caused the servants to disrespect her, pointing, and calling her ruined. This leads to her servants, like Molly, not behaving as they should under her employ. This best fits answer option B. Answer option A is incorrect as it is not Molly who desires a better position. Answer option C is incorrect as this is part of the passage, but not the main idea. Option D is incorrect as there is no evidence that the house is in disrepair.
  9. B. In the passage, the speaker insists that the boy must be the prince. Nothing else makes sense to him. He does not think that there could be another person who so resembles the prince, nor does he think that an imposter would ever change his mind and begin to say that he isn’t  the prince. He points out that the king himself accepts that this boy is his son and concludes that the boy must be the prince and must be going mad to try to say he isn’t himself. This makes option B the best answer. Answer A is incorrect as the speaker does not think there is an imposter. Answer C is incorrect as the king and speaker consider it settled that the boy is not an imposter. Answer D is incorrect as the question in the passage is treated as settled, not as something that is unknown.
  10. C. The author at the beginning admits that he struggles to explain Mr. Yorke’s mind (or personality) to the reader. He does, however, make sure that the reader does not see Mr. Yorke as a “benevolent, philanthropic old gentleman” and he warns the reader not to assume that his kind actions to Mr. Moore are representative of how he acts all the time. This best fits with answer C and makes the other options incorrect.

Successful Preparation for Successful ASVAB Testing

So you’re thinking about joining the armed services. Well, just like applying to many colleges, there is a test you’re going to need to take in order to set yourself up for success. It’s called the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). The ASVAB tests a variety of things, from mechanical aptitude, to vocabulary. It’s a fairly fast paced test, so knowing what to expect and going into the test with a plan is a must. Keep in mind that your ASVAB score may impact your ability not just to get into a certain branch of the service, but to get into your specific desired job in that branch and to move up in that branch when the time comes. Make sure you prepare for this test and do your best! To help you along the way, here are some strategies for your preparation in the math and language portions:

1. Practice timing:
Whatever book or materials you use to study for the ASVAB, make sure that you do at least one or two practices with realistic time constraints so that you know what pressure you’ll be under on test day. Not every practice needs to be timed, sometimes you’ll just be working on getting used to the questions, but doing no timed practice will be a detriment on test day.

2. Brush up on your basic math skills, but know when to estimate:
There are two math sections on the ASVAB. You are not permitted to use a calculator on either section. Make sure you remember how to quickly add, subtract, multiply, and divide whole numbers, decimals, and fractions (you can use a resource like Khan Academy for practice on these skills). However, not every question is going to need to be fully calculated. Since the test is multiple choice, some questions have answers that are far enough apart that a good estimate will be sufficient. In your untimed practice, try selecting an answer option by estimating and then check you’re correct by doing the calculations on a piece of paper. This will help you learn when to estimate and will also be good practice for that long form basic math that you would usually just plug into a calculator.

3. Memorize formulas:
The math sections of the test do require knowledge of a number of math facts. Make sure that you know your basic geometric formulas: how to find the area and circumference of a circle, how to find the areas of a triangle and rectangle, how to find the volumes of a cylinder and box. In addition, make sure you’re comfortable multiplying and dividing with exponents and solving basic equations.

4. Read extensively:
One of the language sections of the ASVAB involves paragraph comprehension. The more you read in your everyday life the easier this will be. Get a book you’ll enjoy from your local library and read a chapter each day. Make sure that as you’re reading you’re stopping after each paragraph to sum up what you just read in your own words. This strengthens comprehension skills.

5. Learn root words:
Another language section of the ASVAB is a vocabulary section. Reading will help with this as will listening to high quality podcasts, and audio books. Anything that exposes you to a few unfamiliar words will be beneficial. Beyond that, however, learning root words can help. Look for materials that will teach you about word families and what common prefixes and suffixes mean. Commit these to memory. It’s much easier to make a good guess as to what “malevolent” means if you know the prefix “mal” means “bad”.

6. Talk to your recruiter:
Ask what score you need and which sections are the most important for the service you want to enter. If you’re hoping to enter into a job that requires no mechanical skills, the mechanical section of the test may not be something to stress about and likewise for other sections. Talking to your recruiter can help you identify where you need to spend most of your preparation time.

If you’d like to work with a tutor on any of the math or language skills tested by the ASVAB, we’re here to help. Please reach out to discuss tutoring options.

Michal Strawn

Digital SAT Practice: Writing/Verb Choice Questions #2

1. The mother of Dr. Haddock was Abigail Webster, a favorite sister of Ezekiel and Daniel Webster, who, with Sarah, ______ the only children of the Hon. Ebenezer Webster by his second wife, Abigail Eastman, who survived her husband and all her daughters.

Which choice completes the text so that it conforms to the conventions of standard English?
A. was
B. were
C. are
D. is

2. Mr. Layard in excavating beneath the great pyramid at Nimroud, had penetrated a mass of masonry, within which he had discovered the tomb and statue of Sardanapalus, accompanied by full annals of the monarch’s reign engraved on the walls! He had also found tablets of all sorts, all of them being historical, but the crowning discovery he _____________________

Which choice completes the text so that it conforms to the conventions of standard English?
A. had yet to describe.
B. still has to describe.
C. yet describes.
D. hadn’t yet to describe.

3. It is indeed a painful or rather a terrible condition in which Heine now is and _________ for the past year; though the paralysis has made no progress, it has at least experienced no alleviation. He has now lain near two years in bed, and during that time has not seen a tree nor a speck of the blue sky.

Which choice completes the text so that it conforms to the conventions of standard English?
A. were
B. was
C. has been
D. will be

4. Dr. Otto Zirckel has just published at Berlin a volume called “Sketches from and concerning the United States,” which has some curious peculiarities to the eyes of an American. It is intended as a guide for Germans who wish either _________________ to this country or to send their money here for investment.

Which choice completes the text so that it conforms to the conventions of standard English?
A. to have emigrated
B. to emigrate
C. emigration
D. emigrating

5. The omissions by Mr. Sparks—sometimes from carelessness, sometimes from ignorance, and sometimes from an indisposition to revive memories of old feuds, or to cover with disgrace names which should be dishonored—and his occasional verbal alteration of Washington’s letter, _________ that general satisfaction with which his edition of Washington would otherwise be regarded.

Which choice completes the text so that it conforms to the conventions of standard English?
A. prevents
B. has prevented
C. preventing
D. prevent

6. Bauer treats the political and religious parties of modern Germany with the same scornful satire and destructive analysis which __________ in his theological writings.

Which choice completes the text so that it conforms to the conventions of standard English?
A. appear
B. will appear
C. has appeared
D. appears

7. Dr. Laing, one of those restless English travelers who have printed books about the United States, _____ now a prominent personage in Australia, where he has been elected a member of the newly instituted Legislature, for the city of Sidney.

Which choice completes the text so that it conforms to the conventions of standard English?

A. was
B. is
C. are
D. were

8. The first two volumes of Oehlenschlager’s Lebens Erinnerungen have appeared at Vienna, and ___________ more observation than anything else in the late movements in the German literature.

Which choice completes the text so that it conforms to the conventions of standard English?
A. attract
B. attracts
C. will attract
D. attracted

9. The character of Sir Roger de Coverley is a creation which, in its way, has never been surpassed; never perhaps __________ except by the Vicar of Wakefield.

Which choice completes the text so that it conforms to the conventions of standard English?

A. equals
B. equaling
C. equal to
D. equaled

10. When the public understands how perfectly Parodi identifies herself with the emotions and passions she has to portray,—when they appreciate the immense variety of intonations with which she illustrates her characters, and the earnestness and intensity with which she _________her whole nature into all she does—then she will be hailed as the greatest artist ever on this continent, and one of the greatest in the world.

Which choice completes the text so that it conforms to the conventions of standard English?

A. throw
B. throws
C. has thrown
D. can throw

  1. A. The subject of the verb is both Abigail Webster and her Sarah. This makes our subject plural. In addition, this passage is in the past tense, which makes B the best option since it is plural and in the past tense.
  2. A. The passage is primarily written in the past perfect, the tense which uses a helping verb like “has” or “had” along with the past participle of the verb. To continue this style, we should use answer option A. Answer option B is not in the past perfect as it uses the word “still”. Answer C does not use a helping verb. Answer D incorrectly uses the word not.
  3. C. Heine is currently in this bad condition and for the past year and up until this moment he “has been” in this condition. Option A is plural where our subject is singular. Option B implies that he was in this condition in the past but is not still in the condition, and option D put this into the future despite it being in the “past year”. This makes option C the best answer.
  4. B. Look for parallel structure within the sentence. The Germans may wish to do two things. The second thing is “to send”. We therefore need to match that with our choice “to emigrate”. This makes option B correct and all other options incorrect.
  5. D. Be careful in identifying the subject of the verb. Ask yourself, “what is it that is going to prevent the satisfaction?” In this case, it is the omissions all the way at the beginning of the passage. “Omissions” is plural and so the correct verb choice would be “prevent”. This makes option D correct and the others incorrect.
  6. A. Be careful in identifying the subject of the verb. Ask yourself, “what is it that we’re talking about appears in his theological writings?” It is the scornful satire and destructive analysis. This means that the subject of our verb is plural. Our verb must work with a plural subject eliminating options C and D. Option B is incorrectly in the future tense. This just leaves option A as the correct answer.
  7. B. Be careful in identifying the subject of the verb. Ask yourself, “who is a prominent personage?” it can’t be “the United States”. Because the U.S. is neither a person nor in Australia. The person is Dr. Laing. This means that we must pick a singular verb, eliminating options C and D. Since it is “now” we must pick the present tense option B and not the past tense option A.
  8. D. These first two volumes have done two things they have “appeared” and “attracted”. The second verb must match the tense of the first making option D correct and the other options incorrect.
  9. D. Make sure to maintain parallel structure. Sir Roger de Coverley has never been “surpassed” so then we must say he has also never been “equaled”. This makes option D correct and the others incorrect.
  10. B. Make sure to maintain parallel structure. People appreciate two things about Parodi: how she “illustrates” her character and how she “throws” her whole nature. Both verbs need to be in the present tense making option B correct and the other options incorrect.