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PSAT/NMSQT Reading-Comprehension Tactics: Getting the Facts Straight

The critical reading sections of the PSAT/NMSQT include 35 reading-comprehension questions that are based on passages, (usually a few paragraphs), taken from a longer work. You should plan your approach to passages and develop tactics for answering the questions.

How many balloons did the clown pop during the performance? Do dust mites relocate after you vacuum? Does Einstein’s theory of relativity take into account Uncle Charles’s tendency to snore? These questions, like a fair number on the PSAT/NMSQT, should be answered only with facts specifically stated in the passage. To answer a fact question, do the following:

  • Underline key words. In the first question, for example, the key words are “how many balloons.”

  • Check the lines you’re being asked about. You may see a line reference in the question. Or, you may have underlined the answer as you read through the passage.

    Passage-based questions follow the passage from top to bottom. If you don’t see a line reference, check the question above and below the one you’re trying to answer. Chances are the evidence you need is somewhere between those two. For example, suppose you’re on Question 21. Number 20 references Line 30, and Number 22 references Line 40. Look for your answer to Question 21 in Lines 30 to 40.

  • With a “rule out” question, use the process of elimination. Some fact questions give you three statements and ask you to identify the true one(s). You may also see a five-choice question that asks you to pluck out the false statement. Put a check mark next to the true statements. Then choose your answer.

Try your hand at fact Questions 1 and 2, based on an excerpt from Residential Design for Aging in Place, by Drue Lawlor and Michael A. Thomas (Wiley).

At its completion in the early 1950s, Levittown included 17,400 homes. The new development
was now a major suburban community that included 82,000 husbands and wives and their
children. In a second wave of development and construction in 1951, the Levitt family created
an additional Levittown community of 17,000 homes in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, near
Philadelphia.
The suburban sprawl had begun. Families would fill them quickly. The growing popularity
and availability of automobiles also encouraged the flight to get out of big cities. The
National Highway Program of 1956 built highways and interstate roads connecting
rural areas to metropolitan areas, contributing to a flurry of even more suburban development.
  1. According to the passage, which of the following statements are true?

        I.    Private companies may build towns.
        II.    The growth of the American automobile industry paralleled the rise of suburbs.
        III.    Levittown homes could not be purchased by single people.
        (A)    I only
        (B)    II only
        (C)    I and II
        (D)    II and III
        (E)    all of the above
  2. According to the passage, the establishment of suburbs

        (A)    affected family size
        (B)    was dependent on public transportation
        (C)    began during the 19th century
        (D)    took place mainly in Pennsylvania
        (E)    was a national phenomenon

Now check your answers:

  1. C. I and II

    The passage tells you that “the Levitt family created” (Lines 3–4) Levittown, so you know that I is true. Lines 6–7 refer to the “growing popularity and availability of automobiles” that “encouraged the flight . . . out of big cities.” Therefore, II is true.

    Although the passage mentions families, you aren’t told whether Levittown houses were restricted to families or open to singles. Because you can’t prove III, you must assume it is false. Choice (C) is the answer.

  2. E. was a national phenomenon

    The passage refers to the “National Highway Program” (Line 8) and “interstate roads” (Line 8) and links both to “suburban development” (Lines 8–9). Therefore, Choice (E) is correct. Were you fooled by Choice (D)? True, the passage mentions Bucks County, Pennsylvania, but only as the location of one suburb, not all suburbs.

Test-writers often try to catch you with an answer that’s too narrow. Read carefully to be sure that your answer is justified by all the information in the passage.

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