Trying the Four Types of Paragraph Comprehension Questions on the ASVAB

By Rod Powers

The Paragraph Comprehension section of the ASVAB will ask you questions to test your ability to understand short passages. The Paragraph Comprehension questions on the ASVAB usually take one of four forms:

  • Finding specific information

  • Recognizing the main idea

  • Determining word meaning in context

  • Drawing an implication from a stated idea

Each type of question asks you to perform a different kind of analysis of the reading passage. If a passage has more than one question associated with it, chances are each question falls under a different category.

Treasure hunt: Finding specific information

This type of Paragraph Comprehension question asks you to pick out (you guessed it) specific information from a passage. Sounds easy, right? Take a look at the following passage, which clearly states the answer to the question that directly follows it:

An industry trade association found that more than 13,000 martial arts schools exist in the United States with nearly 6 million active members. Of the 13,000 schools, nearly 7,000 offered tae kwon do lessons.

According to this passage, how many people actively participated in martial arts lessons?

  • (A) 13,000

  • (B) 7,000

  • (C) 6 million

  • (D) It can’t be determined.

The correct answer is Choice (C).

At times, the information that a question asks about isn’t directly stated in the question, but you can infer the information from the text. Remember, in the military, the only easy day was yesterday.

When questions are phrased in the negative, you may be easily confused about what the question is asking. Misreading a negative question is also easy. Research has shown that people often skip over a negative word, such as not, when they read. Be aware that questions on the Paragraph Comprehension portion of the ASVAB are frequently stated in the negative. When you see a negative word, an alarm should go off in your head to remind you to read the question more carefully.

Cutting to the chase: Recognizing the main idea

Sometimes the Paragraph Comprehension questions ask you to identify the main point of a passage. The main point can be directly stated, or it can be implied.

If you’re not sure what the main point of a paragraph is, reread the first sentence and the last sentence. Chances are one of these two sentences contains the main point.

If the shoe fits: Determining word meaning in context

Sometimes the Paragraph Comprehension subtest asks you to determine the meaning of a word when it’s used in a passage. The correct definition that the question is looking for can be the most common meaning of the word, or it can be a less well-known meaning of the word. In either case, you have to read the passage, make sure you understand how the word is being used, and select the answer option that’s closest in meaning to the word as it’s used in the passage. Consider this example:

In the 18th century, it was common for sailors to be pressed into service in Britain. Young men found near seaports could be kidnapped, drugged, or otherwise hauled aboard a ship and made to work doing menial chores. They werent paid for their service, and they were given just enough food to keep them alive.

In this passage, pressed means

  • (A) hired.

  • (B) ironed.

  • (C) enticed.

  • (D) forced.

The descriptions of the conditions these sailors found themselves in should help you decide that they weren’t hired or enticed; ironed is one meaning of the word pressed, but it isn’t correct in this context. The correct answer is Choice (D).

Reading between the lines: Understanding implications

Some Paragraph Comprehension questions ask you to draw an inference from a stated idea. This simply means that you may need to draw a conclusion from what you’ve read. This conclusion should always be based on the reading, not your own particular opinions about a subject.

The conclusion — which may be called an inference or implication — must be reasonably based on what the passage says. You have to use good judgment when deciding which conclusions can be logically drawn from what you’ve read. Give it a shot:

Twenty-five percent of all automobile thefts occur when the doors of a car are left unlocked. People often forget to lock their doors, find it inconvenient, or tell themselves, Ill only be a minute. But it only takes a minute for an accomplished car thief to steal a car. And thieves are always alert to the opportunities that distracted or rushed people present them with.

To prevent auto theft, it’s a person’s responsibility to

  • (A) leave the doors unlocked.

  • (B) never be in a rush.

  • (C) prevent the opportunity.

  • (D) be willing to perform a citizen’s arrest.

Although the paragraph doesn’t state, “To prevent auto theft, it’s a person’s responsibility to prevent the opportunity,” this idea is certainly implied. The correct answer is Choice (C). There’s no implication that people should be willing to (or can) perform a citizen’s arrest. Leaving the doors unlocked is the opposite of what one should do, and never being in a rush is probably impossible.

An example of an unreasonable conclusion drawn from the passage would be something like “if everyone locked their doors, there would be no crime” or “all car thieves should be sentenced to 30 years in prison.” Nothing in this particular passage supports such a conclusion.

One way to help determine whether you’ve drawn a reasonable conclusion is to ask yourself, “Based on what I’ve just read, would the author agree with the conclusion I’ve reached?” If the answer is yes, your conclusion is probably reasonable. If the answer is no, it’s time to think up a new conclusion.