Strategies for the Praxis Core Reading Test

By Carla Kirkland, Chan Cleveland

Most people who take the Praxis don’t mind brief statements that are accompanied by one question. Where folks get a little nervous is when they have to read a longer passage (100–200 or so words) and answer questions. Many people aren’t too fond of the paired passages either, where they have to read two passages of about 200 words total and then answer a handful of questions.

Approaching long and short passages

When a new question first pops up on your computer screen, you can easily tell whether it’s going to be a one-to-one pairing of a brief passage and a single question or a long passage about which there will be several questions.

A one-to-one question appears as a centered paragraph with a question below it, whereas a long passage is narrower with the question off to the side. Often, the lines in the passage are also numbered so that questions can specifically refer to “Line 5” or “Line 13.”

On the long passages, sticking to the method of reading the passage before the questions is doubly important, because repeatedly scanning a long passage for several answers that are only revealed one at a time adds up to a lot of time wasted.

A long passage often asks about the meaning or purpose of specific details or sentences. Of course, the test might ask you about overall tone in a long passage, just as it might pair a vocabulary question with a short passage. But the fact remains that certain types of questions are more commonly found on the long passages.

Questions for long passages often examine the relationship between the passage’s main idea and its supporting points. Be prepared for questions along the lines of “The author mentions [some factoid] in order to support the assertion that … ” Long-passage questions tend to be about how the parts form the whole: The questions ask you about the parts, but getting the answers involves comprehending the whole.

Be careful of the trick where a minor detail from the end of a passage is purported to be the “main idea” of the passage in an early answer choice. The question writers do that to trick you into jumping on that answer merely because it’s fresh in your mind. Remember, something that wasn’t even brought up until the end of the passage is unlikely to be the main idea.

Short passages tend to ask more fact-based questions. When you see a short passage, be prepared to answer questions along the lines of “The passage is primarily concerned with [some factoid]” or “Which of the following is an unstated assumption made by the author of the passage?”

The long and the short passages really aren’t that different. The long passages have more questions about them because, well, they’re longer, so the test-writers have more text to ask questions about.

Approaching the paired passages

Some of the passages on the Praxis reading test involve a side-by-side comparison of two passages by two different authors on the same topic. They may explicitly disagree with each other and present two arguments that are mutually exclusive (that is, can’t be true at the same time), or they may just analyze the same issue from two different angles. The questions concentrate on the differences between the two passages.

You know you’re facing a question like this when the first paragraph is designated as “Passage 1” and the second as “Passage 2” (they both pop up on your computer screen at the same time, one above the other). When you have a passage like this before you, expect to see questions about the differences between the two authors’ viewpoints.

Now, the trick to successfully dealing with paired passages is to avoid going straight from reading the passage to reading the question like you would for other reading questions. Instead, take a few seconds to anticipate the question. After you’ve read the two paired passages, stop for a moment before looking at the question and ask yourself: What is the difference between the two authors’ viewpoints?

Your goal with this approach is to look at two brief, mutually exclusive thesis-driven paragraphs and explain the difference between them in your own words. You probably wouldn’t have any trouble writing a short sentence that would accurately explain the essence of the two authors’ disagreement. However, when you’re asked to choose from among five prospective explanations written by someone else, discerning the difference between the authors’ points gets tricky.

The solution to this problem is easy: Consider what the difference is in your own words before you look at the question and the answer choices, and then pick the answer choice that presents the nearest paraphrase of what you just said.

Of course, “What is the difference between the two authors’ arguments?” isn’t the only question that the Praxis reading test can ask you about a set of paired passages. A version of this question is almost certain to be one of the questions that follows the paired passages, but there will be others too (as a type of “long passage,” a paired passage is always followed by multiple questions).

Another common question asks something along the lines of “Which of the following devices is used by the author of Passage 1 but not by the author of Passage 2?” The answer choices then present you with five options along the lines of rhetorical questions, similes, flashbacks, pop-culture references, and personification. There’s really no shortcut to answering a question like this.

The real trick is not getting confused or turned around. When a question asks something like “Which of these devices is used by Author 1 but not Author 2?,” there’s often a wrong answer choice that names a device that is used by Author 2 but not Author 1 to try and trip you up. So stay sharp and remember what the question asks!