How to Determine an Author's Main Purpose of a Paragraph in a Standardized Test

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A common question on standardized tests such as the SAT asks students to determine the main point of a paragraph or reading passage. Figuring out an author's main purpose often causes difficulty for students, as it requires a thorough reading of a passage. There are a few tricks you can use to find the main point quickly so that you can move on to answer the rest of the questions about the paragraph.

1 Read the introductory passage

Read the introductory passage that is printed just before the passage. On standardized tests, this passage is typically printed in italics and provides a summary of what you are about to read. The introductory passage may also explain the purpose of the text that follows.

2 Look closely

Look closely at the first and last sentences of the paragraph. Usually, an author uses the first sentence to sum up his point in writing a paragraph. He may also sum up the purpose in the last paragraph, so it's important to examine both closely.

3 Ask yourself

Ask yourself what the author is trying to do in the paragraph. For example, in a paragraph about the author's love of chocolate, his main purpose in writing the paragraph is to express his love of a certain food. As you read a paragraph, remember to ask why the author wrote it. Also keep in mind that the purpose does not have to be very specific.

4 Examine the answer choices

Examine the answer choices listed below the question if you are still unsure. Standardized tests typically list five options for you to choose from. You should be able to eliminate at least one or two right away when trying to determine the purpose of a paragraph. For example, some answer options may focus on a very small fact pointed out in the paragraph, which isn't the main purpose.

Based in Pennsylvania, Emily Weller has been writing professionally since 2007, when she began writing theater reviews Off-Off Broadway productions. Since then, she has written for TheNest, ModernMom and Rhode Island Home and Design magazine, among others. Weller attended CUNY/Brooklyn college and Temple University.