Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills Foundations of Comprehension

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Inferring Meaning or Intent From Immediate Sentence Context

Questions may also require you to infer meanings that can’t be determined from a literal reading of the text, such as meanings the author has implied but did not state directly. Comprehension questions at this level may ask you to interpret the meaning of words or expressions, or the author's intent, using the immediate sentence context. These questions may ask you to interpret rhetorical devices or word choice. Or, you may have to consider how the author has structured the text—for example, through cause-and-effect relationships for discussions in the behavioral sciences, chronologically for historical discussions, or point-and-counterpoint for political science pieces. Identifying the basic structure should help you understand the passage and determine its general purpose.

You may also need to attend to specific subtle and nuanced rhetorical decisions an author has made to shape his or her ideas, arguments, or discussions and perhaps to complicate a passage’s meaning. For example, questions may ask you to explain a highlighted word or phrase, or an unexpected transition in ideas. To answer these questions, look for clues in the context around the specific sections of the passage. An author’s choice about tone (e.g., humorous, authoritative, satirical) also contributes to—or obscures—meaning, and tone can often communicate the purpose for which a passage is written (e.g., to persuade, instruct, inform, entertain). For example, a satirical piece may at first seem merely entertaining, but a closer examination often reveals that its purpose is actually to persuade. 

Some questions at this level may ask about information not specifically stated in the passage, and you must make assumptions based on what the author merely hints at through his or her use of connotative language or figures of speech. 

The beginning and ending of passages are two specific sections where the author often provides important information about the general theme, message, or purpose for the work. Does the author state their main point in an introductory or closing sentence? Does the passage end with a definitive solution, a partial resolution, or a call for additional research? Does it end with a dramatic rhetorical statement or a joke that leaves unanswered questions? Again, considering these specific sections can help inform your basic understanding of the passage. 

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