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Oct 02 2017

TOEFL Test: Reading for Main Ideas

TOEFL Reading Main Idea:   Reading for Main Ideas

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Hi Students!  Are you getting ready to take the TOEFL exam? In this lesson, we will be practicing for the TOEFL Reading Test for the Main Idea.   As you know, there are four sections on the TOEFL exam:  Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing.  In this lesson, we will study how to answer, “reading for main idea” questions. We will study and practice TOEFL Reading for Main Idea.

TOEFL Main Idea

One of the most frequently asked questions in the Reading Comprehension section of the TOEFL is about the main idea of the passage.  There is usually one of these questions for each reading passage.  The main idea is the most important idea in the passage or what the passage is about.  Each passage has main and subordinate, or less important, ideas.  The main idea is more general than the supporting ideas or details in the passage.  The main idea may be the first sentence in the paragraph, but this is not always the case.  The main idea may appear in the middle or toward the end.



Here are some examples of “main idea” questions:

What is the main idea of the passage?

  • The main topic of the passage is……
  • The primary idea of the passage is……
  • What does the passage mainly discuss?
  • What is the main idea expressed in the passage?
  • With what topic is the passage mainly concerned?

Sometimes the main idea of the passage is not clear because each paragraph has a main point.  In this case, find the common idea in these different points.

TOEFL Reading Main Idea

Now, let’s look at the types of answers that you will find in TOEFL “main idea” questions:

  1. Too general
  2. True but only a detail
  3. Incorrect
  4. Correct

Read this TOEFL passage and answer the main idea question.

  1. Americans have always been fascinated in their Presidents’ wives. Many First Ladies have been remembered because of the ways they have influenced their husbands and government policies. Other First Ladies have made the history books because of their own deeds.
  2. Bess Truman and Lady Bird Johnson sent signals during their husbands’ speeches. When Lady Bird Johnson thought her husband was talking too long, she wrote a note and sent it up to the platform. It read, “It’s time to stop!” And he did. Once Bess Truman didn’t like what her husband was saying on television, so she phoned him and said, “If you can’t talk more politely than that in public, you come right home.”
  3. Abigail Fillmore and Eliza Johnson taught their husbands, Millard Fillmore and Andrew Johnson, the thirteenth and seventeenth Presidents. A schoolteacher, Abigail eventually married her pupil, Millard. When Eliza Johnson married Andrew, he could not read or write, so she taught him herself.
  4. It was First Lady Helen Taft’s idea to plant the famous cherry trees in Washington, D. C. Each spring these blossoming trees attract thousands of visitors to the nation’s capital. Mrs. Taft also influenced the male members of her family and the White House staff in a strange way: she convinced them to shave off their beards!
  5. Shortly after President Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke, Edith Wilson unofficially took over most of the duties of the Presidency until the end of her husband’s term. Earlier, during World War I, Mrs. Wilson had sheep brought onto the White House lawn to eat the grass. The sheep not only kept the lawn mowed, but provided wool for an auction sponsored by the First Lady. Almost $100,000 was raised for the Red Cross.
  6. Dolly Madison saw to it that a magnificent painting of George Washington was not destroyed during the War of 1812. As the British marched toward Washington, D. C., she remained behind to rescue the painting, even after the guards had left. The painting is the only object from the original White House that was not burned.
  7. One of the most famous First Ladies was Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She was active in political and social causes throughout her husband’s tenure in office. After his death, she became famous for her humanitarian work in the United Nations. She made life better for thousands of needy people around the world.

What is the main idea of this passage?

A. The humanitarian work of the First Ladies is critical in American government.
B. Dolly Madison was the most influential president’s wife.
C. Eleanor Roosevelt transformed the First Lady image.
D. The First Ladies are important figures in American culture.
E. The First Ladies are key supporters of the Presidents.

Hint:  Answers B and C are not correct.  They are true but are only details, not the main idea.

Answer A and E are not correct.  These are main points in paragraphs 2, 5 and 7, but not the main idea.

The correct answer is D.  All the paragraphs support the main idea that the First Ladies are important figures in American culture.

TOEFL Reading Main Idea

That’s our lesson on TOEFL Reading for Main Idea!

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