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CUNY/Compass Reading Examination Strategies - Main Ideas

Main Idea
The main idea of a passage is a general statement that highlights the major or focal point of a passage or paragraph. You can usually find the main idea at the beginning of a paragraph, but be careful not to make this assumption since it is not always the case. Sometimes the main idea can also be found at the end of a passage or paragraph. The main idea is not always directly stated in the passage. It may be implied or suggested. Therefore, be aware that in the CUNY/COMPASS Reading exam, this type of question targets specific paragraphs rather than the whole passage. When selecting the main idea, make sure that it is a complete sentence that is not too general or too specific. General main ideas usually include information that is not explained in the passage. Specific main ideas tend to be narrow and elusive.

To find the main idea do the following:

  1. Determine the topic by asking: what is the selection about?

  2. Find the main idea by asking: what is the most salient point the author makes about the topic?

  3. Determine the message of the topic by asking: does the information in the selection develop and support the main idea?

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