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Common Question Types

Common Question Types

Author: Sydney Bauer

This lesson introduces common types of reading comprehension questions.

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Common Types of Reading Comprehension Questions


When it comes to answering questions about a reading passage, there are different types of questions that are asking for different kinds of information. They are designed to test your ability to read, understand, and think critically about a reading passage.

Some questions will ask you about the big picture—the passage as a whole—while others will focus on specific words or details, or ask you to make an inference based on the information from the passage.

Knowing the different types of questions can help narrow your focus when answering the question—giving you an advantage.

There are six main types of reading comprehension questions: Main Idea; Purpose; Tone; Inference; Detail; and Definition.


Let’s look at each type of question up close!


Main Idea Questions

Main Idea questions will ask you about the author’s main message. These questions will ask you to look at the passage as a whole and think about the main points the author is trying to make about the topic.


Here are some examples of Main Idea questions:

  • What is the author’s main point?
  • What is the main topic of the passage?


Purpose Questions

Whether it’s meant to entertain, inform, persuade, or analyze, each piece of writing will have an intended purpose. Purpose questions will ask you about the overall purpose of a reading passage, as well as the purpose of a specific paragraph or sentence within a passage.


Here are some examples of Purpose Questions:

  • What is the overall purpose of the passage?
  • Who would benefit from reading this passage?
  • What is the purpose of the second paragraph?


Tone Questions

Questions about the overall tone of a reading passage can be a little tricky to answer. Remember that tone is the attitude of the author (or the narrator) towards the subject matter; and the way the author feels toward the audience is also expressed through the tone. The best way to determine the tone is to look at the words the author uses, and think about their connotations (what the words imply, the feelings and impressions associated with the words).


Here are some examples of Tone Questions:

  • What is the overall tone of the passage?
  • What is the author’s attitude towards the subject of….?
  • What is the narrator’s attitude towards the audience?


Inference Questions

Inference questions will ask you to infer something from the information provided in the reading passage. This means you’ll make a conclusion based on what you’ve read. Unlike most of the other types of questions, the answers to inference questions can’t really be found within the passage. Instead, you’ll need to think critically about the reading passage and make a logical assumption. For the most part, you’ll be asked to consider the main ideas and key terms of the reading passage and then take the author’s line of thinking one step further. Sometimes an inference question will ask you to make a logical assumption about a specific part of the passage.


Here are some examples of Inference Questions:

  • It can be inferred from lines 10 – 14 that the author…   
  • It can be inferred from the final paragraph that…  
  • The author suggests that …


Detail Questions

Detail questions will ask about specific people, places, dates, objects, ideas, or even statements made by the author. Sometimes the question will provide you with the paragraph or line number the detail appears on, which means you need only look in that general area to find the answer. Other questions will ask you about a detail that appears repeatedly throughout the reading.


Here are some examples of Detail Questions:

  • According to the passage, which type of tree grows best in the desert?
  • According to the author, who would benefit the most from horticulture classes?


Definition Questions

Definition questions will point to a specific word used in the reading passage and ask you to define it within that context, or choose an appropriate synonym. That means that you’ll want to make sure you’re choosing the definition that fits the way the word is being used within the reading passage. These questions can be tricky, especially when they are multiple choice: there might be two answer choices that could be alternative definitions for the word, but only one of the answer choices will work in the context of the sentence.


Here are some examples of Definition Questions:

  • In line 45, the word “fragile” most nearly means
  • As it is used in line 15, the phrase “open stance” most nearly means



Common Types of Reading Comprehension Questions