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Scanning for Key Words & Phrases

Scanning for Key Words & Phrases

Author: Sydney Bauer

This lesson explains how to scan a question for key words and phrases.

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Scanning Questions for Key Words and Phrases


Scanning Questions for Key Words and Phrases


When you are answering a set of questions based on a reading passage, you’ll want to scan the questions for key words and phrases that will point you toward what the question is asking you to do and the information you’ll need to locate within the passage.  


Keep in mind that not all of the questions will contain key words or phrases. Some questions will ask you about the passage as a whole, so they won’t point to any specific part of the passage.

Example questions that don’t contain key words or phrases:

  • The main idea of the passage is…
  • What is the overall tone of the passage?
  • What is the attitude of the author towards the topic?
  • Based on the information in the passage, it can be inferred that … 



Let’s look at some example reading comprehension questions:


  • How does Wakefield make himself into another man?
    • The key term “how” asks you to explain the process of how something happens. The key phrase “make himself into another man” tells you what you’ll need to explain.
    • You’ll then want to scan the passage looking for any mention of the character Wakefield “making himself into another man” or “being another man,”
    • The words “another man” are the words to watch for


  • Why did Giovanni take rapid walks through the streets?
    • The key term “why” will ask you to provide the reason(s) behind an action or event
    • The key phrase “rapid walks” is what you’ll need to provide the reason for, so you’ll scan the passage looking for any mention of “rapid walks”


  • What did the author mean by “the court was no longer the arbiter of manners”?
    • As you scan questions, you might see information that appears in quotation marks. Whenever a question provides you with quoted information from the passage, you’ll want to locate that exact phrase in the text, it’s the key phrase you’ll need to focus on.
    • The key terms “what” and “mean” asks that you identify the meaning behind the key phrase that appears in the quotation marks. When you locate the quote in the passage, it’s a good idea to read the sentences before and after to get the full meaning of the quote.  

Scanning Questions for Key Words and Phrases