ParaPro Reading Study Guide: Identify the Main Idea


The Main Idea

The questions in this section will be based on a reading passage. You will be asked to try and answer what the main idea or primary purpose is of what you are reading.

The biggest mistake students make in figuring out the main idea is they overthink the question. They think it needs to be explicitly stated in the text; however, most times, it’s not.

When figuring out the main idea, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What message is the writer trying to convey?”
  • What is the reading about?
  • What is the primary purpose of the passage?

There are three key things to look for when trying to figure out what the main idea is:

  1. Look at the title. Many times this can give you a clue to what the main idea is.
  2. Check to see if any words are repeatedly used throughout the passage. This can give you an idea of the message the author is trying to convey.
  3. If the text is multiple paragraphs and separated into body paragraphs, pay close attention to the beginning of the text. This many times summarizes the central idea of the text following it.

Sometimes before even looking at the options, it’s a good idea to ask yourself, “So what’s the point of this whole reading?” and try answering it in your own words.

Example 1

Florida: The Perfect Escape

Come February and March, college students take a break from the stresses of school and welcome in spring break. The most popular place they flock to is Florida. The Florida weather is warm most of the year and the beaches are some of the best in the country, especially in March when it’s 70 degrees. Those from the north look for any chance they can to escape the snow and get their skin some tan color to it. They also have many popular attractions along the beaches and in the main cities, particularly near Miami, Tampa, Orlando, and Jacksonville.

What is the main idea from the options below?

  1. Florida has many wonderful beaches.
  2. Florida is a popular spot for spring breakers.
  3. Florida has a warm, tropical climate.
  4. Florida is a great place for you to go and get a tan.

Ask yourself, what is the message the author is trying to convey to the reader? Also, if you were to make an outline of this passage, what would the section header be and what would be the details? The section header of those options is your main idea.

Reading the title and the opening sentence can many times give you the answer you’re looking for. This is the perfect example. By stating how college students are looking to take a break from the stresses of school and the most popular place they flock to is Florida, this should eliminate options A, C, and D. Those are specific details about Florida, but it’s not the purpose of the story. Rather, the author communicates to the reader early that Florida is a popular spot for Spring Breakers and the rest of the passage gives details to back that up.

The Primary Purpose

Let’s transition. Trying to figure out the purpose is similar to finding out the main idea. If a question isn’t asking “What is the main idea of the passage,” they instead will ask “The passage is primarily concerned with…” and give you four options. Don’t be confused with the wording; it’s the same approach as to figuring out the main idea. “What is the author trying to relay to you?”

Example 2

Dogs are considered a man’s best friend. Not only are they dependable, but they are always a shoulder to cry on when you need it. They also make for great cuddle partners when you’re watching a movie. There’s nothing like the feeling of coming home from work and having your dog come up to you and wrap his paws around your leg, welcoming you home. Of course, they come with their frustrations at times, like shedding fur and going to the bathroom in places you don’t want to. But when you weigh the pros and the cons, having a dog in your home is definitely worth it.

The passage is primarily concerned with:

  1. Showing that dogs can be frustrating at times.
  2. Explaining that dogs can be a great pet for someone.
  3. Telling the audience that dogs make great cuddle partners.
  4. Making you feel happy when you come home from work.

Again, ask yourself what is the author trying to tell you? Clearly, they are trying to illustrate how dogs can be great pets and provide reasons why. Therefore, option B is the best choice. The rest of the options are just details that support option B.


The Main Idea Review Test

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