Identifying Author’s Purpose Practice Questions

1. Use the following passage to answer the question.

Japan has long had a large population for its land area, especially since the Baby Boom following World War II. This is particularly true in Japan’s cities. For example, according to a 2010 census, the metropolitan Tokyo-Yokohama area has an estimated 35 million residents. The population of the entire country is roughly 128 million. Tokyo-Yokohama is considered the most populous urban center in the world. Some Japanese cultural traditions have been attributed to such crowding. For example, the Japanese people use very formal behaviors like bowing, and use very formal language during social interactions. One theory is that this formality, at least in part, is a means of creating psychological distance and space between individuals, as sufficient physical space is lacking. The expression “too close for comfort” may aptly describe the situation in Japan’s most crowded cities, and this physical proximity is offset by reducing social closeness.

In this passage, the author’s main purpose is to
A. give a complete summary of the demographic features of Japan.
B. describe a hypothesis of social behavior based on demographics.
C. explain why the population of Japan has increased since the war.
D. give a very detailed description of acceptable Japanese manners.
E. argue that Japan has the highest population density in the world.

2. Use the following passage to answer the question.
Popularly called the Black Death, the bubonic plague was a scourge that ravaged China, the Middle East, and Europe during the Middle Ages. This pandemic killed so many people that it reduced the population of the world by an estimated 100 million. It reached its peak in Europe in the middle of the 14th century, and it took that continent’s population about 150 years to recover. An ironic fact about the bubonic plague which not everybody knows is that due to ignorance, human beings exacerbated this disease greatly through their own actions. The microorganism responsible for the plague was carried by rat fleas, and was spread by rats living on merchant ships traveling among the continents for trade. During the Middle Ages, illiteracy and ignorance, and hence superstition, were prevalent. People believed cats were associated with the devil and witches, and they exterminated cats en masse. Cats are natural predators of rats. By killing so many cats, people unwittingly allowed rats to proliferate, and with them their fleas carrying the plague.

What is the main purpose of this passage?
A. To compare sanitation practices in the Middle Ages and today
B. To explain why the world’s population is smaller than before
C. To illuminate a human action that made an illness even worse
D. To give a historical explanation of why cats are so unpopular now
E. To argue that cats were responsible for the spread of a plague

3. Use the following passage to answer the question.

Hydrangeas are bushes with large, globe-shaped clusters of beautiful blooms. They add an air of stateliness and elegance to any lawn or yard. Their name is based on the Greek roots “hydra,” meaning water, and “angeion,” meaning vessel. The name makes sense, because hydrangeas love water and require a lot of it to survive and thrive. One of the most interesting things about hydrangeas is the fact that their flowers change color according to the availability of aluminum in the soil where they are planted. Where the soil has a lower, or acidic, pH, its higher acid content dissolves aluminum compounds into forms hydrangeas can absorb, turning their flowers blue. In alkaline soil with a higher pH, there is not enough acid to dissolve the existing aluminum, which remains bound in insoluble compounds. When aluminum is not absorbed, hydrangea flowers are pink. Where the soil’s pH is borderline or mixed, hydrangea flowers can be purple, lavender, violet, or even partly blue and partly pink.
The main purpose of this passage is to
A. explain why hydrangeas are the best, most beautiful flowering bushes to plant.
B. identify different types of soil as better or worse for growing hydrangea plants.
C. define the terms acid pH and alkaline pH, and tell how they generally affect plants.
D. identify an interesting fact about hydrangeas and explain the process that causes it.
E. warn home gardeners that their hydrangeas will die if they don’t water them enough.

4. Use the following passage to answer the question.

Sixteen-year-old girlfriends went to the Seaside Restaurant for the free appetizers and because Bobby, the cute boy in class, lived nearby. Ten years later, the 26-year-old friends chose the Seaside for its cheap beer, lack of a cover charge, good band, and cute guys. Ten years later, the 36-year-olds reunited for dinner at the Seaside Restaurant because of its great Cosmopolitans, proximity to the gym, and, as long as they didn’t go too early, scarcity of whining children. Ten years later, the 46-year-old friends went to the Seaside for its large martinis and waiters with tight pants. At 56, they chose the Seaside for its reasonable prices, nice wine list, cholesterol-lowering fish dishes, and windows that opened (in case of hot flashes). At 66, they chose the Seaside for its Early Bird Special and bright lighting. At 76, they found the Seaside was wheelchair accessible and the food wasn’t too spicy. At 86, they decided to meet at the Seaside because they had never eaten there before.

What is the main purpose of this passage?
A. It describes many different advantages of the Seaside Restaurant.
B. It recounts the history of a friendship among a group of women over time.
C. It shows how tastes change with time and why people must go to different places.
D. It recounts the adventures of a group of friends attending various eateries.
E. It humorously identifies interests that change with age and provides a punch line.

5. Use the following passage to answer the question.

Creativity has always been more difficult to define, and therefore to assess, than intelligence. Because creativity can be expressed in so many different forms — as many, probably, as there are individuals — it has not been as amenable to the design of standardized tests for evaluating its presence as intelligence has. Comparatively few tests of creative ability exist.
Like intelligence, creativity incorporates various aspects. In addition to including original ideas and novel ways of viewing and using existing knowledge, creativity has been defined as including divergent thinking. Divergent thinking is the ability to generate many different possible solutions for the same problem. Its opposite is convergent thinking, which brings together facts, knowledge, and logic to solve problems. Convergence moves inward, while divergence moves outward.
Two informal but informative tests of divergent thinking that psychologists often use are Paper Clip Uses and Brick Uses. Test takers are simply asked to write down as many different uses for a paper clip or a brick as they can within a specified time limit. Uses within the same hierarchy (such as using a brick for building a house, building a bridge, building a tower, etc.) are not counted as different. A projectile and a paperweight would be examples of two distinctly different brick uses. Novelty can accompany increasing divergence. One student who completed the test, for instance, suggested “snowshoes for mice” as a use for a paper clip.

What is the main purpose of this passage?
A. To define divergence as an aspect of creativity and describe related tests
B. To argue that creativity cannot be tested because of its infinite variety
C. To make an appeal for the need to develop new creativity assessments
D. To compare and contrast standardized tests for intelligence and creativity
E. To list as many different uses for bricks and paper clips as possible

6. Use the following passage to answer the question.

A rabbi was delivering his sermon at Sabbath service. His subject matter included references to the Book of Exodus, particularly the section about Moses bringing the Ten Commandments down from Mount Sinai to his people. When the rabbi mentioned Moses and Mount Sinai, an old man in the congregation wailed loudly, “OY VEY!” This gave the rabbi pause for a moment; then, he shrugged and continued with his sermon. Every time he spoke about Moses coming down Mount Sinai, though, the same thing happened. The elderly congregant shouted “OY VEY!” or “OY GEVALT!” every time the rabbi said the names Moses and Mount Sinai, as if on cue. Finally, rather distracted but even more perplexed, the rabbi stopped his sermon and asked gently, “Excuse me, Sir, but why do you yell every time I speak of Moses and Mount Sinai?” The old fellow replied, “If only he’d turned left instead of right at the bottom, we’d have all the oil, and they’d have all the sand!”

What is the main purpose of this passage?
A. To tell a story revealing the Biblical origins of animosity in the Middle East
B. To tell a joke based on the geography and geology of the Middle East
C. To describe an incident during which a public speaker managed a heckler
D. To illustrate through an anecdote how disruptive it is to yell in a temple
E. To criticize the actions of Moses in the Old Testament’s Book of Exodus

7. Use the following passage to answer the question.

Adopting a cat is a fine thing to do, because many wonderful homeless cats benefit, and because people benefit from their companionship, unconditional love, beauty, and entertainment value. However, if you have never cared for a cat before, there are some things to consider. If you are away at work all day, you should look for two kittens or cats that get along well and will keep each other company. A pet should be compatible with you in personality and temperament. Do you want a “couch potato” lap cat or an energetic, playful pet? Kittens are a lot of fun, but their high energy levels and changing nutritional needs mean they require more attention, and kitten immunizations can be expensive. Adult cats are a better choice if you want a calmer, more relaxed pet that has already learned the basics of self-care and socialization. You must be prepared for the serious commitment of time, attention, and money that goes along with caring for a pet as a family member for 10 to 20 years.

What is the author’s primary purpose?
A. To compare and contrast the behaviors of different cats
B. To argue in favor of adopting adult cats instead of kittens
C. To give the reader advice to consider about adopting cats
D. To argue in favor of adopting kittens instead of adult cats
E. To persuade more people that they should adopt pet cats

8. Use the following passage to answer the question.

It snowed for hours that night, big, fat, fluffy flakes swirling down from a sky white with snow clouds, even in the dark. Deep in winter, the neighborhood was already coated in several inches from previous snowfalls. But that night, the fresh snow piled up to great new heights. Once it finally stopped sometime after midnight, we bundled up in warm coats, hats, gloves, and boots with good traction, and went out walking in the freshly fallen snow. There was a preternatural hush around us; the thick blanket of snow muffled all sounds. There was also a lack of neighborhood activity at this hour, and it was eerily silent. When we talked and laughed, our voices first rang out sharply in the stillness, and then dropped off abruptly, swallowed up in the snow blanket as it absorbed everything. Even the sky seemed lower, and our world smaller, softer, brighter, and warmer within the thick surrounding insulation of snow.

What is the author’s main purpose?
A. To present an objective discussion of some aspects of snow
B. To narrate a story that teaches a lesson or affords insight
C. To make a logical argument in favor of walking in the snow
D. To create a description of a scene by using sensory details
E. To demonstrate what the causes and effects of snow are

9. Use the following passage to answer the question.

First, collect your Neti pot, salt, measuring spoon(s), and warm water. Usually, tap water works fine. Experiment to find the water temperature that is most comfortable for you. Some individuals experience some discomfort if the water is too hot or too cold. You will quickly determine your preference after a few sessions. Add a half of a teaspoon of ordinary table salt to your Neti pot. If you use sea salt, which is stronger, try starting with a quarter of a teaspoon. Sensitive people may experience discomfort from using too much or too little salt. The right proportion of salt in the saline solution will be closest to your body chemistry, and will feel best. Make sure the salt is completely dissolved. Tilt your head to one side over the sink, insert the pot’s spout into one nostril, and let half the solution flow out of the other nostril. Then, switch nostrils and repeat the process with the other half of the solution. Avoid letting the water flow too fast; this can result in “nose rain” afterward.

What is the type and main purpose of this passage?
A. It is descriptive, making an experience accessible through sensory images.
B. It is narrative, relating a story from which the reader can gain some insight.
C. It is persuasive, giving reasons and supporting evidence for a position.
D. It is analytical, breaking down parts and showing how and why they work.
E. It is expository, giving chronological instructions for following a procedure.

10. Use the following passage to answer the question.

Martha and Mary were identical twin sisters in our high school class. They didn’t dress identically, but they did share and exchange clothes, so it could be difficult to tell them apart without observing their behavior or conversing with them. As identical as they looked, they had quite different personalities. While both were soft-spoken, Martha would sometimes volunteer information or an experience relevant to the subject in class, while Mary never did. Martha was more social and outgoing. She both enjoyed and was serious about acting, and appeared in several school plays. Mary was more retiring, preferring reading, knitting, and listening to music. While they were very pretty, the twins did not date, but for different reasons. Martha had such high standards that no boy in high school was acceptable, and she preferred to wait for the greater variety of choices she would find in college. Mary, on the other hand, was too shy to talk to boys much in high school. College life helped her gain social confidence.

What is the primary purpose of this passage?
A. To compare and contrast the personalities of twin sisters
B. To chronicle the developmental growth of identical twins
C. To describe vividly so readers feel they know both sisters
D. To support the argument that nature outweighs nurture
E. To persuade readers that environment trumps heredity

Answers – Identifying Author’s Purpose

1. B: The main purpose of this passage is to describe the hypothesis (a proposed explanation) that some Japanese cultural traditions involving formalized behaviors are responses to urban population density. The passage summarizes only a few demographic features and is not complete, and it does this only to establish grounds for the hypothesis about social behavior. The passage does not explain (or intend to explain) Japan’s population increase; it only refers to the documented post-WWII Baby Boom. The description of Japanese manners is not very detailed, and there is no reference to what is acceptable. The passage identifies one specific urban area as being considered the most populous in the world, but nowhere does it argue that Japan has the world’s highest population density (which is not true).

2. C: The main purpose of this passage is to show how the actions of humans who killed large numbers of cats made an epidemic, which became a pandemic, even worse. There is no comparison of sanitation practices then and now. The world’s population is not smaller now; it is bigger. Furthermore, the passage never states it is smaller. It does state that Europe’s population recovered over about 150 years. This passage is not an explanation as to why cats are unpopular now, which is also not true. They are currently very popular pets in the Americas, Europe, Asia, and other places. There is no argument that cats were responsible for the plague’s spread. If anything, it can be inferred from this passage that had humans not killed so many cats, the plague may have been less severe, as cats would have reduced the numbers of rats and therefore fleas.

3. D: The main purpose of this passage is to identify the interesting fact that hydrangeas have differently colored flowers depending on the soil in which they are grown, and to explain the chemical process responsible. The passage describes hydrangeas’ blooms as beautiful, but never says they are the most beautiful or best flowering bushes to plant. It never identifies different soil types as better or worse for growing hydrangeas. It only explains what colored flowers the plants produce in different types of soil. The passage does briefly define acid and alkaline pH, but it never defines how these generally affect plants other than hydrangeas. It states that hydrangeas need a lot of water to survive and thrive, so home gardeners can infer from this that hydrangeas will die if they don’t water them enough (and there is also not enough rain). However, the passage does not actually warn gardeners about this directly.

4. E: This passage is a humorous look at the way a group of women focused on different aspects of the same restaurant according to their ages. The punch line is the last sentence, which refers to the forgetfulness that commonly occurs during extreme old age. There is some description of the restaurant’s different advantages, but describing these benefits is not the main purpose: it is incidental to the overall joke. The passage does not recount the history of the women’s friendship; it only recounts the friends’ different reasons for choosing the same restaurant at different ages. While it does show how tastes change with time, this did not make the same place unsuitable for the women, as they met there for every 10-year reunion. This passage does not recount the friends’ adventures and does not identify various eateries. The point of the passage is that they kept choosing the same eatery every time, but for different reasons.

5. A: The main purpose of the passage is to identify divergent thinking as one aspect of creativity and describe two tests that psychologists use to assess divergent thinking. The passage points out that creativity is harder to test than intelligence because of the variety of its expression, but it does not argue that this means it is impossible to test. The passage states that few creativity tests exist, but does not specifically discuss a need for developing new ones. It does not specifically describe any standardized tests for intelligence or creativity, and so does not compare and contrast any. Listing as many different uses as possible for bricks and paper clips is not the purpose of the passage, but is the task involved in the tests described.

6. B: This passage tells a joke based on the fact that Israel is bordered by Arab countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia whose land contains a lot of oil, while Israel’s tiny land mass has no oil. This joke does not reveal the origins of the long-term conflicts in the Middle East, which are complex, include many factors, and are not chiefly based on Israeli resentment of Arab oil. The point of the joke is not to show how a speaker managed a heckler. The story is the set-up, and the old congregant’s response to the Rabbi’s question is the punch line. The old man’s interruptions are part of the set-up. They are meant to pique audience curiosity and interest, not to show that yelling in temple is disruptive. The purpose of the joke is to amuse, not to criticize Moses’ actions. Only the fictional old man in the joke does this.

7. C: The author’s primary purpose in this passage is to give advice about things that readers should consider before adopting a cat (or cats). One of the points made is that different types of cats are suitable for different types of people. This passage contrasts energetic, playful kittens with “couch potato” adult lap cats, but the main purpose of the passage is not to compare and contrast behaviors of different cats. It is to describe a number of factors that should be considered before adoption. The author does not argue in favor of adopting either adult cats or kittens, but only mentions a few pros and cons of each. The author does point out that adoption will benefit many homeless cats, but the primary purpose of the passage is not to persuade more people to adopt cats and kittens. Rather, the author means to caution people that although adopting is a fine thing to do, they should not do it unless they are prepared for the commitment involved.

8. D: This passage is an example of descriptive writing. The purpose is to give readers a vivid sense of the scene so they can imagine experiencing it themselves. This is accomplished by including details related to the senses, such as how things looked, sounded, felt, etc. (Smells and tastes should also be used in description when possible.) This passage is neither objective nor a discussion. It does not teach a lesson or afford insight; it simply seeks to convey an experience through its sensory aspects. It is neither logical nor an argument for or against something. This passage does not demonstrate cause and effect. The snow is described as muffling sounds, but the primary purpose is not to identify snow as the cause or muffling as the effect. The main intent is to give a description that makes the experience real to the audience.

9. E: This passage is an example of expository writing. It does not describe an experience using colorful or evocative sensory imagery. It does not narrate a story, and it is not meant to afford the reader with any insight. It does not attempt to persuade the reader to agree with an opinion or position, and does not give reasons or supporting evidence for a particular position. It does not analyze any text by breaking it down into its components or showing how and why those components work. Its main purpose is to impart information rather than to paint a picture, express opinions, make a point, or change the reader’s mind. It gives instructions for completing the procedure of irrigating the nasal passages through the Ayurvedic practice of using a Neti pot by presenting steps that must be completed in chronological order.

10. A: The main purpose of this passage is to show how twin sisters were alike in some ways but very different in others (i.e. comparing and contrasting their personalities). The passage does not chronicle the twins’ development, which would entail outlining how they changed over time. It only relates some of their personality traits, mentions that they did not date in high school, and implies that they probably dated in college. While the passage describes a few aspects of each twin’s personality, it does not do so in the descriptive manner of using vivid details to make readers feel they know them. Instead, it is focused on providing a few examples of similarities and differences. The writing is not argumentative or persuasive. It does not argue that nature (also referred to as heredity) is stronger than nurture (also referred to as environment), or vice versa.


Last Updated: June 4, 2019