The first question in many CAT Reading Comprehension passages will ask you to identify the statement that best expresses the central idea, main idea, or the main point of the passage as a whole. These questions come in different varieties, but in each kind, the question focuses on the central idea or the main theme of the passage.
What do we mean by the main idea?
The main idea is often the key issue that the author wants to bring to the attention of his readers. For instance, while writing a passage I may provide a good amount of data to prove that India is not a developed country. In this case, though the data might dominate the passage, the main idea of the passage would be that the author wants to argue that India is not a developed country. The main idea is the sole purpose behind the author’s writing a passage. At times the main idea may become visible in some part of the passage, but usually, it is not. So instead of trying to directly find the answer, the aspirant must compare the options and check which option is closest to what is being discussed in the passage.
Is it important to understand the main idea?
Regardless of whether we have the main idea question in the CAT reading comprehension or not, we must understand the main idea of the passage. The main idea of the passage helps us understand the role of the supporting ideas. Furthermore, the main idea orients us to the rest of the passage. This orientation assists you in connecting the different facts, figures, and arguments stated in the passage to the main idea of the passage. This connection at times can be used effectively to answer the other non-main idea questions of the reading comprehension.
How to answer main idea / central idea questions?
To answer the main idea questions correctly, you have to be able to recognize what is the most important idea that the passage is trying to establish. In my live sessions, I ask the student to spot the most frequently occurring proper noun in the passage. The most frequently occurring proper noun usually turns out to be the subject matter of that passage, and the main idea of the passage is usually about that subject. You have to ask yourself what is subject of the passage and what exactly is the author trying to convey about that subject.
One important thing to know about the main idea or main point questions is that an answer choice that captures something that is true about the passage is still not necessarily the correct answer. For one thing, that answer choice may also say something that is not true about the passage, in which case it cannot be, on the whole, taken as correctly expressing the main idea of the passage. On the other hand, an answer choice may even be accurate in its entirety in stating something said in the passage, but be about something that is only a side issue in the passage rather than the main idea of the passage.
It is also worth noting that there is more than one way of saying what the main idea of a passage is; as a result, you may not find an answer choice that expresses the main point the way you would have put it. But if you have a good grasp of the passage, the correct answer should come closer to the way you would put it than the other responses do.
Some points of caution
As you review all the answer choices, keep in mind that each of the incorrect answer choices will either say something about the passage that is simply false or will describe something that is in the passage and might even contribute to establishing the main point but is not itself that main point. And again, the correct answer will be the only answer choice that is both entirely accurate in its statement of what is in the passage and on target in terms of hitting on the most important idea in the passage.
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