Reading for the main idea is an important skill to develop before taking any Michigan Test. The main idea of a passage is a concept that all the content in the passage will be related to, like a “golden thread” which ties everything together. On the Michigan English Test (MET), it’s certain that test takers will face a question that asks what the passage is mainly about or what it mainly discusses.

Here are six steps to help test takers fine-tune this global reading skill during preparation for MET.

Step 1: Read the Question

Before diving into the passage, test takers should start by reading the section questions carefully. This will provide a clear understanding of what needs to be found in the passage. Knowing the question beforehand sets a purpose for reading, allowing test takers to focus on relevant information and avoid distractions.

Each question will require test takers to use one of three different skills: global, local, and inferential. Finding the main idea is a global skill and is signaled by words in the question such as “main message” and “theme” that ask about the passage as a whole. Test takers are allowed to move freely in the reading section, so they don’t need to answer a particular question to see the next one displayed on the screen.

Step 2: Read the Contextual Information

Next, test takers should take a moment to read the contextual information provided with the passage, such as the title and contextualizing sentence at the beginning of the passage. These elements offer valuable clues about the overall theme and structure of the text.

Step 3: Skim the Text

Skimming is key for identifying the main idea quickly. Test takers should focus on the topic sentence or the first sentence of each paragraph, as it typically introduces the main point of that section. Similarly, the concluding sentence often summarizes the key message. By paying attention to these parts, test takers can start to recognize repeated topics or themes connected to one overall theme. These repeated topics will provide insight into what the main idea is.

Step 4: Summarize While Reading

As they read through the passage, test takers should practice mentally summarizing each paragraph in their own words. This helps ensure they are grasping the essential points. Summarization helps condense information, making it easier to identify the main idea.

Step 5: Answer the Question

With a good grasp of the passage, test takers should proceed to answer the main idea question. Using their summaries and the insights gained from skimming, they should select the best answer. The correct option should line up with the general theme identified.

Step 6: Scan for Keywords or Information from Each Answer Option

If unsure about the answer, test takers should scan the passage for keywords or phrases from the answer choices. This can help locate the relevant parts of the text and determine which option best matches the main idea.

It’s important to note that test takers do not have to have any background knowledge on the passage’s topic to answer any of the questions in the reading section.

To try these strategies, prospective MET test takers should take the sample test available on our website.

To walk through an example of these steps, watch our YouTube video on reading for the main idea.