Get to the point!

Let’s start out by imagining a situation. Here’s a teen girl talking to her mother. She says things like, ‘Come on mom, everybody has one.’ ‘You’ll be able to keep a tab on me. It will ensure my safety and your mental peace,’ and ‘It has a calculator on it, so I can use it in math class.’ Noah’s mom says, ‘Just get to the point!’ 

Noah’s point of her argument could be simply stated as, ‘I would like for you to get me a smartphone.’ The central idea isn’t hard to figure out; however, it is not always as easy. So basically, a big text of several paragraphs can be actually reduced to two or three lines. Our job is to boil down to those central lines. These are the lines which contain the core idea of the passage.

Well, critical reading passages you would be given has central ideas, too. The central idea of a passage is what the passage is all about, stated in a broad sentence. Determining a text’s central idea is like figuring out the puzzle. Put together the details to arrive to a conclusion about the moot point of the author. Some writers may state the main idea, but it is often implied, which means the reader has to make inferences about it.

Since this is a higher order skill and requires inference and conclusion drawing, it is a difficult skill for people to master. Also, it becomes crucial because it is tested not only in PCAT but also in other examinations.

The central (main) idea can be found in three places: in the beginning of a text, near the end of a text, not stated but implied through most of the sentences. To uncover the central idea, try to uncover the text structure. Transition words show you the text structure; text structure helps indicate the writer’s purpose. Does the text make use of chronological order to explain a historical event? Does the text compare (how these things are similar) and contrast (how these things are dissimilar or how they contrast)? Does the text describe a problem and explain ways to solve it?

If all else fails, locate the thesis statement: introduction and the conclusion will be the places to look. However, some will not offer you the thesis statements on a plate because the central idea is something you should infer. These passages will not state the theme directly. On the contrary, it will be made as obscure as possible by camouflaging the central idea. You will have to remove the nets and branches to get to the core. Good readers find the details and events to figure out the main point.

To explain the core idea, the author has to provide examples, details, information, statistics and reasons.

Start practicing by reading academic texts and articles to find out the main idea. Start writing down some main words and ideas which revolve around the central topic. Understanding the central idea will better equip you to understand the purpose of author. Once you know the author’s purpose it will be also be easier for you to answer separate questions.

When we say Turkey is a good country to visit, we present a very general picture. Now, we can illustrate this general idea with specific details like places to visit in Turkey, its history, the kind of people, the kind of landscape it has, the variety of food that is available, shopping options that are available. So, the passage is not going to be about a specific detail but about the general idea, so opinion becomes more important than fact. If you can eliminate all the specifics then you will be able to eliminate about 80 percent of the text. So you have to be conscious of the movement of specific to general and general to specific.

Grasping the general idea will be helpful in skimming through the specifics faster and on the other hand if you cannot comprehend the general idea, the specific may throw light on it.Grasping the general idea will make all other task of reading comprehension easy.

Use the supporting details only as a mean to the end, that is extract the main idea. Otherwise, they are of no value. Try to get the small elements out of your way to identify the main idea, topic or issue. These ideas are too specific to be what the whole article is about. These are only little ideas which contribute to the main idea of the text.