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Primary purpose | Quick guide

What’s the point?

Primary purpose questions ask us to identify why the author may have written the passage. As you read through the passage the first time, it’s a good idea to always be asking yourself: “So what?” “What’s the point?”


There isn’t much variance in how this question type is worded. They’ll look something like this:
“The passage is primarily concerned with…”
“The primary purpose of the passage is to…”
“The author's primary purpose in writing the passage is to…”


Turn that verb into an infinitive, and use Prediction: Try rephrasing the question into "The purpose of the passage is TO __." Fill in the blank yourself before looking at the choices, and then see if there’s a choice that matches.

Common wrong choice types

Tempting wrong choices for primary purpose questions are:
  • Too narrow: A choice that accurately reflects the purpose of a sentence or a paragraph in the passage, but is too narrow to be the primary purpose of the entire passage.
  • Too strong: Be wary of extreme words like always and never. Authors rarely make points that are totally unqualified or all-encompassing.
  • Mischaracterizations: Sometimes a single word will mischaracterize the author’s intention with the passage.
  • Not directly answering the question: Again, enticing wrong choices may contain information that is true to the content of the passage, but doesn’t answer the fundamental question of purpose (“Why?”).

Comparative Reading variants

While paired passages will never have the same main point, they can have a shared purpose, so you may encounter comparative reading questions that ask you to identify it:
  • “A central purpose of each passage is to...”
Ask yourself: What are both authors attempting to do with their passages? What is the shared why?
Perhaps both passages are primarily concerned with describing an artist’s influences, or identifying distinctive features of a literary movement, or examining the impact that a specific scholar had on their field, or critiquing the applications of a specific statute.
Remember: When you get this kind of a question, even though the two authors’ arguments will likely differ from one another, the ”why” (or “what’s the general goal”) may still be the same. That’s the question you’re answering.

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