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Purpose of reference | Quick guide

"Purpose of reference" questions

What’s the function?

Purpose of reference questions ask you to identify why the author referred to something in a certain part of the text. In other words, what was the point of including the reference?
  • “The author refers to the ____ in order to...”*
  • “The author’s reference to ____ (lines ____) serves which one of the following functions in the passage?*
The task is to interpret the function of the reference.


Don’t overthink it! Unless the reference left you puzzled, you probably already understood the author’s purpose as you made your way through the passage. Put another way, the purpose that you automatically supplied in the process of reading is probably the correct one. So try to come up with the answer in your own words first, and then select the choice that best matches your prediction.
Read around the reference If the reference did leave you puzzled or if you need a refresher, then go back and reread the immediate context around the lines. The author often will supply all the cues you need to understand the purpose of any part of the text right around that text. If that doesn’t quite work, move to the next strategy!
Review the first sentence of the paragraph The reference may well operate as support for a claim made in the first sentence of the paragraph. It’s unlikely that there will be hints as to the purpose of a particular reference two or three paragraphs away. If it’s still not clicking, review the last sentence of the paragraph, and the last sentence of the preceding paragraph.
Make sure you understand the overall point the author is making The reference may well have been included by the author in order to directly support the main argument.
Top Tip: Most of the time, these references are to studies or other forms of evidence, and they function simply to support a claim or position that the author makes/takes in the passage. Again, this position may or may not be explicit, but the chances are good that you’ve absorbed it during your first active reading of the passage.

Common wrong choice types

Tempting wrong choices might take the form of statements that accurately reflect the content of the passage, but don’t address the purpose of including the reference. In other words, just because a choice is true to the content of the passage doesn’t necessarily mean that it answers the question.

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