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Central Ideas and Details — Worked example

Learn the best way to approach a central ideas and details question on your SAT. Start by stating the main idea of the text in your own words, then find the choice that best matches your summary, using the process of elimination. Remember, everything you need is in the text. You've got this! Created by David Rheinstrom.

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Video transcript

- Let's take a look at this writing and language question. So we've got this little blurb that introduces a passage from a novel, and then we've got the passage itself, but we'll avoid diving into that for now. And down below that, we have a question that asks us which choice best states the main idea of the text? So if you'd like to pause the video here and give the question a go on your own, be my guest. Now let's talk through it together. So, because the question asks us about a main idea, we know this is a central ideas and details question. You'll encounter several of these questions on test day and your job is pretty blessedly straightforward, I gotta say, you don't need to bring any outside information or knowledge to this question. Like for this one, the passages from War and Peace, you don't need to know anything about War and Peace. Everything you need is contained within the question. You just have to put all the pieces together. The power was inside you all along. Okay, so finding the central idea is like asking, what's the point of this passage? Why was it written? What's it meant to convey? Sometimes these questions will ask a very specific question about a detail from a passage and other times they'll ask you about the main idea of the passage, which requires you to put those details together. In this case, we're working with one of those main idea questions. Let's talk about what a main idea should cover. A main idea should cover most of the details in the passage, as well as mention points of emphasis. But it should not focus on just one detail, nor will it introduce new ideas that weren't present in the passage, and it won't contradict the text either. So now that we know what a main idea does, how do we go about looking for it? Well, first we suggest that you cover the choices. We don't want them to distract us from making an accurate prediction. Then we'll summarize the text in our own words. On main idea questions, this summary will function as our prediction for what the main idea is, because these passages are pretty short. Uncover the choices and then find a match to your prediction. If you don't find a match immediately, use the process of elimination and get rid of any choices that are too broad or too narrow or that misread or contradict the passage. Okay, let's return to the question now and put this strategy into action. First step, cover the choices. Next step, summarize the text. So the following text is adapted from Leo Tolstoy's 1869 novel War and Peace, translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude in 1922-23. "Pierre was ungainly. Stout, about the average height, broad, with huge red hands; he did not know, as the saying is how to enter a drawing room and still less how to leave one; that is, how to say something particularly agreeable before going away. Besides this, he was absent-minded. When he rose to go, he took up instead of his own, the general's three-cornered hat and held it, pulling at the plume, till the general asked him to restore it." So our boy, Pierre, is ungainly, he's clumsy. He doesn't know how to make an entrance and he's even worse at leaving. When he leaves, he picks up someone else's hat and tugs on its feather until someone points out the hat isn't his. So he's big, he's clumsy, he doesn't know what to do with his hands. Listen, Pierre, I feel that, my guy, he's anxious and awkward. That's my summary. Pierre was an anxious, awkward man. That is also my prediction and now, we'll try to find a match. Let's unveil the choices and see what we've got. Choice A, deliberately unpleasant. That doesn't match my prediction. The passage doesn't say he was unkind to people on purpose. He's just awkward. We can eliminate this one. Choice B, he has an excessively formal manner. That feels like new information, so we can eliminate that too. Choice C, oh yeah, that's it. Pierre is physically and socially awkward. That's basically what I said, he was anxious and awkward. On test day, we could save ourselves some time and stop here, but let's look at choice D, just for completion's sake. Okay, Choice D, Pierre has a good sense of humor. There's no evidence for that in the passage. Maybe he took the general's hat as a wacky prank, but we don't have the context from this short passage to actually prove that. So that is not our answer. Even if we didn't find a choice that matched our prediction this well, we could see that choices A, B and D are talking about things that aren't reflected in the passage. So we've got two distinct paths to victory is what I'm saying. If our prediction doesn't get us there, elimination will. Let's talk through some top tips for approaching this question type. Keep it simple. Whatever your summary is, see if you can get it down to a few words because that's what the choices look like. a few words or a short sentence, and keep it specific. Any choice that either gets too broad or too narrow won't be a main idea. Keep yourself focused on what the text actually says, not what it might say if it were a little bit longer. And that's how you approach a central ideas question on the SAT, test takers. Good luck out there, you've got this.