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Sarah Bradstreet

GED Language Arts Reading Sample

GED Language Arts Reading Sample

Reading comprehension is an enormous part of the Reasoning Through Language Arts subject test of the GED. You may be wondering just what that entails.

What Do GED Reading Comprehension Questions Look Like?

You’ll be given a passage to read, accompanied by a series of questions. On the GED, you’ll be able to see the passage and each question in a side-by-side view so you can easily refer to the passage as you’re answering each question.

The passage could be fiction or non-fiction. Questions are mostly multiple choice, but a few may also be fill-in-the-blank, drop-down, or drag-and-drop.

Questions tend to fall into one of these major categories:

  • Main idea questions that ask about the “big picture” stuff, like summarizing and identifying the theme and tone
  • Detail questions that ask about specific information from the passage
  • Inference questions that ask you to draw conclusions based on the information in the passage
  • Vocabulary questions that ask you what a word means as it’s used in the context of the passage

GED Language Arts Reading Sample

Below is a sample reading passage (this one is literature), followed by a few practice questions. Try your hand at answering them and check your answers at the end.

Sample Passage

The following passage is adapted from the novel Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, first published in 1911.

If you know Starkfield, Massachusetts, you know the post office. If you know the post office, you must have seen Ethan Frome; and you must have asked who he was.

It was there that, several years ago, I saw him for the first time; and the sight pulled me up sharp. Even then he was the most striking figure in Starkfield, though he was but the ruin of a man. There was something bleak and unapproachable in his face, and he was so stiffened and grizzled that I took him for an old man and was surprised to hear that he was not more than fifty-two. I had this from Harmon Gow.

“He’s looked that way ever since he had his smash-up; and that’s twenty-four years ago come next February,” Harmon threw out between reminiscent pauses.

The “smash-up” it was—I gathered from the same informant—which, besides drawing the red gash across Ethan Frome’s forehead, had so shortened and warped his right side that it cost him a visible effort to take the few steps from his buggy to the post office window. He used to drive in from his farm every day at about noon, and as that was my own hour for fetching my mail I often passed him in the porch or stood beside him while we waited. I noticed that, though he came so punctually, he seldom received anything but a copy of the Bettsbridge Eagle, which he put without a glance into his sagging pocket. At intervals, however, the postmaster would hand him an envelope addressed to Mrs. Zenobia—or Mrs. Zeena— Frome, and usually bearing conspicuously in the upper left-hand corner the address of some manufacturer of medicine. These documents my neighbor would also pocket without a glance, as if too much used to them to wonder at their number and variety, and would then turn away with a silent nod to the post-master.

Everyone in Starkfield knew him and gave him a greeting tempered to his own grave mien; but his taciturnity was respected and it was only on rare occasions that one of the older men of the place detained him for a word. When this happened he would listen quietly, his blue eyes on the speaker’s face, and answer in so low a tone that his words never reached me. Then he would climb stiffly into his buggy, gather up the reins in his left hand and drive slowly away in the direction of his farm.

“It was a pretty bad smash-up?” I questioned Harmon, looking after Frome’s retreating figure, and thinking how gallantly his lean brown head, with its shock of light hair, must have sat on his strong shoulders before they were bent out of shape.

“Worst kind,” my informant assented. “More than enough to kill most men. But the Fromes are tough. Ethan will likely touch a hundred.”

“Good God!” I exclaimed. “That man touch a hundred? He looks as if he was dead and in hell now!”

“Guess he’s been in Starkfield too many winters. Most of the smart ones get away.”

“Why didn’t he?”

“Somebody had to stay and care for the folks. There weren’t ever anybody but Ethan. First his father—then his mother—then Zeena, his wife.”

“And then the smash-up?”

Harmon chuckled sardonically. “That’s so. He had to stay then.”

Sample Questions

1. Which statement best summarizes the passage?
a) Ethan Frome goes to the post office every day to pick up his mail and talk to his neighbors.
b) The narrator watches Ethan Frome getting his mail at the post office and speaks with someone about Ethan’s tragic fate.
c) The narrator goes to the post office every day hoping to speak with Ethan Frome. Ethan, however, never notices him.
d) The narrator follows Ethan Frome around town. At the post office he learns that Ethan’s wife is ill.

2. What inference about Ethan Frome is best supported by the information in the passage?
a) He is lonely.
b) He is intelligent.
c) He is charming.
d) He is cruel.

3. Which line from the passage best supports the idea that Ethan Frome has few friends?
a) “Several years ago, I saw him for the first time; and the sight pulled me up sharp.”
b) “He used to drive in from his farm every day at about noon.”
c) “He seldom received anything but a copy of the Bettsbridge Eagle.”
d) “The Fromes are tough. Ethan will likely touch a hundred.”

4. Based on the context of the passage, what is the best definition of “grave” in paragraph 5?
a) dangerous
b) grim
c) quiet
d) tomb

Answer Key

1. B
This is a main idea question. In the passage, the narrator describes his regular observations of Ethan Frome at the post office. He also recalls his conversations with Harmon Gow regarding Ethan’s “smash-up,” as well as Ethan’s inability to leave Starkfield because he has to take care of his family. Choice A is incorrect because, while Ethan does go to the post office every day, he seldom talks to anyone. Choice C is incorrect because the narrator never indicates a desire to speak with Ethan. Choice D is incorrect because the narrator does not follow Ethan around town; he only sees him at the post office.

2. A
This is an inference question. In the passage, we learn that Ethan is a quiet person who does not talk to many people. While we learn that he does have a wife, we never see them together, and she is known to be very ill. Ethan is always seen alone at the post office. These details can help you infer that Ethan is lonely. Choice B is incorrect because no details either support nor deny the idea that Ethan is intelligent. Choice C is incorrect because we learn in the passage that Ethan is a “ruin of a man” who does not make an effort to speak to anyone. Choice D is incorrect because, although Ethan keeps to himself, there is no indication that he is cruel. In fact, we might infer that he is kind when we learn that he has remained in Starkfield to take care of his family.

3. C
This is a detail question. When Ethan goes to the post office, he usually only receives a newspaper. Since he never receives mail from family or friends, you can infer that he knows few people. Choice A is incorrect because Ethan’s startling appearance is not necessarily evidence of his loneliness. Choice B is incorrect because this detail shows that Ethan is punctual, not that he has few friends. Choice D is incorrect because we would not necessarily infer that someone who is tough and resilient is without friends.

4. C
This is a vocabulary question. In the passage, we learn that Ethan is a man of few words. People who knew Ethan approached him quietly, their greetings “tempered to his own grave,” or quiet, “mien.” In the same sentence, we learn that Ethan’s “taciturnity was respected,” and that few people tried to engage him in conversation. Choices A, B, and D are incorrect because, although these terms are all synonyms of “grave,” they do not make sense in this context.

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About Sarah Bradstreet

Sarah is an educator and writer with a Master’s degree in education from Syracuse University who has helped students succeed on standardized tests since 2008. She loves reading, theater, and chasing around her two kids.

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