David Recine

Praxis Core Writing: Research Skill Questions

Praxis Core Writing Research Skill Questions
Mediterranean Center for Medical Sciences

Research skills questions make up the smallest question category in Praxis Core Writing. These questions are also some of the easiest to miss. Fortunately, if you take just a little bit of time to review the basic principles of source-based college writing, you’ll be able to get through these four questions without any problems.

Research Principles in Praxis Core Writing

There are a number of different research concepts that might come up on the Praxis Core Writing exam. Three particular research principles are most likely to come up: the structure of citation formats, the relevance of content, and the difference between primary and secondary sources.

Citation format questions–thankfully–will not ask you about the finer details of a specific citation format such as MLA, APA, or Chicago Style. Instead, you’ll simply be asked what kind of source a given citation is referencing: book, magazine, newspaper, website, etc.

Content relevance questions will give you a research topic and then ask you to identify facts that are or are NOT relevant to the research topic. Answering these questions is largely a matter of logic and attention to detail.

Primary sources and secondary sources are probably the most complicated concepts that you’ll see in research skills questions. It can be easy to get these two terms mixed up, or to forget the difference between these two kinds of sources.

Remember that a primary source is a source of information about something that comes from the thing that’s being researched. Suppose, for instance, that you were researching life in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. If you spoke directly with someone from Riyadh, or read a social media post about life in Riyadh that was written by a resident of the city, you’d be using primary sources.

A secondary source is a research source created by another research writer, rather than created by someone who has direct experience with the subject matter. Let’s say you’re going to write a research paper about scientist Albert Einstein. You might consult a a biography of Einstein that was written after his death by an author who didn’t know him. This would be a secondary source. (In contrast, a biography of Einstein written by someone who was a personal friend of his would be a primary source, or at least contain a lot of primary information.)

Praxis Core Writing Practice Questions: Research Skills

Now we’re going to look at four Praxis Core Writing questions: one question about citation formats, one question about content relevance, and two questions about primary vs. secondary sources. These questions will be followed by an answer key and answer explanations.

Question 1

Rabe, T. (1998). Fine feathered friends. New York: Random House.

In the citation above, which of the following is cited?

  • A) A magazine article
  • B) A book
  • C) An interview
  • D) A newspaper article
  • E) A blog

Question 2

A student is writing a paper about the role of wolves in the Alaskan ecosystem. Which of the following pieces of information is NOT relevant to the student’s paper?

  • A) Southeast Alaska has the highest concentration of wolves in the state, because deer are plentiful there and act as a major food source for wolves.
  • B) In years when the wolf population in Alaska is lower, the population of smaller predators such as foxes and hawks goes up.
  • C) Wolves in Alaska have no natural predators, but are sometimes killed by other wolves or by humans.
  • D) In Southwest Alaska, rabbit populations are unusually high, and rabbits can sometimes pose a threat to agriculture.
  • E) In recent years, the Alaskan government has considered launching a campaign to preserve wolves, as there is a chance wolves could become endangered in Alaska.

Question 3

Which of the following is a secondary source about the life of Abraham Lincoln?

  • A) A chapter in a history textbook that discusses Abraham Lincoln
  • B) A book collection of Abraham Lincoln’s writings and speeches
  • C) A description of Abraham Lincoln’s childhood written by his parents
  • D) A photo of Abraham Lincoln sitting in the White House
  • E) A eulogy for Abraham Lincoln written by one of his closest friends

Question 4

A student is researching the profitability of dairy farming for a paper. Which of the following would best serve as a primary source for the paper?

  • A) An academic journal article about different species of milk-producing cows
  • B) A magazine article about the history of cattle and horse farming
  • C) A collection of interviews with dairy farmers about their finances
  • D) A animal biology textbook that discusses the health advantages of feeding grass to cows
  • E) An economic report on the average prices of milk

Answer key

1) B
2) D
3) A
4) C

Answer Explanations

Question 1:
This citation indicates a publication year (1998) but not a publication month or day. This rules out a newspaper, magazine, journal, or other periodical as a possible source. The citation also includes a city of publication and the name of a publishing company. In any standard citation format, a listing of city and publishing company are only used in citations of books.

Question 2:
(A), (B), and (C) are relevant to the role of wolves in the ecosystem, because they directly involve the interaction between wolves and other wild animals in Alaska. Although (C) might at first seem like it’s only about interactions between wolves and humans, (C) involves interactions between wolves and other wolves too. Answer (C) also has broader implications about the role wolves in Alaskan ecology because it indicates that wolves, lacking natural predators, are at the top of the ecosystem food chain.

(E) does not deal directly with wolves in the ecosystem, but it is still relevant to the topic. By stating that Alaskan government officials think wolves might become endangered, answer (E) suggests that the role of wolves in the Alaskan wild may be changing in some way.

(D) is the only fact without any clear relevance to a research paper on wolves in the Alaskan ecosystem. It may be tempting to make a connection between wolves and rabbit populations, as it’s fairly common knowledge that wolves eat rabbits. However, there’s no indication that there are wolves in Southwestern Alaska, or that the wolf population in Alaska has any connection to the large rabbit population in the Southwestern corner of the state.

Question 3:
Remember that a secondary source does NOT come directly from the thing that’s being studied. Choice (B) is a book of words and ideas that come directly from Abraham Lincoln. Choice (D) comes directly from Lincoln in a sense as well — it’s a photograph of Lincoln as he actually appeared, taken with his permission during his lifetime. Choices (C) and (E) come from people who personally interacted with Lincoln and were part of his life. Since the research topic is Abraham Lincoln’s life, people who were part of that life are primary sources. Only answer choice (A) is a secondary source. (A) is a secondary source because it’s a secondhand report on Lincoln’s life, written from a detached historical perspective.

Question 4:
Recall that a primary source is taken directly from the thing that is being researched. For this question, also be aware of relevance; sometimes issues related to the relevance of information are included in Praxis Core Writing questions about primary or secondary sources.

As a textbook, (D) is a secondary source. (D) is also source that is clearly not relevant, since the topic of the essay is the profitability of dairy farming, not the health advantages of certain kinds of animal feed. (Note that health advantages have no obvious link to financial advantages.)

(A), (B) and (E) don’t directly reference the profitability of dairy farming, but one could argue that each of these choices has some relevance to profits generated by dairy farms. In (A), the differences in milk producing species of cow could include differences in the cost of caring for the cows and in the price of their milk. In (B), a history of cattle farming could include historical profitability and would almost certainly include some specifics about dairy farming. And in (E), one could link milk price indexes to the profit margins of dairy farms.

(A), (B), and (E) offer only indirect relevance. Based just on relevance, you could eliminate these answers as the best answer by noticing that answer (C), which directly records what dairy farmers say about their profits, is far more relevant. Or you could simply notice that (A), (B), and (E) are all secondary sources; academic journals, magazines, and commodity price reports are created by scholars rather than by people who are actively engaged in dairy farming.


  • David Recine

    David is a Test Prep Expert for Magoosh TOEFL and IELTS. Additionally, he’s helped students with TOEIC, PET, FCE, BULATS, Eiken, SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT. David has a BS from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an MA from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. His work at Magoosh has been cited in many scholarly articles, his Master’s Thesis is featured on the Reading with Pictures website, and he’s presented at the WITESOL (link to PDF) and NAFSA conferences. David has taught K-12 ESL in South Korea as well as undergraduate English and MBA-level business English at American universities. He has also trained English teachers in America, Italy, and Peru. Come join David and the Magoosh team on Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram, or connect with him via LinkedIn!

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