Detail questions ask you about information that’s specifically stated in a small part of the passage. They generally focus on the “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” and “why” as explained by the author.
Detail questions usually take one of these formats:
According to Paragraph X, _____ occurred because…
According to Paragraph X, which is true of ____?
The author’s description of _____ mentions which of the following?
There are two major traps that people fall into on detail questions. Both of them can be avoided if you’re careful not to choose an answer simply because it contains key words from the passage. The first trap is to choose a true statement that was contained in the passage, but that doesn’t answer the question. The second mistake people make is to accidentally choose an answer that contains a lot of words from the passage, but actually states a different idea or changes the relationships between things (for example, “sleeping makes me happy” is very different from “happiness makes me sleep”).
Read the passage and answer the question below. (source)
Shrouded in the mist of an Andean cloud forest, the first newly discovered carnivore in the Western Hemisphere in 35 years rarely leaves its treetop home. Smithsonian researchers stumbled upon Bassaricyon neblina, also known as the “olinguito,” while riffling through museum specimens and old field notes in search of information about other members of the genus Bassaricyon—a group of tree-dwelling meat-eaters commonly known as olingos.
As described by researchers, the olinguito weighs just 2 pounds and resides at 5,000 to 9,000 feet above sea level, making the orange-and-brown tree dweller the smallest and highest-venturing of the olingo species. Misidentified until now, olinguito specimens have existed in museums for 100 years, and at least one olinguito lived in several U.S. zoos during the 1960s and 1970s.
According to the passage, how was the olinguito discovered?
A) It has been common in museums for a century.
B) A Smithsonian researcher who has spent 35 years in the Andean forest discovered it.
C) The olinguito has been a known part of the olingo species for many decades.
D) The olinguito was misidentified in museum records, and the mistake was only recently discovered.
Answer choice A falls into the first trap: it is generally a true statement (although the passage doesn’t say that the animal was common in museums, just that it was found there), but doesn’t address the question. Answer choice B is a great example of the second trap you have to watch out for, since it combines many key words of the passage into a very incorrect answer. Answer C is fluff: it directly contradicts the main idea of the passage. So the correct answer must be D.
Of course, you don’t want to go through every answer choice if you can find the correct answer faster. The best way to answer a detail question is to read the question, then find the answer in the passage before looking at the answer choices. We find the answer in the second sentence.
If we take that idea, that researchers found the olinguito while “riffling through museum specimens and old field notes,” we can decide on D much faster.
“Except” questions are just detail questions but reversed. They have 4 answer choices, and 3 of them will be true. Your task is to choose the statement that is false or that does not match the information in the passage.
All negative detail questions will contain the word “NOT” or “EXCEPT”, and these words will always be written in capital letters. Be careful to notice them! The simplest way to get an “except” question wrong is to think that it’s a detail question.
The only way to answer is by process of elimination. One by one, look in the passage for evidence of each answer choice. If you find evidence, cross that choice out. At the end, there should be only one answer remaining. Try out this sample question. (source)
The city of Teotihuacán, which lay about 50 kilometers northeast of modern-day Mexico City, began its growth by 200 –100 B.C. At its height, between about A.D. 150 and 700, it probably had a population of more than 125,000 people and covered at least 20 square kilometers. It had over 2,000 apartment complexes, a great market, a large number of industrial workshops, an administrative center, a number of massive religious edifices, and a regular grid pattern of streets and buildings. Clearly, much planning and central control were involved in the expansion and ordering of this great metropolis. Moreover, the city had economic and perhaps religious contacts with most parts of Mesoamerica (modern Central America and Mexico).
In the paragraph, each of the following is mentioned as a feature of the city Teotihuacán between A.D. 150 and 700 EXCEPT
A) regularly arranged streets
B) several administrative centers spread across the city
C) many manufacturing workshops
D) apartment complexes
Here’s the evidence for each incorrect answer choice:
A) “a regular grid pattern of streets and buildings”
C) “a large number of industrial workshops”
D) “over 2,000 apartment complexes”
As you can see, there is no evidence to support the claim that Teotihuacán had several administrative centers; in fact, the passage says that it had “an administrative center,” meaning just one. So the correct answer choice is B.