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TOEFL Reading Question Type – Paraphrase

Paraphrase questions will ask you to decide which of the given answer choices best summarizes a particular sentence from the passage. The correct answer choice will contain all the important points (“essential information”) from the first sentence and will retain the original sentence’s basic meaning.

You will never have more than one paraphrase question in the same passage, and some passages will not have a paraphrase question at all.

There are a couple of ways to identify wrong answer choices: wrong answer choices may be missing important information from the original sentence, or they may change the relationships between parts of the sentence or the focus of the sentence. If you read “the audio speakers in headphones function by the use of small magnets,” an incorrect paraphrase might say that “small magnets are included in headphone speakers.” The focus in the original sentence was on how the speakers function. The incorrect paraphrase changed the focus to the magnets.

Paraphrase questions tend to be very tricky because the incorrect answer choices are similar to the correct answer, with just one detail to differentiate them. Be sure to take your time on these questions (and do lots of practice before the test!). You will recognize the sentence you will be asked to summarize immediately because it will be the only fully highlighted sentence in the passage. So when you read it, make a note of the essential information the sentence contains. Once you’ve finished the passage and you reach the paraphrase question, take your time reading and re-reading the answer choices. Find any answers that completely change the relationships and eliminate them. Then start comparing each answer choice to the essential information you selected while you were reading, and make an initial guess. Before you mark your answer, check yourself in two ways. First, make sure that your answer contains all of the important information from the passage, and second, double-check that you didn’t overlook a positive or negative that changes the meaning of your chosen answer. Often there will be an answer choice that looks very convincing if you overlook a “not” or “still” that changes the meaning completely. By taking the time to double- and triple-check your answer, you can avoid falling into that trap.

Let’s try an example. Read the following excerpt from a music history textbook.

Example

There is no better way to experience the splendor of classical music than to attend a concert. Compared to pop or rock concerts, performances of classical music may seem strange indeed. First of all, people dress “up,” not “down”: at classical events, attendees wear “costumes” or “uniforms” (coat and tie, suit, or evening wear) of a very different sort than they do at, say, rock concerts (punk, grunge, or metal attire). Throughout the performance, the classical audience sits rigidly, saying nothing to friends or performers. No one sways, dances, or sings along to the music. Only at the end of each composition does the audience express itself, clapping respectfully.

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Attending a classical concert requires preparation and forethought. Most important, you must become familiar in advance with the musical repertoire. Go to a music library and listen to a recording of the piece that will be performed, or perhaps download it from iTunes. Hearing a recording by professional performers will prepare you to judge the merits of a live (perhaps student) performance.

Choosing the right seat is also important. What is best for seeing may not be best for hearing. In some concert halls, the sound sails immediately over the front seats and settles at the back. Often the optimal seat in terms of acoustics is at the back of the hall, in the first balcony. Sitting closer, of course, allows you to watch the performers on stage. If you attend a concert of a symphony orchestra, follow the gestures that the conductor makes to the various soloists and sections of the orchestra; like a circus ringmaster, he or she turns directly to the soloist of a given movement. The conductor conveys to the players the essential lines and themes of the music, and they in turn communicate these to the audience.

Which of the following best expresses the essential information in the highlighted sentence? Incorrect answer choices change the meaning in important ways or leave out essential information.

  1. At a time of change in the attitude toward classical music of the 19th century, concerts were given greater dignity.
  2. Although the classical concert had not previously been treated with silent respect, it now is, due to a change in perspective over a century ago.
  3. A shift in opinions in the 19th century led to more highly regarded art, such as classical music concerts, which audiences refrain from disrupting.
  4. The modern reception to classical music is highly influenced by a time in the 19th century when classical music came to be regarded as an art.

Be very careful to pick out the subjects and verbs of each choice, to simplify it down to the main meaning.

According to (A), concerts were given greater dignity in the 19th century. This is very tempting. But on careful reading, there’s one big problem: “change in the attitude toward classical music of the 19th century.” The original sentence describes a change in the attitude toward all classical music, not just the music created in the 19th century. This very small wording problem makes (A) totally false.

In (B), we have all of the right information. Classical concerts are treated with respect and silence today, and that started in the 19th century. This is correct.

Answer choice (C) tells us that the shift in opinion caused better art, “more highly regarded art.” That’s not true. We’re only talking about classical music, and the change is in the audience, not in the art.

The final answer, (D), is almost right. But there are two problems: it doesn’t mention respect or silence, which are very important in the original sentence, and it’s possible that classical music was “regarded as art” before the 19th century—it just wasn’t “high art.”

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