Tackling Comprehension Passages at WAEC/NECO/NABTEB/JAMB


Reading comprehension is the ability to read, understand messages, instructions, information, grasp the meaning of words and expressions and digest what has been read.

Also, it is the skill of the reader to know and translate the code used in written communication in order to translate the written symbols into sounds or meaning symbols.

In reading comprehension, if there is no understanding, there will be problems. Clear understanding of the passage(s) will help you in no measure answer the questions correctly.

Essential Hints in Comprehension

In order to answer comprehension passages correctly, there are skills and language to be measured. Consider them below.

  1. Locate and find out main ideas where they are in a passage.
  2. Select relevant details from the passage read.
  3. Make sure you generalise and summarise the essential information extracted from a passage.
  4. Now, read critically and creatively so that you should be able to know the relevance of what is read and use of information to solve the problems.
  5. Try to understand meaning phrase by phrase and get meaning out of all types of sentences.
  6. Infer meaning out of types of paragraph and the passage as a whole.
  7. Then, follow the pattern of examination bodies in numbering the questions. If, for example, the questions are numbered a, b, c, etc., it is important to follow the same pattern.

Question Types under Comprehension

There are basic forms of questions under comprehension from WAEC, NECO and NABTEB as seen below.

  1. Subject Matter/Main Ideas: Questions are set out to test the students on how much they have understood the content of the passage and how relevant the answers are to the questions.

The reader/student should be able to identify facts in the passage. Furthermore, the answers should be relevant to the questions in terms of numbers and tenses.

If the questions are asked in present form, then the answers should be in present form, But if the questions are asked in past form, the answers should be in past form. Consider the examples below.

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            Question: How does the man feel?

            Answer: The man feels sad.

            Question: How did the man feel?

            Answer: The man felt sad.

In the examples above, the two questions are not the same in form. Because of this, you   should consider the verb forms of the questions and answer them accordingly, distinguishing the present from the past occurrences.

  1. Figurative Expressions: Figurative expressions are also known as figures of speech. Here, the writers employ figurative expressions to teach the students ways of using language non-literally and to make them get a vivid picture of what has been discussed.

Those who are commonly used by WAEC, NECO and other examination bodies are as follows: simile, metaphor, personification, hyperbole, rhetorical questions, paradox, oxymoron, irony, etc. They will be discussed extensively under lexis and structure.

  1. Grammatical Names and Functions: These types of questions are set out to test candidates the ability on phrases and clauses. It may be noun phrases noun clauses, adjectival phrases or adjectival clauses, prepositional phrases,

In terms of function, it sets out to test the students’ knowledge of how to identify the nouns or the verbs or the adjectives or the adverbs respectively. This will be discussed in detail under lexis and structure.

  1. Quotations: In some cases, you may be asked to quote a sentence to support your answer. If you are asked to do this, do not quote a word or a phrase. You should identify the sentence directly in the passage and quote it.

      5. Word Substitutions: The words here are synonyms where students are tested to give another word

or phrase that has the same meaning and that can be best replaced it as it is used in the passage.

There are important issues here you have to note. In the first place, you should give a consideration to contextual meanings. That is, a word or a phrase you are asked to replace with another word or phrase must be done as it is used in the context of the passage.

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Consider the following illustration: Bade sat at the bank of the river. In the example above, bank means the side/edge of the river. Bank in the above context does not mean financial institution.

A word or a phrase may mean many things, depending how it is used in the context. Another important issue to consider is the class to which each word or phrase belongs.

For example, if the word belongs to the present form, do not replace it with the past form, and if it is a noun, do not replace it with a verb, etc. Consider the example below.

  • amazing: surprising, astounding, astonishing, etc. (adjectives) not surprise, astonish (present verbs)
  • going through: experiencing (continuous tense) not experience or experienced
  • enacts: makes (simple tense) not make or made or making

Attempting Comprehension Passages

Though there are different techniques in tacking comprehension passages, the following techniques will assist you a lot to identify facts as quickly as possible if you can apply them correctly. Consider them below.

Step 1: Skim or read through the questions first before the passage. This method/technique is better because it will make you guess the likely ideas of the passage.

Step 2: After reading through the questions as quickly as possible, you should then read the passage carefully to identify the topic sentence which can help you know the subject matter of the passage.

Step 3: Go through all the questions again, and store them in your memory in order to locate where the answer of each question is meticulously situated in the passage.

Step 4: Read the passage again very carefully and attentively, and also master how words, phrases and sentences are formed in each paragraph of the passage and, at the same time, take note of the new words that can hamper your reading comprehension and then underline the facts.

Step 5: After this, you should quickly read the passage again to enable you know whether the answers underlined in the passage earlier are correct or not. If they are right, then identify and write them in grammatically correct English.

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Deola Adelakun

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