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Chapter 02 : RC & Verbal Ability > Central
Idea of the Passage
This time we shall discuss how to choose an answer from among the various options for a question asking you to mark the ‘Central Idea’ of the passage. This is also a common question seen in many MBA entrance exams in the Reading Comprehension section.
What is meant by ‘Central Idea’?
The ‘Central Idea’ of the passage refers to the theme of the passage-the
important points made by the author in his article. It could also be called
the core idea. What does the author wish to convey? What are the main issues
conveyed or points made by the author? This is the Central Idea or Theme.
What are the things to be kept in mind before you choose the Central Idea from among the given options?
Choosing the Central Idea is not too different from choosing an appropriate title. Hence, there would be some similar points to be considered.
- Here too, just as we said for choosing a title, remember that you are asked to choose the ‘most appropriate’ option from among the four or five given alternative options. Thus, if you can eliminate the other options as inappropriate for some reason or the other, then you could possibly arrive at the correct answer. So you could use the ‘elimination technique’ to your advantage, at least to narrow down your options.
- The Central Idea, just like the title, must ideally adequately cover not only the content (the subject) of the passage, but also express the author’s tone. As we have discussed in earlier articles, the tone refers to the sentiment, emotions or feelings of the author towards the subject.
- Do not choose the Central Idea merely on the basis of brevity i.e. if a particular option uses fewer words than others. While brevity is important in the sense that the answer you choose must not be too verbose, that cannot be the sole criteria to choose the Central Idea.
- The option you finally choose should be neither too broad (not really specific to the topic or issue that the author has written about), nor too narrow in scope. Too ‘narrow’ options may focus on only a couple of paragraphs of the passage, and not the passage as a whole. Too ‘broad’ options are vague and nebulous. They may be generalizations, rather than dealing with the specific passage that has been given.
- Now we come to an important point: the Central Idea is similar to a ‘summary’ of the passage (and not a conclusion). This is a mistake that students commonly make: they often choose a conclusion, rather than a summary.
This means that you should avoid choosing an option that is really an
inference/ extrapolation of what the author has stated. The Central Idea
must instead come from what the author has stated in the passage.
A good way to identify a conclusion is to look at the tense. If the passage
speaks about something that is occurring currently (in the present), a
conclusion may speak about what could happen in the future as a result
of present events. However, if the author has not indicated this (future
possibilities) directly in the passage, you cannot choose this as the
- In this context, let us discuss the characteristics of a good summary-something
you need to keep in mind while choosing the Central Idea:
a) A good summary is comprehensive. This means that it does not leave out key points. What this means is that if the author mentions three issues, the summary must contain all three-no point should be missing.
As an example, let us consider a passage that explains why India won a particular match and gives four different points. Your summary must cover all the points-do not think that you need to prioritize and pick out two of the four most important points.
b) The summary must limit itself to what was directly stated in the passage-it cannot add any new points that were not mentioned in the passage. Thus, you would need to reject any option that contains some new information that was not directly stated in the passage.
Similarly, as mentioned before, be careful of options that are really a conclusion-if it was not really stated in the passage, but it is only a possibility given the author’s points or arguments, you need to reject the option.
- SIDHARTH BALAKRISHNA
Sidharth Balakrishna is an author and alumnus of IIM Calcutta. He is an MBA preparation expert and has been involved in MBA coaching for more than six years.
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