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HSPA LANGUAGE ARTS
Review of reading skills
I. Strategies for the Language Arts Section
II. Reading Narrative Text
III. Reading Persuasive Text
This review is designed to prepare you for the Language Arts section of the New Jersey High School Proficiency Assessment. The review contains information about the types of passages you will be asked to read and the kinds of questions you will be expected to answer. You will also find tips and strategies to help you answer the questions quickly and accurately. Studying this review, together with taking the two practice tests in this book, will help you develop the skills you need to perform well on the Language Arts section of the HSPA.
Types of Passages
The Language Arts section of the HSPA requires the student to interpret two types of text: narrative and persuasive. Since these types differ in content and require specialized reading skills and approaches, this review provides a section on each type, along with passages, sample questions, and detailed explanations on how to read and answer these practice questions.
Types of Questions
Each section of text in the Language Arts section of the HSPA will be followed by 12 questions. The total number of Language Arts questions is 24. With each type of passage, you will be asked to answer multiple-choice Language Arts questions that require you to have read and fully understood the text.
A smaller group of questions gauges your ability to discuss in writing the issues raised and implied by a text. Open-ended questions require you to read between the lines, working at an inferential level and making connections between the ideas within the text and relevant ideas outside of the literal text.
Open-ended questions are scored using a point scale running from 0-4. These levels reflect varying degrees of accuracy and completeness. The evaluation of open-ended responses focuses on your thinking ability and your demonstration of a particular level of reading comprehension. A score point of 0 means the response is irrelevant or off-topic. A score point of 1 means the response demonstrates minimal understanding of the task, does not complete the requirements, and uses the text very little or not at all. A score point of 2 means the response may correspond with all the requirements, but with only partial understanding and uses text incorrectly or unsuccessfully, with an inconsistent or flawed explanation. A score point of 3 means the response demonstrates an understanding of the text and completes all requirements while presenting the writer's conclusions or opinions, using examples from the text for support. A grade of 4 demonstrates a clear understanding of the text, completes all requirements, and provides an especially insightful explanation or opinion that builds off of the text. You will find many samples of successful and unsuccessful responses in this book to help you prepare for the open-ended questions.
I. Strategies for the Language Arts Section
Before the test, you should use this plan:
1. Study this review section to learn about the kinds of text and questions to expect.
2. Do the practice questions in this review section as well as the two practice tests in this test prep. After you have answered the questions, carefully read the explanations of the answers, even if you answered correctly. The more you know about how the questions and answers work, the better you will do on the Language Arts section.
When reading the text and answering the questions, keep these strategies for effective reading in mind:
1. Preview: Your first step should be to look over the text and questions quickly to see what the text contains and what the questions ask. Take about 30 seconds to preview the material. At this point, do not spend time reading all of the answer choices.
2. Active reading: After you preview, read the text carefully and actively. Keep in mind the questions you previewed and mark important words or sections of the text. Consult sections II through III of this review to learn what to look for in each of the types of text.
3. Answer the questions: Once you have read the text actively, you are ready to answer the questions. Remember that while some answers can be found in the text on a literal level, you also need to work at an inferential level and to think about how the text can apply to situations or ideas outside of the text itself.
4. Review the text: As you answer the questions, look back at the text when necessary to help you eliminate incorrect answers and determine the correct answer. This process of working back and forth between the questions and the text helps you to answer with speed and accuracy.
Additional Reading Tips
- Do not hesitate to write on the text as you read. Underlining key words or names, bracketing important sentences, and circling transitional words ("however," "but," "yet," "on the other hand," "although," etc.) will help you to locate what you need to answer the questions. At the same time, do not mark too much of the text, as this extra work might slow you down.
- When a question asks you to draw inferences, the correct answer will reflect what is implied in the passage, rather than what is directly stated.
- Focus on one question at a time.
- Eliminate wrong answers, decide on your response, and move on to the next question. Do not waste time fretting about a difficult question. If you cannot get an answer after two attempts, answer as best as you can and focus your energy on the next question. Sometimes you will discover or think of the answer to a previous question in the course of answering another question.
- Pay careful attention to the wording of each question. You may be asked to select the BEST or MOST LIKELY answer. Or you may be asked to decide which answer is NOT consistent with the text. Noticing these key words will affect your ability to choose the correct answer.
II. Reading Narrative Text
The narrative text in the HSPA constitutes works of fiction between 2,100 and 3,300 words in length, written for the purpose of telling a story. Most HSPA narratives are realistic fiction, with characters, settings, and events that are probable and reflect ordinary people's lives in everyday situations. Realistic fiction writers include Judy Blume, S.E. Hinton, Bobbie Ann Mason, and Cynthia Rylant. You will need to be aware of the distinction between realistic fiction and other types of fiction, like fantasy/science fiction and historical fiction. Fantasy stories take place in imaginary settings, and science fiction explores futuristic worlds that might be created by scientific and technological developments. J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit is a fantasy narrative; H.G. Wells' The Time Machine and Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 are examples of science fiction. Historical fiction situates a story in relation to historical events or figures, like Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, a novel set during the French Revolution. While it is useful to recognize the differences between these and other genres of fiction, for the HSPA you need to be most familiar with realistic stories.
When reading a narrative text, you will need to answer questions that ask you to do the following:
- Determine a story's point of view or a change in point of view. A story might first tell you what one character is thinking or feeling and then introduce another character's perspective. In addition to the view from which a story is told, point of view can also refer to a character's attitude toward an event, setting, or another person.
- Infer the meaning of a phrase that uses figurative language such as a simile or a metaphor. A simile presents a comparison between two things using the word "like" or "as"; a metaphor asserts that one thing is another thing. For example, a story might describe a girl to be "moving down the path like an injured bird." You would choose the answer that best expresses the meaning of this simile: "She was limping."
- Select the best definition for a word based on its use in the narrative.
- Select a word or words that best describe a character. Descriptive adjectives for characters include bold, shy, charming, sincere, reserved, honest, and confident.
- Choose a word that characterizes the author's tone. Possible styles include comic, philosophical, sarcastic, uplifting, depressing, or matter-of-fact.
- Identify the story's prominent theme or themes, such as parent/child conflicts, dealing with loss, the meaning of responsibility, learning from mistakes, or confronting fear.
- Recognize the turning point and key events in the narrative. A story's turning point is a moment, realization, or incident in which a significant change occurs. That change might result in a character's decision or a resolution to the problem presented in the story.
- Demonstrate your knowledge about reading. For narrative text, this type of question includes choosing the best strategy to use in answering another question on the text, deciding which life experience would help you to understand the story, and determining the reason why an author uses particular conventions like italics, quotation marks, or parentheses.
Exercise 1: Narrative Passage
DIRECTIONS: The following excerpt presents the first two paragraphs of a story entitled "Repairs." You may make notes and underline as you read and answer the questions that follow.
Sam was not always so quiet at school. With his gifts of wit and a certain wisdom beyond his age, he had once been, if not the center of attention, at least an active part of the periphery. Sarah remembered when Sam, her younger sibling by a year and a half, had charmed teachers and students alike with his fanciful tales: clumsy sailors who save the ship from disaster, crooked politicians made straight by bands of enraged high school sophomores, rock stars-turned-ostrich farmers trying to live simpler, less prominent lives.
But Sarah could not recall Sam telling one of his stories for several months. When asked, he would shrug, say something about not forcing the fickle muse, and slip off by himself at the earliest possible moment. In fact, since their friend Charlie had died last July, Sam had withdrawn, his spirit shriveled somehow like a tire with a slow but steady leak. Their parents, who noticed but avoided discussing changes in their children's emotions and behavior, had figured, wrongly, that time would fix what they could not.
1. How does Sarah know that Sam has changed?
(A) He wants to be the center of attention.
(B) He looks drawn and tired.
(C) He talks about the friend he lost.
(D) He no longer tells his inventive stories.
2. Based on this story's first two paragraphs, how would the parents MOST LIKELY react if Sarah started to show signs of depression?
(A) They would not ask her what was wrong.
(B) They would take her to a counselor.
(C) They would tell her that they were willing to listen when she was ready to talk.
(D) They would ask Sam what was wrong with his sister.
3. The end of the first paragraph reads: ". . .rock stars-turned-ostrich farmers trying to live simpler, less prominent lives." Which word means the OPPOSITE of prominent?
(A) Visible (C) Famous
(B) Unknown (D) Unappreciated
4. Given the story's title, "Repairs," what would you expect to happen in a positive ending to the story?
(A) Sam remains withdrawn.
(B) The characters learn how to fix a flat tire.
(C) The parents help Sam to recover from the loss of his friend.
(D) The parents and children fail to mend their split family.
5. Which detail would be the LEAST IMPORTANT to include if you were retelling this story to a friend?
(A) Sarah and Sam's friend died last July.
(B) Sam has become quiet and reclusive.
(C) Sarah is a year and a half older than Sam.
(D) Sam has a reputation as a storyteller.
DIRECTIONS FOR QUESTION 6: Write your answer in the space provided, referring to the excerpt from the story "Repairs." Be sure to address all parts of the question.
6. Discuss TWO reasons why the title "Repairs" is appropriate for this story.
- What does the title imply about the characters?
- Use details from the excerpt to explain and support your discussion.
In approaching this practice narrative, you should first preview the paragraphs and the questions. You might skim the paragraphs and then read the questions (but not necessarily the answer choices) to find out what you need to look for upon a careful reading.
Next, you should read actively, getting a sense of who the characters are: Sam before and after his change, Sarah, Charlie, the parents. Underline or mark important words, phrases, or literary devices. Note, for instance, the simile in paragraph two comparing Sam's spirit to a slowly deflating tire. To answer the questions, read the question and the four answer choices carefully and look back at the passage to help you narrow your choice.
III. Reading Persuasive Text
The persuasive text combines fact and opinion with the purpose of persuading readers to share (or at least to understand) a certain point of view. This type of text openly advocates a particular stand on an issue or an approach to a problem. By presenting a point of view and providing factual and/or anecdotal evidence, a writer aims to support his/her argument. When reading persuasive texts, be aware that writers may draw upon not only facts but also beliefs, value judgments, and opinions. Writers might exaggerate, present convincing statistics, offer powerful examples, and employ emotionally charged words to make their argument. You will need to understand what the writer says and to recognize how and why a writer uses language to influence readers' opinions and thinking. Persuasive texts on the HSPA may be excerpted or used in full and will range from 1000 to 1600 words.
To familiarize yourself with this kind of reading, you should read the editorial sections of your local newspaper, looking both at the op-eds and the letters to the editor. Other persuasive text includes speeches, essays, book and movie reviews, charitable campaign appeals, debates, magazine editorials, and political literature.
When reading a persuasive text, you will need to answer questions that ask you to do the following:
- Decide which statement best expresses the main point of the text or a section of the text.
- Distinguish between fact and opinion. Whereas a statement such as "78 percent of high school teachers oppose book censorship" could be a fact based on a particular survey, a statement like "Book censorship damages our intellectual freedom" is an opinion. With persuasive text, you need to evaluate the kind of evidence provided.
- Decide which statement best supports or undermines a writer's argument.
- Identify instances of exaggeration, emotional appeal, or other methods of persuasion in the text.
- Compare the perspectives of two different writers. After reading two editorials with opposing views on an issue, you might then be asked "with which of the following statements would both authors most likely agree?"
Exercise 2: Persuasive Text
DIRECTIONS: Please read the following essay and answer the questions that follow.
Adapted from: "Religion Without Dogma"
by C.S. Lewis
Professor Hostead, in his article "Modern Agnosticism Justified,"
argues that a) religion is basically belief in God and immortality, b) most religions consist of "accretions of dogma and mythology" that science has disproven, c) it would be desirable, if it were possible, to keep the basic religious belief without those accumulations of religious notions and legends, but that d) science has rendered even the basic elements of religion almost as incredible as the "accretions." For the doctrine of immortality involves the view that man is a composite creature, a soul in a state of symbiosis with a physical organism. But science can successfully regard man only monastically, as a single organism whose psychological characteristics all arise from his physical nature; the soul then becomes indefensible. In conclusion, Professor Hostead asserts that our only hope rests in empirical, observable evidence for the existence of the soul; in fact, in the findings of psychical research.
My disagreement with Professor Hostead starts at the beginning. I do not consider the essence of religion as simply the belief in God and immortality. Early Judaism, for example, didn't accept immortality. The human soul in Sheol (the afterworld) took no account of Jehovah, and God in turn took no account of the soul. In Sheol all things are forgotten. The religion revolved around the ritual and ethical demands of God and on the blessings people received from him. During earthly life these blessings were usually material in nature: happy life, many children, good health, and such. But we do see a more religious note also. The Jew hungers for the living God; he obeys God's laws devoutly; he considers himself as impure and sinful in Jehovah's presence. God is the sole object of worship. Buddhism makes the doctrine of immortality vital, while we find little in the way of that which is religious. The existence of the gods is not denied, but it has no religious significance. In Stoicism, again, both the practice of religion and the belief in immortality are variables, not absolute traits of religion. Even within Christianity itself we find, as in Stoicism, the subordinate position of immortality.
1. Which of the following best defines the phrase "accretions of dogma and mythology" as it is used in the first paragraph?
(A) Combinations of fact and fiction
(B) Conflicts of sound principles and unsound theories
(C) Implications and ideas of religion
(D) Religious ideas and fables that have gradually accumulated to form accepted religious belief
2. What is the main idea of the entire passage?
(A) Belief in God is scientifically valid.
(B) Professor Hostead's assumption that the essence of religion is the belief in God and immortality is incorrect.
(C) Neither Judaism, Buddhism, Stoicism, nor Christianity fit into Hostead's definition of religion.
(D) Judaism, Buddhism, Stoicism, and Christianity are all valid ideologies in their regard for immortality and belief in God.
3. The writer's purpose in this passage is to
(A) outline basic tenets of Judaism, Buddhism, Stoicism, and Christianity.
(B) establish scientific credibility of four ideologies so as to undermine Hostead's positions.
(C) attack Hostead's views by establishing the vulnerability of Hostead's first position.
(D) define the essence of religion.
4. The writer uses Judaism, Buddhism, Stoicism, and Christianity to illustrate
(A) the superiority of Christianity over the other three religions.
(B) that the essence of religion is not necessarily belief in God and immortality.
(C) empirical evidence for the soul, the psychical research, which Hostead requires as proof for the soul.
(D) the validity of religious thought over a scientific system devoid of religious, spiritual beliefs.
5. Which of the following lists of topics best organizes the information in this passage?
(A) I. Hostead's definition of religion
II. Writer's definition of religion
III. Illustrations to support a new definition
(B) I. Hostead's definition of religion
II. Writer's definition of Judaism
III. Writer's comparison of other ideologies to Judaism
(C) I. Hostead's position regarding religion
II. Writer's problem with Hostead's position
III. Illustrations to support objections
(D) I. Hostead's definition of religion
II. Hostead's definition of science
III. Writer's position against Hostead's definition of religion and science
6. How does the example of Judaism prove an error in Hostead's assertions?
- Support your response by referring to the text.
In approaching this practice persuasive passage, you should first preview the paragraphs and the questions. You might skim the paragraphs and then read the questions (but not necessarily the answer choices) to find out what you need to look for upon a careful reading.
Next, you should read actively, getting a sense of what the writer's argument is and why he is making it. To answer the questions, read the question and the four answer choices carefully and look back at the passage to help you narrow your choice.