Critical Reading - Finding the Main Idea

The main idea or focal idea of a passage is an overall idea or point that the reader is supposed to come away with after reading a passage. Most main ideas can be summarized and presented in one or two sentences and the reader can create this two sentence focal idea by using this formula:

The Topic of the Piece+ Main Point Author Wanted to Convey = Main Idea

The topic of any paragraph, page, passage, report, or article is the subject of that particular piece and usually can be summarized with a single word or phrase. That topic, combined with the overall goal of the piece is your main idea.

What is the topic of this sample passage?

Almost half of all students drop out of their college classes before graduating and most of those never go back to finish school. There are some simple things you can do to protect yourself from becoming a statistic as a college student. Keeping these things in mind can help you focus on being a student and making the most of your time in college.

Traveling needs to be kept to a minimum. It is fine to go visit family now and then but if you spend all of your free time and weekends traveling back and forth you will be missing out on the best study time and your grades can end up suffering. There are times you will need help and it is ok to ask for help. Whether it is issues of depression, fear, anxiety, academic issues, personal issues, or the need for extra help, do not be afraid to ask for help. You don't have to face these issues by yourself. Check to see if your campus has a counseling program, tutors, or other resources that can help you.

Learn to manage your finances while in college to make things easier later in life. Making a budget and sticking to it so you are not always broke is a good skill college students need to learn. One of the biggest complaints teachers hear from their students is that they couldn’t afford text books and such- yet they came in with brand new name brand clothes, fancy phones, and were talking about the movies and new video games they had. You have to be wise with your money because it will impact your finances years down the road. Sometimes you will be overwhelmed and that is ok, just don’t give up!

There's a lot happening and your life is changing so quickly right now. Things will be hard at times and you will be stressed. The important thing is to learn how to deal with it and not let it control you. Being a successful college student is easy when you make the most of your time.

All of the sentences talk about college students so being a college student is the topic of this piece.

How can you figure out the main points the author wanted to convey about being a college student?

  • Search the beginning of the piece and look for the topic sentence. There should be one and no more than two sentences together that summarize the entirety of the piece. This will let you know what overall purpose the author had for writing the piece and what they wanted you to get out of it.
  • If a main idea and focus sentences are not directly stated in the piece, then ask yourself what details were given, what examples were presented and what overall idea or concept do they support?

In this piece we just read, the author was talking about being a college student and offered several things that college students can do to make the most of their time in school:

  • Traveling needs to be kept to a minimum
  • There are times you will need help and it is ok to ask for help
  • Learn to manage finances in college to make things easier later in life
  • Sometimes you will be overwhelmed and that is ok, just don’t give up

All of these sentences focus on being a better college student.

So, what does the author wish for us to take away from this piece that they wrote about being successful as a college student?

There are many things that college students can do to help make their time in college more successful and more enjoyable.

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