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Help approaching Main Purpose for RC

swanganieswanganie Yearly Member
edited November 2021 in Reading Comprehension 294 karma

Based on some recent RC translation drills, I've been struggling with "main purpose" questions. It seems I don't have a super crisp understanding of what it is, which was painful to realize and seems kind of silly since it's so basic. But yeah I'd really like to nip this in the bud when it's so foundational and would appreciate 7Sage feedback.

Here's where I'm at. I thought purpose refers to the WHY -- Why is the author telling me about this topic? What is their intent? But I recently realized this approach/question causes me extrapolate too far to come up with an answer. I'll mix perceived attitude or off-hand comments in the passage into an incorrect "purpose" summary.

Can you help explain "main purpose" in RC? How do you approach it? How does it connect back to MP? Thanks!


  • edited November 2021 10 karma

    Actually, after reading my response, I don't think I did a good job explaining. I don't wish for you to get the wrong idea.

    What is the "Main Purpose"
    First, what did you think before you read it, and what do you think after you read it. What did the passage or section convince or persuade you in?
    So you ask yourself the "what" question.

    Now that your opinions changed.
    You ask yourself the "why" question. Why was it important for the author to change your opinion in this way. How does it help his argument or point of view?

    So - I guess you can apply these steps and you should arrive at the right answer.

    Step 1: Read the section in question
    Step 2: What did you think before you read it, what did you think after you read it
    Step 3: How does this help the author's argument
    Step 4: Why is it important for the author to make you think this way

    Think more about arguments: main purpose is more like finding out why a premise was stated and how the premise proves a conclusion.

    Because when you only think about why, without thinking about how it interacts with the passage as a whole, you can fall into traps the LSAT sets. It's when you see how everything works together, you can more clearly answer "Main Purpose".

    So what about "Main Point"?

    Main Point asks for what the passage is about. It's a broad overview. It can be about just facts, a topic, or it could convey the author's intent or beliefs.

    So in the context of arguments: main point is more like finding the conclusion.

    Say, there is someone who wants to convince you to investment a million dollars.

    Invest a million dollar in my company. You should do it because I have a product that I believe will help humanity. It's a brand new technology that can solve many of the world's problems. There is a large moat preventing competitors from entering the market. Therefore you should investment in my company.

    So what's the main point?
    Well the main point would be to invest a million dollars in my company.

    What's the main purpose of: There is a large moat preventing competitors from entering the market.
    Step 1: read it
    Step 2: I did not want to invest, now I want to invest
    Step 3: It provided support for me to invest in the company
    Step 4: The author needs me to believe this to convince me to invest.
    Therefore, the main purpose of that sentence was to act as support to convince me.

  • swanganieswanganie Yearly Member
    edited November 2021 294 karma

    @"Generally Confused" thanks for the response. Sounds like I had a fundamental misunderstanding of what "purpose" is asking for. It's somewhat confusing to me that several online resources suggest that "purpose" = intent/why. :neutral:

    Before you read, you had one thought on a topic, or no idea about a topic. After reading, what did the passage teach you, what did it convince you of, what were you persuaded in?>

    This is helpful for framing what I should be asking myself.

    Overall, this sounds really similar to what I had in mind MP which is hopefully okay?

  • sarakimmelsarakimmel Member
    edited November 2021 1488 karma

    I think "why" is the right question. Why is the author writing this, and for what purpose (to educate, to convince, to dispute, etc). Their attitude speaks more to their motivation for writing the passage, of which we can only speculate based on key words and phrases. What is motivating them to write on a given topic is not what we are concerned with for MP questions.
    For example, why did you write this question? I don't need to know anything about your particular motivation to understand that you are asking this question to get clarification on how to approach RC MP questions.
    I would highly recommend you check this out, it is a super helpful and free resource:
    .. depending on the format you prefer.

  • Hopefully I was able to clarify it more.

  • clear227clear227 Core Member
    350 karma

    Main purpose = why did the author bother to write this passage?

    Maybe they want to convince you to adopt a new policy. Maybe they want to challenge an old idea. Maybe they want to share new information.

    Basically, what motivated them to sit down and take the time to write what you just read.

  • clear227clear227 Core Member
    edited November 2021 350 karma

    Main point is the gist of the passage.

    For example, consider this made-up passage on the history of corn:

    First paragraph: corn was used by native americans

    Second paragraph: native americans prayed to gods for corn

    Third paragraph: corn was used by native americans to barter

    Fourth passage: native americans explored new territories to plant corn

    Main point: native americans cared a lot about corn.

    Why? It’s pretty evenly distributed throughout the passage. The wrong answers will be too specific (“native americans used corn to barter and it was important for their economy”) or too general (“corn was essential to many cultures around the world”).

    Main purpose: to educate you. If they had mentioned a figure who thought that native americans didn’t like corn, then it could be to challenge a point of view.

  • swanganieswanganie Yearly Member
    edited November 2021 294 karma

    Thanks @sarakimmel @clear227 and @"Generally Confused" for the comments! The PowerScore resources were great, highly recommend the second RC skill test podcast for others who are trying to diagnose their problem areas.

    I agree with you all that "why" is the base question for main purpose questions. I now see that when just asking "why" I tend to get confused and fail to decouple main purpose from author's attitude. This probably works fine for others but since this is a where I stumble, I think I'll modify my approach. Still open to feedback!

    Main point: WHAT is the conclusion of this passage?
    Main purpose: WHAT is the author/passage trying to do? (to compare, to educate, to persuade, etc) - basically steer clear of asking "why" to avoid confusion
    Author's attitude: HOW does the author feel about this topic? (neutral, optimistic, skeptical, etc)

  • WinningHereWinningHere Member
    417 karma

    And most accurate and complete

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