Information about Summary Questions
TOEFL Reading Summary questions ask the test taker to identify sentences that express major ideas and critical information included in the reading passage. Nearly every passage has 1 of these questions at the end.
The test taker is provided with a summary statement of the reading passage and 6 answer options. All of the answer choices will contain information that was in the passage, and they will be paraphrased so they don’t have the exact same wording.
The incorrect answer choices will have errors in details, make false statements about information, or state an accurate but unimportant detail. These questions are always written as follows:
Directions: An introductory sentence for a brief summary of the passage is provided below. Complete the summary by selecting the THREE answer choices that express the most important ideas in the passage. Some sentences do not belong in the summary because they express ideas that are not presented in the passage or are minor details in the passage. Drag and drop your answer choices to the space below. Click on an answer choice if you would like to remove it. This question is worth 2 points.
TOEFL Reading Summary Question Example
Here is a passage and its Summary question:
- bolded = main ideas
- italicized = minor/supporting details
Epigenetics and Stress
Every person is born with a unique genetic code composed of 20,000 to 25,000 different genes that determine every aspect of that individual from their eye color to the shape of their little toe. The building blocks of genes are DNA, a code of four chemical compounds that combine into around 3 million base pairs that cannot be changed, but they can be added to. The addition of methyl groups and histones to DNA can cause genes to become active or inactive. This additional layer of instructions that affects DNA is called epigenetics, and it can significantly affect a person’s health. (A) Epigenetic changes can be temporary, but they can also be passed on through multiple generations. They may be caused by natural processes, or they can be caused by external environmental factors. Recent studies have shown that one of the most significant environmental factors that influences epigenetics is stress.
(B) Epigenetic changes are an integral part of how our bodies control various internal processes. As a human fetus develops, stem cells differentiate into different types to form various kinds of tissues and organs by activating some genes and deactivating others. Some genes are turned on or off as a person matures to slow down or halt growth, and others trigger changes during puberty to prepare the body for reproduction. However, many epigenetic changes are caused by external factors like chemicals in the environment, drugs, diet, and stress, and they can alter a person’s growth, healing, and mental condition. Many of these external factors affect people in the same way, but each individual is exposed to a different assortment of influences. This is why identical twins, who are born with almost the exact same genetic code, may grow to become very different people.
(C) Both chemicals and drugs can cause sudden and dramatic changes in gene expression, but the two most influential factors in most cases are diet and stress. The amount of calories that a person consumes and the quality of the nutrition that their food contains have significant and obvious effects on that person’s development and health, but they can also affect future generations. In 1944, the Netherlands experienced a serious famine due to ongoing war that affected around 4.5 million people. People who were accustomed to a normal and healthy intake of around 2,000 calories per day were limited to one quarter that amount. (D) Women who were pregnant during the famine unsurprisingly had babies who had much lower than average birth weights. Those children enjoyed a normal diet, but when women from that generation had their own children, their babies also had abnormally low birth weights. In addition, women born during the famine had double the average incidence of schizophrenia.
(E) All environmental factors cause the body physical stress, but they also cause mental stress, which can be equally influential if not more so. Scientific studies with mice have shown that mental stress can cause hormone imbalances that result in epigenetic changes. In one experiment, mice were restrained, which raised their stress levels and triggered higher levels of N6-methyladenine (6mA) in their brains, which resulted in epigenetic changes. In another experiment, mice were given water with corticosterone, the mouse equivalent of the human stress hormone cortisol, for four weeks. This put them into a heightened state of stress and caused them to have fewer methyl groups on gene Fkbp5, which increased protein production. The different epigenetic markers lasted for weeks after they stopped receiving corticosterone, which suggests (E) long-term change.
These findings are significant because the chemical 6mA and the gene Fkbp5 are found in all mammals including humans. (F) In humans, 6mA is known to affect genes associated with autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia, and Fkbp5 is related to mood disorders like depression and bipolar disease. Therefore, there is a clear epigenetic link between stress and some mental disorders. Stress triggers the fight or flight response, so epigenetic changes in response to stress might make an organism able to fight harder or run away faster in dangerous situations. Many of our stressors like work deadlines and traffic jams cannot be fought or fled, which can create chronic stress levels that can lead to the aforementioned mental issues. However, in the future, doctors may be able to detect these epigenetic changes in a patient’s blood to diagnose or even predict such psychiatric illnesses and perhaps target them with specific drugs.”
Q. Directions: An introductory sentence for a brief summary of the passage is provided below. Complete the summary by selecting the THREE answer choices that express the most important ideas in the passage. Some sentences do not belong in the summary because they express ideas that are not presented in the passage or are minor details in the passage. Drag and drop your answer choices to the space below. Click on an answer choice if you would like to remove it. This question is worth 2 points.
Everyone has a unique genetic code that cannot be altered, but it can be added to through a process called epigenetics.
(A) Some epigenetic changes can be reversed, but others may be passed on to future generations.
(B) Human bodies utilize epigenetic changes to activate and deactivate genes for growth and other activities.
(C) Although chemicals and drugs can cause rapid and drastic changes, the main external factors that influence epigenetics are diet and stress.
(D) A famine in the Netherlands caused women to give birth to smaller children.
(E) Experiments with mice have shown that stress can cause epigenetic changes that are long-lasting.
(F) Chronic stress can cause people to have mental illnesses like autism, schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disease.
(B) is a correct answer because it is the main idea of paragraph 2.
- Choice (C) is a correct answer because it is the main idea of paragraph 3.
- Choice (E) is a correct answer because it is the main idea of paragraph 4.
- Choice (A) is incorrect because it is a minor detail from paragraph 1.
- Choice (D) is incorrect because it is a minor detail from paragraph 3. Choice (F) is incorrect because it is a supporting detail from paragraph 5.
- Notes from the Test Developer
Almost every reading section passage ends with a Summary question. These questions ask test takers to distinguish between main ideas and supporting details. The distractors typically paraphrase minor or supporting details from the passage, although sometimes there are also errors in detail. However, the majority are accurate but less important details.
When writing Summary questions, I usually write the correct answers first by identifying the main idea of a paragraph and summarizing most or all of the paragraph in a single sentence. For the distractors, I usually choose very specific supporting or minor details from the paragraphs. These often have names, dates, and other interesting information that makes them memorable, so the test takers will remember them from the passage, but they are not main ideas.
Because the correct answers are main ideas they tend to be long sentences, so I try to make sure that most of the distractors are equally long.
Advice to Test Takers
I would advise test takers to do a few things when they need to solve a Summary question. First, keep in mind that you are being asked to distinguish between main ideas and minor details.
Second, all of the answer choices may contain correct details from the passage, but the distractors will present less important information and/or present that information incorrectly. Just because a choice contains memorable information does not mean it is correct—often quite the opposite. You should read the passage and each answer choice carefully to see whether they contain main ideas or minor details and if they change or omit details.
Finally, you have limited time, and all of the distractors will contain some correct information, so you may be unable to decide between two answer choices. In that case, guess. Remember that you do not get points deducted for wrong answers in TOEFL. This is true for all questions so if you don’t know the answer or if you don’t have time to actually solve the question, guess.