Purpose questions on the TOEFL look like this:
Why does the author mention (X)?
The author mentions (X) in order to…
The author includes the information of (X) in order to…
The author uses (X) as an example of…
The author mentions (X) for which of the following reasons?
The author does (X) in order to…
What is the author’s purpose in mentioning…
Your job is to try to determine why the author included this information. In order to get your answer, there are important steps to follow.
1. Read the question carefully and understand what you are being asked
2. Find the highlighted words or the key words in the passage
3. Go back to the beginning of the paragraph. Quickly read it to determine the purpose of the paragraph. Pay special attention to the first sentence of the paragraph: there is often a clue found there. After you do this, it will be easier to determine the purpose of the highlighted words, because they will fit into the author’s purpose for the paragraph.
4. Look for TRANSITION WORDS. These often are a HUGE clue to why the author included certain information.
5. Consider the big picture of the paragraph. Usually the question is related to the big picture of what the paragraph is trying to present. Remember: often there is a clue in the FIRST sentence of the paragraph.
6. Use the process of elimination. Answers are often incorrect if they are too extreme (words like none, never, forever, always, etc.), if they do not fit into the big picture of the paragraph, if they are off-topic, if they are not mentioned, or if they are untrue according to information in the paragraph. The answer can also be too general. Lastly, the answer should be eliminated if it has the wrong tone. If the tone of the passage is positive, eliminate negative answers. If the tone is negative, eliminate positive answers.
Here is an example for you to try:
There is an almost universal belief in the manifestations of the spirit of the dead. These manifestations are called ghosts. They are thought to be the soul or spirit of a person who has died. The idea of ghosts as hopeful evidence of life after death goes all the way back to ancient Egypt, where it was commonly believed that death was merely a transition to another existence. Descriptions vary, but ghosts are often described as translucent or only partially visible. Although they are no longer living, the ghosts often appear almost identical to the person who has died, even wearing the same style of clothes. Recent polls show that 45% of Americans believe in ghosts. Furthermore, nearly 18% of Americans have said they have felt or seen the presence of a ghost which they report as a feeling of uneasiness, a sudden chill, or sounds that cannot be accounted for. However, some researchers, such as Michael Persinger of Laurentian University have speculated that changes in tectonic stresses in the Earth's crust or solar activity could stimulate the brain's temporal lobes and produce many of the experiences associated with the feeling of a ghost’s presence.
Why does the author mention the views of Michael Persinger?
o To indicate that there is no real evidence for the existence of ghosts
o To present evidence in favor of the existence of tectonic stresses and solar activity
o To indicate that there is an alternative theory to sensing a ghost’s presence
o To emphasize that researchers are interested in investigating ghosts further
Have you chosen your answer yet? The first answer is too extreme. The author is not saying there is NO evidence for ghosts. The second is off topic. The main topic is ghosts, not tectonic stress or solar activity. The third answer is correct. An alternative theory is being presented. The last isn’t correct because there is no mention of researchers’ interest in the future.