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4 Types of Non-Narrative Comprehension Questions in Secondary School

Hello again, everyone! I’m Ms Geraldine, a teacher and curriculum writer at Lil’ but Mighty. Have you ever wondered about the different types of comprehension questions found in Secondary School? Whether you are just starting out in Secondary School or approaching your graduation from it, it’s always useful to understand some of the comprehension questions you can end up being asked. So let’s go through 4 Types of Non-Narrative Comprehension Questions in Secondary School today!

As some of you may already know, secondary school English will feature two types of comprehension passages: Narrative (passages which are stories, often fictional and descriptive) and Non-Narrative (passages which give an overview of factual issues, thus mostly non-fictional). Today’s post will be focusing specifically on Non-Narrative Comprehension and its specific question types. If you are curious to learn more about Narrative Comprehension and its question types, check out my earlier blogpost here!

So, before we get to know the different types of Non-Narrative Comprehension questions, let’s make sure we have an accurate understanding of what a Non-Narrative Comprehension passage is. Read through an excerpt from one such passage below, about youth offenders (i.e. young adults who have committed a criminal offence) in juvenile detention centres across America:

Secondary English Tips Blog

As seen from the above excerpt, Non-Narrative Comprehension passages usually provide an overview of factual events or current affairs that are, needless to say, true in reality. While the above excerpt provides a factual overview of the juvenile detention system in America, a wide range of current affairs can feature in passages such as “online learning in the COVID-19 pandemic”, “the prevalence of Virtual Reality”, or “the plastic surgery industry in South Korea”.

Keeping the excerpt that you just read in mind, let’s now take a look at some of the most common comprehension question types of Non-Narrative passages. Try work out the answers to these questions on your own first and then check them against the answer key provided at the end!

1. Quotation

Most of you should be familiar with these questions from primary school. Such questions require you to quote a word, phrase, or sentence that suggest something that has been identified by the question. We must thus answer them with the proper quotation conventions below:

  • The word is “___________________”.
  • The phrase is “______________________”.
  • The sentence is “_______________________”.

Students need to have strong vocabulary to identify these words, phrases, or sentences. Importantly, when quoting these answers, we must make sure we have copied them down accurately. Any spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors will lead to a loss of mark.

Here are some examples of quotation questions about the excerpt from earlier:

Secondary English Tips Blog

Try to find the answers to these questions from the excerpt!

2. Literal (inclusive of “In Your Own Words” Questions)

These questions often feature the 5W1H question words, namely what, why, when, where, who, and how. These questions require an answer taken directly from the passage, and are thus one of the more straightforward questions to answer.

Here are some examples of literal questions about the excerpt you read earlier:

Secondary English Tips Blog

Are you able to find the answers to these questions from the excerpt?

Note: The “In Your Own Words” Question

IMPORTANTLY, literal questions of the non-narrative passage can require you to write your answer in your own words. This means that, after you have found the answer as explicitly stated in the passage, you need to paraphrase it and express it in your own words. Such questions will look like this:

Secondary English Tips Blog

To show you what it means to answer in your own words, I will briefly share how to approach question (b):

Secondary English Tips Blog

First, I have highlighted the keywords in the question to help me locate the answer in the passage.

The next step is to highlight the answer I found in the passage (indicated in yellow below):

Secondary English Tips Blog

The final step is to identify keywords in the answer that I would need to paraphrase. In this instance, I will need to paraphrase the following – “do poorly in school early on” to “struggle with their academics at a young age”.

Take note that in paraphrasing the answer, you must be careful in retaining its original meaning! This means that for “in your own words” questions, we usually focus on paraphrasing verbs, adjectives and adverbs and avoid changing nouns. For instance, there is no need to paraphrase “children” in the above answer.

Try to attempt answering the first question above while using your own words, and leave your suggested paraphrased answers in the comments!

3. Talking Heads

Like the name suggests, this question features two talking heads meant to mimic a conversation that two students who have read the passage are having. Each person makes a claim about the passage. Often, the two people do not agree with each other.

You will be asked questions about each person’s statements, so make sure you understand the opinions of each person accurately before answering the questions. A talking heads question about the above excerpt could thus look like this:

Secondary English Tips Blog

Notice that the question words “explain” vs. “support” require different answers as outlined in the yellow boxes. Are you able to find the answers to the above questions from the earlier excerpt? Leave a comment with your suggestions below!

4. Summary

The Summary question requires students to summarise, using information from certain paragraphs in the Non-Narrative passage, a particular issue as identified in the question. The Summary question is worth 15 marks (broken down into 8 for content and 7 for language). To obtain the full content score, you must identify and represent 8 points accurately. As for your language score, this depends on various criteria such as how well you express your points in your own words, the organisation of your points, as well as the fluency of your summary.

Take a look at an example summary question below based on the full passage of the excerpt you read earlier (i.e. this means that, for now, you won’t be able to attempt the summary question below):

Secondary English Tips Blog

For most students, the Summary question is what they struggle most with in the Non- Narrative exercise. There are many different techniques we must keep in mind in order to approach such a question, meaning it warrants under blogpost for itself. You can look forward to this in the future!

And there you have it! An overview of the common types of Non-Narrative Comprehension question types that you can be asked. I hope this gives you a better understanding of Non-Narrative Comprehension in Secondary School, and do feel free to leave any questions in the comments if you wish to clarify anything about the Non- Narrative Comprehension. In the meantime, happy studying, and stay tuned for my upcoming post on how to approach the dreaded Summary question!

Lil' but Mighty Secondary School Schedule

Level up with advanced O-Level English examination strategies. Without compromising on the joy of learning.

Components covered:

1. Paper 1 – Writing (Editing, Situational Writing, Continuous Writing)
2. Paper 2 – Comprehension
3. Paper 4 – Oral Communication (Reading Aloud & Spoken Interaction) 


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Ms. Geraldine

In her free time, Ms Geraldine enjoys writing her own prose and poetry, online gaming with friends, as well as critically analysing movies by penning down reviews. A die-hard fan of Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as well as an avid consumer of Netflix shows, she draws on such material in her process of lesson planning and curriculum design, with the goal of boosting student engagement and interest.

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