# The Main Idea

For each passage, you have to be on the hunt for the primary purpose. However, you must first identify the topic of the passage. Knowing both will help you quickly rule out incorrect answers and narrow in on a solution.

# The Topic

The topic is nothing more than the subject of the passage. Usually, the topic is the word or phrase that appears most frequently throughout the passage, either by name or in rephrased form. For example, a computer could also be referred to as “the technology,” “the invention,” or “the machine.”Consider the following passage:

### D. potentially worthy program that has been mismanaged

The following is the topic and primary purpose we have come up with:

Primary Purpose: To present the author’s opinion about how to save the program.

1. On almost every primary purpose question, you will see at least one answer choice that is exactly about some portion of the passage exactly. For instance, in this problem you spent two paragraphs reading about some difficulties of the YES program, so it would be easy to pick answer choice A, the classic “too narrow” choice. The SAT is good at guiding you to an answer choice that is correct for half the passage but not for the whole passage. Often the correct answer will be hidden behind convoluted language so that you are hesitant to pick it.

Answer choice A leaves out the all-important fourth paragraph: The goal of this passage is not to highlight the difficulties, but rather to highlight the author’s opinion of how to fix it.Answer choice B is also too narrow, as the successes are just a small part of the fourth paragraph. Answer choices C is way too broad; this passage is about the specifics of the YES program, not about federal programs in general. Answer choice D has the proper topic and primary purpose; the passage is about the YES program and the author’s ideas for how to overcome recent difficulties.

2. Answer choice D describes parts of the passage but leaves out the all-important opinion and prescription of the author.Answer choice A is off-topic and out of scope. The author does not explicitly detail the approach that should be taken; he only says that public relations should be changed. With answer choice B, the author is not defending YES against the criticisms, but rather showing that there are successes to highlight.

Answer choice C perfectly captures the primary purpose: to give the author’s opinion about how to save YES. Many people are hesitant to pick answer choice C because it seems to leave out the first three paragraphs, but remember that the first three paragraphs are only there as a set-up for the final all-important paragraph. The correct answer choice is C.

3. For the first three paragraphs, this passage seems to be explanatory/ descriptive, but then in the fourth paragraph, a reasonably strong tone appears. When you see trigger words such as“pitifully lax,” “this is a shame,” and “YES should…,” you are sure the passage is opinionated. Whenever you see trigger words for tone, you should slow down and make sure you understand clearly the author’s opinion. Given the fairly positive view of the program by the author, answer choice A could never be correct.“Noble effort” and “limited success” in answer choices B and C do match the tone of the author, so you must read those carefully. From your initial reading, you must understand the major problem that YES is facing: its internal handling of public relations. So while answer choices B and C match the tone, they incorrectly describe the problem: It is not fiscal responsibility,and the factors affecting it are not external. The correct answer choice D captures both the tone (“potentially worthy program”) and the topic (“public relations have been mismanaged”) properly and is thus correct.

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