48. Reference Questions

Reference questions ask what noun (called the referent) a pronoun or some other expression refers to. The correct answer is not always the noun that is closest to the pronoun in the passage. Incorrect choices are usually other nouns that appear in the passage. If you are unable to decide immediately which answer is correct, substitute the four choices for the word that is being asked about. Which one is the most logical substitute?
In general, reference questions tend to be the easiest type of reading question.

Sample Items

There is a poisonous, plant-like animal called the anemone that lives among coral reefs. When small fish venture too close to the tentacles of these “living flowers,” they are stung and eaten. For unknown reasons, the anemone makes an exception of the clownfish, which swims through its deadly tentacles in safety. When in danger, the clownfish dashes among the anemone’s tentacles where other fish are afraid to follow. The clownfish even builds its nest where the anemone can protect it.

  1. The word “they” in the paragraph refers to

(A) coral reefs

(B) small fish

(C) tentacles

(D) flowers

The answer is (B) because of the four choices, only “small fish” is a logical answer.

2. The word “it” in line 10 is a reference to the
(A) clownfish

         (B) nest

(C) anemone

(D) exception

The answer is (B) because only the word “nest” is a logical substitute for “it”.


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