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Reading Sample QuestionsTest yourself and see how students responded to the same questions on NAEP.

This section presents sample reading passages and questions at all three ages. These questions provide some insight into the types of comprehension skills measured by the long-term trend reading assessment.

 Age 9
Age 13
 Age 17

Sample question 1 asked students to recognize the informative purpose of the passage which describes the appearance and habits of elephant seals. See the full text of the reading passage below.

 63 percent of 13-year-olds answered this question correctly.



What is the main purpose of this article?


To explain why elephant seals are important to humans


To convince the reader that elephant seals are not harmful to humans


To describe the appearance and habits of elephant seals


To convince the reader that laws should be made to protect elephant seals


The correct answer is C.

See more about this question in the NAEP Questions Tool.

Sample Reading Passage

Elephant Seals

Elephant seals cannot always be found together or even on land. In fact, for most of the year they prefer to be alone and at sea. But there are two reasons these seals gather on shore each year.

One is to escape the stinging effect of saltwater when they molt, or shed their old hair for new hair. At this time large patches of skin are also shed with the old hair. That is what makes them so sensitive to salt. The other reason elephant seals come ashore is to give birth to their young and to mate.

During the mating season, the seals are as heavy as they will ever be during the year. Females may weigh as much as 1,700 pounds. Males may weigh close to 6,000 pounds and be 17 feet long.

Much of the weight of these animals is fat, which they gain from their diet of squid and other seafood. This fat insulates them from the cold and provides the energy for the long periods when they eat nothing at all. But unfortunately for the seals, their blubber is also a very rich source of oil. The fat from a large male may yield up to 210 gallons of oil.

Although the animals are huge, they can be approached without fear, for on land they move fairly slowly. Unlike many other types of seals, elephant seals have little fear of people. Thus, when large-scale hunting of seals began around 1850, it didn’t take long to kill most of them. By the 1890’s scientists supposed that these seals had been hunted off.

In 1911 it was a great surprise when a small herd of about 100 seals was found on a Mexican island near the coast of Baja California. This discovery was reported to the Mexican government, which immediately stationed soldiers on the island with orders to shoot anyone harming the seals. As you can imagine, the seals prospered and within another sixty years the size of the herd had greatly increased. 

One feature of elephant seal behavior may have aided this remarkable comeback. The males engage in savage fighting that leaves one bull “King of the Beach.” The winner is a champion prizefighter in the elephant seal world and, as a reward, he will have more “wives” on his part of the beach than any other bull. Farther down the beach, however, there are also other champions. This type of grouping helps the seals, for the strength of the most powerful bulls is passed on to the baby elephant seals. And in a vast ocean where these pups have to outswim an occasional white shark or killer whale, speed and strength are important.

Most of the fighting among males takes place in early December. They arrive at the Mexican island and other areas several weeks before the females so their problems will be settled before their wives arrive. From this time until they leave in March, the bulls eat nothing at all. They stay on shore and live only on the food and water contained in their stored fat.

Females arrive on the beaches in late December. Several days later each gives birth to a pup that weighs about 90 pounds. For one month the mother seal also eats nothing at all. In fact, she does very little other than nurse her pup. By the end of this 30-day period the pup may have tripled its weight, now weighing close to 300 pounds. At that time the mother leaves the pup to survive by itself. She then mates. One year later she gives birth to another pup.

And so the story goes, just as it did for thousands of years before the hunters arrived. Now, with the hunters gone and the seals recovered, this story should continue for thousands of years more.

2008 Long-Term Trend Report Card 2008 Long-Term Trend Report Card