English Comprehension: Answering Reference Questions

As I’ve mentioned in my previous post on the Keys to Comprehension Open-Ended, there are two common types of questions that students have to be able to apply their comprehension skills upon.

These skills are inferencing and referencing. In this article, you will learn (1) what reference means, (2) how to identify reference questions and (3) how to answer them.


The word reference comes from the word refer. Vocabulary.com explains it like this:

Refer is made up of two very useful Latin roots: re- “back” and ferre“carry,” and when one thing refers to another, one meaning “carries back” to the other — there’s some kind of connection. “The term “Spaghetti Western” refers to a kind of Western often filmed in Italy by Italian filmmakers, in Italian.” If you have a mysterious rash, your doctor might refer you — send you — to an allergist.

How To Identify

Reference questions usually use words and phrases from the passage to allow students to refer to them. Sometimes they may include the paragraph number.

Students should read the question first to register the words and phrases in their head, then proceed to refer to them in the passage.

How To Answer

The following question is from Nanyang Primary P6 English CA1 2017 Paper:

Why did Erik approach the bales of hay from the side? (2 marks)

The question has made no attempt to use different words or phrases in the question. This means that the student would have to look for some of the words that are used in the question and refer to them in the passage. So here are the steps:

First, they would have to look at the passage then look for words or phrases that the question is referring to. The student would have to look out for these following phrase:

approach the bales of hay from the side

Then, they would have to identify and select words or phrases that might be an explanation for the question. This is the sentence where the phrase above is found:

(1) Knowing that a cornered animal would be dangerous,
he approached the bales of hay from the side
(2) to give it a clear escape route.

Lastly, they would have to create an answer that includes the reason(s) from the passage that can be awarded marks. For this question, the answer would be rewarded 2 marks so students will need to include both points.

Why did Erik approach the bales of hay from the side?

Answer: Erik did that because he wanted to give it a clear escape route as he knew that a cornered animal would be dangerous.

Reading On The Line

Answering reference questions is also known as reading on the line. This means that these questions only require students to refer to the passage to look for the answer.

So what do you think? Was this helpful? Do comment your feedback so I can make improvements on the next one. 

See you in the next one!

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