Comprehension and Inference

Comprehension and Inference of Understanding Short Answer Questions

Short Answer Questions require you to use two skills fundamental in English Study – comprehension and inference. Of course, you are probably very familiar with these by now.
So we’re going to shift focus to some of the more difficult short answer questions.


Comprehension is often a process of simply finding an idea in a haystack of words.

  • Sometimes, it may require a name for the needle you find – techniques.
  • You do need to know similes from metaphors, as well as other technique terms.
  • You also need the skill of being able to find one.
  • More importantly, however, you need to justify and argue how you’ve understood the text.
  • It should also reflect an understanding of language and techniques.
  • This requires a definite link between the question, your comprehension of the text, and the text itself.
  • Comprehension requires the ability to use the text to answer the question.
  • One could easily replace the word ‘comprehension’ with ‘you’.
  • This sums up what your role is – and the way your response is marked.
  • You need to link the question with the text, and explain it.

Practical Terms

‘Explain the speaker’s relationship with his brother.’
We need to:

  1. Understand what the question is suggesting
  2. Find evidence of this relationship in the text
  3. Connect both 1 and 2.

Many students become unstuck here because they stop at step two.
Connecting the portrayal in the text to the question shows you understand it – and even if it seems obvious, you need to demonstrate it.


Inferring requires you to make an assumption based on the text and the question which is asked.
It comes when the answer is not explicitly in the text.
It is a similar skill to interpretation; however, it refers to intangible ideas or is based on how you’ve interpreted a text.

Inference and Answer

This essentially means adding another step. Inferring requires you to point to meaning which isn’t explicitly stated, and state how this then becomes your comprehended answer. Even good answers need to be explained and reasoned.

For Example

For Example
‘Describe how the image depicts the idea of belonging to a family’
Let’s use the same steps, plus our new one, to find an answer.

  1. Study the text closely
  2. You must identify what elements of the image are inferring ‘family’.
  3. You must reflect an understanding of what is belonging.
  4. Relate image, idea to question.

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