The TOEIC test will require you to identify the main idea of photographs as well as short conversations. What is the Main Idea and how can you identify it?

In English as well as in French, the main idea of a photograph is the general idea or the overall idea that the photograph depicts. It is not about the details in the photograph – which are bound to be many. It is about the global picture. On the TOEIC test (if you are taking it in Paris and need to take a course see this link) you will find main idea questions in Part I under the Reading Comprehension section. You will also have main idea questions in sections II and III.



  1. For the picture section, where you will be asked about the main idea of the picture, think of the details as part of a pizza. (And think quickly because this test goes fast!) Imagine whatever the photograph is, that, at the end of the day, it is a pizza. It could have all sorts of toppings. It could be hot. It could be cold. It could have ham. It could have Pepperoni. It could have anchovies. It could look delicious. It could look nasty. But guess what? All of these are just details. DETAILS ARE NOT THE MAIN IDEA! Don’t worry about all these details. What is the picture really about at the end of the day? PIZZA!

So that is the answer. No, not “pizza” literally. But what is the picture all about at the end of the day.

2. Do process of elimination. You normally will have 4 choices and three will be wrong so cross them out one by one. Remember that the answer choices normally follow a certain pattern: one of the choices is just totally ridiculous. Cross it out immediately. A lot of times even when you don’t know the answer you can do process of elimination and get the right answer.

3. Figure out the trick answers. One of the answers will be too specific (details!).Cross it out immediately. One the answers will seem vaguely related to something but it is not making a lot of sense. This is a trick answer and it is wrong. Cross it out. Finally, one of the choices is likely to be clearly wrong.

4. Main idea is general not specific details. If it sounds too specific, it is the wrong answer!

5. The word “generally” is your best friend. Just put that word at the end of your sentence “what are they talking about generally” “what is this picture about generally?”

6. For the short conversations, remember that the main idea will usually answer to a WH word: What, Where, Who How, Why and When. Ask yourself, “what are they talking about GENERALLY?

7. Avoid making incorrect inferences or reading too much into the question.

8. Even though “how”, “how much” and “Who” are “WH” words, beware that they often refer to specific details and not main idea responses.

9. The most popular main idea WH word answer is “What.” If you are doing a main idea question and one of the choices begins with “what” and the other begins with “who” or “how much” the correct response is probably going to be the choice that begins with “what.”

10. Not all “wh” choices deals with main idea. The TOIEC Part III seeks SPECIFIC DETAILS and not MAIN IDEA. And the answer choices often begin with a WH word. So beware that WH words can seek both specific details as well as general, main idea details. “Who” “How Much” “How” and “Why” are more likely to be the answer choices that are correct in this section if you have to choose between these and “What.” But be careful as this is not an absolute certainty. It is true in about 85 percent of the time though.

11. Sometimes, you have to make assumptions about the main idea of a photograph.



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