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Reading Comprehension for senior students


For a change from politics that is at once comic and depressing, let me turn to academics today. Here are seven of the reading comprehension passages I prepared for my students recently. Hope some teachers and students will find them useful (especially the former).

Passage 1

1.      Plastic is extremely durable, highly flexible and inexpensive to produce. Unfortunately, it is terribly detrimental to the environment. In fact, we use so much plastic that we send a shocking 12 million metric tons of plastic in the ocean each year. Once there, the plastic pollution breaks down into microplastics that find their way into fish stomachs and bird nests, accumulating in the marine food chain.

2.      How can we prevent plastic pollution from destroying vulnerable marine ecosystems? This is a pressing problem for Norway, whose inhabitants have earned their livelihood from the sea since prehistoric times. That is why Norwegian companies and research institutions – which have been leaders in the offshore, shipping, fisheries and aquaculture industries for decades – are investing major resources in fighting plastic pollution in the ocean.

3.      The problem with plastic is that it is extremely simple and inexpensive to produce, making it far too easy to throw away plastic products and packaging after a single use, thus creating enormous amounts of plastic pollution. But what if we could give plastic waste a new life? Devising new, useful applications will create incentives for people to hold onto used plastic instead of dumping it – and keeping it from ultimately ending up as plastic pollution in the ocean.

4.      This is the win-win approach that Quantafuel is taking. The company chemically recycles mixed plastic waste, transforming it into a raw material for new plastic products. In addition to removing plastic waste from the environment, Quantafuel's process reduces other forms of pollution from incineration and landfills, reduces energy consumption, and promotes the circular economy of plastics.

5.      The European Commission has set a target for reuse/recycling of waste materials of 65 per cent by 2035, including plastic recycling. The positive environmental impacts of this will be twofold: fewer resources will be used to manufacture products and waste will be reduced dramatically, including plastic pollution and ocean waste. To achieve this target, companies and manufacturers must take an entirely different approach to material choice and design – a life cycle approach. One aspect of this is increased focus on reuse and recycling. Much can be learned from Norway here.

6.      Norway is a champion when it comes to returning plastic bottles. An impressive 95 per cent of all plastic bottles are returned via a national bottle deposit scheme. The advantages are obvious: the more plastic waste that is collected and recycled, the less will end up in nature as plastic pollution.

Answer the following in brief:                                                                      

a)      How much plastic reaches the oceans every year?

b)      How does plastic affect the marine food chain?

c)      Why is plastic pollution in the sea a serious problem for Norwegians?

d)      What do you think a ‘win-win approach’ means? [para 4]

e)      Which of the following is NOT done by Quantafuel?

                                i.            Collecting of plastic waste from the oceans

                              ii.            Recycling of plastic waste

                            iii.            Reducing energy consumption

                            iv.            Promoting the circular economy of plastics

f)       What are the two expected impacts of the target set by the European Commission for the year 2035?

g)      Why is Norway a role model for other countries in the use of plastic bottles?

h)      Find one word in paragraph 2 for ‘a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment.’

i)       Choose the sentence that uses the word ‘vulnerable’ in the same sense as it is used in paragraph 2.

                                i.            Joe’s confidence made him feel vulnerable.

                              ii.            Darkness is vulnerable to sleep.

                            iii.            Old people are particularly vulnerable to the flu.

                            iv.            We heard vulnerable noises outside our tent.

j)       Which of the following is NOT a synonym of ‘impressive’? [para 6]

Magnificent     Nonchalant      Imposing         Splendid


Passage 2

1.      The food market is intricately interconnected. One of every five calories people eat has crossed at least one international border. The food market is also extremely fragile with just six food baskets supplying the major chunk of the world’s staple food. It is also highly unequal in terms of production and supply – the poor countries are net importers and the high-income countries are net exporters, irrespective of their food production potential. Worse, the advanced economies spend just 17% of their earning on food while Sub-Saharan Africa forks out 40% on the same. As a result, even a slight disturbance in the system leads to a major food crisis in the poor countries, as is happening now due mainly to the Russia-Ukraine war.

2.      The Black Sea region, which includes Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, is one of the world’s six food baskets. Russia is the world’s largest wheat exporter while Ukraine is sixth on the list. Together, the two warring countries produce 12% of all food calories traded globally, control 29% of global wheat exports, 19% of maize exports, and 78% of sunflower oil exports.  Russia is also the world’s top exporter of fertilisers. Some 50 countries depend on Russia-Ukraine for their food supply.

3.      Because of the war, Russia has now blocked all the harbours and hence food cannot move out. International sanctions against Russia have also made shipping impossible. For west Asia and Africa, importing from Ukraine and Russia is the best option because wheat is cheaper from these two countries and shipping through the Black Sea costs less. The war has upset all that with a three-dimensional crisis: rising food prices, rising energy prices and tightening finance. In 2023, there will be 10 million tonnes to 43 million tonnes of global wheat shortage due to the restricted supply from Russia-Ukraine. 60 million to 150 million people will be affected.

4.      Our diet mostly comes from just four grains: rice, wheat, corn and soy. These four account for 50% of the average daily calories consumption globally with wheat and rice contributing a major chunk. Five countries – China, India, Russia, Brazil and the US – control 60% of the global food production. Within these countries, production is further concentrated to a few regions. For e+xample, India is a major wheat producer but more than four-fifths of it comes from five north Indian states.

5.      The following diagram shows the percentage share of grain production by country. The unmarked area is ‘the rest of the world’. 

Answer the following questions briefly.                                                      

a)      Why does the writer say that the food market is “extremely fragile”?

b)      Which country exports wheat the most in the world?

c)      How does the writer underscore the inequality in food production and supply?

d)      Which three factors constitute the crisis created by the Russia-Ukraine war?

e)      What role does India play in global food production?

f)       How does the writer illustrate the regional concentration of food production in India?

g)      Name the four grains that constitute a major part of our diet.

h)      Which of the following statements is FALSE based on the diagram given?

                                i.            China produces as much rice as the rest of the world does.

                               ii.            China is the largest producer of wheat among individual countries.

                             iii.            The US and the Northwest Europe together produce only as much wheat as China alone does.

                             iv.            The US is the largest producer of corn in the world.

i)        How many people are likely to be affected by the food shortage caused by the Russia-Ukraine war?

j)        Find a word in paragraph 3 for ‘a penalty for disobeying a law.’


Passage 3

1.      Earth’s history is divided into a hierarchical series of smaller chunks of time, referred to as the geologic time scale. These divisions, in descending length of time, are called eons, eras, periods, epochs, and ages.

2.      These units are classified based on Earth’s rock layers, or strata, and the fossils found within them. From examining these fossils, scientists know that certain organisms are characteristic of certain parts of the geologic record. The study of this correlation is called stratigraphy.

3.      Officially, the current epoch is called the Holocene, which began 11,700 years ago after the last major ice age. However, the Anthropocene Epoch is an unofficial unit of geologic time, used to describe the most recent period in Earth’s history when human activity started to have a significant impact on the planet’s climate and ecosystems. The word Anthropocene is derived from the Greek words anthropo, for “man,” and cene for “new,” coined and made popular by biologist Eugene Stormer and chemist Paul Crutzen in 2000.

4.      When did the Anthropocene period begin? A popular theory is that it began at the start of the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s, when human activity had a great impact on carbon and methane in Earth’s atmosphere. Others think that the beginning of the Anthropocene should be 1945. This is when humans tested the first atomic bomb, and then dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. The resulting radioactive particles were detected in soil samples globally.

a)     What is referred to as the geologic time scale?                                

b)     Which is the longest and which the shortest period of time among the following: eons, eras, epochs, ages?

c)      What is the basis of dividing earth’s history into chunks of time called geologic time scale?

d)     Which of the following describes ‘Anthropocene’?

                                            i.            It is the current epoch.

                                          ii.            In this period the human impact on earth has been most significant.

                                        iii.            It is an unofficial period in history.

                                        iv.            All of the above.

e)     The branch of geology concerned with the order and relative position of strata and their relationship to the geological time scale is …………………….

f)       What was the impact of the Industrial Revolution on earth’s atmosphere?

g)      The Greek word ‘anthropo’ means ……………..

h)     Find a word in the passage which means ‘arranged in order of rank’. [paragraphs 1 & 2]

Passage 4

1.      Gandhi never urged anyone to renounce wealth or power. He taught a set of values that might make happiness less dependent on material possessions. “As long as you desire help and comfort from anything, you should keep it,” he suggested tolerantly. Otherwise, he said, you might renounce a worldly asset in a mood of self-sacrifice or out of a stern sense of duty but want it back and suffer.

2.      “I wholeheartedly detest,” Gandhi declared, “this mad desire to destroy distance and time, to increase animal appetites, and to go to the ends of the earth in search of their satisfaction. None of this is taking the world a step nearer its goal.”

3.      Gandhi is known for his successful efforts to liberate India. Actually, for him the development of the Indian into a free person was more important than the freeing of India. Most of Gandhi’s followers in India were not Gandhians and did not share his ideals; they merely accepted his leadership because it smoothed the way to their objective which was an Indian nation without the British but with all the usual attributes of nationhood. For them, national independence was an end, a goal in itself; for him it was a means to a better person and better life, and because his heart was heavy with doubts whether these purposes would be furthered by the manner in which independence was achieved – two bleeding children torn violently from the body of Mother India – he did not celebrate on 15 Aug 1947 – he was sad and refused congratulations.

4.      Gandhi was a nationalist. He loved India but he was no Indo-maniac like today’s nationalists. He said he would not hurt England to help India. All the years he fought British racial discrimination in South Africa and British imperialism in India, he never despised or detested ‘the enemy.’ He wanted to understand them. The British in India were victims of their past. In liberating India Gandhi thought he was also freeing England for a new future.

5.      For mental health, Gandhi prescribed truth. He brought for himself a unity of what he believed, what he did and what he said. Truth is the harmony between creed, deed and word. Truth is integrity: the state of being whole and undivided in one’s personality. Gandhi preached what he practised and practised what he believed. He enjoyed inner harmony.

6.      “Perhaps,” the Rabindranath Tagore wrote of Gandhi, “he will not succeed. Perhaps he will fail as the Buddha failed and as Christ failed to wean people from their iniquities, but he will always be remembered as one who made his life a lesson for all ages to come.” 


Passage 5

Answer the following questions in a word, a phrase or a sentence.     

a)      What was Gandhi’s advice about wealth and power?

b)      Which of the following statements is TRUE?

                                i.            National freedom was more important than personal freedom for Gandhi.

                               ii.            Gandhi urged people to renounce material possessions to pursue happiness.

                             iii.            Gandhians are people who shared Gandhi’s ideals.

                             iv.            National independence was a means rather than an end for Gandhi.

c)      How did Gandhi’s nationalism differ from that of today’s nationalists?

d)      What did truth mean to Gandhi?

e)      Rewrite the following sentence by replacing the underlined word with another one from paragraph 1.

People must reject violence if there is to be progress towards peace.

f)       What does ‘inner harmony’ (paragraph 5) mean?

g)      What is common to Gandhi, Buddha and Christ?

h)      Why did Gandhi refuse to celebrate India’s Independence?

i)        Which word in paragraph 4 comes closest in meaning to bigotry?


Passage 6

1.      According to data from Census 2011, the number of child labourers in India was 10.1 million. The next census was to be conducted in 2021 but the pandemic precluded it. Surveys conducted by child rights organisations suggest there has been a sharp surge in child labour across the country post Covid due to abject poverty. The International Labour Organisation and UNICEF have also warned that in India, the closure of schools and the economic crisis faced by the vulnerable families, triggered by the pandemic, are likely to push India to growing child labour.

2.      In Rajasthan alone there are thousands of children working in Dickensian conditions in bangle factories, roadside dhabas, tyre shops and sari printing workshops. These children who are deprived of all rights of children are the invisible victims of Covid. They are exploited inhumanly. For example, the bangle-making children in Rajasthan sit crowded in tiny rooms which don’t have even basic hygiene or facilities like a fan and make 400 to 500 bangles a day. Each bangle fetches between Rs 10 and Rs 50 in markets across Rajasthan. The children are made to work 16-18 hours a day. They are paid a meagre Rs 50 a day.

3.      Uttar Pradesh is a state that spends crores of rupees on advertising the progress made by the state under the present government. The most painful fact is that more than 21% of working children in the country are from UP. 2% of the total working children in the world are from UP, a state which advertises itself as a model for all other states in the country! Poverty is the chief reason for child labour and 70% of the population of three districts of UP are multidimensionally poor – that is, poor in health, education, and living standards.

4.      Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of child labourers in India and it is followed by Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Over half of India’s total child labour population work in these states and the following graph shows the industries that employ them. [The figures are in percentage.]



Answer the following questions briefly.                                   

a)      Why don’t we have the census of child labourers in the year 2021?

b)      Rewrite the following sentence using another word from paragraph 1 for the underlined word.

There has been a huge swell in the popularity of one-day cricket.

c)      Who are the invisible victims of Covid, according to the passage?

d)      Which state in India has the highest number of child labourers?

e)      Which of the following statements is FALSE, according to the data from the graph?

                                  i.            There are as many children employed in the matches and fireworks industry as in gemstone polishing.

                                 ii.            The silk industry has the least number of child labourers.

                               iii.            The carpet industry does not attract much child labour.

                               iv.            The glass industry’s share of child labourers is about half of the gemstone industry’s.

f)       What does ‘multidimensional poverty’ mean?

g)      Mention three states apart from Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan which grapple with the problem of acute child labour.


Passage 7

1.      Thasrak is not far from Palakkad, a little under 10 km. On the way lies the house where M G Ramachandran, the late superstar and Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, had grown up as a little boy. It is a small cottage, half the size of houses in the slums of today’s Mumbai. The will and ambition that made a man pull himself up from such a station to be an idol of every Tamilian heart even though he was not a Tamilian by birth must have been tremendous.

2.      In 1956, O V Vijayan, who would go on to become a famous writer and cartoonist, landed in Thasrak where his sister was teaching in a makeshift school. It was a remote village without even a bus stop. Vijayan’s short stay of a few weeks would form the nucleus of his most famous novel, Khasakinte Ithihasam [The Legends of Khasak]. This novel made Thasrak famous though Khasak is not the same as Thasrak.

3.      The opening of the novel has its protagonist, Ravi, getting off the bus at a place called Koomankavu and then walking to Khasak. In the novel’s English translation (by Vijayan himself) it goes like this: “When the bus came to its final halt in Koomankavu, the place did not seem unfamiliar to Ravi. He had never been there before but he had seen himself coming to this forlorn outpost beneath the immense canopy of trees, with its dozen shops and shacks raised on piles, he had seen it all in recurrent premonitions. Behind Khasak stood the mountain, Chetali, its crown of rock jutting over the paddies below. Chetali, like many other things in Vijayan’s novel, did not belong to Thasrak.

4.      Move 11 km ahead from Thasrak and you reach the place where Thunchath Ezhuthachan wrote the Adhyatma Ramayana in Malayalam in the 16th or 17th century. If Vijayan revolutionised Malayalam literature, it was Ezhuthachan who brought literature into Malayalam. Until then, literary works in Kerala were composed in Sanskrit. Ezhuthachan’s Ramayana changed that. The house where he stayed is still there in the Chittur Gurumadam.


Answer the following questions in brief.                                                 

a)      Why does the writer think that MGR possessed a marvellous will and ambition?

b)      What made Thasrak famous?

c)      Who is Ravi?

d)      Who translated Khasakinte Ithihasam into English?

e)      Koomankavu is the last bus stop in Thasrak. TRUE or FALSE?

f)       What was the profession of O V Vijayan’s sister?

g)      Which of the following statements is TRUE?

                                            i.            Chetali is a mountain behind Thasrak.

                                          ii.            Thasrak was very familiar to Ravi.

                                        iii.            There were huge trees in Khasak.

                                        iv.            O V Vijayan was born in Thasrak.

h)      What revolutionary contribution did Thunchath Ezhuthachan make to Malayalam literature?

i)       Find a word in paragraph 2 which means temporary.

j)       Find a word in paragraph 3 which is an antonym of cheerful.

For Invitation: click here



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