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Questions types to be aware of in the DSE Reading Paper (Paper 1)

Isn’t DSE Reading just locating information in the passage and copying it? If you think this, the chances are that you’ve missed some of the most important skills for this paper.

Like many of my newer students, you may have underestimated paper 1, which is not known for being straightforward. From my years of marking students’ work, here are the main question types where people lose marks.



Not every question is straightforward. In fact, after the first page or two of part A, a number of questions require you to make deductions based on clues in the text. For questions like this, you may have to apply prior knowledge to make the clues connect.

Here’s an example from the 2015 DSE English paper:

  1. i) In lines 1-2, the student points out that Jean-Jacques Rousseau “is undermining himself”. Why does the student think this?

The question is based on this paragraph and footnote.






[1] It happens every semester. A student triumphantly points out that Jean-Jacques Rousseau [Note 1] is undermining himself when he claims “the man who reflects is a depraved animal,” or that Ralph Waldo Emerson’s call for self-reliance is in effect a call for reliance on Emerson himself.



1 Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a philosopher and writer of the 18th century. His political philosophy influenced the French Revolution.

To answer this question correctly, the candidates must understand that a philosopher is a person who reflects. Since Jean-Jacques Rousseau made a very unfavourable statement about a man who reflects (“the man who reflects is a depraved animal”) when he himself is a philosopher, Rousseau is speaking badly of himself, or ‘undermining himself’.


Summary cloze

The key to getting high marks on a summary cloze is making sure your answers are grammatically correct. It is not hard to find the keywords in the passage, especially as the paragraph number is often given. However, candidates tend to ignore basic grammar rules such as parts of speech and gerund/infinitives when answering these questions and lose marks unnecessarily.



These questions seem easy but are in fact sneaky. A good rule of thumb is to always read the statements carefully for keywords which may affect the meaning. Another tip is to not overthink your answer or include information beyond what’s in the passage. For example, if the text says, ‘The USA won 104 medals in the 2012 Olympic games,’ you cannot circle T next to this statement: ‘The USA won the most medals in the 2012 Olympic games.’ Even though it may be true in real life, prior knowledge should not be taken into account when answering T/F/NG questions and, therefore, you should choose NG in this case.


The reading paper is definitely not the most unpredictable one in the DSE English exam and, with sufficient drilling and an analytical mind, top marks are well within your grasp. For more practice and top tips, join our DSE English courses today!