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How To Study For The HESI Reading Comprehension Section Of The HESI Exam

In this post we’ll go over an outline of all the topics you will see on the HESI reading comprehension section of the HESI exam as well as provide you with a free timed HESI A2 reading practice test. This outline comes directly from the Smart Edition Academy HESI exam online course. You’ll also get an idea of how using a timed HESI reading practice test can help you become more comfortable with the format of the test, the types of questions you will see, and help you become faster at answering the questions with the given time limit. Check out everything you need to know about the test in our HESI exam ultimate guide review.

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How To Study For The HESI Reading Comprehension

So how do you study for the HESI A2 reading comprehension section of the HESI exam? We get this question all the time. You’re not the first person to ask and you’re not the first person to struggle with this section of the HESI A2 exam. 

Step 1: Before buying any test prep material or planning any late night study sessions is to take a free HESI practice test (like this one here). 

Why? You want to take a practice test first because you want to experience what taking the test is like and you want to take the entire test to receive a free diagnostic report. 

TIP: Take a practice test when you’re ready and focused. Your initial practice test gauges what sections of the test you score high and low on as well as breaks down each section into sub-subjects. 

For example, when you take the HESI reading comprehension practice test section, you’ll figure out how well you know about point of view or transition words. Be focused, be prepared to sit for a while, and eliminate distractions.

HESI reading practice test

Step 2:  evaluate your diagnostic report. Open the Notes App on your phone or a notebook and write down which sections you scored highest and lowest (Reading, Vocabulary, Grammar, Match, Chemistry, Etc).

Next, notate within each section, what subjects did you score the highest on and weakest. For example, in the diagnostic report below, summarizing text and using text features, and tone mood and transition words were the highest score. Understanding primary resources, and understanding the authors purpose were identified as “weak areas”.

HESI reading test results

Step 3:

The third step is to create an effective plan or study schedule that involves you spending anywhere between 1-3 hours a week studying a particular subject. We have an in-depth video ALL about how to create a HESI study schedule that includes a free template with all the topics, how long you need to study for, dos and don’ts for studying (spoiler alert, long study sessions are bad!). Watch the video here

Step 4: The next step is to invest in study resources that align with your learning style. For example, if you like to highlight and scribble notes a HESI Study Guide Book may work well for you. If you’re a visual learner (videos, color graphics, etc)  and like lots of practice tests, a HESI online course may be better for you.

Get Good HESI Test Prep Resources Based On Your Learning Style

If you like to study within a group, you might like our free group tutoring sessions and Facebook study group.

If you like to study by listening or watching videos, you’ll love the 100+ videos in our 50+ lessons inside of our HESI Online Course

If you like to take practice tests and study from the answer explanations, you’ll love our 1,300+ practice questions and 8 timed practice tests in the HESI Online Course.

Step 5: The final step is to study according to your study schedule and make sure you’re including tons of active recall and practice techniques

This basically means that as you’re studying you’re giving yourself active practice such as closing the study materials and writing down what you learned or taking a few HESI A2 reading comprehension practice test problems from a test bank. 

You want to spend 2-3 weeks actively studying before you retake a practice test. After retaking your practice test, you can compare your scores from your first attempt to see how much your score has increased. Keep doing this until you’re scoring at the level you’re striving for

HESI A2 Reading Comprehension Practice Test and Review

The HESI A2 reading comprehension section is part of the English section of the exam which separately tests you on vocabulary and grammar. The reading comprehension section includes 50 test questions on:

  • Main Ideas, Topic Sentences, and Supporting Details
  • Summarizing Text and Using Text Features
  • Tone, Mood, and Transition Words
  • The Author’s Purpose and Point of View.
  • Facts, Opinions, and Evaluating an Argument
  • Understanding Primary Sources, Making Inferences, and Drawing Conclusions

The HESI A2 reading comprehension section is difficult for a lot of students and you might be in the same boat. 

Students should expect to see a variety of reading material from short passages, excerpts, and even recipes, as well as visual sources such as maps, pie charts, and diagrams. 

This test section can be tricky especially under a time crunch. Moreover, it can be difficult to grasp exactly what you’ll be tested on and how to get better at those skills, especially as you’re probably thinking to yourself, “I can read, but what’s all the other stuff?”. 

In this guide, we’re going over how to start studying for the HESI, tips for scoring better on the HESI reading section, and review each subject within reading.

Nursing and allied health schools want to make sure you can handle the course load during your program and there is no doubt, you will have a lot of reading and a lot of papers to write so doing well on this section demonstrates that you have the ability to do well in the program 

The HESI reading comprehension section consists of 50 questions in 60 minutes. 

This section can be hard to complete in the timeframe that they allot you. The passages are long, the questions are detailed, and you really need to know how to get into the passage and find what you’re looking for…FAST. 

The key for beating the clock is to practice with timed practice tests as much as you can. The timed aspect of a HESI A2 reading comprehension practice test will help you become more comfortable working within the time constraints. 

Our free HESI reading practice test has a scored report that breaks down every question you answered by the time you took to answer it, with this information you can start to get an idea of where you took too long and got hung up, once you know the types of questions that slowed you down you can figure out how to get faster. 

So let’s go ahead and just get right into the topics that you will see in this section.

HESI A2 Reading Comprehension Study Tips

  1. Understand that you can dissect and save time on a question by learning the types of questions within the reading section and what you have to do to find the answer. 

    For example, you sometimes only need to look for specific words within a section if the question is asking you to infer what a word means or the tone of the passage.

    Knowing how to find the answer eliminates the need to read the entire passage. On the other hand, questions asking for the main idea or supporting details require you to read the passage in full and have an understanding of what the author is trying to convey. 

  2. Don’t underestimate this section. The HESI A2 reading comprehension section takes a lot of test takers by surprise because of how in-depth and tricky some of the questions can be.

    Also, over time, we know that we can read, but we may lose practice with skills we were taught years ago. Actively study this section and take it just as seriously as you would math or science. 

  3. Read more. Actively practice in your day-to-day life by reading the newspaper, a magazine article, or anyone of the other 100+ notifications you receive on your phone or just open your email inbox.

    Read as much as you can and ask yourself questions as you’re reading such as: what is the author trying to say? What stance is the article taking? Is this factual and credible or someone’s opinion? 

  4. Practice taking a timed test with multiple visual and written passages to absorb. Actively practice answer HESI A2 reading comprehension practice test questions from either a test bank or HESI practice test.

    Learning how to sit for 55 reading questions and reading new information while being tested is mentally and physically tolling.

    The more you can practice, the more you recognize what questions are asking you, which lets you practice how to find the correct answers quicker.  

  5. Look for clues. As we’ll go over in the following pages, each subject you’re being tested on has giveaway clues that you can learn to be on the lookout for in the passage.

    Learning common transition words, how to spot mood or bias in text, or where to find the main idea sentence can not only save so much time on the test but help you identify the correct answers.

Main Ideas, Topic Sentences, and Supporting Details

Below are two examples of HESI practice test questions on main ideas, topic sentences, and supporting details so you can see a realistic example of how you’ll be asked to apply your knowledge in these contexts. 

This goes back to the concept of practicing the skill of reading and dissecting the information.

You don’t just need to know what the main idea or supporting detail is, you need to be able to read anything and know what is the most important idea and what sentences support the idea. 

Overall, know what the main idea and supporting details are in any written text. 

hesi exam question
HESI practice question

Summarizing Text and Using Text Features

Next, on the HESI reading comprehension exam you can expect to be asked questions involving the application of summarizing text and using text features.

Important things to know for these types of questions include understanding a summary and how to properly credit the original author. 

You can also expect to be presented with diagrams, graphs, charts, or images such as a map, and you will need to know how to interpret the presentation and answer questions using the visual. 

These questions are meant to score your ability to understand the content, interpret information, and ability to follow a sequence or recognize a pattern.

Effective readers need to know how to identify and restate the main idea of a text through summary.

They must also follow complex instructions, figure out the sequence of events in a text that is not presented in order, and understand information presented in graphics.

For this part of the reading test you’ll need to become familiar with:

  • Summarizing text
  • Sequences and instructions
  • Interpreting graphics

A summary is a text that restates the ideas from a different text in a new way.

Every summary needs to include the main idea of the original. Some summaries may include information about the supporting details as well.

Events happen in a sequence. However, many written texts present events out of order to create an effect on the reader.

You might see a sequence like a recipe and you’ll be asked to identify a step in that sequence. 

Information is often presented in pictures, graphs, or diagrams.

These graphic elements may provide information to back up an argument, illustrate factual information or instructions, or present key facts and statistics.

You’ll need to be able to interpret graphics like a diagram or a flow chart or bar graph or a pie chart and pull out that information, interpret it, and be able to choose the right answer.

Tone, Mood, and Transition words

There are three important things to know about these types of questions: Tone, Mood, and Transition Words. 

As a review, the tone is the author’s attitude toward the subject. Mood refers to the feeling a text stirs up in the reader. Lastly, transition words help a writer connect their thoughts and ideas. 

Authors use language to show their emotions and to make readers feel something too. They also use transition words to help guide the reader from one idea to the next.

The tone of a text is the author’s or speaker’s attitude toward the subject.

So you might see the same negative type of words, or they could be really positive words or pessimistic, or they might be using words that are dismissive, recognizing these types of tones or moods are going to help you with these types of questions. 

Authors use connecting words and phrases, or transitions, to link ideas and help readers follow the flow of their thoughts. The number of possible ways to transition between ideas is almost limitless.

Know common transition words like first, second, next, now, for example, for instance, as a result thus, despite, however, those are all kinds of transition words. So you need to be able to identify those and know what they are. 

Below are a few examples of common transition words, categorized by the way they link ideas:

HESI A2 Reading Comprehension word transition examples

The Author’s Purpose and Point of View

Questions about the author’s purpose and point of view are definitely on the HESI reading comprehension exam. It’s important to know the different types of author’s purposes such as to inform or to entertain.

Secondly, it’s important to look out for keywords that imply an author’s stance or attitude about the subject.

Lastly, it’s important to be able to pinpoint the different types of appeals authors use in their writing.

When writers put words on paper, they do it for a reason. This reason is the author’s purpose. Most writing exists for one of three purposes: to inform, to persuade, or to entertain.

Every author has a general outlook or set of opinions about the subject. These make up the author’s point of view.

A reader must recognize implicit clues in the text and use them to develop educated guesses about the author’s worldview.

To help you learn more about how to identify the author’s purpose, our editor, Julie, walks you through the 3 types of purposes and what two questions you have to ask yourself when reading a section. 

Facts, Opinions, and Evaluating an Argument

There are a few key concepts to be aware of which include: fiction content, non-fiction content, argument, facts, and opinions.

It’s important to know how to evaluate an argument and how to look out for faulty reasonings and valid reasonings. 

Below are two examples of these types of questions: 

HESI exam reading practice question
HESI test

You need to know facts and opinions and how to evaluate an argument. Nonfiction writing is based on facts and real events, but most nonfiction nevertheless expresses a point of view.

Effective readers must evaluate the author’s point of view and form their own conclusions about the points in the text.

Effective readers must evaluate an argument and decide whether or not it is valid. To do this, readers must consider every claim the author presents, including both the main argument and any supporting statements.

If an argument is based on poor reasoning or insufficient evidence, it is not valid—even if you agree with the main idea.

Understanding Primary Sources, Making Inferences, and Drawing Conclusions

Lastly, on the HESI A2 reading comprehension exam, you will have to answer questions that test your ability to draw conclusions, make an inference, and understanding primary sources and non-primary sources. 

Let’s review the types of sources you may be asked questions about on the HESI Exam.

Primary sources include firsthand witness accounts of events, the research described by the people who conducted it, and any other original information. 

Examples: Diaries, scientific journal articles, witness testimony, academic conference presentations, business memos, speeches, letters, interviews, and original literature and artwork.

Secondary sources respond to, analyze, summarize, or comment on primary sources. They add value to a discussion of the topic by giving readers new ways to think about the content. 

Examples: Biographies, books, and articles that summarize research for wider audiences, analyses of original literature and artwork, histories, political commentary.

Tertiary sources compile information in a general, highly summarized, and sometimes simplified way. Their purpose is not to add anything to the information, but rather to present the information in an accessible manner, often for audiences who are only beginning to familiarize themselves with a topic.

Examples: Encyclopedias, guidebooks, literature study guides.

Below are two example HESI practice test questions on these topics: 

HESI A2 Reading
HESI practice test

Effective readers must understand the difference between types of sources and choose credible sources of information to support research. Readers must also consider the content of their reading materials and draw their own conclusions. 

You’ll need to know what a primary, secondary, and tertiary source is. 

Not everything you read is equally trustworthy. Many sources contain mistakes, faulty reasoning, or deliberate misinformation designed to manipulate you. Effective readers seek out information from credible, or trustworthy, sources.

You can do this by knowing the types of sources, the date of publication, so if something is super outdated it might not be that credible anymore.

Other signs of credibility are the author’s bio, a publisher’s information, and the professionalism of the writing in general within a reading passage can offer a lot of clues that will help you answer a lot of these types of questions on the test.


While the HESI reading comprehension section of the test contains a lot of material and very long passages, if you are able to put in the study time with good study materials you should be able to dominate this section. 

Take advantage of our HESI free practice test and HESI online course in order to get the most out of your study time.

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