A comprehension tests your understanding of the meaning of a text or  message that you have read.  
In this section, you will learn the steps that will help you to answer the  comprehension question in the exam: 

  1. The exam comprehension 
  2. Text A: Written extract
  3. Text B: Visual text
  4. What is expected from you in the exam? 

1. The exam comprehension 

The comprehension question in the exam has two parts – Text A and  Text B:  

  • Text A is a written extract. 
  • Text B is a visual text. It includes a picture, for example, a photograph or  a drawing. It will also include some words linked to the picture. 

The exam questions based on these two texts will test your ability to: 

  • Make sense of what you read and respond to it. 
  • Understand the literal meaning; and the deeper, figurative meaning of  a text. 
  • Understand the writer’s intention or purpose in writing the text. 
  • Appreciate the text and reach conclusions by forming your own opinions  about the text. 
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the text in terms of its purpose. 

In this study guide, you will find examples of how to answer the  comprehension question based on the questions and answers from past  exam papers. You will be shown how to approach the exam question by: 

  • Reading the exam instructions carefully so that you understand what  the examiner requires you to do. 
  • Reading through an exam extract carefully so that you gain the most  understanding from it. 
  • Reading the exam questions carefully so that you understand how to  answer them.  vocab 
    • Appreciate: To give an  opinion on a text based on your own view. 
    • Evaluate: To assess or  judge a text.

Steps to writing the  written comprehension  question
There are three main steps involved in writing a comprehension question  in the exam: 

2. Text A: Written extract 

The first part of the comprehension question is Text A. It includes a written  extract and questions. You will need to read the extract carefully and then  answer questions on it. When you answer the questions, follow this three step reading process: 

Step 1 - Skim and scan the text extract and questions 
Step 2 - Read the text carefully 
Step 3 - Answer the questions  

Remember to  read the exam  instructions  carefully.

Step 1 - Skim and scan the text and   questions 

Look over the text quickly (skim) to get an idea of what the text is about.  (Skim - To read through the text and the questions to quickly get an idea of what they are about)
Take note of things such as:  

  • How many paragraphs there are in the extract; 
  • The title of the extract, which may also offer a clue to the content of the  passage and the writer’s intention; 
  • The headings and sub-headings; 
  • Who wrote the text and where it came from, if this information is given;
  • Key words and names;  
  • Topic sentences; 
  • Unfamiliar, unusual or difficult words;  
  • The introductory paragraph – it often creates the atmosphere and  provides the setting for what is to follow; and 
  • The final paragraph – it usually summarises the extract. 

Then, quickly look at (scan) the questions. This will give you an idea of  what kind of information to look for when you read the text again. Notice  things such as: (Scan - To look quickly through a text for specific information, for example, names of people and places.)

  • Names of people or places; and 
  • The question words and instructions. 

Spend about 5 minutes on Step 1 (for text A). 
A text can also  be called an extract or a passage in the exam.

Step 2 - Read the text carefully 

  • Keep these  question words in  mind. They will help  you understand  the text.
  • vocab - Key words and topic  sentences show the main ideas in the  paragraph.
  • vocab - Consecutive words: Words that follow one after the other, with no other words between them. 

When you read the extract, take time to read it closely so that you  understand what you are reading. Once you have read the text, think about  the ‘W-H’ question words: who, what, where, when, why, how. 

  • WHO are the characters (in a fiction text) or the people written about (in  a non-fiction text)? 
  • WHAT is the main idea in the extract? 
  • WHERE do the events in the extract take place? 
  • WHEN do the events in the extract take place? 
  • WHY has this text been written? 
  • HOW does the writer express himself or herself? What type of language  has the writer used?  

As you read, consider both the literal and figurative meaning of words,  phrases and sentences. For example, ‘the story touched my soul’ does not  literally mean that a story touched your soul, but figuratively that it had an  emotional effect on you. 

Step 3 - Answer the questions 

Read the questions. As you read through them, jot down any answers  that immediately come into your mind in the ‘rough work section’ of your  answer book.  
Take a minute to think about what each question asks you to do. Here are  some tips for answering comprehension questions: 

  • The mark allocation indicates the number of points required. For  example, if the question is for 2 marks, you need to make two points.  
  • Look for the key words or topic sentence in each paragraph – it often  suggests what each paragraph is about. (Sometimes a paragraph does  not have a topic sentence.) 
  • Do not copy directly from the text, unless you are asked to quote. Try to  answer the questions in your own words, using full sentences. 
  • If you are asked to give a synonym or antonym of a word, use the same  part of speech and tense as the original word. For example, replace a  noun with a noun (joy – happiness); and a verb with a verb (look – stare;  looked – stared). 
  • Avoid starting sentences with conjunctions such as “but” or “because”. 
  • Do not confuse TRUE/FALSE questions with YES/NO questions. Do not  write T/F for TRUE/FALSE. Always back up a TRUE/FALSE or YES/NO  answer with a reason unless the question specifically says that all you  need to do is give the one-word answer. 
  • When asked to quote a phrase, remember that a phrase refers to a  group of words without a verb, for example, ‘in the morning’. If asked to  quote consecutive words, keep to the required number of words. 

 Activity 1 

Text A 
The key words have been underlined in  the first five paragraphs  to show you how to  do this.
Read TEXT A and answer the questions that follow.

  1.  In South Africa, more than 8 million children currently receive social grants from the state. The Department of Social Welfare regards 1,5 million children as orphaned or vulnerable, but only 500 000 of these children have been placed in foster care, leaving a large number still waiting to be placed. Another cause for concern is that 20 000 households in our country are  5
    headed by children. Only 1 900 children are adopted in South Africa every year.
  2. Poverty is often a root cause of child abandonment, threatening the hopes and dreams of these innocents. A mended pair of pants still shows its damage, and so it is with children who adapt to their environment but carry scars with them throughout their lives. Yet every so often someone comes 10
    along and does a great patch-up job.
  3. They say home is where the heart is. For the children of House Jerome, in Irene, the joy on their faces is proof of this. At first glance, you would not know that many were abandoned in dirty toilets or on rubbish dumps. 15
  4. The family home of Basil and Dehlia Fernie serves as a shelter for abandoned babies and children seeking crisis care. Living in a household with 10
    children who are not your own seems like a job for an abnormal person. Why would anyone choose this lifestyle? For the past 28 years they have opened up their home to more than 300 children; nurtured and cared for them. Their  20
    purpose is to provide a stable place of safety which will help prepare these children for long-term foster families or potential adoptions.
  5. The Fernies are a happy couple with a good sense of humour. After many years of being involved in children’s ministries, they established House Jerome as a means to help children in need. With four biological children 25
    already, their home became a playground filled with love and dedication.
  6. I notice Basil drinking coffee out of a mug with a picture of a teddy bear on it. What seems like a job that could truly drive a person insane is, in actual fact, the source of peace and contentment in their lives.
  7. One such example is the story of Jerome. At only ten days old, he was taken to House Jerome and set up for a possible adoption. It is just coincidence that 30
    the little boy carried the same name as the shelter. This encouraged the Fernies to adopt him as their own. Jerome was one of the first adoptions by a family from a different race. A decision that was unheard of before the 1994 elections has become a worldwide trend in recent years. Jerome confesses  his upbringing was never focused on growing up with white parents. “I 35
    am here, this is me and this is my home. My family is just as normal as yours.”
  8. Jerome has had to face a number of challenges in his life, such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), academic failure and a struggle with drug addiction. Now 19, he is an optimistic young man about to write his matric. Dehlia notes  that even though these children come with baggage, you cannot blame 40
    rejection for a child’s wrongdoings. In the end, it was her love and commitment that saw Jerome through his teenage troubles. The family works closely with social workers to ensure a detailed screening process is done before all placements, and the majority are given the gift of a happy ending. 
  9. While some come and go, for Basil and Dehlia the joy lies in seeing how the 45
    child has grown and knowing they played a role in making a difference. 

 [Adapted from Centr’d, Spring 2010] 

  • Attention Deficit  Disorder (ADD): A  condition causing  people not to be  able to concentrate  on something for a  long period of time.
  • HINT! When asked  to refer to a  paragraph, it means  you must go back to that paragraph in the extract to find the answer

1. Refer to paragraph 1. 

Who is responsible for giving the numbers of ‘orphaned or  vulnerable children’? (1) 

1.1. A large number of children are awaiting foster care or  adoption. Identify another social problem mentioned  in this paragraph. Do NOT quote. (1) 
1.2 Choose the correct answer to complete the following sentence. 
By using the word ‘only’ in line 6, the writer is emphasising  that the number of children adopted is … 

    1. acceptable.
    2. too small.
    3. incorrect. 
    4. too large. (1)

2. Refer to paragraph 2. 

2.1 Using your OWN words, explain what is meant by the  you must go back to that  paragraph in the extract to  e.g. phrase ‘root cause’. Refer to BOTH words. (2)
2.2 Explain why the writer compares ‘a mended pair of  pants’ to children who ‘carry scars with them’. (2) 

3. Refer to paragraph 3. 
Quote FIVE consecutive words from the text that support the  idea that the children of House Jerome are satisfied. (1)
4. Refer to paragraph 4. 
Using your OWN words, say what Basil and Dehlia Fernie’s TWO  long-term aims are in providing shelter for abandoned children. (2) 
5. Refer to paragraph 5. 

5.1 Why is it important for the Fernies to have a good sense  of humour? (1)
5.2 Is the following statement TRUE or FALSE? Give a reason to  support your answer.  The Fernies do not have any children of their own. (2)

6. Refer to paragraph 6.  

6.1 Do you think the picture of the teddy bear on Fernie’s mug  is suitable? Give TWO reasons for your answer. (2) 
6.2 Write a synonym for ‘insane’ (line 28). (1) 

7. Refer to paragraph 7. 

7.1 What encouraged the Fernies to adopt Jerome? (1)
7.2 What was unusual about Jerome’s adoption? (1) 

8. Refer to paragraph 8. 

8.1 Write down any TWO difficulties Jerome has had to face  in his life. (2) 
8.2 In lines 41 – 42 it is stated: ‘… you cannot blame rejection  for a child’s wrongdoings’. Do you agree? Give a reason to support your answer. (2) 

9. This passage does not have a title. 

9.1 Provide a suitable title of no more that SIX words for this  passage. (1) 
9.2 Explain why you have chosen this particular title. (2)  [25] 



  • To answer  question 2.2, you  must not copy sentences directly from the  text. Your “OWN words” does  not mean your own opinion.  It means you must re-write  the text according to how you  understand it.
  • A TRUE or FALSE answer must  always be supported by a strong  reason. If you only write the  word TRUE or FALSE, you will  get no marks.
  • Any Two of these answers to question  8 will earn you 2  marks. e.g. 

Answers to Activity 1 
1. The Department of Social Welfare ✔OR Social Welfare Department ✔ OR Social Welfare ✔  (1) 

1.2 About 20 000 households are headed by children. ✔ OR Many children are in charge of households/ families.  (1) 
1.2 B/ too small ✔(1


2.1 It is the basic reason for child abandonment. ✔ OR thing that leads to child abandonment.  (2) 
2.2 When trousers are mended the stitches can be seen  and they look like a scar. In the same way, children who have been damaged may have emotional scars. ✔ (2) 

3. ‘the joy on their faces’  (1) 
4. They prepare children to go to foster homes or to be legally  adopted.. (2) 

5.1 They need a sense of humour because their job is  serious and difficult.  OR They need a sense of humour because seeing the funny or  lighter side of life helps them to keep going. (1) 
5.2 False. They have four of their own children.  (2) 


6.1Yes, it is suitable because their house is filled with children  and children like teddy bears. He is able to relate to the  children and it shows that he likes the children.  OR No, the picture is not suitable because Fernie is a grown-up  and he should project a grown-up image and not use a mug that looks childish.   (2) 
6.2 mad or abnormal   or crazy ✔ (1) 


7.1 Jerome had the same name as the shelter. ✔ (1) 
7.2 He was from a different race. (1) 


  • He had Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).
  • He failed at school.
  • He was addicted to drugs. (2) 

8.2 Yes, Jerome is a perfect example of overcoming rejection  as he made a success of his life.  OR No, Jerome might be one example of someone overcoming  rejection but sometimes the damage is lasting or  permanent.  (2)
9. Help for the vulnerable.  OR  House Jerome offers hope. ✔ (1)
9.2 The title ‘Help for the vulnerable’ expresses that the  extract is mainly about people who are helping vulnerable  children.OR The title ‘House Jerome offers hope’ shows that the extract  is about a place called House Jerome which is giving hope to  desperate children. ✔ (2)



  • These are  examples of the  types of answers  that will earn you marks
  • When you are asked for your opinion,  you can agree OR disagree  with the question. You  must also give a reason for your answer.
  • For more practice on writing comprehensions, go to these past exam  papers: 
    • November 2010, page 3, Question 1 
    • November 2011, page 3, Question 1
    • November 2012, page 3, 

3. Text B: Visual text 

  • A visual text is a picture or  image that is linked to words.
  • Facial expression: How people’s faces show  emotion, for example, a  smile shows happiness.
  • Body language: How  people move, stand or sit,  and what they do with their  hands to show how they  feel. 
  • Gesture: How people use  their hands to show emotion  or to emphasise what they  are saying. 

The second part of the comprehension question is Text B. Text B is a visual text – it has a picture and some text, followed by some questions.  

Steps to writing the visual  comprehension question in  the exam 

When you read a visual text, follow these steps: 

Step 1 - Look at the picture 

Look at ALL the details in the picture. For example: 

  • What is the content of the picture? If there are people in the picture,  what are they doing? Where are they? 
  • The facial expressions of the people in the picture; 
  • The body language of the people in the picture; 
  • The gestures the people are using in the picture; 
  • The use of light and darkness in the picture; 
  • The positioning of each part of the picture – what is in the front,  background or centre of the picture?; and 
  • Think about the mood created by the picture. 

Look at the  picture (Link the picture and the words ) Read the  words 

Step 2 - Read the words and link them   to the picture 

Read the words in the heading of the picture and the words below the  picture. 

  • Look at the picture again. 
  • Think about how the words support what you see in the picture. 

Step 3 - Answer the questions 

Read the questions for Text B and answer them. 

 Activity 2 

Look closely at the image and the text below, and then answer the  questions that follow.  

Text B 


When you are self-assured, you can tackle challenges head-on. But self belief does not come naturally to everyone. Sometimes you need some help  on the way to a more confident you.

  • In Text B,  the words and the  picture are always  linked. 
  • To answer  question 1, write  down the question  number and the correct  letter and/or words. 
  • Remember practice makes perfect! Practise  writing comprehensions to  do well in the exam.


1. Refer to the following: 
‘… you can tackle challenges head-on.’ 
The word ‘head-on’, in the context of TEXT B, means … 

  1. facing challenges directly.
  2. hitting challenges with your head.
  3. thinking about challenges often.
  4. avoiding challenges. (1)

2. In your OWN words, explain what is meant by ‘journey to  confidence’. (2)
3. How is the idea of self-confidence supported by the picture? (2)  [5] 

  • ‘Head-on’ is a  saying or idiom.  It means to face  something directly

Answers to Activity 2 
1. A/ Facing challenges directly. (1) 

2. Confidence is not achieved easily. 
It takes some time to become confident. (2) 

3. The girl is smiling and looking confident. 
She is not afraid to hang on a rope in mid-air.  (2) 


4. What is expected from you   in the exam?  

In the exam, the comprehension question is worth 30 marks out of 80  marks for Paper 1. You must answer both parts of the comprehension  question – Text A and Text B.  
Text A is an extract of between 600 and 700 words. You will need to read the extract carefully and then answer the questions based on the extract. 
Text A is worth 24 marks. 
Text B is a visual text. It includes a picture, for example, a photograph or a  drawing. It will also include some words related to the picture.  
Text B is worth 6 marks. 
The exam is two hours long and your should spend about 50 minutes on  the comprehension question. 

For more practice on visual comprehensions, go to these past exam  papers: 

  • November 2011, page 6, Question 1  
  • November 2012, page 6, Question 1 
  • Feb/March 2013, page 6, Question 1 
Last modified on Monday, 02 August 2021 08:49