Reading Comprehension Questions on a Speech About Success
Practice answering reading comprehension questions based on a thought-provoking speech on the meaning of success.
What do you consider a successful life? Compare your thinking with Marc Lewis's in a commencement address (graduation speech) in 2000.
This speech is comparatively easy reading, with few academic or uncommon words. (Check the pictures of you are uncertain about the meaning of ‘tightrope’ or ‘wheelbarrow.’ They are both important for understanding the story he tells.)
A transcript of the speech is here. (It is possibly not the full speech, as that has now been removed from the University of Texas site that had it, but it does tell the stories.)
Lewis tells three true stories that combine to make an important point about life. He tells about the acrobat Blondin crossing Niagara Falls on a tightrope.
After he had crossed many times, he asked the crowd if they thought he could cross pushing a wheelbarrow. They shouted 'Yes!'
Then Blondin asked one man in the crowd. He was quite sure Blondin could do it. So Blondin told him to "Get in the wheelbarrow" to be pushed across.
Lewis also tells a childhood bet he made with two friends about who would be most successful. He describes how their ideas of success had changed by the time the bet ended 38 years later.,
The third story tells about how Eddie the Eagle saw his participation in an Olympic ski jump as a success, though many people considered it a failure.
Reading Comprehension Questions
Choose the best answer for each question based on Lewis's commencement address. Then press the right arrow to move to the next question.
1. Which of these is NOT mentioned in the commencement (graduation) speech Marc Lewis gave?
The Great Blondin crossed Niagara Falls on a tightrope.
Blondin also crossed the falls hanging from a helicopter.
Blondin also crossed the tightrope riding a bicycle.
Blondin also crossed the tightrope blindfolded.
2. Marc Lewis and two friends made a bet about which of them would
be the handsomest
earn the most money
be the most successful
win the career game
3. Marc and his friends had several of the same experiences. Which of these is NOT true?
They all were married, divorced, and remarried.
They all earned a lot of money.
They all were teachers at one time.
They all lost a lot of money.
4. It says that Carl “rose high in the organized crime world” and that he lost his fortune when a boat that carried “a shipload of his smuggled goods ran aground.” What does this tell us about Carl?
He was making money by breaking the law.
He got rich by working very hard.
He became important in the shipping industry.
He lost his fortune due only to bad luck, not bad judgment or values.
5. What changed the most in Marc’s and Ben’s thinking over the years?
Their friendship ended.
Different experiences caused them to disagree about values.
They wanted to earn enough money to provide for their families.
Their idea of the meaning of success deepened.
6. Why did Mr. Lewis compare some experiences to climbing into a wheelbarrow for a tightrope ride over Niagara Falls?
Life can be as scary as a tightrope walk.
Sometimes to reach success in life you must trust and take risks.
You need to choose friends carefully, since they may be pushing you.
You need to be willing to work hard and do some pushing, not just sit around all the time.
7. What did Mr. Lewis learn from Eddie the Eagle about how to measure success?
Success is feeling happy about yourself and what you’ve done.
Success is winning more often than losing.
Success is enjoying your family, friends, and life.
Success is trying over and over until you get what you want.
8. What was the point Mr. Lewis wanted to emphasize in the story of Eddie the Eagle?
A. Even though Eddie didn’t come in first in the Olympics, he was the best ski jumper Great Britain had at the time.
Having a good time is more important than winning an Olympic medal.
Respecting yourself is more important than winning or losing.
What reporters say doesn’t matter very much.
9. Who won the bet?
both Ben and Marc
10. What conclusions can you reasonably draw from this commencement address?
Mr. Lewis told the story of the bet because it’s important for friends to make bets with each other.
Mr. Lewis wanted the graduates to have happy lives and know how to avoid failure.
Mr. Lewis wanted the graduates to be ready to take risks for what is important to them, and to make choices that will let them respect and like themselves.
Mr. Lewis believed these stories will help the graduates understand the best way to gain lots of money, fame, and happiness.
More Questions to Think, Talk, or Write About
Do you have a friend to practice English with? You could discuss this speech and these questions together. If you need to practice essay writing, you could use one of these questions as an essay prompt.
-- Have you ever had to “climb in the wheelbarrow” and do something you were afraid of in order to get what you wanted or do what you needed to do? Tell what happened. Was it worth it?
-- Do you agree that Lucky Eddie was successful in life? Cite evidence from the story to back up your position.
-- What does success mean to you? What goals in life do you most want to achieve? Do you expect your ideas about success to change as you go through different experiences?
-- Discuss at least one idea in this talk that has changed the way you look at success or think about life. (If your thinking did not change at all, why not? Do you disagree with everything you have read and heard, or did you already feel that way?)