AP English Language : Word Choice and Effect

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for AP English Language

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Example Questions

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Example Question #40 : Diction And Vocabulary

Adapted from “The Celebration of Intellect” by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1861)

At this season, the colleges keep their anniversaries, and in this country where education is a primary interest, every family has a representative in their halls; a son, a brother, or one of our own kindred is there for his training. But even if we had no son or friend therein, yet the college is part of the community, and it is there for us, is training our teachers, civilizers, and inspirers. It is essentially the most radiating and public of agencies, like, but better than, the light-house, or the alarm-bell, or the sentinel who fires a signal-cannon, or the telegraph which speeds the local news over the land. Besides, it deals with a force which it cannot monopolize or confine, cannot give to those who come to it and refuse to those outside. I have no doubt of the force, and for me the only question is whether the force is inside.

This power which it deals is dear to all. If the colleges were better, if they had any monopoly of it, nay, if they really had it, had the power of imparting valuable thought, creative principles, truths which become powers, thoughts which become talents—if they could cause that a mind not profound should become profound—we should all rush to their gates; instead of contriving inducements to draw students, you would need to set police at the gates to keep order in the in-rushing multitude.

These are giddy times, and, you say, the college will be deserted. No, never was it so much needed. But I say, those were the giddy times which went before these, and the new times are the times of arraignment, times of trial, and times of judgment. ‘Tis because the college was false to its trust, because the scholars did not learn and teach, because they were traders and left their altars and libraries and worship of truth and played the sycophant to presidents and generals and members of Congress, and gave degrees and literary and social honors to those whom they ought to have rebuked and exposed, incurring the contempt of those whom they ought to have put in fear; then the college is suicidal, ceases to be a school; power oozes out of it just as fast as truth does, and instead of overawing the strong, and upholding the good, it is a hospital for decayed tutors.

This Integrity over all partial knowledge and skill, homage to truth—how rare! Few men wish to know how the thing really stands, what is the law of it without reference to persons. Other men are victims of their means—sanity consists in not being subdued by your means.

What is expressed by the word “radiating” underlined in the passage's first paragraph?

Possible Answers:

The lighting used in the speaking hall for Emerson's talk

The overall character of the university as an isolated institution

The nature of the university's influence on culture

The light of light-houses in their splendor

The university's ability to question all things

Correct answer:

The nature of the university's influence on culture

Explanation:

The word "radiating" is chosen by Emerson to provide an evocative image for the way that the university has an effect on the broader cultural and public landscape. Like a light, it is in one place but shines over all things with its light and enlightenment. It is not at all isolated but is quite influential on the broader culture.

Example Question #6 : Purpose In Law Passages

Adapted from Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke (1790)

In the famous statute called the Declaration of Right, the two houses utter not a syllable of “a right to frame a government for themselves.” You will see that their whole care was to secure the religion, laws, and liberties that had been long possessed and had been lately endangered. They state “in the first place” to do “as their ancestors in like cases have usually done for vindicating their ancient rights and liberties, to declare;”—and then they pray the king and queen, “that it may be declared and enacted, that all and singular the rights and liberties asserted and declared are the true ancient and indubitable rights and liberties of the people of this kingdom.”

You will observe that from the Magna Carta to the Declaration of Right, it has been the uniform policy of our constitution to claim and assert our liberties as an entailed inheritance derived to us from our forefathers and to be transmitted to our posterity; as an estate specially belonging to the people of this kingdom, without any reference whatever to any other more general or prior right. By this means, our constitution preserves a unity in so great a diversity of its parts. We have an inheritable crown; an inheritable peerage; and a House of Commons and a people inheriting privileges, franchises, and liberties from a long line of ancestors.

This policy appears to me to be the result of profound reflection, or rather the happy effect of following nature, which is wisdom without reflection and above it. A spirit of innovation is generally the result of a selfish temper and confined views. People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors. Besides, the people of England well know, that the idea of inheritance furnishes a sure principle of conservation, and a sure principle of transmission; without at all excluding a principle of improvement. It leaves acquisition free; but it secures what it acquires. Whatever advantages are obtained by a state proceeding on these maxims are locked fast as in a sort of family settlement, grasped as in a kind of mortmain forever. By a constitutional policy working after the pattern of nature, we receive, we hold, we transmit our government and our privileges in the same manner in which we enjoy and transmit our property and our lives. The institutions of policy, the goods of fortune, the gifts of providence, are handed down to us and from us in the same course and order. Our political system is placed in a just correspondence and symmetry with the mode of existence decreed to a permanent body composed of transitory parts; wherein the whole, at one time, is never old, or middle-aged, or young, but, in a condition of unchangeable constancy, moves on through the varied tenor of perpetual decay, fall, renovation, and progression. Thus, by preserving the method of nature in the conduct of the state, in what we improve, we are never wholly new; in what we retain, we are never wholly obsolete. By adhering in this manner and on those principles to our forefathers, we are guided not by the superstition of antiquarians, but by the spirit of philosophic analogy. In this choice of inheritance, we have given to our frame of polity the image of a relation in blood; binding up the constitution of our country with our dearest domestic ties; adopting our fundamental laws into the bosom of our family affections; keeping inseparable, and cherishing with the warmth of all their combined and mutually reflected charities, our state, our hearths, our sepulchers, and our altars.

Through the same plan of a conformity to nature in our artificial institutions and by calling in the aid of her unerring and powerful instincts to fortify the fallible and feeble contrivances of our reason, we have derived several other, and those no small benefits, from considering our liberties in the light of an inheritance. Always acting as if in the presence of canonized forefathers, the spirit of freedom, leading in itself to misrule and excess, is tempered with an awful gravity. This idea of a liberal descent inspires us with a sense of habitual, native dignity. By this means our liberty becomes a noble freedom. It carries an imposing and majestic aspect. It has a pedigree and illustrating ancestors. It has its bearings and its ensigns armorial. It has its gallery of portraits; its monumental inscriptions; its records, evidences, and titles. All your sophisters cannot produce anything better adapted to preserve a rational freedom than the course that we have pursued, who have chosen our nature rather than our speculations, our breasts rather than our inventions, for the great conservatories and magazines of our rights and privileges.

In context, the use of the underlined and bolded word "above" is primarily intended to accomplish what?

Possible Answers:

To draw attention to the arrogant, superior attitude of many conservative political writers

To suggest that reason is a superior mode of thought to mysticism

To imply that adherence to natural tradition is not only a better policy than revolutionary progressivism, but a fundamentally superior one

To imply that carefully reasoned and rationally justified policies not only achieve better results, but also are fundamentally morally superior to policies motivated and justified by tradition

To suggest that innovation is the highest form of human endeavor

Correct answer:

To imply that adherence to natural tradition is not only a better policy than revolutionary progressivism, but a fundamentally superior one

Explanation:

In context, the author uses "above" to imply that adherence to natural tradition is not only a better policy than revolutionary progressivism, but also that it is the fundamentally superior policy. Progressivism, rooted as Burke sees it in rational thinking that fails to adequately consider or respect traditions, is beneath a traditionalist outlook on the fundamental level of "spirit," failing both on the level of "reflection" and of honor.

The author in this passage is NOT attempting to mock or draw attention to the arrogance of conservative, traditionalist social commenters—he is one. This passage is sincerely advocating for a traditionalist viewpoint. The author specifically denounces "the spirit of innovation."

The author makes little specific reference to mysticism, but holds rationality at some distance through the general tone of reverence for "tradition" and "spirit," hardly concepts associated with rationalist thinking in this period.

Example Question #41 : Words And Phrases In Context

From “Essay on Liberty” by John Stuart Mill

Mankind can hardly be too often reminded, that there was once a man named Socrates, between whom and the legal authorities and public opinion of his time, there took place a memorable collision. Born in an age and country abounding in individual greatness, this man has been handed down to us by those who best knew both him and the age, as the most virtuous man in it; while we know him as the head and prototype of all subsequent teachers of virtue, the source equally of the lofty inspiration of Plato and the judicious utilitarianism of Aristotle, "i maëstri di color che sanno," the two headsprings of ethical as of all other philosophy. This acknowledged master of all the eminent thinkers who have since lived—whose fame, still growing after more than two thousand years, all but outweighs the whole remainder of the names which make his native city illustrious—was put to death by his countrymen, after a judicial conviction, for impiety and immorality. Impiety, in denying the gods recognized by the State; indeed his accuser asserted (see the Apologia) that he believed in no gods at all. Immorality, in being, by his doctrines and instructions, a "corrupter of youth." Of these charges the tribunal, there is every ground for believing, honestly found him guilty, and condemned the man who probably of all then born had deserved best of mankind, to be put to death as a criminal.

To pass from this to the only other instance of judicial iniquity, the mention of which, after the condemnation of Socrates, would not be an anti-climax: the event which took place on Calvary rather more than eighteen hundred years ago. The man who left on the memory of those who witnessed his life and conversation, such an impression of his moral grandeur, that eighteen subsequent centuries have done homage to him as the Almighty in person, was ignominiously put to death, as what? As a blasphemer. Men did not merely mistake their benefactor; they mistook him for the exact contrary of what he was, and treated him as that prodigy of impiety, which they themselves are now held to be, for their treatment of him. The feelings with which mankind now regard these lamentable transactions, especially the later of the two, render them extremely unjust in their judgment of the unhappy actors. These were, to all appearance, not bad men—not worse than men most commonly are, but rather the contrary; men who possessed in a full, or somewhat more than a full measure, the religious, moral, and patriotic feelings of their time and people: the very kind of men who, in all times, our own included, have every chance of passing through life blameless and respected. The high-priest who rent his garments when the words were pronounced, which, according to all the ideas of his country, constituted the blackest guilt, was in all probability quite as sincere in his horror and indignation, as the generality of respectable and pious men now are in the religious and moral sentiments they profess; and most of those who now shudder at his conduct, if they had lived in his time, and been born Jews, would have acted precisely as he did. Orthodox Christians who are tempted to think that those who stoned to death the first martyrs must have been worse men than they themselves are, ought to remember that one of those persecutors was Saint Paul.

Why does Mill call Plato and Aristotle “headsprings”?

Possible Answers:

They were the great sources of Socrates' inspiration.

They founded the only two philosophical schools ever stable in the West.

They were primary influences on all later philosophy.

They were intellectuals, lost in "heady" and lofty thoughts.

They were attached to the same "heady" matters as was Socrates.

Correct answer:

They were primary influences on all later philosophy.

Explanation:

In this sentence, Mill is remarking about the many kinds of influence exercised by the life of Socrates. Mill says that Socrates was the prototype for all virtue, but also was influential on Aristotle and Plato, both of whom were headsprings—like springs of water that start the flow of a river—"of ethical as of all other philosophy.”

Example Question #1 : Word Choice And Effect

Adapted from The Idea of a University by John Henry Newman (1852)

I have been insisting, in my two preceding Discourses, first, on the cultivation of the intellect, as an end which may reasonably be pursued for its own sake; and next, on the nature of that cultivation, or what that cultivation consists in. Truth of whatever kind is the proper object of the intellect; its cultivation then lies in fitting it to apprehend and contemplate truth. Now the intellect in its present state, with exceptions which need not here be specified, does not discern truth intuitively, or as a whole. We know, not by a direct and simple vision, not at a glance, but, as it were, by piecemeal and accumulation, by a mental process, by going round an object, by the comparison, the combination, the mutual correction, the continual adaptation, of many partial notions, by the employment, concentration, and joint action of many faculties and exercises of mind.

Such a union and concert of the intellectual powers, such an enlargement and development, such a comprehensiveness, is necessarily a matter of training. And again, such a training is a matter of rule. It is not mere application, however exemplary, which introduces the mind to truth, nor the reading many books, nor the getting up many subjects, nor the witnessing many experiments, nor the attending many lectures. All this is short of enough. A man may have done it all, yet be lingering in the vestibule of knowledge. He may not realize what his mouth utters; he may not see with his mental eye what confronts him; he may have no grasp of things as they are, or at least he may have no power at all of advancing one step forward of himself, in consequence of what he has already acquired, no power of discriminating between truth and falsehood, of sifting out the grains of truth from the mass, of arranging things according to their real value, and, if I may use the phrase, of building up ideas. Such a power is the result of a scientific formation of mind; it is an acquired faculty of judgment, of clear-sightedness, of sagacity, of wisdom, of philosophical reach of mind, and of intellectual self-possession and repose—qualities which do not come of mere acquirement. The bodily eye, the organ for apprehending material objects, is provided by nature; the eye of the mind, of which the object is truth, is the work of discipline and habit.

This process of training, by which the intellect, instead of being formed or sacrificed to some particular or accidental purpose, some specific trade or profession, or study or science, is disciplined for its own sake, for the perception of its own proper object, and for its own highest culture, is called Liberal Education; and though there is no one in whom it is carried as far as is conceivable, or whose intellect would be a pattern of what intellects should be made, yet there is scarcely any one but may gain an idea of what real training is, and at least look towards it, and make its true scope and result, not something else, his standard of excellence; and numbers there are who may submit themselves to it, and secure it to themselves in good measure. And to set forth the right standard, and to train according to it, and to help forward all students towards it according to their various capacities, this I conceive to be the business of a University.

Why does Newman use the term “eye” to describe the mind?

Possible Answers:

To contrast the difference between mere experience and thinking

To use a poetic metaphor to overcome the prejudices of his reader

To touch on the way that the mind sees universal ideas in contrast to particular ones

To add a mystical element to his discussion

None of the other answers

Correct answer:

To contrast the difference between mere experience and thinking

Explanation:

This sentence proposes a clear contrast between two ways of "seeing": Intellectual "seeing" and physical "seeing." The latter is said to be provided by nature. So long as our eyes "work," we are able to see well. Perhaps we do train our eyes to focus, but Newman's point is that intellectual knowledge—a kind of mental "vision"—requires discipline and training at great length. He thus contrasts the two by using the word "eye." Though somewhat poetic, it is not merely rhetorical, for it does help to draw the contrast to the foreground.

Example Question #1 : Word Choice And Effect

Adapted from A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift (1729)

The number of souls in this kingdom being usually reckoned one million and a half, of these I calculate there may be about two hundred thousand couple whose wives are breeders; from which number I subtract thirty thousand couples who are able to maintain their own children, although I apprehend there cannot be so many, under the present distresses of the kingdom; but this being granted, there will remain an hundred and seventy thousand breeders. I again subtract fifty thousand for those women who miscarry, or whose children die by accident or disease within the year. There only remains one hundred and twenty thousand children of poor parents annually born. The question therefore is, how this number shall be reared and provided for, which, as I have already said, under the present situation of affairs, is utterly impossible by all the methods hitherto proposed. For we can neither employ them in handicraft or agriculture; we neither build houses (I mean in the country) nor cultivate land: they can very seldom pick up a livelihood by stealing, till they arrive at six years old, except where they are of towardly parts, although I confess they learn the rudiments much earlier, during which time, they can however be properly looked upon only as probationers, as I have been informed by a principal gentleman in the county of Cavan, who protested to me that he never knew above one or two instances under the age of six, even in a part of the kingdom so renowned for the quickest proficiency in that art.

I am assured by our merchants, that a boy or a girl before twelve years old is no salable commodity; and even when they come to this age they will not yield above three pounds, or three pounds and half-a-crown at most on the exchange; which cannot turn to account either to the parents or kingdom, the charge of nutriment and rags having been at least four times that value.

I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection.

I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.

I do therefore humbly offer it to public consideration that of the hundred and twenty thousand children already computed, twenty thousand may be reserved for breed, whereof only one-fourth part to be males; which is more than we allow to sheep, black cattle or swine; and my reason is, that these children are seldom the fruits of marriage, a circumstance not much regarded by our savages, therefore one male will be sufficient to serve four females. That the remaining hundred thousand may, at a year old, be offered in the sale to the persons of quality and fortune through the kingdom; always advising the mother to let them suck plentifully in the last month, so as to render them plump and fat for a good table. A child will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends; and when the family dines alone, the fore or hind quarter will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned with a little pepper or salt will be very good boiled on the fourth day, especially in winter.

I have reckoned upon a medium that a child just born will weigh 12 pounds, and in a solar year, if tolerably nursed, increaseth to 28 pounds.

I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children.

What is the effect of the use of "proper" in the last sentence?

Possible Answers:

It highlights the emotional power of the author's description of the country with imagery.

It creates contrast with previous statements

It refers back to the opening sentence.

It elevates the diction of the passage overall.

It highlights the irony of the author's proposal, by contrasting so starkly with the subject matter.

Correct answer:

It highlights the irony of the author's proposal, by contrasting so starkly with the subject matter.

Explanation:

The use of the "proper" in the last sentence further supports the idea that it is best and most logical idea to consume the children of the poor, and further emphasizes the irony of the proposal. The use of "proper" creates irony when used in the discussion of eating young children.

Example Question #3 : Word Choice And Effect

Adapted from Common Sense by Thomas Paine (1776)

Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil, in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer. Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence; the palaces of kings are built on the ruins of the bowers of paradise. For were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform, and irresistibly obeyed, man would need no other lawgiver; but that not being the case, he finds it necessary to surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the protection of the rest; and this he is induced to do by the same prudence that in every other case advises him out of two evils to choose the least. WHEREFORE, security being the true design and end of government, it unanswerably follows that whatever FORM thereof appears most likely to ensure it to us, with the least expense and greatest benefit, is preferable to all others. 

In order to gain a clear and just idea of the design and end of government, let us suppose a small number of persons settled in some sequestered part of the Earth, unconnected with the rest; they will then represent the first peopling of any country, or of the world. In this state of natural liberty, society will be their first thought. A thousand motives will excite them thereto, the strength of one man is so unequal to his wants, and his mind so unfitted for perpetual solitude, that he is soon obliged to seek assistance and relief of another, who in his turn requires the same. Four or five united would be able to raise a tolerable dwelling in the midst of a wilderness, but ONE man might labor out the common period of life without accomplishing any thing; when he had felled his timber he could not remove it, nor erect it after it was removed; hunger in the mean time would urge him from his work, and every different want call him a different way.

Which of the following is closest in meaning to the author’s usage of “WHEREFORE” underlined in the first paragraph?

Possible Answers:

Despite this

But

Consequently

In addition

Similarly

Correct answer:

Consequently

Explanation:

The author uses the word “WHEREFORE” in the following sentence: “WHEREFORE, security being the true design and end of government, it unanswerably follows that whatever FORM thereof appears most likely to ensure it to us, with the least expense and greatest benefit, is preferable to all others.” The “wherefore” is here functioning as a conjunction connecting the preceding sentence’s idea to the idea of the sentence starting with “wherefore.” You can figure out more specifically what “wherefore” means by noticing that the sentence also states “it unanswerably follows that . . . “ This suggests that there is a definite causal relationship between the two points the author is making. The only answer choice that conveys this same sense of direct causality is “consequently,” so it is the correct answer.

Example Question #2 : Word Choice And Effect

Adapted from An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume (1748)

Everyone will readily allow that there is a considerable difference between the perceptions of the mind, when a man feels the pain of excessive heat, or the pleasure of moderate warmth, and when he afterwards recalls to his memory this sensation, or anticipates it by his imagination. These faculties may mimic or copy the perceptions of the senses; but they never can entirely reach the force and vivacity of the original sentiment. The utmost we say of them, even when they operate with greatest vigor, is, that they represent their object in so lively a manner, that we could almost say we feel or see it. But, except the mind be disordered by disease or madness, they never can arrive at such a pitch of vivacity, as to render these perceptions altogether undistinguishable. All the colors of poetry, however splendid, can never paint natural objects in such a manner as to make the description be taken for a real landscape. The most lively thought is still inferior to the dullest sensation.

We may observe a like distinction to run through all the other perceptions of the mind. A man in a fit of anger, is actuated in a very different manner from one who only thinks of that emotion. If you tell me that any person is in love I easily understand your meaning, and form a just conception of his situation, but never can mistake that conception for the real disorders and agitations of the passion. When we reflect on our past sentiments and affections, our thought is a faithful mirror, and copies its objects truly; but the colors which it employs are faint and dull, in comparison of those in which our original perceptions were clothed. It requires no nice discernment or metaphysical head to mark the distinction between them.

Here therefore we may divide all the perceptions of the mind into two classes or species, which are distinguished by their different degrees of force and vivacity. The less forcible and lively are commonly denominated "Thoughts" or "Ideas." The other species want a name in our language, and in most others; I suppose, because it was not requisite for any, but philosophical purposes, to rank them under a general term or appellation. Let us, therefore, use a little freedom, and call them "Impressions," employing that word in a sense somewhat different from the usual. By the term "impression," then, I mean all our more lively perceptions, when we hear, or see, or feel, or love, or hate, or desire, or will. And impressions are distinguished from ideas, which are the less lively perceptions, of which we are conscious when we reflect on any of those sensations or movements above mentioned.

As it is used in the passage, the underlined word “vivacity" most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

fastidiousness  

animation 

actuality 

loudness

syncopation

Correct answer:

animation 

Explanation:

“Vivacity” comes from the word “vivacious,” which means happy or lively in a way that is attractive. Here, "vivacity" means liveliness or vigor, which are synonyms of "animation." In context, the author says “[these faculties] never can arrive at such a pitch of vivacity,” meaning they can never arrive at such a pitch of animation. “Loudness” is not totally dissimilar, but does not quite fit the context. “Fastidiousness” is care or caution and attention to detail, and “syncopation” is a rhythmic technique.

Example Question #3 : Word Choice And Effect

Passage adapted from “Psychology and the Teaching Art” (1899) by William James

I say moreover that you make a great, a very great mistake, if you think that psychology, being the science of the mind's laws, is something from which you can deduce definite programmes and schemes and methods of instruction for immediate schoolroom use. Psychology is a science, and teaching is an art; and sciences never generate arts directly out of themselves. An intermediary inventive mind must make the application, by using its originality.

The science of logic never made a man reason rightly, and the science of ethics (if there be such a thing) never made a man behave rightly. The most such sciences can do is to help us to catch ourselves up and check ourselves, if we start to reason or to behave wrongly; and to criticize ourselves more articulately after we have made mistakes. A science only lays down lines within which the rules of the art must fall, laws which the follower of the art must not transgress; but what particular thing he shall positively do within those lines is left exclusively to his own genius. One genius will do his work well and succeed in one way, while another succeeds as well quite differently; yet neither will transgress the lines.

The art of teaching grew up in the schoolroom, out of inventiveness and sympathetic concrete observation. Even where (as in the case of Herbart) the advancer of the art was also a psychologist, the pedagogics and the psychology ran side by side, and the former was not derived in any sense from the latter. The two were congruent, but neither was subordinate. And so everywhere the teaching must agree with the psychology, but need not necessarily be the only kind of teaching that would so agree; for many diverse methods of teaching may equally well agree with psychological laws.

To know psychology, therefore, is absolutely no guarantee that we shall be good teachers. To advance to that result, we must have an additional endowment altogether, a happy tact and ingenuity to tell us what definite things to say and do when the pupil is before us. That ingenuity in meeting and pursuing the pupil, that tact for the concrete situation, though they are the alpha and omega of the teacher's art, are things to which psychology cannot help us in the least.

Why does the author use the underlined word "sympathetic" in the passage above?

Possible Answers:

To imply that his audience may think that teachers are often tyrants in the classroom

To explain the kindness of a good teacher

To assert his own beliefs about teaching style

To express the careful awareness needed for learning how to teach

To convince the reader that teachers are caring people

Correct answer:

To express the careful awareness needed for learning how to teach

Explanation:

Note the whole sentence in which we find this word. In it, James is explaining the source of the "art of teaching." He shows how it "grew up in the classroom." He means to say that teaching has its origin in the careful work of teachers who make observations about students in a very close manner. Sympathy is not always a matter of kindness. In its literal roots, it means "suffering with." The teacher learns how to be aware of the particular situation, thus undergoing all of the experiences needed for learning the skills of being a good teacher.

Example Question #42 : Ap English Language

Passage adapted from “Psychology and the Teaching Art” (1899) by William James

I say moreover that you make a great, a very great mistake, if you think that psychology, being the science of the mind's laws, is something from which you can deduce definite programmes and schemes and methods of instruction for immediate schoolroom use. Psychology is a science, and teaching is an art; and sciences never generate arts directly out of themselves. An intermediary inventive mind must make the application, by using its originality.

The science of logic never made a man reason rightly, and the science of ethics (if there be such a thing) never made a man behave rightly. The most such sciences can do is to help us to catch ourselves up and check ourselves, if we start to reason or to behave wrongly; and to criticize ourselves more articulately after we have made mistakes. A science only lays down lines within which the rules of the art must fall, laws which the follower of the art must not transgress; but what particular thing he shall positively do within those lines is left exclusively to his own genius. One genius will do his work well and succeed in one way, while another succeeds as well quite differently; yet neither will transgress the lines.

The art of teaching grew up in the schoolroom, out of inventiveness and sympathetic concrete observation. Even where (as in the case of Herbart) the advancer of the art was also a psychologist, the pedagogics and the psychology ran side by side, and the former was not derived in any sense from the latter. The two were congruent, but neither was subordinate. And so everywhere the teaching must agree with the psychology, but need not necessarily be the only kind of teaching that would so agree; for many diverse methods of teaching may equally well agree with psychological laws.

To know psychology, therefore, is absolutely no guarantee that we shall be good teachers. To advance to that result, we must have an additional endowment altogether, a happy tact and ingenuity to tell us what definite things to say and do when the pupil is before us. That ingenuity in meeting and pursuing the pupil, that tact for the concrete situation, though they are the alpha and omega of the teacher's art, are things to which psychology cannot help us in the least.

Which of the following sentences best explains James's choice to use the word "transgress" underlined above?

Possible Answers:

One genius will do his work well and succeed in one way, while another succeeds as well quite differently.

The most such sciences can do is to help us to catch ourselves up and check ourselves, if we start to reason or to behave wrongly.

The science of logic never made a man reason rightly, and the science of ethics (if there be such a thing) never made a man behave rightly.

That ingenuity in meeting and pursuing the pupil, that tact for the concrete situation, though they are the alpha and omega of the teacher's art, are things to which psychology cannot help us in the least.

Psychology is a science, and teaching is an art; and sciences never generate arts directly out of themselves.

Correct answer:

The most such sciences can do is to help us to catch ourselves up and check ourselves, if we start to reason or to behave wrongly.

Explanation:

Whenever we commit a transgression, we commit a fault or do something wrong. To "transgress" means to go outside of the boundaries set for something. In the correct answer, James does emphasize this kind of "wrong doing" that can happen in teaching. The "transgressing" of the rules involves truly making an error regarding what one should do for teaching. He is trying to evoke this general idea of "breaking rules" by using the word "transgress."

Example Question #6 : Word Choice And Effect

Passage adapted from “On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings” (1900) by William James

Some years ago, while journeying in the mountains of North Carolina, I passed by a large number of 'coves,' as they call them there, or heads of small valleys between the hills, which had been newly cleared and planted. The impression on my mind was one of unmitigated squalor. The settler had in every case cut down the more manageable trees, and left their charred stumps standing. The larger trees he had girdled and killed, in order that their foliage should not cast a shade. He had then built a log cabin, plastering its chinks with clay, and had set up a tall zigzag rail fence around the scene of his havoc, to keep the pigs and cattle out. Finally, he had irregularly planted the intervals between the stumps and trees with Indian corn, which grew among the chips; and there he dwelt with his wife and babes--an axe, a gun, a few utensils, and some pigs and chickens feeding in the woods, being the sum total of his possessions.

The forest had been destroyed; and what had 'improved' it out of existence was hideous, a sort of ulcer, without a single element of artificial grace to make up for the loss of Nature's beauty. Ugly, indeed, seemed the life of the squatter, scudding, as the sailors say, under bare poles, beginning again away back where our first ancestors started, and by hardly a single item the better off for all the achievements of the intervening generations.

“Talk about going back to nature!” I said to myself, oppressed by the dreariness, as I drove by. Talk of a country life for one's old age and for one's children! Never thus, with nothing but the bare ground and one's bare hands to fight the battle! Never, without the best spoils of culture woven in! The beauties and commodities gained by the centuries are sacred. They are our heritage and birthright. No modern person ought to be willing to live a day in such a state of rudimentariness and denudation.

Then I said to the mountaineer who was driving me, "What sort of people are they who have to make these new clearings?" "All of us," he replied. "Why, we ain't happy here, unless we are getting one of these coves under cultivation." I instantly felt that I had been losing the whole inward significance of the situation. Because to me the clearings spoke of naught but denudation, I thought that to those whose sturdy arms and obedient axes had made them they could tell no other story. But, when they looked on the hideous stumps, what they thought of was personal victory. The chips, the girdled trees, and the vile split rails spoke of honest sweat, persistent toil and final reward. The cabin was a warrant of safety for self and wife and babes. In short, the clearing, which to me was a mere ugly picture on the retina, was to them a symbol redolent with moral memories and sang a very pæan of duty, struggle, and success.

I had been as blind to the peculiar ideality of their conditions as they certainly would also have been to the ideality of mine, had they had a peep at my strange indoor academic ways of life at Cambridge.

What is the effect of the underlined word “ulcer”?

Possible Answers:

To increase awareness about rural poverty

To question the sanity of the settlers in this area

To hint at the medical woes of the citizens

To create an impression regarding the ugliness of the area

To indicate the main danger in these living conditions

Correct answer:

To create an impression regarding the ugliness of the area

Explanation:

In this sentence, the author speaks of how hideous the area is. He also writes that it is "without a single element of artificial grace to make up for the loss of Nature's beauty." Thus, the focus is solely on the ugliness of the area. The word "ulcer" is chosen because even though ulcers are indeed medical conditions, they also are very ugly looking. In saying that the area looks like an ulcer, he is making a rather negative statement about its appearance.

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