Common Core: 12th Grade English Language Arts : Knowledge of foundational works of American literature: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.9

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Knowledge Of Foundational Works Of American Literature: Ccss.Ela Literacy.Rl.11 12.9

Passage adapted from Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Spring" (1921).

To what purpose, April, do you return again?

Beauty is not enough.

You can no longer quiet me with the redness 

Of leaves opening stickily.

I know what I know.  5

The sun is hot on my neck as I observe

The spikes of the crocus.

The smell of the earth is good.

It is apparent that there is no death.

But what does that signify?  10

Not only under the ground are the brains of men

Eaten by maggots.

Life in itself

Is nothing,

An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.  15

It is not enough that yearly, down this hill, 


Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

Which of the given lines from a seminal American poem most directly contrasts the message of the passage?

Possible Answers:

"A light exists in spring/ Not present on the year/ At any other period./ When March is scarcely here"

"As the uncertain harvest; keep us here/ All simply in the springing of the year."

"Now the sun walks in the forest,/ He touches the bows and stems with his golden fingers;/ They shiver, and wake from slumber./ Over the barren branches he shakes his yellow curls./ Yet is the forest full of the sound of tears"

"The spring decoys./ And as the summer nears—/ And as the Rose appears,/ Robin is gone./ Yet do I not repine"

Correct answer:

"The spring decoys./ And as the summer nears—/ And as the Rose appears,/ Robin is gone./ Yet do I not repine"


All of the given passages were from poems directly concerned, as this poem is, with spring. None of these poems, however, are purely about that season, all demonstrate a distinct perspective on that season. This is where we need to query the lines, on the level of tone and the quality of the author's take on spring.

First, lets keep firmly in mind the perspective of the passage: namely that the beauty of spring is ultimately illusory and pointless. Now, this is a notably dark and unique perspective on what is, objectively, just a great time of year (in the Norther Hemisphere), so it stands to reason that most of these other passages will have a more positive perspective, we must look for the one that most directly contrasts with the message of the poem.

The key phrase in the correct answer is "yet I do not repine." By initially making statements in line with the message of our given passage ("spring decoys," "as the rose appears the Robin is gone") and then directly contrasting that sentiment with "yet," we see our most direct contrast to our given poem.

Answer options are adapted from: "A Prayer in Spring" by Robert Frost (1913),  "A light exists in Spring" by Emily Dickinson (1885), and "I have a bird in Spring" by Emily Dickinson (1886), and "Very Early Spring" by Katherine Mansfield (who was from New Zealand) (1923).

Example Question #2 : Knowledge Of Foundational Works Of American Literature: Ccss.Ela Literacy.Rl.11 12.9

Adapted from Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence (1920)

 It invariably happened in the same way.

Mrs. Julius Beaufort, on the night of her annual ball, never failed to appear at the Opera; indeed, she always gave her ball on an Opera night in order to emphasise her complete superiority to household cares, and her possession of a staff of servants competent to organise every detail of the entertainment in her absence.

The Beauforts' house was one of the few in New York that possessed a ball–room (it antedated even Mrs. Manson Mingott's and the Headly Chiverses'); and at a time when it was beginning to be thought "provincial" to put a "crash" over the drawing–room floor and move the furniture upstairs, the possession of a ball–room that was used for no other purpose, and left for three–hundred–and–sixty–four days of the year to shuttered darkness, with its gilt chairs stacked in a corner and its chandelier in a bag; this undoubted superiority was felt to compensate for whatever was regrettable in the Beaufort past.

Mrs. Archer, who was fond of coining her social philosophy into axioms, had once said: "We all have our pet common people—" and though the phrase was a daring one, its truth was secretly admitted in many an exclusive bosom. But the Beauforts were not exactly common; some people said they were even worse. Mrs. Beaufort belonged indeed to one of America's most honoured families; she had been the lovely Regina Dallas (of the South Carolina branch), a penniless beauty introduced to New York society by her cousin, the imprudent Medora Manson, who was always doing the wrong thing from the right motive. When one was related to the Mansons and the Rushworths one had a "droit de cite" (as Mr. Sillerton Jackson, who had frequented the Tuileries, called it) in New York society; but did one not forfeit it in marrying Julius Beaufort?

The question was: who was Beaufort? He passed for an Englishman, was agreeable, handsome, ill–tempered, hospitable and witty. He had come to America with letters of recommendation from old Mrs. Manson Mingott's English son–in–law, the banker, and had speedily made himself an important position in the world of affairs; but his habits were dissipated, his tongue was bitter, his antecedents were mysterious; and when Medora Manson announced her cousin's engagement to him it was felt to be one more act of folly in poor Medora's long record of imprudences.

But folly is as often justified of her children as wisdom, and two years after young Mrs. Beaufort's marriage it was admitted that she had the most distinguished house in New York. No one knew exactly how the miracle was accomplished. She was indolent, passive, the caustic even called her dull; but dressed like an idol, hung with pearls, growing younger and blonder and more beautiful each year, she throned in Mr. Beaufort's heavy brown–stone palace, and drew all the world there without lifting her jewelled little finger. The knowing people said it was Beaufort himself who trained the servants, taught the chef new dishes, told the gardeners what hot–house flowers to grow for the dinner–table and the drawing–rooms, selected the guests, brewed the after–dinner punch and dictated the little notes his wife wrote to her friends. If he did, these domestic activities were privately performed, and he presented to the world the appearance of a careless and hospitable millionaire strolling into his own drawing–room with the detachment of an invited guest, and saying: "My wife's gloxinias are a marvel, aren't they? I believe she gets them out from Kew."

Mr. Beaufort's secret, people were agreed, was the way he carried things off. It was all very well to whisper that he had been "helped" to leave England by the international banking–house in which he had been employed; he carried off that rumour as easily as the rest—though New York's business conscience was no less sensitive than its moral standard—he carried everything before him, and all New York into his drawing–rooms, and for over twenty years now people had said they were "going to the Beauforts'" with the same tone of security as if they had said they were going to Mrs. Manson Mingott's, and with the added satisfaction of knowing they would get hot canvas–back ducks and vintage wines, instead of tepid Veuve Clicquot without a year and warmed–up croquettes from Philadelphia.

Mrs. Beaufort, then, had as usual appeared in her box just before the Jewel Song; and when, again as usual, she rose at the end of the third act, drew her opera cloak about her lovely shoulders, and disappeared, New York knew that meant that half an hour later the ball would begin.

The primary focus of the work excerpted here is _______________.

Possible Answers:

The aftermath of World War I on the moneyed class of American society

The complex dynamics of race and poverty in America

The complex dynamics of social class and wealth in America

A criminal plot masterminded by Mr. Beaufort

Correct answer:

The complex dynamics of social class and wealth in America


The Age of Innocence is clearly a seminal work of American Literature. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1921, and Wharton became the first woman to be awarded the prize. So, it is reasonable to expect that you would have some prior knowledge of the work, or at least of Wharton's oeuvre of social satire and observation. But this knowledge simply would have made this question easier; the question is still eminently solvable, even if your only familiarity with the work came from the passage in front of you.

Remember, the answer to any question will always have direct evidence to support it in the passage itself. Now, the novel was written in 1920, so the option suggesting that a primary theme was the aftermath of World War I may be tempting, but there is no evidence of this in the text, no mention of that war, nor of any date (in fact, the novel is set in the Gilded Age of the 19th century). Text date is NOT evidence of the temporal setting of the story.

While it is suggested, at one point, that Mr. Beaufort is in some way deceptive (namely about being British), to say that the focus of the entire text is a criminal plot of his is not supportable with evidence.

The dynamics of social class and wealth are certainly at play in this passage, as evidenced by the fact that although they are apparently wealthy, the Beauforts are also referred to as "common." This kind of complex distinction reveals the inherent complexity of a nation focused on the pursuit of wealth, and without an underlying aristocratic history.

All Common Core: 12th Grade English Language Arts Resources

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