GMAT Verbal : Analyzing Meaning, Purpose, and Effect of Specified Text in Humanities Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for GMAT Verbal

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Example Question #61 : Language In Humanities Passages

"Poetry and Philosophy" by Justin Bailey

As the logical positivism rose to ascendancy, poetic language was increasingly seen as merely emotive. Wittgenstein’s influential Tractatus argued that only language corresponding to observable states of affairs in the world was meaningful, thus ruling out the value of imaginative language in saying anything about the world. Poetry’s contribution was rather that it showed what could not be said, a layer of reality which Wittgenstein called the “mystical.” Despite Wittgenstein’s interest in the mystical value of poetry, his successors abandoned the mystical as a meaningful category, exiling poetry in a sort of no man’s land where its only power to move came through the empathy of shared feeling.

Yet some thinkers, like Martin Heidegger, reacted strongly to the pretensions of an instrumental theory of knowledge to make sense of the world. Heidegger, Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur all gave central value to poetry in their philosophical method; signifying a growing sense among continental thinkers that poetic knowing was an important key to recovering some vital way of talking about and experiencing the world that had been lost.

The word "ascendancy" used in the first sentence most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

hegemony

marginalization

meaningfulness

lassitude

optimism

Correct answer:

hegemony

Explanation:

"Hegemony" is defined as when one group's views exert controlling influence over a group of people. The clues here are "rising" and the word "ascent" hidden in "ascendancy." The idea here is that logical positivism is becoming the dominant way of thinking. You do not need to know what positivism is to answer this correctly, since the point is that this way of thinking is raised "above" other ways of thinking.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Meaning, Purpose, And Effect Of Specified Text In Humanities Passages

"Why Learning Multiple Languages in Graduate School is Important" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

In graduate school, students are often required to learn a number of foreign languages in addition to their regular coursework. This can be quite frustrating and difficult, for the normal courses in graduate school require significantly more reading and writing than do undergraduate courses. It is not unusual for graduate students to have regular reading assignments of several hundred pages for each course that they take. Likewise, they often write papers of much greater length than those that they wrote as undergraduate students. When language examinations are added to this difficult course load, it can be very frustrating for graduate students to try to find the time to prepare for these additional examinations.

Although these frustrations are understandable, this system has not been created solely to cause woe for graduate students. Much of the work for which these students are being prepared will focus on research. While much has been written in English about many topics, adequate research can only be done if one is able to read what people have written in other languages. For instance, there are many important articles and books written about almost every topic by European scholars. If a graduate student does not know any foreign languages, all of these article and books will be impossible to read, and hence useless to their research endeavors. This would be a great loss for a student's research. Therefore, in spite of its frustrating aspects, the language examination process is an important component of graduate school education.

Which of the following sentences implies a negative outcome that might occur if graduate students no longer were required to study (and be examined in) foreign languages?

Possible Answers:

This can be quite frustrating and difficult, for the normal courses in graduate school require significantly more reading and writing than do undergraduate courses.

If a graduate student does not know any foreign languages, all of these article and books will be impossible to read and hence useless to their research endeavors.

Much of the work for which these students are being prepared will focus on research.

Although these frustrations are understandable, this system has not been created solely to cause woe for graduate students.

Therefore, in spite of its frustrating aspects, the language examination process is an important component of graduate school education.

Correct answer:

If a graduate student does not know any foreign languages, all of these article and books will be impossible to read and hence useless to their research endeavors.

Explanation:

Throughout the second paragraph, it is argued that graduate students are being trained to do research. The place of foreign languages in graduate study is justified in light of this training. The correct answer among the options provided is the one that explains what will occur if the students are not able to read foreign languages: the many articles and books written in other languages will be useless because the students will be unable to read them.

Example Question #1 : Ideas In Contemporary Life Passages

"Why Learning Multiple Languages in Graduate School is Important" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

In graduate school, students are often required to learn a number of foreign languages in addition to their regular coursework. This can be quite frustrating and difficult, for the normal courses in graduate school require significantly more reading and writing than do undergraduate courses. It is not unusual for graduate students to have regular reading assignments of several hundred pages for each course that they take. Likewise, they often write papers of much greater length than those that they wrote as undergraduate students. When language examinations are added to this difficult course load, it can be very frustrating for graduate students to try to find the time to prepare for these additional examinations.

Although these frustrations are understandable, this system has not been created solely to cause woe for graduate students. Much of the work for which these students are being prepared will focus on research. While much has been written in English about many topics, adequate research can only be done if one is able to read what people have written in other languages. For instance, there are many important articles and books written about almost every topic by European scholars. If a graduate student does not know any foreign languages, all of these article and books will be impossible to read, and hence useless to their research endeavors. This would be a great loss for a student's research. Therefore, in spite of its frustrating aspects, the language examination process is an important component of graduate school education.

What is the overall purpose of the passage?

Possible Answers:

To defend the language examination system found in graduate schools

To consider the antiquated methods of graduate school education

None of the other answers

To summarize the state of language exams in graduate schools

To list frustrations that are felt about taking language examinations in graduate school

Correct answer:

To defend the language examination system found in graduate schools

Explanation:

For this passage, it is necessary to pay attention to the whole text to find the overall purpose. The very last sentence is particularly revealing: "therefore, in spite of its frustrating aspects, the language examination process is an important component of graduate school education." In the second paragraph, author spends a significant amount of time defending the usefulness of learning other languages in graduate school. At the beginning of this paragraph, he admits that the frustrations are understandable, but nevertheless supports the helpfulness of this system; therefore, the best way to describe the author's purpose is "to defend the language examination system found in graduate schools."

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Passage Logic, Genre, And Organization In Contemporary Life Passages

"Why Learning Multiple Languages in Graduate School is Important" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

In graduate school, students are often required to learn a number of foreign languages in addition to their regular coursework. This can be quite frustrating and difficult, for the normal courses in graduate school require significantly more reading and writing than do undergraduate courses. It is not unusual for graduate students to have regular reading assignments of several hundred pages for each course that they take. Likewise, they often write papers of much greater length than those that they wrote as undergraduate students. When language examinations are added to this difficult course load, it can be very frustrating for graduate students to try to find the time to prepare for these additional examinations.

Although these frustrations are understandable, this system has not been created solely to cause woe for graduate students. Much of the work for which these students are being prepared will focus on research. While much has been written in English about many topics, adequate research can only be done if one is able to read what people have written in other languages. For instance, there are many important articles and books written about almost every topic by European scholars. If a graduate student does not know any foreign languages, all of these article and books will be impossible to read, and hence useless to their research endeavors. This would be a great loss for a student's research. Therefore, in spite of its frustrating aspects, the language examination process is an important component of graduate school education.

In addition to introducing the topic, what is the purpose of the first paragraph in this passage?

Possible Answers:

To explain the the justifications for delaying graduate school language exams for several years

To advocate on behalf of an elimination of graduate school language exams

To make a concession and present reasons why people dislike language exams in graduate school

To discuss the various means of language examinations used in graduate schools

To describe the dire plight of students who cannot learn languages well

Correct answer:

To make a concession and present reasons why people dislike language exams in graduate school

Explanation:

The first paragraph presents a view that is then (indirectly) opposed in the second paragraph. This is signaled by the second paragraph's opening sentence, "Although these frustrations are understandable, . . ."  The second paragraph then continues by providing justifications for the language examinations given in graduate schools. It then closes with the key sentence, "Therefore, in spite of its frustrating aspects, the language examination process is an important component of graduate school education." The first paragraph did concede that these exams are frustrating, providing some reasons for that frustration.

Example Question #11 : Textual Relationships In Contemporary Life Passages

"Why Learning Multiple Languages in Graduate School is Important" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

In graduate school, students are often required to learn a number of foreign languages in addition to their regular coursework. This can be quite frustrating and difficult, for the normal courses in graduate school require significantly more reading and writing than do undergraduate courses. It is not unusual for graduate students to have regular reading assignments of several hundred pages for each course that they take. Likewise, they often write papers of much greater length than those that they wrote as undergraduate students. When language examinations are added to this difficult course load, it can be very frustrating for graduate students to try to find the time to prepare for these additional examinations.

Although these frustrations are understandable, this system has not been created solely to cause woe for graduate students. Much of the work for which these students are being prepared will focus on research. While much has been written in English about many topics, adequate research can only be done if one is able to read what people have written in other languages. For instance, there are many important articles and books written about almost every topic by European scholars. If a graduate student does not know any foreign languages, all of these article and books will be impossible to read, and hence useless to their research endeavors. This would be a great loss for a student's research. Therefore, in spite of its frustrating aspects, the language examination process is an important component of graduate school education.

What is the purpose of the second paragraph in this passage?

Possible Answers:

To disagree with the methods of examining often proposed by students

To condemn the laziness of those students who dislike graduate school language examinations

To argue on behalf of an increase in the number of language exams from their current number

To remark on the marvels of language and the enlightenment that it affords

To present the author's argument that the language exams in question are, in fact, reasonable

Correct answer:

To present the author's argument that the language exams in question are, in fact, reasonable

Explanation:

The second paragraph opens by stating that the system of language exams was not created to cause distress for graduate students. It argues that there are indeed justifications for these exams, particularly in view of the research that students will be undertaking. The remainder of the paragraph provides supporting reasons for the importance of languages in preparing graduate students to undertake research. All of this aims to show the reasonableness of this system, in spite of the remarks that were noted in the first paragraph.

Example Question #2 : Analyzing Meaning, Purpose, And Effect Of Specified Text In Humanities Passages

Adapted from An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke (1689)

But yet, if any one will be so sceptical as to distrust his senses, and to affirm that all we see and hear, feel and taste, think and do, during our whole being, is but the series and deluding appearances of a long dream, whereof there is no reality; and therefore will question the existence of all things, or our knowledge of anything: I must desire him to consider, that, if all be a dream, then he doth but dream that he makes the question, and so it is not much matter that a waking man should answer him.

But yet, if he pleases, he may dream that I make him this answer, That the certainty of things existing in rerum natura when we have the testimony of our senses for it is not only as great as our frame can attain to, but as our condition needs. For, our faculties being suited not to the full extent of being, nor to a perfect, clear, comprehensive knowledge of things free from all doubt and scruple; but to the preservation of us, in whom they are; and accommodated to the use of life: they serve to our purpose wen enough, if they will but give us certain notice of those things, which are convenient or inconvenient to us.

For he that sees a candle burning, and hath experimented the force of its flame by putting his finger in it, will little doubt that this is something existing without him, which does him harm, and puts him to great pain; which is assurance enough, when no man requires greater certainty to govern his actions by than what is as certain as his actions themselves. And if our dreamer pleases to try whether the glowing heat of a glass furnace be barely a wandering imagination in a drowsy man's fancy, by putting his hand into it, he may perhaps be wakened into a certainty greater than he could wish, that it is something more than bare imagination.

So that this evidence is as great as we can desire, being as certain to us as our pleasure or pain, i.e. happiness or misery; beyond which we have no concernment, either of knowing or being. Such an assurance of the existence of things without us is sufficient to direct us in the attaining the good and avoiding the evil which is caused by them, which is the important concernment we have of being made acquainted with them.

Besides introducting the topic, which best describes the purpose of the first paragraph of the text?

Possible Answers:

Establishing the author's attitude towards an opposing viewpoint

Discussing the nature of dreams

Explaining and advancing a posiiton he will later reject

Introducing the premise that things and ideas are mere illusions

Defining the limits of the senses

Correct answer:

Establishing the author's attitude towards an opposing viewpoint

Explanation:

The primary purpose of the opening paragraph is to establish the author's dismissive and scornful attitude towards radical skepticism, setting the tone for the rest of the passage. While he does describe skepticism in this paragraph (and argues against it later), it is not a position he himself ever adopts; the other options are either part of later paragraphs, or are not discussed at all.

Example Question #3 : Analyzing Meaning, Purpose, And Effect Of Specified Text In Humanities Passages

Adapted from An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke (1689)

But yet, if any one will be so sceptical as to distrust his senses, and to affirm that all we see and hear, feel and taste, think and do, during our whole being, is but the series and deluding appearances of a long dream, whereof there is no reality; and therefore will question the existence of all things, or our knowledge of anything: I must desire him to consider, that, if all be a dream, then he doth but dream that he makes the question, and so it is not much matter that a waking man should answer him.

But yet, if he pleases, he may dream that I make him this answer, That the certainty of things existing in rerum natura when we have the testimony of our senses for it is not only as great as our frame can attain to, but as our condition needs. For, our faculties being suited not to the full extent of being, nor to a perfect, clear, comprehensive knowledge of things free from all doubt and scruple; but to the preservation of us, in whom they are; and accommodated to the use of life: they serve to our purpose wen enough, if they will but give us certain notice of those things, which are convenient or inconvenient to us.

For he that sees a candle burning, and hath experimented the force of its flame by putting his finger in it, will little doubt that this is something existing without him, which does him harm, and puts him to great pain; which is assurance enough, when no man requires greater certainty to govern his actions by than what is as certain as his actions themselves. And if our dreamer pleases to try whether the glowing heat of a glass furnace be barely a wandering imagination in a drowsy man's fancy, by putting his hand into it, he may perhaps be wakened into a certainty greater than he could wish, that it is something more than bare imagination.

So that this evidence is as great as we can desire, being as certain to us as our pleasure or pain, i.e. happiness or misery; beyond which we have no concernment, either of knowing or being. Such an assurance of the existence of things without us is sufficient to direct us in the attaining the good and avoiding the evil which is caused by them, which is the important concernment we have of being made acquainted with them.

What is the primary purpose of the second paragraph of this passage?

Possible Answers:

To establish a smooth transition between the opening and the body of the passage

To present the author's views on the scope and purpose of the senses

To describe the scope and nature of knowledge

To reinforce the tone of the passage

To discuss the relationship between dreams and reality

Correct answer:

To present the author's views on the scope and purpose of the senses

Explanation:

The second paragraph primarily discusses the limits of the senses, their purpose, and their adequacy for human needs. While this paragraph does continue the sardonic tone established in the first, it does not particularly reinforce or add to it; while the nature of knowledge is mentioned, it is not the paragraph's main focus.

Example Question #4 : Analyzing Meaning, Purpose, And Effect Of Specified Text In Humanities Passages

Adapted from An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke (1689)

But yet, if any one will be so sceptical as to distrust his senses, and to affirm that all we see and hear, feel and taste, think and do, during our whole being, is but the series and deluding appearances of a long dream, whereof there is no reality; and therefore will question the existence of all things, or our knowledge of anything: I must desire him to consider, that, if all be a dream, then he doth but dream that he makes the question, and so it is not much matter that a waking man should answer him.

But yet, if he pleases, he may dream that I make him this answer, That the certainty of things existing in rerum natura when we have the testimony of our senses for it is not only as great as our frame can attain to, but as our condition needs. For, our faculties being suited not to the full extent of being, nor to a perfect, clear, comprehensive knowledge of things free from all doubt and scruple; but to the preservation of us, in whom they are; and accommodated to the use of life: they serve to our purpose wen enough, if they will but give us certain notice of those things, which are convenient or inconvenient to us.

For he that sees a candle burning, and hath experimented the force of its flame by putting his finger in it, will little doubt that this is something existing without him, which does him harm, and puts him to great pain; which is assurance enough, when no man requires greater certainty to govern his actions by than what is as certain as his actions themselves. And if our dreamer pleases to try whether the glowing heat of a glass furnace be barely a wandering imagination in a drowsy man's fancy, by putting his hand into it, he may perhaps be wakened into a certainty greater than he could wish, that it is something more than bare imagination.

So that this evidence is as great as we can desire, being as certain to us as our pleasure or pain, i.e. happiness or misery; beyond which we have no concernment, either of knowing or being. Such an assurance of the existence of things without us is sufficient to direct us in the attaining the good and avoiding the evil which is caused by them, which is the important concernment we have of being made acquainted with them.

What is the primary purpose of the third paragraph?

Possible Answers:

Discussing the nature of the imagination

Arguing for preferring the results of scientific experiments over hypothetical discussions

Explaining the relationships between causes and their effects

Providing a thought experiment illustrating his thesis

Proposing an experiment to establish empirically whether or not the world actually exists

Correct answer:

Providing a thought experiment illustrating his thesis

Explanation:

The author proposes a simple thought experiment illustrating the relationship between the senses, the experience of pleasure or pain, and how this knowledge guides subsequent action, a relationship that is crucial to his overall thesis. The paragraph has little to do with the relationship between causes and effects, and the author never advocates for actually conducting this hypothetical experiment.

Example Question #5 : Analyzing Meaning, Purpose, And Effect Of Specified Text In Humanities Passages

Adapted from “The Influence of the Conception of Evolution on Modern Philosophy” by H. Höffding (1909) in Evolution in Modern Thought (1917 ed.)

When The Origin of Species appeared fifty years ago Romantic speculation, Schelling's and Hegel's philosophy, still reigned on the continent, while in England Positivism, the philosophy of Comte and Stuart Mill, represented the most important trend of thought. German speculation had much to say on evolution; it even pretended to be a philosophy of evolution. But then the word "evolution" was to be taken in an ideal, not in a real, sense. To speculative thought the forms and types of nature formed a system of ideas, within which any form could lead us by continuous transitions to any other. It was a classificatory system which was regarded as a divine world of thought or images, within which metamorphoses could go on—a condition comparable with that in the mind of the poet when one image follows another with imperceptible changes.

Goethe's ideas of evolution, as expressed in his Metamorphosen der Pflanzen und der Thiere, belong to this category; it is, therefore, incorrect to call him a forerunner of Darwin. Schelling and Hegel held the same idea; Hegel expressly rejected the conception of a real evolution in time as coarse and materialistic. "Nature," he says, "is to be considered as a system of stages, the one necessarily arising from the other, and being the nearest truth of that from which it proceeds; but not in such a way that the one is naturally generated by the other; on the contrary [their connection lies] in the inner idea which is the ground of nature. The metamorphosis can be ascribed only to the notion as such, because it alone is evolution.... It has been a 

What is a good definition for the term "Romantic" as it is used in this passage?

Possible Answers:

Emotional

Affectionate

Loving

Academic

Unrealistic

Correct answer:

Unrealistic

Explanation:

In addition to the common use of "romantic" in our day-to-day speech, the word can also mean "idealistic" or "unrealistic." Think of when we speak of a "romanticized portrait" of some event, person, or thing. This implies that it is represented in a way that is not 100% true to the reality, making it seem more "stylized" and perfect than it actually is. This is the meaning here in this passage, for these philosophers had an "ideal" view of evolution, not a realistic one.

Example Question #6 : Analyzing Meaning, Purpose, And Effect Of Specified Text In Humanities Passages

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

I cannot consent to wander from the duties of this day into the fracas of politics. The brute noise of cannon has, I know, a most poetic echo in these days when it is an instrument of freedom and the primal sentiments of humanity. Yet it is but representative and a far-off means and servant; but here in the college we are in the presence of the constituency and the principle itself. Here is, or should be, the majesty of reason and the creative cause, and it were a compounding of all gradation and reverence to suffer the flash of swords and the boyish strife of passion and the feebleness of military strength to intrude on this sanctity and omnipotence of Intellectual Law.

Against the heroism of soldiers I set the heroism of scholars, which consists in ignoring the other. You shall not put up in your Academy the statue of Caesar or Pompey, of Nelson or Wellington, of Washington or Napoleon, of Garibaldi, but of Archimedes, of Milton, of Newton. . . .

For either science and literature is a hypocrisy, or it is not. If it be, then resign your charter to the Legislature, turn your college into barracks and warehouses, and divert the funds of your founders into the stock of a rope-walk or a candle-factory, a tan-yard or some other undoubted conveniency for the surrounding population. But if the intellectual interest be, as I hold, no hypocrisy, but the only reality, then it behooves us to enthrone it, obey it, and give it possession of us and ours; to give, among other possessions, the college into its hand casting down every idol, every pretender, every hoary lie, every dignified blunder that has crept into its administration.

What is accomplished by the underlined expression about the “feebleness of military strength”?

Possible Answers:

The apparent strength of military might is relativized.

Militarism is condemned entirely.

The strength of militarism is questioned in light of its many failings.

An implication is made regarding the feebleness of the American army in Emerson's day.

None of the other answer choices is correct.

Correct answer:

The apparent strength of military might is relativized.

Explanation:

This expression evocatively uses "feebleness" as an adjective to describe strength. The implication is that such strength is ultimately weak. It relativizes such strength—for it is a kind of strength—putting it in its rightful and limited place. That is, it acknowledges the many weaknesses of the seeming might of military valor.

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