GMAT Verbal : Understanding Main Ideas in Social Science Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for GMAT Verbal

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Understanding Main Ideas In Social Science Passages

Adapted from “Introductory Remarks” in The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud (trans. 1913)

In attempting to discuss the interpretation of dreams, I do not believe that I have overstepped the bounds of neuropathological interest. For, when investigated psychologically, the dream proves to be the first link in a chain of abnormal psychic structures whose other links—the hysterical phobia, the obsession, and the delusion—must interest the physician for practical reasons. The dream can lay no claim to a corresponding practical significance; however, its theoretical value is very great, and one who cannot explain the origin of the content of dreams will strive in vain to understand phobias, obsessive and delusional ideas, and likewise their therapeutic importance.

While this relationship makes our subject important, it is responsible also for the deficiencies in this work. The surfaces of fracture, which will be frequently discussed, correspond to many points of contact where the problem of dream formation informs more comprehensive problems of psychopathology which cannot be discussed here. These larger issues will be elaborated upon in the future.

Peculiarities in the material I have used to elucidate the interpretation of dreams have rendered this publication difficult. The work itself will demonstrate why all dreams related in scientific literature or collected by others had to remain useless for my purpose. In choosing my examples, I had to limit myself to considering my own dreams and those of my patients who were under psychoanalytic treatment. I was restrained from utilizing material derived from my patients' dreams by the fact that during their treatment, the dream processes were subjected to an undesirable complication—the intermixture of neurotic characters. On the other hand, in discussing my own dreams, I was obliged to expose more of the intimacies of my psychic life than I should like, more so than generally falls to the task of an author who is not a poet but an investigator of nature. This was painful, but unavoidable; I had to put up with the inevitable in order to demonstrate the truth of my psychological results at all. To be sure, I disguised some of my indiscretions through omissions and substitutions, though I feel that these detract from the value of the examples in which they appear. I can only express the hope that the reader of this work, putting himself in my difficult position, will show patience, and also that anyone inclined to take offense at any of the reported dreams will concede freedom of thought at least to the dream life.

The author of this passage is most interested in __________.

Possible Answers:

the similarities between human brains and the brains of other mammals

the physical structure of the brain

the ability of certain dreams to foreshadow future events

the workings of the human mind

the role of criticism in science

Correct answer:

the workings of the human mind

Explanation:

The author of this passage is clearly interested in studying dreams from a psychological standpoint. He does not mention the physical structure of the brain at all, nor does he make any comparison between human brains and the brains of other mammals. While he is interested in dreams, he does not discuss any ability of dreams to foreshadow future events. While he attempts to address potential flaws in his work, his primary interest is not in the role of criticism in science; it is in “the workings of the human mind.” While this is the most general answer choice, the specificity of each of the other options makes each incorrect.

Example Question #1 : Understanding Main Ideas In Social Science Passages

Adapted from “Introductory Remarks” in The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud (trans. 1913)

In attempting to discuss the interpretation of dreams, I do not believe that I have overstepped the bounds of neuropathological interest. For, when investigated psychologically, the dream proves to be the first link in a chain of abnormal psychic structures whose other links—the hysterical phobia, the obsession, and the delusion—must interest the physician for practical reasons. The dream can lay no claim to a corresponding practical significance; however, its theoretical value is very great, and one who cannot explain the origin of the content of dreams will strive in vain to understand phobias, obsessive and delusional ideas, and likewise their therapeutic importance.

While this relationship makes our subject important, it is responsible also for the deficiencies in this work. The surfaces of fracture, which will be frequently discussed, correspond to many points of contact where the problem of dream formation informs more comprehensive problems of psychopathology which cannot be discussed here. These larger issues will be elaborated upon in the future.

Peculiarities in the material I have used to elucidate the interpretation of dreams have rendered this publication difficult. The work itself will demonstrate why all dreams related in scientific literature or collected by others had to remain useless for my purpose. In choosing my examples, I had to limit myself to considering my own dreams and those of my patients who were under psychoanalytic treatment. I was restrained from utilizing material derived from my patients' dreams by the fact that during their treatment, the dream processes were subjected to an undesirable complication—the intermixture of neurotic characters. On the other hand, in discussing my own dreams, I was obliged to expose more of the intimacies of my psychic life than I should like, more so than generally falls to the task of an author who is not a poet but an investigator of nature. This was painful, but unavoidable; I had to put up with the inevitable in order to demonstrate the truth of my psychological results at all. To be sure, I disguised some of my indiscretions through omissions and substitutions, though I feel that these detract from the value of the examples in which they appear. I can only express the hope that the reader of this work, putting himself in my difficult position, will show patience, and also that anyone inclined to take offense at any of the reported dreams will concede freedom of thought at least to the dream life.

The author has written this passage in order to __________.

Possible Answers:

respond to a specific critic who has cast doubt on his work’s reliability

teach the reader how to interpret his or her own dreams

justify his work and address some of its limitations

propose a psychological experiment

discuss common causes of nightmares

Correct answer:

justify his work and address some of its limitations

Explanation:

The author begins his work from a defensive standpoint, arguing in the first sentence that he has not “overstepped the bounds of neuropathological interest” in investigating and writing about the interpretation of dreams. He then goes on to addresses some of his study’s limitations in the second and third paragraphs. Thus, we can say that the author’s purpose in writing this passage is to “justify his work and address some of its limitations.” None of the other answer choices are supported by the passage.

Example Question #2 : Understanding Main Ideas In Social Science Passages

Adapted from "Federalist No. 46. The Influence of the State and Federal Governments Compared" by James Madison in The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay (1788)

I proceed to inquire whether the federal government or the state governments will have the advantage with regard to the predilection and support of the people. Notwithstanding the different modes in which they are appointed, we must consider both of them as substantially dependent on the great body of the citizens of the United States. I assume this position here as it respects the first, reserving the proofs for another place. The federal and state governments are in fact but different agents and trustees of the people, constituted with different powers, and designed for different purposes. The adversaries of the Constitution seem to have lost sight of the people altogether in their reasonings on this subject, and to have viewed these different establishments not only as mutual rivals and enemies, but as uncontrolled by any common superior in their efforts to usurp the authorities of each other. These gentlemen must here be reminded of their error. They must be told that the ultimate authority, wherever the derivative may be found, resides in the people alone, and that it will not depend merely on the comparative ambition or address of the different governments, whether either, or which of them, will be able to enlarge its sphere of jurisdiction at the expense of the other. Truth, no less than decency, requires that the event in every case should be supposed to depend on the sentiments and sanction of their common constituents.

What is the main idea of the passage?

Possible Answers:

The author describes the features of the Constitution and the effects they may have on federal- and state-level government.

The author points out flaws in his opponents' arguments in order to oppose the Constitution.

The author compares the federal and state governments, and in doing so, argues that the ultimate source of a government's authority is the people it governs.

The author discusses the relative unimportance of constituents in his country's current governmental system.

The author compares features of the federal and state governments and concludes that they are very different from one another.

Correct answer:

The author compares the federal and state governments, and in doing so, argues that the ultimate source of a government's authority is the people it governs.

Explanation:

While the passage begins with the author declaring his intention to "inquire whether the federal government or the state governments will have the advantage with regard to the predilection and support of the people," this is not the only idea that the selection focuses on. The author spends the rest of the passage discussing how governmental authority derives from the people, and how those who oppose the Constitution have forgotten about this in their arguments. The correct answer is thus, "The author compares the federal and state governments, and in doing so, argues that the ultimate source of a government's authority is with the people it governs."

Example Question #3 : Understanding Main Ideas In Social Science Passages

Adapted from Scientific American Supplement No. 1157 Vol. XLV (March 5th, 1898)

Since William II of Germany ascended the throne as German Emperor and King of Prussia on June 15, 1888, the eyes of Europe have been fixed on him. The press of the world delights in showing up his weak points, and the "war lord" undoubtedly has them, but, at the same time, he has qualities which are to be admired and which make him conspicuous among the rulers of Europe.

He is popular in Germany, and it is not surprising, for, in spite of being autocratic to the last degree, he is honest, courageous, ambitious, hard working, and a thorough German, being intensely patriotic. Indeed, if the people of Germany had the right to vote, they would undoubtedly choose their present ruler, for, while the virtues we have named may seem commonplace, they are not so when embodied in an emperor. One thing which places William at a disadvantage is his excessive frankness. His mistakes have largely resulted from his impulsive nature coupled with chauvinism, which is, perhaps, excusable, in a ruler.

Since the time when William was a child, he evidenced a strong desire to become acquainted with the details of the office to which his lofty birth entitled him. In the army he has worked his way up like any other officer and has a firm grasp on all the multifarious details of the military establishment of the great country. He believes in militarism, or in force, to use a more common expression, but in this he is right, for it has taken two hundred and fifty years to bring Prussia to the position it now holds, and what it has gained at the point of the sword must be retained in the same way. The immense sacrifices which the people make to support the army and navy are deemed necessary for self-preservation, and with France on one side and Russia on the other, there really seems to be ample excuse for it.

The main idea of this passage is best summarized as __________.

Possible Answers:

William II, despite being of foreign birth, perfectly captures the spirit of contemporary Germany.

William II is a rare and virtuous ruler who embodies all the best qualities of his subjects.

William II is perfectly fit for the office of emperor, notwithstanding his excessive frankness.

William II is a danger to the rest of Europe due to his excessive militarism.

William II is the greatest and most powerful ruler in Europe and is deserving of more respect than he receives.

Correct answer:

William II is a rare and virtuous ruler who embodies all the best qualities of his subjects.

Explanation:

Only two of these answer choices are wholly incorrect—the author does not argue that William II is a danger to the rest of Europe, nor does he suggest that William II is of foreign birth. Once you have eliminated those two answer choices it becomes a case of selecting which answer choice is best. The author spends a great deal of time focusing on the rare virtues that William II possesses and this seems to be the primary theme of this text: that William is a rare emperor in his time. The author does not outright suggest that William II is the greatest or most powerful ruler, so this answer choice can also be eliminated as not the best. Finally, the author does mention William’s excessive frankness, but this is far from the main idea of the text. On the other hand, that William is a rare and virtuous ruler who embodies the best German qualities seems to be an argument that the author maintains throughout. This is best seen in excerpts such as “He is popular in Germany, and it is not surprising, for, in spite of being autocratic to the last degree, he is honest, courageous, ambitious, hard working, and a thorough German, being intensely patriotic. Indeed, if the people of Germany had the right to vote, they would undoubtedly choose their present ruler, for, while the virtues we have named may seem commonplace, they are not so when embodied in an emperor.”

Example Question #4 : Understanding Main Ideas In Social Science Passages

Adapted from The Family Among the Australian Aborigines: a Sociological Study by Bronislaw Malinowski (1913)

It seems beyond doubt that in the aboriginal society the husband exercised almost complete authority over his wife; she was entirely in his hands and he might ill-treat her, provided he did not kill her. Out of our thirty statements, in six cases (Kurnai, Bangerang, Lower Murray tribes, according to Bonney, Geawe-Gal, Port Jackson tribes, North-west Central Queenslanders) the absolute authority of the husband is explicitly affirmed. We read in them either the bare statement that the husband had an absolute power over his family; or, in the better of them, we are more exactly informed that he had only to abstain from inflicting death on his wife. It was the latter's kinsman who would avenge her (Kurnai, Bangerang, North-west Central Queenslanders). It is difficult to ascertain in what form society would interfere with the husband if he transgressed the limits of his legal authority, i. e. killed his wife. Curr informs us that the woman's relatives would avenge her death. Howitt says that there would ensue a blood feud, which comes nearly to the same. It is very probable that the woman's kin retained some rights of protection. The remaining statements implicitly declare that the husband's authority was very extensive. (Encounter Bay tribes according to Meyer; New South Wales tribes according to Hodgson; Port Stephens tribes according to R. Dawson; Arunta; Herbert River tribes; Queenslanders according to Palmer; Moreton Bay tribes according to J. D. Lang; South-Western tribes according to Salvado; West Australians according to Grey.) It is clear that wherever we read of excessive harshness and bad treatment, wounds, blows inflicted on women, the husband must possess the authority to do it; in other words, he does not find any social barrier preventing him from ill-treatment. Especially as, in these statements, such ill-treatment is mentioned to be the rule and not an exception. In two statements we can gather no information on this point. According to the statement of J. Dawson on the West Victoria tribes, the husband's authority appears strictly limited by the potential intervention of the chief, who could even divorce the woman if she complained. But Curr warns us against Dawson's information concerning the chief and his power. Curr's arguments appear to be very conclusive. Too much weight cannot be attached, therefore, to Dawson's exceptional statement. Discarding it, we see that we have on this point fairly clear information. We may assume that society interfered but seldom with the husband, in fact, only in the extreme case of his killing his wife. Six statements are directly, and the remainder indirectly, in favor of this view, and the only one contradictory is not very trustworthy.

Which of the following statements best summarizes the author's purpose in writing this passage?

Possible Answers:

To argue with other academics who have studied the marriage practices of societies around the world

To belittle and mock the marriage practices of Australian aboriginal societies

To outline the nature of authority in marriages among Australian aboriginal societies

To compare the marriage practices of Australian aboriginals to those of other indigenous societies

To promote Western marriage values over those of Australian aboriginal societies

Correct answer:

To outline the nature of authority in marriages among Australian aboriginal societies

Explanation:

The author is extremely detailed, factual, and sourced, discussing the issue of authority in Australian aboriginal marriages as completely as possible. Notably, though, the author essentially never takes a stand on the values or quality of Australian aboriginal marriages. This means that his main purpose is simply to detail the nature of authority in Australian aboriginal marriages.

Example Question #5 : Understanding Main Ideas In Social Science Passages

The days of the amateur in intercollegiate athletics are numbered.  College athletes are amateurs only in name and in the ill-defined mandates of outdated policies.  They generate annual revenues which are estimated to be over $15 billion in the United States alone.  Their efforts and images generate income from ticket sales, television and radio contracts, and merchandising.  Yet, the bulk of this money goes directly to individual universities who then enforce codes that keep athletes from having the same opportunities to earn money as their peers. Clearly, it is time for American colleges to reevaluate this injustice.

Recent lawsuits involving the use images of current and former athletes in video games has shed light on just how draconian the treatment of college athletes can be.  While millions of dollars are generated from video game sales, the same students whose images adorn the games cannot hold part-time jobs nor can they be given airfare to return home in time of family crisis unless it involves a death. Little or no health insurance or benefits are provided for athletes to deal with the after-effects of injuries that often last long after the student has left college. Unlike most colleges students athletes, in many ways, are treated more like indentured servants than like the highly visible and high valuable representatives of their institutions that they are.

The purpose of the article is to ________________.

Possible Answers:

compare the treatment of American college athletes with those in other countries

demonstrate who unfair the current treatment of college athletes is

support a claim that American colleges should no longer sponsor athletics programs

offer suggestions for improving conditions for college athletes

prove that most college athletes did not know how strict policies would be when they enrolled

Correct answer:

demonstrate who unfair the current treatment of college athletes is

Explanation:

The author states that college athletes cannot hold jobs, receive assistance in all but the most extreme situations, nor profit directly from the use of their images. 

None of the other answer choices can be supported by the passage.

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