HSPT Reading : Comparing and Contrasting in Humanities Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for HSPT Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #23 : Extrapolating From The Text In Humanities Passages

"Commentaries" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

The idea of a commentary is not anywhere as simple as most people think. To the popular imagination, the commentator makes a few observations based on a text, not going far beyond its contents. This standard opinion completely misses the various types of commentaries that can be written. Indeed, even the notion of “literal commentary” is itself so variegated that it is incorrect to imagine that such “literal” work is merely a slavish repetition of an original text.

Some literal commentaries truly are “literal,” that is, based on the letters and words of the text. Such philological studies investigate the language structures and meanings of a text. The interpretation of the text proceeds based on these linguistic investigations. Often, this process will note the types of rhetoric being used, the dialects utilized, and any odd language structures that might imply something with regard to the text’s meaning. All of these methods remain very concerned with the “letter of the text” in a very direct manner.

Indeed, even the Medieval commentaries on Aristotle’s works could be considered “literal,” though they do differ from such linguistic approaches. Men like Thomas Aquinas would very carefully read Aristotle’s text, giving what was called a divisio textus for every section of the text in question. This “division of the text” sought to provide a succinct but correct outline of the text in question so that its literal meaning might be more easily noticed. Certainly, the commentary that followed this divisio textus did express some aspects of Aquinas’ own thought. However, he (like other literal commentators of this type) would attempt to remain as close to the literal meaning of the text as possible, always using the divisio textus as a guide for understanding the structure of the original author’s thought.

What is the difference between the type of commentary mentioned in the second paragraph and that which is mentioned in the third paragraph?

Possible Answers:

The first type of commentary is still being written, but Thomas Aquinas was the last person to do a literal, divisio textus commentary.

The first type is far more modern than the other type.

The first type is based primarily on details of language, while the other focuses primarily on the outline structure of the whole text. 

The first type is far more scientific and historical than the latter, outdated medieval methodology.

The first merely provides an historical analysis, while the latter provides a true commentary.

Correct answer:

The first type is based primarily on details of language, while the other focuses primarily on the outline structure of the whole text. 

Explanation:

Do not be distracted by secondary details about the two paragraphs. Clearly, the overall intent of this passage is to show these as two legitimate examples of types of so-called "literal commentaries." The first sentence of the third paragraph can help to see the contrast: "...though they do differ from such linguistic approaches." The difference is then stated: divisio textus outline in opposition to the linguistic approaches noted above.

Example Question #2 : Comparing And Contrasting In Humanities Passages

Adapted from "The Writing of Essays" in Certain Personal Matters by H.G. Wells (1901)

The art of the essayist is so simple, so entirely free from canons of criticism, and withal so delightful, that one must needs wonder why all men are not essayists. Perhaps people do not know how easy it is. Or perhaps beginners are misled. Rightly taught it may be learnt in a brief ten minutes or so, what art there is in it. And all the rest is as easy as wandering among woodlands on a bright morning in the spring.

Then sit you down if you would join us, taking paper, pens, and ink; and mark this, your pen is a matter of vital moment. For every pen writes its own sort of essay, and pencils also after their kind. The ink perhaps may have its influence too, and the paper; but paramount is the pen. This, indeed, is the fundamental secret of essay-writing. Wed any man to his proper pen, and the delights of composition and the birth of an essay are assured. Only many of us wander through the earth and never meet with her—futile and lonely men.

And, of all pens, your quill for essays that are literature. There is a subtle informality, a delightful easiness, perhaps even a faint immorality essentially literary, about the quill. The quill is rich in suggestion and quotation. There are quills that would quote you Montaigne and Horace in the hands of a trades-union delegate. And those quirky, idle noises this pen makes are delightful, and would break your easy fluency with wit. All the classical essayists wrote with a quill, and Addison used the most expensive kind the Government purchased. And the beginning of the inferior essay was the dawn of the cheap steel pen.

In the first paragraph, Wells compares the ease of writing an essay to wandering through the woods because he suggests that __________.

Possible Answers:

both require planning but very little work in the execution

both require no effort whatsoever

both are pleasurable

both are simple activities

Correct answer:

both require planning but very little work in the execution

Explanation:

Wells honestly seems to suggest that writing an essay is an activity requiring little effort.

Example Question #53 : Critical Comprehension

Adapted from The Struggles of Charles Goodyear by George C. Towle (1916)

Never did any man work harder, suffer more keenly, or remain more steadfast to one great purpose of life, than did Charles Goodyear. The story of his life—for the most part mournful—teems with touching interest. No inventor ever struggled against greater or more often returning obstacles, or against repeated failures more overwhelming. Goodyear is often compared, as a martyr and hero of invention, to Bernard Palissy the potter. He is sometimes called "the Palissy of the nineteenth century." But his sufferings were more various, more bitter, and more long enduring than ever were even those of Palissy; while the result of his long, unceasing labors was infinitely more precious to the world. For if Palissy restored the art of enameling so as to produce beautiful works of art, Goodyear perfected a substance which gives comfort and secures health to millions of human beings.

It was by accident at last that he hit upon the secret of how to make India-rubber durable. He was talking one day to several visitors, and in his ardor making rapid gestures, when a piece of rubber that he was holding in his hand accidentally hit against a hot stove. To his amazement, instead of melting, the gum remained stiff and charred, like leather. He again applied great heat to a piece of rubber, and then nailed it outside the door, where it was very cold. The next morning he found that it was perfectly flexible; and this was the discovery which led to that successful invention which he had struggled through so many years to perfect. The main value of the discovery lay in this, that while the gum would dissolve in a moderate heat, it both remained hard and continued to be flexible when submitted to an extreme heat. This came to be known as the "vulcanization" of India-rubber.

Goodyear was terribly afraid that he should die before he could make the world perceive the great uses to which his discovery might be applied. What he was toiling for was neither fame nor fortune, but only to confer a vast benefit on his fellow men.

At last, after infinite struggles, the absorbing purpose of his life was attained. India-rubber was introduced under his patents, and soon proved to have all the value he had, in his wildest moments, claimed for it. Success thus crowned his noble efforts, which had continued unceasingly through ten years of self-imposed privation. India-rubber was now seen to be capable of being adapted to at least five hundred uses. It could be made "as pliable as kid, tougher than oxhide, as elastic as whalebone, or as rigid as flint." But, as too often happens, his great discovery enriched neither Goodyear nor his family. It soon gave employment to sixty thousand artisans, and annually produced articles in this country alone worth eight millions of dollars.

Happily the later years of the noble, self-denying inventor were spent at least free from the grinding penury and privations of his years of uncertainty and toil. He died in 1860 in his sixtieth year, happy in the thought of the magnificent boon he had given to mankind.

Why does the author think that comparisons between Goodyear and Palissy are irrelevant?

Possible Answers:

Because Palissy was from the working class, whereas Goodyear was born into wealth

Because Goodyear was a man of God and Palissy was a drunkard

Because Palissy was an artist and Goodyear was an inventor

Because Palissy never invented anything and Goodyear was constantly uncovering new methods and developing new ideas

Because Goodyear’s sufferings were much greater and his accomplishment much more significant 

Correct answer:

Because Goodyear’s sufferings were much greater and his accomplishment much more significant 

Explanation:

The author discusses how people often compare Palissy and Goodyear. He says, “[Goodyear] is sometimes called ‘the Palissy of the nineteenth century.’ But his sufferings were more various, more bitter, and more long enduring than ever were even those of Palissy; while the result of his long, unceasing labors was infinitely more precious to the world. For if Palissy restored the art of enameling so as to produce beautiful works of art, Goodyear perfected a substance which gives comfort and secures health to millions of human beings.” The author thinks that Goodyear’s sufferings were much greater than Pallisy's and that his accomplishment was much more significant than Palissy’s. Notice how he says “his sufferings were more various and more long enduring” and the way in which he compares Palissy’s aesthetic achievement to Goodyear’s “perfected” achievement that changes the lives of “millions of human beings.”

Example Question #54 : Critical Comprehension

Adapted from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (1876)

Within two minutes, or even less, he had forgotten all his troubles. Not because his troubles were one whit less heavy and bitter to him than a man's are to a man, but because a new and powerful interest bore them down and drove them out of his mind for the time—just as men's misfortunes are forgotten in the excitement of new enterprises. This new interest was a valued novelty in whistling, which he had just acquired, and he was suffering to practice it undisturbed. It consisted in a peculiar bird-like turn, a sort of liquid warble, produced by touching the tongue to the roof of the mouth at short intervals in the midst of the music—the reader probably remembers how to do it, if he has ever been a boy. Diligence and attention soon gave him the knack of it, and he strode down the street with his mouth full of harmony and his soul full of gratitude. He felt much as an astronomer feels who has discovered a new planet—no doubt, as far as strong, deep, unalloyed pleasure is concerned, the advantage was with the boy, not the astronomer.

The summer evenings were long. It was not dark, yet. Presently Tom checked his whistle. A stranger was before him—a boy a shade larger than himself. A newcomer of any age or either sex was an impressive curiosity in the poor little shabby village of St. Petersburg. This boy was well-dressed, too—well-dressed on a weekday. This was simply astounding. His cap was a dainty thing, his close-buttoned blue cloth roundabout was new and natty, and so were his pantaloons. He had shoes on—and it was only Friday. He even wore a necktie, a bright bit of ribbon. He had a citified air about him that ate into Tom's vitals. The more Tom stared at the splendid marvel, the higher he turned up his nose at his finery and the shabbier and shabbier his own outfit seemed to him to grow. Neither boy spoke. If one moved, the other moved—but only sidewise, in a circle; they kept face to face and eye to eye all the time.

In context, the underlined phrase "the knack of it" most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

confusion about it

a hard time with it

an upsetting experience with it

the skill to do it

a notch in it

Correct answer:

the skill to do it

Explanation:

The phrase "the knack of it" appears in the following sentence in the passage's first paragraph, which discuss's Tom's experience learning to whistle: "Diligence and attention soon gave him the knack of it, and he strode down the street with his mouth full of harmony and his soul full of gratitude." We can tell that Tom successfully learned to whistle because the next sentence compares his happiness to that of an astronomer who has just discovered a new planet. So, based on the context in which the phrase is used in the passage, the correct answer is "the skill to do it."

Example Question #1 : Comparing And Contrasting In Literature Passages

Adapted from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (1876)

Within two minutes, or even less, he had forgotten all his troubles. Not because his troubles were one whit less heavy and bitter to him than a man's are to a man, but because a new and powerful interest bore them down and drove them out of his mind for the time—just as men's misfortunes are forgotten in the excitement of new enterprises. This new interest was a valued novelty in whistling, which he had just acquired, and he was suffering to practice it undisturbed. It consisted in a peculiar bird-like turn, a sort of liquid warble, produced by touching the tongue to the roof of the mouth at short intervals in the midst of the music—the reader probably remembers how to do it, if he has ever been a boy. Diligence and attention soon gave him the knack of it, and he strode down the street with his mouth full of harmony and his soul full of gratitude. He felt much as an astronomer feels who has discovered a new planet—no doubt, as far as strong, deep, unalloyed pleasure is concerned, the advantage was with the boy, not the astronomer.

The summer evenings were long. It was not dark, yet. Presently Tom checked his whistle. A stranger was before him—a boy a shade larger than himself. A newcomer of any age or either sex was an impressive curiosity in the poor little shabby village of St. Petersburg. This boy was well-dressed, too—well-dressed on a weekday. This was simply astounding. His cap was a dainty thing, his close-buttoned blue cloth roundabout was new and natty, and so were his pantaloons. He had shoes on—and it was only Friday. He even wore a necktie, a bright bit of ribbon. He had a citified air about him that ate into Tom's vitals. The more Tom stared at the splendid marvel, the higher he turned up his nose at his finery and the shabbier and shabbier his own outfit seemed to him to grow. Neither boy spoke. If one moved, the other moved—but only sidewise, in a circle; they kept face to face and eye to eye all the time.

Which of the following is a comparison that the passage makes between Tom and the new boy?

Possible Answers:

Able to whistle vs. unable to whistle

Dressed in fancy clothing vs. dressed in unremarkable clothing

Older vs. younger

Able to swim vs. unable to swim

American vs. European

Correct answer:

Dressed in fancy clothing vs. dressed in unremarkable clothing

Explanation:

Nothing in the passage tells us whether Tom and/or the new boy are American or European. While we know that Tom can whistle, we don't know whether or not the new boy can whistle. While the new boy is said to be "a shade larger than" Tom, we don't know if he is any older than Tom. Nothing is mentioned about either boy knowing or not knowing how to swim. The passage's second paragraph focuses instead on how each boy is dressed—specifically, how the new boy is dressed in clothes that are fancier than Tom's.

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