MCAT Verbal : Modifying a conclusion

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for MCAT Verbal

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Modifying A Conclusion

Adapted from "The Writing of History" in Political and Literary Essays 1908-1913 by the Earl of Cromer (1913)

What are the purposes of history, and in what spirit should it be written? Such, in effect, are the questions which Mr. Gooch propounds in this very interesting volume. He wisely abstains from giving any dogmatic answers to these questions, but in a work which shows manifest signs of great erudition and far-reaching research he ranges over the whole field of European and American literature, and gives us a very complete summary both of how, as a matter of fact, history has been written, and of the spirit in which the leading historians of the nineteenth century have approached their task.

Mr. Bryce, himself one of the most eminent of modern historians, recently laid down the main principle which, in his opinion, should guide his fellow-craftsmen. "Truth," he said, "and truth only is our aim." The maxim is one which would probably be unreservedly accepted in theory by the most ardent propagandist who has ever used history as a vehicle for the dissemination of his own views on political, economic, or social questions. For so fallible is human nature that the proclivities of the individual can rarely be entirely submerged by the judicial impartiality of the historian. It is impossible to peruse Mr. Gooch's work without being struck by the fact that, amongst the greatest writers of history, bias—often unconscious bias—has been the rule, and the total absence of preconceived opinions the exception. Generally speaking, the subjective spirit has prevailed amongst historians in all ages. The danger of following the scent of analogies—not infrequently somewhat strained analogies—between the present and the past is comparatively less imminent in cases where some huge upheaval, such as the French Revolution, has inaugurated an entirely new epoch, accompanied by the introduction of fresh ideals and habits of thought. It is, as Macaulay has somewhere observed, a more serious stumbling-block in the path of a writer who deals with the history of a country like England, which has through long centuries preserved its historical continuity. Hallam and Macaulay viewed history through Whig, and Alison through Tory spectacles.

Neither has the remoteness of the events described proved any adequate safeguard against the introduction of bias born of contemporary circumstances. Mitford, who composed his history of Greece during the stormy times of the French Revolution, thought it compatible with his duty as an historian to strike a blow at Whigs and Jacobins. Grote's sympathy with the democracy of Athens was unquestionably to some extent the outcome of the views which he entertained of events passing under his own eyes at Westminster. Mommsen, by inaugurating the publication of the Corpus of Latin Inscriptions, has earned the eternal gratitude of scholarly posterity, but Mr. Gooch very truly remarks that his historical work is tainted with the "strident partisanship" of a keen politician and journalist. Truth, as the old Greek adage says, is indeed the fellow-citizen of the gods; but if the standard of historical truth be rated too high, and if the authority of all who have not strictly complied with that standard is to be discarded on the ground that they stand convicted of partiality, we should be left with little to instruct subsequent ages beyond the dry records of men such as the laborious, the useful, though somewhat over-credulous Clinton, or the learned but arid Marquardt, whose "massive scholarship" Mr. Gooch dismisses somewhat summarily in a single line. Such writers are not historians, but rather compilers of records, upon the foundations of which others can build history.

Under the process we have assumed, Droysen, Sybel, and Treitschke would have to be cast down from their pedestals. They were the political schoolmasters of Germany during a period of profound national discouragement. They used history in order to stir their countrymen to action, but "if the supreme aim of history is to discover truth and to interpret the movement of humanity, they have no claim to a place in the first class." Patriotism, as the Portuguese historian, Herculano da Carvalho, said, is "a bad counsellor for historians."

How does the author’s statements about the “learned but arid Marquardt” modify the conclusion?

Possible Answers:

It suggests that objectivity is not always the best approach to historical writing.

It suggests that sometimes it is better to be specific and narrow, rather than broad and general, when approaching historical writing.

It suggests that objectivity should not be sacrificed to patriotism or nationalistic sensibilities; it is important to treat one’s own nation as if it were another's.

It undermines the previous declarations about the importance of truth and impartiality. 

It suggests that truth and the recording of facts are not the only goals for historians; their work must entertain as well as educate.

Correct answer:

It suggests that truth and the recording of facts are not the only goals for historians; their work must entertain as well as educate.

Explanation:

The author primarily criticizes Marquardt for his “dry” and “laborious.” In context, the author says “we should be left with little to instruct subsequent ages beyond the dry records of men such as the laborious, the useful, though somewhat over-credulous Clinton, or the learned but arid Marquardt, whose 'massive scholarship' Mr. Gooch dismisses somewhat summarily in a single line. Such writers are not historians, but rather compilers of records, upon the foundations of which others can build history.” This information suggests that the author believes truth and recording of facts are not the only goals for historians. He also believes that historians have a duty to actually tell a story and entertain. Most of the incorrect answer choices are partially correct, but do not really take into account how this statement modifies the conclusion. Instead they state how it might replace the conclusion.

Example Question #1 : Modifying A Conclusion

Adapted from Real Soldiers of Fortune by Richard Harding Davis (1906)

In the strict sense of the phrase, a soldier of fortune is a man who for pay or for the love of adventure fights under the flag of any country. In the bigger sense, he is the kind of man who in any walk of life makes his own fortune, who, when he sees it coming, leaps to meet it, and turns it to his advantage. Then there is Winston Spencer Churchill. Today there are few young men—and he is a very young man—who have met more varying fortunes, and none who has more frequently bent them to his own advancement. To him it has been indifferent whether, at the moment, the fortune seemed good or evil; in the end always it was good.

As a boy officer, when other subalterns were playing polo and at the Gaiety Theatre attending night school, he ran away to Cuba and fought with the Spaniards. For such a breach of military discipline, any other officer would have been court-martialed. Even his friends feared that by his foolishness his career in the army was at an end. Instead, his escapade was made a question in the House of Commons, and the fact brought him such publicity that The Daily Graphic paid him handsomely to write on the Cuban Revolution, and the Spanish Government rewarded him with the Order of Military Merit.

At the very outbreak of the Boer War, he was taken prisoner. It seemed a climax of misfortune. With his brother officers, he had hoped in that campaign to acquit himself with credit, and that he should lie inactive in Pretoria appeared a terrible calamity. To the others who, through many heart-breaking months, suffered imprisonment, it continued to be a calamity. But within six weeks of his capture, Churchill escaped, and, after many adventures, rejoined his own army to find that the calamity had made him a hero.

When after the battle of Omdurman, in his book The River War, he attacked Lord Kitchener, those who did not like him, and they were many, said: "That's the end of Winston in the army. He'll never get another chance to criticize K. of K." But only two years later the chance came, when, no longer a subaltern, but as a member of the House of Commons, he patronized Kitchener by defending him from the attacks of others.

Later, when his assaults upon the leaders of his own party closed to him, even in his own constituency, the Conservative debating clubs, again his ill-wishers said, "This is the end. He has ridiculed those who sit in high places. He has offended his cousin and patron, the Duke of Marlborough. Without political friends, without the influence and money of the Marlborough family, he is a political nonentity." That was eighteen months ago. Today, at the age of thirty-two, he is one of the leaders of the Government party, Under-Secretary for the Colonies, and with the Liberals the most popular young man in public life.

Only last Christmas, at a banquet, Sir Edward Grey, the new Foreign Secretary, said of him: "Mr. Winston Churchill has achieved distinction in at least five different careers—as a soldier, a war correspondent, a lecturer, an author, and last, but not least, as a politician. I have understated it even now, for he has achieved two careers as a politician—one on each side of the House. His first career on the Government side was a really distinguished career. I trust the second will be even more distinguished—and more prolonged. The remarkable thing is that he has done all this when, unless appearances very much belie him, he has not reached the age of sixty-four, which is the minimum age at which the politician ceases to be young."

Which of these statements, if true, would NOT alter the primary conclusions of this passage?

Possible Answers:

All of these statements would alter the conclusions of this passage.

Churchill was despised by the common people of Britain, and only found friends among the political elite.

Churchill never actually escaped from prison as is commonly thought, but rather was released as part of an exchange of soldiers.

Churchill only fought with the Spanish in Cuba because he was offered a large sum of money to do so.

Churchill loved to take risks and did so fearlessly.

Correct answer:

Churchill never actually escaped from prison as is commonly thought, but rather was released as part of an exchange of soldiers.

Explanation:

If Churchill never escaped from prison, but was instead released as part of prisoner exchange, it would not actually change any part of this essay. What the author is arguing is that Churchill was able to turn poor fortune into good fortune and that this won him the support and admiration of his contemporaries. It would be of little import whether Churchill actually escaped from prison, so long as people thought that he did.

Example Question #3 : Modifying A Conclusion

Adapted from Utilitarianism by John Stewart Mill (1863)

Only while the world is in a very imperfect state can it happen that anyone’s best chance of serving the happiness of others is through the absolute sacrifice of his own happiness; but while the world is in that imperfect state, I fully admit that the readiness to make such a sacrifice is the highest virtue that can be found in man. I would add something that may seem paradoxical: namely that in this present imperfect condition of the world, the conscious ability to do without happiness gives the best prospect of bringing about such happiness as is attainable. For nothing except that consciousness can raise a person above the chances of life by making him feel that fate and fortune—let them do their worst!—have no power to subdue him. Once he feels that, it frees him from excessive anxiety about the evils of life and lets him (like many a stoic in the worst times of the Roman empire) calmly develop the sources of satisfaction that are available to him, not concerning himself with the uncertainty regarding how long they will last or the certainty that they will end.

Meanwhile, let utilitarians never cease to claim that they have as much right as the stoic or the transcendentalist to maintain the morality of devotion to a cause as something that belongs to them. The utilitarian morality does recognize that human beings can sacrifice their own greatest good for the good of others; it merely refuses to admit that the sacrifice is itself a good. It regards as wasted any sacrifice that doesn’t increase, or tend to increase, the sum total of happiness. The only self-renunciation that it applauds is devotion to the happiness, or to some of the means to happiness, of others. . . . I must again repeat something that the opponents of utilitarianism are seldom fair enough to admit, namely that the happiness that forms the utilitarian standard of what is right in conduct is not the agent’s own happiness but that of all concerned. As between his own happiness and that of others, utilitarianism requires him to be as strictly impartial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator. In the golden rule of Jesus of Nazareth we read the complete spirit of the ethics of utility. To do as you would be done by, and to love your neighbor as yourself constitute the ideal perfection of utilitarian morality.

As the practical way to get as close as possible to this ideal, the ethics of utility would command two things. (1) First, laws and social arrangements should place the happiness (or what for practical purposes we may call the interest) of every individual as much as possible in harmony with the interest of the whole. (2) Education and opinion, which have such a vast power over human character, should use that power to establish in the mind of every individual an unbreakable link between his own happiness and the good of the whole; especially between his own happiness and the kinds of conduct (whether doing or allowing) that are conducive to universal happiness. If (2) is done properly, it will tend to have two results: (2a) The individual won’t be able to conceive the possibility of being personally happy while acting in ways opposed to the general good. (2b) In each individual a direct impulse to promote the general good will be one of the habitual motives of action, and the feelings connected with it will fill a large and prominent place in his sentient existence. This is the true character of the utilitarian morality. If those who attack utilitarianism see it as being like this, I don’t know what good features of some other moralities they could possibly say that utilitarianism lacks, what more beautiful or more elevated developments of human nature any other ethical systems can be supposed to encourage, or what motivations for action that aren’t available to the utilitarian those other systems rely on for giving effect to their mandates.

Which of the following, if true, would modify the conclusion of this excerpt?

Possible Answers:

There is a finite and measurable amount of happiness in the world at any given moment, and human actions have no power to increase or reduce it.

Children were educated in utilitarian moral theory from an early age.

All people wish to be happy.

Laws were passed across the world banning utilitarianism.

There is a finite and measurable amount of happiness in the world at any given moment.

Correct answer:

There is a finite and measurable amount of happiness in the world at any given moment, and human actions have no power to increase or reduce it.

Explanation:

The only answer provided that would fundamentally modify the conclusion of this excerpt is if there were a finite and measurable amount of happiness in the world at any given moment, and human actions have no power to increase or reduce it.

The ethical agent's ability to alter the amount of happiness in the world is a key compenent of this moral philosophy. If the individuals were proven to have no power over this sum total of happiness, then the moral actions and prescriptions of utilitarianism would be moot, since it is a prescriptive moral philosophy that relies on human agency.

Example Question #451 : Mcat Verbal Reasoning

Adapted from Samuel Johnson's "Labor Necessary to Excellence" in No. 169 of The Rambler (1751)

No vanity can more justly incur contempt and indignation than that which boasts of negligence and hurry. For who can bear with patience the writer who claims such superiority to the rest of his species as to imagine mankind are at leisure for attention to his extemporary sallies and that posterity will reposit his casual effusions among the treasures of ancient wisdom?

Men have sometimes appeared of such transcendent abilities that their slightest and most cursory performances excel all that labor and study can enable meaner intellects to compose, as there are regions of which the spontaneous products cannot be equalled in other soils by care and culture. But it is no less dangerous for any man to place himself in this rank of understanding and fancy that he is born to be illustrious without labor than to omit the cares of husbandry and expect from his ground the blossoms of Arabia.

The greatest part of those who congratulate themselves upon their intellectual dignity and usurp the privileges of genius are men whom only themselves would ever have marked out as enriched by uncommon liberalities of nature, or entitled to veneration and immortality on easy terms. This ardor of confidence is usually found among those who, having not enlarged their notions by books or conversation, are persuaded, by the partiality which we all feel in our own favor, that they have reached the summit of excellence because they discover none higher than themselves; and who acquiesce in the first thoughts that occur, because their scantiness of knowledge allows them little choice; and the narrowness of their views affords them no glimpse of perfection, of that sublime idea which human industry has from the first ages been vainly toiling to approach. They see a little, and believe that there is nothing beyond their sphere of vision, as the Patuecos of Spain, who inhabited a small valley, conceived the surrounding mountains to be the boundaries of the world. In proportion as perfection is more distinctly conceived, the pleasure of contemplating our own performances will be lessened; it may therefore be observed, that they who most deserve praise are often afraid to decide in favor of their own performances; they know how much is still wanting to their completion, and wait with anxiety and terror the determination of the public. I please everyone else, says Tally, but never satisfy myself.

It has often been inquired, why, notwithstanding the advances of later ages in science and the assistance which the infusion of so many new ideas has given us, we fall below the ancients in the art of composition. Some part of their superiority may be justly ascribed to the graces of their language, from which the most polished of the present European tongues are nothing more than barbarous degenerations. Some advantage they might gain merely by priority, which put them in possession of the most natural sentiments and left us nothing but servile repetition or forced conceits. But the greater part of their praise seems to have been the just reward of modesty and labor. Their sense of human weakness confined them commonly to one study, which their knowledge of the extent of every science engaged them to prosecute with indefatigable diligence.

Which of the following statements, if true, would modify the conclusion of this excerpt?

Possible Answers:

Some contemporary writers work extremely hard.

Some contemporary writers do not praise ancient writers, nor are they even particularly familiar with them.

None of the provided statements would substantially modify the conclusion.

Ancient writers worked extremely quickly and took pride in the relatively small amount of work they put into their compositions.

Critics are apt to express contempt for writing that seems rushed and sloppy.

Correct answer:

Ancient writers worked extremely quickly and took pride in the relatively small amount of work they put into their compositions.

Explanation:

If it were true that ancient writers were, in fact, flippant and boastful about their work and labor as writers, it would directly contradict several of the author's assertions about humility and hard work in general, since the humility and labor of ancient authors as compared to contemporary writers is the main evidence he uses to support his thesis. 

Fundamentally, the thesis is not modified if some contemporary are hard workers, since the author is describing general trends and types of people.

Example Question #452 : Mcat Verbal Reasoning

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

1. Moral philosophy, or the science of human nature, may be treated after two different manners, each of which has its peculiar merit and may contribute to the entertainment, instruction, and reformation of mankind. The one considers man chiefly as born for action and as influenced in his measures by taste and sentiment, pursuing one object and avoiding another according to the value that these objects seem to possess and according to the light in which they present themselves. As virtue, of all objects, is allowed to be the most valuable, this species of philosophers paint her in the most amiable colors, borrowing all helps from poetry and eloquence and treating their subject in an easy and obvious manner and such as is best fitted to please the imagination and engage the affections. They select the most striking observations and instances from common life; place opposite characters in a proper contrast; and alluring us into the paths of virtue by the views of glory and happiness, direct our steps in these paths by the soundest precepts and most illustrious examples. They make us feel the difference between vice and virtue; they excite and regulate our sentiments; and so they can but bend our hearts to the love of probity and true honor, they think, that they have fully attained the end of all their labors.

2. The other species of philosophers considers man in the light of a reasonable rather than an active being, and endeavors to form his understanding more than cultivate his manners. They regard human nature as a subject of speculation, and with a narrow scrutiny examine it in order to find those principles that regulate our understanding, excite our sentiments, and make us approve or blame any particular object, action, or behavior. They think it a reproach to all literature that philosophy should not yet have fixed, beyond controversy, the foundation of morals, reasoning, and criticism, and should forever talk of truth and falsehood, vice and virtue, beauty and deformity, without being able to determine the source of these distinctions. While they attempt this arduous task, they are deterred by no difficulties, but proceeding from particular instances to general principles, they still push on their enquiries to principles more general, and rest not satisfied ‘till they arrive at those original principles, by which, in every science, all human curiosity must be bounded. Though their speculations seem abstract, and even unintelligible to common readers, they aim at the approbation of the learned and the wise, and think themselves sufficiently compensated for the labor of their whole lives if they can discover some hidden truths that may contribute to the instruction of posterity.

3. It is certain that the easy and obvious philosophy will always, with the generality of mankind, have the preference above the accurate and abstruse, and by many will be recommended, not only as more agreeable, but more useful than the other. It enters more into common life; molds the heart and affections; and, by touching those principles which actuate men, reforms their conduct, and brings them nearer to that model of perfection that it describes. On the contrary, the abstruse philosophy, being founded on a turn of mind, which cannot enter into business and action, vanishes when the philosopher leaves the shade, and comes into open day; nor can its principles easily retain any influence over our conduct and behavior. The feelings of our hearts, the agitation of our passions, the vehemence of our affections, dissipate all its conclusions, and reduce the profound philosopher to the mere plebeian.

How does the author's characterization of "abstruse philosophy" modify the conclusion?

Possible Answers:

It undermines the author's claim to complete objectivity made at the beginning of the passage.

It makes the strength of the author's preference for complex, rationalist moral philosophy by characterizing its "profound" philosophers in a positive way.

It makes the strength of the author's preference for the simple, observation-based moral philosophy clear by outlining a strong argument against "abstruse philosophy."

It makes the strength of the author's preference for complex, rationalist moral philosophy by outlining a strong argument against simple, observation-based moral philosophy.

It undermines the author's claim to profound, transcendent moral knowledge.

Correct answer:

It makes the strength of the author's preference for the simple, observation-based moral philosophy clear by outlining a strong argument against "abstruse philosophy."

Explanation:

The author's closing characterization of "abstruse philosophy" modifies the passage's conclusion by making the strength of the author's preference for the simple, observation-based moral philosophy clear. It does so by making the strong argument that "abstruse" philosophical moral assertions "dissipate" in applied, real-life situations. This modifies the conclusion by introducing the strongest argument thus far in the passage, thus making the author's preference more clear.

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