PSAT Critical Reading : Considering Analogous Concepts in Literary Fiction Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for PSAT Critical Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Considering Analogous Concepts In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from "The Sisters" in Dubliners by James Joyce (1914)

There was no hope for him this time: it was the third stroke. Night after night I had passed the house (it was vacation time) and studied the lighted square of window, and night after night I had found it lighted in the same way, faintly and evenly. If he was dead, I thought, I would see the reflection of candles on the darkened blind, for I knew that two candles must be set at the head of a corpse. He had often said to me, "I am not long for this world," and I had thought his words idle. Now I knew they were true. Every night as I gazed up at the window I said softly to myself the word “paralysis.” It had always sounded strangely in my ears, like the word “gnomon” in the Euclid and the word “simony” in the Catechism. But now it sounded to me like the name of some maleficent and sinful being. It filled me with fear, and yet I longed to be nearer to it and to look upon its deadly work.

Old Cotter was sitting at the fire, smoking, when I came downstairs to supper. While my aunt was ladling out my stirabout he said, as if returning to some former remark of his:

"No, I wouldn't say he was exactly . . . but there was something queer . . . there was something uncanny about him. I'll tell you my opinion . . ."

He began to puff at his pipe, no doubt arranging his opinion in his mind. Tiresome old fool! When we knew him first he used to be rather interesting, talking of faints and worms, but I soon grew tired of him and his endless stories about the distillery.

"I have my own theory about it," he said. "I think it was one of those . . . peculiar cases . . . But it's hard to say . . ."

He began to puff again at his pipe without giving us his theory. My uncle saw me staring and said to me:

"Well, so your old friend is gone, you'll be sorry to hear."

"Who?" said I.

"Father Flynn."

"Is he dead?"

"Mr. Cotter here has just told us. He was passing by the house."

I knew that I was under observation, so I continued eating as if the news had not interested me. My uncle explained to old Cotter.

"The youngster and he were great friends. The old chap taught him a great deal, mind you; and they say he had a great wish for him."

"God have mercy on his soul," said my aunt piously.

Old Cotter looked at me for a while. I felt that his little beady black eyes were examining me, but I would not satisfy him by looking up from my plate. He returned to his pipe and finally spat rudely into the grate.

The narrator’s emotions about paralysis are most analogous to which of the following situations?

Possible Answers:

A zebra caught and eaten by a lion.

A person who is afraid of dogs and refuses to go to an animal shelter to help his friend find a dog.

A lumberjack who is killed by a tree he was in the process of chopping down.

A person who is afraid of heights but still wants to look over the edge of a cliff.

A person who plays the lottery every day but never wins.

Correct answer:

A person who is afraid of heights but still wants to look over the edge of a cliff.

Explanation:

Concerning paralysis, the narrator says at the end of the first paragraph, "Every night as I gazed up at the window I said softly to myself the word 'paralysis.' It had always sounded strangely in my ears, like the word 'gnomon' in the Euclid and the word 'simony' in the Catechism. But now it sounded to me like the name of some maleficent and sinful being. It filled me with fear, and yet I longed to be nearer to it and to look upon its deadly work." This last sentence is the most crucial in determining the correct answer to this question; we can tell that despite being afraid of paralysis, the narrator is drawn to it and wants "to be nearer to it and to look upon its deadly work." Only two of the potential answer choices involve fear: "A person who is afraid of dogs and refuses to go to an animal shelter to help his friend find a dog" and "A person who is afraid of heights but still wants to look over the edge of a cliff." The other answer choices can be eliminated. Of the two fear-related answer choices, the one about the person who is afraid of dogs involves that person avoiding the source of his fear, whereas the other answer choice involving the person who is afraid of heights involves that person being drawn to the source of his or her fear. The narrator both fears and wants to observe paralysis, so the best answer choice is the one that conveys this mixture of being afraid of and drawn to something: "A person who is afraid of heights but still wants to look over the edge of a cliff."

Example Question #293 : Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade by Herman Melville (1857)

At sunrise on a first of April, there appeared suddenly a man in cream-colors at the water-side in the city of St. Louis.

His cheek was fair, his chin downy, his hair flaxen, his hat a white fur one, with a long fleecy nap. He had neither trunk, valise, carpet-bag, nor parcel. No porter followed him. He was unaccompanied by friends. From the shrugged shoulders, titters, whispers, wonderings of the crowd, it was plain that he was, in the extremest sense of the word, a stranger.

In the same moment with his advent, he stepped aboard the favorite steamer Fidèle, on the point of starting for New Orleans. Stared at, but unsaluted, with the air of one neither courting nor shunning regard, but evenly pursuing the path of duty, lead it through solitudes or cities, he held on his way along the lower deck until he chanced to come to a placard nigh the captain's office, offering a reward for the capture of a mysterious impostor, supposed to have recently arrived from the East; quite an original genius in his vocation, as would appear, though wherein his originality consisted was not clearly given; but what purported to be a careful description of his person followed.

As if it had been a theatre-bill, crowds were gathered about the announcement, and among them certain chevaliers, whose eyes, it was plain, were on the capitals, or, at least, earnestly seeking sight of them from behind intervening coats; but as for their fingers, they were enveloped in some myth; though, during a chance interval, one of these chevaliers somewhat showed his hand in purchasing from another chevalier, ex-officio a peddler of money-belts, one of his popular safe-guards, while another peddler, who was still another versatile chevalier, hawked, in the thick of the throng, the lives of Measan, the bandit of Ohio, Murrel, the pirate of the Mississippi, and the brothers Harpe, the Thugs of the Green River country, in Kentucky—creatures, with others of the sort, one and all exterminated at the time, and for the most part, like the hunted generations of wolves in the same regions, leaving comparatively few successors; which would seem cause for unalloyed gratulation, and is such to all except those who think that in new countries, where the wolves are killed off, the foxes increase.

Pausing at this spot, the stranger so far succeeded in threading his way, as at last to plant himself just beside the placard, when, producing a small slate and tracing some words upon if, he held it up before him on a level with the placard, so that they who read the one might read the other. The words were these:—

"Charity thinketh no evil.”

Which of the following is most comparable to the placard in front of the captain’s quarters described in paragraph two?

Possible Answers:

An advertisement for a comedian’s upcoming shows

A wanted poster

A lost-and-found ad

An instruction manual

A name-card labeling the occupant of an office

Correct answer:

A wanted poster

Explanation:

What do we know about the placard? It is most distinctly described in the second paragraph; the third paragraph concerns the crowd’s reaction to it. The second paragraph says:

“[The man in cream-colors] held on his way along the lower deck until he chanced to come to a placard nigh the captain's office, offering a reward for the capture of a mysterious impostor, supposed to have recently arrived from the East; quite an original genius in his vocation, as would appear, though wherein his originality consisted was not clearly given; but what purported to be a careful description of his person followed.”

So, we know that the placard is “offering a reward for the capture of a mysterious impostor”; this is enough information to help us realize that the placard is most comparable to “a wanted poster.”

Example Question #294 : Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist (1838). 

The room in which the boys fed, was a large stone hall, with a copper at one end:  out of which the master, dressed in an apron for the purpose, and assisted by one or two women, ladled the gruel at meal-times.  Of this festive composition each boy had one porringer, and no more--except on occasions of great public rejoicing, when he had two ounces and a quarter of bread besides.  The bowls never wanted washing.  The boys polished them with their spoons till they shone again; and when they had performed this operation (which never took very long, the spoons being nearly as large as the bowls), they would sit staring at the copper, with such eager eyes, as if they could have devoured the very bricks of which it was composed; employing themselves, meanwhile, in sucking their fingers most assiduously, with the view of catching up any stray splashes of gruel that might have been cast thereon.  Boys have generally excellent appetites.  Oliver Twist and his companions suffered the tortures of slow starvation for three months:  at last they got so voracious and wild with hunger, that one boy, who was tall for his age, and hadn't been used to that sort of thing (for his father had kept a small cook-shop), hinted darkly to his companions, that unless he had another basin of gruel per diem, he was afraid he might some night happen to eat the boy who slept next him, who happened to be a weakly youth of tender age.  He had a wild, hungry eye; and they implicitly believed him.  A council was held; lots were cast who should walk up to the master after supper that evening, and ask for more; and it fell to Oliver Twist.

The evening arrived; the boys took their places.  The master, in his cook's uniform, stationed himself at the copper; his pauper assistants ranged themselves behind him; the gruel was served out; and a long grace was said over the short commons.  The gruel disappeared; the boys whispered each other, and winked at Oliver; while his next neighbours nudged him.  Child as he was, he was desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery.  He rose fromt he table; and advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said:  somewhat alarmed at his own temerity:

'Please, sir, I want some more.'

The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale.  He gazed in stupefied astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper.  The assistants were paralysed with wonder; the boys with fear.

'What!' said the master at length, in a faint voice.

'Please, sir,' replied Oliver, 'I want some more.'

The master aimed a blow at Oliver's head with the ladle; pinioned him in his arms; and shrieked aloud for the beadle.

Which of the following is most analogous to Oliver's situation?

Possible Answers:

A desperately tired soldier, knowing he will be disciplined, asking for an additional day's rest. 

A lactose intolerant person, knowing s/he will not have access to food for a day, choosing to eat eggs.

An otherwise happy-go-lucky person throwing a tantrum when denied access to a concert.

An otherwise meek person taking command of a small group in order to accomplish their goals.

Correct answer:

A desperately tired soldier, knowing he will be disciplined, asking for an additional day's rest. 

Explanation:

Of the provided options, a tired soldier asking for additional rest despite the certainty of discipline is the closest analogue to Oliver's situation in this passage. Rest is a primal human need, as is hunger, the soldier's knowledge of discipline, in that situation, is overridden by his need for sleep, as Oliver "desperate with hunger" surprises himself by asking for more food, the implication being that he knows he will be disciplined (otherwise asking for more food would not require "temerity").

While the lactose intolerant person choosing to eat eggs to stave off future hunger is more directly about food, it is a less close analogy, in that the external threat of discipline (which is a key element of Oliver's situation) is not present in this situation.

Example Question #41 : Extrapolating From The Text In Literary Fiction Passages

Passage adapted from Louisa May Alcott's  "A Modern Cinderella, or The Little Old Shoe" (1860).

The old man went away into his imaginary paradise, and Nan into that domestic purgatory on a summer day,--the kitchen. There were vines about the windows, sunshine on the floor, and order everywhere; but it was haunted by a cooking-stove, that family altar whence such varied incense rises to appease the appetite of household gods, before which such dire incantations are pronounced to ease the wrath and woe of the priestess of the fire, and about which often linger saddest memories of wasted temper, time, and toil.

Nan was tired, having risen with the birds,--hurried, having many cares those happy little housewives never know,--and disappointed in a hope that hourly "dwindled, peaked, and pined." She was too young to make the anxious lines upon her forehead seem at home there, too patient to be burdened with the labor others should have shared, too light of heart to be pent up when earth and sky were keeping a blithe holiday. But she was one of that meek sisterhood who, thinking humbly of themselves, believe they are honored
by being spent in the service of less conscientious souls, whose careless thanks seem quite reward enough.

To and fro she went, silent and diligent, giving the grace of willingness to every humble or distasteful task the day had brought her; but some malignant sprite seemed to have taken possession of her kingdom, for rebellion broke out everywhere. The kettles would boil over most obstreperously,-- the mutton refused to cook with the meek alacrity to be expected from the nature of a sheep,--the stove, with unnecessary warmth of temper, would glow like a fiery furnace,--the irons would scorch,--the linens would dry,--and spirits would fail, though patience never.

Nan's reaction to things going wrong is most similar to __________.

Possible Answers:

ants continuing to remake their nest despite a little boy constantly destroying it.

lions fighting for their territory against hyenas.

lemmings blindly following their leader off a cliff.

a cat toying with a mouse before killing it.

Correct answer:

ants continuing to remake their nest despite a little boy constantly destroying it.

Explanation:

Despite everything going wrong, Nan continued to do her work and deal with new problems with patience and humility. At the end of the second paragraph, the author states, "But she was one of that meek sisterhood who, thinking humbly of themselves, believe they are honored by being spent in the service of less conscientious souls, whose careless thanks seem quite reward enough." Ants work for the entire hive, not for individual gain. This is most similar to Nan's attitude towards life.

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