SAT Critical Reading : Analyzing Cause and Effect in Social Science / History Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT Critical Reading

varsity tutors app store varsity tutors android store varsity tutors amazon store varsity tutors ibooks store

Example Questions

Example Question #497 : Sat Critical Reading

Adapted from On Sumner and the South (1874) by Lucius Q.C. Lamar

Charles Sumner in life believed that all occasion for strife and distrust between the North and South had passed away, and there no longer remained any cause for continued estrangement between those two sections of our common country. Are there not many of us who believe the same thing? Is not that the common sentiment, or if not, ought it not to be, of the great mass of our people, North and South? Bound to each other by a common constitution, destined to live together under a common government, forming united but a single member of the great family of nations, shall we not now at last endeavor to grow toward each other once more in heart, as we are indissolubly linked to each other in fortunes? Shall we not, while honoring the memory of this great champion of liberty, this feeling sympathizer with human sorrow, this earnest pleader for the exercise of human tenderness and heavenly charity, lay aside the concealments which serve only to perpetuate misunderstandings and distrust, and frankly confess that on both sides we most earnestly desire to be one—one not merely in political organization; one not merely in community of language, and literature, and traditions, and country; but more and better than all that, one also in feeling and in heart?

Am I mistaken in this? Do not the concealments of which I speak still cover animosities, which neither time nor reflection nor the march of events has yet sufficed to subdue? I cannot believe it. Since I have been here I have scrutinized your sentiments, as expressed not merely in public debate, but in the abandon of personal confidence. I know well the sentiments of these my Southern friends, whose hearts are so infolded that the feeling of each is the feeling of all; and I see on both sides only the seeming of a constraint which each apparently hesitates to dismiss.

The South—prostrate, exhausted, drained of her life-blood as well as her material resources, yet still honorable and true—accepts the bitter award of the bloody arbitration without reservation, resolutely determined to abide the result with chivalrous fidelity. Yet, as if struck dumb by the magnitude of her reverses, she suffers on in silence. The North, exultant in her triumph and elevated by success, still cherishes, as we are assured, a heart full of magnanimous emotions toward her disarmed and discomfited antagonist; and yet, as if under some mysterious spell, her words and acts are words and acts of suspicion and distrust. Would that the spirit of the illustrious dead, whom we lament today, could speak from the grave to both parties to this deplorable discord, in tones which would reach each and every heart throughout this broad territory: My countrymen! Know one another and you will love one another.

The political sentiments of Charles Sumner are used in this passage to __________.

Possible Answers:

question the outcome of the Civil War

foment discord between the North and South

encourage harmony between the North and South

support the policies of the Reconstruction Era government

dismiss the claims made by Southerners

Correct answer:

encourage harmony between the North and South


The author employs a description of Charles Sumner’s life and political perspective to support his argument in favor of greater harmony between the North and the South. This can be primarily observed in lines 1-3: “Charles Sumner in life believed that all occasion for strife and distrust between the North and South had passed away, and there no longer remained any cause for continued estrangement between those two sections of our common country. Are there not many of us who believe the same thing?”

Example Question #22 : Understanding Causes And Effects In Social Science Or History Passages

Adapted from On Women’s Right to Vote (1872) by Susan B. Anthony

Friends and fellow citizens, I stand before you tonight under indictment for the alleged crime of having voted at the last presidential election, without having a lawful right to vote. It shall be my work this evening to prove to you that in thus voting, I not only committed no crime, but, instead, simply exercised my citizen's rights, guaranteed to me and all United States citizens by the National Constitution, beyond the power of any state to deny.

The preamble of the Federal Constitution says: "We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union. And we formed it, not to give the blessings of liberty, but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity, but to the whole people—women as well as men. And it is a downright mockery to talk to women of their enjoyment of the blessings of liberty while they are denied the use of the only means of securing them provided by this democratic-republican government—the ballot.

What does the author of this passage believe is the only means of securing the “blessings of liberty” (line 16)?

Possible Answers:

Rewriting the United States Constitution

Organized exhortations of politicians

Voting in elections

Peaceful protest

Adhering to the Cult of Domesticity

Correct answer:

Voting in elections


This question can be answered simply by reading the concluding sentence to the passage. The author states that the “blessings of liberty” can only be secured at “the ballot.” This is an idiomatic way of expressing that liberty is secured through voting in elections. Although the author does mention the United States Constitution, it is primarily used to quote the authority of a respected source and to support the author’s argument.

Example Question #1 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Argumentative 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)

Many considerations, besides those suggested on a former occasion, seem to place it beyond doubt that the first and most natural attachment of the people will be to the governments of their respective states. Into the administration of these a greater number of individuals will expect to rise. From the gift of these a greater number of offices and emoluments will flow. By the superintending care of these, all the more domestic and personal interests of the people will be regulated and provided for. With the affairs of these, the people will be more familiarly and minutely conversant. And with the members of these, will a greater proportion of the people have the ties of personal acquaintance and friendship, and of family and party attachments; on the side of these, therefore, the popular bias may well be expected most strongly to incline.

Experience speaks the same language in this case. The federal administration, though hitherto very defective in comparison with what may be hoped under a better system, had, during the war, and particularly whilst the independent fund of paper emissions was in credit, an activity and importance as great as it can well have in any future circumstances whatever. It was engaged, too, in a course of measures which had for their object the protection of everything that was dear and the acquisition of everything that could be desirable to the people at large. It was, nevertheless, invariably found, after the transient enthusiasm for the early Congresses was over, that the attention and attachment of the people were turned anew to their own particular governments; that the federal council was at no time the idol of popular favor; and that opposition to proposed enlargements of its powers and importance was the side usually taken by the men who wished to build their political consequence on the prepossessions of their fellow-citizens.

Which of the following is NOT a result the author mentions as likely to arise from people being more attached to their state governments than to their federal government?

Possible Answers:

More state governmental offices will be created.

State taxes will increase in order to pay for expanding state governments.

Citizens will be more aware of the actions of their state governments.

More people will have friends and relatives who work in the state governments.

More individuals will work for state governments.

Correct answer:

State taxes will increase in order to pay for expanding state governments.


While it is logical that state taxes may very well rise if all of the other effects of citizens' preference for state government take place, the author never mentions taxes in the paragraph. All of the other answer choices are mentioned in the first paragraph of the passage as potential effects caused by the relative popularity of state governments.

Example Question #5 : Understanding Style, Argument, And Organization 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 argues that understanding the content of dreams is necessary for __________.

Possible Answers:

understanding delusional ideas

comprehending the therapeutic importance of dreams

accurately diagnosing a number of psychological conditions in patients

understanding the rest of the work from which this passage is drawn

understanding why he had difficulty choosing dreams to discuss in the work that follows

Correct answer:

understanding delusional ideas


At the end of the first paragraph, the author states, “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.” Thus, the correct answer is that understanding the content of dreams is necessary for understanding delusional ideas.

Example Question #1 : Extrapolating From The Text In Mixed Passages

Adapted from The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (1776)

The greatest improvements in the productive powers of labor, and the greater part of the skill, dexterity, and judgment with which it is anywhere directed or applied, seem to have been the effects of the division of labor. The effects of the division of labor, in the general business of society, will be more easily understood by considering in what manner it operates in some particular manufactures. It is commonly supposed to be carried furthest in some very trifling ones; not perhaps that it really is carried further in them than in others of more importance, but in those trifling manufactures that are destined to supply the small wants of but a small number of people, the whole number of workmen must necessarily be small; and those employed in every different branch of the work can often be collected into the same workhouse, and placed at once under the view of the spectator.

In those great manufactures, on the contrary, which are destined to supply the great wants of the great body of the people, every different branch of the work employs so great a number of workmen that it is impossible to collect them all into the same workhouse. We can seldom see more, at one time, than those employed in one single branch. Though in such manufactures, therefore, the work may really be divided into a much greater number of parts, than in those of a more trifling nature, the division is not near so obvious, and has accordingly been much less observed.

To take an example, therefore, from a very trifling manufacture, but one in which the division of labor has been very often taken notice of: the trade of a pin-maker. A workman not educated to this business (which the division of labor has rendered a distinct trade), nor acquainted with the use of the machinery employed in it (to the invention of which the same division of labor has probably given occasion), could scarce, perhaps, with his utmost industry, make one pin in a day, and certainly could not make twenty. But in the way in which this business is now carried on, not only the whole work is a peculiar trade, but it is divided into a number of branches, of which the greater part are likewise peculiar trades. One man draws out the wire; another straights it; a third cuts it; a fourth points it; a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head; to make the head requires two or three distinct operations; to put it on is a peculiar business; to whiten the pins is another; it is even a trade by itself to put them into the paper; and the important business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about eighteen distinct operations, which, in some manufactories, are all performed by distinct hands, though in others the same man will sometimes perform two or three of them.

In every other art and manufacture, the effects of the division of labour are similar to what they are in this very trifling one; though, in many of them, the labour can neither be so much subdivided, nor reduced to so great a simplicity of operation. The division of labour, however, so far as it can be introduced, occasions, in every art, a proportionable increase of the productive powers of labour. The separation of different trades and employments from one another, seems to have taken place, in consequence of this advantage.

Which of the following does the author identify as the likely cause of the invention of the specific machinery involved in manufacturing pins?

Possible Answers:

the number of people involved in the pin-making industry.

the relative usefulness of pins.

the division of labor.

the huge demand for pins.

Correct answer:

the division of labor.


The only point at which the author discusses the machinery involved in manufacturing pins is in the third paragraph, when he states, “A workman not educated to this business (which the division of labor has rendered a distinct trade), nor acquainted with the use of the machinery employed in it (to the invention of which the same division of labor has probably given occasion), could scarce, perhaps, with his utmost industry, make one pin in a day, and certainly could not make twenty.” The second parenthetical remark tells us that the author thinks that the division of labor likely gave rise to the machinery used in pin-making.

Learning Tools by Varsity Tutors

Incompatible Browser

Please upgrade or download one of the following browsers to use Instant Tutoring: