SAT Critical Reading : Analyzing Sequence, Organization, and Structure in Humanities Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT Critical Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Sequence, Organization, And Structure In Humanities Passages

Adapted from “Advice to Youth” by Mark Twain (1882)

Being told I would be expected to talk here, I inquired what sort of talk I ought to make. They said it should be something suitable to youth--something didactic, instructive, or something in the nature of good advice. Very well. I have a few things in my mind which I have often longed to say for the instruction of the young; for it is in one’s tender early years that such things will best take root and be most enduring and most valuable. First, then I will say to you my young friends--and I say it beseechingly, urgently-- Always obey your parents, when they are present. This is the best policy in the long run, because if you don’t, they will make you. Most parents think they know better than you do, and you can generally make more by humoring that superstition than you can by acting on your own better judgment.

Be respectful to your superiors, if you have any, also to strangers, and sometimes to others. If a person offends you and you are in doubt as to whether it was intentional or not, do not resort to extreme measures; simply watch your chance and hit him with a brick. That will be sufficient. If you shall find that he had not intended any offense, come out frankly and confess yourself in the wrong when you struck him; acknowledge it like a man and say you didn’t mean to. 

Go to bed early, get up early--this is wise. Some authorities say get up with the sun; some say get up with one thing, others with another. But a lark is really the best thing to get up with. It gives you a splendid reputation with everybody to know that you get up with the lark; and if you get the right kind of lark, and work at him right, you can easily train him to get up at half past nine, every time--it’s no trick at all.

Now as to the matter of lying. You want to be very careful about lying; otherwise you are nearly sure to get caught. Once caught, you can never again be in the eyes to the good and the pure, what you were before. Many a young person has injured himself permanently through a single clumsy and ill finished lie, the result of carelessness born of incomplete training. Some authorities hold that the young ought not to lie at all. That of course, is putting it rather stronger than necessary; still while I cannot go quite so far as that, I do maintain, and I believe I am right, that the young ought to be temperate in the use of this great art until practice and experience shall give them that confidence, elegance, and precision which alone can make the accomplishment graceful and profitable. Patience, diligence, painstaking attention to detail--these are requirements; these in time, will make the student perfect; upon these only, may he rely as the sure foundation for future eminence. 

But I have said enough. I hope you will treasure up the instructions which I have given you, and make them a guide to your feet and a light to your understanding. Build your character thoughtfully and painstakingly upon these precepts, and by and by, when you have got it built, you will be surprised and gratified to see how nicely and sharply it resembles everybody else’s.

The third paragraph best captures the author’s __________.

Possible Answers:

emphasis on humor


opinion on animals


point of view

Correct answer:

emphasis on humor


The third paragraph appears right in the middle of the passage and compared to the other paragraphs offers relatively little practical or serious advice. Because it offers comparably little it is unlikely that the third paragraph is being used to capture the author’s point of view. Although an animal is mentioned, the author makes no reference to his opinions on animals so that answer choice can be eliminated. Likewise, the author expresses neither his frustrations nor his misgivings. This leaves only the answer choice “emphasis on humor” which is the correct answer. The author uses the description of how to train a lark to wake up late in order that its trainer can sleep in late to humor the audience and solidify the comedic tone of the passage.

Example Question #2 : Analyzing Sequence, Organization, And Structure In Humanities Passages

Adapted from Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads by John A. Lomax (1910)

The big ranches of the West are now being cut up into small farms. The nester has come, and come to stay. Gone is the buffalo and the free grass of the open plain—even the stinging lizard, the horned frog, the centipede, the prairie dog, the rattlesnake, are fast disappearing. Save in some of the secluded valleys of southern New Mexico, the old-time round-up is no more; the trails to Kansas and to Montana have become grass-grown or lost in fields of waving grain; the maverick steer, the regal longhorn, has been supplanted by his unpoetic but more beefy and profitable Polled Angus, Durham, and Hereford cousins from across the seas. The changing and romantic West of the early days lives mainly in story and in song. The last figure to vanish is the cowboy, the animating spirit of the vanishing era. He sits his horse easily as he rides through a wide valley, enclosed by mountains, clad in the hazy purple of coming night,—with his face turned steadily down the long, long road, "the road that the sun goes down." Dauntless, reckless, without the unearthly purity of Sir Galahad though as gentle to a woman as King Arthur, he is truly a knight of the twentieth century. A vagrant puff of wind shakes a corner of the crimson handkerchief knotted loosely at his throat; the thud of his pony's feet mingling with the jingle of his spurs is borne back; and as the careless, gracious, lovable figure disappears over the divide, the breeze brings to the ears, faint and far yet cheery still, the refrain of a cowboy song.

Why does the author start the passage by listing disappearing species of the plains?

Possible Answers:

To highlight the bravery of the cowboys

To give the reader important context about the ecosystem of the American West

To compare the cowboy to other disappearing figures of the American West

To draw attention to the problem of endangered species

To describe the sparse economic resources that cowboys had available to them

Correct answer:

To compare the cowboy to other disappearing figures of the American West


The author starts the paragraph by describing how the entire western landscape, including the variety of animals that live there, is changing. He then shifts to talking about cowboys with this transition: “The last figure to vanish is the cowboy, the animating spirit of the vanishing era.” In this way, the author puts the cowboy into context by comparing him to other classic—and disappearing—figures of the American West.

Example Question #383 : Humanities

Passage adapted from "Of One Defect in Our Government" in Essays of Michael, Seigneur de Montaigne in The Complete Works of Michael de Montaigne (1580, trans. C. Cotton, ed. W. Hazlitt 1842)

My late father, a man that had no other advantages than experience and his own natural parts, was nevertheless of a very clear judgment, formerly told me that he once had thoughts of endeavoring to introduce this practice; that there might be in every city a certain place assigned to which such as stood in need of anything might repair, and have their business entered by an officer appointed for that purpose. As for example: I want a chapman to buy my pearls; I want one that has pearls to sell; such a one wants company to go to Paris; such a one seeks a servant of such a quality; such a one a master; such a one such an artificer; some inquiring for one thing, some for another, every one according to what he wants. And doubtless, these mutual advertisements would be of no contemptible advantage to the public correspondence and intelligence: for there are evermore conditions that hunt after one another, and for want of knowing one another's occasions leave men in very great necessity.

I have heard, to the great shame of the age we live in, that in our very sight two most excellent men for learning died so poor that they had scarce bread to put in their mouths: Lilius Gregorius Giraldus in Italy and Sebastianus Castalio in Germany: and I believe there are a thousand men would have invited them into their families, with very advantageous conditions, or have relieved them where they were, had they known their wants. The world is not so generally corrupted, but that I know a man that would heartily wish the estate his ancestors have left him might be employed, so long as it shall please fortune to give him leave to enjoy it, to secure rare and remarkable persons of any kind, whom misfortune sometimes persecutes to the last degree, from the dangers of necessity; and at least place them in such a condition that they must be very hard to please, if they are not contented.

My father in his domestic economy had this rule (which I know how to commend, but by no means to imitate), namely, that besides the day-book or memorial of household affairs, where the small accounts, payments, and disbursements, which do not require a secretary's hand, were entered, and which a steward always had in custody, he ordered him whom he employed to write for him, to keep a journal, and in it to set down all the remarkable occurrences, and daily memorials of the history of his house: very pleasant to look over, when time begins to wear things out of memory, and very useful sometimes to put us out of doubt when such a thing was begun, when ended; what visitors came, and when they went; our travels, absences, marriages, and deaths; the reception of good or ill news; the change of principal servants, and the like. An ancient custom, which I think it would not be amiss for every one to revive in his own house; and I find I did very foolishly in neglecting it.

What function do Lilius Gregorius Giraldus and Sebastianus Castalio serve in the passage?

Possible Answers:

They are two men on which the narrator, a poor intellectual, has relied on for financial support.

They are two of the narrator's critics, mentioned as the narrator defends himself from their criticism.

They are two men who each helped to support famous thinkers, providing evidence for the narrator's claim that this practice occurs.

They serve as two examples of famous intellectuals who have died poor because no one knew they needed financial help and support.

They are two of the narrator's father's friends, and their comments on the narrator's father confirm the narrator's description of his father to be accurate.

Correct answer:

They serve as two examples of famous intellectuals who have died poor because no one knew they needed financial help and support.


Lilius Gregorius Giraldus and Sebastianus Castalio are mentioned in the passage's second paragraph in this context: "I have heard, to the great shame of the age we live in, that in our very sight two most excellent men for learning died so poor that they had scarce bread to put in their mouths: Lilius Gregorius Giraldus in Italy and Sebastianus Castalio in Germany: and I believe there are a thousand men would have invited them into their families, with very advantageous conditions, or have relieved them where they were, had they known their wants." From this quotation, we can tell that these two men are mentioned to "serve as two examples of famous intellectuals who have died poor because no one knew they needed financial help and support." It's important to read carefully in order to correctly determine the relationships between the narrator and the people mentioned in the passage.

Example Question #892 : Passage Based Questions

Adapted from Strength and Decency by Theodore Roosevelt (1903)

There is always a tendency among very young men and among boys who are not quite young men as yet to think that to be wicked is rather smart; to think it shows that they are men. Oh, how often you see some young fellow who boasts that he is going to "see life," meaning by that that he is going to see that part of life which it is a thousand fold better should remain unseen!

I ask that every man here constitute himself his brother's keeper by setting an example to that younger brother which will prevent him from getting such a false estimate of life. Example is the most potent of all things. If any one of you in the presence of younger boys, and especially the younger people of our own family, misbehave yourself, if you use coarse and blasphemous language before them, you can be sure that these younger people will follow your example and not your precept. Remember that the preaching does not count if it is not backed up by practice. There is no good in your preaching to your boys to be brave if you run away. There is no good in your preaching to them to tell the truth if you do not. There is no good in your preaching to them to be unselfish if they see you selfish with your wife, disregardful of others. You must feel that the most effective way in which you can preach is by your practice.

In this passage the author emphasizes which aspect of “young men”?

Possible Answers:






Correct answer:



In this passage the author emphasizes how susceptible young people are to the examples set by older people. The correct answer is therefore that this passage emphasizes the malleability of young people. To be malleable means to be impressionable or easily influenced by others. Apathy means not caring; discretion means judgment and prudence. The possible immorality of young people is mentioned in the first paragraph, but is not emphasized in the manner in which the malleable nature of young people is.

Example Question #3 : Analyzing Sequence, Organization, And Structure In Humanities Passages

"Not Just Brains Can Be Smart: Why You Should Educate Your Body Too" by Megan Simon (2013)

Several years ago, a communications professor of mine was discussing the unequal opportunities that are available to African American students in America. Many students, she said, were told by society that the only way they could succeed and go on to a higher education was if they excelled at athletics. Discouraged from the hope of excelling in an intellectual field, they resorted to “selling their bodies.”

This comment, although obviously well-meant and addressed towards an unacceptable situation of racial inequality, disturbed me in a way that I was not able to articulate at the time. Reflecting upon it, however, it becomes obvious why I find this type of attitude deeply concerning. I am a dancer. The primary instrument in my field is the human body. I use my body everyday to gain creative, academic, and professional success. Am I selling myself?

Let’s say that I am. But now think about other professions, like literature or mathematics. Novelists, what do they do? They sell their words. Mathematicians? They sell their reasoning. And this exchange is socially acceptable. We strive to sell our brains, to place them on the open market. When it comes to the body, on the other hand, things become dirty, cheap—comparable to prostitution.

Academia does the best that it can to separate the mind from the body, to keep pure intellectualism free from the superficiality of the physical body. So proud are we of our human ability to think and reflect that we value the abstract world of reason more than corporeal one around us. We think that by doing so we remove physical limitations and supersede physical prejudices. But limitations and prejudices exist just as much in the realm of the mind as that of the body.

How is dance affected by this fierce devotion to the mind/body dichotomy? It has been forced to fight its way into academic institutions, even more so than the other arts. Visual arts and music are clearly products of the creative mind, but dance is tainted by its association with the body. Before gaining academic legitimacy, it has had to prove that it can be notated, theorized, and philosophized.

While I recognize the great value in these more mind-based approaches to dance, it worries me that so few people recognize the existence of a physical intelligence. Dancers know that movement communicates in a way that is not possible to articulate with words and logic. They know that they can train their bodies to be aware and communicate more effectively, that they can discover new approaches to movement and physical being, and that they can create a bodily discourse. I believe that everyone realizes the power of this communication on some level, but it is so often relegated to the role of interesting afterthought—If you are bored by the actual content of the presidential debates, here’s how to analyze the candidates’ gestures! We have an attitude that if we can’t come up with a consensus of how to describe it in words, it must not be worth studying. And with this attitude, we exclude so much of the world from the ivory tower.

I understand what that communications professor was trying to say. No one should think that their mind is not worthy of higher education. No one should be excluded from that type of intellectual endeavor. But focusing on training the body, whether it be athletics or dance or even everyday, physical communication, should not be seen as a less desirable alternative. The mind and the body could not exist without one another. It is past time that we threw away this arbitrary separation and embraced the entire human experience.

The purpose of the third paragraph is __________.

Possible Answers:

to condemn prostitution as a social practice

to compare dancers to mathematicians and novelists

to reevaluate what defines an intellectual pursuit

to discuss social norms of the professional market

to compare the idea of selling one’s body to the idea of selling one’s brain

Correct answer:

to compare the idea of selling one’s body to the idea of selling one’s brain


This paragraph compares dancers with other professions and discusses social norms. The most specific answer, however, is that it compares the ideas of selling one’s body vs. brain. The comparison of professions is part of this wider purpose.

Example Question #894 : Passage Based Questions

Adapted from Walden by Henry Thoreau (1854)

Still we live meanly, like ants; it is error upon error, and clout upon clout, and our best virtue has for its occasion a superfluous and evitable wretchedness. Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumbnail. In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce other things in proportion.

Our life is like a German Confederacy, made up of petty states, with its boundary forever fluctuating, so that even a German cannot tell you how it is bounded at any moment. The nation itself, with all its so-called internal improvements, which, by the way are all external and superficial, is just such an unwieldy and overgrown establishment, cluttered with furniture and tripped up by its own traps, ruined by luxury and heedless expense, by want of calculation and a worthy aim, as the million households in the land; and the only cure for it, as for them, is in a rigid economy, a stern and more than Spartan simplicity of life and elevation of purpose. It lives too fast. Men think that it is essential that the Nation have commerce, and export ice, and talk through a telegraph, and ride thirty miles an hour, without a doubt, whether they do or not, but whether we should live like baboons or like men is a little uncertain. If we do not get out sleepers, and forge rails, and devote days and nights to the work, but go to tinkering upon our lives to improve them, who will build railroads? And if railroads are not built, how shall we get to heaven in season? But if we stay at home and mind our business, who will want railroads? We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us. Did you ever think what those sleepers are that underlie the railroad? Each one is a man, an Irishman, or a Yankee man. The rails are laid on them, and they are covered with sand, and the cars run smoothly over them. They are sound sleepers, I assure you.

The underlined sentence functions as __________ in context.

Possible Answers:

a transition into the ideas discussed in the next paragraph

a use of figurative language to emphasize the author’s point

a counterpoint to a critic’s rebuttal

a concrete example of how the reader can simplify

an authorial aside only loosely related to the passage’s main topic

Correct answer:

a concrete example of how the reader can simplify


The underlined sentence is, “Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce other things in proportion.” Its position as the last line of the first paragraph may make it seem like “a transition into the ideas discussed in the next paragraph,” but as the second paragraph begins on an entirely new point, this isn’t the best answer. It is related to the author’s discussion of simplicity, so we can’t say that it is “an authorial aside only loosely related to the passage’s main topic.” No critics are mentioned in the passage, so we can’t claim it to be “a counterpoint to a critic’s rebuttal.” While it is emphasizing the author’s point, it’s not using figurative language to do so, so “a use of figurative language to emphasize the author’s point” can’t be correct either. This leaves us with one answer choice, the correct one: the sentence is functioning as “a concrete example of how the reader can simplify.” This is especially visible in that it directly follows the author’s exhortation of “Simplify, simplify.”

Example Question #4 : Analyzing Sequence, Organization, And Structure In Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Swift" in Volume III of Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets by Samuel Johnson (1781)

In Swift's works, he has given very different specimens both of sentiment and expression. His Tale of a Tub has little resemblance to his other pieces. It exhibits a vehemence and rapidity of mind, a copiousness of images, and vivacity of diction, such as he afterwards never possessed, or never exerted. It is of a mode so distinct and peculiar, that it must be considered by itself; what is true of that, is not true of any thing else which he has written.

In his other works is found an equable tenor of easy language, which rather trickles than flows. His delight was in simplicity. That he has in his works no metaphor, as has been said, is not true; but his few metaphors seem to be received rather by necessity than choice. He studied purity; and though perhaps all his strictures are not exact, yet it is not often that solecisms can be found; and whoever depends on his authority may generally conclude himself safe. His sentences are never too much dilated or contracted; and it will not be easy to find any embarrassment in the complication of his clauses, any inconsequence in his connections, or abruptness in his transitions.

His style was well suited to his thoughts, which are never subtilized by nice disquisitions, decorated by sparkling conceits, elevated by ambitious sentences, or variegated by far-sought learning. He pays no court to the passions; he excites neither surprise nor admiration; he always understands himself, and his readers always understand him. The peruser of Swift wants little previous knowledge; it will be sufficient that he is acquainted with common words and common things; he is neither required to mount elevations nor to explore profundities; his passage is always on a level, along solid ground, without asperities, without obstruction.

Johnson praises Swift for all of the following in the second paragraph EXCEPT __________.

Possible Answers:

the simplicity of Swift's style

the trustworthiness of Swift's authority

the economy of Swift's metaphors

the vividness of Swift's images

Correct answer:

the vividness of Swift's images


Johnson never mentions Swift's imagery in this paragraph, though he does mention the "copiousness of images" found in A Tale of a Tub in the first paragraph.

Example Question #5 : Analyzing Sequence, Organization, And Structure In Humanities Passages

Passage adapted from Maximilien Robespierre's Speech on Terror (1794)

What is the aim we want to achieve? The peaceful enjoyment of liberty and equality, the reign of that eternal justice whose laws have been engraved, not in stone and marble, but in the hearts of all men, even in the heart of the slave who forgets them or of the tyrant who denies them.

We want a state of affairs where all despicable and cruel passions are unknown and all kind and generous passions are aroused by the laws; where ambition is the desire to deserve glory and to serve the fatherland; where distinctions arise only from equality itself; where the citizen submits to the magistrate, the magistrate to the people and the people to justice; where the fatherland guarantees the well-being of each individual, and where each individual enjoys with pride the prosperity and glory of the fatherland; where all souls elevate themselves through constant communication of republican sentiments and through the need to deserve the esteem of a great people; whether the arts are the decorations of liberty that ennobles them, where commerce is the source of public wealth and not only of the monstrous opulence of a few houses.

In our country we want to substitute morality for egoism, honesty for honor, principles for customs, duties for decorum, the rate of reason for the tyranny of custom, the contempt of vice for the contempt of misfortune, pride for insolence, magnanimity for vanity, love of glory for love of money, good people for well-bred people, merit for intrigue, genius for wit, truth for pompous action, warmth of happiness for boredom of sensuality, greatness of man for pettiness of the great; a magnanimous, powerful, happy people for the polite, frivolous, despicable people— that is to say, all the virtues and all the miracles of the Republic for all the vices and all the absurdities of the monarchy.

In one word, we want to fulfill the wishes of nature, accomplish the destiny of humanity, keep the promises of philosophy, absolve Providence from the long reign of crime and tyranny.

What kind of government can realize these marvels? Only a democratic or republican government.

But what is the fundamental principle of the democratic or popular government, that is to say, the essential strength that sustains it and make it move. It is virtue: I am speaking of the public virtue which brought about so many marvels in Greece and Rome and which must bring about much more astonishing ones yet in republican France; of that virtue which is nothing more than love of fatherland and of its laws.

If the strength of popular government in peacetime is virtue, the strength of popular government in revolution is both virtue and terror; terror without virtue is disastrous, virtue without terror is powerless. Terror is nothing without prompt, severe, and inflexible justice; it is thus an emanation of virtue; but is less a particular principle than a consequence of the general principle of democracy applied to the most urgent needs of the fatherland. It is said that terror is the strength of despotic government. Does ours then resemble despotism? Yes, as the sword that shines in the hands of the heroes of liberty resemble the one with which the satellites of tyranny are armed. Let the despot govern his brutalized subjects through terror and you will be right as founders of the Republic. The government of revolution is the despotism of liberty against tyranny.

What is the function of the third paragraph ("In our country we want to substitute...") in the passage as a whole?

Possible Answers:

To provide detail regarding the sort of society the author hopes to achieve

To demonstrate the moral shortcomings of non-democratic governance

To provide historical context for the revolution

To provide evidence regarding the travesties of the present government

Correct answer:

To provide detail regarding the sort of society the author hopes to achieve


The author uses this paragraph to lament the current state of affairs specifically in order to provide details about the sort of society he hopes will appear after the revolution. The author provides no historical context for revolution, nor does he provide evidence regarding the travesties of the present government. In addition, the author does not argue that all non-democratic societies experience these shortcomings.

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