SAT Critical Reading : Context-Dependent Meaning of Words in Paired Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT Critical Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Words In Paired Passages

Passage #1

Adapted from "On War" by James Boswell (1777)

When I saw workingmen engaged with grave assiduity in fashioning weapons of death, I was struck with wonder at the shortsightedness of human beings, who were soberly preparing the instruments of destruction of their own species. I have since found upon a closer study of man, that my wonder might have been spared. The views of most individuals are limited to their own happiness, and the workmen whom I beheld so busy in the arsenal of Venice saw nothing but what was good in the labor for which they received such wages as procured them the comforts of life. That their immediate satisfaction was not hindered by a view of the remote consequential and contingent evils for which they were responsible would not surprise one who has had seen too much of the world. We must have the telescope of philosophy to make us perceive distant ills; further, we know that there are individuals of our species to whom the immediate misery of others is nothing in comparison with their own advantage—for we know that in every age there have been found men very willing to perform the office of executioner.

 

Passage #2

Adapted from "What is Patriotism?" by Max Eastman (1915)

With proper recognition of the possible variation of individuals, we can say that patriotism is one of these unalterable facts of man's nature. A talent for fighting solidarity with a group is a part of the instinct of human beings. It is composed of two tendencies that are laid down in his nervous system when he is born called pugnacity and gregariousness, or group-loyalty. All men and most animals are pugnacious. They love to fight. Everybody loves to fight. Some people get all the fighting they want at the breakfast table, and other people have to carry it out in the law courts or the battlefield, where it makes more noise. [Theodore] Roosevelt loves to charge up San Juan Hill, and then he loves to prosecute for libel anybody that says he didn't charge up San Juan Hill. War people fight for war and peace people fight for peace. When Roosevelt calls the peace people mollycoddles and college sissies, I only want to walk up and smash him.

It is far better though that we should conquer our instinct to fight and put faith in reason. It may seem gigantic; but it is by no means a utopian undertaking to unite the whole world of nations in such a federation. For all the organic interests of men, except their sheer love of patriotic fighting itself, are against the perpetual recurrence of international war. War and the mere joy of existence are incompatible. War makes it impossible to live, and it makes it impossible even to die for a noble purpose. Let men but understand themselves, and the mechanism of their emotions by which they are brought into this perennial catastrophe, and they will be ready enough to take gigantic measures to prevent it.

As the author of Passage 2 uses it in the passage's last line, the word “perennial” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

intrepid

nostalgic

occasional

miserly

recurrent

Correct answer:

recurrent

Explanation:

The word “perennial” is most frequently used to describe something that is either recurring or enduring. If you did not know this, it is difficult to solve this question from the context of the sentence, unless you go about it by means of eliminating incorrect answers. "Occasional" loosely means infrequent and goes against the author’s intention when plugged in to the sentence. "Nostalgic" means looking back on past events fondly, and "intrepid" means adventurous. Neither of these answers adequately describes a “catastrophe” like war. "Miserly" means not generous, and this also does not fit. If you were able to eliminate all four of the other answers, you would arrive at "recurrent" as the solution.

Example Question #2 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Words In Paired Passages

Passage One

Adapted from The Every-day Life of Abraham Lincoln by Francis Fisher Browne (1913)

It is stated that Lincoln "had an almost morbid dislike to an escort, or guard, and daily exposed himself to the deadly aim of an assassin." To the remonstrances of friends, who feared his constant exposure to danger, he had but one answer: "If they kill me, the next man will be just as bad for them; and in a country like this, where our habits are simple, and must be, assassination is always possible, and will come if they are determined upon it." A cavalry guard was once placed at the gates of the White House for a while, and Lincoln said that he "worried until he got rid of it." He once remarked to Colonel Halpine: "It would never do for a President to have guards with drawn sabers at his door, as if he fancied he were, or were trying to be, or were assuming to be, an emperor." While the President's family were at their summer-house, near Washington, he rode into town of a morning, or out at night, attended by a mounted escort; but if he returned to town for a while after dark, he rode in unguarded, and often alone, in his open carriage. On more than one occasion, the same writer tells us, he "has gone through the streets of Washington at a late hour of the night with the President, without escort, or even the company of a servant, walking all the way, going and returning. Considering the many open and secret threats to take his life, it is not surprising that Lincoln had many thoughts about his coming to a sudden and violent end.

 

Passage Two

Adapted from Volume Two of Abraham Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life by William H. Herndon and Jesse W. Weik (1896)

Bancroft's eulogy on Lincoln never pleased the latter's lifelong friends—those who knew him so thoroughly and well. February 16, 1866, David Davis, who had heard it, wrote me: "You will see Mr. Bancroft's oration before this reaches you. It is able, but Mr. Lincoln is in the background. His analysis of Mr. Lincoln's character is superficial. It did not please me. How did it satisfy you?" On the 22nd he again wrote: "Mr. Bancroft totally misconceived Mr. Lincoln's character in applying 'unsteadiness' and confusion to it. Mr. Lincoln grew more steady and resolute, and his ideas were never confused. If there were any changes in him after he got here they were for the better. I thought him always master of his subject. He was a much more self-possessed man than I thought. He thought for himself, which is a rare quality nowadays. How could Bancroft know anything about Lincoln except as he judged of him as the public do? He never saw him, and is himself as cold as an icicle. I should never have selected an old Democratic politician, and that one from Massachusetts, to deliver an eulogy on Lincoln."

In Passage One, what is the closest meaning of the bolded and underlined word “remonstrances”?

Possible Answers:

Memories

Protests

Compliments

Obligations

Demonstrations

Correct answer:

Protests

Explanation:

We can determine the meaning of “remonstrances” from context. If Lincoln’s friends are fearing his exposure to danger, they are protesting his dislike of bodyguards.

Example Question #3 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Words In Paired Passages

Passage One

Adapted from The Every-day Life of Abraham Lincoln by Francis Fisher Browne (1913)

It is stated that Lincoln "had an almost morbid dislike to an escort, or guard, and daily exposed himself to the deadly aim of an assassin." To the remonstrances of friends, who feared his constant exposure to danger, he had but one answer: "If they kill me, the next man will be just as bad for them; and in a country like this, where our habits are simple, and must be, assassination is always possible, and will come if they are determined upon it." A cavalry guard was once placed at the gates of the White House for a while, and Lincoln said that he "worried until he got rid of it." He once remarked to Colonel Halpine: "It would never do for a President to have guards with drawn sabers at his door, as if he fancied he were, or were trying to be, or were assuming to be, an emperor." While the President's family were at their summer-house, near Washington, he rode into town of a morning, or out at night, attended by a mounted escort; but if he returned to town for a while after dark, he rode in unguarded, and often alone, in his open carriage. On more than one occasion, the same writer tells us, he "has gone through the streets of Washington at a late hour of the night with the President, without escort, or even the company of a servant, walking all the way, going and returning. Considering the many open and secret threats to take his life, it is not surprising that Lincoln had many thoughts about his coming to a sudden and violent end.

 

Passage Two

Adapted from Volume Two of Abraham Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life by William H. Herndon and Jesse W. Weik (1896)

Bancroft's eulogy on Lincoln never pleased the latter's lifelong friends—those who knew him so thoroughly and well. February 16, 1866, David Davis, who had heard it, wrote me: "You will see Mr. Bancroft's oration before this reaches you. It is able, but Mr. Lincoln is in the background. His analysis of Mr. Lincoln's character is superficial. It did not please me. How did it satisfy you?" On the 22nd he again wrote: "Mr. Bancroft totally misconceived Mr. Lincoln's character in applying 'unsteadiness' and confusion to it. Mr. Lincoln grew more steady and resolute, and his ideas were never confused. If there were any changes in him after he got here they were for the better. I thought him always master of his subject. He was a much more self-possessed man than I thought. He thought for himself, which is a rare quality nowadays. How could Bancroft know anything about Lincoln except as he judged of him as the public do? He never saw him, and is himself as cold as an icicle. I should never have selected an old Democratic politician, and that one from Massachusetts, to deliver an eulogy on Lincoln."

In Passage Two, what is the closest meaning of the underlined and bolded word “resolute”?

Possible Answers:

Determined

Interminable

Garrulous

Pigheaded

Vacillating

Correct answer:

Determined

Explanation:

“Resolute” means determined. This can be gathered from the context clues: in the same sentence, the author notes in an approving way that Lincoln became more steady and was not confused, and the word that best matches these traits is “resolute.” “Pigheaded” means stubborn and is too strong a word for this passage’s tone. “Vacillating” means wavering or constantly changing opinions, “interminable” means endless or continuing for a very long amount of time, and “garrulous” means excessively talkative.

Example Question #1 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Words In Paired Passages

Passage One

Adapted from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1891)

The studio was filled with the rich odor of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.

From the corner of the divan of Persian saddlebags on which he was lying, smoking, as was his custom, innumerable cigarettes, Lord Henry Wotton could just catch the gleam of the honey-sweet and honey-colored blossoms of a laburnum, whose tremulous branches seemed hardly able to bear the burden of a beauty so flame-like as theirs; and now and then the fantastic shadows of birds in flight flitted across the long tussore-silk curtains that were stretched in front of the huge window, making him think of those painters of Tokyo who, through the medium of an art that is necessarily immobile, seek to convey the sense of swiftness and motion. The sullen murmur of the bees shouldering their way through the long unmown grass, or circling with monotonous insistence round the dusty gilt horns of the straggling woodbine, seemed to make the stillness more oppressive. The dim roar of London was like the bourdon note of a distant organ.

In the center of the room, clamped to an upright easel, stood the full-length portrait of a young man of extraordinary personal beauty, and in front of it, some little distance away, was sitting the artist himself, Basil Hallward, whose sudden disappearance some years ago caused, at the time, such public excitement, and gave rise to so many strange conjectures.

 

Passage Two

Adapted from Sketches by Boz by Charles Dickens (1836)

How much is conveyed in those two short words—"The parish!" And with how many tales of distress and misery, of broken fortune and ruined hopes, too often of unrelieved wretchedness and successful knavery, are they associated! A poor man, with small earnings, and a large family, just manages to live on from hand to mouth, and to procure food from day to day; he has barely sufficient to satisfy the present cravings of nature, and can take no heed of the future. His taxes are in arrear, quarter-day passes by, another quarter-day arrives: he can procure no more quarter for himself, and is summoned by—the parish. His goods are distrained, his children are crying with cold and hunger, and the very bed on which his sick wife is lying, is dragged from beneath her. What can he do? To whom is he to apply for relief? To private charity? To benevolent individuals? Certainly not—there is his parish. There are the parish vestry, the parish infirmary, the parish surgeon, the parish officers, the parish beadle—gentle, kind-hearted men. The woman dies—she is buried by the parish. The children have no protector—they are taken care of by the parish. The man first neglects, and afterwards cannot obtain, work—he is relieved by the parish; and when distress and drunkenness have done their work upon him, he is maintained, a harmless babbling idiot, in the parish asylum.

In Passage Two, what is the meaning of the underlined word “knavery”?

Possible Answers:

Contagion

Proselytization

Mischief

Poverty

Forlornness

Correct answer:

Mischief

Explanation:

When substituted into the sentence, the only noun that makes sense with the adjective “successful” is mischief. The author is implying that many impoverished families find themselves in dire straits because of mischief or roguishness, both synonyms of “knavery.”

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