TOEFL : Inferences about the author

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for TOEFL

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Inferences About The Author

Adapted from The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf (1915).

"[... Rachel] had been educated as the majority of well-to-do girls in the last part of the nineteenth century were educated. Kindly doctors and gentle old professors had taught her the rudiments of about ten different branches of knowledge, but they would as soon have forced her to go through one piece of drudgery thoroughly as they would have told her that her hands were dirty. The one hour or the two hours weekly passed very pleasantly, partly owing to the other pupils, partly to the fact that the window looked upon the back of a shop, where figures appeared against the red windows in winter, partly to the accidents that are bound to happen when more than two people are in the same room together. But there was no subject in the world which she knew accurately. Her mind was in the state of an intelligent man's in the beginning of the reign of Queen Elizabeth; she would believe practically anything she was told, invent reasons for anything she said. The shape of the earth, the history of the world, how trains worked, or money was invested, what laws were in force, which people wanted what, and why they wanted it, the most elementary idea of a system in modern life—none of this had been imparted to her by any of her professors or mistresses. But this system of education had one great advantage. It did not teach anything, but it put no obstacle in the way of any real talent that the pupil might chance to have. Rachel, being musical, was allowed to learn nothing but music; she became a fanatic about music. All the energies that might have gone into languages, science, or literature, that might have made her friends, or shown her the world, poured straight into music. Finding her teachers inadequate, she had practically taught herself. At the age of twenty-four she knew as much about music as most people do when they are thirty; and could play as well as nature allowed her to, which, as became daily more obvious, was a really generous allowance. If this one definite gift was surrounded by dreams and ideas of the most extravagant and foolish description, no one was any the wiser."

Based on this passage, what can be inferred about the author's attitude toward the education of women?

Possible Answers:

The author is impressed with the quality of women's education, using Rachel as an example of what female students could achieve thanks to this educational system

The author wishes that she could have received the kind of education Rachel did, even though it was flawed

The author implies that Rachel, and women in general, could achieve even more if they received a more rigorous education

The author is disdainful of Rachel's education because she does not approve of education for women in general

Correct answer:

The author implies that Rachel, and women in general, could achieve even more if they received a more rigorous education

Explanation:

Although the author is critical of Rachel's education (and thus the kind of education most wealthy women in the late nineteenth century would receive), she is not disdainful of education for women in general. Her attitude toward education is generally positive, even if she finds flaws in the system that she describes.

Example Question #2 : Inferences About The Author

Passage adapted from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass (1845).

        The slaves selected to go to the Great House Farm, for the monthly allowance for themselves and their fellow-slaves, were peculiarly enthusiastic. While on their way, they would make the dense old woods, for miles around, reverberate with their wild songs, revealing at once the highest joy and the deepest sadness. [...]

     I did not, when a slave, understand the deep meaning of those rude and apparently incoherent songs. I was myself within the circle; so that I neither saw nor heard as those without might see and hear. They told a tale of woe which was then altogether beyond my feeble comprehension; they were tones loud, long, and deep; they breathed the prayer and complaint of souls boiling over with the bitterest anguish. Every tone was a testimony against slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains. The hearing of those wild notes always depressed my spirit, and filled me with ineffable sadness. I have frequently found myself in tears while hearing them. The mere recurrence to those songs, even now, afflicts me; and while I am writing these lines, an expression of feeling has already found its way down my cheek. To those songs I trace my first glimmering conception of the dehumanizing character of slavery. I can never get rid of that conception. Those songs still follow me, to deepen my hatred of slavery, and quicken my sympathies for my brethren in bonds. If any one wishes to be impressed with the soul-killing effects of slavery, let him go to Colonel Lloyd's plantation, and, on allowance-day, place himself in the deep pine woods, and there let him, in silence, analyze the sounds that shall pass through the chambers of his soul,--and if he is not thus impressed, it will only be because "there is no flesh in his obdurate heart."

        I have often been utterly astonished, since I came to the north, to find persons who could speak of the singing, among slaves, as evidence of their contentment and happiness. It is impossible to conceive of a greater mistake. Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy. The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is relieved by its tears. At least, such is my experience. I have often sung to drown my sorrow, but seldom to express my happiness. Crying for joy, and singing for joy, were alike uncommon to me while in the jaws of slavery. The singing of a man cast away upon a desolate island might be as appropriately considered as evidence of contentment and happiness, as the singing of a slave; the songs of the one and of the other are prompted by the same emotion.

It can be inferred from the passage that _______________.

Possible Answers:

The author is disdainful of Northerners

The author hopes that some people might be moved to oppose slavery if they understood why slaves sing

The author believes that slaves' songs should be performed in major music venues

The author believes that slaves should have the right to sing whenever they want

Correct answer:

The author hopes that some people might be moved to oppose slavery if they understood why slaves sing

Explanation:

This passage is both about the slaves' songs and about the injustice of slavery. By explaining that the slaves sing to alleviate their pain, he aims to convince the reader that slavery is unjust-- a fact that would be further underscored if the reader listened to these songs.

Example Question #3 : Inferences About The Author

Adapted from Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)

After days and nights of incredible labor and fatigue, I succeeded in discovering the cause of generation and life; nay, more, I became myself capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter.

The astonishment which I had at first experienced on this discovery soon gave place to delight and rapture. After so much time spent in painful labor, to arrive at once at the summit of my desires was the most gratifying consummation of my toils. But this discovery was so great and overwhelming that all the steps by which I had been progressively led to it were obliterated, and I beheld only the result. What had been the study and desire of the wisest men since the creation of the world was now within my grasp. Not that, like a magic scene, it all opened upon me at once: the information I had obtained was of a nature rather to direct my endeavors so soon as I should point them towards the object of my search than to exhibit that object already accomplished. I was like the Arabian who had been buried with the dead and found a passage to life, aided only by one glimmering and seemingly ineffectual light.

I see by your eagerness and the wonder and hope which your eyes express, my friend, that you expect to be informed of the secret with which I am acquainted; that cannot be; listen patiently until the end of my story, and you will easily perceive why I am reserved upon that subject. I will not lead you on, unguarded and ardent as I then was, to your destruction and infallible misery. Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow.

According to the passage above, which of the following statements most likely reflects the author's belief about knowledge?

Possible Answers:

Of all of the painful, difficult tasks, the most honorable is the pursuit of scientific knowledge

There are some types of information that are unimportant for everyday people, and should only be known by scientists

Achieving knowledge is an aspiration that every man and woman should aspire to

Knowledge does not bring happiness, but rather, ignorance is bliss

Human intelligence is infinite in its ability to grow and evolve

Correct answer:

Knowledge does not bring happiness, but rather, ignorance is bliss

Explanation:

The final paragraph of the passage brings the author's warning: while knowledge can be powerful, some information is dangerous and bring undesirable consequences. Knowledge does not necessarily bring joy. 

Example Question #4 : Inferences About The Author

Adapted from Women and Economics by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1898)

In spite of the power of the individual will to struggle against conditions, to resist them for a while, and sometimes to overcome them, it remains true that the human creature is affected by his environment, as is every other living thing. The power of the individual will to resist natural law is well proven by the life and death of the ascetic. In any one of those suicidal martyrs may be seen the will, misdirected by the ill-informed intelligence, forcing the body to defy every natural impulse,–even to the door of death, and through it.

But, while these exceptions show what the human will can do, the general course of life shows the inexorable effect of conditions upon humanity. Of these conditions we share with other living things the environment of the material universe. We are affected by climate and locality, by physical, chemical, electrical forces, as are all animals and plants. With the animals, we farther share the effect of our own activity, the reactionary force of exercise. What we do, as well as what is done to us, makes us what we are. But, beyond these forces, we come under the effect of a third set of conditions peculiar to our human status; namely, social conditions. In the organic interchanges which constitute social life, we are affected by each other to a degree beyond what is found even among the most gregarious of animals. This third factor, the social environment, is of enormous force as a modifier of human life. Throughout all these environing conditions, those which affect us through our economic necessities are most marked in their influence.

From what is presented in the passage, which of the following statements best represents the central belief that the author holds about humans. 

Possible Answers:

The author believes that humans and animals can live harmoniously in shared environments

The author believes that most humans can successfully resist natural urges

The author believes that humans are fundamentally weak creatures, falling subject to their physical desires

The author believes that humans are not the only social species on the planet

The author believes that humans are uniquely affected by their social environments

Correct answer:

The author believes that humans are uniquely affected by their social environments

Explanation:

While the author recognizes that humans face physical and natural conditions that they must survive, the central belief of the author in this passage is that humans, more than any other species, face the heavy force of their social environments. 

Example Question #5 : Inferences About The Author

Adapted from “Greenhouses: Their Construction and Equipment” by W.J. Wright (1917)

“Generally speaking, there are only two satisfactory methods of greenhouse heating: Steam and hot water. Direct heating by stoves is not satisfactory even in small houses, and no satisfactory system has yet been devised for the use of hot-air furnaces. The only method aside from steam or hot water which deserves mention is heating by flues. They are wasteful of fuel, and their use is not justified, except in cheaply constructed houses which are used only for a few months in the spring or fall.

The principles pertaining to greenhouse heating are much the same as those involved in heating other buildings, except that the loss of heat is greater from glass than from wood or brick walls, and a higher and more constant night temperature is required than is necessary in dwellings. For this reason, relatively more radiating surface is required and boilers of larger capacity are needed.

In heating with flues the equipment consists simply of a furnace at one end of the house and a chimney at the other, the two being connected by a flue, carried underneath the bench or buried just underneath the soil, through which the heat and smoke are carried. This may be made of brick, but large-size drain or sewer tile are more commonly used. These withstand the heat and are easily and cheaply put in place. It is best to have the flue slope upward slightly toward the chimney. As has already been stated, this method is wasteful of fuel. It is also difficult to regulate. It is still employed to some extent by gardeners in cheap houses, used only in late winter or early spring for the starting of early vegetable plants, sweet potatoes, etc.”

Based on the passage, with which of the following statements would the author most likely agree?

Possible Answers:

Steam and hot water are better methods of greenhouse heating than flues because flues are wasteful

Greenhouses are unnecessary

People should live in greenhouses because they stay warm at night

Flues are a better method of greenhouse heating than steam and hot water because steam and hot water are wasteful

Correct answer:

Steam and hot water are better methods of greenhouse heating than flues because flues are wasteful

Explanation:

The author would most likely agree that steam and hot water are better methods of greenhouse heating than flues because flues are wasteful. He specifically says that flues are wasteful of fuel (twice in fact!). The author never says anything about greenhouses being unnecessary or their ability to function as a residence.

Example Question #6 : Inferences About The Author

Adapted from “Trees Worth Knowing” by Julia Ellen Rogers (1922)

“The swift unfolding of the leaves in spring is always a miracle. One day the budded twigs are still wrapped in the deep sleep of winter. A trace of green appears about the edges of the bud scales—they loosen and fall, and the tender green shoot looks timidly out and begins to unfold its crumpled leaves. Soon the delicate blade broadens and takes on the texture and familiar appearance of the grown-up leaf. Behold! While we watched the single shoot the bare tree has clothed itself in the green canopy of summer.

How can this miracle take place? How does the tree come into full leaf, sometimes within a fraction of a week? It could never happen except for the store of concentrated food that the sap dissolves in spring and carries to the buds, and for the remarkable activity of the cambium cells within the buds.

What is a bud? It is a shoot in miniature—its leaves or flowers, or both, formed with wondrous completeness in the previous summer. About its base are crowded leaved so hardened and overlapped as to cover and protect the tender shoot. All the tree can ever express of beauty or of energy comes out of these precious little ‘growing points,’ wrapped up all winter, but impatient, as spring approaches, to accept the invitation of the south wind and sun.”

Based on the passage, what is most likely the author's attitude about trees?

Possible Answers:

They are wasteful

They smell good

They are too large

They are beautiful

Correct answer:

They are beautiful

Explanation:

The author's attitude toward trees is clearly positive because all of the words she uses to describe them are positive (such as "miracle" and "wondrous"). This narrows the possible answer down to "they smell good" and "they are beautiful." While it is possible that she thinks both are true, the passage really only discusses the SIGHT of trees blossoming, not the smell.  Therefore, the correct answer is that she thinks they are beautiful. 

Example Question #7 : Inferences About The Author

Children and youth are expected as they grow up to take on by easy stages the characteristics of adulthood. At the end of the process it is expected that they will be able to do the things that adults do; to think as they think; to bear adult responsibilities; to be efficient in work; to be thoughtful public-spirited citizens; and the like. The individual who reaches this level of attainment is educated, even though he may never have attended school. The one who falls below this level is not truly educated, even though he may have had a surplus of schooling.

To bring one's nature to full maturity, as represented by the best of the adult community in which one grows up, is true education for life in that community. Anything less than this falls short of its purpose. Anything other than this is education misdirected.

In very early days, when community life was simple, practically all of one's education was obtained through participating in community activities, and without systematic teaching. From that day to this, however, the social world has been growing more complex. Adults have developed kinds of activities so complicated that youth cannot adequately enter into them and learn them without systematic teaching. At first these things were few; with the years they have grown very numerous.

One of the earliest of these too-complicated activities was written language—reading, writing, spelling. These matters became necessities to the adult world; but youth under ordinary circumstances could not participate in them as performed by adults sufficiently to master them. They had to be taught; and the school thereby came into existence. A second thing developed about the same time was the complicated number system used by adults. It was too difficult for youth to master through participation only. It too had to be taught, and it offered a second task for the schools. In the early schools this teaching of the so-called Three R's was all that was needed, because these were the only adult activities that had become so complicated as to require systematized teaching. Other things were still simple enough, so that young people could enter into them sufficiently for all necessary education.

As community vision widened and men's affairs came to extend far beyond the horizon, a need arose for knowledge of the outlying world. This knowledge could rarely be obtained sufficiently through travel and observation. There arose the new need for the systematic teaching of geography. What had hitherto not been a human necessity and therefore not an educational essential became both because of changed social conditions.

Adapted from John Franklin Bobbit, What the Schools Teach and Might Teach (1915)

Is it logical to infer that the author believes that a formal education has always been necessary?

Possible Answers:

Yes, all the problems of the past have been caused bye a lack of education

We cannot tell from the passage

No, a formal education has never been and is still not necessary

Yes, a formal education could have made the more primitive cultures more sophisticated

No, in earlier times a formal education was unnecessary since everything could be learned through participation

Correct answer:

No, in earlier times a formal education was unnecessary since everything could be learned through participation

Explanation:

The author's main point is how in modern times we have a need of schooling. In the past, we could learn everything through participation in the community. 

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