TOEFL : Main idea

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Example Question #1 : Content Comprehension

Adapted from "Taking a Second Look: An Analysis of Genetic Markers in Species Relatedness" by Joseph Ritchie (2014)

Phylogenetics is the study of genetic composition in various species and is used by evolutionary biologists to investigate similarities in the molecular sequences of proteins in varying organisms. The amino acid sequences that build proteins are used to construct mathematical matrices that aid in determining evolutionary ties through the investigation of percentage similarities. The study of these matrices helps to expose evolutionary relationships between species that may not have the same overt characteristics.

Species adapt and evolve based on the pressures that exist in their environment. Climate, food source, and habitat availability are only a few factors that act on species adaptation. These stressors can alter the physical characteristics of organisms. This divergence in evolution has made it difficult to determine the interrelatedness of organisms by analyzing their physical characteristics alone.

For instance, looking only at physical characteristics, the ghost bat resembles a pigeon more than a spider monkey; however, phylogenetics has found that the amino acid sequences that construct the beta hemoglobin molecules of bats are twenty percent more similar to those of mammalian primates than those of birds. This helps reject the assumption that common physical characteristics between species are all that is needed to determine relatedness. 

The differences produced by divergent evolution observed in the forest-dwelling, arboreal spider monkey and the nocturnal, airborne ghost bat can be reconciled through homology. Homologous characteristics are anatomical traits that are similar in two or more different species. For instance, the bone structure of a spider monkey’s wrist and fingers greatly resembles that of a bat’s wing or even a whale’s fin. These similarities are reinforced by phylogenetic evidence that supports the idea that physically dissimilar species can be evolutionarily related through anatomical and genetic similarities.

Which of the following choices represents the primary difficulty encountered in studies of interrelatedness based on physical features?

Possible Answers:

Complexity of beta hemoglobin 

Lack of fossil evidence

Physical fitness

Divergent evolution

Correct answer:

Divergent evolution

Explanation:

Divergent evolution is stated as the primary reason that physical appearances can change between species while genetic structure remains markedly similar. The passage states that this is an issue for those who study species evolution because some species may appear to be dissimilar in appearance but contain genetic commonalities.

Example Question #1 : Main Idea

Adapted from "Taking a Second Look: An Analysis of Genetic Markers in Species Relatedness" by Joseph Ritchie (2014)

Phylogenetics is the study of genetic composition in various species and is used by evolutionary biologists to investigate similarities in the molecular sequences of proteins in varying organisms. The amino acid sequences that build proteins are used to construct mathematical matrices that aid in determining evolutionary ties through the investigation of percentage similarities. The study of these matrices helps to expose evolutionary relationships between species that may not have the same overt characteristics.

Species adapt and evolve based on the pressures that exist in their environment. Climate, food source, and habitat availability are only a few factors that act on species adaptation. These stressors can alter the physical characteristics of organisms. This divergence in evolution has made it difficult to determine the interrelatedness of organisms by analyzing their physical characteristics alone.

For instance, looking only at physical characteristics, the ghost bat resembles a pigeon more than a spider monkey; however, phylogenetics has found that the amino acid sequences that construct the beta hemoglobin molecules of bats are twenty percent more similar to those of mammalian primates than those of birds. This helps reject the assumption that common physical characteristics between species are all that is needed to determine relatedness. 

The differences produced by divergent evolution observed in the forest-dwelling, arboreal spider monkey and the nocturnal, airborne ghost bat can be reconciled through homology. Homologous characteristics are anatomical traits that are similar in two or more different species. For instance, the bone structure of a spider monkey’s wrist and fingers greatly resembles that of a bat’s wing or even a whale’s fin. These similarities are reinforced by phylogenetic evidence that supports the idea that physically dissimilar species can be evolutionarily related through anatomical and genetic similarities.

The central idea of this passage is best described by which of the following statements?

Possible Answers:

Phylogenetics is a relatively new area of study and has yet to yield supported conclusions on evolutionary histories

Genetic analysis is the only method of studying evolutionary ties and species relatedness

Despite differences in physical appearance, genetic similarities can aid in determining species relatedness and evolutionary histories

Physical appearances are always reliable markers for species relatedness and evolutionary histories

Correct answer:

Despite differences in physical appearance, genetic similarities can aid in determining species relatedness and evolutionary histories

Explanation:

This is the correct answer because it is the only statement that is supported by the passage. The passage introduces the field of phylogenetics and the need to explore evolution beyond simple examination of physical characteristics. It does not state which field of study is better or correct. It simply states that they compliment the same cause: the study of relatedness. The other choices are unsupported opinions. The answer choice about divergent evolution is incorrect because while the passage's fourth paragraph is about divergent evolution, the entire passage encompasses many more topics.

Example Question #2 : Main Idea

The following is an excerpt from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813):

Occupied in observing Mr. Bingley's attentions to her sister, Elizabeth was far from suspecting that she was herself becoming an object of some interest in the eyes of his friend. Mr. Darcy had at first scarcely allowed her to be pretty; he had looked at her without admiration at the ball; and when they next met, he looked at her only to criticize. But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she had hardly a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes. To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying. Though he had detected with a critical eye more than one failure of perfect symmetry in her form, he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing; and in spite of his asserting that her manners were not those of the fashionable world, he was caught by their easy playfulness. Of this she was perfectly unaware; to her he was only the man who made himself agreeable nowhere, and who had not thought her handsome enough to dance with.

He began to wish to know more of her, and as a step towards conversing with her himself, attended to her conversation with others. His doing so drew her notice.

 

What is the main idea of this passage?

Possible Answers:

Mr. Darcy wishes to get to know Elizabeth.

Elizabeth does not like Mr. Darcy.

Mr. Darcy dislikes Elizabeth.

Mr. Darcy has changed his mind about Elizabeth.

Mr. Darcy admires Elizabeth.

Correct answer:

Mr. Darcy has changed his mind about Elizabeth.

Explanation:

The passage begins with Mr. Darcy's initial, critical opinions of Elizabeth. It then describes how he has begun to admire some of Elizabeth's qualities, and wishes to get to know her more (a detail, not a main idea). Thus, the main idea of this passage is that Mr. Darcy has changed his mind about her.

Example Question #3 : Main Idea

The following is an excerpt from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813):

“From the very beginning — from the first moment, I may almost say — of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form the groundwork of disapprobation on which succeeding events have built so immovable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.” 

The main idea of this passage is __________.

Possible Answers:

The speaker does not want to marry the person they are addressing because they do not have enough money.

The speaker wants to marry the person they are addressing because they believe this person is their only option.

The speaker does not want to marry the person they are addressing because there are plenty of other men to marry.

The speaker does not want to marry the person they are addressing because the speaker dislikes them.

The speaker wants to marry the person they are addressing because they find this person's fault's endearing.

Correct answer:

The speaker does not want to marry the person they are addressing because the speaker dislikes them.

Explanation:

The speaker lists a number of negative qualities they've observed in the person they are addressing, including arrogance and selfishness. The speaker then cites their "immovable dislike" of this person, and essentially says that this is the last person in the world they would want to marry. Thus, the speaker does not way to marry the person they are addressing because they dislike this person.

Example Question #4 : Main Idea

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."

The main purpose of this passage is to ________________.

Possible Answers:

show that Rachel is uneducated compared to the majority of her peers

compare the advantages and disadvantages of two different systems of education in the late nineteenth century

show that Rachel has not received a rigorous education but is nonetheless very knowledgeable about music

describe the difficulties and injustices of the system of education that Rachel has endured

Correct answer:

show that Rachel has not received a rigorous education but is nonetheless very knowledgeable about music

Explanation:

Rachel's education is described as lacking breadth and rigor, but not as being difficult, unjust, or insufficient compared to her peers. Although the author does discuss both the positive and negative qualities of Rachel's education, she does not compare this system with another system of education.

Example Question #5 : Main Idea

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."

According to the passage, around the beginning of Queen Elizabeth's reign what would an intelligent man's mind have been like?

Possible Answers:

Sophisticated and full of facts

Uninformed and imprecise

Inquisitive and creative

Boorish and uncultivated

Correct answer:

Uninformed and imprecise

Explanation:

The passage describes Rachel's mind as being similar to "an intelligent man's in the beginning of the reign of Queen Elizabeth," and also as lacking precise information about any subject. "Uninformed and imprecise" is thus the most fitting answer.

Example Question #6 : Main Idea

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.

The passage in bold most nearly means ______________.

Possible Answers:

only a supercilious, arrogant person could listen to these songs and not be impressed by the singers' musical ability

if a free person wants to understand slavery, he or she should be silent and listen to his or her heart

only a cold, unfeeling person could listen to these songs without being moved

Colonel Lloyd is a stubborn man who is difficult to impress

Correct answer:

only a cold, unfeeling person could listen to these songs without being moved

Explanation:

The author suggests that someone wishing to understand the pain of slavery should listen to the slaves' songs. Only a cold and unfeeling person, the author argues, could listen to these songs without being moved by them.

Example Question #8 : Content Comprehension

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.

The sentence in bold most nearly means __________________.

Possible Answers:

the narrator felt comfortable with this group of singers because he felt he belonged

because he was a slave himself, the narrator did not interpret the songs the way a free person might

because he was in the middle of the circle of singers, the narrator could not hear the song very well

because of the harsh treatment he received as a slave, the narrator had visual and auditory problems

Correct answer:

because he was a slave himself, the narrator did not interpret the songs the way a free person might

Explanation:

The narrator explains later in the passage that he does not interpret the songs the way free people do. Thus, when he speaks of a "circle" he does not mean a literal circle but the community of enslaved people more generally.

Example Question #9 : Content Comprehension

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.

The phrase in bold in the passage most nearly means ______________.

Possible Answers:

The songs make the author pity the slaveholders

The songs arouse the author's compassion for the slaves

The songs make the author feel compassion faster than other songs

The songs cause the author to feel depressed

Correct answer:

The songs arouse the author's compassion for the slaves

Explanation:

The word "quicken" here means to activate or arouse. Listening to the songs thus stirs up the author's compassion and sympathy for the singers.

Example Question #7 : Main Idea

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.

The sentence in bold most nearly means _________________.

Possible Answers:

When the narrator was a slave, he did not sing or cry out of happiness

While protesting slavery, the narrator frequently cried and sang

When the narrator was a slave, he found it strange to sing or cry

The narrator thinks that crying and singing are similar because they are so unusual

Correct answer:

When the narrator was a slave, he did not sing or cry out of happiness

Explanation:

In this context, "uncommon to me" does not mean strange or unusual in general but infrequent for him. His experience as a slave was not a joyful one; thus, if he sang or cried it was not because he was happy.

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