TOEFL : Purpose

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for TOEFL

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Purpose

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

“There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense.” 

We may infer that the purpose of this passage is to __________.

Possible Answers:

convey the speaker's general satisfaction with the people they know

argue in favor of creating a new society based solely upon merit and good sense

argue for the speaker's superiority in comparison to the rest of society

convey the speaker's distaste for bad sense

convey the speaker's general discontent with the people they know

Correct answer:

convey the speaker's general discontent with the people they know

Explanation:

The speaker enumerates many reasons for their 'dissatisfaction' with people and the world. The speaker does indeed dislike bad sense, but they list other grievances as well. Thus, the main purpose of the passage is to convey the speaker's general dissatisfaction.

Example Question #2 : Purpose

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 main purpose of this passage is to _________________.

Possible Answers:

explain that the songs sung by slaves express anger and despair rather than happiness

describe the beauty of the songs sung by slaves

convince people from the South that the people in the North are right about slavery

describe to free people what it is like to be a slave

Correct answer:

explain that the songs sung by slaves express anger and despair rather than happiness

Explanation:

In this passage the author focuses on the songs sung by slaves, not on the overall experience of slavery. He argues that free people have misunderstood these songs as happy songs; they are instead expressive of the singers' anguish and pain.

Example Question #3 : Purpose

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.”

Which of the following best describes the purpose of this passage?

Possible Answers:

To advertise the author's greenhouse building company

To criticize greenhouses

To persuade the reader to heat his/her greenhouse

To provide information on different forms of greenhouse heating

Correct answer:

To provide information on different forms of greenhouse heating

Explanation:

The purpose of this passage is to provide information on different forms of greenhouse heating. It is informative. The passage does not include a criticism of greenhouses. There is no mention of the author's greenhouse building company. Finally, the passage is not persuasive. It does not explain why the reader should heat his greenhouse. It just explains methods of doing so. 

Example Question #4 : Purpose

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.”

What is the purpose of the passage?

Possible Answers:

To criticize people who do not like trees

To persuade the reader to climb a tree

To persuade the reader to plant a tree

To explain to the reader the miracle of blossoming trees

Correct answer:

To explain to the reader the miracle of blossoming trees

Explanation:

The purpose of the passage is to explain to the reader the miracle of blossoming trees. At no point in the passage does the author criticize anyone or try to tell the reader to climb a tree or plant a tree. The purpose of the passage is simply to explain that the process is beautiful. 

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