TOEFL : Rhetorical purpose of an excerpt

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for TOEFL

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Rhetorical Purpose Of An Excerpt

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.

Paragraph four of the passage discusses which of the following?

Possible Answers:

The reasons why a spider monkey’s wrist and fingers can resemble a bat's wing or a whale's fin

The physiological functions of the spider monkey’s wrist and fingers, the bat’s wing, and the whale’s fin

All of these statements

The theory of evolution

Correct answer:

The reasons why a spider monkey’s wrist and fingers can resemble a bat's wing or a whale's fin

Explanation:

One of paragraph four's central purposes is to give examples of homologous adaptation. It describes how the features of different species can possess anatomical similarities, even if the species are from vastly different habitats. The passage does not discuss the theory of evolution nor the physiological purposes of certain appendages, and the third paragraph, not the fourth, discusses the unreliability of physical characteristics in determining species relatedness.

Example Question #2 : Rhetorical Purpose Of An Excerpt

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 word in bold in the passage is closest in meaning to ________________.

Possible Answers:

Poorly written text

Physical labor

Difficult, boring work

Rote memorization

Correct answer:

Difficult, boring work

Explanation:

Although "drudgery" could in various contexts refer to physical labor or rote memorization, we can infer from the passage that it refers to some kind of difficult or boring academic task. That task is not specified (so we could not know for sure that it was memorization), but it is unlikely to be physical labor.

Example Question #3 : Rhetorical Purpose Of An Excerpt

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 phrase "a really generous allowance" refers to ___________________.

Possible Answers:

Rachel's love of music practice

An anonymous gift that enabled Rachel to practice as often as she wanted

A large sum of money that Rachel could use however she wished

Rachel's considerable musical talent

Correct answer:

Rachel's considerable musical talent

Explanation:

The word "allowance" here refers to the level at which nature enables Rachel to play music, which is a very high level. Thus, it refers to her natural musical ability rather than to a sum of money or a gift given by another person.

Example Question #4 : Rhetorical Purpose Of An Excerpt

There are no fixtures in nature. The universe is fluid and volatile. Permanence is but a word of degrees. Our globe seen by God is a transparent law, not a mass of facts. The law dissolves the fact and holds it fluid. Our culture is the predominance of an idea which draws after it this train of cities and institutions. Let us rise into another idea: they will disappear. The Greek sculpture is all melted away, as if it had been statues of ice; here and there a solitary figure or fragment remaining, as we see flecks and scraps of snow left in cold dells and mountain clefts, in June and July. For the genius that created it creates now somewhat else. The Greek letters last a little longer, but are already passing under the same sentence, and tumbling into the inevitable pit which the creation of new thought opens for all that is old. The new continents are built out of the ruins of an old planet; the new races fed out of the decomposition of the foregoing. New arts destroy the old. See the investment of capital in aqueducts made useless by hydraulics; fortifications, by gunpowder; roads and canals, by railways; sails, by steam; steam by electricity. 

You admire this tower of granite, weathering the hurts of so many ages. Yet a little waving hand built this huge wall, and that which builds is better than that which is built. The hand that built can topple it down much faster. Better than the hand, and nimbler, was the invisible thought which wrought through it; and thus ever, behind the coarse effect, is a fine cause, which, being narrowly seen, is itself the effect of a finer cause. Every thing looks permanent until its secret is known. A rich estate appears to women a firm and lasting fact; to a merchant, one easily created out of any materials, and easily lost. An orchard, good tillage, good grounds, seem a fixture, like a gold mine, or a river, to a citizen; but to a large farmer, not much more fixed than the state of the crop. Nature looks provokingly stable and secular, but it has a cause like all the rest; and when once I comprehend that, will these fields stretch so immovably wide, these leaves hang so individually considerable? Permanence is a word of degrees. Every thing is medial. Moons are no more bounds to spiritual power than bat-balls. 

The key to every man is his thought. Sturdy and defying though he look, he has a helm which he obeys, which is the idea after which all his facts are classified. He can only be reformed by showing him a new idea which commands his own. The life of man is a self-evolving circle, which, from a ring imperceptibly small, rushes on all sides outwards to new and larger circles, and that without end. The extent to which this generation of circles, wheel without wheel, will go, depends on the force or truth of the individual soul. For it is the inert effort of each thought, having formed itself into a circular wave of circumstance, ó as, for instance, an empire, rules of an art, a local usage, a religious rite, ó to heap itself on that ridge, and to solidify and hem in the life. But if the soul is quick and strong, it bursts over that boundary on all sides, and expands another orbit on the great deep, which also runs up into a high wave, with attempt again to stop and to bind. But the heart refuses to be imprisoned; in its first and narrowest pulses, it already tends outward with a vast force, and to immense and innumerable expansions.

Passage adapted from Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essay X: Circles (1841)

The word "fixtures" in the first sentence could be substituted for which of the following?

Possible Answers:

Tools

Inaccuracies

Fixed Issues

Permanent Objects

Appliances

Correct answer:

Permanent Objects

Explanation:

In order to understand a word, it is best to read the context in which it was used. The next sentence shows us that nature is always changing with the words "fluid" and "volatile." Thus, there can be no "permanent objects" in nature. Fixtures can mean appliances (I have several new fixtures in my kitchen), but the context shows us otherwise. "Tools" and "Fixed Issues" are both incorrect. "Inaccuracies" may make sense as a substitute for "fixtures," but fixtures does not mean inaccuracies. Thus, the best answer is "permanent objects."

Example Question #5 : Rhetorical Purpose Of An Excerpt

There are no fixtures in nature. The universe is fluid and volatile. Permanence is but a word of degrees. Our globe seen by God is a transparent law, not a mass of facts. The law dissolves the fact and holds it fluid. Our culture is the predominance of an idea which draws after it this train of cities and institutions. Let us rise into another idea: they will disappear. The Greek sculpture is all melted away, as if it had been statues of ice; here and there a solitary figure or fragment remaining, as we see flecks and scraps of snow left in cold dells and mountain clefts, in June and July. For the genius that created it creates now somewhat else. The Greek letters last a little longer, but are already passing under the same sentence, and tumbling into the inevitable pit which the creation of new thought opens for all that is old. The new continents are built out of the ruins of an old planet; the new races fed out of the decomposition of the foregoing. New arts destroy the old. See the investment of capital in aqueducts made useless by hydraulics; fortifications, by gunpowder; roads and canals, by railways; sails, by steam; steam by electricity. 

You admire this tower of granite, weathering the hurts of so many ages. Yet a little waving hand built this huge wall, and that which builds is better than that which is built. The hand that built can topple it down much faster. Better than the hand, and nimbler, was the invisible thought which wrought through it; and thus ever, behind the coarse effect, is a fine cause, which, being narrowly seen, is itself the effect of a finer cause. Every thing looks permanent until its secret is known. A rich estate appears to women a firm and lasting fact; to a merchant, one easily created out of any materials, and easily lost. An orchard, good tillage, good grounds, seem a fixture, like a gold mine, or a river, to a citizen; but to a large farmer, not much more fixed than the state of the crop. Nature looks provokingly stable and secular, but it has a cause like all the rest; and when once I comprehend that, will these fields stretch so immovably wide, these leaves hang so individually considerable? Permanence is a word of degrees. Every thing is medial. Moons are no more bounds to spiritual power than bat-balls. 

The key to every man is his thought. Sturdy and defying though he look, he has a helm which he obeys, which is the idea after which all his facts are classified. He can only be reformed by showing him a new idea which commands his own. The life of man is a self-evolving circle, which, from a ring imperceptibly small, rushes on all sides outwards to new and larger circles, and that without end. The extent to which this generation of circles, wheel without wheel, will go, depends on the force or truth of the individual soul. For it is the inert effort of each thought, having formed itself into a circular wave of circumstance, ó as, for instance, an empire, rules of an art, a local usage, a religious rite, ó to heap itself on that ridge, and to solidify and hem in the life. But if the soul is quick and strong, it bursts over that boundary on all sides, and expands another orbit on the great deep, which also runs up into a high wave, with attempt again to stop and to bind. But the heart refuses to be imprisoned; in its first and narrowest pulses, it already tends outward with a vast force, and to immense and innumerable expansions.

Passage adapted from Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essay X: Circles (1841)

What does the author mean by "The key to every man is his thought" (third paragraph, first sentence)?

Possible Answers:

We can generalize about people based on the ideas that they have

Each person is nothing more than an original idea he or she had

People never change, but ideas always do

Ideas never change, but people always do

Each person revolves around an idea through which he or she views the rest of his or her collective experiences

Correct answer:

Each person revolves around an idea through which he or she views the rest of his or her collective experiences

Explanation:

The answer must be read in context. The next sentence describes how man -- although he may look strong and principled -- is actually dependent on an idea through which he classifies all his facts. He may change his idea (thus, both ideas and people can change), but that person's actions are always explainable by devotion to an explanation about reality. The author says nothing about judging other people through ideas or about originality of ideas. Thus, the correct answer is

"Each person revolves around an idea through which he views the rest of his collective experiences."

Example Question #6 : Rhetorical Purpose Of An Excerpt

Passage adapted from Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)

"It is your best work, Basil, the best thing you have ever done," said Lord Henry, languidly. "You must certainly send it next year to the Grosvenor. The Academy is too large and too vulgar. The Grosvenor is the only place." 

"I don't think I will send it anywhere," he answered, tossing his head back in that odd way that used to make his friends laugh at him at Oxford. "No: I won't send it anywhere." 

Lord Henry elevated his eyebrows, and looked at him in amazement through the thin blue wreaths of smoke that curled up in such fanciful whorls from his heavy opium-tainted cigarette. "Not send it anywhere? My dear fellow, why? Have you any reason? What odd chaps you painters are! You do anything in the world to gain a reputation. As soon as you have one, you seem to want to throw it away. It is silly of you, for there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about. A portrait like this would set you far above all the young men in England, and make the old men quite jealous, if old men are ever capable of any emotion." 

"I know you will laugh at me," he replied, "but I really can't exhibit it. I have put too much of myself into it." 

Lord Henry stretched his long legs out on the divan and shook with laughter. 

"Yes, I knew you would laugh; but it is quite true, all the same." 

"Too much of yourself in it! Upon my word, Basil, I didn't know you were so vain; and I really can't see any resemblance between you, with your rugged strong face and your coal-black hair, and this young Adonis, who looks as if he was made of ivory and rose-leaves. Why, my dear Basil, he is a Narcissus, and you--well, of course you have an intellectual expression, and all that. But beauty, real beauty, ends where an intellectual expression begins. Intellect is in itself an exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of any face. The moment one sits down to think, one becomes all nose, or all forehead, or something horrid. Look at the successful men in any of the learned professions. How perfectly hideous they are! Except, of course, in the Church. But then in the Church they don't think.

What does languidly mean in the context of the first sentence?

Possible Answers:

Mistaken and brazen

Relaxed and slow

Mischievous and daring

Lazy and impish 

Coy and innocent

Correct answer:

Relaxed and slow

Explanation:

The best answer is "relaxed and Slow." Languid can mean lazy, but certainly not impish, brazen, mischievous, or coy. We can tell from context that Lord Henry meant what he said.

Example Question #7 : Rhetorical Purpose Of An Excerpt

Adapted from Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)

No human being could have passed a happier childhood than myself. My parents were possessed by the very spirit of kindness and indulgence. We felt that they were not the tyrants to rule our lot according to their caprice, but the agents and creators of all the many delights which we enjoyed. When I mingled with other families I distinctly discerned how peculiarly fortunate my lot was, and gratitude assisted the development of filial love.

My temper was sometimes violent, and my passions vehement; but by some law in my temperature they were turned not towards childish pursuits but to an eager desire to learn, and not to learn all things indiscriminately. I confess that neither the structure of languages, nor the code of governments, nor the politics of various states possessed attractions for me. It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn; and whether it was the outward substance of things or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of man that occupied me, still my inquiries were directed to the metaphysical, or in it highest sense, the physical secrets of the world. . .

. . .I feel exquisite pleasure in dwelling on the recollections of childhood, before misfortune had tainted my mind and changed its bright visions of extensive usefulness into gloomy and narrow reflections upon self. Besides, in drawing the picture of my early days, I also record those events which led, by insensible steps, to my after tale of misery, for when I would account to myself for the birth of that passion which afterwards ruled my destiny I find it arise, like a mountain river, from ignoble and almost forgotten sources; but, swelling as it proceeded, it became the torrent which, in its course, has swept away all my hopes and joys. 

Which of the following choices represents the best explanation for the main purpose of the first paragraph in the passage above?

Possible Answers:

To provide an introduction to secondary characters into the story

To provide blame on the narrator's childhood for the problems he faces in adulthood

To dispel the idea that the narrator's parents are to blame for the outcome of his life

To provide historical context for the setting of Frankenstein

To provide a comparison between the narrator's loving parents and the tyrannical parents of many of his peers

Correct answer:

To dispel the idea that the narrator's parents are to blame for the outcome of his life

Explanation:

The narrator makes an explicit point to recount the joy of his childhood in order to remove the possibility that his parents were to blame for the "misfortune" that later "tainted [his] mind." Raised in a loving, happy home, the narrator, nonetheless experienced a painful destiny.

Example Question #8 : Rhetorical Purpose Of An Excerpt

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)

What is the relation between traveling and geography in the passage?

Possible Answers:

In the past, we could gain our knowledge of geography through travel, but now schools should systematize geography since the world is too big to travel

It is always better to travel than to take geography classes

It is too expensive to travel, so children need to take a geography class instead

There is no better way to understand a country than to read about it in a geography book

Children and their parents should discuss whether they take a geography class or go traveling

Correct answer:

In the past, we could gain our knowledge of geography through travel, but now schools should systematize geography since the world is too big to travel

Explanation:

In the past, we could gain our knowledge of geography through travel, but now schools should systematize geography since the world is too big to travel. Correct Answer! 

Since the modern world is much larger than it had been in our ancestor's consciousness, we can best learn about it from taking systematized geography classes.

Example Question #9 : Rhetorical Purpose Of An Excerpt

Adapted from George Alexander Fischer, Beethoven (1905)

Up to Beethoven's time musicians in general (Bach is always an exception) performed their work without the aid of an intellect for the most part; they worked by intuition. In everything outside their art they were like children. Beethoven was the first one having the independence to think for himself—the first to have ideas on subjects unconnected with his art. He it was who established the dignity of the artist over that of the simply well-born. His entire life was a protest against the pretensions of birth over mind. His predecessors, to a great extent subjugated by their social superiors, sought only to please. Nothing further was expected of them. This mental attitude is apparent in their work. The language of the courtier is usually polished, but will never have the virility that characterizes the speech of the free man.

As with all valuable things, however, Beethoven's music is not to be enjoyed for nothing. We must on our side contribute something to the enterprise, something more than simply buying a ticket to the performance. We must study his work in the right spirit, and place ourselves in a receptive attitude when listening to it to understand his message. Often metaphysical, particularly in the work of his later years, his meaning will be revealed only when we devote to it earnest and sympathetic study. No other composer demands so much of one; no other rewards the student so richly for the effort required. The making a fact the subject of thought vitalizes it. It is as if the master had said to the aspirant: "I will admit you into the ranks of my disciples, but you must first prove yourself worthy." An initiation is necessary; somewhat of the intense mental activity which characterized Beethoven in the composition of his works is required of the student also. There is a tax imposed for the enjoyment of them.

Like Thoreau, Beethoven came on the world's stage "just in the nick of time," and almost immediately had to begin hewing out a path for himself. He was born in the workshop, as was Mozart, and learned music simultaneously with speaking. Stirring times they were in which he first saw the light, and so indeed continued with ever-increasing intensity, like a good drama, until nearly his end. The American Revolution became an accomplished fact during his boyhood. Nearer home, events were fast coming to a focus, which culminated in the French Revolution. The magic words, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, and the ideas for which they stood, were everywhere in the minds of the people. The age called for enlightenment, spiritual growth.

How should Beethoven be listened to according to the author?

Possible Answers:

We should passively listen since we will understand the repetition of key notes

We should compose music ourselves

He should be studied since his work is intellectual

We should study the music of Mozart to gain context

We should practice playing his music

Correct answer:

He should be studied since his work is intellectual

Explanation:

We notice the correct answer when we read the following: "An initiation is necessary; somewhat of the intense mental activity which characterized Beethoven in the composition of his works is required of the student also. There is a tax imposed for the enjoyment of them."

We need intense mental activity, i.e. study.

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