ACT Reading : Analyzing Authorial Tone and Method in Social Science or History Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #97 : Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from Emancipation of the Working Class by Eugene Debs (1918)

Our plutocracy, our Junkers, would have us believe that all the Junkers are confined to Germany. It is precisely because we refuse to believe this that they brand us as disloyal. They want our eyes focused on the Junkers in Berlin so that we will not see those within our own borders. I hate, I loathe, I despise Junkers and junkerdom. I have no earthly use for the Junkers of Germany, and not one particle more use for the Junkers in the United States. They tell us that we live in a great free republic; that our institutions are democratic; that we are a free and self-governing people. This is too much, even for a joke. But it is not a subject for levity; it is an exceedingly serious matter.

To whom do the Wall Street Junkers in our country marry their daughters? After they have wrung their countless millions from your sweat, your agony and your life's blood, in a time of war as in a time of peace, they invest these untold millions in the purchase of titles of broken-down aristocrats, such as princes, dukes, counts and other parasites and no-accounts. Would they be satisfied to wed their daughters to honest workingmen? To real democrats? Oh, no! They scour the markets of Europe for vampires who are titled and nothing else. And they swap their millions for the titles, so that matrimony with them becomes literally a matter of money.

These are the gentry who are today wrapped up in the American flag, who shout their claim from the housetops that they are the only patriots, and who have their magnifying glasses in hand, scanning the country for evidence of disloyalty, eager to apply the brand of treason to the men who dare to even whisper their opposition to Junker rule in the United Sates. No wonder Sam Johnson declared that "patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel." He must have had this Wall Street gentry in mind, or at least their prototypes, for in every age it has been the tyrant, the oppressor and the exploiter who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism, or religion, or both to deceive and overawe the people.

The author’s tone in this passage is primarily __________.

Possible Answers:

ecstatic

supportive 

somber 

enthusiastic 

condemning

Correct answer:

condemning

Explanation:

The author’s tone in this passage is primarily condemning; condemning of the perceived abuses committed by the wealthy and ruling classes in American society. The most obvious evidence for this can be found where the author expresses “I hate, I loathe, I despise Junkers and junkerdom,” or where the author characterizes those he is describing as “parasites.”

Example Question #86 : Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from On Women’s Right to Vote (1872) by Susan B. Anthony

Friends and fellow citizens, I stand before you tonight under indictment for the alleged crime of having voted at the last presidential election, without having a lawful right to vote. It shall be my work this evening to prove to you that in thus voting, I not only committed no crime, but, instead, simply exercised my citizen's rights, guaranteed to me and all United States citizens by the National Constitution, beyond the power of any state to deny.

The preamble of the Federal Constitution says: "We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union. And we formed it, not to give the blessings of liberty, but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity, but to the whole people—women as well as men. And it is a downright mockery to talk to women of their enjoyment of the blessings of liberty while they are denied the use of the only means of securing them provided by this democratic-republican government—the ballot.

Why does the author quote and reference the United States’ Constitution (lines 7–11)?

Possible Answers:

To demonstrate its malleability

To underscore why women should be denied the right to vote

To utilize a higher authority to support an argument

To illustrate why the Founding Fathers were incorrect

To explain why women should be grateful for their place in American society

Correct answer:

To utilize a higher authority to support an argument

Explanation:

The author makes reference to the United States’ Constitution to draw upon the support of a higher authority to help her make her argument. It is a commonly employed strategy among essayists and authors, particularly those whose work you will see on a standardized test's reading section, to make reference to a famous document or speech in order to reinforce the points being made with the perceived wisdom of something greater. The author clearly believes that the women should not be grateful for their place in American society nor denied the right to vote so those two answer choices could be eliminated. Although, the author does believe the Founding Fathers erred when they failed to grant equal rights to women she also gives credence to the language of the Constitution. Finally, it serves the author’s purposes better if the document is not malleable (flexible) because the language, as written, seems to include women in the democratic process.

Example Question #87 : Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from Citizenship in a Republic (1910) by Theodore Roosevelt

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

The author’s description of those “who neither know victory nor defeat” is __________.

Possible Answers:

derisive 

incomprehensible

ambivalent 

friendly 

respectful 

Correct answer:

derisive 

Explanation:

The author contrasts those who do not even try to compete (those that do not know victory or defeat) with those “worthy” men who are not afraid to throw themselves into any challenge or competition. It is clear from the author’s tone in this passage that he believes in the greatness of men who boldly meet competition and therefore that he would feel the opposite about those who shrink away. The author even describes those “who neither know victory nor defeat” as “cold and timid.”

Example Question #8 : Understanding The Content Of Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from “Letting Go,” part of A Southern Woman’s Story by Phoebe Yates Pember (1879)

 Instructing him to find the doctor immediately and hastily getting on some clothing I hurried to the scene, for Fisher was an especial favorite. He was quite a young man, of about twenty years of age, who had been wounded ten months previously, very severely, high up on the leg near the hip and who by dint of hard nursing; good food and plenty of stimulant had been given a fair chance for recovery. The bones of the broken leg had slipped together, then lapped, and nature anxious as she always is to help herself had thrown a ligature across, uniting the severed parts; but after some time the side curved out, and the wounded leg was many inches shorter than its fellow. He had remained through all his trials, stout, fresh and hearty, interesting in appearance, and so gentle-mannered and uncomplaining that we all loved him. Supported on his crutches he had walked up and down his ward for the first time since he was wounded, and seemed almost restored. That same night he turned over and uttered an exclamation of pain.

Following the nurse to his bed, and turning down the covering, a small jet of blood spurted up. The sharp edge of the splintered bone must have severed an artery. I instantly put my finger on the little orifice and awaited the surgeon. He soon came--took a long look and shook his head. The explanation was easy; the artery was imbedded in the fleshy part of the thigh and could not be taken up. No earthly power could save him. 

The hardest trial of my duty was laid upon me; the necessity of telling a man in the prime of life, and fullness of strength that there was no hope for him. It was done at last, and the verdict received patiently and courageously, some directions given by which his mother would be informed of his death, and then he turned his questioning eyes upon my face.

"How long can I live?"

"Only as long as I keep my finger upon this artery." A pause ensued. God alone knew what thoughts hurried through that heart and brain, called so unexpectedly from all earthly hopes and ties. He broke the silence at last.

"You can let go--"

But I could not. Not if my own life had trembled in the balance. Hot tears rushed to my eyes, a surging sound to my ears, and a deathly coldness to my lips. The pang of obeying him was spared me, and for the first and last time during the trials that surrounded me for four years, I fainted away. No words can do justice to the uncomplaining nature of the Southern soldier. Whether it arose from resignation or merely passive submission, yet when shown in the aggregate in a hospital, it was sublime. Day after day, whether lying wasted by disease or burning up with fever, torn with wounds or sinking from debility, a groan was seldom heard. The wounded wards would be noisily gay with singing, laughing, fighting battles o'er and o'er again, and playfully chaffing each other by decrying the troops from different States, each man applauding his own.

The account of the death of the young Southern soldier is intended to highlight __________.

Possible Answers:

the accepting nature of the Southern soldier

the limitations of medical practice during the war

the immorality of the North during the Civil War

the personal relationship between the author and the soldier

the suffering inflicted during war

Correct answer:

the accepting nature of the Southern soldier

Explanation:

The account of the death of the young Southern soldier serves the purpose of supporting the author’s main argument that the Southern soldiers were brave, uncomplaining and accepting in the face of death. The author emphasizes how the young soldier died with dignity and composure, despite extremely traumatic circumstances and uses his story to segue into a conclusion about the nature of Southern soldiers as a collective unit.

Example Question #88 : Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from The Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln (1863)

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow, this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

“It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this” most nearly reflects the author's __________.

Possible Answers:

confidence 

counterpoint 

ambivalence 

frustration 

point of view

Correct answer:

point of view

Explanation:

The author of this passage states that “We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.” These two sentences most neatly summarize the author’s point of view. There is no frustration, confidence or ambivalence (uncertainty) introduced. Indeed these two sentences are almost without tone. The use of the words “fitting” (appropriate) and “should” help to clue you in that the author is describing related to his opinion or point of view.

Example Question #108 : Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from The Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln (1863)

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow, this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The author’s tone in the final sentence is best described as __________.

Possible Answers:

contemplative 

determined

awed

jubilant 

resigned 

Correct answer:

determined

Explanation:

The last sentence of this passage is similar, but not identical, in tone the whole of the passage. Whereas most of the passage is primarily respectful or somber in tone—focusing on remembrance of past events—the conclusion provides a guide for future conduct. The author says that “we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” The use of the phrase “highly resolve” is an indicator that the author’s tone is primarily determined. Awed implies a mixture of wonder and fear; contemplative means thoughtful; jubilant means very happy; resigned means to accept reluctantly.

Example Question #110 : Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from “Introductory Remarks” in The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud (trans. 1913)

In attempting to discuss the interpretation of dreams, I do not believe that I have overstepped the bounds of neuropathological interest. For, when investigated psychologically, the dream proves to be the first link in a chain of abnormal psychic structures whose other links—the hysterical phobia, the obsession, and the delusion—must interest the physician for practical reasons. The dream can lay no claim to a corresponding practical significance; however, its theoretical value is very great, and one who cannot explain the origin of the content of dreams will strive in vain to understand phobias, obsessive and delusional ideas, and likewise their therapeutic importance.

While this relationship makes our subject important, it is responsible also for the deficiencies in this work. The surfaces of fracture, which will be frequently discussed, correspond to many points of contact where the problem of dream formation informs more comprehensive problems of psychopathology which cannot be discussed here. These larger issues will be elaborated upon in the future.

Peculiarities in the material I have used to elucidate the interpretation of dreams have rendered this publication difficult. The work itself will demonstrate why all dreams related in scientific literature or collected by others had to remain useless for my purpose. In choosing my examples, I had to limit myself to considering my own dreams and those of my patients who were under psychoanalytic treatment. I was restrained from utilizing material derived from my patients' dreams by the fact that during their treatment, the dream processes were subjected to an undesirable complication—the intermixture of neurotic characters. On the other hand, in discussing my own dreams, I was obliged to expose more of the intimacies of my psychic life than I should like, more so than generally falls to the task of an author who is not a poet but an investigator of nature. This was painful, but unavoidable; I had to put up with the inevitable in order to demonstrate the truth of my psychological results at all. To be sure, I disguised some of my indiscretions through omissions and substitutions, though I feel that these detract from the value of the examples in which they appear. I can only express the hope that the reader of this work, putting himself in my difficult position, will show patience, and also that anyone inclined to take offense at any of the reported dreams will concede freedom of thought at least to the dream life.

The author can be most accurately described as __________.

Possible Answers:

defensive and meticulous

furious and insulted

whimsical and descriptive

unreliable and suspicious

imploring and desperate

Correct answer:

defensive and meticulous

Explanation:

The author can certainly be called “defensive,” as from the first sentence of the passage, he is attempting to justify his study as worthwhile and legitimate. We can also call him meticulous due to the careful way in which he addresses potential criticisms of his work and details how he selected with care the dreams he discusses in his work. Thus, “defensive and meticulous” is the best answer. While he is attempting to urge the reader to accept his work, "imploring and desperate" is far too strong a description to be accurate. Nothing in the passage suggests that the author is “furious and insulted,” “whimsical and descriptive,” or “unreliable and suspicious.”

Example Question #90 : Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from “Introductory Remarks” in The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud (trans. 1913)

In attempting to discuss the interpretation of dreams, I do not believe that I have overstepped the bounds of neuropathological interest. For, when investigated psychologically, the dream proves to be the first link in a chain of abnormal psychic structures whose other links—the hysterical phobia, the obsession, and the delusion—must interest the physician for practical reasons. The dream can lay no claim to a corresponding practical significance; however, its theoretical value is very great, and one who cannot explain the origin of the content of dreams will strive in vain to understand phobias, obsessive and delusional ideas, and likewise their therapeutic importance.

While this relationship makes our subject important, it is responsible also for the deficiencies in this work. The surfaces of fracture, which will be frequently discussed, correspond to many points of contact where the problem of dream formation informs more comprehensive problems of psychopathology which cannot be discussed here. These larger issues will be elaborated upon in the future.

Peculiarities in the material I have used to elucidate the interpretation of dreams have rendered this publication difficult. The work itself will demonstrate why all dreams related in scientific literature or collected by others had to remain useless for my purpose. In choosing my examples, I had to limit myself to considering my own dreams and those of my patients who were under psychoanalytic treatment. I was restrained from utilizing material derived from my patients' dreams by the fact that during their treatment, the dream processes were subjected to an undesirable complication—the intermixture of neurotic characters. On the other hand, in discussing my own dreams, I was obliged to expose more of the intimacies of my psychic life than I should like, more so than generally falls to the task of an author who is not a poet but an investigator of nature. This was painful, but unavoidable; I had to put up with the inevitable in order to demonstrate the truth of my psychological results at all. To be sure, I disguised some of my indiscretions through omissions and substitutions, though I feel that these detract from the value of the examples in which they appear. I can only express the hope that the reader of this work, putting himself in my difficult position, will show patience, and also that anyone inclined to take offense at any of the reported dreams will concede freedom of thought at least to the dream life.

In the last sentence of the passage, the author attempts to __________.

Possible Answers:

emphasize why his work is valuable, despite its flaws

explain why he made certain redactions to the dreams he later discusses

encourage the reader to read the work of a variety of psychologists

get the reader to empathize with him

inspire the reader to conduct his or her own scientific experiments

Correct answer:

get the reader to empathize with him

Explanation:

The last sentence of the passage states, “I can only express the hope that the reader of this work, putting himself in my difficult position, will show patience, and also that anyone inclined to take offense at any of the reported dreams will concede freedom of thought at least to the dream life.” Here, the author relates how he hopes the reader will receive his work, suggesting that the reader is mentioned in the correct answer. We can ignore “explain why he made certain redactions to the dreams he later discusses,” as the sentence doesn’t mention this it all—it’s a point made earlier in the last paragraph. The author is not attempting to get the reader to read the work of a variety of psychologists or to conduct his or her own scientific experiments, as neither of these points are mentioned or suggested at all. In choosing between the remaining two answer choices, “emphasize why his work is valuable, despite its flaws” and “get the reader to emphasize with him,” the latter is the best answer. The author is not so much arguing for his work’s value in spite of flaws as he is attempting to get the reader to consider his situation, “putting [him- or herself] in [the author’s] difficult position.”

Example Question #93 : Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from Women’s Political Future by Frances E. W. Harper (1893)

The world has need of all the spiritual aid that woman can give for the social advancement and moral development of the human race. The tendency of the present age, with its restlessness, religious upheavals, failures, blunders, and crimes, is toward broader freedom, an increase of knowledge, the emancipation of thought, and recognition of the brotherhood of man; in this movement woman, as the companion of man, must be an equal. So close is the bond between man and woman that you cannot raise one without lifting the other. The world cannot move without woman's sharing in the movement, and to help give a right impetus to that movement is woman's highest privilege.

If the fifteenth century discovered America to the Old World, the nineteenth is discovering woman to herself. Not the opportunity of discovering new worlds, but that of filling this old world with fairer and higher aims than the greed of gold and the lust of power, is hers. Through weary, wasting years men have destroyed, dashed in pieces, and overthrown, but today we stand on the threshold of woman's era, and woman's work is grandly constructive. In her hand are possibilities whose use or abuse must tell upon the political life of the nation, and send their influence for good or evil across the track of unborn ages.

In context, the reference to the discovery of America is meant to underline what aspect of women’s life in the nineteenth century?

Possible Answers:

The growing opportunities for self-realization

The closeness of men and women

The education of women in private schools

The removal of obstacles to sexual equality

The ability of women to vote

Correct answer:

The growing opportunities for self-realization

Explanation:

The author makes reference to the discovery of America in the fifteenth century in comparison to women’s discovery of their own identity in the nineteenth century. The author states that “the nineteenth is discovering woman to herself” and that “today we stand on the threshold of woman's era.”

Example Question #12 : Analyzing Argumentative Claims, Bias, And Support In Social Science / History Passages

While the Gutenberg press was perhaps one of the greatest inventions of all time, we should not let its importance blind us to other very important events in the history of linguistic development. Granted, the efficiency of printing allowed for the dissemination of much learning in Europe. Still, such printing was not unique to Europe, and even in the scope of world history, there are several events that are equally as miraculous regarding the transmission of knowledge.

For instance, most people overlook the amazing nature of the first time that human beings communicated with spoken language. Perhaps there were simple signs by which these early humans could indicate their needs to each other; however, when the first event of person-to-person speech occurred, it was far more marvelous than simple practical communication. Such speech was like a sharing in ideas. When true speech happened, persons were able to communicate knowledge to each other, freeing it from its isolation in one lonely person. By means of such speech, knowledge could be orally transmitted from generation to generation, thus preserving wisdom in a way that is completely impossible without speech.

Of course, such spoken tradition is very fragile, relying on memories and stories that are passed down from generation to generation. For this reason, the invention of writing is extremely important. In contrast to the spoken word, the written word can continue to exist and be useful so long as it can be read intelligently. Likewise, much more can be recorded than ever could be remembered by someone with the best of memories. Indeed, once these records are written, copies can be sent to anyone who is able to read the language in question. Just so, it can be translated into written copies to be read by others. For these (as well as many other reasons) the invention of writing was a very significant event in history, greatly expanding the possibilities for the exchange of knowledge.

Thus, the printing press is quite important, but it is part of a larger story. Like both spoken and written communication, it allows human beings to communicate knowledge not only to each other but also across multiple generations. Often, we think of the press merely in its ability to provide a great number of books in a short period of time; however, when considered as a chapter in this longer tale, it likewise appears as the means by which humanity is able to conquer time by allowing the knowledge of today to live for multiple generations.

How does the author’s main idea become developed in a new way in the last paragraph?

Possible Answers:

He shows that the printing press is an excellent supplement to oral speech, but it can never replace it.

He shows that the printing press is, in fact, one of the greatest human inventions.

He shows that the printing press is merely the last stage in the development of human expression and that it will likely be replaced by new forms of technology.

He shows a new way to understand the nature of the achievements made possible by the printing press.

He shows that, in fact, the creation of the printing press was an insignificant event.

Correct answer:

He shows a new way to understand the nature of the achievements made possible by the printing press.

Explanation:

First, note that in the first paragraph, the author states that "While the Gutenberg press was perhaps one of the greatest inventions of all time, we should not let its importance blind us to other very important events in the history of linguistic development." The next two paragraphs help to develop that idea, showing how speech and writing are equally amazing events in the history of human communication. The final paragraph closes, however, with a new assertion: "However, when considered as a chapter in this longer tale, it likewise appears as the means by which humanity is able to conquer time by allowing the knowledge of today to live for multiple generations." This develops the author's theme, giving more information about the very nature of the printing press.

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