ACT Reading : Determining Context-Dependent Meanings of Phrases and Clauses in Humanities Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #14 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Phrases Or Sentences In Humanities Passages

Adapted from “Poe on Headley and Channing" in Vol. XVI, no. 10 of the Southern Literary Messenger by Edgar Allan Poe (October 1850)

To be serious, then; as we always wish to be if possible. Mr. Channing (whom we suppose to be a very young man, since we are precluded from supposing him a very old one,) appears to have been inoculated, at the same moment, with virus from Tennyson and from Carlyle. And here we do not wish to be misunderstood. For Tennyson, as for a man imbued with the richest and rarest poetic impulses, we have an admiration—a reverence unbounded. His “Morte D’Arthur,” his “Locksley Hall,” his “Sleeping Beauty,” his “Lady of Shalott,” his “Lotos Eaters,” his “Ænone,” and many other poems, are not surpassed, in all that gives to Poetry its distinctive value, by the compositions of any one living or dead. And his leading error—that error which renders him unpopular—a point, to be sure, of no particular importance—that very error, we say, is founded in truth—in a keen perception of the elements of poetic beauty. We allude to his quaintness—to what the world chooses to term his affectation. No true poet—no critic whose approbation is worth even a copy of the volume we now hold in our hand—will deny that he feels impressed, sometimes even to tears, by many of those very affectations which he is impelled by the prejudice of his education, or by the cant of his reason, to condemn. He should thus be led to examine the extent of the one, and to be wary of the deductions of the other. In fact, the profound intuition of Lord Bacon has supplied, in one of his immortal apothegms, the whole philosophy of the point at issue. “There is no exquisite beauty,” he truly says, “without some strangeness in its proportions.” We maintain, then, that Tennyson errs, not in his occasional quaintness, but in its continual and obtrusive excess. And, in accusing Mr. Channing of having been inoculated with virus from Tennyson, we merely mean to say that he has adopted and exaggerated that noble poet’s characteristic defect, having mistaken it for his principal merit.

Mr. Tennyson is quaint only; he is never, as some have supposed him, obscure—except, indeed, to the uneducated, whom he does not address. Mr. Carlyle, on the other hand, is obscure only; he is seldom, as some have imagined him, quaint. So far he is right; for although quaintness, employed by a man of judgment and genius, may be made auxiliary to a poem, whose true thesis is beauty, and beauty alone, it is grossly, and even ridiculously, out of place in a work of prose. But in his obscurity it is scarcely necessary to say that he is wrong. Either a man intends to be understood, or he does not. If he write a book which he intends not to be understood, we shall be very happy indeed not to understand it; but if he write a book which he means to be understood, and, in this book, be at all possible pains to prevent us from understanding it, we can only say that he is an ass—and this, to be brief, is our private opinion of Mr. Carlyle, which we now take the liberty of making public.

When Poe says that Channing has been "innoculated . . . with virus from Tennyson and Carlyle," he means to suggest that __________.

Possible Answers:

Channing's work deals with the scientific study of disease, just like the work of Tennyson and Carlyle

Channing has in his own writing taken on two major negative traits that each appear in Tennyson and Carlyle's writing, respectively

Channing's work suffers from the same sick writing as does Tennyson's and Carlyle's

Channing suffers from the same disease of which both Tennyson and Carlyle died

Correct answer:

Channing has in his own writing taken on two major negative traits that each appear in Tennyson and Carlyle's writing, respectively

Explanation:

Here Poe is using an interesting extended metaphor, saying that each of these established writers has a "virus" in their writing, or in other words, a characteristic error, which Channing himself seems to have taken on in his own writing.

Example Question #231 : Humanities

Adapted from "Mr. Wordsworth" in The Spirit of the Age: or Contemporary Portraits by William Hazlitt (1825)

Mr. Wordsworth’s genius is a pure emanation of the Spirit of the Age. Had he lived in any other period of the world, he would never have been heard of. As it is, he has some difficulty to contend with the lethargy of his intellect, and the meanness of his subject. With him “lowliness is young ambition’s ladder;” but he finds it a toil to climb in this way the steep of Fame. His homely Muse can hardly raise her wing from the ground, nor spread her hidden glories to the sun. He has “no figures nor no fantasies, which busy passion draws in the brains of men:” neither the gorgeous machinery of mythological lore, nor the splendid colors of poetic diction. His style is vernacular: he delivers household truths. He sees nothing loftier than human hopes; nothing deeper than the human heart. This he probes, this he tampers with, this he poises, with all its incalculable weight of thought and feeling, in his hands, and at the same time calms the throbbing pulses of his own heart, by keeping his eye ever fixed on the face of nature. If he can make the life-blood flow from the wounded breast, this is the living coloring with which he paints his verse: if he can assuage the pain or close up the wound with the balm of solitary musing, or the healing power of plants and herbs and “skyey influences,” this is the sole triumph of his art. He takes the simplest elements of nature and of the human mind, the mere abstract conditions inseparable from our being, and tries to compound a new system of poetry from them; and has perhaps succeeded as well as anyone could. “Nihil humani a me alienum puto” (I consider nothing that is human alien to me)—is the motto of his works. He thinks nothing low or indifferent of which this can be affirmed: everything that professes to be more than this, that is not an absolute essence of truth and feeling, he holds to be vitiated, false, and spurious. In a word, his poetry is founded on setting up an opposition (and pushing it to the utmost length) between the natural and the artificial: between the spirit of humanity, and the spirit of fashion and of the world!

It is one of the innovations of the time. It partakes of, and is carried along with, the revolutionary movement of our age: the political changes of the day were the model on which he formed and conducted his poetical experiments. His Muse (it cannot be denied, and without this we cannot explain its character at all) is a leveling one. It proceeds on a principle of equality, and strives to reduce all things to the same standard. It is distinguished by a proud humility. It relies upon its own resources, and disdains external show and relief. It takes the commonest events and objects, as a test to prove that nature is always interesting from its inherent truth and beauty, without any of the ornaments of dress or pomp of circumstances to set it off. Hence the unaccountable mixture of seeming simplicity and real abstruseness in the Lyrical Ballads. Fools have laughed at, and wise men scarcely understand, them. He takes a subject or a story merely as pegs or loops to hang thought and feeling on; the incidents are trifling, in proportion to his contempt for imposing appearances; the reflections are profound, according to the gravity and aspiring pretensions of his mind.

Which of the following sentences best restates the meaning of the underlined line, “Hence the unaccountable mixture of seeming simplicity and real abstruseness in the Lyrical Ballads"?

Possible Answers:

Lyrical Ballads is impossible to interpret due to its constant combination of the inane and the succinct.

Thus there is no way of counting how much he mixes the complex with the simple in Lyrical Ballads.

The driving force in Lyrical Ballads comes from the numerous mixes of the uncomplicated with the complicated.

As such there is an irresponsible blending of the simple and the complex in Lyrical Ballads.

Because of this, there is a primarily inexplicable combination of the simple and the complex in Lyrical Ballads.

Correct answer:

Because of this, there is a primarily inexplicable combination of the simple and the complex in Lyrical Ballads.

Explanation:

The line is continuing to describe Wordsworth's methods like the sentence that precedes it. The author has already stated that Wordsworth's poetry “takes the commonest events and objects, as a test to prove that nature is always interesting from its inherent truth and beauty, without any of the ornaments of dress or pomp of circumstances to set it off.” The best restatement should express that in Lyrical Ballads, there is a juxtaposition of the complex and the simple which at first seems unexplainable. We cannot say, from the passage, that Wordsworth is irresponsible or what the “driving force” behind Lyrical Ballads was as it is not discussed in the specified line.

Example Question #55 : Content Of Humanities Passages

Passage adapted from “Utopia” by Thomas More (1516) in Ideal CommonwealthsComprising More's Utopia, Bacon's New Atlantis, Campanella's City of the Sun, and Harrington's Oceans (1901)

Thus have I described to you, as particularly as I could, the constitution of that commonwealth, which I do not only think the best in the world, but indeed the only commonwealth that truly deserves that name. In all other places it is visible that, while people talk of a commonwealth, every man only seeks his own wealth; but there, where no man has any property, all men zealously pursue the good of the public, and, indeed, it is no wonder to see men act so differently, for in other commonwealths every man knows that unless he provides for himself, how flourishing soever the commonwealth may be, he must die of hunger, so that he sees the necessity of preferring his own concerns to the public; but in Utopia, where every man has a right to everything, they all know that if care is taken to keep the public stores full no private man can want anything, for among them there is no unequal distribution, so that no man is poor, none in necessity, and though no man has anything, yet they are all rich; for what can make a man so rich as to lead a serene and cheerful life, free from anxieties, neither apprehending want himself, nor vexed with the endless complaints of his wife? He is not afraid of the misery of his children, nor is he contriving how to raise a portion for his daughters, but is secure in this, that both he and his wife, his children and grandchildren, to as many generations as he can fancy, will all live both plentifully and happily, since, among them, there is no less care taken of those who were once engaged in labor, but grow afterwards unable to follow it, than there is, elsewhere, of these that continue still employed. I would gladly hear any man compare the justice that is among them with that of all other nations; among whom may I perish if I see anything that looks either like justice or equity; for what justice is there in this: that a nobleman, a goldsmith, a banker, or any other man, who either does nothing at all, or, at best, is employed in things that are of no use to the public, should live in great luxury and splendor upon what is so ill acquired, and a mean man, a carter, a smith, or a plowman, who works harder even than the beasts themselves, and is employed in labors so necessary, that no commonwealth could hold out a year without them, can only earn so poor a livelihood and must lead so miserable a life, that the condition of the beasts is much better than theirs? For as the beasts do not work so constantly, so they feed almost as well, and with more pleasure, and have no anxiety about what is to come, whilst these men are depressed by a barren and fruitless employment, and tormented with the apprehensions of want in their old age; since that which they get by their daily labour does but maintain them at present, and is consumed as fast as it comes in, there is no overplus left to lay up for old age.

In which of the following quotations does the narrator give a reason why people consider their own wants before the public good in countries other than Utopia?

Possible Answers:

". . . no man is poor, none in necessity, and though no man has anything, yet they are all rich; for what can make a man so rich as to lead a serene and cheerful life, free from anxieties, neither apprehending want himself, nor vexed with the endless complaints of his wife?"

". . . among them, there is no less care taken of those who were once engaged in labor, but grow afterwards unable to follow it, than there is, elsewhere, of these that continue still employed."

"For as the beasts do not work so constantly, so they feed almost as well, and with more pleasure, and have no anxiety about what is to come, whilst these men are depressed by a barren and fruitless employment, and tormented with the apprehensions of want in their old age . . ."

"I would gladly hear any man compare the justice that is among them with that of all other nations; among whom may I perish if I see anything that looks either like justice or equity . . ."

" . . . it is no wonder to see men act so differently, for in other commonwealths every man knows that unless he provides for himself, how flourishing soever the commonwealth may be, he must die of hunger, so that he sees the necessity of preferring his own concerns to the public . . ."

Correct answer:

" . . . it is no wonder to see men act so differently, for in other commonwealths every man knows that unless he provides for himself, how flourishing soever the commonwealth may be, he must die of hunger, so that he sees the necessity of preferring his own concerns to the public . . ."

Explanation:

The correct answer choice includes the detail that "every man knows that unless he provides for himself, how flourishing soever the commonwealth may be, he must die of hunger," and it uses this as a supporting detail for the reason why a man who lives in a country other than Utopia "sees the necessity of preferring his own concerns to the public," or in other words, considers his own wants before the public good. None of the other answer choices provide such a detail.

Example Question #10 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Phrases Or Sentences In Humanities Passages

Passage adapted from “Utopia” by Thomas More (1516) in Ideal CommonwealthsComprising More's Utopia, Bacon's New Atlantis, Campanella's City of the Sun, and Harrington's Oceans (1901)

Thus have I described to you, as particularly as I could, the constitution of that commonwealth, which I do not only think the best in the world, but indeed the only commonwealth that truly deserves that name. In all other places it is visible that, while people talk of a commonwealth, every man only seeks his own wealth; but there, where no man has any property, all men zealously pursue the good of the public, and, indeed, it is no wonder to see men act so differently, for in other commonwealths every man knows that unless he provides for himself, how flourishing soever the commonwealth may be, he must die of hunger, so that he sees the necessity of preferring his own concerns to the public; but in Utopia, where every man has a right to everything, they all know that if care is taken to keep the public stores full no private man can want anything, for among them there is no unequal distribution, so that no man is poor, none in necessity, and though no man has anything, yet they are all rich; for what can make a man so rich as to lead a serene and cheerful life, free from anxieties, neither apprehending want himself, nor vexed with the endless complaints of his wife? He is not afraid of the misery of his children, nor is he contriving how to raise a portion for his daughters, but is secure in this, that both he and his wife, his children and grandchildren, to as many generations as he can fancy, will all live both plentifully and happily, since, among them, there is no less care taken of those who were once engaged in labor, but grow afterwards unable to follow it, than there is, elsewhere, of these that continue still employed. I would gladly hear any man compare the justice that is among them with that of all other nations;among whom may I perish if I see anything that looks either like justice or equity; for what justice is there in this: that a nobleman, a goldsmith, a banker, or any other man, who either does nothing at all, or, at best, is employed in things that are of no use to the public, should live in great luxury and splendor upon what is so ill acquired, and a mean man, a carter, a smith, or a plowman, who works harder even than the beasts themselves, and is employed in labors so necessary, that no commonwealth could hold out a year without them, can only earn so poor a livelihood and must lead so miserable a life, that the condition of the beasts is much better than theirs? For as the beasts do not work so constantly, so they feed almost as well, and with more pleasure, and have no anxiety about what is to come, whilst these men are depressed by a barren and fruitless employment, and tormented with the apprehensions of want in their old age; since that which they get by their daily labour does but maintain them at present, and is consumed as fast as it comes in, there is no overplus left to lay up for old age.

What does the narrator mean when, in the underlined quotation, he says that Utopia is “indeed the only commonwealth that truly deserves that name”?

Possible Answers:

Utopia is the only city which is completely ruled by trade.

Utopia is the only country in which riches are completely shared.

Utopia is the only country that is accessible only to those who can pay for entrance.

Utopia is the only country which can be properly called independent.

Utopia is the only society in which wealth is less important than how one gets along with other people.

Correct answer:

Utopia is the only country in which riches are completely shared.

Explanation:

The quotation at hand appears in the context of the passage's first sentence: "Thus have I described to you, as particularly as I could, the constitution of that commonwealth, which I do not only think the best in the world, but indeed the only commonwealth that truly deserves that name." While we can't get much from simply reading this sentence, the next sentence sheds some more light on the narrator's meaning: "In all other places it is visible that, while people talk of a commonwealth, every man only seeks his own wealth; but there, where no man has any property, all men zealously pursue the good of the public." The idea that people in other countries live in "commonwealths," which suggest that in those places "wealth" should be "common," or shared, is contrasted with the reality that in those countries "every man only seeks his own wealth," the opposite of what the name "commonwealth" would lead us to expect. Returning to the quotation, then, the narrator is saying that Utopia is the only "commonwealth" (country) that deserves to be called that because there the "wealth" is actually "common," meaning shared or public.

Example Question #1 : Specific Phrases And Sentences In Humanities Passages

Passage adapted from “Utopia” by Thomas More (1516) in Ideal CommonwealthsComprising More's Utopia, Bacon's New Atlantis, Campanella's City of the Sun, and Harrington's Oceans (1901)

Thus have I described to you, as particularly as I could, the constitution of that commonwealth, which I do not only think the best in the world, but indeed the only commonwealth that truly deserves that name. In all other places it is visible that, while people talk of a commonwealth, every man only seeks his own wealth; but there, where no man has any property, all men zealously pursue the good of the public, and, indeed, it is no wonder to see men act so differently, for in other commonwealths every man knows that unless he provides for himself, how flourishing soever the commonwealth may be, he must die of hunger, so that he sees the necessity of preferring his own concerns to the public; but in Utopia, where every man has a right to everything, they all know that if care is taken to keep the public stores full no private man can want anything, for among them there is no unequal distribution, so that no man is poor, none in necessity, and though no man has anything, yet they are all rich; for what can make a man so rich as to lead a serene and cheerful life, free from anxieties, neither apprehending want himself, nor vexed with the endless complaints of his wife? He is not afraid of the misery of his children, nor is he contriving how to raise a portion for his daughters, but is secure in this, that both he and his wife, his children and grandchildren, to as many generations as he can fancy, will all live both plentifully and happily, since, among them, there is no less care taken of those who were once engaged in labor, but grow afterwards unable to follow it, than there is, elsewhere, of these that continue still employed. I would gladly hear any man compare the justice that is among them with that of all other nations; among whom may I perish if I see anything that looks either like justice or equity; for what justice is there in this: that a nobleman, a goldsmith, a banker, or any other man, who either does nothing at all, or, at best, is employed in things that are of no use to the public, should live in great luxury and splendor upon what is so ill acquired, and a mean man, a carter, a smith, or a plowman, who works harder even than the beasts themselves, and is employed in labors so necessary, that no commonwealth could hold out a year without them, can only earn so poor a livelihood and must lead so miserable a life, that the condition of the beasts is much better than theirs? For as the beasts do not work so constantly, so they feed almost as well, and with more pleasure, and have no anxiety about what is to come, whilst these men are depressed by a barren and fruitless employment, and tormented with the apprehensions of want in their old age; since that which they get by their daily labour does but maintain them at present, and is consumed as fast as it comes in, there is no overplus left to lay up for old age.

What is the most likely meaning of the underlined phrase "raise a portion for"?

Possible Answers:

Arrange for inheritances for

Craft good wedding presents for

Save money for dowries for

Repay a debt for

Find suitable husbands for

Correct answer:

Save money for dowries for

Explanation:

This phrase appears in the context of a father "contriving how to raise a portion for his daughters" as one of his economic worries in a country that is not Utopia. The specific use of the gendered word "daughters" instead of a more general term like "children" should clue you in that the answer choice will also be gendered in some way. The only answer choices that fit this requirement are "Find suitable husbands for" and "Save money for a dowry for," and given that finding husbands has not been mentioned at all in the passage, but that economics have been one of its major themes, "Save money for a dowry for" is the best answer, and the correct one.

Example Question #4 : Making Inferences In Narrative Humanities Passages

Passage adapted from "Of One Defect in Our Government" in Essays of Michael, Seigneur de Montaigne in The Complete Works of Michael de Montaigne (1580, trans. C. Cotton, ed. W. Hazlitt 1842)

My late father, a man that had no other advantages than experience and his own natural parts, was nevertheless of a very clear judgment, formerly told me that he once had thoughts of endeavoring to introduce this practice; that there might be in every city a certain place assigned to which such as stood in need of anything might repair, and have their business entered by an officer appointed for that purpose. As for example: I want a chapman to buy my pearls; I want one that has pearls to sell; such a one wants company to go to Paris; such a one seeks a servant of such a quality; such a one a master; such a one such an artificer; some inquiring for one thing, some for another, every one according to what he wants. And doubtless, these mutual advertisements would be of no contemptible advantage to the public correspondence and intelligence: for there are evermore conditions that hunt after one another, and for want of knowing one another's occasions leave men in very great necessity.

I have heard, to the great shame of the age we live in, that in our very sight two most excellent men for learning died so poor that they had scarce bread to put in their mouths: Lilius Gregorius Giraldus in Italy and Sebastianus Castalio in Germany: and I believe there are a thousand men would have invited them into their families, with very advantageous conditions, or have relieved them where they were, had they known their wants. The world is not so generally corrupted, but that I know a man that would heartily wish the estate his ancestors have left him might be employed, so long as it shall please fortune to give him leave to enjoy it, to secure rare and remarkable persons of any kind, whom misfortune sometimes persecutes to the last degree, from the dangers of necessity; and at least place them in such a condition that they must be very hard to please, if they are not contented.

My father in his domestic economy had this rule (which I know how to commend, but by no means to imitate), namely, that besides the day-book or memorial of household affairs, where the small accounts, payments, and disbursements, which do not require a secretary's hand, were entered, and which a steward always had in custody, he ordered him whom he employed to write for him, to keep a journal, and in it to set down all the remarkable occurrences, and daily memorials of the history of his house: very pleasant to look over, when time begins to wear things out of memory, and very useful sometimes to put us out of doubt when such a thing was begun, when ended; what visitors came, and when they went; our travels, absences, marriages, and deaths; the reception of good or ill news; the change of principal servants, and the like. An ancient custom, which I think it would not be amiss for every one to revive in his own house; and I find I did very foolishly in neglecting it.

What is implied about the condition described in the underlined selection, “in such a condition that they must be very hard to please, if they are not contented”?

Possible Answers:

It is far too expensive to be a worthwhile investment.

It purposely lacks for comfort and only provides the essentials.

It does not content them because they are hard to satisfy.

It is unsatisfactory, but it is the only option.

It is very pleasant and comfortable.

Correct answer:

It is very pleasant and comfortable.

Explanation:

Reading the selection very carefully is key to answering this question correctly, as numerous answer choices use similar phrasing. In particular, "It does not content them because they are hard to satisfy" uses much of the same wording as the quotation, but omits the conditional, hypothetical "if," a very important aspect crucial to the meaning of the selection. The correct answer is "It is very pleasant and comfortable," because IF they are not contented by it, they must be very hard to please. Therefore, it must content and please most people, and therefore by extension be comfortable and pleasant.

Example Question #3 : Making Inferences In Narrative Humanities Passages

Passage adapted from "Of One Defect in Our Government" in Essays of Michael, Seigneur de Montaigne in The Complete Works of Michael de Montaigne (1580, trans. C. Cotton, ed. W. Hazlitt 1842)

My late father, a man that had no other advantages than experience and his own natural parts, was nevertheless of a very clear judgment, formerly told me that he once had thoughts of endeavoring to introduce this practice; that there might be in every city a certain place assigned to which such as stood in need of anything might repair, and have their business entered by an officer appointed for that purpose. As for example: I want a chapman to buy my pearls; I want one that has pearls to sell; such a one wants company to go to Paris; such a one seeks a servant of such a quality; such a one a master; such a one such an artificer; some inquiring for one thing, some for another, every one according to what he wants. And doubtless, these mutual advertisements would be of no contemptible advantage to the public correspondence and intelligence: for there are evermore conditions that hunt after one another, and for want of knowing one another's occasions leave men in very great necessity.

I have heard, to the great shame of the age we live in, that in our very sight two most excellent men for learning died so poor that they had scarce bread to put in their mouths: Lilius Gregorius Giraldus in Italy and Sebastianus Castalio in Germany: and I believe there are a thousand men would have invited them into their families, with very advantageous conditions, or have relieved them where they were, had they known their wants. The world is not so generally corrupted, but that I know a man that would heartily wish the estate his ancestors have left him might be employed, so long as it shall please fortune to give him leave to enjoy it, to secure rare and remarkable persons of any kind, whom misfortune sometimes persecutes to the last degree, from the dangers of necessity; and at least place them in such a condition that they must be very hard to please, if they are not contented.

My father in his domestic economy had this rule (which I know how to commend, but by no means to imitate), namely, that besides the day-book or memorial of household affairs, where the small accounts, payments, and disbursements, which do not require a secretary's hand, were entered, and which a steward always had in custody, he ordered him whom he employed to write for him, to keep a journal, and in it to set down all the remarkable occurrences, and daily memorials of the history of his house: very pleasant to look over, when time begins to wear things out of memory, and very useful sometimes to put us out of doubt when such a thing was begun, when ended; what visitors came, and when they went; our travels, absences, marriages, and deaths; the reception of good or ill news; the change of principal servants, and the like. An ancient custom, which I think it would not be amiss for every one to revive in his own house; and I find I did very foolishly in neglecting it.

What can be inferred from the underlined phrase “My late father, a man who had no other advantages than experience and his own natural parts”?

Possible Answers:

The narrator's father is a widower.

The narrator's father is likely rich.

The narrator's father likely traveled extensively.

The narrator is one of a large number of children.

The narrator's father likely did not attend college.

Correct answer:

The narrator's father likely did not attend college.

Explanation:

Nothing about the underlined selection suggests that the narrator is one of a large number of children. While "experience" is mentioned, nothing specifically suggests that the narrator's father traveled extensively. As for the answer choices "The narrator's father is likely rich" and "The narrator's father is a widower," they are each in the present tense, whereas in the passage the narrator refers to "[His] late father," meaning that his father is deceased; so, neither of those answer choices can be correct for that reason, and in addition, the passage doesn't suggest the narrator's father was wealthy or a widower. The last remaining answer choice is the correct one: "The narrator's father likely did not attend college." We can infer this because higher education like college could be classed as an "advantage," whereas we're told that the narrator's father "had no other advantages than experience and his own natural parts, [but] was nevertheless of a very clear judgment." The fact that the narrator's father was discerning with no advantages except for "experience and his own natural parts" suggests that he was not extensively formally educated.

Example Question #11 : Specific Phrases And Sentences In Humanities Passages

Passage adapted from "Of One Defect in Our Government" in Essays of Michael, Seigneur de Montaigne in The Complete Works of Michael de Montaigne (1580, trans. C. Cotton, ed. W. Hazlitt 1842)

My late father, a man that had no other advantages than experience and his own natural parts, was nevertheless of a very clear judgment, formerly told me that he once had thoughts of endeavoring to introduce this practice; that there might be in every city a certain place assigned to which such as stood in need of anything might repair, and have their business entered by an officer appointed for that purpose. As for example: I want a chapman to buy my pearls; I want one that has pearls to sell; such a one wants company to go to Paris; such a one seeks a servant of such a quality; such a one a master; such a one such an artificer; some inquiring for one thing, some for another, every one according to what he wants. And doubtless, these mutual advertisements would be of no contemptible advantage to the public correspondence and intelligence: for there are evermore conditions that hunt after one another, and for want of knowing one another's occasions leave men in very great necessity.

I have heard, to the great shame of the age we live in, that in our very sight two most excellent men for learning died so poor that they had scarce bread to put in their mouths: Lilius Gregorius Giraldus in Italy and Sebastianus Castalio in Germany: and I believe there are a thousand men would have invited them into their families, with very advantageous conditions, or have relieved them where they were, had they known their wants. The world is not so generally corrupted, but that I know a man that would heartily wish the estate his ancestors have left him might be employed, so long as it shall please fortune to give him leave to enjoy it, to secure rare and remarkable persons of any kind, whom misfortune sometimes persecutes to the last degree, from the dangers of necessity; and at least place them in such a condition that they must be very hard to please, if they are not contented.

My father in his domestic economy had this rule (which I know how to commend, but by no means to imitate), namely, that besides the day-book or memorial of household affairs, where the small accounts, payments, and disbursements, which do not require a secretary's hand, were entered, and which a steward always had in custody, he ordered him whom he employed to write for him, to keep a journal, and in it to set down all the remarkable occurrences, and daily memorials of the history of his house: very pleasant to look over, when time begins to wear things out of memory, and very useful sometimes to put us out of doubt when such a thing was begun, when ended; what visitors came, and when they went; our travels, absences, marriages, and deaths; the reception of good or ill news; the change of principal servants, and the like. An ancient custom, which I think it would not be amiss for every one to revive in his own house; and I find I did very foolishly in neglecting it.

Based on context, what is the meaning of the underlined clause “he ordered him whom he employed to write for him”?

Possible Answers:

the narrator's father's servant ordered the narrator's father to write for the narrator's father's servant

the narrator ordered one of the narrator's father's servants to write for the narrator's father

the narrator's father ordered one of his servants to write for the narrator's father

the narrator's father ordered one of his servants to write for himself

the narrator's father's servant ordered the narrator's father to write for the narrator

Correct answer:

the narrator's father ordered one of his servants to write for the narrator's father

Explanation:

Answering this question correctly requires you to read in context very carefully in order to determine the antecedents of each of the pronouns involved in the specified clause. Let's figure out each one in turn. The first "he" refers to "My father," as it is part of the sentence that begins with "My father," so he is still the subject of the sentence. Don't be confused by phrase "and which a steward always had in custody" that immediately precedes the selection!

So, so far we have "[the narrator's father] ordered him whom he employed to write for him." The "him whom he employed" is signifying employees of the narrator's father, and since we know that the narrator's father employs servants, we can replace "him whom he employed" with "one of the narrator's father's servants" and be accurate. So, we now have "[the narrator's father] ordered [one of his servants] to write for him."

This reduces the potentially correct answer choices to "the narrator's father ordered one of his servants to write for the narrator's father" and "the narrator's father ordered one of his servants to write for himself." Well, if it were the latter answer, the sentence would need to say "himself," in order to refer reflexively to the servant. That means that "the narrator's father ordered one of his servants to write for the narrator's father" is the correct answer.

Example Question #11 : Determining Context Dependent Meanings Of Phrases And Clauses In Humanities Passages

Adapted from “Aristotle at Afternoon Tea” by Oscar Wilde (1887)

In society, says Mr. Mahaffy, every civilized man and woman ought to feel it their duty to say something, even when there is hardly anything to be said, and, in order to encourage this delightful art of brilliant chatter, he has published a social guide without which no debutante or dandy should ever dream of going out to dine. Not that Mr. Mahaffy's book can be said to be, in any sense of the word, popular. In discussing this important subject of conversation, he has not merely followed the scientific method of Aristotle which is, perhaps, excusable, but he has adopted the literary style of Aristotle for which no excuse is possible. There is, also, hardly a single anecdote, hardly a single illustration, and the reader is left to put the professor's abstract rules into practice, without either the examples or the warnings of history to encourage or to dissuade him in his reckless career. Still, the book can be warmly recommended to all who propose to substitute the vice of verbosity for the stupidity of silence. It fascinates in spite of its form and pleases in spite of its pedantry, and is the nearest approach, that we know of, in modern literature to meeting Aristotle at an afternoon tea.

What is the "the vice of verbosity"?

Possible Answers:

Greed

Sloth 

Reverence 

Intransigence

Wordiness 

Correct answer:

Wordiness 

Explanation:

"Verbosity" describes the wordiness of something and has a generally negative connotation. A phrase that employs more words than is necessary is considered verbose. "Reverence" means great respect, "sloth" means laziness, and "intransigence" means stubbornness.

Example Question #2 : Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Why a Classic is a Classic" in Literary Taste: How to Form It by Arnold Bennet (1909) 

The large majority of our fellow-citizens care as much about literature as they care about airplanes or the policies of the Legislature. They do not ignore it; they are not quite indifferent to it. But their interest in it is faint and perfunctory; or, if their interest happens to be violent, it is spasmodic. Ask the two hundred thousand persons whose enthusiasm made the vogue of a popular novel ten years ago what they think of that novel now, and you will gather that they have utterly forgotten it, and that they would no more dream of reading it again than of reading Bishop Stubbs's Select Charters. Probably if they did read it again they would not enjoy it—not because the said novel is worse now than it was ten years ago; not because their taste has improved—but because they have not had sufficient practice to be able to rely on their taste as a means of permanent pleasure. They simply don't know from one day to the next what will please them.

In the face of this one may ask: Why does the great and universal fame of classical authors continue? The answer is that the fame of classical authors is entirely independent of the majority. Do you suppose that if the fame of Shakespeare depended on the man in the street it would survive a fortnight? The fame of classical authors is originally made, and it is maintained, by a passionate few. Even when a first-class author has enjoyed immense success during his lifetime, the majority have never appreciated him as sincerely as they have appreciated second-rate men. He has always been reinforced by the ardor of the passionate few. And in the case of an author who has emerged into glory after his death the happy sequel has been due solely to the obstinate perseverance of the few. They could not leave him alone; they would not. They kept on savoring him, and talking about him, and buying him, and they generally behaved with such eager zeal, and they were so authoritative and sure of themselves, that at last the majority grew accustomed to the sound of his name and placidly agreed to the proposition that he was a genius; the majority really did not care very much either way.

And it is by the passionate few that the renown of genius is kept alive from one generation to another. These few are always at work. They are always rediscovering genius. Their curiosity and enthusiasm are exhaustless, so that there is little chance of genius being ignored. And, moreover, they are always working either for or against the verdicts of the majority. The majority can make a reputation, but it is too careless to maintain it. If, by accident, the passionate few agree with the majority in a particular instance, they will frequently remind the majority that such and such a reputation has been made, and the majority will idly concur: "Ah, yes. By the way, we must not forget that such and such a reputation exists." Without that persistent memory-jogging the reputation would quickly fall into the oblivion which is death. The passionate few only have their way by reason of the fact that they are genuinely interested in literature, that literature matters to them. They conquer by their obstinacy alone, by their eternal repetition of the same statements. Do you suppose they could prove to the man in the street that Shakespeare was a great artist? The said man would not even understand the terms they employed. But when he is told ten thousand times, and generation after generation, that Shakespeare was a great artist, the said man believes--not by reason, but by faith. And he too repeats that Shakespeare was a great artist, and he buys the complete works of Shakespeare and puts them on his shelves, and he goes to see the marvelous stage-effects which accompany King Lear or Hamlet, and comes back religiously convinced that Shakespeare was a great artist. All because the passionate few could not keep their admiration of Shakespeare to themselves. This is not cynicism; but truth. And it is important that those who wish to form their literary taste should grasp it.

When the author states that the minority conquers by “obstinacy alone” (line 31), to what attribute is he crediting the minority?

Possible Answers:

thoughtfulness

deception

faithfulness

stubbornness

courage

Correct answer:

stubbornness

Explanation:

The word obstinacy means stubbornness. If you were not aware of that it would become necessary to try to solve the problem through understanding the context in which the word is used. The author states: “They conquer by their obstinacy alone, by their eternal repetition of the same statements.” The constant repetition of the same idea is an example of stubbornness. By matching the meaning of the second part of the sentence with the meaning of the word obstinacy you would be able to solve the problem without knowing the exact definition of obstinacy, although it always helps to know.

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