ACT Reading : Determining Context-Dependent Meanings of Phrases and Clauses in Social Science or History Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #61 : Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from The Extermination of the American Bison by William T. Hornaday (1889)

We come now to a history which I would gladly leave unwritten. Its record is a disgrace to the American people in general, and the Territorial, State, and General Government in particular. It will cause succeeding generations to regard us as being possessed of the leading characteristics of the beast of prey—cruelty and greed. We will be likened to the blood-thirsty tiger of the Indian jungle, who slaughters a dozen bullocks at once when he knows he can eat only one.

The men who killed buffaloes for their tongues and those who shot them from the railway trains for sport were murderers. In no way does civilized man so quickly revert to his former state as when he is alone with the beasts of the field. Give him a gun and something which he may kill without getting himself in trouble, and, presto! He is instantly a killer again, finding exquisite delight in bloodshed, slaughter, and death, if not for gain, then solely for the joy and happiness of it. There is no kind of warfare against game animals too unfair, too disreputable, or too mean for white men to engage in if they can only do so with safety to their own precious carcasses. They will shoot buffalo and antelope from running railway trains, drive deer into water with hounds and cut their throats in cold blood, kill does with fawns a week old, kill fawns by the score for their spotted skins, slaughter deer, moose, and caribou in the snow at a pitiful disadvantage, just as the wolves do; exterminate the wild ducks on the whole Atlantic seaboard with punt guns for the metropolitan markets; kill off the Rocky Mountain goats for hides worth only 50 cents apiece, destroy wagon loads of trout with dynamite, and so on to the end of the chapter.

Perhaps the most gigantic task ever undertaken on this continent in the line of game-slaughter was the extermination of the bison in the great pasture region by the hide-hunters. Probably the brilliant rapidity and success with which that lofty undertaking was accomplished was a matter of surprise even to those who participated in it. The story of the slaughter is by no means a long one.

The period of systematic slaughter of the bison naturally begins with the first organized efforts in that direction, in a business-like, wholesale way. Although the species had been steadily driven westward for a hundred years by the advancing settlements, and had during all that time been hunted for the meat and robes it yielded, its extermination did not begin in earnest until 1820, or thereabouts. As before stated, various persons had previous to that time made buffalo killing a business in order to sell their skins, but such instances were very exceptional. By that time the bison was totally extinct in all the region lying east of the Mississippi River except a portion of Wisconsin, where it survived until about 1830. In 1820 the first organized buffalo hunting expedition on a grand scale was made from the Red River settlement, Manitoba, in which five hundred and forty carts proceeded to the range. Previous to that time the buffaloes were found near enough to the settlements around Fort Garry that every settler could hunt independently; but as the herds were driven farther and farther away, it required an organized effort and a long journey to reach them.

The American Fur Company established trading posts along the Missouri River, one at the mouth of the Teton River and another at the mouth of the Yellowstone. In 1826 a post was established at the eastern base of the Rocky Mountains, at the head of the Arkansas River, and in 1832 another was located in a corresponding situation at the head of the South Fork of the Platte, close to where Denver now stands. Both the latter were on what was then the western border of the buffalo range. Elsewhere throughout the buffalo country there were numerous other posts, always situated as near as possible to the best hunting ground, and at the same time where they would be most accessible to the hunters, both white and Native American.

Which of these is the best antonym of the phrase “in earnest” underlined in the fourth paragraph?

Possible Answers:

Repeatedly

In a state of joviality

Solemnly

With sobriety

Casually

Correct answer:

Casually

Explanation:

As it is used in the text, “in earnest” means earnestly or seriously. A good antonym for this is “casually."

Example Question #12 : Determining Context Dependent Meanings Of Phrases And Clauses In Social Science Or History Passages

Adapted from War from the Inside: The Story of the 132nd Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry in the War for the Suppression of the Rebellion, 1862-1863 by Col. Frederick L. Hitchcock (1903)

Never did day open more beautiful. We were astir at the first streak of dawn. We had slept, and soundly too, just where nightfall found us under the shelter of the hill near Keedysville. No reveille call this morning. Too close to the enemy. Nor was this needed to arouse us. A simple call of a sergeant or corporal and every man was instantly awake and alert. All realized that there was ugly business and plenty of it just ahead. This was plainly visible in the faces as well as in the nervous, subdued demeanor of all. The absence of all joking and play and the almost painful sobriety of action, where jollity had been the rule, was particularly noticeable.

Before proceeding with the events of the battle, I should speak of the "night before the battle," of which so much has been said and written. My diary says that Lieutenant-Colonel Wilcox, Captain James Archbald, Co. I, and I slept together, sharing our blankets; that it rained during the night; this fact, with the other, that we were close friends at home, accounts for our sharing blankets. Three of us with our gum blankets could so arrange as to keep fairly dry, notwithstanding the rain.

The camp was ominously still this night. We were not allowed to sing or make any noise, nor have any fires—except just enough to make coffee—for fear of attracting the fire of the enemies' batteries. But there was no need of such an inhibition as to singing or frolicking, for there was no disposition to indulge in either. Unquestionably, the problems of the morrow were occupying all breasts. Letters were written home—many of them "last words"—and quiet talks were had, and promises made between comrades. Promises providing against the dreaded possibilities of the morrow. "If the worst happens, Jack." "Yes, Ned, send word to mother and to——, and these; she will prize them," and so directions were interchanged that meant so much.

I can never forget the quiet words of Colonel Oakford, as he inquired very particularly if my roster of the officers and men of the regiment was complete, for, said he, with a smile, "We shall not all be here to-morrow night."

Now to resume the story of the battle. We were on the march about six o'clock and moved, as I thought, rather leisurely for upwards of two miles, crossing Antietam creek, which our men waded nearly waist deep, emerging, of course, soaked through, our first experience of this kind. It was a hot morning and, therefore, the only ill effects of this wading was the discomfort to the men of marching with soaked feet. It was now quite evident that a great battle was in progress. A deafening pandemonium of cannonading, with shrieking and bursting shells, filled the air beyond us, towards which we were marching. An occasional shell whizzed by or over, reminding us that we were rapidly approaching the "debatable ground." Soon we began to hear a most ominous sound which we had never before heard, except in the far distance at South Mountain, namely, the rattle of musketry. It had none of the deafening bluster of the cannonading so terrifying to new troops, but to those who had once experienced its effect, it was infinitely more to be dreaded. The fatalities by musketry at close quarters, as the two armies fought at Antietam and all through the Civil War, as compared with those by artillery, are at least as 100 to 1, probably much more than that.

These volleys of musketry we were approaching sounded in the distance like the rapid pouring of shot upon a tin pan, or the tearing of heavy canvas, with slight pauses interspersed with single shots, or desultory shooting. All this presaged fearful work in store for us, with what results to each personally the future, measured probably by moments, would reveal.

Which of the following sentences best summarizes the first paragraph?

Possible Answers:

The fine day was overshadowed by a lack of sleep.

The men were in good spirits.

It was a fine day, but the men were sombre. 

None of these answers accurately summarizes the first paragraph.

The army awoke to the sounds of battle and a bugle call.

Correct answer:

It was a fine day, but the men were sombre. 

Explanation:

The author says that it was a beautiful day, but that the men were not joking around. They are worried because they knew a battle was near. It is obvious that they are nervous as they have no trouble in waking up.

Example Question #1 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Phrases Or Sentences In Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from The Extermination of the American Bison by William T. Hornaday (1889)

We come now to a history which I would gladly leave unwritten. Its record is a disgrace to the American people in general, and the Territorial, State, and General Government in particular. It will cause succeeding generations to regard us as being possessed of the leading characteristics of the beast of prey—cruelty and greed. We will be likened to the blood-thirsty tiger of the Indian jungle, who slaughters a dozen bullocks at once when he knows he can eat only one.

The men who killed buffaloes for their tongues and those who shot them from the railway trains for sport were murderers. In no way does civilized man so quickly revert to his former state as when he is alone with the beasts of the field. Give him a gun and something which he may kill without getting himself in trouble, and, presto! He is instantly a killer again, finding exquisite delight in bloodshed, slaughter, and death, if not for gain, then solely for the joy and happiness of it. There is no kind of warfare against game animals too unfair, too disreputable, or too mean for white men to engage in if they can only do so with safety to their own precious carcasses. They will shoot buffalo and antelope from running railway trains, drive deer into water with hounds and cut their throats in cold blood, kill does with fawns a week old, kill fawns by the score for their spotted skins, slaughter deer, moose, and caribou in the snow at a pitiful disadvantage, just as the wolves do; exterminate the wild ducks on the whole Atlantic seaboard with punt guns for the metropolitan markets; kill off the Rocky Mountain goats for hides worth only 50 cents apiece, destroy wagon loads of trout with dynamite, and so on to the end of the chapter.

Perhaps the most gigantic task ever undertaken on this continent in the line of game-slaughter was the extermination of the bison in the great pasture region by the hide-hunters. Probably the brilliant rapidity and success with which that lofty undertaking was accomplished was a matter of surprise even to those who participated in it. The story of the slaughter is by no means a long one.

The period of systematic slaughter of the bison naturally begins with the first organized efforts in that direction, in a business-like, wholesale way. Although the species had been steadily driven westward for a hundred years by the advancing settlements, and had during all that time been hunted for the meat and robes it yielded, its extermination did not begin in earnest until 1820, or thereabouts. As before stated, various persons had previous to that time made buffalo killing a business in order to sell their skins, but such instances were very exceptional. By that time the bison was totally extinct in all the region lying east of the Mississippi River except a portion of Wisconsin, where it survived until about 1830. In 1820 the first organized buffalo hunting expedition on a grand scale was made from the Red River settlement, Manitoba, in which five hundred and forty carts proceeded to the range. Previous to that time the buffaloes were found near enough to the settlements around Fort Garry that every settler could hunt independently; but as the herds were driven farther and farther away, it required an organized effort and a long journey to reach them.

The American Fur Company established trading posts along the Missouri River, one at the mouth of the Teton River and another at the mouth of the Yellowstone. In 1826 a post was established at the eastern base of the Rocky Mountains, at the head of the Arkansas River, and in 1832 another was located in a corresponding situation at the head of the South Fork of the Platte, close to where Denver now stands. Both the latter were on what was then the western border of the buffalo range. Elsewhere throughout the buffalo country there were numerous other posts, always situated as near as possible to the best hunting ground, and at the same time where they would be most accessible to the hunters, both white and Native American.

Which of these most accurately restates the meaning of “In no way does civilized man so quickly revert to his former state as when he is alone with the beasts of the field”?

Possible Answers:

We are not like our ancestors at all when we hunt.

Men of agriculture are no more civilized than hunters.

With the ability to hunt many more animals than he needs to survive, man is much more uncivilized now than he ever was in the past.

We are more eager to hunt animals when outside the confines of cities.

Humans are quicker to show uncivilized bloodlust when left unaccompanied with wild creatures. 

Correct answer:

Humans are quicker to show uncivilized bloodlust when left unaccompanied with wild creatures. 

Explanation:

The author compares the wasteful hunting of buffaloes for their tongues to the hunting methods of wild animals and says that we become much like those wild animals when we are given the chance to hunt wild creatures. There is no allusion to cities or agriculture.

Example Question #1 : Making Inferences In Narrative Social Science Passages

Adapted from "Co. Aytch," Maury Grays, First Tennessee Regiment; or, A Side Show of the Big Show by Samuel Rush Watkins (1900 ed.)

In giving a description of this most memorable battle, I do not pretend to give you figures, and describe how this general looked and how that one spoke, and the other one charged with drawn saber, etc. I know nothing of these things—see the history for that. I was simply a soldier of the line, and I only write of the things I saw. I was in every battle, skirmish and march that was made by the First Tennessee Regiment during the war, and I do not remember of a harder contest and more evenly fought battle than that of Perryville. If it had been two men wrestling, it would have been called a "dog fall." Both sides claim the victory—both whipped.

I stood picket in Perryville the night before the battle—a Yankee on one side of the street, and I on the other. We got very friendly during the night, and made a raid upon a citizen's pantry, where we captured a bucket of honey, a pitcher of sweet milk, and three or four biscuits. The old citizen was not at home—he and his whole household had gone visiting, I believe. In fact, I think all of the citizens of Perryville were taken with a sudden notion of promiscuous visiting about this time; at least they were not at home to all callers.

At length the morning dawned. Our line was drawn up on one side of Perryville, the Yankee army on the other. The two enemies that were soon to meet in deadly embrace seemed to be eyeing each other. The blue coats lined the hillside in plain view. You could count the number of their regiments by the number of their flags. We could see the huge war dogs frowning at us, ready at any moment to belch forth their fire and smoke, and hurl their thunderbolts of iron and death in our very midst.

I wondered why the fighting did not begin. Never on earth were our troops more eager for the engagement to open. The Yankees commenced to march toward their left, and we marched almost parallel to our right—both sides watching each other's maneuvers and movements. It was but the lull that precedes the storm. Colonel Field was commanding our brigade, and Lieutenant-Colonel Patterson our regiment. About 12 o'clock, while we were marching through a corn field, in which the corn had been shocked, they opened their war dogs upon us. The beginning of the end had come. Here is where Captain John F. Wheless was wounded, and three others, whose names I have forgotten. The battle now opened in earnest, and from one end of the line to the other seemed to be a solid sheet of blazing smoke and fire. Our regiment crossed a stream, being preceded by Wharton's Texas Rangers, and we were ordered to attack at once with vigor. Here General Maney's horse was shot. From this moment the battle was a mortal struggle. Two lines of battle confronted us. We killed almost everyone in the first line, and were soon charging over the second, when right in our immediate front was their third and main line of battle from which four Napoleon guns poured their deadly fire.

We did not recoil, but our line was fairly hurled back by the leaden hail that was poured into our very faces. Eight color-bearers were killed at one discharge of their cannon. We were right up among the very wheels of their Napoleon guns. It was death to retreat now to either side. Our Lieutenant-Colonel Patterson halloed to charge and take their guns, and we were soon in a hand-to-hand fight—every man for himself—using the butts of our guns and bayonets. One side would waver and fall back a few yards, and would rally, when the other side would fall back, leaving the four Napoleon guns; and yet the battle raged. Such obstinate fighting I never had seen before or since. The guns were discharged so rapidly that it seemed the earth itself was in a volcanic uproar. The iron storm passed through our ranks, mangling and tearing men to pieces. The very air seemed full of stifling smoke and fire which seemed the very pit of hell, peopled by contending demons.

Our men were dead and dying right in the very midst of this grand havoc of battle. It was a life to life and death to death grapple. The sun was poised above us, a great red ball sinking slowly in the west, yet the scene of battle and carnage continued. I cannot describe it. The mantle of night fell upon the scene. I do not know which side whipped, but I know that I helped bring off those four Napoleon guns that night though we were mighty easy about it.

Based on how the phrase is used in the third paragraph, what are "war dogs"?

Possible Answers:

Skirmishers

Combat dogs

Infantrymen

Cannons

Cavalrymen

Correct answer:

Cannons

Explanation:

We can infer from the passage that the various references to “war dogs” are references to the enemies' cannons, as they are said to be ready to “belch forth their fire and smoke, and hurl their thunderbolts of iron and death in [the narrator's army's] very midst.”

Example Question #1 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Phrases Or Sentences In Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from "Address to the Court" by Eugene Debs (1918)

Your Honor, I have stated in this court that I am opposed to the form of our present government; that I am opposed to the social system in which we live; that I believed in the change of both—but by perfectly peaceable and orderly means.

Let me call your attention to the fact this morning that in this system five percent of our people own and control two-thirds of our wealth; sixty-five percent of the people, embracing the working class who produce all wealth, have but five percent to show for it.

Standing here this morning, I recall my boyhood. At fourteen I went to work in a railroad shop; at sixteen I was firing a freight engine on a railroad. I remember all the hardships and privations of that earlier day, and from that time until now my heart has been with the working class. I could have been in Congress long ago. I have preferred to go to prison. The choice has been deliberately made. I could not have done otherwise. I have no regret.

In the struggle, the unceasing struggle, between the toilers and producers and their exploiters, I have tried, as best I might, to serve those among whom I was born, with whom I expect to share my lot until the end of my days. I am thinking this morning of the men in the mills and factories; I am thinking of the men in the mines and on the railroads; I am thinking of the women who, for a paltry wage, are compelled to work out their lives; of the little children, who in this system, are robbed of their childhood, and in their early, tender years are seized in the remorseless grasp of Mammon, and forced into the industrial dungeons, there to feed the machines while they themselves are being starved body and soul. I see them dwarfed, diseased, stunted, their little lives broken, and their hopes blasted, because in this high noon of our twentieth-century civilization money is still so much more important than human life. Gold is god and rules in the affairs of men.

What does the author most nearly mean by the statement “Gold is God”?

Possible Answers:

Religion has been rendered obsolete by the allures of consumerism.

Money, and the acquisition of it, is the primary ruling force in the world.

The American government has failed the American people.

Without money the world would be a godless, spiritual void.

Gold blights the senses of men and brings out the worst in them.

Correct answer:

Money, and the acquisition of it, is the primary ruling force in the world.

Explanation:

When the author says that “Gold is God” in the last sentence of the concluding paragraph, he means that money, and the acquisition of it, is the primary motivating factor in the world. The key to understanding this phrasing can be found in the preceding sentence, where the author states this idea at greater length: “. . . because in this high noon of our twentieth-century civilization money is still so much more important than human life.”

Example Question #13 : Purpose In Context

Adapted from "Margaret Fuller and Mary Wollstonecraft" by George Eliot (1855)

There is a notion commonly entertained among men that an instructed woman, capable of having opinions, is likely to prove an unpractical yoke-fellow, always pulling one way when her husband wants to go the other, oracular in tone, and prone to give lectures. But surely, so far as obstinacy is concerned, your unreasoning animal is the most difficult of your creatures. For our own parts, we see no reason why women should be better kept under control rather than educated to be mans rational equal.  

If you ask me what offices women may fill, I reply—any. I do not care what case you put; let them be sea-captains, if you will. I do not doubt there are women well fitted for such an office, and, if so, I should be glad to welcome the Maid of Saragossa. I think women need, especially at this juncture, a much greater range of occupation than they have, to rouse their latent powers. In families that I know, some little girls like to saw wood, and others to use carpenters' tools. Where these tastes are indulged, cheerfulness and good-humor are promoted. Where they are forbidden, because "such things are not proper for girls," they grow sullen and mischievous.

Men pay a heavy price for their reluctance to encourage self-help and independent resources in women. The precious meridian years of many a man of genius have to be spent in the toil of routine, that an "establishment" may be kept up for a woman who can understand none of his secret yearnings, who is fit for nothing but to sit in her drawing-room like a doll-Madonna in her shrine. No matter. Anything is more endurable than to change our established formulae about women, or to run the risk of looking up to our wives instead of looking down on them. So men say of women, let them be idols, useless absorbents of previous things, provided we are not obliged to admit them to be strictly fellow-beings, to be treated, one and all, with justice and sober reverence.

When the author discusses women’s “latent powers,” she most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

that women can never achieve true equality

that male subservience to women is the natural and inevitable result of female empowerment

the ability to resist patriarchal humiliation with pride and dignity

the present but unexpressed faculties of women

the capabilities women have to overcome male dominance

Correct answer:

the present but unexpressed faculties of women

Explanation:

The easiest way to answer this question is to know the meaning of the word latent, which is hidden. This should help you identify that the correct answer is “the present but unexpressed faculty of women.” For clarification in this instance faculty means capabilities. If you did not know the meaning of latent it is necessary to read-in-context and then make an assumption based on what you know of the author’s overall intention throughout the passage. The sentence in which “latent powers” is contained reveals that the author believes those “powers” need to be “roused.” To rouse means to elevate. This should provide a clue as to the meaning behind “latent powers.” The other four answer choices can generally be eliminated on the grounds that they represent the opposite arguments to the primary point made by the author.

Example Question #1 : Phrase Choice And Effect

Adapted from "Margaret Fuller and Mary Wollstonecraft" by George Eliot (1855)

There is a notion commonly entertained among men that an instructed woman, capable of having opinions, is likely to prove an unpractical yoke-fellow, always pulling one way when her husband wants to go the other, oracular in tone, and prone to give lectures. But surely, so far as obstinacy is concerned, your unreasoning animal is the most difficult of your creatures. For our own parts, we see no reason why women should be better kept under control rather than educated to be mans rational equal.  

If you ask me what offices women may fill, I reply—any. I do not care what case you put; let them be sea-captains, if you will. I do not doubt there are women well fitted for such an office, and, if so, I should be glad to welcome the Maid of Saragossa. I think women need, especially at this juncture, a much greater range of occupation than they have, to rouse their latent powers. In families that I know, some little girls like to saw wood, and others to use carpenters' tools. Where these tastes are indulged, cheerfulness and good-humor are promoted. Where they are forbidden, because "such things are not proper for girls," they grow sullen and mischievous.

Men pay a heavy price for their reluctance to encourage self-help and independent resources in women. The precious meridian years of many a man of genius have to be spent in the toil of routine, that an "establishment" may be kept up for a woman who can understand none of his secret yearnings, who is fit for nothing but to sit in her drawing-room like a doll-Madonna in her shrine. No matter. Anything is more endurable than to change our established formulae about women, or to run the risk of looking up to our wives instead of looking down on them. So men say of women, let them be idols, useless absorbents of previous things, provided we are not obliged to admit them to be strictly fellow-beings, to be treated, one and all, with justice and sober reverence.

What is the "notion commonly entertained among men"?

Possible Answers:

Educated women will prove too defiant.

Women are better suited to motherhood than they are to intellectual pursuit.

Women are inherently less intelligent than men.

Educating women would require a complete social rethink of gendered identity.

Women are meant to serve the interests of men.

Correct answer:

Educated women will prove too defiant.

Explanation:

The notion commonly entertained by men is revealed in the succeeding sentences where the author states that men believe educated women will “always pull one way when her husband wants to go the other”, and be “prone to give lectures.” The author is not stating that men believe women are meant to serve male interests, nor is she stating that men believe women to be less intelligent or better suited to motherhood. The author might believe men perceive women in this manner, but she focuses her argument on convincing men that they need not fear that educated women will be defiant and difficult. The notion commonly entertained by men is that education women will cause them to defy their husbands and therefore keeping women dependent requires keeping them ill-educated.

Example Question #21 : Argumentative Social Science Passages

Adapted from "Federalist No. 46. The Influence of the State and Federal Governments Compared" by James Madison in The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay (1788)

Many considerations, besides those suggested on a former occasion, seem to place it beyond doubt that the first and most natural attachment of the people will be to the governments of their respective states. Into the administration of these a greater number of individuals will expect to rise. From the gift of these a greater number of offices and emoluments will flow. By the superintending care of these, all the more domestic and personal interests of the people will be regulated and provided for. With the affairs of these, the people will be more familiarly and minutely conversant. And with the members of these, will a greater proportion of the people have the ties of personal acquaintance and friendship, and of family and party attachments; on the side of these, therefore, the popular bias may well be expected most strongly to incline.

Experience speaks the same language in this case. The federal administration, though hitherto very defective in comparison with what may be hoped under a better system, had, during the war, and particularly whilst the independent fund of paper emissions was in credit, an activity and importance as great as it can well have in any future circumstances whatever. It was engaged, too, in a course of measures which had for their object the protection of everything that was dear and the acquisition of everything that could be desirable to the people at large. It was, nevertheless, invariably found, after the transient enthusiasm for the early Congresses was over, that the attention and attachment of the people were turned anew to their own particular governments; that the federal council was at no time the idol of popular favor; and that opposition to proposed enlargements of its powers and importance was the side usually taken by the men who wished to build their political consequence on the prepossessions of their fellow-citizens.

What does the author mean when he states in the underlined sentence, “Experience speaks the same language in this case”?

Possible Answers:

The author thinks that experience will prove his ideas correct.

People that the author has asked about his argument have all supported it.

The author has heard people talking about these issues and coming to the same conclusions as he has.

Experiential evidence supports the author's theoretical predictions.

While the author's predictions may seem sound, experience will be likely to disprove them.

Correct answer:

Experiential evidence supports the author's theoretical predictions.

Explanation:

This sentence is an important one because it functions as the transition between the passage's first and second paragraphs. While both "The author thinks that experience will prove his ideas correct" and "Experiential evidence supports the author's theoretical predictions" may look correct, the latter is the better answer because it references the author's "theoretical predictions," the subject of the first paragraph. It's important to recognize this subtle difference, as referring back to the ideas discussed in the previous paragraph is a large part of what makes the sentence a good transition.

Example Question #1 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Phrases In Argumentative Social Science Passages

Adapted from "Federalist No. 46. The Influence of the State and Federal Governments Compared" by James Madison in The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay (1788)

Many considerations, besides those suggested on a former occasion, seem to place it beyond doubt that the first and most natural attachment of the people will be to the governments of their respective states. Into the administration of these a greater number of individuals will expect to rise. From the gift of these a greater number of offices and emoluments will flow. By the superintending care of these, all the more domestic and personal interests of the people will be regulated and provided for. With the affairs of these, the people will be more familiarly and minutely conversant. And with the members of these, will a greater proportion of the people have the ties of personal acquaintance and friendship, and of family and party attachments; on the side of these, therefore, the popular bias may well be expected most strongly to incline.

Experience speaks the same language in this case. The federal administration, though hitherto very defective in comparison with what may be hoped under a better system, had, during the war, and particularly whilst the independent fund of paper emissions was in credit, an activity and importance as great as it can well have in any future circumstances whatever. It was engaged, too, in a course of measures which had for their object the protection of everything that was dear and the acquisition of everything that could be desirable to the people at large. It was, nevertheless, invariably found, after the transient enthusiasm for the early Congresses was over, that the attention and attachment of the people were turned anew to their own particular governments; that the federal council was at no time the idol of popular favor; and that opposition to proposed enlargements of its powers and importance was the side usually taken by the men who wished to build their political consequence on the prepossessions of their fellow-citizens.

Which of the following best paraphrases the underlined clause, "opposition to proposed enlargements of its powers and importance was the side usually taken by the men who wished to build their political consequence on the prepossessions of their fellow-citizens"?

Possible Answers:

Men seeking political power based on the preferences of their constituents tended to oppose expansion of the federal government.

The federal government was increasing in scale and power despite what being opposed by most politicians and their constituents.

Anyone wanting political power had to support the federal government's growth, or they would not be popular with their constituents.

Politicians favored increasing the power and importance of the federal government, but their constituents did not.

Citizens did not favor the growth of the federal government.

Correct answer:

Men seeking political power based on the preferences of their constituents tended to oppose expansion of the federal government.

Explanation:

The clause in question is "opposition to proposed enlargements of its powers and importance was the side usually taken by the men who wished to build their political consequence on the prepossessions of their fellow-citizens." This is a long and complex clause with confusing syntax, so let's break it down a bit: "oppositions to proposed enlargements of its powers"—what does the "its" stand for? In context, we can tell that "its" means "the federal government's." So this first part of the clause means "proposed enlargements of the federal government." The clause continues with "was the side usually taken by the men." This is confusing syntax; let's straighten it out. So, these men, which will be described by the rest of the clause, took the side of opposing the growth of the federal government. What else do we learn about these men? They "wished to build their political consequence"—or gain political importance—"on the prepossessions of their fellow-citizens," or on the biases of their constituents. So let's put all that together in an order that makes more sense. "Men seeking political power based on the preferences of their constituents tended to oppose expansion of the federal government"—that's the correct answer.

Example Question #1 : Purpose And Effect Of Phrases Or Sentences In Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from Harvard University Address by Booker T. Washington (1896)

Why you have called me from the Black Belt of the South, from among my humble people, to share in the honors of this occasion, is not for me to explain; and yet it may not be inappropriate for me to suggest that it seems to me that one of the most vital questions that touch our American life, is how to bring the strong, wealthy and learned into helpful touch with the poorest, most ignorant, and humble and at the same time, make the one appreciate the vitalizing, strengthening influence of the other.

How shall we make the mansions on Beacon street feel and see the need of the spirits in the lowliest cabin in the Alabama cotton fields or the Louisiana sugar bottoms? This problem Harvard University is solving, not by bringing itself down, but by bringing the masses up.

If through me, an humble representative, seven millions of my people in the South might be permitted to send a message to Harvard — Harvard that offered up on death's altar, young Shaw, and Russell, and Lowell and scores of others, that we might have a free and united country, that message would be: Tell them that the sacrifice was not in vain. Tell them that by the way of the shop, the field, the skilled hand, habits of thrift and economy, by way of industrial school and college, we are coming.

We are crawling up, working up, yea, bursting up. Often through oppression, unjust discrimination and prejudice, but through them all we are coming up, and with proper habits, intelligence and property, there is no power on earth that can permanently stay our progress.

The description of poor people “bursting up” conveys a sense of __________.

Possible Answers:

comedy and futility

immediacy and urgency

eloquence and smugness

irrelevance and apathy

temerity and slowness

Correct answer:

immediacy and urgency

Explanation:

The author describes how poor people are “bursting up” primarily to convey a sense of the immediacy and swiftness by which the elevation of poor people is taking place. “Bursting” should suggest an urgent and immediate movement. Futility means pointlessness; irrelevance means not relevant; apathy means not caring; temerity means shyness; eloquence refers to intelligent and controlled speech; smugness means arrogance.

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