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

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Example Question #2 : Analyzing Meaning, Purpose, And Effect Of Specified Text In Mixed Passages

Adapted from The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (1776)

The greatest improvements in the productive powers of labor, and the greater part of the skill, dexterity, and judgment with which it is anywhere directed or applied, seem to have been the effects of the division of labor. The effects of the division of labor, in the general business of society, will be more easily understood by considering in what manner it operates in some particular manufactures. It is commonly supposed to be carried furthest in some very trifling ones; not perhaps that it really is carried further in them than in others of more importance, but in those trifling manufactures that are destined to supply the small wants of but a small number of people, the whole number of workmen must necessarily be small; and those employed in every different branch of the work can often be collected into the same workhouse, and placed at once under the view of the spectator.

In those great manufactures, on the contrary, which are destined to supply the great wants of the great body of the people, every different branch of the work employs so great a number of workmen that it is impossible to collect them all into the same workhouse. We can seldom see more, at one time, than those employed in one single branch. Though in such manufactures, therefore, the work may really be divided into a much greater number of parts, than in those of a more trifling nature, the division is not near so obvious, and has accordingly been much less observed.

To take an example, therefore, from a very trifling manufacture, but one in which the division of labor has been very often taken notice of: the trade of a pin-maker. A workman not educated to this business (which the division of labor has rendered a distinct trade), nor acquainted with the use of the machinery employed in it (to the invention of which the same division of labor has probably given occasion), could scarce, perhaps, with his utmost industry, make one pin in a day, and certainly could not make twenty. But in the way in which this business is now carried on, not only the whole work is a peculiar trade, but it is divided into a number of branches, of which the greater part are likewise peculiar trades. One man draws out the wire; another straights it; a third cuts it; a fourth points it; a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head; to make the head requires two or three distinct operations; to put it on is a peculiar business; to whiten the pins is another; it is even a trade by itself to put them into the paper; and the important business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about eighteen distinct operations, which, in some manufactories, are all performed by distinct hands, though in others the same man will sometimes perform two or three of them.

In every other art and manufacture, the effects of the division of labour are similar to what they are in this very trifling one; though, in many of them, the labour can neither be so much subdivided, nor reduced to so great a simplicity of operation. The division of labour, however, so far as it can be introduced, occasions, in every art, a proportionable increase of the productive powers of labour. The separation of different trades and employments from one another, seems to have taken place, in consequence of this advantage.

Which of the following terms could replace the word “scarce” in the underlined sentence without changing its meaning?

Possible Answers:





Correct answer:



The word “scarce” is used in the following sentence:

“A workman not educated to this business [of pin making] . . . nor acquainted with the use of the machinery employed in it . . .  could scarce, perhaps, with his utmost industry, make one pin in a day, and certainly could not make twenty.”

It is helpful to pause a moment and consider what kind of word “scarce” is in the sentence. “Scarce,” along with “perhaps” and “with his utmost industry,” describes the verb “make.” So, “scarce” is functioning as an adverb. “Always” and “never” don’t make sense in the sentence; each word is contradicted by the “perhaps” that follows “scarce.” This leaves us with “infrequently” and “hardly.” The combination of “infrequently, perhaps . . . make one pin in a day, and certainly could not make twenty” doesn’t make as much sense as does “hardly,” which works better with the comparison being made. Furthermore, “scarce” cannot mean infrequently, so “hardly” is the best answer choice. This is how the author is using the term in the passage: to state that one person could hardly make a pin in a day, much less twenty.

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