ACT Reading : Paired Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Paired Passages

Passage adapted from The Extermination of the American Bison, by William Hornaday (1889).

The history of the buffalo’s daily life and habits should begin with the “running season.” This period occupied the months of August and September, and was characterized by a degree of excitement and activity throughout the entire herd quite foreign to the ease-loving and even slothful nature which was so noticeable a feature of the bison’s character at all other times.

The mating season occurred when the herd was on its summer range. The spring calves were from two to four months old. Through continued feasting on the new crop of buffalo-grass and bunch-grass—the most nutritious in the world, perhaps—every buffalo in the herd had grown round-sided, fat, and vigorous. The faded and weather-beaten suit of winter hair had by that time fallen off and given place to the new coat of dark gray and black, and, excepting for the shortness of his hair, the buffalo was in prime condition.

During the “running season,” as it was called by the plainsmen, the whole nature of the herd was completely changed. Instead of being broken up into countless small groups and dispersed over a vast extent of territory, the herd came together in a dense and confused mass of many thousand individuals, so closely congregated as to actually blacken the face of the landscape. As if by a general and irresistible impulse, every straggler would be drawn to the common center, and for miles on every side of the great herd the country would be found entirely deserted.

At this time the herd itself became a seething mass of activity and excitement. As usual under such conditions, the bulls were half the time chasing the cows, and fighting each other during the other half. These actual combats, which were always of short duration and over in a few seconds after the actual collision took place, were preceded by the usual threatening demonstrations, in which the bull lowers his head until his nose almost touches the ground, roars like a fog-horn until the earth seems to fairly tremble with the vibration, glares madly upon his adversary with half-white eyeballs, and with his forefeet paws up the dry earth and throws it upward in a great cloud of dust high above his back. At such times the mingled roaring—it can not truthfully be described as lowing or bellowing—of a number of huge bulls unite and form a great volume of sound like distant thunder, which has often been heard at a distance of from 1 to 3 miles. I have even been assured by old plainsmen that under favorable atmospheric conditions such sounds have been heard five miles.

Given the information provided by the passage, what is the maximum distance at which a bison's bellow be heard?

Possible Answers:

One mile 

Three miles 

Five miles 

Ten miles 

Two miles 

Correct answer:

Five miles 

Explanation:

This question required a close, thorough reading. While the author gives an initial range of 1-3 miles for the sound to carry, he also provides anecdotal evidence in the last sentence of the sound travelling five miles. Since the question asked for a maximum distance, five miles is the best answer. For questions of this nature, it is important to read the entire passage, not just stop when you have found the evidence you need.

Example Question #2 : Paired Passages

Passage #1

Adapted from "On War" by James Boswell (1777)

When I saw workingmen engaged with grave assiduity in fashioning weapons of death, I was struck with wonder at the shortsightedness of human beings, who were soberly preparing the instruments of destruction of their own species. I have since found upon a closer study of man, that my wonder might have been spared. The views of most individuals are limited to their own happiness, and the workmen whom I beheld so busy in the arsenal of Venice saw nothing but what was good in the labor for which they received such wages as procured them the comforts of life. That their immediate satisfaction was not hindered by a view of the remote consequential and contingent evils for which they were responsible would not surprise one who has had seen too much of the world. We must have the telescope of philosophy to make us perceive distant ills; further, we know that there are individuals of our species to whom the immediate misery of others is nothing in comparison with their own advantage—for we know that in every age there have been found men very willing to perform the office of executioner.

 

Passage #2

Adapted from "What is Patriotism?" by Max Eastman (1915)

With proper recognition of the possible variation of individuals, we can say that patriotism is one of these unalterable facts of man's nature. A talent for fighting solidarity with a group is a part of the instinct of human beings. It is composed of two tendencies that are laid down in his nervous system when he is born called pugnacity and gregariousness, or group-loyalty. All men and most animals are pugnacious. They love to fight. Everybody loves to fight. Some people get all the fighting they want at the breakfast table, and other people have to carry it out in the law courts or the battlefield, where it makes more noise. [Theodore] Roosevelt loves to charge up San Juan Hill, and then he loves to prosecute for libel anybody that says he didn't charge up San Juan Hill. War people fight for war and peace people fight for peace. When Roosevelt calls the peace people mollycoddles and college sissies, I only want to walk up and smash him.

It is far better though that we should conquer our instinct to fight and put faith in reason. It may seem gigantic; but it is by no means a utopian undertaking to unite the whole world of nations in such a federation. For all the organic interests of men, except their sheer love of patriotic fighting itself, are against the perpetual recurrence of international war. War and the mere joy of existence are incompatible. War makes it impossible to live, and it makes it impossible even to die for a noble purpose. Let men but understand themselves, and the mechanism of their emotions by which they are brought into this perennial catastrophe, and they will be ready enough to take gigantic measures to prevent it.

How would the author of Passage 2 likely respond to the statement made by the author of Passage 1 that, “the views of most individuals are limited to their own happiness"? 

Possible Answers:

Individual happiness is nonetheless often derived from group association.

Happiness is not relevant to the understanding of war.

Happiness can never come from patriotic fever.

Most individuals lack the understanding to work for anything other than their own happiness.

Correct answer:

Individual happiness is nonetheless often derived from group association.

Explanation:

The author of Passage 2 makes numerous references to the construction of human identity and satisfaction through group association. He states that all human beings are born with a natural tendency towards group-loyalty, and it is clear that the author believes human beings derive happiness from patriotic association. The author of Passage 2 would never agree that happiness is irrelevant to war or that it cannot be derived from patriotic fever. Likewise, the author of Passage 2 clearly believes it is man’s nature to go to war and, as evidenced in the conclusion, that man can work to avoid war and consider the greater good. The author of Passage 2 would view individual happiness and apathy as less significant to the cause of war and would place greater emphasis on group association.

Example Question #3 : Paired Passages

Passage #1 Adapted from On War (1777) by James Boswell

When I saw workingmen engaged with grave assiduity in fashioning weapons of death, I was struck with wonder at the shortsightedness of human beings, who were soberly preparing the instruments of destruction of their own species. I have since found upon a closer study of man, that my wonder might have been spared. The views of most individuals are limited to their own happiness; and the workmen whom I beheld so busy in the arsenal of Venice saw nothing but what was good in the labor for which they received such wages as procured them the comforts of life. That their immediate satisfaction was not hindered by a view of the remote consequential and contingent evils for which they were responsible, would not surprise one who has had seen too much of the world. We must have the telescope of philosophy to make us perceive distant ills; further, we know that there are individuals of our species to whom the immediate misery of others is nothing in comparison with their own advantage—for we know that in every age there have been found men very willing to perform the office of executioner.

 

Passage #2 Adapted from What is Patriotism? (1915) by Max Eastman

With proper recognition of the possible variation of individuals, we can say that patriotism is one of these unalterable facts of man's nature. A talent for fighting solidarity with a group is a part of the instinct of human beings. It is composed of two tendencies that are laid down in his nervous system when he is born called pugnacity and gregariousness, or group-loyalty. All men and most animals are pugnacious. They love to fight. Everybody loves to fight. Some people get all the fighting they want at the breakfast table, and other people have to carry it out in the law courts or the battlefield, where it makes more noise. [Theodore] Roosevelt loves to charge up San Juan Hill, and then he loves to prosecute for libel anybody that says he didn't charge up San Juan Hill. War people fight for war and peace people fight for peace. When Roosevelt calls the peace people mollycoddles and college sissies, I only want to walk up and smash him.

It is far better though that we should conquer our instinct to fight and put faith in reason. It may seem gigantic; but it is by no means a utopian undertaking to unite the whole world of nations in such a federation. For all the organic interests of men, except their sheer love of patriotic fighting itself, are against the perpetual recurrence of international war. War and the mere joy of existence are incompatible. War makes it impossible to live, and it makes it impossible even to die for a noble purpose. Let men but understand themselves, and the mechanism of their emotions by which they are brought into this perennial catastrophe, and they will be ready enough to take gigantic measures to prevent it.

Which statement made by the author of passage 1 would support the concluding argument made by the author of passage 2 that if “men but understand themselves . . . they will be ready enough to take gigantic measures to prevent [war]?”

Possible Answers:

“Their immediate satisfaction was not hindered by a view of the remote consequential and contingent evils for which they were responsible.”

“We must have the telescope of philosophy to perceive distant ills.”

“For we know that in every age there have been found men very willing to perform the office of executioner.”

“I have since found upon a closer study of man, that my wonder might have been spared.”

Correct answer:

“We must have the telescope of philosophy to perceive distant ills.”

Explanation:

When the author of passage 2 states that if “men but understand themselves . . . they will be ready enough to take gigantic measures to prevent [war]” he is expressing a belief in the ability of wisdom to overcome mankind’s tendency towards warfare. This is very similar in intent and belief to the statement made by the author of passage 1 that, “We must have the telescope of philosophy to perceive distant ills.” Both authors believe that the key to conquering our urge to ignore the suffering of others and make war is consideration and thoughtfulness.

Example Question #4 : Paired Passages

Passage #1

Adapted from "On War" by James Boswell (1777)

When I saw workingmen engaged with grave assiduity in fashioning weapons of death, I was struck with wonder at the shortsightedness of human beings, who were soberly preparing the instruments of destruction of their own species. I have since found upon a closer study of man, that my wonder might have been spared. The views of most individuals are limited to their own happiness, and the workmen whom I beheld so busy in the arsenal of Venice saw nothing but what was good in the labor for which they received such wages as procured them the comforts of life. That their immediate satisfaction was not hindered by a view of the remote consequential and contingent evils for which they were responsible would not surprise one who has had seen too much of the world. We must have the telescope of philosophy to make us perceive distant ills; further, we know that there are individuals of our species to whom the immediate misery of others is nothing in comparison with their own advantage—for we know that in every age there have been found men very willing to perform the office of executioner.

 

Passage #2

Adapted from "What is Patriotism?" by Max Eastman (1915)

With proper recognition of the possible variation of individuals, we can say that patriotism is one of these unalterable facts of man's nature. A talent for fighting solidarity with a group is a part of the instinct of human beings. It is composed of two tendencies that are laid down in his nervous system when he is born called pugnacity and gregariousness, or group-loyalty. All men and most animals are pugnacious. They love to fight. Everybody loves to fight. Some people get all the fighting they want at the breakfast table, and other people have to carry it out in the law courts or the battlefield, where it makes more noise. [Theodore] Roosevelt loves to charge up San Juan Hill, and then he loves to prosecute for libel anybody that says he didn't charge up San Juan Hill. War people fight for war and peace people fight for peace. When Roosevelt calls the peace people mollycoddles and college sissies, I only want to walk up and smash him.

It is far better though that we should conquer our instinct to fight and put faith in reason. It may seem gigantic; but it is by no means a utopian undertaking to unite the whole world of nations in such a federation. For all the organic interests of men, except their sheer love of patriotic fighting itself, are against the perpetual recurrence of international war. War and the mere joy of existence are incompatible. War makes it impossible to live, and it makes it impossible even to die for a noble purpose. Let men but understand themselves, and the mechanism of their emotions by which they are brought into this perennial catastrophe, and they will be ready enough to take gigantic measures to prevent it.

In what way does Passage 1 differ from Passage 2?

Possible Answers:

passage 1 offers a personal account.

passage 2 constructs a narrative.

passage 1 draws on a reference to authority.

passage 1 is more argumentative in tone.

Correct answer:

passage 1 offers a personal account.

Explanation:

Passage 1 differs from Passage 2 in that the first passage offers a personal account. The author of Passage 1 uses evidence gathered on his visit to an armory in Venice to help make his argument. Specifically, he states, “The views of most individuals are limited to their own happiness, and the workmen whom I beheld so busy in the arsenal of Venice saw nothing but what was good in the labor for which they received such wages as procured them the comforts of life.” Contrast this with the second passage, where the author makes no reference to a personal account.

Example Question #5 : Paired Passages

Passage #1

Adapted from "On War" by James Boswell (1777)

When I saw workingmen engaged with grave assiduity in fashioning weapons of death, I was struck with wonder at the shortsightedness of human beings, who were soberly preparing the instruments of destruction of their own species. I have since found upon a closer study of man, that my wonder might have been spared. The views of most individuals are limited to their own happiness, and the workmen whom I beheld so busy in the arsenal of Venice saw nothing but what was good in the labor for which they received such wages as procured them the comforts of life. That their immediate satisfaction was not hindered by a view of the remote consequential and contingent evils for which they were responsible would not surprise one who has had seen too much of the world. We must have the telescope of philosophy to make us perceive distant ills; further, we know that there are individuals of our species to whom the immediate misery of others is nothing in comparison with their own advantage—for we know that in every age there have been found men very willing to perform the office of executioner.

 

Passage #2

Adapted from "What is Patriotism?" by Max Eastman (1915)

With proper recognition of the possible variation of individuals, we can say that patriotism is one of these unalterable facts of man's nature. A talent for fighting solidarity with a group is a part of the instinct of human beings. It is composed of two tendencies that are laid down in his nervous system when he is born called pugnacity and gregariousness, or group-loyalty. All men and most animals are pugnacious. They love to fight. Everybody loves to fight. Some people get all the fighting they want at the breakfast table, and other people have to carry it out in the law courts or the battlefield, where it makes more noise. [Theodore] Roosevelt loves to charge up San Juan Hill, and then he loves to prosecute for libel anybody that says he didn't charge up San Juan Hill. War people fight for war and peace people fight for peace. When Roosevelt calls the peace people mollycoddles and college sissies, I only want to walk up and smash him.

It is far better though that we should conquer our instinct to fight and put faith in reason. It may seem gigantic; but it is by no means a utopian undertaking to unite the whole world of nations in such a federation. For all the organic interests of men, except their sheer love of patriotic fighting itself, are against the perpetual recurrence of international war. War and the mere joy of existence are incompatible. War makes it impossible to live, and it makes it impossible even to die for a noble purpose. Let men but understand themselves, and the mechanism of their emotions by which they are brought into this perennial catastrophe, and they will be ready enough to take gigantic measures to prevent it.

As the author of Passage 2 uses it in the passage's last line, the word “perennial” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

occasional

nostalgic

recurrent

intrepid

Correct answer:

recurrent

Explanation:

The word “perennial” is most frequently used to describe something that is either recurring or enduring. If you did not know this, it is difficult to solve this question from the context of the sentence, unless you go about it by means of eliminating incorrect answers. "Occasional" loosely means infrequent and goes against the author’s intention when plugged in to the sentence. "Nostalgic" means looking back on past events fondly, and "intrepid" means adventurous. Neither of these answers adequately describes a “catastrophe” like war. If you were able to eliminate all three of the other answers, you would arrive at "recurrent" as the solution.

Example Question #6 : Paired Passages

Passage #1

Adapted from "On War" by James Boswell (1777)

When I saw workingmen engaged with grave assiduity in fashioning weapons of death, I was struck with wonder at the shortsightedness of human beings, who were soberly preparing the instruments of destruction of their own species. I have since found upon a closer study of man, that my wonder might have been spared. The views of most individuals are limited to their own happiness; and the workmen whom I beheld so busy in the arsenal of Venice saw nothing but what was good in the labor for which they received such wages as procured them the comforts of life. That their immediate satisfaction was not hindered by a view of the remote consequential and contingent evils for which they were responsible, would not surprise one who has had seen too much of the world. We must have the telescope of philosophy to make us perceive distant ills; further, we know that there are individuals of our species to whom the immediate misery of others is nothing in comparison with their own advantage—for we know that in every age there have been found men very willing to perform the office of executioner.

 

Passage #2

Adapted from "What is Patriotism?" by Max Eastman (1915)

With proper recognition of the possible variation of individuals, we can say that patriotism is one of these unalterable facts of man's nature. A talent for fighting solidarity with a group is a part of the instinct of human beings. It is composed of two tendencies that are laid down in his nervous system when he is born called pugnacity and gregariousness, or group-loyalty. All men and most animals are pugnacious. They love to fight. Everybody loves to fight. Some people get all the fighting they want at the breakfast table, and other people have to carry it out in the law courts or the battlefield, where it makes more noise. [Theodore] Roosevelt loves to charge up San Juan Hill, and then he loves to prosecute for libel anybody that says he didn't charge up San Juan Hill. War people fight for war and peace people fight for peace. When Roosevelt calls the peace people mollycoddles and college sissies, I only want to walk up and smash him.

It is far better though that we should conquer our instinct to fight and put faith in reason. It may seem gigantic; but it is by no means a utopian undertaking to unite the whole world of nations in such a federation. For all the organic interests of men, except their sheer love of patriotic fighting itself, are against the perpetual recurrence of international war. War and the mere joy of existence are incompatible. War makes it impossible to live, and it makes it impossible even to die for a noble purpose. Let men but understand themselves, and the mechanism of their emotions by which they are brought into this perennial catastrophe, and they will be ready enough to take gigantic measures to prevent it.

What is the “telescope of philosophy” that the author of the first passage describes?

Possible Answers:

the love of patriotic fighting.

the wonder felt by an observer of human tendencies.

the ability to understand the experience of distant suffering.

the devotion that the workers of the arsenal of Venice have to their labor.

Correct answer:

the ability to understand the experience of distant suffering.

Explanation:

The “telescope of philosophy” is meant to describe the ability to perceive the suffering of people who live far away. You can answer this question by reading the sentence that precedes the one that mentions the “telescope of philosophy.” In that preceding sentence, the author describes individuals who are not considerate of the long-distance suffering caused by their work fashioning weapons. The author contrasts these individuals, who represent the majority of mankind, with those individuals who are able to understand the experience of distant suffering. These enlightened people are referred to by the author as possessing the “telescope of philosophy.”

Example Question #7 : Paired Passages

Passage #1

Adapted from "On War" by James Boswell (1777)

When I saw workingmen engaged with grave assiduity in fashioning weapons of death, I was struck with wonder at the shortsightedness of human beings, who were soberly preparing the instruments of destruction of their own species. I have since found upon a closer study of man, that my wonder might have been spared. The views of most individuals are limited to their own happiness, and the workmen whom I beheld so busy in the arsenal of Venice saw nothing but what was good in the labor for which they received such wages as procured them the comforts of life. That their immediate satisfaction was not hindered by a view of the remote consequential and contingent evils for which they were responsible would not surprise one who has had seen too much of the world. We must have the telescope of philosophy to make us perceive distant ills; further, we know that there are individuals of our species to whom the immediate misery of others is nothing in comparison with their own advantage—for we know that in every age there have been found men very willing to perform the office of executioner.

 

Passage #2

Adapted from "What is Patriotism?" by Max Eastman (1915)

With proper recognition of the possible variation of individuals, we can say that patriotism is one of these unalterable facts of man's nature. A talent for fighting solidarity with a group is a part of the instinct of human beings. It is composed of two tendencies that are laid down in his nervous system when he is born called pugnacity and gregariousness, or group-loyalty. All men and most animals are pugnacious. They love to fight. Everybody loves to fight. Some people get all the fighting they want at the breakfast table, and other people have to carry it out in the law courts or the battlefield, where it makes more noise. [Theodore] Roosevelt loves to charge up San Juan Hill, and then he loves to prosecute for libel anybody that says he didn't charge up San Juan Hill. War people fight for war and peace people fight for peace. When Roosevelt calls the peace people mollycoddles and college sissies, I only want to walk up and smash him.

It is far better though that we should conquer our instinct to fight and put faith in reason. It may seem gigantic; but it is by no means a utopian undertaking to unite the whole world of nations in such a federation. For all the organic interests of men, except their sheer love of patriotic fighting itself, are against the perpetual recurrence of international war. War and the mere joy of existence are incompatible. War makes it impossible to live, and it makes it impossible even to die for a noble purpose. Let men but understand themselves, and the mechanism of their emotions by which they are brought into this perennial catastrophe, and they will be ready enough to take gigantic measures to prevent it.

The author of Passage 2 mentions Theodore Roosevelt in order to __________.

Possible Answers:

create a contrast to an earlier statement

reference the wisdom of a known authority

introduce the central protagonist

provide an example supporting the preceding argument

Correct answer:

provide an example supporting the preceding argument

Explanation:

The author of Passage 2 makes reference to the attitude of Theodore Roosevelt to provide an example of the type of war-loving people he mentions in his preceding argument. The author states, “They love to fight. Everybody loves to fight. Some people get all the fighting they want at the breakfast table, and other people have to carry it out in the law courts or the battlefield, where it makes more noise.” Following these statements, the author uses the behavior of Theodore Roosevelt to provide an example to support his argument.

Example Question #8 : Paired Passages

Passage #1

Adapted from "On War" by James Boswell (1777)

When I saw workingmen engaged with grave assiduity in fashioning weapons of death, I was struck with wonder at the shortsightedness of human beings, who were soberly preparing the instruments of destruction of their own species. I have since found upon a closer study of man, that my wonder might have been spared. The views of most individuals are limited to their own happiness, and the workmen whom I beheld so busy in the arsenal of Venice saw nothing but what was good in the labor for which they received such wages as procured them the comforts of life. That their immediate satisfaction was not hindered by a view of the remote consequential and contingent evils for which they were responsible would not surprise one who has had seen too much of the world. We must have the telescope of philosophy to make us perceive distant ills; further, we know that there are individuals of our species to whom the immediate misery of others is nothing in comparison with their own advantage—for we know that in every age there have been found men very willing to perform the office of executioner.

 

Passage #2

Adapted from "What is Patriotism?" by Max Eastman (1915)

With proper recognition of the possible variation of individuals, we can say that patriotism is one of these unalterable facts of man's nature. A talent for fighting solidarity with a group is a part of the instinct of human beings. It is composed of two tendencies that are laid down in his nervous system when he is born called pugnacity and gregariousness, or group-loyalty. All men and most animals are pugnacious. They love to fight. Everybody loves to fight. Some people get all the fighting they want at the breakfast table, and other people have to carry it out in the law courts or the battlefield, where it makes more noise. [Theodore] Roosevelt loves to charge up San Juan Hill, and then he loves to prosecute for libel anybody that says he didn't charge up San Juan Hill. War people fight for war and peace people fight for peace. When Roosevelt calls the peace people mollycoddles and college sissies, I only want to walk up and smash him.

It is far better though that we should conquer our instinct to fight and put faith in reason. It may seem gigantic; but it is by no means a utopian undertaking to unite the whole world of nations in such a federation. For all the organic interests of men, except their sheer love of patriotic fighting itself, are against the perpetual recurrence of international war. War and the mere joy of existence are incompatible. War makes it impossible to live, and it makes it impossible even to die for a noble purpose. Let men but understand themselves, and the mechanism of their emotions by which they are brought into this perennial catastrophe, and they will be ready enough to take gigantic measures to prevent it.

Passage 2 is more __________ in tone and syntax than Passage 1.

Possible Answers:

Restrained

Informal

Moderate

Inflexible 

Correct answer:

Informal

Explanation:

The primary difference between Passage 2 and Passage 1 in terms of tone is that Passage 2 is more informal than Passage 1. Neither passage could rightly be called "restrained" or "moderate" given the strength of feeling each author displays. Similarly, both passages look back on the past as a part of an ongoing problem, and therefore would not be "nostalgic" in tone. Both passages are similarly "inflexible" because the authors clearly feel that flexibility on the topics that they are discussing is wrong. Passage 2 differentiates itself as more informal in the conclusion to its first paragraph when the author states, “When Roosevelt calls the peace people mollycoddles and college sissies, I only want to walk up and smash him.” This momentary shift to the first-person perspective, as well as the actual content of the sentence, is a good deal less formal than the language of the first passage.

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