MCAT Verbal : Application

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for MCAT Verbal

varsity tutors app store varsity tutors android store

Example Questions

Example Question #4 : Solving A Problem With A Passage

Adapted from “Robespierre” in Critical Miscellanies by John Morley (1904)

M. D'Héricault does not belong to the school of writers who treat the course of history as a great high road, following a firmly traced line, and set with plain and ineffaceable landmarks. The French Revolution has nearly always been handled in this way, alike by those who think it fruitful in blessings, and by their adversaries, who pronounce it a curse inflicted by the wrath of Heaven. Historians have looked at the Revolution as a plain landsman looks at the sea. To the landsman the ocean seems one huge immeasurable flood, obeying a simple law of ebb and flow, and offering to the navigator a single uniform force. Yet in truth we know that the oceanic movement is the product of many forces; the seeming uniformity covers the energy of a hundred currents and counter-currents; the sea-floor is not even nor the same, but is subject to untold conditions of elevation and subsidence; the sea is not one mass, but many masses moving along definite lines of their own. It is the same with the great tides of history. Wise men shrink from summing them up in single propositions. That the French Revolution led to an immense augmentation of happiness, both for the French and for mankind, can only be denied by the Pope. That it secured its beneficent results untempered by any mixture of evil, can only be maintained by men as mad as Doctor Pangloss. The Greek poetess Corinna said to the youthful Pindar, when he had interwoven all the gods and goddesses in the Theban mythology into a single hymn, that we should sow with the hand and not with the sack. Corinna's monition to the singer is proper to the interpreter of historical truth: he should cull with the hand, and not sweep in with the scythe. It is doubtless mere pedantry to abstain from the widest conception of the sum of a great movement. A clear, definite, and stable idea of the meaning in the history of human progress of such vast groups of events as the Reformation or the Revolution, is indispensable for anyone to whom history is a serious study of society. It is just as important, however, not to forget that they were really groups of events, and not in either case a single uniform movement. A sensible man learns, in everyday life, to abstain from praising and blaming character by wholesale; he becomes content to say of this trait that it is good, and of that act that it was bad.

M. D'Héricault's volume naturally suggests such reflections as these. Of all the men of the Revolution, Robespierre has suffered most from the audacious idolatry of some writers, and the splenetic impatience of others. M. Louis Blanc and M. Ernest Hamel talk of him as an angel or a prophet, and the Ninth Thermidor is a red day indeed in their martyrology. Michelet and M. D'Héricault treat him as a mixture of Cagliostro and Caligula, both a charlatan and a miscreant. We are reminded of the commencement of an address of the French Senate to the first Bonaparte: 'Sire,' they began, 'the desire for perfection is one of the worst maladies that can afflict the human mind.' This bold aphorism touches one of the roots of the judgments we pass both upon men and events. It is because people so irrationally think fit to insist upon perfection, that Robespierre's admirers would fain deny that he ever had a fault, and the tacit adoption of the same impracticable standard makes it easier for Robespierre's wholesale detractors to deny that he had a single virtue or performed a single service. The point of view is essentially unfit for history. It is folly for the historian, as it is for the statesman, to strain after the imaginative unity of the dramatic creator. Social progress is an affair of many small pieces and slow accretions, and the interest of historic study lies in tracing, amid the immense turmoil of events and through the confusion of voices, the devious course of the sacred torch, as it shifts from bearer to bearer. And it is not the bearers who are most interesting, but the torch.

The author’s comment that one “should cull with the hand, and not sweep in with the scythe” is meant to serve primarily as __________.

Possible Answers:

an outline of correct historical practice

a warning to the audience

a celebration of a much-admired man

an indictment of the outcome of the French Revolution

an indication of his personal fears

Correct answer:

an outline of correct historical practice

Explanation:

In context, the author is talking about how we should “sow with the hand, not with the sack.” By this, the author means that the historian should produce history by focusing on the small events and parts that make up and detract from the whole, rather than trying to fit all the parts into the whole. A scythe, as you can imagine, would be much less discerning and cautious than a hand.

Example Question #321 : Mcat Verbal Reasoning

Adapted from “Federalist No.8” by Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay (1788)

It is sometimes asked, with an air of seeming triumph, what inducements could the States have, if disunited, to make war upon each other? It would be a full answer to this question to say—precisely the same inducements which have, at different times, deluged in blood all the nations in the world. But, unfortunately for us, the question admits of a more particular answer. There are causes of differences within our immediate contemplation, of the tendency of which, even under the restraints of a federal constitution, we have had sufficient experience to enable us to form a judgment of what might be expected if those restraints were removed.

Territorial disputes have at all times been found one of the most fertile sources of hostility among nations. The greatest proportion of wars that have desolated the earth have sprung from this origin. This cause would exist among us in full force. We have a vast tract of unsettled territory within the boundaries of the United States. There still are discordant and undecided claims between several of these boundaries, and the dissolution of the Union would lay a foundation for similar claims between them all. At present, a large part of the vacant Western territory is, by cession at least, if not by any anterior right, the common property of the Union. If that were at an end, the States which made the cession, on a principle of federal compromise, would be apt when the motive of the grant had ceased, to reclaim the lands as a reversion. The other States would no doubt insist on a proportion, by right of representation. Their argument would be, that a grant, once made, could not be revoked; and that the justice of participating in territory acquired or secured by the joint efforts of the Confederacy, remained undiminished. If, contrary to probability, it should be admitted by all the States, that each had a right to a share of this common stock, there would still be a difficulty to be surmounted, as to a proper rule of apportionment. Different principles would be set up by different States for this purpose; and as they would affect the opposite interests of the parties, they might not easily be susceptible of a pacific adjustment.

In the wide field of Western territory, therefore, we perceive an ample theatre for hostile pretensions, without any umpire or common judge to interpose between the contending parties. To reason from the past to the future, we shall have good ground to apprehend, that the sword would sometimes be appealed to as the arbiter of their differences. The circumstances of the dispute between Connecticut and Pennsylvania, respecting the land at Wyoming, admonish us not to be sanguine in expecting an easy accommodation of such differences. The articles of confederation obliged the parties to submit the matter to the decision of a federal court. The submission was made, and the court decided in favor of Pennsylvania. But Connecticut gave strong indications of dissatisfaction with that determination; nor did she appear to be entirely resigned to it, till, by negotiation and management, something like an equivalent was found for the loss she supposed herself to have sustained. Nothing here said is intended to convey the slightest censure on the conduct of that State. She no doubt sincerely believed herself to have been injured by the decision; and States, like individuals, acquiesce with great reluctance in determinations to their disadvantage.

Those who had an opportunity of seeing the inside of the transactions which attended the progress of the controversy between this State and the district of Vermont, can vouch the opposition we experienced and can attest the danger to which the peace of the Confederacy might have been exposed, had this State attempted to assert its rights by force. These being small States, saw with an unfriendly eye the perspective of our growing greatness. In a review of these transactions we may trace some of the causes which would be likely to embroil the States with each other, if it should be their unpropitious destiny to become disunited.

How would the author of this passage likely respond to British voters who desire a complete break from the European Union?

Possible Answers:

He would agree and argue that the European Union has no right to dictate terms to a British citizen.

He would disagree on the grounds that the European Union encourages economic prosperity and stability.

He would disagree on the grounds that the European Union prevents the outbreak of conflict.

He would disagree on the grounds that the European Union has been given insufficient time and opportunity to prove its worth.

He would agree and argue that the European Union encourages the outbreak of conflict.

Correct answer:

He would disagree on the grounds that the European Union prevents the outbreak of conflict.

Explanation:

Although we cannot say with certainty, we can make a reasonable guess that the author of this passage would not be in favor of Britain leaving the European Union. At the time this essay was written, the states of the United States all had their own unique culture and national identity and that they would form a unified country was far from a given. The author of this passage clearly accepts subsuming regional autonomy to the greater protection of a larger government administration.

Example Question #6 : Solving A Problem With A Passage

Adapted from Famous Men of the Middle Ages (1904) by John Henry Haaren and Addison B. Poland.

The study of history, like the study of a landscape, should begin with the most conspicuous features. Not until these have been fixed in memory will the lesser features fall into their appropriate places and assume their right proportions. The famous men of ancient and modern times are the mountain peaks of history. It is logical then that the study of history should begin with the biographies of these men.

Not only is it logical; it is also pedagogical. Experience has proven that in order to attract and hold the child's attention each conspicuous feature of history presented to him should have an individual for its center. The child identifies himself with the personage presented. It is not Romulus or Hercules or Cæsar or Alexander that the child has in mind when he reads, but himself, acting under similar conditions. Prominent educators, appreciating these truths, have long recognized the value of biography as a preparation for the study of history and have given it an important place in their scheme of studies.

The former practice in many elementary schools of beginning the detailed study of American history without any previous knowledge of general history limited the pupil's range of vision, restricted his sympathies, and left him without material for comparisons. Moreover, it denied to him a knowledge of his inheritance from the Greek philosopher, the Roman lawgiver, the Teutonic lover of freedom. Hence the recommendation so strongly urged in the report of the Committee of Ten—and emphasized, also, in the report of the Committee of Fifteen—that the study of Greek, Roman and modern European history in the form of biography should precede the study of detailed American history in our elementary schools. The Committee of Ten recommends an eight years' course in history, beginning with the fifth year in school and continuing to the end of the high school course. The first two years of this course are given wholly to the study of biography and mythology. The Committee of fifteen recommends that history be taught in all the grades of the elementary school and emphasizes the value of biography and of general history.

The series of historical stories to which this volume belongs was prepared in conformity with the foregoing recommendations and with the best practice of leading schools. It has been the aim of the authors to make an interesting story of each man's life and to tell these stories in a style so simple that pupils in the lower grades will read them with pleasure, and so dignified that they may be used with profit as text-books for reading. Teachers who find it impracticable to give to the study of mythology and biography a place of its own in an already overcrowded curriculum usually prefer to correlate history with reading and for this purpose the volumes of this series will be found most desirable.

A young girl is struggling in history class; which of these changes would the authors advise making to inspire her passion for the subject?

Possible Answers:

Replace her teacher with someone more patient and understanding

Revise her curriculum to focus more on foreign men and women

Revise her curriculum to focus more on interesting stories of famous men and women

Replace her teacher with someone more charismatic

Revise her curriculum to focus more on American women

Correct answer:

Revise her curriculum to focus more on interesting stories of famous men and women

Explanation:

The authors of this passage would advise changing the girl’s curriculum to focus on more interesting stories of famous men and women. They might advise a focus on more foreign men and women, but this is secondary to the authors’ belief that the stories must be interesting and they must be of great men and women.

Example Question #331 : Mcat Verbal Reasoning

Adapted from Albert William Parry's Education in the Middle Ages (1920).

The introduction of Christianity to this country subsequent to the Saxon invasion was effected by means of two independent agencies—the Roman mission under the leadership of Augustine which arrived in Thanet in 597, and the Scottish missionaries who, in response to the invitation of Oswald, king of Northumbria, took up their residence in the island of Lindisfarne in 635.

The primary task of these missionaries was obviously that of converting a people who professed a heathen religion to an adherence to the Christian faith. The accomplishment of this main task, however, involved two additional tasks, the one moral, the other social. A dismal picture of the moral condition of the settlers in this country in the fifth century has been painted by Montalembert. Basing his account on Ozanam’s “Germains avant la Christianisme” he asks, “What could be expected in point of morality from persons accustomed to invoke and to worship Woden, the god of massacres, Freya, the Venus of the North, the goddess of sensuality, and all those bloody and obscene gods of whom the one had for his emblem a naked sword and another the hammer with which he broke the heads of his enemies?” He continues, “The immortality which was promised to them in their Valhalla but reserved for them new days of slaughter and nights of debauchery spent in drinking deep in the halls of their victims. And in this world, their life was but too often a prolonged indulgence of carnage, plundering and lechery.” Herein lay the moral task which awaited the Christian missionaries. They had to replace the existing national ideals with the ideals of Christianity—ideals of the highest standard of personal morality. The social task undertaken by the missionaries was that of elevating this country from a condition of barbarism into a state of civilisation. Referring to the results of the introduction of Christianity, Green writes, “The new England was admitted into the older commonwealth of nations. The civilisation, art, letters, which had fled before the sword of the English conquest returned with the Christian faith.”

What means could be adopted by the missionaries to accomplish the ends they had in view? It is obvious that continual teaching and instruction would be imperative to meet the needs of the converts to the new faith, and it is equally clear that it would be necessary to provide for the creation of a native ministry in order that the labours of the early missionaries might be continued. Teaching, consequently, occupies a position of the greatest importance, and it is to the educational aspect of the labours of these missionaries rather than to the religious or the ecclesiastical aspect that our attention is now directed. It may be advisable for us to remind ourselves that these missionaries came to this country speaking the Latin tongue, that the services of the Church were carried on in that language, and that such books as existed were also written in Latin. It is necessary to make this point clear in order to show that schools for instruction in this language would be imperative from the very first.

It is also important to remember, as Montalembert points out, that the conversion of England was effected by means of monks, first of the Benedictine monks sent from Rome, and afterwards of Celtic monks. We may here lay down a general hypothesis, which the course of this thesis will tend to demonstrate: the educational institutions established in this country were due to an imitation of those which had been in operation elsewhere. The Christian missionaries to England, for example, did not originate a system of education. They adopted what they had seen in operation in the parent monasteries from which they came, and, in so doing, they would naturally adapt the system to the special needs of the country. Some exceptions to this general principle may be found; they will be noted in their proper place.

Accepting this hypothesis, before we can proceed to consider the special work for education of the monasteries in this country, it is necessary briefly to review the meaning of monachism and to consider the extent to which monasteries had previously associated themselves with educational work.

Which of the following would be most fundamental to the success of a religious school founded in the historical context described in the passage?

Possible Answers:

Finding as many monks as possible, regardless of their level of skill, in order to fill the ranks.

Making sure to establish one's religious school in a remote area, so as to reach rural communities.

Devoting at least six hours per day to prayer.

Establishing sound practical education, in particular numeracy.

Establishing sound language education, in particular Latin.

Correct answer:

Establishing sound language education, in particular Latin.

Explanation:

We can see from the third paragraph that the role of Latin in early education is relevant to the argument of the passage, as the author says: “the services of the Church were carried on in that language, and that such books as existed were also written in Latin. It is necessary to make this point clear in order to show that schools for instruction in this language would be imperative from the very first.” The author's use of the word "imperative" suggests that he views language instruction to have been fundamental to the success and functioning of religious education in the period described.

Example Question #332 : Mcat Verbal Reasoning

Adapted from "Save the Redwoods" by John Muir in Sierra Club Bulletin Volume XI Number 1 (January 1920)

We are often told that the world is going from bad to worse, but this righteous uprising in defense of God's trees is telling a different story. The wrongs done to trees are done in the darkness of ignorance and unbelief, for when light comes the heart of the people is always right. Forty-seven years ago one of these Calaveras King Sequoias was laboriously cut down, that the stump might be had for a dancing-floor. Another, one of the finest in the grove, was skinned alive to a height of one hundred and sixteen feet and the bark sent to London to show how fine and big that Calaveras tree was—as sensible a scheme as skinning our great men would be to prove their greatness. Now some millmen want to cut all the Calaveras trees into lumber and money. No doubt these trees would make good lumber after passing through a sawmill, as George Washington after passing through the hands of a French cook would have made good food. But both for Washington and the tree that bears his name higher uses have been found.

In noble groves and forests south of the Calaveras Grove the axe and saw have long been busy, and thousands of the finest Sequoias have been felled, while fires have spread still wider and more lamentable ruin. In the course of my explorations twenty-five years ago, I found five sawmills on or near the lower margin of the Sequoia belt. One of the smallest of these in the 1874 season sawed two million feet of Sequoia lumber. Since that time, other mills have been built among the Sequoias. The destruction of these grand trees is still going on. 

On the other hand, the Calaveras Grove for forty years has been faithfully protected by Mr. Sperry, and with the exception of the two trees mentioned above is still in primeval beauty. Many groves have of late been partially protected by the Federal Government, while the well-known Mariposa Grove has long been guarded by the State.

For the thousands of acres of Sequoia forest outside of reservations and national parks, and in the hands of lumbermen, no help is in sight. Probably more than three times as many Sequoias as are contained in the whole Calaveras Grove have been cut into lumber every year for the last twenty-six years without let or hindrance, and with scarce a word of protest on the part of the public, while at the first whisper of bonding the Calaveras Grove to lumbermen most everybody rose in alarm. Californians’ righteous and lively indignation after their long period of deathlike apathy, in which they have witnessed the destruction of other groves unmoved, seems strange until the rapid growth that right public opinion has made during the last few years is considered and the peculiar interest that attaches to the Calaveras giants. They were the first discovered and are best known. Thousands of travelers from every country come to see them, their reputation is world-wide, and the names of great men have long been associated with them—Washington, Humboldt, Torrey and Gray, Sir Joseph Hooker, and others. These kings of the forest rightly belong to the world, but as they are in California, we cannot escape responsibility as their guardians. Fortunately the American people are equal to this trust, or any other that may arise, as soon as they see it and understand it.

Any fool can destroy trees. They cannot defend themselves or run away. And few destroyers of trees ever plant any, nor can planting avail much toward restoring our grand aboriginal giants. It took more than three thousand years to make some of the oldest of the Sequoias, trees that are still standing in perfect strength and beauty. Through all the eventful centuries since Christ's time, and long before that, God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand storms; but he cannot save them from sawmills and fools; this is left to the American people.The news from Washington is encouraging. The House has passed a bill providing for the Government acquisition of the Calaveras giants. The danger these Sequoias have been in will do good far beyond the boundaries of the Calaveras Grove, in saving other groves and forests and quickening interest in forest affairs in general. While the iron of public sentiment is hot let us strike hard. In particular, a reservation or national park of the only other species of Sequoia, the sempervirens, or redwood, hardly less wonderful than the gigantea, should be quickly secured. It will have to be acquired by gift or purchase, for the Government has sold every section of the redwood belt from the Oregon boundary to below Santa Cruz.

The author mentions "great men" who have been associated with the trees of the Calaveras Grove in order to support which point?

Possible Answers:

The "great men" mentioned by the author would agree that the Calaveras Grove needs to be protected.

Although many trees have already been felled by loggers, the Calaveras Grove holds a special place in the eyes of Californians.

Sequoias are especially notable when compared to other trees.

In order to preserve more trees, we should name more of them after famous historical figures.

 

The government should move to immediately protect the grove.

Correct answer:

Although many trees have already been felled by loggers, the Calaveras Grove holds a special place in the eyes of Californians.

Explanation:

Correct answer: Although many trees have already been felled by loggers, the Calaveras Grove holds a special place in the eyes of Californians.

This is correct because the association between the great men and the trees is a part of the passage about how the Calaveras Grove being under threat of logging has caused Californians to rise from their apathy.

 

The government should move to immediately protect the grove.

This is incorrect because although the author believes this, it is not directly related to his discussion of the great men associated with the Calaveras Grove.

 

The "great men" mentioned by the author would agree that the Calaveras Grove needs to be protected.

The author does not make this claim.

 

Sequoias are not notable in comparison to other trees.

In the third paragraph, the author calls Sequoias "kings of the forest," implying that the trees are notable when compared to other trees.

 

In order to preserve more trees, we should name more of them after famous historical figures.

This might be a possible solution, but it's a conclusion one can draw from the author's mentioning of naming trees after "great men" rather than the reason for which the connection with "great men" is made.

Example Question #333 : Mcat Verbal Reasoning

Adapted from On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals by William Harvey (1628) in The Harvard Classics, Vol. XXXVIII, Part 3 (trans. 1909-1914)

When I first gave my mind to vivisections as a means of discovering the motions and uses of the heart, and sought to discover these from actual inspection and not from the writings of others, I found the task so truly arduous, so full of difficulties, that I was almost tempted to think, with Fracastorius, that the motion of the heart was only to be comprehended by God. For I could neither rightly perceive at first when the systole and when the diastole took place, nor when and where dilatation and contraction occurred, by reason of the rapidity of the motion, which in many animals is accomplished in the twinkling of an eye, coming and going like a flash of lightning; so that the systole presented itself to me now from this point, now from that; the diastole the same; and then everything was reversed, the motions occurring, as it seemed, variously and confusedly together. My mind was therefore greatly unsettled, nor did I know what I should myself conclude, nor what believe from others. I was not surprised that Andreas Laurentius should have written that the motion of the heart was as perplexing as the flux and reflux of Euripus had appeared to Aristotle.

At length, by using greater and daily diligence and investigation, making frequent inspection of many and various animals, and collating numerous observations, I thought that I had attained to the truth, that I should extricate myself and escape from this labyrinth, and that I had discovered what I so much desired, both the motion and the use of the heart and arteries. From that time I have not hesitated to expose my views upon these subjects, not only in private to my friends, but also in public, in my anatomical lectures, after the manner of the Academy of old.

These views as usual, pleased some more, others less; some chid and calumniated me, and laid it to me as a crime that I had dared to depart from the precepts and opinions of all anatomists; others desired further explanations of the novelties, which they said were both worthy of consideration, and might perchance be found of signal use. At length, yielding to the requests of my friends, that all might be made participators in my labors, and partly moved by the envy of others, who, receiving my views with uncandid minds and understanding them indifferently, have essayed to traduce me publicly, I have moved to commit these things to the press, in order that all may be enabled to form an opinion both of me and my labors. This step I take all the more willingly, seeing that Hieronymus Fabricius of Aquapendente, although he has accurately and learnedly delineated almost every one of the several parts of animals in a special work, has left the heart alone untouched.

What best describes Harvey's decision to begin using empiricism to examine the workings of the heart?

Possible Answers:

He did so in order to silence the critics of his theories by showing them empirical evidence.

He thought that vivisection was the only method that could produce any useable results.

He wanted others to be able to recreate and test his results, and empiricism allows that.

He thought that it was a better approach than using the writings of others.

He was frustrated by the innaccuracies and ommissions he'd found in otherwise good texts of anatomy.

Correct answer:

He thought that it was a better approach than using the writings of others.

Explanation:

Correct answer: He thought that it was a better approach than using the writings of others.

That he felt it was better is an implication, but it is a very clear implication in the first sentence: "When I first gave my mind to vivisections as a means of discovering the motions and uses of the heart, and sought to discover these from actual inspection and not from the writings of others, I found the task so truly arduous, so full of difficulties, that I was almost tempted to think, with Fracastorius, that the motion of the heart was only to be comprehended by God."

He did so in order to silence the critics of his theories by showing them empirical evidence.

The idea of addressing his critics through publication comes about after the empirical experiments, not before.

He thought that vivisection was the only method that could produce any useable results.

He clearly thought it was the best method, but saying it was the only method is too strong and not supported by the passage.

He wanted others to be able to recreate and test his results, and empiricism allows that.

He doesn't mention reproducibility.

He was frustrated by the innaccuracies and ommissions he'd found in otherwise good texts of anatomy.

He is sympathetic to the lack of knowledge about the heart and the difficulty of studying it, not frustrated.

Example Question #334 : Mcat Verbal Reasoning

Adapted from Samuel Johnson's "Labor Necessary to Excellence" in No. 169 of The Rambler (1751)

No vanity can more justly incur contempt and indignation than that which boasts of negligence and hurry. For who can bear with patience the writer who claims such superiority to the rest of his species as to imagine mankind are at leisure for attention to his extemporary sallies and that posterity will reposit his casual effusions among the treasures of ancient wisdom?

Men have sometimes appeared of such transcendent abilities that their slightest and most cursory performances excel all that labor and study can enable meaner intellects to compose, as there are regions of which the spontaneous products cannot be equalled in other soils by care and culture. But it is no less dangerous for any man to place himself in this rank of understanding and fancy that he is born to be illustrious without labor than to omit the cares of husbandry and expect from his ground the blossoms of Arabia.

The greatest part of those who congratulate themselves upon their intellectual dignity and usurp the privileges of genius are men whom only themselves would ever have marked out as enriched by uncommon liberalities of nature, or entitled to veneration and immortality on easy terms. This ardor of confidence is usually found among those who, having not enlarged their notions by books or conversation, are persuaded, by the partiality which we all feel in our own favor, that they have reached the summit of excellence because they discover none higher than themselves; and who acquiesce in the first thoughts that occur, because their scantiness of knowledge allows them little choice; and the narrowness of their views affords them no glimpse of perfection, of that sublime idea which human industry has from the first ages been vainly toiling to approach. They see a little, and believe that there is nothing beyond their sphere of vision, as the Patuecos of Spain, who inhabited a small valley, conceived the surrounding mountains to be the boundaries of the world. In proportion as perfection is more distinctly conceived, the pleasure of contemplating our own performances will be lessened; it may therefore be observed, that they who most deserve praise are often afraid to decide in favor of their own performances; they know how much is still wanting to their completion, and wait with anxiety and terror the determination of the public. I please everyone else, says Tally, but never satisfy myself.

It has often been inquired, why, notwithstanding the advances of later ages in science and the assistance which the infusion of so many new ideas has given us, we fall below the ancients in the art of composition. Some part of their superiority may be justly ascribed to the graces of their language, from which the most polished of the present European tongues are nothing more than barbarous degenerations. Some advantage they might gain merely by priority, which put them in possession of the most natural sentiments and left us nothing but servile repetition or forced conceits. But the greater part of their praise seems to have been the just reward of modesty and labor. Their sense of human weakness confined them commonly to one study, which their knowledge of the extent of every science engaged them to prosecute with indefatigable diligence.

According to the author, overconfidence in one's ability is usually the result of __________.

Possible Answers:

overreliance on historical sources in place of contemporary discourse

ignorance and lack of education in combination with the natural impulse to favor one's own point of view

a combination of laziness, an undue emphasis on academic learning, and lack of real world experience

simply anxiety and low self-esteem

a lack of education and time due to low socioeconomic status

Correct answer:

ignorance and lack of education in combination with the natural impulse to favor one's own point of view

Explanation:

According to the author, the tendency of overconfident writers to "congratulate themselves upon their intellectual dignity" is the result of a combination of ignorance, a lack of historical and academic perspective, and the natural "partiality which we all feel in our own favor." The author emphasizes that it is this natural partiality (felt by all) that works in combination with a "scantiness of knowledge" to produce undereducated, overconfident writers.

Example Question #335 : Mcat Verbal Reasoning

Adapted from “Robespierre” in Critical Miscellanies by John Morley (1904)

Marie Antoinette's high mien in adversity, and the contrast between the dazzling splendor of her first years and the scenes of outrage and bloody death that made the climax of her fate, could not but strike the imaginations of men. Such contrasts are the very stuff of which Tragedy, the gorgeous muse with scepter'd pall, loves to weave her most imposing raiment. But history must be just; and the character of the Queen had far more concern in the disaster of the first five years of the Revolution than had the character of Robespierre. Every new document that comes to light heaps up proof that if blind and obstinate choice of personal gratification before the common weal be enough to constitute a state criminal, then the Queen of France was one of the worst state criminals that ever afflicted a nation. The popular hatred of Marie Antoinette sprang from a sound instinct. We shall never know how much or how little truth there was in those frightful charges against her, that may still be read in a thousand pamphlets. These imputed depravities far surpass anything that John Knox ever said against Mary Stuart, or that Juvenal has recorded against Messalina; and, perhaps, for the only parallel we must look to the hideous stories of the Byzantine secretary against Theodora, the too famous empress of Justinian and the persecutor of Belisarius. We have to remember that all the revolutionary portraits are distorted by furious passion, and that Marie Antoinette may no more deserve to be compared to Mary Stuart than Robespierre deserves to be compared to Ezzelino or to Alva. It is at least certain that, from the unlucky hour when the Austrian archduchess crossed the French frontier, a childish bride of fourteen, down to the hour when the Queen of France made the attempt to recross it in resentful flight one and twenty years afterwards, Marie Antoinette was ignorant, unteachable, blind to events and deaf to good counsels, a bitter grief to her heroic mother, the evil genius of her husband, the despair of her truest advisers, and an exceedingly bad friend to the people of France. When Burke had that immortal vision of her at Versailles—"just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in, glittering like the morning star, full of life and splendor and joy"—we know from the correspondence between Maria Theresa and her minister at Versailles, that what Burke really saw was no divinity, but a flighty and troublesome schoolgirl, an accomplice in all the ignoble intrigues, and a sharer of all the small busy passions that convulse the insects of a court. She broke out in incredible dissipations; in indiscreet visits to the masked balls at the opera, in midnight parades and mystifications on the terrace at Versailles, in insensate gambling. “The court of France is turned into a gaming-hell,” said the Emperor Joseph, the Queen's own brother: “if they do not amend, the revolution will be cruel.”

These vices or follies were less mischievous than her intervention in affairs of state. Here to levity she added both dissimulation and vindictiveness. It was the Queen's influence that procured the dismissal of the two virtuous ministers by whose aid the King was striving to arrest the decay of the government of his kingdom. Malesherbes was distasteful to her for no better reason than that she wanted his post for some favorite's favorite. Against Turgot she conspired with tenacious animosity because he had suppressed a sinecure which she designed for a court parasite, and because he would not support her caprice on behalf of a worthless creature of her faction. These two admirable men were disgraced on the same day. The Queen wrote to her mother that she had not meddled in the affair. This was a falsehood, for she had even sought to have Turgot thrown into the Bastille. “I am as one dashed to the ground,” cried the great Voltaire, now nearing his end. “Never can we console ourselves for having seen the golden age dawn and vanish. My eyes see only death in front of me, now that Turgot is gone. The rest of my days must be all bitterness.” What hope could there be that the personage who had thus put out the light of hope for France in 1776 would welcome that greater flame that was kindled in the land in 1789?

How did Marie Antoinette come to be living in the French court?

Possible Answers:

She waited on the Queen and was betrothed to a nobleman.

She was married to the French King.

She fled her homeland in Austria during war.

Her husband died fighting in the War of Austrian Succession and she was forced to move to France to find work.

Her mother was the Queen of France.

Correct answer:

She was married to the French King.

Explanation:

Marie Antoinette was a member of the Austrian nobility who was married off to the French King. We know that she arrived in France, from Austria, as a young woman to be married because the author says, “It is at least certain that, from the unlucky hour when the Austrian archduchess crossed the French frontier, a childish bride of fourteen, down to the hour when the Queen of France made the attempt to recross it in resentful flight one and twenty years afterwards, Marie Antoinette was ignorant, unteachable, blind to events and deaf to good counsels, a bitter grief to her heroic mother, the evil genius of her husband, the despair of her truest advisers, and an exceedingly bad friend to the people of France.“

Example Question #331 : Mcat Verbal Reasoning

Adapted from "Is Shakespeare Dead?" in What is Man? And Other Essays by Mark Twain (1906)

The upholders of the Stratford-Shakespeare superstition call us the hardest names they can think of, and they keep doing it all the time; very well, if they like to descend to that level, let them do it, but I will not so undignify myself as to follow them. Anyway, those thugs have built their entire superstition upon inference, not upon known and established facts.

Ordinarily when an unsigned poem sweeps across the continent like a tidal wave whose roar and boom and thunder are made up of admiration, delight, and applause, a dozen obscure people rise up and claim the authorship. Do you remember "Beautiful Snow"? Its authorship was claimed by most of the grown-up people who were alive at the time, and every claimant had one plausible argument in his favor, at least—to wit, he could have done the authoring; he was competent.

Have the Works been claimed by a dozen? They haven't. There was good reason. The world knows there was but one man on the planet at the time who was competent—not a dozen, and not two. There has been only one Shakespeare. There couldn't be two; certainly there couldn't be two at the same time. It takes ages to bring forth a Shakespeare, and some more ages to match him.

The Baconians claim that the Stratford Shakespeare was not qualified to write the Works, and that Francis Bacon was. They claim that Bacon possessed the stupendous equipment—both natural and acquired—for the miracle; and that no other Englishman of his day possessed the like; or, indeed, anything closely approaching it. Macaulay, in his Essay, has much to say about the splendor and horizonless magnitude of that equipment. Also, he has synopsized Bacon's history—a thing which cannot be done for the Stratford Shakespeare, for he hasn't any history to synopsize. Bacon's history is open to the world, from his boyhood to his death in old age—a history consisting of known facts, displayed in minute and multitudinous detail; facts, not guesses and conjectures.

Young Bacon took up the study of law, and mastered that abstruse science. From that day to the end of his life he was daily in close contact with lawyers and judges; not as a casual onlooker in intervals between holding horses in front of a theater, but as a practicing lawyer—a great and successful one. When we read the praises bestowed by Lord Penzance and the other illustrious experts upon the legal condition and legal aptitude, brilliances, profundities, and felicities so prodigally displayed in the Plays, and try to fit them to the historyless Stratford stage-manager, they sound wild, strange, incredible, ludicrous; but when we put them in the mouth of Bacon they do not sound strange, they seem in their natural and rightful place, they seem at home there. "At every turn and point at which the author required a metaphor, simile, or illustration, his mind ever turned first to the law; he seems almost to have thought in legal phrases; the commonest legal phrases, the commonest of legal expressions, were ever at the end of his pen." That could happen to no one but a person whose trade was the law; it could not happen to a dabbler in it. Veteran mariners fill their conversation with sailor-phrases and draw all their similes from the ship and the sea and the storm, but no mere passenger ever does it.

Isn't it odd that you may list all the celebrated Englishmen of modern times, clear back to the first Tudors and you can go to the histories, biographies, and cyclopedias and learn the particulars of the lives of every one of them. Every one of them except one—the most famous, the most renowned—by far the most illustrious of them all—Shakespeare! You can get the details of the lives of all the celebrated ecclesiastics in the list; all the celebrated tragedians, comedians, singers, dancers, orators, judges, lawyers, poets, dramatists, historians, and so on—you can get the life-histories of all of them but one. Just one—the most extraordinary and the most celebrated of them all—Shakespeare! About him you can find out nothing. Nothing of even the slightest importance. Nothing that even remotely indicates that he was ever anything more than a distinctly commonplace person— an actor of inferior grade, a small trader in a small village that did not regard him as a person of any consequence, and had forgotten all about him before he was fairly cold in his grave. There are many reasons why, and they have been furnished in cart-loads (of guess and conjecture) by those troglodytes; but there is one that is worth all the rest of the reasons put together—he hadn’t any history to record.

The author probably wrote this essay __________.

Possible Answers:

in response to new evidence being revealed that supports his argument

in response to a scathing attack from the opposition

in response to new evidence being released by the opposition

in preparation for a debate with the opposition

in preparation for a longer work on the subject

Correct answer:

in response to a scathing attack from the opposition

Explanation:

There is no evidence to suggest the author is trying to prepare for a debate or to write a longer work. Likewise, there is no evidence to suggest that he is writing this essay because new evidence, for one side or the other, has recently come to light. There is, however, evidence to suggest that the author is writing this in response to a scathing attack from the opposition. He employs personal insults on numerous occasions that suggest a personal affront, and he makes numerous references to the claims of the opposition. He says “they have been furnished in cart-loads (of guess and conjecture) by those troglodytes" and “The upholders of the Stratford-Shakespeare superstition call us the hardest names they can think of, and they keep doing it all the time; very well, if they like to descend to that level, let them do it, but I will not so undignify myself as to follow them. Anyway, those thugs have built their entire superstition upon inference, not upon known and established facts.” The use of the terms “thugs” and “troglodytes” suggests the author is responding to an attack he feels was an affront, either intellectually or personally.

Example Question #337 : Mcat Verbal Reasoning

Adapted from Frederick Douglass (1899) by Charles Chestnutt.

It was the curious fate of Douglass to pass through almost every phase of slavery, as though to prepare him the more thoroughly for his future career. Shortly after he went to Baltimore, his master, Captain Anthony, died intestate, and his property was divided between his two children. Douglass, with the other slaves, was part of the personal estate, and was sent for to be appraised and disposed of in the division. He fell to the share of Mrs. Lucretia Auld, his master's daughter, who sent him back to Baltimore, where, after a month's absence, he resumed his life in the household of Mrs. Hugh Auld, the sister-in-law of his legal mistress. Owing to a family misunderstanding, he was taken, in March, 1833, from Baltimore back to St. Michaels.

His mistress, Lucretia Auld, had died in the mean time; and the new household in which he found himself, with Thomas Auld and his second wife, Rowena, at its head, was distinctly less favorable to the slave boy's comfort than the home where he had lived in Baltimore. Here he saw hardships of the life in bondage that had been less apparent in a large city. It is to be feared that Douglass was not the ideal slave, governed by the meek and lowly spirit of Uncle Tom. A tendency to insubordination, due partly to the freer life he had led in Baltimore, got him into disfavor with a master easily displeased; and, not proving sufficiently amenable to the discipline of the home plantation, he was sent to a certain celebrated slave-breaker by the name of Edward Covey, one of the poorer whites who, as overseers and slave-catchers, and in similar unsavory capacities, earned a living as parasites on the system of slavery. Douglass spent a year under Coveys ministrations, and his life there may be summed up in his own words: "I had neither sufficient time in which to eat nor to sleep, except on Sundays. The overwork and the brutal chastisements of which I was the victim, combined with that ever-gnawing and soul-destroying thought, 'I am a slave,—a slave for life,' rendered me a living embodiment of mental and physical wretchedness."

But even all this did not entirely crush the indomitable spirit of a man destined to achieve his own freedom and thereafter to help win freedom for a race. In August, 1834, after a particularly atrocious beating, which left him wounded and weak from loss of blood, Douglass escaped the vigilance of the slave-breaker and made his way back to his own master to seek protection. The master, who would have lost his slave's wages for a year if he had broken the contract with Covey before the year's end, sent Douglass back to his taskmaster. Anticipating the most direful consequences, Douglass made the desperate resolution to resist any further punishment at Covey's hands. After a fight of two hours Covey gave up his attempt to whip Frederick, and thenceforth laid hands on him no more. Strength of character, re-enforced by strength of muscle, thus won a victory over brute force that secured for Douglass comparative immunity from abuse during the remaining months of his year's service with Covey. And soon after he was emboldened to escape.

The manner of Douglass's escape from Maryland was never publicly disclosed by him until the war had made slavery a memory and the slave-catcher a thing of the past. It was the theory of the anti-slavery workers of the time that the publication of the details of escapes or rescues from bondage seldom reached the ears of those who might have learned thereby to do likewise, but merely furnished the master class with information that would render other escapes more difficult. That this was no idle fear there is abundant testimony in the annals of the period. But in later years, when there was no longer any danger of unpleasant consequences, Douglass published in detail the story of his flight. It would not compare in dramatic interest with many other celebrated escapes from slavery or imprisonment. He simply masqueraded as a sailor, borrowed a sailors "protection," or certificate that he belonged to the navy, took the train to Baltimore in the evening, and rode in the negro car until he reached New York City. Fear clutched at the fugitive's heart whenever he neared a State border line.

Douglass arrived in New York on September 4, 1838. But, though landed in a free State, he was by no means a free man. He was still a piece of property, and could be reclaimed by the law's aid if his whereabouts were discovered. While local sentiment at the North afforded a measure of protection to fugitives, and few were ever returned to bondage compared with the number that escaped, yet the fear of recapture was ever with them, darkening their lives and impeding their pursuit of happiness. But even the partial freedom Douglass had achieved gave birth to a thousand delightful sensations. In his autobiography he describes this dawn of liberty thus: "A new world had opened up to me. I lived more in one day than in a year of my slave life. I felt as one might feel upon escape from a den of hungry lions. My chains were broken, and the victory brought me unspeakable joy."

Douglass’ was inspired to escape by __________.

Possible Answers:

witnessing the death of a close friend and companion

his ability to resist the abuse of his master

the outbreak of the Civil War

fear of future suffering at the hands of his master

the death of one of his children

Correct answer:

his ability to resist the abuse of his master

Explanation:

The author tells us that “after a fight of two hours Covey gave up his attempt to whip Frederick, and thenceforth laid hands on him no more. Strength of character, re-enforced by strength of muscle, thus won a victory over brute force that secured for Douglass comparative immunity from abuse during the remaining months of his year's service with Covey. And soon after he was emboldened to escape.” Thus, Douglass’ ability to resist the abuse of his master gives him the confidence needed to attempt an escape.

Learning Tools by Varsity Tutors