MCAT Verbal : Application

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for MCAT Verbal

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Example Questions

Example Question #6 : Determining Implications

Adapted from “The Origin of Music” in Critical and Historical Essays by Edward Macdowell (1912)

Darwin's theory that music had its origin “in the sounds made by the half-human progenitors of man during the season of courtship” seems for many reasons to be inadequate and untenable. A much more plausible explanation, it seems to me, is to be found in the theory of Theophrastus, in which the origin of music is attributed to the whole range of human emotion.

When an animal utters a cry of joy or pain it expresses its emotions in more or less definite tones, and at some remote period of the earth's history all primeval mankind must have expressed its emotions in much the same manner. When this inarticulate speech developed into the use of certain sounds as symbols for emotions—emotions that otherwise would have been expressed by the natural sounds occasioned by them—then we have the beginnings of speech as distinguished from music, which is still the universal language. In other words, intellectual development begins with articulate speech, leaving music for the expression of the emotions.

To symbolize the sounds used to express emotion, if I may so put it, is to weaken that expression, and it would naturally be the strongest emotion that would first feel the inadequacy of the new-found speech. Now what is mankind's strongest emotion? Even in the nineteenth century Goethe could say, “'Tis fear that constitutes the god-like in man.” Certainly before the Christian era the soul of mankind had its roots in fear. In our superstition we were like children beneath a great tree of which the upper part was as a vague and fascinating mystery, but the roots holding it firmly to the ground were tangible, palpable facts. We feared—we knew not what. Love was human, all the other emotions were human; fear alone was indefinable.

The primeval man, looking at the world subjectively, was merely part of it. He might love, hate, threaten, kill, if he willed; every other creature could do the same. But the wind was a great spirit to him; lightning and thunder threatened him as they did the rest of the world; the flood would destroy him as ruthlessly as it tore the trees asunder. The elements were animate powers that had nothing in common with him; for what the intellect cannot explain the imagination magnifies.

Fear, then, was the strongest emotion. Therefore auxiliary aids to express and cause fear were necessary when the speech symbols for fear, drifting further and further away from expressing the actual thing, became words, and words were inadequate to express and cause fear. In that vague groping for sound symbols which would cause and express fear far better than mere words, we have the beginning of what is gradually to develop into music.

Given how the term is used in the passage's last sentence, the author would most likely describe “words” as __________.

Possible Answers:

a derivative of mankind’s need to express fear to one another

inadequate substitutes for emotional ideas

the precursors to music

a means by which humans could express their most intense emotions

incomplete replacements for philosophical thoughts

Correct answer:

inadequate substitutes for emotional ideas

Explanation:

From a close reading of the whole passage, it is clear that the author believes spoken language, or “words,” were insufficient for expressing the more intense human emotions with the gravity and impact that was required. The author would therefore most likely describe “words” as “inadequate substitutes for emotional ideas.” This can be most clearly seen in the conclusion, where the author declares, “Therefore, auxiliary aids to express and cause fear were necessary when the speech symbols for fear . . . became words, and words were inadequate to express and cause fear. In that vague groping for sound symbols which would cause and express fear far better than mere words, we have the beginning of what is gradually to develop into music.” The author would agree that “words” came before music, but he would not suggest that “words” were “the precursors to music.”

Example Question #7 : Determining Implications

Adapted from "Hallam" in Volume 1 of Critical and Historical Essays by Thomas Babbington Macaulay (1828)

History, at least in its state of ideal perfection, is a compound of poetry and philosophy. It impresses general truths on the mind by a vivid representation of particular characters and incidents. But, in fact, the two hostile elements of which it consists have never been known to form a perfect amalgamation, and at length, in our own time, they have been completely and professedly separated. The problem seems only to be getting worse. Good histories, in the proper sense of the word, we have not. But we have good historical romances, and good historical essays. The imagination and the reason, if we may use a legal metaphor, have made partition of a province of literature of which they were formerly seized per my et per tout, and now they hold their respective portions in severalty, instead of holding the whole in common.

To make the past present, to bring the distant near, to place us in the society of a great man or on the eminence which overlooks the field of a mighty battle, to invest with the reality of human flesh and blood beings whom we are too much inclined to consider as personified qualities in an allegory, to call up our ancestors before us with all their peculiarities of language, manners, and garb, to show us over their houses, to seat us at their tables, to rummage their old-fashioned wardrobes, to explain the uses of their ponderous furniture, these parts of the duty which properly belongs to the historian have been appropriated by the historical novelist. On the other hand, to extract the philosophy of history, to direct on judgment of events and men, to trace the connection of cause and effects, and to draw from the occurrences of former time general lessons of moral and political wisdom has become the business of a distinct class of writers.

Of the two kinds of composition into which history has been thus divided, the one may be compared to a map, the other to a painted landscape. The picture, though it places the country before us, does not enable us to ascertain with accuracy the dimensions, the distances, and the angles. The map is not a work of imitative art. It presents no scene to the imagination, but it gives us exact information as to the bearings of the various points, and is a more useful companion to the traveller or the general than the painted landscape could be, though it were the grandest that ever Rosa peopled with outlaws, or the sweetest over which Claude ever poured the mellow effulgence of a setting sun.

It is remarkable that the practice of separating the two ingredients of which history is composed has become prevalent on the Continent as well as in this country. Italy has already produced a historical novel, of high merit and of still higher promise. In France, the practice has been carried to a length somewhat whimsical. M. Sismondi publishes a grave and stately history of the Merovingian kings, very valuable, and a little tedious. He then sends forth as a companion to it a novel, in which he attempts to give a lively representation of characters and manners. This course, as it seems to us, has all the disadvantages of a division of labour, and none of its advantages.

Which of the following best represents the author’s attitude towards historical writing in continental Europe?

Possible Answers:

Surprise and dismay

Reverence and support

Condescension

Shock and awe

Ambivalence

Correct answer:

Surprise and dismay

Explanation:

In context, the author says, “It is remarkable that the practice of separating the two ingredients of which history is composed has become prevalent on the Continent as well as in this country.” From the use of the word “remarkable,” it is fair to say the author could be described as being “surprise[d].” From the author’s comments and arguments over the course of the rest of that paragraph, and the essay as a whole, it is also reasonable to assume he would feel “dismay” at the spread of this historical fragmentation to the Continent.

Example Question #8 : Determining Implications

Adapted from "Hallam" in Volume 1 of Critical and Historical Essays by Thomas Babbington Macaulay (1828)

History, at least in its state of ideal perfection, is a compound of poetry and philosophy. It impresses general truths on the mind by a vivid representation of particular characters and incidents. But, in fact, the two hostile elements of which it consists have never been known to form a perfect amalgamation, and at length, in our own time, they have been completely and professedly separated. The problem seems only to be getting worse. Good histories, in the proper sense of the word, we have not. But we have good historical romances, and good historical essays. The imagination and the reason, if we may use a legal metaphor, have made partition of a province of literature of which they were formerly seized per my et per tout, and now they hold their respective portions in severalty, instead of holding the whole in common.

To make the past present, to bring the distant near, to place us in the society of a great man or on the eminence which overlooks the field of a mighty battle, to invest with the reality of human flesh and blood beings whom we are too much inclined to consider as personified qualities in an allegory, to call up our ancestors before us with all their peculiarities of language, manners, and garb, to show us over their houses, to seat us at their tables, to rummage their old-fashioned wardrobes, to explain the uses of their ponderous furniture, these parts of the duty which properly belongs to the historian have been appropriated by the historical novelist. On the other hand, to extract the philosophy of history, to direct on judgment of events and men, to trace the connection of cause and effects, and to draw from the occurrences of former time general lessons of moral and political wisdom has become the business of a distinct class of writers.

Of the two kinds of composition into which history has been thus divided, the one may be compared to a map, the other to a painted landscape. The picture, though it places the country before us, does not enable us to ascertain with accuracy the dimensions, the distances, and the angles. The map is not a work of imitative art. It presents no scene to the imagination, but it gives us exact information as to the bearings of the various points, and is a more useful companion to the traveller or the general than the painted landscape could be, though it were the grandest that ever Rosa peopled with outlaws, or the sweetest over which Claude ever poured the mellow effulgence of a setting sun.

It is remarkable that the practice of separating the two ingredients of which history is composed has become prevalent on the Continent as well as in this country. Italy has already produced a historical novel, of high merit and of still higher promise. In France, the practice has been carried to a length somewhat whimsical. M. Sismondi publishes a grave and stately history of the Merovingian kings, very valuable, and a little tedious. He then sends forth as a companion to it a novel, in which he attempts to give a lively representation of characters and manners. This course, as it seems to us, has all the disadvantages of a division of labour, and none of its advantages.

The author’s tone in this passage primarily connotes which of the following emotions?

Possible Answers:

Hopelessness and anger

Pessimism and disgust

Helplessness and irritation

Helplessness and dismay

Hopelessness and self-satisfaction

Correct answer:

Helplessness and dismay

Explanation:

The author’s tone in this passage is primarily a mixture of “helplessness” and “consternation.” This “helplessness” can be seen in the opening and closing paragraphs most clearly and is mostly reflected in the author’s complete inability to offer a solution to the problem he identifies.

As “helplessness” and “hopelessness” are very nearly close synonyms of one another, it is more useful to identify which of the four secondary tones are most present in this passage. Certainly, the author is not “self-satisfied,” as the passage includes no references to himself, his work, or his contribution to the historical discipline. He is also not quite at a level where he could be called “angry.” That leaves “consternation” and “irritation” as our remaining viable answer choices. "Dismay" seems to be the author’s primary tone when discussing the situation at present; dismay is particularly evidenced in his discussion of the state of historical writing on the continent. “Irritation” suggests that the author places blame someone or can identify the cause of the problem and is impatient that it is not being fixed; this is not the case.

Example Question #351 : Mcat Verbal Reasoning

Adapted from “Federalist No. 29” by Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay (1788)

That there may happen cases in which the national government may be necessitated to resort to force cannot be denied. Our own experience has corroborated the lessons taught by the examples of other nations: that emergencies of this sort will sometimes arise in all societies, however constituted; that seditions and insurrections are, unhappily, maladies as inseparable from the body politic as tumors and eruptions from the natural body; that the idea of governing at all times by the simple force of law (which we have been told is the only admissible principle of republican government) has no place but in the reveries of those political doctors whose sagacity disdains the admonitions of experimental instruction.

Should such emergencies at any time happen under the national government, there could be no remedy but force. The means to be employed must be proportioned to the extent of the mischief. If it should be a slight commotion in a small part of a state, the militia of the residue would be adequate to its suppression, and the national presumption is that they would be ready to do their duty. An insurrection, whatever may be its immediate cause, eventually endangers all government. Regard to the public peace, if not to the rights of the Union, would engage the citizens to whom the contagion had not communicated itself to oppose the insurgents, and if the general government should be found in practice conducive to the prosperity and felicity of the people, it were irrational to believe that they would be disinclined to its support.

If, on the contrary, the insurrection should pervade a whole state, or a principal part of it, the employment of a different kind of force might become unavoidable. It appears that Massachusetts found it necessary to raise troops for repressing the disorders within that state; that Pennsylvania, from the mere apprehension of commotions among a part of her citizens, has thought proper to have recourse to the same measure. Suppose the State of New York had been inclined to reestablish her lost jurisdiction over the inhabitants of Vermont; could she have hoped for success in such an enterprise from the efforts of the militia alone? Would she not have been compelled to raise and to maintain a more regular force for the execution of her design? If it must then be admitted that the necessity of recurring to a force different from the militia, in cases of this extraordinary nature, is applicable to the state governments themselves, why should the possibility that the national government might be under a like necessity in similar extremities be made an objection to its existence? Is it not surprising that men who declare an attachment to the Union in the abstract should urge as an objection to the proposed Constitution what applies with tenfold weight to the plan for which they contend and what, as far as it has any foundation in truth, is an inevitable consequence of civil society upon an enlarged scale? Who would not prefer that possibility to the unceasing agitations and frequent revolutions which are the continual scourges of petty republics?

Let us pursue this examination in another light. Suppose, in lieu of one general system, two, or three, or even four confederacies were to be formed; would not the same difficulty oppose itself to the operations of either of these confederacies? Would not each of them be exposed to the same casualties, and when these happened, be obliged to have recourse to the same expedients for upholding its authority which are objected to in a government for all the states? Would the militia, in this supposition, be more ready or more able to support the federal authority than in the case of a general union? All candid and intelligent men must, upon due consideration, acknowledge that the principle of the objection is equally applicable to either of the two cases, and that whether we have one government for all the states, or different governments for different parcels of them, or even if there should be an entire separation of the states, there might sometimes be a necessity to make use of a force constituted differently from the militia to preserve the peace of the community and to maintain the just authority of the laws against those violent invasions of them which amount to insurrections and rebellions.

Which of the following would the author of this passage most likely favor?

Possible Answers:

A monarchical government founded on the rule of law and backed up by military force

A loose confederation of states that each maintain their own militias

A strong centralized republic with a temporary militia

A strong centralized republic with a highly trained national military force

A loose confederation of states that still maintains a unified armed force

Correct answer:

A strong centralized republic with a highly trained national military force

Explanation:

The author of this passage would most likely favor "a strong centralized republic with a highly trained national militia.” Certainly he would be much less likely to favor a loose confederation of states, as becomes obvious in the conclusion of the passage when he transitions his argument from a discussion of the need for a militia to a consideration of whether the experience of one unified country would actually be any more challenging than the experience of three or four divided groups of states. There is no evidence, in this essay, to suppose that the author would favor a monarchical government (although any historians will know that Alexander Hamilton in many ways did favor such an arrangement for the security it provided). It seems he would favor a highly trained, and more importantly permanent, military force over a temporary militia because the former would be more readily able to meet any potential threats at a short notice.

Example Question #1 : Determining Implications

Adapted from What is Man? And Other Essays by Mark Twain (1906)

It is a good many years since I was in Switzerland last. In that remote time there was only one ladder railway in the country. That state of things is all changed. There isn't a mountain in Switzerland now that hasn't a ladder railroad or two up its back like suspenders; indeed, some mountains are latticed with them, and two years hence all will be. In that day the peasant of the high altitudes will have to carry a lantern when he goes visiting in the night to keep from stumbling over railroads that have been built since his last round. And also in that day, if there shall remain a high-altitude peasant whose potato-patch hasn't a railroad through it, it will make him as conspicuous as William Tell.

However, there are only two best ways to travel through Switzerland. The first best is afoot. The second best is by open two-horse carriage. One can come from Lucerne to Interlaken over the Brunig by ladder railroad in an hour or so now, but you can glide smoothly in a carriage in ten, and have two hours for luncheon at noon—for luncheon, not for rest. There is no fatigue connected with the trip. One arrives fresh in spirit and in person in the evening—no fret in his heart, no grime on his face, no grit in his hair, not a cinder in his eye. This is the right condition of mind and body, the right and due preparation for the solemn event which closed the day—stepping with metaphorically uncovered head into the presence of the most impressive mountain mass that the globe can show—the Jungfrau. The stranger's first feeling, when suddenly confronted by that towering and awful apparition wrapped in its shroud of snow, is breath-taking astonishment. It is as if heaven's gates had swung open and exposed the throne.

It is peaceful here and pleasant at Interlaken. Nothing going on—at least nothing but brilliant life-giving sunshine. This is a good atmosphere to be in, morally as well as physically. After trying the political atmosphere of the neighboring monarchies, it is healing and refreshing to breathe in air that has known no taint of slavery for six hundred years, and to come among a people whose political history is great and fine, and worthy to be taught in all schools and studied by all races and peoples. For the struggle here throughout the centuries has not been in the interest of any private family, or any church, but in the interest of the whole body of the nation, and for shelter and protection of all forms of belief. This fact is colossal. If one would realize how colossal it is, and of what dignity and majesty, let him contrast it with the purposes and objects of the Crusades, the siege of York, the War of the Roses, and other historic comedies of that sort and size.

Last week I was beating around the Lake of Four Cantons, and I saw Rutli and Altorf. Rutli is a remote little patch of a meadow, but I do not know how any piece of ground could be holier or better worth crossing oceans and continents to see, since it was there that the great trinity of Switzerland joined hands six centuries ago and swore the oath which set their enslaved and insulted country forever free; and Altorf is also honorable ground and worshipful, since it was there that William, surnamed Tell (which interpreted means "The foolish talker"—that is to say, the too-daring talker), refused to bow to Gessler's hat. Of late years the prying student of history has been delighting himself beyond measure over a wonderful find which he has made—to wit, that Tell did not shoot the apple from his son's head. To hear the students jubilate, one would suppose that the question of whether Tell shot the apple or didn't was an important matter, whereas it ranks in importance exactly with the question of whether Washington chopped down the cherry-tree or didn't. The deeds of Washington, the patriot, are the essential thing; the cherry-tree incident is of no consequence. Tell was more and better than a mere marksman, more and better than a mere cool head; he was a type; he stands for Swiss patriotism; in his person was represented a whole people; his spirit was their spirit—the spirit which would bow to none but God, the spirit which said this in words and confirmed it with deeds. There have always been Tells in Switzerland—people who would not bow. There was a sufficiency of them at Rutli; there were plenty of them at Murten; plenty at Grandson; there are plenty today.

In the first paragraph, the author describes the likely experience of the underlined “peasant” in order to highlight what?

Possible Answers:

The relative poverty of the Swiss people

The freedom and liberty that is an ever-present part of Swiss life

The bravery of the Swiss people

The speed with which change is being effected in Switzerland

The hard work involved in the day-to-day life of the average Swiss person

Correct answer:

The speed with which change is being effected in Switzerland

Explanation:

In the first paragraph, the author talks about the changes that are taking place in Switzerland. He says that since he was last in the country, there has been a great profusion of railroads built on the sides of the Swiss mountains. When the author mentions the experience of the peasant, it is done to highlight the speed with which changes are happening in Switzerland. This can be clearly seen after a close reading of the sentence that contains the underlined text, where the author says, “In that day the peasant of the high altitudes will have to carry a lantern when he goes visiting in the night to keep from stumbling over railroads that have been built since his last round.” The crucial and relevant piece of information is that the railroads “have been built since his last round.” This tells the audience that change is being rapidly effected in Switzerland.

Example Question #11 : Determining Implications

Adapted from What is Man? And Other Essays by Mark Twain (1906)

It is a good many years since I was in Switzerland last. In that remote time there was only one ladder railway in the country. That state of things is all changed. There isn't a mountain in Switzerland now that hasn't a ladder railroad or two up its back like suspenders; indeed, some mountains are latticed with them, and two years hence all will be. In that day the peasant of the high altitudes will have to carry a lantern when he goes visiting in the night to keep from stumbling over railroads that have been built since his last round. And also in that day, if there shall remain a high-altitude peasant whose potato-patch hasn't a railroad through it, it will make him as conspicuous as William Tell.

However, there are only two best ways to travel through Switzerland. The first best is afoot. The second best is by open two-horse carriage. One can come from Lucerne to Interlaken over the Brunig by ladder railroad in an hour or so now, but you can glide smoothly in a carriage in ten, and have two hours for luncheon at noon—for luncheon, not for rest. There is no fatigue connected with the trip. One arrives fresh in spirit and in person in the evening—no fret in his heart, no grime on his face, no grit in his hair, not a cinder in his eye. This is the right condition of mind and body, the right and due preparation for the solemn event which closed the day—stepping with metaphorically uncovered head into the presence of the most impressive mountain mass that the globe can show—the Jungfrau. The stranger's first feeling, when suddenly confronted by that towering and awful apparition wrapped in its shroud of snow, is breath-taking astonishment. It is as if heaven's gates had swung open and exposed the throne.

It is peaceful here and pleasant at Interlaken. Nothing going on—at least nothing but brilliant life-giving sunshine. This is a good atmosphere to be in, morally as well as physically. After trying the political atmosphere of the neighboring monarchies, it is healing and refreshing to breathe in air that has known no taint of slavery for six hundred years, and to come among a people whose political history is great and fine, and worthy to be taught in all schools and studied by all races and peoples. For the struggle here throughout the centuries has not been in the interest of any private family, or any church, but in the interest of the whole body of the nation, and for shelter and protection of all forms of belief. This fact is colossal. If one would realize how colossal it is, and of what dignity and majesty, let him contrast it with the purposes and objects of the Crusades, the siege of York, the War of the Roses, and other historic comedies of that sort and size.

Last week I was beating around the Lake of Four Cantons, and I saw Rutli and Altorf. Rutli is a remote little patch of a meadow, but I do not know how any piece of ground could be holier or better worth crossing oceans and continents to see, since it was there that the great trinity of Switzerland joined hands six centuries ago and swore the oath which set their enslaved and insulted country forever free; and Altorf is also honorable ground and worshipful, since it was there that William, surnamed Tell (which interpreted means "The foolish talker"—that is to say, the too-daring talker), refused to bow to Gessler's hat. Of late years the prying student of history has been delighting himself beyond measure over a wonderful find which he has made—to wit, that Tell did not shoot the apple from his son's head. To hear the students jubilate, one would suppose that the question of whether Tell shot the apple or didn't was an important matter, whereas it ranks in importance exactly with the question of whether Washington chopped down the cherry-tree or didn't. The deeds of Washington, the patriot, are the essential thing; the cherry-tree incident is of no consequence. Tell was more and better than a mere marksman, more and better than a mere cool head; he was a type; he stands for Swiss patriotism; in his person was represented a whole people; his spirit was their spirit—the spirit which would bow to none but God, the spirit which said this in words and confirmed it with deeds. There have always been Tells in Switzerland—people who would not bow. There was a sufficiency of them at Rutli; there were plenty of them at Murten; plenty at Grandson; there are plenty today.

What is the primary implication of the legends attributed to George Washington and William Tell in the passage?

Possible Answers:

Washington and Tell were legendary figures about whom it is very difficult to get an accurate understanding.

Students of history are constantly seeking to disprove the accuracy of myths and legends to the overall detriment of their discipline.

The greatness of a man is not measured in the accuracy of the myths surrounding him, but rather in the significance of his accomplishments and deeds.

Switzerland and the United States are very similar countries; both people value liberty very highly and have many notable historical figures who have dedicated their lives to preserving it.

Students of history are apt to make many foolish mistakes in interpreting the value of the events in a man’s life.

Correct answer:

The greatness of a man is not measured in the accuracy of the myths surrounding him, but rather in the significance of his accomplishments and deeds.

Explanation:

Many of these answer choices are either part of the author’s implication in mentioning the legends attributed to Washington and Tell or statements the author would agree with; however, only one answer is the primary implication. In a situation like this, where most of the answer choices are reasonable, it becomes necessary to discern which has the closest relationship to the author’s purpose in context. The author says “To hear the students jubilate, one would suppose that the question of whether Tell shot the apple or didn't was an important matter, whereas it ranks in importance exactly with the question of whether Washington chopped down the cherry-tree or didn't. The deeds of Washington, the patriot, are the essential thing; the cherry-tree incident is of no consequence.” This excerpt is the essential part of the story and could be roughly rephrased as “the greatness of a man is not measured in the accuracy of the myths surrounding him, but rather in the significance of his accomplishments and deeds.” The author wishes to convince his audience that Tell was a great figure in Swiss history and that his manner was emblematic of the Swiss people; to him, the truth of the legends surrounding Tell are totally irrelevant.

Example Question #61 : Application

Adapted from “William Dean Howells” in What is Man? And Other Essays by Mark Twain (1906)

Is it true that the sun of a man's mentality touches noon at forty and then begins to wane toward setting? Doctor Osler is charged with saying so. Maybe he said it, maybe he didn't; I don't know which it is. But if he said it, I can point him to a case which proves his rule. Proves it by being an exception to it. To this place I nominate Mr. Howells.

I read his Venetian Days about forty years ago. I compare it with his paper on Machiavelli in a late number of Harper, and I cannot find that his English has suffered any impairment. For forty years his English has been to me a continual delight and astonishment. In the sustained exhibition of certain great qualities—clearness, compression, verbal exactness, and unforced and seemingly unconscious felicity of phrasing—he is, in my belief, without his peer in the English-writing world. Sustained. I entrench myself behind that protecting word. There are others who exhibit those great qualities as greatly as he does, but only by intervaled distributions of rich moonlight, with stretches of veiled and dimmer landscape between, whereas Howells's moon sails cloudless skies all night and all the nights.

In the matter of verbal exactness Mr. Howells has no superior, I suppose. He seems to be almost always able to find that elusive and shifty grain of gold, the right word. Others have to put up with approximations, more or less frequently; he has better luck. To me, the others are miners working with the gold-pan—of necessity some of the gold washes over and escapes; whereas, in my fancy, he is quicksilver raiding down a riffle—no grain of the metal stands much chance of eluding him. A powerful agent is the right word: it lights the reader's way and makes it plain; a close approximation to it will answer, and much traveling is done in a well-enough fashion by its help, but we do not welcome it and applaud it and rejoice in it as we do when the right one blazes out on us. Whenever we come upon one of those intensely right words in a book or a newspaper the resulting effect is physical as well as spiritual, and electrically prompt: it tingles exquisitely around through the walls of the mouth and tastes as tart and crisp and good as the autumn-butter that creams the sumac-berry. One has no time to examine the word and vote upon its rank and standing, the automatic recognition of its supremacy is so immediate. There is a plenty of acceptable literature which deals largely in approximations, but it may be likened to a fine landscape seen through the rain; the right word would dismiss the rain, then you would see it better. It doesn't rain when Howells is at work.

And where does he get the easy and effortless flow of his speech, and its cadenced and undulating rhythm, and its architectural felicities of construction, its graces of expression, its pemmican quality of compression, and all that? Born to him, no doubt. All in shining good order in the beginning, all extraordinary, and all just as shining, just as extraordinary today, after forty years of diligent wear and tear and use. He passed his fortieth year long and long ago, but I think his English of today—his perfect English, I wish to say—can throw down the glove before his English of that antique time and not be afraid.

The author’s attitude towards Howells is primarily one of __________.

Possible Answers:

suspicion and longing

whimsy and apathy

reverence and humility

appreciation and envy

respect and appreciation

Correct answer:

respect and appreciation

Explanation:

Throughout this passage, the author discusses Howells as if he (Howells) were the greatest contemporary writer. He praises Howells for his unusual consistency over the course of his lifetime. This understanding can be seen in excerpts such as “For forty years his English has been to me a continual delight and astonishment” and “he is, in my belief, without his peer in the English-writing world.” It is clear then that the author’s attitude is something like “respect and appreciation.” It might be reasonable also to describe it as one of “reverence and humility,” but the author makes little mention of Howells compared to himself, so “humility” is more of an inference than an answer that can be directly supported by the text.

Example Question #61 : Application

Adapted from “Edgar Allen Poe” in The Courier by Willa Cather (October 12, 1895)

The Shakespeare society of New York, which is really about the only useful literary organization in this country, is making vigorous efforts to redress an old wrong and atone for a long neglect. Sunday, Sept. 22, it held a meeting at the Poe cottage on Kingsbridge road near Fordham, for the purpose of starting an organized movement to buy back the cottage, restore it to its original condition, and preserve it as a memorial of Poe. So it has come at last. After helping build monuments to Shelley, Keats, and Carlyle, we have at last remembered this man, the greatest of our poets and the most unhappy. I am glad that this movement is in the hands of American actors, for it was among them that Poe found his best friends and warmest admirers. In some way he always seemed to belong to the strolling Thespians who were his mother’s people.

Among all the thousands of life’s little ironies that make history so diverting, there is none more paradoxical than that Edgar Poe should have been an American. Look at his face. Had we ever another like it? He must have been a strange figure in his youth, among those genial, courtly Virginians, this handsome, pale fellow, violent in his enthusiasm, ardent in his worship, but spiritually cold in his affections. Now playing heavily for the mere excitement of play; now worshipping at the shrine of a woman old enough to be his mother, merely because her voice was beautiful; now swimming six miles up the James river against a heavy current in the glaring sun of a June midday. He must have seemed to them an unreal figure, a sort of stage man who was wandering about the streets with his mask and buskins on, a theatrical figure who had escaped by some strange mischance into the prosaic daylight. His speech and actions were unconsciously and sincerely dramatic, always as though done for effect. He had that nervous, egotistic, self-centered nature common to stage children who seem to have been dazzled by the footlights and maddened by the applause before they are born. It was in his blood. With the exception of two women who loved him, lived for him, died for him, he went through life friendless, misunderstood, with that dense, complete, hopeless misunderstanding which, as Amiel said, is the secret of that sad smile upon the lips of the great. Men tried to befriend him, but in some way or other he hurt and disappointed them. He tried to mingle and share with other men, but he was always shut from them by that shadow, light as gossamer but unyielding as adamant, by which, from the beginning of the world, art has shielded and guarded and protected her own, that God-concealing mist in which the heroes of old were hidden, immersed in that gloom and solitude which, if we could but know it here, is but the shadow of God’s hand as it falls upon his elect.

We lament our dearth of great prose. With the exception of Henry James and Hawthorne, Poe is our only master of pure prose. We lament our dearth of poets. With the exception of Lowell, Poe is our only great poet. Poe found short story writing a bungling makeshift. He left it a perfect art. He wrote the first perfect short stories in the English language. He first gave the short story purpose, method, and artistic form. In a careless reading one cannot realize the wonderful literary art, the cunning devices, the masterly effects that those entrancing tales conceal. They are simple and direct enough to delight us when we are children, subtle and artistic enough to be our marvel when we are old. To this day they are the wonder and admiration of the French, who are the acknowledged masters of craft and form. How in his wandering, laborious life, bound to the hack work of the press and crushed by an ever-growing burden of want and debt, did he ever come upon all this deep and mystical lore, this knowledge of all history, of all languages, of all art, this penetration into the hidden things of the East? As Steadman says, “The self-training of genius is always a marvel.” The past is spread before us all and most of us spend our lives in learning those things which we do not need to know, but genius reaches out instinctively and takes only the vital detail, by some sort of spiritual gravitation goes directly to the right thing.

According to the author, who are God’s “elect”?

Possible Answers:

Artists

Authors

Heroes

Poets

Americans

Correct answer:

Artists

Explanation:

The sentence in which the author reveals who she believes to be God’s elect is long-winded and dense, so you must read it carefully in order to figure out what she has said. “He tried to mingle and share with other men, but he was always shut from them by that shadow, light as gossamer but unyielding as adamant, by which, from the beginning of the world, art has shielded and guarded and protected her own, that God-concealing mist in which the heroes of old were hidden, immersed in that gloom and solitude which, if we could but know it here, is but the shadow of God’s hand as it falls upon his elect.” It might seem as if the author is talking about “the heroes of old,” or from the context of the rest of the essay, “poets” or “authors.” But, the author is in fact talking about “artists.” This can be seen in the part of the sentence that reads “ . . . art has shielded and guarded and protected her own . . . ” Poe is distinct from the “other men” because he is an artist and artists are “God’s elect.”

Example Question #61 : Application

Adapted from “Disraeli” in Political and Literary Essays 1908-1913 by Evelyn Baring Cromer (1913)

Whatever views one may adopt of Disraeli's character and career, it is impossible not to be fascinated in watching the moral and intellectual development of this very remarkable man, whose conduct throughout life, far from being wayward and erratic, as has at times been somewhat superficially supposed, was in reality in the highest degree methodical, being directed with unflagging persistence to one end, the gratification of his own ambition—an ambition, it should always be remembered, which, although it was honorable, inasmuch as it was directed to no ignoble ends, was wholly personal. If ever there was a man to whom Milton's well-known lines could fitly be applied it was Disraeli. He scorned delights. He lived laborious days. In his youth he eschewed pleasures which generally attract others whose ambition only soars to a lower plane. In the most intimate relations of life he subordinated all private inclinations to the main object he had in view. He avowedly married, in the first instance, for money, although at a later stage his wife was able to afford herself the consolation, and to pay him the graceful compliment of obliterating the sordid reproach by declaring that "if he had the chance again he would marry her for love"—a statement confirmed by his passionate, although somewhat histrionic love-letters. The desire of fame, which may easily degenerate into a mere craving for notoriety, was unquestionably the spur which in his case raised his "clear spirit." So early as 1833, on being asked upon what principles he was going to stand at a forthcoming election, he replied, "On my head." He cared, in fact, little for principles of any kind, provided the goal of his ambition could be reached. Throughout his career his main object was to rule his countrymen, and that object he attained by the adoption of methods which, whether they be regarded as tortuous or straightforward, morally justifiable or worthy of condemnation, were of a surety eminently successful.

From earliest youth to green old age his confidence in his own powers was never shaken. He persistently acted up to the sentiment—slightly paraphrased from Terence—which he had characteristically adopted as his family motto, Forti nihil difficile; neither could there be any question as to the genuine nature either of his strength or his courage, although hostile critics might seek to confound the latter quality with sheer impudence. He abhorred the commonplace, and it is notably this abhorrence which gives a vivid, although somewhat meretricious sparkle to his personality. For although truth is generally dull, and although probably most of the reforms and changes which have really benefited mankind partake largely of the commonplace, the attraction of unconventionality and sensationalism cannot be denied. Disraeli made English politics interesting, just as Ismail Pasha gave at one time a spurious interest to the politics of Egypt. No one could tell what would be the next step taken by the juggler in Cairo or by that meteoric statesman in London whom John Bright once called "the great wizard of Buckinghamshire." When Disraeli disappeared from the stage, the atmosphere may have become clearer, and possibly more healthy for the body politic in the aggregate, but the level of interest fell, whilst the barometer of dulness rose.

If the saying generally attributed to Buffon that "the style is the man" is correct, an examination of Disraeli's style ought to give a true insight into his character. There can be no question of the readiness of his wit or of his superabundant power of sarcasm. Besides the classic instances which have almost passed into proverbs, others, less well known, are recorded in these pages. The statement that "from the Chancellor of the Exchequer to an Under Secretary of State is a descent from the sublime to the ridiculous" is very witty. The well-known description of Lord Derby as "the Rupert of debate" is both witty and felicitous, whilst the sarcasm in the context, which is less well known, is both witty and biting. The noble lord, Disraeli said, was like Prince Rupert, because "his charge was resistless, but when he returned from the pursuit he always found his camp in the possession of the enemy." Much has at times been said and written of the solecisms for which Disraeli was famous. They came naturally to him. At the same time there can be little doubt that his practice of indulging in carefully prepared solecisms, which became more daring as he advanced in power, was part of a deliberate and perfectly legitimate plan, conceived with the object of arresting the attention and stimulating the interest of his audience.

The author primarily characterizes Disraeli by his __________.

Possible Answers:

malevolence

industry

romanticism

pragmatism

selfishness

Correct answer:

pragmatism

Explanation:

Throughout this passage, but in the first paragraph in particular, the author primarily characterizes Disraeli by his apparent “pragmatism.” This can be clearly seen in lines like, “In the most intimate relations of life he subordinated all private inclinations to the main object he had in view” and “on being asked upon what principles he was going to stand at a forthcoming election, he replied, 'On my head.' He cared, in fact, little for principles of any kind, provided the goal of his ambition could be reached.” There are small pieces of the passage that discuss Disraeli’s “romantic” nature with reference to his “histrionic love letters,” but this is clearly not the primary characterization. He is never characterized as “selfish” or “malevolent.” The only other possible acceptable answer is “industry.” The author does discuss Disraeli’s work ethic on numerous occasions, but this “industry” is closer to being part of Disraeli’s constant pragmatism, as work needs to be put in order to achieve one’s goals. It is clear that to the author Disraeli is primarily a great pragmatist.

Example Question #357 : Mcat Verbal Reasoning

Adapted from "Harold Frederic" in The Pittsburgh Leader by Willa Cather (June 10, 1899)

It is very fitting that Mr. Frederic’s last book should be in praise of action, the thing that makes the world go round; of force, however misspent, which is the sum of life as distinguished from the inertia of death. In the forty-odd years of his life he wrote almost as many pages as Balzac, most of it mere newspaper copy, it is true, read and forgotten, but all of it vigorous and with the stamp of a strong man upon it. And he played just as hard as he worked—alas, it was the play that killed him! The young artist who illustrated the story gave to the pictures of “Joel Thorpe” very much the look of Harold Frederic himself, and they might almost stand for his portraits. I fancy the young man did not select his model carelessly. In this big, burly adventurer who took fortune and women by storm, who bluffed the world by his prowess and fought his way to the front with battle-ax blows, there is a great deal of Harold Frederic, the soldier of fortune, the Utica milk boy who fought his way from the petty slavery of a provincial newspaper to the foremost ranks of the journalists of the world and on into literature, into literature worth the writing. The man won his place in England much as his hero won his, by defiance, by strong shoulder blows, by his self-sufficiency and inexhaustible strength, and when he finished his book he did not know that his end would be so much less glorious than his hero’s, that it would be his portion not to fall manfully in the thick of the combat and the press of battle, but to die poisoned in the tent of Chryseis. For who could foresee a tragedy so needless, so blind, so brutal in its lack of dignity, or know that such strength could perish through such insidious weakness, that so great a man could be stung to death by a mania born in little minds?

In point of execution and literary excellence, both The Market Place and Gloria Mundi are vastly inferior to The Damnation of Theron Ware or that exquisite London idyl, March Hares. The first two hundred pages of Theron Ware are as good as anything in American fiction, much better than most of it. They are not so much the work of a literary artist as of a vigorous thinker, a man of strong opinions and an intimate and comprehensive knowledge of men. The whole work, despite its irregularities and indifference to form, is full of brain stuff, the kind of active, healthful, masterful  intellect that some men put into politics, some into science and a few, a very few, into literature. Both Gloria Mundi and The Market Place bear unmistakable evidences of the slack rein and the hasty hand. Both of them contain considerable padding, the stamp of the space writer. They are imperfectly developed, and are not packed with ideas like his earlier novels. Their excellence is in flashes; it is not the searching, evenly distributed light which permeates his more careful work. There were, as we know too well, good reasons why Mr. Frederic should work hastily. He needed a large income and he worked heroically, writing many thousands of words a day to obtain it. From the experience of the ages we have learned to expect to find, coupled with great strength, a proportionate weakness, and usually it devours the greater part, as the seven lean kine devoured the seven fat in Pharaoh’s vision. Achilles was a god in all his nobler parts, but his feet were of the earth and to the earth they held him down, and he died stung by an arrow in the heel.

The author’s primary criticism of Gloria Mundi and The Market Place is that __________.

Possible Answers:

they argue illogical points

their introductions are trite and boring

the genius in them is fleeting

they lack subtlety and nuance

they reflect the author's waning confidence

Correct answer:

the genius in them is fleeting

Explanation:

When discussing Gloria Mundi and The Market Place, the author says the following: “Both Gloria Mundi and The Market Place bear unmistakable evidences of the slack rein and the hasty hand. Both of them contain considerable padding, the stamp of the space writer. They are imperfectly developed, and are not packed with ideas like his earlier novels. Their excellence is in flashes." The author clearly believes that they contain some good ideas, but she notes that “their excellent is in flashes.” This is close to the answer choice that reads “the genius in them is fleeting,” so this is the best possible answer.

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