MCAT Verbal : Comprehension

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for MCAT Verbal

varsity tutors app store varsity tutors android store

Example Questions

Example Question #81 : Mcat Verbal Reasoning

Adapted from “Of the Pathetic Fallacy” by John Ruskin in English Critical Essays: Nineteenth Century (1916, ed. Edward Jones)

English affectation has of late much multiplied among us the use of two of the most objectionable words that were ever coined by the troublesomeness of metaphysicians—namely, “objective” and “subjective.” No words can be more exquisitely, and in all points, useless; and I merely speak of them that I may, at once and for ever, get them out of my way, and out of my reader’s. But to get that done, they must be explained.

The word “blue,” say certain philosophers, means the sensation of color that the human eye receives in looking at the open sky, or at a bell gentian. Now, say they further, as this sensation can only be felt when the eye is turned to the object, and as, therefore, no such sensation is produced by the object when nobody looks at it, therefore the thing, when it is not looked at, is not blue; and thus (say they) there are many qualities of things which depend as much on something else as on themselves. To be sweet, a thing must have a taster; it is only sweet while it is being tasted, and if the tongue had not the capacity of taste, then the sugar would not have the quality of sweetness.

And then they agree that the qualities of things which thus depend upon our perception of them, and upon our human nature as affected by them, shall be called “subjective”; and the qualities of things which they always have, irrespective of any other nature, as roundness or squareness, shall be called “objective.”

From these ingenious views the step is very easy to a further opinion, that it does not much matter what things are in themselves, but only what they are to us, and that the only real truth of them is their appearance to, or effect upon, us. From which position, with a hearty desire for mystification, and much egotism, selfishness, shallowness, and impertinence, a philosopher may easily go so far as to believe, and say, that everything in the world depends upon his or her seeing or thinking of it, and that nothing, therefore, exists, but what he or she sees or thinks of.

Now, to get rid of all these ambiguities and troublesome words at once, be it observed that the word “blue” does not mean the sensation caused by a gentian on the human eye, but it means the power of producing that sensation; and this power is always there, in the thing, whether we are there to experience it or not, and would remain there though there were not left a man on the face of the earth. Precisely in the same way, gunpowder has a power of exploding. It will not explode if you put no match to it. But it has always the power of so exploding, and is therefore called an explosive compound, which it very positively and assuredly is, whatever philosophy may say to the contrary.

In like manner, a gentian does not produce the sensation of blueness if you don’t look at it. But it has always the power of doing so, its particles being everlastingly so arranged by its Maker. And, therefore, the gentian and the sky are always verily blue, whatever philosophy may say to the contrary, and if you do not see them blue when you look at them, it is not their fault but yours.

Hence I would say to these philosophers: If, instead of using the sonorous phrase, “It is objectively so,” you will use the plain old phrase “It is so,” and if instead of the sonorous phrase “It is subjectively so,” you will say, in plain old English, “It does so” or “It seems so to me,” you will, on the whole, be more intelligible to your fellow-creatures; and besides, if you find that a thing which generally “does so” to other people (as a gentian looks blue to most people), does not so to you, on any particular occasion, you will not fall into the impertinence of saying that the thing is not so, or did not so, but you will say simply (what you will be all the better for speedily finding out) that something is the matter with you. If you find that you cannot explode the gunpowder, you will not declare that all gunpowder is subjective, and all explosion imaginary, but you will simply suspect and declare yourself to be an ill-made match. Which, on the whole, though there may be a distant chance of a mistake about it, is, nevertheless, the wisest conclusion you can come to until further experiment.

Which of the following is the primary function of the third paragraph?

Possible Answers:

To refute claims made by the opposition

To provide succinct definitions for established terms

To dismiss the argument of the opposition

To further expand upon points made in the first two paragraphs

To correct an overgeneralization made in the second paragraph

Correct answer:

To provide succinct definitions for established terms

Explanation:

The third paragraph is relatively short and serves the limited function of providing “succinct definitions for the established terms” of “subjective” and “objective.” This is clear from the fact that each of the sentences is concluded with “shall be called 'subjective'” or “shall be called 'objective.'”

Example Question #82 : Mcat Verbal Reasoning

Adapted from “Of the Pathetic Fallacy” by John Ruskin in English Critical Essays: Nineteenth Century (1916, ed. Edward Jones)

English affectation has of late much multiplied among us the use of two of the most objectionable words that were ever coined by the troublesomeness of metaphysicians—namely, “objective” and “subjective.” No words can be more exquisitely, and in all points, useless; and I merely speak of them that I may, at once and for ever, get them out of my way, and out of my reader’s. But to get that done, they must be explained.

The word “blue,” say certain philosophers, means the sensation of color that the human eye receives in looking at the open sky, or at a bell gentian. Now, say they further, as this sensation can only be felt when the eye is turned to the object, and as, therefore, no such sensation is produced by the object when nobody looks at it, therefore the thing, when it is not looked at, is not blue; and thus (say they) there are many qualities of things which depend as much on something else as on themselves. To be sweet, a thing must have a taster; it is only sweet while it is being tasted, and if the tongue had not the capacity of taste, then the sugar would not have the quality of sweetness.

And then they agree that the qualities of things which thus depend upon our perception of them, and upon our human nature as affected by them, shall be called “subjective”; and the qualities of things which they always have, irrespective of any other nature, as roundness or squareness, shall be called “objective.”

From these ingenious views the step is very easy to a further opinion, that it does not much matter what things are in themselves, but only what they are to us, and that the only real truth of them is their appearance to, or effect upon, us. From which position, with a hearty desire for mystification, and much egotism, selfishness, shallowness, and impertinence, a philosopher may easily go so far as to believe, and say, that everything in the world depends upon his or her seeing or thinking of it, and that nothing, therefore, exists, but what he or she sees or thinks of.

Now, to get rid of all these ambiguities and troublesome words at once, be it observed that the word “blue” does not mean the sensation caused by a gentian on the human eye, but it means the power of producing that sensation; and this power is always there, in the thing, whether we are there to experience it or not, and would remain there though there were not left a man on the face of the earth. Precisely in the same way, gunpowder has a power of exploding. It will not explode if you put no match to it. But it has always the power of so exploding, and is therefore called an explosive compound, which it very positively and assuredly is, whatever philosophy may say to the contrary.

In like manner, a gentian does not produce the sensation of blueness if you don’t look at it. But it has always the power of doing so, its particles being everlastingly so arranged by its Maker. And, therefore, the gentian and the sky are always verily blue, whatever philosophy may say to the contrary, and if you do not see them blue when you look at them, it is not their fault but yours.

Hence I would say to these philosophers: If, instead of using the sonorous phrase, “It is objectively so,” you will use the plain old phrase “It is so,” and if instead of the sonorous phrase “It is subjectively so,” you will say, in plain old English, “It does so” or “It seems so to me,” you will, on the whole, be more intelligible to your fellow-creatures; and besides, if you find that a thing which generally “does so” to other people (as a gentian looks blue to most people), does not so to you, on any particular occasion, you will not fall into the impertinence of saying that the thing is not so, or did not so, but you will say simply (what you will be all the better for speedily finding out) that something is the matter with you. If you find that you cannot explode the gunpowder, you will not declare that all gunpowder is subjective, and all explosion imaginary, but you will simply suspect and declare yourself to be an ill-made match. Which, on the whole, though there may be a distant chance of a mistake about it, is, nevertheless, the wisest conclusion you can come to until further experiment.

In the second paragraph, the author primarily __________.

Possible Answers:

explains the notion against which he is arguing

defines the terms he introduces in the first paragraph

demonstrates his ignorance of the opinions of his opposition

offers an analogy to help explain his point

provides a counter-argument to the argument he makes in the first paragraph

Correct answer:

explains the notion against which he is arguing

Explanation:

In the second paragraph, the author is primarily "explain[ing] the notion against which he is arguing.” In order to make his argument later in the passage, he clearly feels that he has to explain the existing opinion to his audience. It is clear that this is what he is doing because throughout the paragraph, the statements he is making are punctuated by language like “as they say” or “say they further.” He does provide examples of what he is talking about in references to the sky and to flowers, but it would be incorrect to say he “offers an analogy to help explain his point.”

Example Question #83 : Mcat Verbal Reasoning

Adapted from Real Soldiers of Fortune by Richard Harding Davis (1906)

In the strict sense of the phrase, a soldier of fortune is a man who for pay or for the love of adventure fights under the flag of any country. In the bigger sense, he is the kind of man who in any walk of life makes his own fortune, who, when he sees it coming, leaps to meet it, and turns it to his advantage. Then there is Winston Spencer Churchill. Today there are few young men—and he is a very young man—who have met more varying fortunes, and none who has more frequently bent them to his own advancement. To him it has been indifferent whether, at the moment, the fortune seemed good or evil; in the end always it was good.

As a boy officer, when other subalterns were playing polo and at the Gaiety Theatre attending night school, he ran away to Cuba and fought with the Spaniards. For such a breach of military discipline, any other officer would have been court-martialed. Even his friends feared that by his foolishness his career in the army was at an end. Instead, his escapade was made a question in the House of Commons, and the fact brought him such publicity that The Daily Graphic paid him handsomely to write on the Cuban Revolution, and the Spanish Government rewarded him with the Order of Military Merit.

At the very outbreak of the Boer War, he was taken prisoner. It seemed a climax of misfortune. With his brother officers, he had hoped in that campaign to acquit himself with credit, and that he should lie inactive in Pretoria appeared a terrible calamity. To the others who, through many heart-breaking months, suffered imprisonment, it continued to be a calamity. But within six weeks of his capture, Churchill escaped, and, after many adventures, rejoined his own army to find that the calamity had made him a hero.

When after the battle of Omdurman, in his book The River War, he attacked Lord Kitchener, those who did not like him, and they were many, said: "That's the end of Winston in the army. He'll never get another chance to criticize K. of K." But only two years later the chance came, when, no longer a subaltern, but as a member of the House of Commons, he patronized Kitchener by defending him from the attacks of others.

Later, when his assaults upon the leaders of his own party closed to him, even in his own constituency, the Conservative debating clubs, again his ill-wishers said, "This is the end. He has ridiculed those who sit in high places. He has offended his cousin and patron, the Duke of Marlborough. Without political friends, without the influence and money of the Marlborough family, he is a political nonentity." That was eighteen months ago. Today, at the age of thirty-two, he is one of the leaders of the Government party, Under-Secretary for the Colonies, and with the Liberals the most popular young man in public life.

Only last Christmas, at a banquet, Sir Edward Grey, the new Foreign Secretary, said of him: "Mr. Winston Churchill has achieved distinction in at least five different careers—as a soldier, a war correspondent, a lecturer, an author, and last, but not least, as a politician. I have understated it even now, for he has achieved two careers as a politician—one on each side of the House. His first career on the Government side was a really distinguished career. I trust the second will be even more distinguished—and more prolonged. The remarkable thing is that he has done all this when, unless appearances very much belie him, he has not reached the age of sixty-four, which is the minimum age at which the politician ceases to be young."

In this passage, Winston Churchill is primarily characterized by his __________.

Possible Answers:

whimsy and chaotic nature

audacity and daring

intelligence and strength

fortune and determination

luck and conceit

Correct answer:

audacity and daring

Explanation:

In this passage, Churchill is primarily characterized by how bold and daring he is. This can be seen throughout: in Churchill’s attacks on Lord Kitchener; in his experiences in Cuba and South Africa; and in his rise to prominence as a politician and a war hero. All of the anecdotes about Churchill have one thing in common: they reflect the idea that Churchill was bold, brave, and willing to take risks.

Example Question #84 : Mcat Verbal Reasoning

Adapted from The Everyday Life of Abraham Lincoln by Francis Fischer Browne (1913)

In 1838, Lincoln was for a third time a candidate for the State Legislature. Mr. Wilson, one of his colleagues from Sangamon County, states that a question of the division of the county was one of the local issues. "Mr. Lincoln and myself," says Mr. Wilson, "among others residing in the portion of the county that sought to be organized into a new county, opposed the division, and it became necessary that I should make a special canvass through the northwest part of the county, then known as Sand Ridge. I made the canvass. Mr. Lincoln accompanied me, being personally acquainted with everyone we called at nearly every house. At that time it was the universal custom to keep some whiskey in the house for private use and to treat friends. The subject was always mentioned as a matter of politeness, but with the usual remark to Mr. Lincoln, ‘We know you never drink, but maybe your friend would like to take a little.' I never saw Mr. Lincoln drink. He often told me he never drank, and had no desire for drink, nor for the companionship of drinking men."

The result of this canvass was that Lincoln was elected to the Legislature for the session of 1838-39. The next year he was elected for the session of 1840-41. This ended his legislative service, which comprised eight consecutive years, from 1834 to 1841. In these later sessions, he was as active and prominent in the House as he had been in the earlier times when a member from New Salem.

Lincoln's faculty for getting the better of an adversary by an apt illustration or anecdote was seldom better shown than by an incident which occurred during his last term in the Legislature. Hon. James C. Conkling has given the following graphic description of the scene: "A gentleman who had formerly been Attorney General of the State was also a member. Presuming upon his age, experience, and former official position, he thought it incumbent upon himself to oppose Lincoln, who was then one of the acknowledged leaders of his party. He at length attracted the attention of Lincoln, who replied to his remarks, telling one of his humorous anecdotes and making a personal application to his opponent that placed the latter in such a ridiculous attitude that it convulsed the whole House. All business was suspended. In vain the Speaker rapped with his gavel. Members of all parties, without distinction, were compelled to laugh. They not only laughed, they screamed and yelled; they thumped upon the floor with their canes; they clapped their hands and threw up their hats; they shouted and twisted themselves into all sorts of contortions, until their sides ached and the tears rolled down their cheeks. One paroxysm passed away, but was speedily succeeded by another, and again they laughed and screamed and yelled. Another lull occurred, and still another paroxysm, until they seemed to be perfectly exhausted. The ambition of Lincoln's opponent was abundantly gratified, and for the remainder of the session he lapsed into profound obscurity."

In June, 1842, ex-President Van Buren was journeying through Illinois with a company of friends. When near Springfield they were delayed by bad roads, and were compelled to spend the night at Rochester, some miles out. The accommodations at this place were very poor, and a few of the ex-President's Springfield friends proposed to go out to meet him and try to aid in entertaining him. Knowing Lincoln's ability as a talker and storyteller, they begged him to go with them and aid in making their guest at the country inn pass the evening as pleasantly as possible. Lincoln, with his usual good nature, went with them, and entertained the party for hours with graphic descriptions of Western life, anecdotes, and witty stories. Judge Peck, who was of the party and a warm friend of the ex-President, says that Lincoln was at his best. There was a constant succession of brilliant anecdotes and funny stories, accompanied by loud laughter in which Van Buren took his full share. "He also," says the Judge, "gave us incidents and anecdotes of Elisha Williams, and other leading members of the New York bar, going back to the days of Hamilton and Burr. Altogether there was a right merry time. Mr. Van Buren said the only drawback upon his enjoyment was that his sides were sore from laughing at Lincoln's stories for a week thereafter."

With which of these statements about Lincoln would the author of this passage most likely disagree?

Possible Answers:

Lincoln was well-liked by his contemporaries.

Lincoln was well-known throughout his electorate.

Lincoln was self-indulgent.

Lincoln was abstemious.

Lincoln could tell humorous stories.

Correct answer:

Lincoln was self-indulgent.

Explanation:

It is clear from the personal accounts provided by the author that Lincoln was well-known and well-liked. In the passage, Lincoln seems to get on well with everyone that he meets, and in the first paragraph, the author talks about how Lincoln and Mr. Wilson stopped at almost every house in the community during Lincoln’s state legislature campaign because Lincoln knew everyone. It is also clear from Lincoln’s refusal to drink alcohol that he was at least partially abstemious by nature. Finally, it is also clear from the account’s of Lincoln’s storytelling in the third and final paragraphs that Lincoln was a humorous storyteller. The only statement that is untrue is that Lincoln was self-indulgent. In this passage, Lincoln is characterized as almost the opposite of a self-indulgent person: he does not drink, and he works very hard.

Example Question #85 : Mcat Verbal Reasoning

Adapted from Real Soldiers of Fortune by Richard Harding Davis (1906)

In the strict sense of the phrase, a soldier of fortune is a man who for pay or for the love of adventure fights under the flag of any country. In the bigger sense, he is the kind of man who in any walk of life makes his own fortune, who, when he sees it coming, leaps to meet it, and turns it to his advantage. Then there is Winston Spencer Churchill. Today there are few young men—and he is a very young man—who have met more varying fortunes, and none who has more frequently bent them to his own advancement. To him it has been indifferent whether, at the moment, the fortune seemed good or evil; in the end always it was good.

As a boy officer, when other subalterns were playing polo and at the Gaiety Theatre attending night school, he ran away to Cuba and fought with the Spaniards. For such a breach of military discipline, any other officer would have been court-martialed. Even his friends feared that by his foolishness his career in the army was at an end. Instead, his escapade was made a question in the House of Commons, and the fact brought him such publicity that The Daily Graphic paid him handsomely to write on the Cuban Revolution, and the Spanish Government rewarded him with the Order of Military Merit.

At the very outbreak of the Boer War, he was taken prisoner. It seemed a climax of misfortune. With his brother officers, he had hoped in that campaign to acquit himself with credit, and that he should lie inactive in Pretoria appeared a terrible calamity. To the others who, through many heart-breaking months, suffered imprisonment, it continued to be a calamity. But within six weeks of his capture, Churchill escaped, and, after many adventures, rejoined his own army to find that the calamity had made him a hero.

When after the battle of Omdurman, in his book The River War, he attacked Lord Kitchener, those who did not like him, and they were many, said: "That's the end of Winston in the army. He'll never get another chance to criticize K. of K." But only two years later the chance came, when, no longer a subaltern, but as a member of the House of Commons, he patronized Kitchener by defending him from the attacks of others.

Later, when his assaults upon the leaders of his own party closed to him, even in his own constituency, the Conservative debating clubs, again his ill-wishers said, "This is the end. He has ridiculed those who sit in high places. He has offended his cousin and patron, the Duke of Marlborough. Without political friends, without the influence and money of the Marlborough family, he is a political nonentity." That was eighteen months ago. Today, at the age of thirty-two, he is one of the leaders of the Government party, Under-Secretary for the Colonies, and with the Liberals the most popular young man in public life.

Only last Christmas, at a banquet, Sir Edward Grey, the new Foreign Secretary, said of him: "Mr. Winston Churchill has achieved distinction in at least five different careers—as a soldier, a war correspondent, a lecturer, an author, and last, but not least, as a politician. I have understated it even now, for he has achieved two careers as a politician—one on each side of the House. His first career on the Government side was a really distinguished career. I trust the second will be even more distinguished—and more prolonged. The remarkable thing is that he has done all this when, unless appearances very much belie him, he has not reached the age of sixty-four, which is the minimum age at which the politician ceases to be young."

The story of Churchill’s experience in the Boer War highlights __________.

Possible Answers:

The capacity that Churchill had to surprise his contemporaries

The experience of the average British soldier during the conflict

The ability that Churchill had for turning poor fortune into good fortune

The severe and harsh censure of the army

The bravery and strength that Churchill possessed

Correct answer:

The ability that Churchill had for turning poor fortune into good fortune

Explanation:

The primary argument of this passage is that Churchill was always able to turn poor fortune into good fortune. The story of Churchill’s experiences in the Boer War describes how he was taken prisoner, but rather than suffering and losing momentum, he escaped and was made a war-hero. The story of Churchill’s experiences in the Boer War can therefore be seen as the author trying to highlight the unique trait of Churchill's in being able to turn poor fortune into good fortune.

Example Question #86 : Mcat Verbal Reasoning

Adapted from Frederick Douglass by Charles Chestnutt (1899)

Confronted with the probability of losing his usefulness as the "awful example," Douglass took the bold step of publishing in the spring of 1845 the narrative of his experience as a slave. The pamphlet was widely read. It was written in a style of graphic simplicity, and was such an exposé of slavery as exasperated its jealous supporters and beneficiaries. Douglass soon had excellent reasons to fear that he would be recaptured by force or guile and returned to slavery or a worse fate; hence, he sought liberty beyond the sea.

In 1845, Douglass set sail for England on board the Cambria of the Cunard Line. Due to his race, Douglass was compelled to ride in the steerage; nevertheless, he became quite the lion of the vessel, made the steerage fashionable, was given the freedom of the ship, and was invited to lecture on slavery. This he did to the satisfaction of all the passengers except a few young men from New Orleans and Georgia, who made his strictures on the South a personal matter and threatened to throw him overboard. Their zeal was diminished by an order of the captain to put them in irons. They sulked in their cabins, however, and rushed into print when they reached Liverpool, thus giving Douglass the very introduction he needed to the British public, which was promptly informed, by himself and others, of the true facts in regard to the steamer speech and the speaker.

The two years Douglass spent in Great Britain upon this visit were active and fruitful ones, and did much to bring him to that full measure of development scarcely possible for him in slave-ridden America. For while the English government had fostered slavery prior to the Revolution and had only a few years before Douglass's visit abolished it in its own colonies, this wretched system had never fastened its clutches upon the home islands. Slaves had been brought to England, it is true, and carried away; but, when the right to remove them was questioned in court, Lord Chief Justice Mansfield, with an abundance of argument and precedent to support a position similar to that of Justice Taney in the Dred Scott case, had taken the contrary view, and declared that the air of England was free, and the slave who breathed it but once ceased thereby to be a slave. History and humanity have delivered their verdict on these two decisions, and time is not likely to disturb it.

Douglass remained in England two years. Not only did this visit give him a great opportunity to influence British public opinion against slavery, but the material benefits to himself were inestimable. He had left the United States a slave before the law, denied every civil right and every social privilege, literally a man without a country, and forced to cross the Atlantic among the cattle in the steerage of the steamboat. He met in Europe, as he said in a farewell speech, men quite as white as he had ever seen in the United States, and had seen in their faces no scorn of his complexion. He had travelled over the four kingdoms, and had encountered no sign of disrespect. He had been lionized in London, had spoken every night of his last month there, and had declined as many more invitations. Everywhere he had denounced slavery, everywhere hospitable doors had opened wide to receive him, everywhere he had made friends for himself and his cause. A slave and an outcast at home, he had been made to feel himself a gentleman, had been the companion of great men and good women. Urged to remain in this land of freedom, and offered aid to establish himself in life there, his heart bled for his less fortunate brethren in captivity, and with the God-speed of his English friends ringing in his ears, he went back to America—to scorn, to obloquy, to ostracism, but after all to the work to which he had been ordained, and which he was so well qualified to perform.

The author views Lord Chief Justice Mansfield as a(n) __________ figure.

Possible Answers:

devilish

absent

insignificant

traditional

heroic

Correct answer:

heroic

Explanation:

The author discusses Lord Chief Justice Mansfield in the context of comparing the rulings of the courts of the United States and the courts of Britain. In America, Chief Justice Taney had been given the opportunity to rule slavery illegal and immoral once and for all and had chosen to go the opposite direction. From the overall context of the author’s writing, we can determine that he would disagree with this decision vehemently; however, Lord Chief Justice Mansfield had ruled that no man could be a slave in England. The author notes that Mansfield had all the evidence of precedent against him and would have been following social norms by not making slavery illegal in England, but instead went the other way. This the author clearly views as a heroic decision, which can particularly be seen by his comment that “History and humanity have delivered their verdict on these two decisions, and time is not likely to disturb it.”

Example Question #87 : Mcat Verbal Reasoning

Adapted from Frederick Douglass by Charles Chestnutt (1899)

Confronted with the probability of losing his usefulness as the "awful example," Douglass took the bold step of publishing in the spring of 1845 the narrative of his experience as a slave. The pamphlet was widely read. It was written in a style of graphic simplicity, and was such an exposé of slavery as exasperated its jealous supporters and beneficiaries. Douglass soon had excellent reasons to fear that he would be recaptured by force or guile and returned to slavery or a worse fate; hence, he sought liberty beyond the sea.

In 1845, Douglass set sail for England on board the Cambria of the Cunard Line. Due to his race, Douglass was compelled to ride in the steerage; nevertheless, he became quite the lion of the vessel, made the steerage fashionable, was given the freedom of the ship, and was invited to lecture on slavery. This he did to the satisfaction of all the passengers except a few young men from New Orleans and Georgia, who made his strictures on the South a personal matter and threatened to throw him overboard. Their zeal was diminished by an order of the captain to put them in irons. They sulked in their cabins, however, and rushed into print when they reached Liverpool, thus giving Douglass the very introduction he needed to the British public, which was promptly informed, by himself and others, of the true facts in regard to the steamer speech and the speaker.

The two years Douglass spent in Great Britain upon this visit were active and fruitful ones, and did much to bring him to that full measure of development scarcely possible for him in slave-ridden America. For while the English government had fostered slavery prior to the Revolution and had only a few years before Douglass's visit abolished it in its own colonies, this wretched system had never fastened its clutches upon the home islands. Slaves had been brought to England, it is true, and carried away; but, when the right to remove them was questioned in court, Lord Chief Justice Mansfield, with an abundance of argument and precedent to support a position similar to that of Justice Taney in the Dred Scott case, had taken the contrary view, and declared that the air of England was free, and the slave who breathed it but once ceased thereby to be a slave. History and humanity have delivered their verdict on these two decisions, and time is not likely to disturb it.

Douglass remained in England two years. Not only did this visit give him a great opportunity to influence British public opinion against slavery, but the material benefits to himself were inestimable. He had left the United States a slave before the law, denied every civil right and every social privilege, literally a man without a country, and forced to cross the Atlantic among the cattle in the steerage of the steamboat. He met in Europe, as he said in a farewell speech, men quite as white as he had ever seen in the United States, and had seen in their faces no scorn of his complexion. He had travelled over the four kingdoms, and had encountered no sign of disrespect. He had been lionized in London, had spoken every night of his last month there, and had declined as many more invitations. Everywhere he had denounced slavery, everywhere hospitable doors had opened wide to receive him, everywhere he had made friends for himself and his cause. A slave and an outcast at home, he had been made to feel himself a gentleman, had been the companion of great men and good women. Urged to remain in this land of freedom, and offered aid to establish himself in life there, his heart bled for his less fortunate brethren in captivity, and with the God-speed of his English friends ringing in his ears, he went back to America—to scorn, to obloquy, to ostracism, but after all to the work to which he had been ordained, and which he was so well qualified to perform.

Why does Douglass head to England in the first place?

Possible Answers:

Because he is concerned that he will be captured and returned to slavery

Because he is asked to go to England by the American government to curry support for the abolitionist cause

Because he wants to make his fortune in a sympathetic land

Because he is invited to England to speak about the abolitionist cause

Because he has a great love and respect for English culture

Correct answer:

Because he is concerned that he will be captured and returned to slavery

Explanation:

When discussing why Douglass decides to head to England, the author talks about how Douglass is fearful that he will be captured and returned to slavery. The author says, “Douglass soon had excellent reasons to fear that he would be recaptured by force or guile and returned to slavery or a worse fate;  hence, he sought liberty beyond the sea.”

Example Question #31 : Identifying Relevant Supporting Information

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.

Why does the author believe that ancient writers wrote works of composition that have been so lavishly praised?

Possible Answers:

Because the standards of criticism were much lower when society was less developed.

They were being rewarded for their hard work and their humble natures, born out of their sense of mortality and the limits of human understanding.

They were the beneficiaries of modern writers and critics' sense of nostalgia about the past, making their works seem better than they, in fact, were.

They were being rewarded for their inborn talent, audacity, and confidence.

Because it was much easier to focus on writing when the world was simpler, and there were less distractions.

Correct answer:

They were being rewarded for their hard work and their humble natures, born out of their sense of mortality and the limits of human understanding.

Explanation:

The author characterizes the praise directed at ancient works of composition as their authors' "just reward of modesty and labor." This statement supports the author's claims about the superiority of these older authors, as well as his overall argument that modest and industry are praiseworthy while arrogance and laziness are condemnable.

Example Question #89 : Mcat Verbal Reasoning

Adapted from Bacon by R. W. Church (1884)

The life of Francis Bacon is one that it is a pain to write or to read. It is the life of a man endowed with as rare a combination of noble gifts as ever was bestowed on a human intellect; the life of one with whom the whole purpose of living and of every day's work was to do great things to enlighten and elevate humanity; it was the life of a man who had high thoughts of the ends and methods of law and government, and with whom the general and public good was regarded as the standard by which the use of public power was to be measured. All his life long his first and never-sleeping passion was the romantic and splendid ambition after knowledge, for the conquest of nature and for the service of humankind. It is difficult to imagine a grander and more magnificent career, and his name ranks among the few chosen examples of human achievement. And yet it was not only an unhappy life; it was a poor life. We expect that such an overwhelming weight of glory should be borne up by a character corresponding to it in strength and nobleness. But that is not what we find. He cringed to such a man as Buckingham. He sold himself to the corrupt and ignominious government of James I. He was willing to be employed to hunt to death a friend like Essex, guilty, deeply guilty, to the State, but to Bacon the most loving and generous of benefactors. With his eyes open he gave himself up without resistance to a system unworthy of him; he would not see what was evil in it, and chose to call its evil good, and he was its first and most signal victim.

Bacon has been judged with merciless severity. But he has also been defended by an advocate whose name alone is almost a guarantee for the justness of the cause which he takes up, and the innocency of the client for whom he argues. Mr. Spedding devoted nearly a lifetime, and all the resources of a fine intellect and an earnest conviction, to make us revere as well as admire Bacon. But it is vain. It is vain to fight against the facts of his life: his words, his letters. "Men are made up," says a keen observer, "of professions, gifts, and talents; and also of themselves." With all his greatness, his splendid genius, his magnificent ideas, his enthusiasm for truth, his passion to be the benefactor of his kind; with all the charm that made him loved by good and worthy friends, amiable, courteous, patient, delightful as a companion, ready to take any trouble—there was in Bacon's "self" a deep and fatal flaw. He was a pleaser of men. He was one of the men—there are many of them—who are unable to release their imagination from the impression of present and immediate power, face-to-face with themselves. It seems as if he carried into conduct the leading rule of his philosophy of nature, parendo vincitur. In both worlds, moral and physical, he felt himself encompassed by vast forces, irresistible by direct opposition. Men whom he wanted to bring round to his purposes were as strange, as refractory, as obstinate, as impenetrable as the phenomena of the natural world. It was no use attacking in front, and by a direct trial of strength, people like Elizabeth or Cecil or James; he might as well think of forcing some natural power in defiance of natural law. The first word of his teaching about nature is that she must be won by observation of her tendencies and demands; the same radical disposition of temper reveals itself in his dealings with men: they, too, must be won by yielding to them, by adapting himself to their moods and ends; by spying into the drift of their humor, by subtly and pliantly falling in with it, by circuitous and indirect processes, the fruit of vigilance and patient thought. He thought to direct, while submitting apparently to be directed. But he mistook his strength. Nature and man are different powers, and under different laws. He chose to please man, and not to follow what his soul must have told him was the better way. He wanted, in his dealings with men, that sincerity on which he insisted so strongly in his dealings with nature and knowledge. And the ruin of a great lifetime was the consequence.

According to the author, what was the great mission of Bacon’s life?

Possible Answers:

The pursuit of knowledge

Personal advancement

To find love and intimacy

To achieve fame and notoriety

To provide help for the poor and downtrodden

Correct answer:

The pursuit of knowledge

Explanation:

The author does note that Bacon desired personal advancement and that he believed that providing for the general good is the most important role of government, but neither of these is identified as the great mission of Bacon’s life. The author says, "All his life long his first and never-sleeping passion was the romantic and splendid ambition after knowledge, for the conquest of nature and for the service of humankind." This tells us that Bacon’s great mission was the pursuit of knowledge.

Example Question #90 : Mcat Verbal Reasoning

Passage adapted from The New Revelation (1917) by Arthur Conan Doyle

This was my frame of mind when Spiritual phenomena first came before my notice. I had always regarded the subject as the greatest nonsense upon earth, and I had read of the conviction of fraudulent mediums and wondered how any sane man could believe such things. I met some friends, however, who were interested in the matter, and I sat with them at some table-moving seances. We got connected messages. I am afraid the only result that they had on my mind was that I regarded these friends with some suspicion. They were long messages very often, spelled out by tilts, and it was quite impossible that they came by chance. Someone then, was moving the table. I thought it was they. They probably thought that I did it. I was puzzled and worried over it, for they were not people whom I could imagine as cheating--and yet I could not see how the messages could come except by conscious pressure.

About this time--it would be in 1886--I came across a book called The Reminiscences of Judge Edmunds. He was a judge of the U.S. High Courts and a man of high standing. The book gave an account of how his wife had died, and how he had been able for many years to keep in touch with her. All sorts of details were given. I read the book with interest, and absolute scepticism. It seemed to me an example of how a hard practical man might have a weak side to his brain, a sort of reaction, as it were, against those plain facts of life with which he had to deal. Where was this spirit of which he talked? Suppose a man had an accident and cracked his skull; his whole character would change, and a high nature might become a low one. With alcohol or opium or many other drugs one could apparently quite change a man's spirit. The spirit then depended upon matter. These were the arguments which I used in those days. I did not realise that it was not the spirit that was changed in such cases, but the body through which the spirit worked, just as it would be no argument against the existence of a musician if you tampered with his violin so that only discordant notes could come through.

I was sufficiently interested to continue to read such literature as came in my way. I was amazed to find what a number of great men--men whose names were to the fore in science--thoroughly believed that spirit was independent of matter and could survive it. When I regarded Spiritualism as a vulgar delusion of the uneducated, I could afford to look down upon it; but when it was endorsed by men like Crookes, whom I knew to be the most rising British chemist, by Wallace, who was the rival of Darwin, and by Flammarion, the best known of astronomers, I could not afford to dismiss it. It was all very well to throw down the books of these men which contained their mature conclusions and careful investigations, and to say "Well, he has one weak spot in his brain," but a man has to be very self- satisfied if the day does not come when he wonders if the weak spot is not in his own brain. For some time I was sustained in my scepticism by the consideration that many famous men, such as Darwin himself, Huxley, Tyndall and Herbert Spencer, derided this new branch of knowledge; but when I learned that their derision had reached such a point that they would not even examine it, and that Spencer had declared in so many words that he had decided against it on a priori grounds, while Huxley had said that it did not interest him, I was bound to admit that, however great, they were in science, their action in this respect was most unscientific and dogmatic, while the action of those who studied the phenomena and tried to find out the laws that governed them, was following the true path which has given us all human advance and knowledge.

Why does the author consider Darwin's approach to the field of spiritual phenomena "most unscientific" in relation to Wallace's work? 

I. Darwin's conclusions were not based on empirical findings 

II. Wallace was supported by Crookes, a very well-known British chemist

III. Darwin's lack of desire to research spiritual phenomena was scientifically inferior to Wallace's willingness to produce "mature conclusions and careful investigations"

Possible Answers:

I and II

I and III

I, II and III

 

 

 

I only

Correct answer:

I and III

Explanation:

The first claim is true; the author appreciated the fact that Wallace had gone to the effort of scientifically investigating when Darwin would not. Making conclusions without supporting data is unscientific in the mind of the author.

While the ideas of Wallace were supported by Crookes, this relationship has no direct effect upon the author's opinion of Darwin's research methods. 

The third claim is also true. If Darwin had been willing to investigate and produce work similar to that of Wallace, he would have been acting in a more scientific manner. 

Learning Tools by Varsity Tutors