MCAT Verbal : Determining relevance of information

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for MCAT Verbal

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Example Questions

Example Question #71 : Evaluation

Adapted from Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey (1918)

He belonged to that class of eminent ecclesiastics—and it is by no means a small class—who have been distinguished less for saintliness and learning than for practical ability. Had he lived in the Middle Ages he would certainly have been neither a Francis nor an Aquinas, but he might have been an Innocent. As it was, born in the England of the nineteenth century, growing up in the very seed-time of modern progress, coming to maturity with the first onrush of Liberalism, and living long enough to witness the victories of Science and Democracy, he yet, by a strange concatenation of circumstances, seemed almost to revive in his own person that long line of diplomatic and administrative clerics which, one would have thought, had come to an end for ever with Cardinal Wolsey.

In Manning, so it appeared, the Middle Ages lived again. The tall gaunt figure, with the face of smiling asceticism, the robes, and the biretta, as it passed in triumph from High Mass at the Oratory to philanthropic gatherings at Exeter Hall, from Strike Committees at the Docks to Mayfair drawing-rooms where fashionable ladies knelt to the Prince of the Church, certainly bore witness to a singular condition of affairs. What had happened? Had a dominating character imposed itself upon a hostile environment? Or was the nineteenth century, after all, not so hostile? Was there something in it, scientific and progressive as it was, that went out to welcome the representative of ancient tradition and uncompromising faith? Had it, perhaps, a place in its heart for such as Manning—a soft place, one might almost say? Or, on the other hand, was it he who had been supple and yielding? He who had won by art what he would never have won by force, and who had managed, so to speak, to be one of the leaders of the procession less through merit than through a superior faculty for gliding adroitly to the front rank? And, in any case, by what odd chances, what shifts and struggles, what combinations of circumstance and character, had this old man come to be where he was?

What function do Cardinal Wolsey and Innocent serve in the passage?

Possible Answers:

They were two personal role models of Manning.

They provide two accounts of testimony regarding Manning’s accomplishments.

They provide examples of the type of ecclesiastic who would have been appalled by the conduct of Manning.

They provide examples of the type of ecclesiastic that Manning never could have been.

They provide examples of the type of ecclesiastic Manning represented.

Correct answer:

They provide examples of the type of ecclesiastic Manning represented.

Explanation:

The author says that Manning was the type of ecclesiastic “distinguished less for saintliness and learning than for practical ability.” He then goes on to reference Innocent (as in Pope Innocent) and Cardinal Wolsey as two examples of this type of ecclesiastic. They are meant to couch the author’s explanation of Manning within the context of people with whom the author assumes his audience will be familiar.

Example Question #22 : Passage Meaning And Construction

Adapted from Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey (1918)

He belonged to that class of eminent ecclesiastics—and it is by no means a small class—who have been distinguished less for saintliness and learning than for practical ability. Had he lived in the Middle Ages he would certainly have been neither a Francis nor an Aquinas, but he might have been an Innocent. As it was, born in the England of the nineteenth century, growing up in the very seed-time of modern progress, coming to maturity with the first onrush of Liberalism, and living long enough to witness the victories of Science and Democracy, he yet, by a strange concatenation of circumstances, seemed almost to revive in his own person that long line of diplomatic and administrative clerics which, one would have thought, had come to an end for ever with Cardinal Wolsey.

In Manning, so it appeared, the Middle Ages lived again. The tall gaunt figure, with the face of smiling asceticism, the robes, and the biretta, as it passed in triumph from High Mass at the Oratory to philanthropic gatherings at Exeter Hall, from Strike Committees at the Docks to Mayfair drawing-rooms where fashionable ladies knelt to the Prince of the Church, certainly bore witness to a singular condition of affairs. What had happened? Had a dominating character imposed itself upon a hostile environment? Or was the nineteenth century, after all, not so hostile? Was there something in it, scientific and progressive as it was, that went out to welcome the representative of ancient tradition and uncompromising faith? Had it, perhaps, a place in its heart for such as Manning—a soft place, one might almost say? Or, on the other hand, was it he who had been supple and yielding? He who had won by art what he would never have won by force, and who had managed, so to speak, to be one of the leaders of the procession less through merit than through a superior faculty for gliding adroitly to the front rank? And, in any case, by what odd chances, what shifts and struggles, what combinations of circumstance and character, had this old man come to be where he was?

The author describes the circumstances of society in Manning’s day in order to highlight __________.

Possible Answers:

why Manning was so reluctant to cooperate with his contemporaries

the rising power of the clergy during Manning’s day

how Manning was seemingly out of place

why Manning was drawn to the clergy

how Manning was merely a product of his time

Correct answer:

how Manning was seemingly out of place

Explanation:

When describing the circumstances of Manning’s day, the author focuses on how seemingly unwelcoming the environment would have been to an ecclesiastic like Manning. The general idea is “How could this man arise in this environment?” This is an idea the author continues discussing and expands upon in the second paragraph.

Example Question #72 : Evaluation

Adapted from Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey (1918)

Let us consider the popular conception of Florence Nightingale. The saintly, self-sacrificing woman, the delicate maiden of high degree who threw aside the pleasures of a life of ease to succor the afflicted; the Lady with the Lamp, gliding through the horrors of the hospital at Scutari, and consecrating with the radiance of her goodness the dying soldier's couch. The vision is familiar to all—but the truth was different. The Miss Nightingale of fact was not as facile as fancy painted her. It happens that in the real Miss Nightingale there was more that was interesting than in the legendary one; there was also less that was agreeable.

Her family was extremely well-to-do, and connected by marriage with a spreading circle of other well-to-do families. Brought up among such advantages, it was only natural to suppose that Florence would show a proper appreciation of them by doing her duty—in other words, by marrying. It was inconceivable that Florence should dream of anything else; yet dream she did.

As the years passed, a restlessness began to grow upon her. She was unhappy, and at last she knew it. Mrs. Nightingale, too, began to notice that there was something wrong. It was very odd—what could be the matter with dear Flo? Mr. Nightingale suggested that a husband might be advisable; but the curious thing was that she seemed to take no interest in husbands. She would think of nothing but how to satisfy that singular craving of hers to be doing something.

Florence announced an extreme desire to go to Salisbury Hospital for several months as a nurse; and she confessed to some visionary plan of eventually setting up in a house of her own in a neighboring village, and there founding “something like a Protestant Sisterhood, without vows, for women of educated feelings.” The difficulties in her path were great. For not only was it an almost unimaginable thing in those days for a woman of means to make her own way in the world and to live in independence, but the particular profession for which Florence was clearly marked out both by her instincts and her capacities was at that time a peculiarly disreputable one. A “nurse” meant then a coarse old woman, always ignorant, usually dirty, often brutal, in bunched-up sordid garments.

Yet the want, absurd and impracticable as it was, not only remained fixed immovably in her heart, but grew in intensity day by day. Her wretchedness deepened into a morbid melancholy. A weaker spirit would have been overwhelmed by the load of such distresses—would have yielded or snapped. But this extraordinary young woman held firm, and fought her way to victory. In secret she devoured the reports of medical commissions, the pamphlets of sanitary authorities, the histories of hospitals and homes. She spent the intervals of the London season in ragged schools and workhouses.

But one other trial awaited her. It appeared in the shape of a desirable young man. Hitherto, her lovers had been nothing to her but an added burden and a mockery; but now—for a moment—she wavered. She knew in her heart that it could not be. “To be nailed to a continuation and exaggeration of my present life … to put it out of my power ever to be able to seize the chance of forming for myself a true and rich life”—that would be a suicide. She made her choice, and refused what was at least a certain happiness for a visionary good which might never come to her at all. And so she returned to her old life of waiting and bitterness.

“The thoughts and feelings that I have now,” she wrote, “I can remember since I was six years old. A profession, a trade, a necessary occupation, something to fill and employ all my faculties, I have always felt essential to me, I have always longed for. The first thought I can remember, and the last, was nursing work. My God! What is to become of me?”

A desirable young man? Dust and ashes! What was there desirable in such a thing as that? “In my thirty-first year. I see nothing desirable but death.”

Three more years passed, and then at last the pressure of time told; her family seemed to realize that she was old enough and strong enough to have her way; and she became the superintendent of a charitable nursing home in Harley Street. She had gained her independence, though it was in a meagre sphere enough; and her mother was still not quite resigned: surely Florence might at least spend the summer in the country. At times, indeed, among her intimates, Mrs. Nightingale almost wept. “We are ducks,” she said with tears in her eyes, “who have hatched a wild swan.” But the poor lady was wrong; it was not a swan that they had hatched—it was an eagle.

How is the underlined piece of information relevant to the passage?

Possible Answers:

Highlights how Florence’s background did not encourage or suggest at a life of nursing and self-sacrifice.

Provides evidence to suggest that Florence was only able to achieve all that she did because she was well-educated and came from a life of luxury.

Demonstrates the author’s personal gripes with Florence’s family.

Shows how Florence was forced to make her own way in the world by the unfortunate circumstances that she was born into.

Demonstrates why Florence’s family was so endlessly supportive of her ambitions.

Correct answer:

Highlights how Florence’s background did not encourage or suggest at a life of nursing and self-sacrifice.

Explanation:

The underlined piece of information talks about how Florence came from an extremely wealthy family. The implication is that because Florence came from such a wealthy background she was extremely unlikely to have chosen a life of nursing and self-sacrifice. It is meant to highlight the significance of the decisions and sacrifices that Florence made.

Example Question #73 : Evaluation

Adapted from Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey (1918)

Let us consider the popular conception of Florence Nightingale. The saintly, self-sacrificing woman, the delicate maiden of high degree who threw aside the pleasures of a life of ease to succor the afflicted; the Lady with the Lamp, gliding through the horrors of the hospital at Scutari, and consecrating with the radiance of her goodness the dying soldier's couch. The vision is familiar to all—but the truth was different. The Miss Nightingale of fact was not as facile as fancy painted her. It happens that in the real Miss Nightingale there was more that was interesting than in the legendary one; there was also less that was agreeable.

Her family was extremely well-to-do, and connected by marriage with a spreading circle of other well-to-do families. Brought up among such advantages, it was only natural to suppose that Florence would show a proper appreciation of them by doing her duty—in other words, by marrying. It was inconceivable that Florence should dream of anything else; yet dream she did.

As the years passed, a restlessness began to grow upon her. She was unhappy, and at last she knew it. Mrs. Nightingale, too, began to notice that there was something wrong. It was very odd—what could be the matter with dear Flo? Mr. Nightingale suggested that a husband might be advisable; but the curious thing was that she seemed to take no interest in husbands. She would think of nothing but how to satisfy that singular craving of hers to be doing something.

Florence announced an extreme desire to go to Salisbury Hospital for several months as a nurse; and she confessed to some visionary plan of eventually setting up in a house of her own in a neighboring village, and there founding “something like a Protestant Sisterhood, without vows, for women of educated feelings.” The difficulties in her path were great. For not only was it an almost unimaginable thing in those days for a woman of means to make her own way in the world and to live in independence, but the particular profession for which Florence was clearly marked out both by her instincts and her capacities was at that time a peculiarly disreputable one. A “nurse” meant then a coarse old woman, always ignorant, usually dirty, often brutal, in bunched-up sordid garments.

Yet the want, absurd and impracticable as it was, not only remained fixed immovably in her heart, but grew in intensity day by day. Her wretchedness deepened into a morbid melancholy. A weaker spirit would have been overwhelmed by the load of such distresses—would have yielded or snapped. But this extraordinary young woman held firm, and fought her way to victory. In secret she devoured the reports of medical commissions, the pamphlets of sanitary authorities, the histories of hospitals and homes. She spent the intervals of the London season in ragged schools and workhouses.

But one other trial awaited her. It appeared in the shape of a desirable young man. Hitherto, her lovers had been nothing to her but an added burden and a mockery; but now—for a moment—she wavered. She knew in her heart that it could not be. “To be nailed to a continuation and exaggeration of my present life … to put it out of my power ever to be able to seize the chance of forming for myself a true and rich life”—that would be a suicide. She made her choice, and refused what was at least a certain happiness for a visionary good which might never come to her at all. And so she returned to her old life of waiting and bitterness.

“The thoughts and feelings that I have now,” she wrote, “I can remember since I was six years old. A profession, a trade, a necessary occupation, something to fill and employ all my faculties, I have always felt essential to me, I have always longed for. The first thought I can remember, and the last, was nursing work. My God! What is to become of me?”

A desirable young man? Dust and ashes! What was there desirable in such a thing as that? “In my thirty-first year. I see nothing desirable but death.”

Three more years passed, and then at last the pressure of time told; her family seemed to realize that she was old enough and strong enough to have her way; and she became the superintendent of a charitable nursing home in Harley Street. She had gained her independence, though it was in a meagre sphere enough; and her mother was still not quite resigned: surely Florence might at least spend the summer in the country. At times, indeed, among her intimates, Mrs. Nightingale almost wept. “We are ducks,” she said with tears in her eyes, “who have hatched a wild swan.” But the poor lady was wrong; it was not a swan that they had hatched—it was an eagle.

At the end of the fourth paragraph, the author’s reference to the fact that nursing was “peculiarly disreputable” (bolded and underlined) is meant to __________.

Possible Answers:

explain why Florence felt compelled to flee her home and move to the city

demonstrate how much changed as a result of Florence’s laborious efforts

undermine any attempt to deny that Florence faced opposition from her family to her chosen career

emphasize the difficulty of Florence’s decision

highlight the suffering of those in the nursing profession

Correct answer:

emphasize the difficulty of Florence’s decision

Explanation:

The author talks at length about how nursing was not a reputable occupation during the mid-nineteenth century, but rather was usually practiced by ignorant and uncivilized old women. The purpose is in keeping with the purpose of the essay, to emphasize the difficulty of Florence’s chosen life path so that we are more readily convinced of the fact that she was battling personal demons.

Example Question #74 : Evaluation

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

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

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

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

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

What relevance does the underlined piece of information have to the author’s overall tone and argument?

Possible Answers:

establishes the position of the opposition so that the author might then proceed to dismantle this argument

demonstrates how obvious the author thinks his argument is and the ease with which he feels the opposition could be refuted

highlights the extent of bloodshed that has consistently gripped civilization

shows why the author is disinclined towards trusting the government and why he feels that changes need to be made

provides evidence to support the author’s thesis that is frequently linked back to throughout the rest of the essay

Correct answer:

demonstrates how obvious the author thinks his argument is and the ease with which he feels the opposition could be refuted

Explanation:

In the underlined portion of the passage, the author is effectively saying, “It would be a good enough response for me to say that the states would make war with one another because neighboring states have always made war with one another.” The author is essentially opening his argument by saying “Look, my argument is so obvious, I should not even need to make it.”

Example Question #75 : Evaluation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How is the poem “Beautiful Snow” relevant to the author’s argument?

Possible Answers:

It highlights the level of fame that Shakespeare achieved early in his career.

It shows how quickly plays, poems, and other popular writings spread around the country in Shakespeare’s day.

It provides an example of a poem by which Shakespeare himself was inspired.

It demonstrates how an unclaimed poem that achieves fame encourages many people to claim authorship.

It provides an example of the type of poem, filled with legal language, that Shakespeare was apt to write.

Correct answer:

It demonstrates how an unclaimed poem that achieves fame encourages many people to claim authorship.

Explanation:

The poem “Beautiful Snow” is used to demonstrate how unclaimed poems are often claimed by many different people once they become famous because many people feel they had the talent and ability to write the poem. The purpose of making this argument is to make a point about how Shakespeare’s works were never claimed by multitudes because everyone understood that only one man in a lifetime could produce works like them.

Example Question #76 : Evaluation

Adapted from "Robespierre" in Critical Miscellanies (1904) by John Morley.

Robespierre's youth was embittered by sharp misfortune. His mother died when he was only seven years old, and his father had so little courage under the blow that he threw up his practice, deserted his children, and died in purposeless wanderings through Germany. The burden that the weak and selfish throw down must be taken up by the brave. Friendly kinsfolk charged themselves with the maintenance of the four orphans. Maximilian was sent to the school of the town, whence he proceeded with a sizarship to the college of Louis-le-Grand in Paris. He was an apt and studious pupil, but austere, and disposed to that sombre cast of spirits which is common enough where a lad of some sensibility and much self-esteem finds himself stamped with a badge of social inferiority. Robespierre's worshippers love to dwell on his fondness for birds: with the universal passion of mankind for legends of the saints, they tell how the untimely death of a favourite pigeon afflicted him with anguish so poignant that, even sixty long years after, it made his sister's heart ache to look back upon the pain of that tragic moment. Always a sentimentalist, Robespierre was from boyhood a devout enthusiast for the great high priest of the sentimental tribe. Rousseau was then passing the last squalid days of his life among the meadows and woods at Ermenonville. Robespierre, who could not have been more than twenty at the time, for Rousseau died in the summer of 1778, is said to have gone on a reverential pilgrimage in search of an oracle from the lonely sage, as Boswell and as Gibbon and a hundred others had gone before him. Rousseau was wont to use his real adorers as ill as he used his imaginary enemies. Robespierre may well have shared the discouragement of the enthusiastic father who informed Rousseau that he was about to bring up his son on the principles of Emilius. "Then so much the worse," cried the perverse philosopher, "both for you and your son." If he had been endowed with second sight, he would have thought at least as rude a presage due to this last and most ill-starred of a whole generation of neophytes.

In 1781 Robespierre returned home, and amid the welcome of his relatives and the good hopes of friends began the practice of an advocate. For eight years he led an active and seemly life. He was not wholly pure from that indiscretion of the young appetite, about which the world is mute, but whose better ordering and governance would give a diviner brightness to the earth. Still, if he did not escape the ordeal of youth, Robespierre was frugal, laborious, and persevering. His domestic amiability made him the delight of his sister, and his zealous self-sacrifice for the education and advancement in life of his younger brother was afterwards repaid by Augustin Robespierre's devotion through all the fierce and horrible hours of Thermidor. Though cold in temperament, extremely reserved in manners, and fond of industrious seclusion, Robespierre did not disdain the social diversions of the town. He was a member of a reunion of Rosati, who sang madrigals and admired one another's bad verses. Those who love the ironical surprises of fate, may picture the young man who was doomed to play so terrible a part in terrible affairs, going through the harmless follies of a ceremonial reception by the Rosati, taking three deep breaths over a rose, solemnly fastening the emblem to his coat, emptying a glass of rose-red wine at a draught to the good health of the company, and finally reciting couplets that Voltaire would have found almost as detestable as the Law of Prairial or the Festival of the Supreme Being. More laudable efforts of ambition were prize essays, in which Robespierre has the merit of taking the right side in important questions. He protested against the inhumanity of laws that inflicted civil infamy upon the innocent family of a convicted criminal. And he protested against the still more horrid cruelty which reduced unfortunate children born out of wedlock to something like the status of the mediæval serf. Robespierre's compositions at this time do not rise above the ordinary level of declaiming mediocrity, but they promised a manhood of benignity and enlightenment. To compose prize essays on political reforms was better than to ignore or to oppose political reform. But the course of events afterwards owed their least desirable bias to the fact that such compositions were the nearest approach to political training that so many of the revolutionary leaders underwent.

The anecdote about the death of pigeon is meant to highlight __________.

Possible Answers:

Robespierre’s fear of birds

Robespierre’s relationship with his family

Robespierre’s sensitivity and sentimentality

Robespierre’s belief in universal human rights

Robespierre’s love of birds

Correct answer:

Robespierre’s sensitivity and sentimentality

Explanation:

It could possibly be contended that the death of the pigeon is meant to highlight Robespierre’s love of birds, but this ignores the fact that the author has no real reason to go into Robespierre’s love of birds other than to provide evidence of his sensitivity and sentimentality. This is the reason why the author mentions the anecdote about the death of Robespierre’s pigeon, which can be seen in context where the author says that "it made his sister's heart ache to look back upon the pain of that tragic moment. Always a sentimentalist, Robespierre was from boyhood a devout enthusiast for the great high priest of the sentimental tribe."

Example Question #77 : Evaluation

Adapted from "Robespierre" in Critical Miscellanies (1904) by John Morley.

Robespierre's youth was embittered by sharp misfortune. His mother died when he was only seven years old, and his father had so little courage under the blow that he threw up his practice, deserted his children, and died in purposeless wanderings through Germany. The burden that the weak and selfish throw down must be taken up by the brave. Friendly kinsfolk charged themselves with the maintenance of the four orphans. Maximilian was sent to the school of the town, whence he proceeded with a sizarship to the college of Louis-le-Grand in Paris. He was an apt and studious pupil, but austere, and disposed to that sombre cast of spirits which is common enough where a lad of some sensibility and much self-esteem finds himself stamped with a badge of social inferiority. Robespierre's worshippers love to dwell on his fondness for birds: with the universal passion of mankind for legends of the saints, they tell how the untimely death of a favourite pigeon afflicted him with anguish so poignant that, even sixty long years after, it made his sister's heart ache to look back upon the pain of that tragic moment. Always a sentimentalist, Robespierre was from boyhood a devout enthusiast for the great high priest of the sentimental tribe. Rousseau was then passing the last squalid days of his life among the meadows and woods at Ermenonville. Robespierre, who could not have been more than twenty at the time, for Rousseau died in the summer of 1778, is said to have gone on a reverential pilgrimage in search of an oracle from the lonely sage, as Boswell and as Gibbon and a hundred others had gone before him. Rousseau was wont to use his real adorers as ill as he used his imaginary enemies. Robespierre may well have shared the discouragement of the enthusiastic father who informed Rousseau that he was about to bring up his son on the principles of Emilius. "Then so much the worse," cried the perverse philosopher, "both for you and your son." If he had been endowed with second sight, he would have thought at least as rude a presage due to this last and most ill-starred of a whole generation of neophytes.

In 1781 Robespierre returned home, and amid the welcome of his relatives and the good hopes of friends began the practice of an advocate. For eight years he led an active and seemly life. He was not wholly pure from that indiscretion of the young appetite, about which the world is mute, but whose better ordering and governance would give a diviner brightness to the earth. Still, if he did not escape the ordeal of youth, Robespierre was frugal, laborious, and persevering. His domestic amiability made him the delight of his sister, and his zealous self-sacrifice for the education and advancement in life of his younger brother was afterwards repaid by Augustin Robespierre's devotion through all the fierce and horrible hours of Thermidor. Though cold in temperament, extremely reserved in manners, and fond of industrious seclusion, Robespierre did not disdain the social diversions of the town. He was a member of a reunion of Rosati, who sang madrigals and admired one another's bad verses. Those who love the ironical surprises of fate, may picture the young man who was doomed to play so terrible a part in terrible affairs, going through the harmless follies of a ceremonial reception by the Rosati, taking three deep breaths over a rose, solemnly fastening the emblem to his coat, emptying a glass of rose-red wine at a draught to the good health of the company, and finally reciting couplets that Voltaire would have found almost as detestable as the Law of Prairial or the Festival of the Supreme Being. More laudable efforts of ambition were prize essays, in which Robespierre has the merit of taking the right side in important questions. He protested against the inhumanity of laws that inflicted civil infamy upon the innocent family of a convicted criminal. And he protested against the still more horrid cruelty which reduced unfortunate children born out of wedlock to something like the status of the mediæval serf. Robespierre's compositions at this time do not rise above the ordinary level of declaiming mediocrity, but they promised a manhood of benignity and enlightenment. To compose prize essays on political reforms was better than to ignore or to oppose political reform. But the course of events afterwards owed their least desirable bias to the fact that such compositions were the nearest approach to political training that so many of the revolutionary leaders underwent.

The underlined revelation about Robespierre’s father is included in order to __________.

Possible Answers:

demonstrate the love that existed in Robespierre’s nuclear family

emphasize the humble background from which Robespierre emerged

explain why Robespierre took to Rousseau as a father-figure

highlight the early suffering of Robespierre’s life

outline Robespierre’s reasons for leaving his childhood home

Correct answer:

highlight the early suffering of Robespierre’s life

Explanation:

The first sentence of this passage is “Robespierre's youth was embittered by sharp misfortune.” The author then goes on to talk about how Robespierre’s mother died and that his father deserted his children and died as well. Because the information follows the author’s statement that Robespierre had a difficult childhood, we may understand the relevance of the underlined information as highlighting the suffering in Robespierre’s young life.

Example Question #78 : Evaluation

Adapted from "Bees" in What is Man? And Other Essays (1906) by Mark Twain.

Bee scientists always speak of the bee as she. It is because all the important bees are of that sex. In the hive there is one married bee, called the queen; she has fifty thousand children; of these, about one hundred are sons; the rest are daughters. Some of the daughters are young maids, some are old maids, and all are virgins and remain so.

Every spring the queen comes out of the hive and flies away with one of her sons and marries him. The honeymoon lasts only an hour or two; then the queen divorces her husband and returns home competent to lay two million eggs. This will be enough to last the year, but not more than enough, because hundreds of bees get drowned every day, and other hundreds are eaten by birds, and it is the queen's business to keep the population up to standard—say, fifty thousand. She must always have that many children on hand and efficient during the busy season, which is summer, or winter would catch the community short of food. She lays from two thousand to three thousand eggs a day, according to the demand; and she must exercise judgment, and not lay more than are needed in a slim flower-harvest, nor fewer than are required in a prodigal one, or the board of directors will dethrone her and elect a queen that has more sense.

There are always a few royal heirs in stock and ready to take her place—ready and more than anxious to do it, although she is their own mother. These girls are kept by themselves, and are regally fed and tended from birth. No other bees get such fine food as they get, or live such a high and luxurious life. By consequence they are larger and longer and sleeker than their working sisters. And they have a curved sting, shaped like a scimitar, while the others have a straight one.

A common bee will sting anyone or anybody, but a royalty stings royalties only. A common bee will sting and kill another common bee, for cause, but when it is necessary to kill the queen other ways are employed. When a queen has grown old and slack and does not lay eggs enough one of her royal daughters is allowed to come to attack her, the rest of the bees looking on at the duel and seeing fair play. It is a duel with the curved stings. If one of the fighters gets hard pressed and gives it up and runs, she is brought back and must try again—once, maybe twice; then, if she runs yet once more for her life, judicial death is her portion; her children pack themselves into a ball around her person and hold her in that compact grip two or three days, until she starves to death or is suffocated. Meantime the victor bee is receiving royal honors and performing the one royal function—laying eggs.

During substantially the whole of her short life of five or six years the queen lives in the Egyptian darkness and stately seclusion of the royal apartments, with none about her but plebeian servants, who give her empty lip-affection in place of the love which her heart hungers for; who spy upon her in the interest of her waiting heirs, and report and exaggerate her defects and deficiencies to them; who fawn upon her and flatter her to her face and slander her behind her back; who grovel before her in the day of her power and forsake her in her age and weakness. There she sits, friendless, upon her throne through the long night of her life, cut off from the consoling sympathies and sweet companionship and loving endearments which she craves, by the gilded barriers of her awful rank; a forlorn exile in her own house and home, weary object of formal ceremonies and machine-made worship, winged child of the sun, native to the free air and the blue skies and the flowery fields, doomed by the splendid accident of her birth to trade this priceless heritage for a black captivity, a tinsel grandeur, and a loveless life, with shame and insult at the end and a cruel death—and condemned by the human instinct in her to hold the bargain valuable!

Huber, Lubbock, and Maeterlinck are agreed in denying that the bee is a member of the human family. I do not know why they have done this, but I think it is from dishonest motives. Why, the innumerable facts brought to light by their own painstaking and exhaustive experiments prove that if there is a master fool in the world, it is the bee. That seems to settle it.  

But that is the way of the scientist, who will spend thirty years in building up a mountain range of facts with the intent to prove a certain theory, then is so happy in this achievement that, as a rule, the chief fact of all is overlooked—that this accumulation proves an entirely different thing. When you point out this miscarriage, the scientist does not answer your letters. Scientists have odious manners, except when you prop up their theory; then you can borrow money from them. To be strictly fair, I will concede that now and then one of them will answer your letter, but when they do they avoid the issue—you cannot pin them down. When I discovered that the bee was human I wrote about it to all those scientists whom I have just mentioned. For evasions, I have seen nothing to equal the answers I got.

The underlined statement is included in order to __________.

Possible Answers:

demonstrate the author’s close personal relationship with many scientists

explain the origins of the author’s disdain for the scientific community

exaggerate the author’s contempt for scientists

allow the opposition the space to make a brief retort

show how difficult it has become for the author to make enough money

Correct answer:

exaggerate the author’s contempt for scientists

Explanation:

The underlined sentence is included in the concluding paragraph that focuses on lambasting scientists for their unwillingness to accept the author’s theories about how the bee is human. In the underlined sentence the author notes that scientists are rude unless they feel you are on their side. His statement about borrowing money is meant to be understood as exaggerated mockery.

Example Question #81 : Evaluation

Adapted from ‘Mark Twain’ published in The Nebraska State Journal (May 5th, 1895) by Willa Cather.

It is rather a pity that Paul Bourget should have written “Outre Mer,” thoroughly credible book though it is. Mr. Bourget is a novelist, and he should not content himself with being an essayist, there are far too many of them in the world already. He can develop strong characters, invent strong situations, he can write the truth and he should not drift into penning opinions and platitudes. When God has made a man a creator, it is a great mistake for him to turn critic. It is rather an insult to God and certainly a very great wrong to man.

If there is anything which should make an American sick and disgusted at the literary taste of his country, and almost swerve his allegiance to his flag it is that controversy between Mark Twain and Max O’Rell, in which the Frenchman proves himself a wit and a gentleman and the American shows himself little short of a clown and an all around tough. The squabble arose apropos of Paul Bourget’s new book on America, “Outre Mer,” a book which deals more fairly and generously with this country than any book yet written in a foreign tongue. Mr. Clemens did not like the book, and like all men of his class, and limited mentality, he cannot criticise without becoming personal and insulting. He cannot be scathing without being a blackguard. He tried to demolish a serious and well considered work by publishing a scurrilous, slangy and loosely written article about it. In this article Mr. Clemens proves very little against Mr. Bourget and a very great deal against himself. He demonstrates clearly that he is neither a scholar, a reader or a man of letters and very little of a gentleman. His ignorance of French literature is something appalling. Why, in these days it is as necessary for a literary man to have a wide knowledge of the French masterpieces as it is for him to have read Shakespeare or the Bible. What man who pretends to be an author can afford to neglect those models of style and composition. George Meredith, Thomas Hardy and Henry James excepted, the great living novelists are Frenchmen.

Mr. Clemens asks what the French sensualists can possibly teach the great American people about novel writing or morality? Well, it would not seriously hurt the art of the classic author of “Puddin’ Head Wilson” to study Daudet, De Maupassant, Hugo and George Sand, whatever it might do to his morals. Mark Twain is a humorist of a kind. His humor is always rather broad, so broad that the polite world can justly call it coarse. He is not a reader nor a thinker nor a man who loves art of any kind. He is a clever Yankee who has made a “good thing” out of writing. He has been published in the  North American Review and in the Century, but he is not and never will be a part of literature. The association and companionship of cultured men has given Mark Twain a sort of professional veneer, but it could not give him fine instincts or nice discriminations or elevated tastes. His works are pure and suitable for children, just as the work of most shallow and mediocre fellows. House dogs and donkeys make the most harmless and chaste companions for young innocence in the world. Mark Twain’s humor is of the kind that teamsters use in bantering with each other, and his laugh is the gruff “haw-haw” of the backwoodsman. He is still the rough, awkward, good-natured boy who swore at the deckhands on the river steamer and chewed uncured tobacco when he was three years old. Thoroughly likeable as a good fellow, but impossible as a man of letters. It is an unfortunate feature of American literature that a hostler with some natural cleverness and a great deal of assertion receives the same recognition as a standard American author that a man like Lowell does. The French academy is a good thing after all. It at least divides the sheep from the goats and gives a sheep the consolation of knowing that he is a sheep.

The author’s attitude towards Mark Twain is primarily __________.

Possible Answers:

lauding

condescending

celebratory

mocking

abrasive

Correct answer:

condescending

Explanation:

The author’s attitude towards Mark Twain could probably be described as all of “condescending,” “mocking,” and “abrasive.” But, one of these answer choices is better than the other two—“condescending.” When the author criticizes Twain he does not just “mock” him he speaks down to him. He characterizes Twain as a man of low class who is almost unworthy of consideration. This can be clearly seen in excerpts like “Well, it would not seriously hurt the art of the classic author of “Puddin’ Head Wilson” to study Daudet, De Maupassant, Hugo and George Sand, whatever it might do to his morals.” And, “Mr. Clemens did not like the book, and like all men of his class, and limited mentality, he cannot criticise without becoming personal and insulting.”

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