MCAT Verbal : Determining relevance of information

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for MCAT Verbal

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Example Question #82 : Evaluation

Adapted from Frederick Douglass (1899) by Charles Chestnutt.

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

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

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

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

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

Why does the author go into such detail about Douglass’ experience as a former slave?

Possible Answers:

To make the audience aware of the brutal treatment of slaves in general during Douglass’ time

To demonstrate how his comprehensive experience prepared him for his life’s work

To highlight the particularly brutal suffering that Douglass suffered as a slave

To refute claims made by others that Douglass had been born a free man

To undermine claims by others that Douglass lived a charmed life as a slave

Correct answer:

To demonstrate how his comprehensive experience prepared him for his life’s work


The author goes into extensive detail about Douglass’ experience as a former slave in the opening sentences of this passage. The author reveals his purpose when he says “It was the curious fate of Douglass to pass through almost every phase of slavery, as though to prepare him the more thoroughly for his future career.”

Example Question #83 : Evaluation

Adapted from "Ringling Kids' Back Yard Show Grows into Mammoth Octopus." Fullerton, Hugh S. The day book. [Chicago, IL] 13 June 1914. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

Once upon a time (and that was only 33 years ago) there were five little boys who played circus in their back yards with a strip of rag carpet for a tent and a paper whale. They charged pins and then pennies.

Then they gave a real show in the barn, and then in the hall. And now they own elephants and camels and giraffes and hippopotamuses, and about forty eleven circuses.

When the bands blare and the horses “rare” and the big green and gold and silver wagons come past, and the clowns cut up such funny didoes, the chances are that you are seeing the men that the Ringling Brothers employ to amuse the boys and girls; yes, and the men and women of America during the summer.

For the circus business of America is the Ringling business.

They own the Ringling Brothers’ show, and Barnum’s, which was later Barnum and Bailey’s, the Forepaugh-Sells shows and what is left of the Hagenback’s and more of the dog and pony shows, and the remnants of Buffalo Bill’s and Pawnee Bill’s Wild West, and Ranch 101, and, oh, lots and lots of other shows.

And they are the boys who started in the barn loft at Baraboo, Wisconsin. They are the “Circus Trust” of America!

The chances are that the government never will complain because the Ringling boys (for they always will be boys, no matter how old they get) are a “trust.” They own lots and lots of circuses, but many of them they bought when they did not need or want them, out of sentiment when some of the competitors of the days when they rode in wagons were in hard luck.

Some they bought so that they might preserve the names of the famous old “shows.” Some they bought so that they might direct the routes, and send some circuses to some city or town their “big shows” could not reach. Some they wanted because from them they could get new acts and new performers for the “big shows,” and some they own because when the public has ceased to thrill over some famous “actor” in the big shows they can send him to the smaller ones where he may perform before those who never have felt the thrills.

There is too much sentiment in the circus business for it to be a destroyer or a menace. The Ringlings have bought shows, carried them, supplied them with acts and given the old owner full charge to buy them back and run them.

Just how many men and women, and horses and dogs these boys own now even they do not know exactly. Some idea of the vast expanse of creating and maintaining a great circus may be gained from the fact that the Ringling shows’ menagerie alone is valued and insured at more than $1,000,000; the forty performing elephants are worth $250,000. The robe worn by one elephant alone cost $12,000. The length of the Ringlings’ main tent is 580 feet, the largest ever erected; the menagerie contains 108 cages, and the parade is three miles long. The 4,500 costumes worn in the Solomon and the Queen of Sheba spectacle itself were produced at the cost of more than $1,000,000.

Double these latter figures—for the Barnum shows are about the same size, add one-third for the smaller shows controlled and you will have some idea of the magnitude of the “show” business.

What is the author's purpose in writing the sixth paragraph ("And . . . America!") of the passage?

Possible Answers:

Juxtapose the smaller and larger circus shows

Juxtapose the brothers against one another

Demonstrate the growth of the circus industry

Provide support for the previous paragraph

Demonstrate the rapid change experienced by the Ringling brothers

Correct answer:

Demonstrate the rapid change experienced by the Ringling brothers


"And they are the boys who started in the barn loft at Baraboo, Wisconsin. They are the 'Circus Trust' of America!"

The author includes this paragraph before explaining the comparison of the Ringling brothers' shows with an economic trust. The paragraph provides a contrast between the humble beginnings of the Ringling brothers (a barn in Wisconsin) and their huge success ("Circus Trust"). In conjunction with the first paragraph, which indicates that the transition occurred over a period of 33 years, we can conclude that the author included the paragraph to provide an allusion to how quickly the brothers managed to amass their wealth, and to provide a point of reference for why they may remain sentimental about the industry.

The paragraph does not reference the circus industry as a whole or juxtapose large and small shows. The previous (fifth) paragraph lists a number of shows that have been bought by the Ringling brothers, and is not related to the first sentence in the sixth paragraph; rather, the fifth paragraph actually supports the claim made in the sixth paragraph that the brothers operate like a trust, as opposed to the sixth paragraph acting to support the fifth.

Example Question #84 : Evaluation

Adapted from The Story of Eclipses by George F. Chambers (1900)

Among the auxiliary agencies which have been brought into use in recent years to enable astronomers the better to carry out systematic observations of eclipses of the Sun, the electric telegraph occupies a place which may hereafter become prominent. As it is not likely that this little book will fall into the hands of any persons who would be able to make much use of telegraphy in connection with eclipse observations, it will not be necessary to give much space to the matter, but a few outlines will certainly be interesting. When the idea of utilizing the telegraph wire first came into men’s minds, it was with the object of enabling observers who saw the commencement of an eclipse at one end of the line of totality to give cautionary notices to observers farther on, or towards the far end, of special points which had been seen at the beginning of the totality, and as to which confirmatory observations, at a later hour, were evidently very desirable. It is obvious that a scheme of this kind depends for its success upon each end (or something like it) of the line of totality being in telegraphic communication with the other end, and this involves a combination of favorable circumstances not likely to exist at every occurrence of a total eclipse, and in general only likely to prevail in the case of eclipses visible over inhabited territory, such as the two Americas, Europe, and parts of Asia. This use of the telegraph was, I think, first proposed as far back as 1878, by an American astronomer, in connection with the total eclipse of that year. His proposal fell upon sympathetic ears, with the result that arrangements were concluded with the Western Union Telegraph Company of North America for the expeditious forwarding of messages from northern stations on the eclipse line to southern stations. Some attention was being given at that time to the question of Intra-Mercurial planets, and it was thought that if by good fortune any such objects were unexpectedly found at the northern station, and observers at a southern station could be advised of the fact, there might be a better chance of procuring an accurate and precise record of the discovery. As it happened, nothing came of it on that occasion, but the idea of utilizing the telegraph having once taken possession of men’s minds, it was soon seen what important possibilities were opened up.

Which of these pieces of information is least relevant to the primary purpose of this passage?

Possible Answers:

When the telegraph was first used in eclipse observation

Which company arranged for the use of the electric telegraph in astronomy

How the telegraph was first used in eclipse observation

Why the telegraph is being used in eclipse observation

How the telegraph might be used to study Intra-Mercurial planets

Correct answer:

How the telegraph might be used to study Intra-Mercurial planets


To answer this question it is, of course, first necessary to determine the primary purpose of this passage. From the passage's introduction and conclusion, it is clear that its primary purpose is to explain the usefulness of the telegraph in eclipse observations and to reference the origin of its usage in this capacity. Which of these answer choices is unrelated to or least relevant to these two purposes? The answer is “How the telegraph might be used to study Intra-Mercurial planets.” All the other comments relate in some way to outlining the history of telegraph usage or explaining the benefits of telegraph usage. The author’s comments about the use of the telegraph in the study of Intra-Mercurial planets is more of an aside designed to demonstrate theoretical applications. That this is less crucial to the text can be understood by the author’s line at the beginning of the succeeding sentence: “As it happened, nothing came of it on that occasion, but the idea of utilizing the telegraph having once taken possession of men’s minds . . . “

Example Question #85 : Evaluation

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

Lincoln took but little part in politics of slavery until the passage of the Nebraska Bill by Congress in 1854. The enactment of this measure impelled him to take a firmer stand upon the question of slavery than he had yet assumed. He had been opposed to the institution on grounds of sentiment since his boyhood; now he determined to fight it from principle. Mr. Herndon states that Lincoln really became an anti-slavery man in 1831, during his visit to New Orleans, where he was deeply affected by the horrors of the traffic in human beings. On one occasion he saw a slave, a beautiful girl, sold at auction. She was felt over, pinched, and trotted around to show bidders she was sound. Lincoln walked away from the scene with a feeling of deep abhorrence. He said to John Hanks, "If I ever get a chance to hit that institution, John, I'll hit it hard!"

Judge Gillespie records a conversation that he had with Lincoln in 1850 on the slavery question, remarking by way of introduction that the subject of slavery was the only one on which he (Lincoln) was apt to become excited. "I recollect meeting him once at Shelbyville," says Judge Gillespie, "when he remarked that something must be done or slavery would overrun the whole country. He said there were about six hundred thousand non-slaveholding whites in Kentucky to about thirty-three thousand slaveholders; that in the convention then recently held it was expected that the delegates would represent these classes about in proportion to their respective numbers; but when the convention assembled, there was not a single representative of the non-slaveholding class; everyone was in the interest of the slaveholders; 'and,' said he, 'the thing is spreading like wildfire over the country. In a few years we will be ready to accept the institution in Illinois, and the whole country will adopt it.' I asked him to what he attributed the change that was going on in public opinion. He said he had recently put that question to a Kentuckian, who answered by saying, 'You might have any amount of land, money in your pocket, or bank-stock, and while traveling around nobody would be any wiser; but if you had a black man trudging at your heels, everybody would see him and know that you owned a slave. It is the most ostentatious way of displaying property in the world; if a young man goes courting, the only inquiry is as to how many slaves he owns.' The love for slave property was swallowing up every other mercenary possession. Its ownership not only betokened the possession of wealth, but indicated the gentleman of leisure who scorned labor. These things Mr. Lincoln regarded as highly pernicious to the thoughtless and giddy young men who were too much inclined to look upon work as vulgar and ungentlemanly. He was much excited, and said with great earnestness that this spirit ought to be met, and if possible checked; that slavery was a great and crying injustice, an enormous national crime, and we could not expect to escape punishment for it. I asked him how he would proceed in his efforts to check the spread of slavery. He confessed he did not see his way clearly; but I think he made up his mind that from that time he would oppose slavery actively. I know that Lincoln always contended that no man had any right, other than what mere brute force gave him, to hold a slave. He used to say it was singular that the courts would hold that a man never lost his right to property that had been stolen from him, but that he instantly lost his right to himself if he was stolen. Lincoln always contended that the cheapest way of getting rid of slavery was for the nation to buy the slaves and set them free."

While in Congress, Lincoln had declared himself plainly as opposed to slavery; and in public speeches not less than private conversations he had not hesitated to express his convictions on the subject. In 1850 he said to Major Stuart: "The time will soon come when we must all be Democrats or Abolitionists. When that time comes, my mind is made up. The slavery question cannot be compromised." The hour had now struck in which Lincoln was to espouse with his whole heart and soul that cause for which finally he was to lay down his life. In the language of Mr. Arnold, "He had bided his time. He had waited until the harvest was ripe. With unerring sagacity he realized that the triumph of freedom was at hand. He entered upon the conflict with the deepest conviction that the perpetuity of the Republic required the extinction of slavery.

The testimony of the Kentuckian is most useful in __________.

Possible Answers:

explaining Lincoln’s initial reasons for opposing slavery in sentiment

demonstrating why public opinion was seemingly turning in favor of slavery

explaining why Lincoln chose to start opposing slavery in principle

refuting Lincoln’s claims about the ubiquity of slave ownership in the South

demonstrating how prevalent slave ownership was in the South

Correct answer:

demonstrating why public opinion was seemingly turning in favor of slavery


Although some of these statements are more significant to the overall purpose and thesis of this passage the correct answer is that the testimony of the Kentuckian is used to demonstrate why Lincoln felt public opinion was turning in favor of slavery. The author says “I asked him to what he attributed the change that was going on in public opinion. He said he had recently put that question to a Kentuckian, who answered by saying . . . “

Example Question #86 : Evaluation

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

King Henry is dead; Stephen, that bold and outrageous person, comes flying over from Normandy to steal the throne from Henry's daughter. He accomplished his crime, and Henry of Huntington, a priest of high degree, mourns over it in his Chronicle. The Archbishop of Canterbury consecrated Stephen: "wherefore the Lord visited the Archbishop with the same judgment which he had inflicted upon him who struck Jeremiah the great priest: he died within a year." Stephen's was the greater offense, but Stephen could wait; not so the Archbishop, apparently.

The kingdom was a prey to intestine wars; slaughter, fire, and rapine spread ruin throughout the land; cries of distress, horror, and woe rose in every quarter.

That was the result of Stephen's crime. These unspeakable conditions continued during nineteen years. Then Stephen died as comfortably as any man ever did, and was honorably buried. It makes one pity the poor Archbishop, and wish that he, too, could have been let off as leniently. How did Henry of Huntington know that the Archbishop was sent to his grave by judgment of God for consecrating Stephen? He does not explain. Neither does he explain why Stephen was awarded a pleasanter death than he was entitled to, while the aged King Henry, his predecessor, who had ruled England thirty-five years to the people's strongly worded satisfaction, was condemned to close his life in circumstances most distinctly unpleasant, inconvenient, and disagreeable. His was probably the most uninspiring funeral that is set down in history. There is not a detail about it that is attractive. It seems to have been just the funeral for Stephen, and even at this far-distant day it is matter of just regret that by an indiscretion the wrong man got it.

Whenever God punishes a man, Henry of Huntington knows why it was done, and tells us; and his pen is eloquent with admiration; but when a man has earned punishment, and escapes, he does not explain. He is evidently puzzled, but he does not say anything. I think it is often apparent that he is pained by these discrepancies, but loyally tries his best not to show it. When he cannot praise, he delivers himself of a silence so marked that a suspicious person could mistake it for suppressed criticism. However, he has plenty of opportunities to feel contented with the way things go—his book is full of them.

In the month of August, Providence displayed its justice in a remarkable manner; for two of the nobles who had converted monasteries into fortifications, expelling the monks, their sin being the same, met with a similar punishment. Robert Marmion was one, Godfrey de Mandeville the other. Robert Marmion, issuing forth against the enemy, was slain under the walls of the monastery, being the only one who fell, though he was surrounded by his troops. Dying excommunicated, he became subject to death everlasting. In like manner Earl Godfrey was singled out among his followers, and shot with an arrow by a common foot-soldier. He made light of the wound, but he died of it in a few days, under excommunication. See here the like judgment of God, memorable through all ages!

This exaltation jars upon me; not because of the death of the men, for they deserved that, but because it is death eternal, in white-hot fire and flame. It makes my flesh crawl. I have not known more than three men, or perhaps four, in my whole lifetime, whom I would rejoice to see writhing in those fires for even a year, let alone forever. I believe I would relent before the year was up, and get them out if I could. I think that in the long run, if a man's wife and babies, who had not harmed me, should come crying and pleading, I couldn't stand it; I know I should forgive him and let him go, even if he had violated a monastery. Henry of Huntington has been watching Godfrey and Marmion for nearly seven hundred and fifty years, now, but I couldn't do it.

All through his book Henry exhibits his familiarity with the intentions of God, and with the reasons for his intentions. Sometimes—very often, in fact—the act follows the intention after such a wide interval of time that one wonders how Henry could fit one act out of a hundred to one intention out of a hundred and get the thing right every time when there was such abundant choice among acts and intentions. Sometimes a man offends the Deity with a crime, and is punished for it thirty years later; meantime he has committed a million other crimes: no matter, Henry can pick out the one that brought the worms.

The excerpt from Henry Huntington’s work makes the author uncomfortable primarily because it __________.

Possible Answers:

highlights the horrific nature of Medieval Europe

is impossible to argue against

is inconsistent with other evidence

expresses such joy at death and damnation

demeans the positive attributes of contemporary religion

Correct answer:

expresses such joy at death and damnation


In the excerpt from Henry Huntington that the author includes, Huntington is expressing his joy at the suffering inflicted upon two heretical men by divine providence. After the excerpt is finished the author says that “this exaltation jars upon me; not because of the death of the men, for they deserved that, but because it is death eternal, in white-hot fire and flame.” The key word in that sentence is “exaltation,” which means feeling of extreme happiness. The author is made uncomfortable by the degree of joy that the author draws from the death and eternal damnation of the two figures described in the excerpt. The author says “I have not known more than three men, or perhaps four, in my whole lifetime, whom I would rejoice to see writhing in those fires for even a year, let alone forever.”

Example Question #2 : Allegory And Analogy

Adapted from "What is Noble?" in Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche (1886):

To be sure, one must not resign oneself to any humanitarian illusions about the history of the origin of an aristocratic society (that is to say, of the preliminary condition for the elevation of the type "man"): the truth is hard. Let us acknowledge unprejudicedly how every higher civilization hitherto has ORIGINATED! Men with a still natural nature, barbarians in every terrible sense of the word, men of prey, still in possession of unbroken strength of will and desire for power, threw themselves upon weaker, more moral, more peaceful races (perhaps trading or cattle-rearing communities), or upon old mellow civilizations in which the final vital force was flickering out in brilliant fireworks of wit and depravity. At the commencement, the noble caste was always the barbarian caste: their superiority did not consist first of all in their physical, but in their psychical power—they were more COMPLETE men (which at every point also implies the same as "more complete beasts").

258. Corruption—as the indication that anarchy threatens to break out among the instincts, and that the foundation of the emotions, called "life," is convulsed—is something radically different according to the organization in which it manifests itself. When, for instance, an aristocracy like that of France at the beginning of the Revolution, flung away its privileges with sublime disgust and sacrificed itself to an excess of its moral sentiments, it was corruption:—it was really only the closing act of the corruption which had existed for centuries, by virtue of which that aristocracy had abdicated step by step its lordly prerogatives and lowered itself to a FUNCTION of royalty (in the end even to its decoration and parade-dress). The essential thing, however, in a good and healthy aristocracy is that it should not regard itself as a function either of the kingship or the commonwealth, but as the SIGNIFICANCE and highest justification thereof—that it should therefore accept with a good conscience the sacrifice of a legion of individuals, who, FOR ITS SAKE, must be suppressed and reduced to imperfect men, to slaves and instruments. Its fundamental belief must be precisely that society is NOT allowed to exist for its own sake, but only as a foundation and scaffolding, by means of which a select class of beings may be able to elevate themselves to their higher duties, and in general to a higher EXISTENCE: like those sun-seeking climbing plants in Java—they are called Sipo Matador,—which encircle an oak so long and so often with their arms, until at last, high above it, but supported by it, they can unfold their tops in the open light, and exhibit their happiness.

259. To refrain mutually from injury, from violence, from exploitation, and put one's will on a par with that of others: this may result in a certain rough sense in good conduct among individuals when the necessary conditions are given (namely, the actual similarity of the individuals in amount of force and degree of worth, and their co-relation within one organization). As soon, however, as one wished to take this principle more generally, and if possible even as the FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE OF SOCIETY, it would immediately disclose what it really is—namely, a Will to the DENIAL of life, a principle of dissolution and decay. Here one must think profoundly to the very basis and resist all sentimental weakness: life itself is ESSENTIALLY appropriation, injury, conquest of the strange and weak, suppression, severity, obtrusion of peculiar forms, incorporation, and at the least, putting it mildest, exploitation;—but why should one for ever use precisely these words on which for ages a disparaging purpose has been stamped? Even the organization within which, as was previously supposed, the individuals treat each other as equal—it takes place in every healthy aristocracy—must itself, if it be a living and not a dying organization, do all that towards other bodies, which the individuals within it refrain from doing to each other it will have to be the incarnated Will to Power, it will endeavour to grow, to gain ground, attract to itself and acquire ascendancy—not owing to any morality or immorality, but because it LIVES, and because life IS precisely Will to Power. On no point, however, is the ordinary consciousness of Europeans more unwilling to be corrected than on this matter, people now rave everywhere, even under the guise of science, about coming conditions of society in which "the exploiting character" is to be absent—that sounds to my ears as if they promised to invent a mode of life which should refrain from all organic functions. "Exploitation" does not belong to a depraved, or imperfect and primitive society it belongs to the nature of the living being as a primary organic function, it is a consequence of the intrinsic Will to Power, which is precisely the Will to Life.

The author mentions the sun-seeking plants of Java that grow around oak trees in order to depict __________.

Possible Answers:

The idea of social climbing and class mobility.

That aristocrats must believe society exists so they can exhibit their happiness, not that society exists for itself.

The aristocrats form a parasitic relationship with the common classes of society.

The difference between the Will to Life in nature and in humans.

That the common class and aristocrats are as different as oak and vines.

Correct answer:

That aristocrats must believe society exists so they can exhibit their happiness, not that society exists for itself.


The author is creating an analogy, comparing the sun-seeking plant supported by the oak to the aristocratic class, whose "fundamental belief must be precisely that society is NOT allowed to exist for its own sake, but only as a foundation and scaffolding, by means of which a select class of beings may be able to elevate themselves to their higher duties."

The author does not suggest that there is an innate physical difference between the common class and the aristocratic class, as there is between vines and oak trees.

Based on the passage, the author believes that the Will to Life or Will to Power is an inherent quality of all life, and exists in both nature and humans.

The sun-seeking plant does not represent social mobility, in fact it represents the opposite, as the oak tree (the common people) can never become the vine (the aristocrats).

The author does not suggest that the aristocrats form a parasitic relationship with the common classes.

Example Question #281 : 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.

What is the purpose of the author's use of the violin analogy (paragraph 2)?

Possible Answers:

It illustrated the author's viewpoint of the interaction between spirit and body before reading The Reminiscences of Judge Edmunds

It introduced an idea in the next paragraph. 

It illustrated a future shift in the perspective of the author. 

It supports the author's hypothetical situation of how "alcohol or opium...could apparently change a man's spirit."

Correct answer:

It illustrated a future shift in the perspective of the author. 


In the paragraph preceding the violin analogy, the author explained viewpoints he had while reading Judge Edmunds' book. At the end of the paragraph, he foreshadows a change in perspective by introducing the idea that the body was an instrument of the spirit. The violin analogy serves to illustrate this idea that the author did not have at the time of Judge Edmunds' book. It contrasts the ideas of the bulk of the paragraph, including the fact that "alcohol or opium...could apparently change a man's spirit" and does not directly illustrate the ideas of following paragraphs. 

Example Question #88 : Evaluation

Passage adapted from "Patriotism and Sport" by G.K Chesterton (1908)

I notice that some papers, especially papers that call themselves patriotic, have fallen into quite a panic over the fact that we have been twice beaten in the world of sport, that a Frenchman has beaten us at golf, and that Belgians have beaten us at rowing. I suppose that the incidents are important to any people who ever believed in the self-satisfied English legend on this subject. I suppose that there are men who vaguely believe that we could never be beaten by a Frenchman, despite the fact that we have often been beaten by Frenchmen, and once by a Frenchwoman. In the old pictures in Punch you will find a recurring piece of satire. The English caricaturists always assumed that a Frenchman could not ride to hounds or enjoy English hunting. It did not seem to occur to them that all the people who founded English hunting were Frenchmen. All the Kings and nobles who originally rode to hounds spoke French. Large numbers of those Englishmen who still ride to hounds have French names. I suppose that the thing is important to any one who is ignorant of such evident matters as these. I suppose that if a man has ever believed that we English have some sacred and separate right to be athletic, such reverses do appear quite enormous and shocking. They feel as if, while the proper sun was rising in the east, some other and unexpected sun had begun to rise in the north-north-west by north. For the benefit, the moral and intellectual benefit of such people, it may be worth while to point out that the Anglo-Saxon has in these cases been defeated precisely by those competitors whom he has always regarded as being out of the running; by Latins, and by Latins of the most easy and unstrenuous type; not only by Frenchman, but by Belgians. All this, I say, is worth telling to any intelligent person who believes in the haughty theory of Anglo-Saxon superiority. But, then, no intelligent person does believe in the haughty theory of Anglo-Saxon superiority. No quite genuine Englishman ever did believe in it. And the genuine Englishman these defeats will in no respect dismay.

The genuine English patriot will know that the strength of England has never depended upon any of these things; that the glory of England has never had anything to do with them, except in the opinion of a large section of the rich and a loose section of the poor which copies the idleness of the rich. These people will, of course, think too much of our failure, just as they thought too much of our success. The typical Jingoes who have admired their countrymen too much for being conquerors will, doubtless, despise their countrymen too much for being conquered. But the Englishman with any feeling for England will know that athletic failures do not prove that England is weak, any more than athletic successes proved that England was strong. The truth is that athletics, like all other things, especially modern, are insanely individualistic. The Englishmen who win sporting prizes are exceptional among Englishmen, for the simple reason that they are exceptional even among men. English athletes represent England just about as much as Mr. Barnum's freaks represent America. There are so few of such people in the whole world that it is almost a toss-up whether they are found in this or that country.

What purpose is served by the author’s mention of Anglo-Saxon superiority?

Possible Answers:

To attack the concept of Anglo-Saxon superiority, an idea to which the author is opposed

To begin an argument for English superiority above all other Anglo-Saxons

To attack Anglo-Saxons, who the author feels are very prideful

To Introduce one of the author’s main themes 

Correct answer:

To attack the concept of Anglo-Saxon superiority, an idea to which the author is opposed


The author mentions Anglo-Saxon superiority for the purpose of discrediting it. Although it is not a main theme of the passage, it is a relevant tangential theme to the author’s argument. The author does not attack Anglo-Saxons in general, only the sentiment that they are better than others. He arguing against the notion of English superiority above other Anglo-Saxons.

Example Question #89 : Evaluation

Passage adapted from Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)

It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.

How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form? His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.

The different accidents of life are not so changeable as the feelings of human nature. I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room and continued a long time traversing my bed-chamber, unable to compose my mind to sleep. At length lassitude succeeded to the tumult I had before endured, and I threw myself on the bed in my clothes, endeavouring to seek a few moments of forgetfulness. But it was in vain; I slept, indeed, but I was disturbed by the wildest dreams. I thought I saw Elizabeth, in the bloom of health, walking in the streets of Ingolstadt. Delighted and surprised, I embraced her, but as I imprinted the first kiss on her lips, they became livid with the hue of death; her features appeared to change, and I thought that I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms; a shroud enveloped her form, and I saw the grave-worms crawling in the folds of the flannel. I started from my sleep with horror; a cold dew covered my forehead, my teeth chattered, and every limb became convulsed; when, by the dim and yellow light of the moon, as it forced its way through the window shutters, I beheld the wretch–the miserable monster whom I had created. He held up the curtain of the bed; and his eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me. His jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulate sounds, while a grin wrinkled his cheeks. He might have spoken, but I did not hear; one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped and rushed downstairs. I took refuge in the courtyard belonging to the house which I inhabited, where I remained during the rest of the night, walking up and down in the greatest agitation, listening attentively, catching and fearing each sound as if it were to announce the approach of the demoniacal corpse to which I had so miserably given life.

The physical description of the “catastrophe” serves to ___________________.

Possible Answers:

show the unwavering excitement that the narrator feels upon successful completion of his experiment

express that only God could have made such a physically perfect specimen

highlight the contrast between the physical perfection of the creation and the horror that the narrator feels

prove that the creation will most likely die given its physical maladies

demonstrate that a scientific creation can be physically perfect, but a normal human can not

Correct answer:

highlight the contrast between the physical perfection of the creation and the horror that the narrator feels


The narrator begins describing his creation by pointing out the parts of it that are perfect (proportions, features, hair, teeth, etc.) The narrator also points out some features that instilled fear in him (eye color, complexion, lips). He expresses mixed feelings of amazement and horror, and so contrast between the perfection of the monster and the narrator’s emotions is the correct answer.

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