MCAT Verbal : Understanding the difference between supported and unsupported claims

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for MCAT Verbal

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Example Question #11 : Understanding The Difference Between Supported And Unsupported Claims

Adapted from The Frontier in American History (1921) by Frederick Jackson Turner

In a recent bulletin of the Superintendent of the Census for 1890 appear these significant words: "Up to and including 1880 the country had a frontier of settlement, but at present the unsettled area has been so broken into by isolated bodies of settlement that there can hardly be said to be a frontier line. In the discussion of its extent, its westward movement, etc., it can not, therefore, any longer have a place in the census reports." This brief official statement marks the closing of a great historic movement. Up to our own day American history has been in a large degree the history of the colonization of the Great West. The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward, explain American development.

Behind institutions, behind constitutional forms and modifications, lie the vital forces that call these organs into life and shape them to meet changing conditions. The peculiarity of American institutions is, the fact that they have been compelled to adapt themselves to the changes of an expanding people—to the changes involved in crossing a continent, in winning a wilderness, and in developing at each area of this progress out of the primitive economic and political conditions of the frontier into the complexity of city life. Said Calhoun in 1817, "We are great, and rapidly—I was about to say fearfully—growing!" So saying, he touched the distinguishing feature of American life. All peoples show development; the germ theory of politics has been sufficiently emphasized. In the case of most nations, however, the development has occurred in a limited area; and if the nation has expanded, it has met other growing peoples whom it has conquered. But in the case of the United States we have a different phenomenon. Limiting our attention to the Atlantic coast, we have the familiar phenomenon of the evolution of institutions in a limited area, such as the rise of representative government; the differentiation of simple colonial governments into complex organs; the progress from primitive industrial society, without division of labor, up to manufacturing civilization. But we have in addition to this a recurrence of the process of evolution in each western area reached in the process of expansion. Thus American development has exhibited not merely advance along a single line, but a return to primitive conditions on a continually advancing frontier line, and a new development for that area. American social development has been continually beginning over again on the frontier. This perennial rebirth, this fluidity of American life, this expansion westward with its new opportunities, its continuous touch with the simplicity of primitive society, furnish the forces dominating American character. The true point of view in the history of this nation is not the Atlantic coast, it is the Great West. Even the events of the mid 1800's, which are made so exclusive an object of attention by writers like Professor von Holst, occupies their important place in American history because of their relation to westward expansion.

In this advance, the frontier is the outer edge of the wave—the meeting point between the wilderness and civilization. Much has been written about the frontier from the point of view of border warfare and the chase, but as a field for the serious study of the economist and the historian it has been neglected.

The American frontier is sharply distinguished from the European frontier—a fortified boundary line running through dense populations. The most significant thing about the American frontier is, that it lies at the hither edge of free land. In the census reports it is treated as the margin of that settlement which has a density of two or more to the square mile. The term is an elastic one, and for our purposes does not need sharp definition. We shall consider the whole frontier belt including the  outer margin of the "settled area" of the census reports. This paper will make no attempt to treat the subject exhaustively; its aim is simply to call attention to the frontier as a fertile field for investigation, and to suggest some of the problems which arise in connection with it.

With what information does the author define the American frontier?

Possible Answers:

A description of the frontier before 1890

A quote by Calhoun

A comparison to the European frontier

The outline given by the body which drafts censuses

Numerous sources both historical and economical

Correct answer:

The outline given by the body which drafts censuses

Explanation:

The author clearly uses the outline given by the census drafting body to define the American frontier in the last paragraph of the passage where he states: “In the census reports it is treated as the margin of that settlement which has a density of two or more to the square mile. The term is an elastic one, and for our purposes does not need sharp definition. We shall consider the whole frontier belt including the  outer margin of the "settled area" of the census reports.” His definition is not restricted to this as he says the term “frontier” is elastic; but the other answers do not cover his definition and he only truly uses the census to define the frontier.

Example Question #251 : Mcat Verbal Reasoning

Passage adapted from "Babies" by G. K. Chesterton (1903)

The two facts which attract almost every normal person to children are, first, that they are very serious, and secondly, that they are in consequence very happy.

The most unfathomable schools and sages have never attained to the gravity which dwells in the eyes of a baby of three months old. It is the gravity of astonishment at the universe, and astonishment at the universe is not mysticism, but a transcendent common sense. The fascination of children lies in this: that with each of them all things are remade, and the universe is put again upon its trial. As we walk the streets and see below us those delightful bulbous heads, three times too big for the body, which mark these human mushrooms, we ought always to remember that within every one of these heads there is a new universe, as new as it was on the seventh day of creation. In each of those orbs there is a new system of stars, new grass, new cities, a new sea.

If we could see the stars as a child sees them, we should need no other apocalypse… We may scale the heavens and find new stars innumerable, but there is still the new star we have not found – the one on which we were born. But the influence of children goes further than its first trifling effort of remaking heaven and earth. It forces us actually to remodel our conduct in accordance with this revolutionary theory of the marvelousness of all things. We do actually treat talking in children as marvelous, walking in children as marvelous, common intelligence in children as marvelous… and that attitude towards children is right. It is our attitude towards grown up people that is wrong.

Our attitude towards children consists in a condescending indulgence, overlying an unfathomable respect; we reverence, love, fear and forgive them. We bow to grown people, take off our hats to them, refrain from contradicting them flatly, but we do not appreciate them properly. If we treated all grown-up persons with precisely that dark affection and dazed respect with which we treat the limitations of an infant, accepting their blunders, delighted at all their faltering attempts, marveling at their small accomplishments, we should be in a far more wise and tolerant temper.

The essential rectitude of our view of children lies in the fact that we feel them and their ways to be supernatural while, for some mysterious reason, we do not feel ourselves or our own ways to be supernatural. The very smallness of children makes it possible to regard them as marvels; we seem to be dealing with a new race, only to be seen through a microscope. I doubt if anyone of any tenderness or imagination can see the hand of a child and not be a little frightened of it. It is awful to think of the essential human energy moving so tiny a thing; it is like imagining that human nature could live in the wing of a butterfly or the leaf of a tree. When we look upon lives so human and yet so small, we feel the same kind of obligation to these creatures that God might feel.

But it is the humorous look of children that is perhaps the most endearing of all the bonds that hold the cosmos together. They give us the most perfect hint of the humor that awaits us in the kingdom of heaven.

Which of the following quotations best supports the statement that “within every one of these heads there is a new universe”?

Possible Answers:

Astonishment at the universe is not mysticism, but a transcendent common sense

We reverence, love, fear and forgive [children]

The fascination of children lies in this: that with each of them all things are remade

If we could see the stars as a child sees them, we should need no other apocalypse

Correct answer:

The fascination of children lies in this: that with each of them all things are remade

Explanation:

The author claims that there is a new universe inside every baby’s head because they are constantly evaluating things in a way very different from the way we do. They have not been taught in the modern man’s way of thinking, so each person will think in an original manner. Thus the concept of things being “remade” ties in nicely to this statement. The other answer choices do not directly address the concept of “a new universe.” They address products of the concept in relation to us or a clarification of what the author meant by “astonishment at the universe.” 

Example Question #51 : Evaluation

Passage adapted from “On The Cryptic And The Elliptic,” G.K. Chesterton (1915)

Surely the art of reporting speeches is in a strange state of degeneration. We should not object, perhaps, to the reporter's making the speeches much shorter than they are; but we do object to his making all the speeches much worse than they are. And the method which he employs is one which is dangerously unjust. When a statesman or philosopher makes an important speech, there are several courses which the reporter might take without being unreasonable. Perhaps the most reasonable course of all would be not to report the speech at all. Let the world live and love, marry and give in marriage, without that particular speech, as they did (in some desperate way) in the days when there were no newspapers. A second course would be to report a small part of it; but to get that right. A third course, far better if you can do it, is to understand the main purpose and argument of the speech, and report that in clear and logical language of your own. In short, the three possible methods are, first, to leave the man's speech alone; second, to report what he says or some complete part of what he says; and third, to report what he means. But the present way of reporting speeches (mainly created, I think, by the scrappy methods of the Daily Mail) is something utterly different from both these ways, and quite senseless and misleading.

The present method is this: the reporter sits listening to a tide of words which he does not try to understand, and does not, generally speaking, even try to take down; he waits until something occurs in the speech which for some reason sounds funny, or memorable, or very exaggerated, or, perhaps, merely concrete; then he writes it down and waits for the next one. If the orator says that the Premier is like a porpoise in the sea under some special circumstances, the reporter gets in the porpoise even if he leaves out the Premier. If the orator begins by saying that Mr. Chamberlain is rather like a violoncello, the reporter does not even wait to hear why he is like a violoncello. He has got hold of something material, and so he is quite happy. The strong words all are put in; the chain of thought is left out. If the orator uses the word "donkey," down goes the word "donkey.” They follow each other so abruptly in the report that it is often hard to discover the fascinating fact as to…who was being compared with a donkey. And the whole line of argument in which these things occurred is entirely lost. I have before me a newspaper report of a speech by Mr. Bernard Shaw, of which one complete and separate paragraph runs like this--

"Capital meant spare money over and above one's needs. Their country was not really their country at all except in patriotic songs."

I am well enough acquainted with the whole map of Mr. Bernard Shaw's philosophy to know that those two statements might have been related to each other in a hundred ways. But I think that if they were read by an ordinary intelligent man, who happened not to know Mr. Shaw's views, he would form no impression at all except that Mr. Shaw was a lunatic of more than usually abrupt conversation and disconnected mind. The other two methods would certainly have done Mr. Shaw more justice: the reporter should either have taken down verbatim what the speaker really said about Capital, or have given an outline of the way in which this idea was connected with the idea about patriotic songs…

For which of the following claims does the author not provide supporting evidence?

Possible Answers:

“[The strong words] follow each other so abruptly in the report that…the whole line of argument in which these things occurred is entirely lost

Surely the art of reporting speeches is in a strange state of degeneration.

Perhaps the most reasonable course of all would be not to report the speech at all

All of the claims provide supporting evidence

Correct answer:

Perhaps the most reasonable course of all would be not to report the speech at all

Explanation:

The author does not demonstrate that ignoring a speech is the most reasonable course of action. Although the author implies that ignoring a speech would be better than reporting it poorly, no evidence is provided to establish this method as preferential over the other two methods. The example of Mr. Bernard Shaw supports both of the other claims about the degeneration of the state of reporting speeches and the argument being lost.

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