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Question of the Day: MCAT Verbal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The primary function of the first paragraph is __________.

To establish the author's credibility

To provide a counter-argument to the main argument to come

To highlight a frustration that will be expanded upon

To explain the nature of philosophy

To ridicule the author's opposition

Similar to the Verbal Reasoning section of the previous rendition of the MCAT, the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills Section of the 2015 MCAT will ask students to read and consider passages from varying topics in the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. Following each passage, a set of around five questions will assess how well students comprehended and analyzed the material presented. While the passages may not appear long at between five hundred and six hundred words each, their vocabulary and grammatical structure are complex and the works themselves thought-provoking. In the fifty-three questions tested in the ninety-minute section, students may be asked about medical ethics, medical humanities, history, philosophy, and psychology. In comparison to the old test, test-takers will find more passages related to medicine, at times with an emphasis on the healthcare climate of the United States. Whether you need MCAT tutoring in AtlantaMCAT tutoring in Houston, or MCAT tutoring in San Francisco, working one-on-one with an expert may be just the boost your studies need.

A couple characteristics make this section unique—all of the questions in this section are passage-based; none are free-standing like those seen in the other three sections of the 2015 MCAT. Furthermore, all of the information required to answer each question is contained within the passage itself; no outside knowledge is required. In fact, use of outside knowledge instead of considering the information in the passage can often lead to incorrect answers. As far as questions are concerned, thirty percent of the questions come directly from the text as reading comprehension, thirty percent will require reasoning from the text (e.g. determining an author’s opinion or the theme of the passage), and forty percent require reasoning beyond the text (e.g. understanding the implicit assumptions required to write such a passage or determining what type of career the author may hold). Within the fifty percent of content that can be in the humanities, the American Association of Medical Colleges has informed test takers that topics can include architecture, art, dance, ethics, literature, music, philosophy, popular culture, religion, theater, and studies of diverse cultures (understanding certain traditions or exploring the heritage of a certain group of people). In the remaining fifty percent of content that can be classified as social sciences, passages may be written about anthropology, archaeology, economics, education, geography, history, linguistics, political science, population health, psychology, or sociology. Varsity Tutors offers resources like free MCAT Verbal Reasoning Practice Tests to help with your self-paced study, or you may want to consider an MCAT Verbal Reasoning tutor.

In order to score well on this section, students will need the ability both to read passages in a timely manner and to understand content, theme, and tone in order to answer the presented questions. The language used and topics presented to students may seem unfamiliar to some, as most students outside of English, Literature, or Linguistics majors are likely not used to reading such high-level writing on a regular basis. Early practice with passage-reading and utilizing vocabulary-building tools such as flashcards can allow students to read the passages more quickly and with higher fidelity. Additionally, test-takers will likely want to design a passage-mapping strategy that allows them to take notes as they read through the works. Subtle detail will likely be the key to answering questions that ask about the author’s tone, point-of-view, and purpose of writing the passage. Additionally, these notes will allow students to reason beyond the text to understand implicit assumptions needed to understand the passage. In addition to the MCAT Verbal Reasoning Question of the Day and MCAT Verbal Reasoning tutoring, you may also want to consider using some of our MCAT Verbal Reasoning flashcards.

If you want to start reviewing for the MCAT Critical Analysis and Reasoning section, Varsity Tutors’ free MCAT Verbal Learning Tools can help. We feature one MCAT Verbal question every day; picking an answer choice not only reveals the correct answer, but a full explanation of how you can arrive at it. No matter how you do on the question, it helps you: if you answer it correctly, it reinforces knowledge you have already gained, and if you miss the question, you are presented with a valuable opportunity to learn from your error and correct misconceptions before test day. Try your hand at answering our MCAT Verbal question of the day and check back every day for a new featured question and a new chance to improve your MCAT knowledge!

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