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Question of the Day: MCAT Verbal

Passage adapted from "The Modern Martyr" by G.K. Chesterton (1908)

The incident of the Suffragettes who chained themselves with iron chains to the railings of Downing Street is a good ironical allegory of most modern martyrdom. It generally consists of a man chaining himself up and then complaining that he is not free. Some say that such larks retard the cause of female suffrage, others say that such larks alone can advance it; as a matter of fact, I do not believe that they have the smallest effect one way or the other.

The modern notion of impressing the public by a mere demonstration of unpopularity, by being thrown out of meetings or thrown into jail is largely a mistake. It rests on a fallacy touching the true popular value of martyrdom. People look at human history and see that it has often happened that persecutions have not only advertised but even advanced a persecuted creed, and given to its validity the public and dreadful witness of dying men. The paradox was pictorially expressed in Christian art, in which saints were shown brandishing as weapons the very tools that had slain them. And because his martyrdom is thus a power to the martyr, modern people think that any one who makes himself slightly uncomfortable in public will immediately be uproariously popular. This element of inadequate martyrdom is not true only of the Suffragettes; it is true of many movements I respect and some that I agree with. It was true, for instance, of the Passive Resisters, who had pieces of their furniture sold up. The assumption is that if you show your ordinary sincerity (or even your political ambition) by being a nuisance to yourself as well as to other people, you will have the strength of the great saints who passed through the fire. Anyone who can be hustled in a hall for five minutes, or put in a cell for five days, has achieved what was meant by martyrdom, and has a halo in the Christian art of the future. Miss Pankhurst will be represented holding a policeman in each hand--the instruments of her martyrdom. The Passive Resister will be shown symbolically carrying the teapot that was torn from him by tyrannical auctioneers.

But there is a fallacy in this analogy of martyrdom. The truth is that the special impressiveness which does come from being persecuted only happens in the case of extreme persecution. For the fact that the modern enthusiast will undergo some inconvenience for the creed he holds only proves that he does hold it, which no one ever doubted. No one doubts that the Nonconformist minister cares more for Nonconformity than he does for his teapot. No one doubts that Miss Pankhurst wants a vote more than she wants a quiet afternoon and an armchair. Pagans were not impressed by the torture of Christians merely because it showed that they honestly held their opinion; they knew that millions of people honestly held all sorts of opinions. The point of such extreme martyrdom is much more subtle. It is that it gives an appearance of a man having something quite specially strong to back him up, of his drawing upon some power. And this can only be proved when all his physical contentment is destroyed; when all the current of his bodily being is reversed and turned to pain. If a man is seen to be roaring with laughter all the time that he is skinned alive, it would not be unreasonable to deduce that somewhere in the recesses of his mind he had thought of a rather good joke. Similarly, if men smiled and sang (as they did) while they were being boiled or torn in pieces, the spectators felt the presence of something more than mere mental honesty: they felt the presence of some new and unintelligible kind of pleasure, which, presumably, came from somewhere. It might be a strength of madness, or a lying spirit from Hell; but it was something quite positive and extraordinary; as positive as brandy and as extraordinary as conjuring. The Pagan said to himself: "If Christianity makes a man happy while his legs are being eaten by a lion, might it not make me happy while my legs are still attached to me and walking down the street?"

Which of the following people would the author likely be impressed with as an effective martyr?

A woman faints after walking around her office during the summer with a heavy coat to protest company stances that are supposedly contributing to global warming

All these examples would likely be cited as equally effective by the author

A university student who goes on a hunger strike for two days in protest of racist university policies

A bank worker who allowed himself to be shot rather than open the safe for a corrupt coworker

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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