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Question of the Day: MCAT Verbal

Adapted from "A Criticism on the English Historians" by Samuel Johnson in The Rambler #122 (1751)

Of the various kinds of speaking or writing, which serve necessity, or promote pleasure, none appears so artless or easy as simple narration; for what should make him who knows the whole order and progress of an affair unable to relate it? Yet we hourly find such as endeavor to entertain or instruct us by recitals, clouding the facts that they intend to illustrate, and losing themselves and their auditors in wilds and mazes, in digression and confusion. When we have congratulated ourselves upon a new opportunity of inquiry, and new means of information, it often happens, that without designing either deceit or concealment, without ignorance of the fact, or unwillingness to disclose it, the relator fills the ear with empty sounds, harasses the attention with fruitless impatience, and disturbs the imagination by a tumult of events, without order of time, or train of consequence.

It is natural to believe, upon the same principle, that no writer has a more easy task than the historian. The philosopher has the works of omniscience to examine, and is therefore engaged in disquisitions, to which finite intellects are utterly unequal. The poet trusts to his invention, and is not only in danger of those inconsistencies, to which every one is exposed by departure from truth, but may be censured as well for deficiencies of matter, as for irregularity of disposition, or impropriety of ornament. But the happy historian has no other labor than of gathering what tradition pours down before him, or records treasure for his use. He has only the actions and designs of men like himself to conceive and to relate; he is not to form, but copy characters, and therefore is not blamed for the inconsistency of statesmen, the injustice of tyrants, or the cowardice of commanders. The difficulty of making variety consistent, or uniting probability with surprise, needs not to disturb him; the manners and actions of his personages are already fixed; his materials are provided and put into his hands, and he is at leisure to employ all his powers in arranging and displaying them.

Yet, even with these advantages, very few in any age have been able to raise themselves to reputation by writing histories; and among the innumerable authors who fill every nation with accounts of their ancestors, or undertake to transmit to futurity the events of their own time, the greater part, when fashion and novelty have ceased to recommend them, are of no other use than chronological memorials, which necessity may sometimes require to be consulted, but which fright away curiosity and disgust delicacy.

It is observed that our nation, which has produced so many authors eminent for almost every other species of literary excellence, has been hitherto remarkably barren of historical genius; and so far has this defect raised prejudices against us, that some have doubted whether an Englishman can stop at that mediocrity of style, or confine his mind to that even tenor of imagination that narrative requires.

They who can believe that nature has so capriciously distributed understanding, have surely no claim to the honor of serious confutation. The inhabitants of the same country have opposite characters in different ages; the prevalence or neglect of any particular study can proceed only from the accidental influence of some temporary cause; and if we have failed in history, we can have failed only because history has not hitherto been diligently cultivated.

But how is it evident, that we have not historians among us, whom we may venture to place in comparison with any that the neighboring nations can produce? The attempt of Raleigh is deservedly celebrated for the labor of his researches, and the elegance of his style; but he has endeavored to exert his judgment more than his genius, to select facts, rather than adorn them; and has produced an historical dissertation, but seldom risen to the majesty of history.

Which of the following most accurately paraphrases the underlined and bolded section of the passage?

Of all methods of discourse, used for all purposes, it seems as if the easiest is simply describing events as they happened.

Of all kinds of writing, historical writing appears to be the most difficult.

Of all methods of discourse, used for all purposes, it seems as if the hardest is simply describing events as they happened.

Of all methods of discourse, used for all purposes, describing events as they happened is the most necessary and practical.

Of all kinds of writing, fiction would appear to be the most easy and natural.

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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