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Question of the Day: MCAT Verbal

Adapted from “Robespierre” in Critical Miscellanies by John Morley (1904)

M. D'Héricault does not belong to the school of writers who treat the course of history as a great high road, following a firmly traced line, and set with plain and ineffaceable landmarks. The French Revolution has nearly always been handled in this way, alike by those who think it fruitful in blessings, and by their adversaries, who pronounce it a curse inflicted by the wrath of Heaven. Historians have looked at the Revolution as a plain landsman looks at the sea. To the landsman the ocean seems one huge immeasurable flood, obeying a simple law of ebb and flow, and offering to the navigator a single uniform force. Yet in truth we know that the oceanic movement is the product of many forces; the seeming uniformity covers the energy of a hundred currents and counter-currents; the sea-floor is not even nor the same, but is subject to untold conditions of elevation and subsidence; the sea is not one mass, but many masses moving along definite lines of their own. It is the same with the great tides of history. Wise men shrink from summing them up in single propositions. That the French Revolution led to an immense augmentation of happiness, both for the French and for mankind, can only be denied by the Pope. That it secured its beneficent results untempered by any mixture of evil, can only be maintained by men as mad as Doctor Pangloss. The Greek poetess Corinna said to the youthful Pindar, when he had interwoven all the gods and goddesses in the Theban mythology into a single hymn, that we should sow with the hand and not with the sack. Corinna's monition to the singer is proper to the interpreter of historical truth: he should cull with the hand, and not sweep in with the scythe. It is doubtless mere pedantry to abstain from the widest conception of the sum of a great movement. A clear, definite, and stable idea of the meaning in the history of human progress of such vast groups of events as the Reformation or the Revolution, is indispensable for anyone to whom history is a serious study of society. It is just as important, however, not to forget that they were really groups of events, and not in either case a single uniform movement. A sensible man learns, in everyday life, to abstain from praising and blaming character by wholesale; he becomes content to say of this trait that it is good, and of that act that it was bad.

M. D'Héricault's volume naturally suggests such reflections as these. Of all the men of the Revolution, Robespierre has suffered most from the audacious idolatry of some writers, and the splenetic impatience of others. M. Louis Blanc and M. Ernest Hamel talk of him as an angel or a prophet, and the Ninth Thermidor is a red day indeed in their martyrology. Michelet and M. D'Héricault treat him as a mixture of Cagliostro and Caligula, both a charlatan and a miscreant. We are reminded of the commencement of an address of the French Senate to the first Bonaparte: 'Sire,' they began, 'the desire for perfection is one of the worst maladies that can afflict the human mind.' This bold aphorism touches one of the roots of the judgments we pass both upon men and events. It is because people so irrationally think fit to insist upon perfection, that Robespierre's admirers would fain deny that he ever had a fault, and the tacit adoption of the same impracticable standard makes it easier for Robespierre's wholesale detractors to deny that he had a single virtue or performed a single service. The point of view is essentially unfit for history. It is folly for the historian, as it is for the statesman, to strain after the imaginative unity of the dramatic creator. Social progress is an affair of many small pieces and slow accretions, and the interest of historic study lies in tracing, amid the immense turmoil of events and through the confusion of voices, the devious course of the sacred torch, as it shifts from bearer to bearer. And it is not the bearers who are most interesting, but the torch.

The primary purpose of this passage is __________.

to explain why Robespierre is such a polarizing figure in French history

to provide a brief outline of the events of the French Revolution

to lament the decline in serviceable historical inquiry

to mock a contemporary for inadequate historical practice

to provide a review of another author’s historical analysis

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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