PSAT Critical Reading : Analyzing Argumentative Claims, Bias, and Support in Humanities Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for PSAT Critical Reading

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Identifying And Analyzing Supporting Ideas In Literature Passages

Adapted from "The Philosophy of Composition" by Edgar Allan Poe (1846)

I have often thought how interesting a magazine paper might be written by any author who would—that is to say, who could—detail, step by step, the processes by which any one of his compositions attained its ultimate point of completion. Why such a paper has never been given to the world, I am much at a loss to say—but, perhaps, the autorial vanity has had more to do with the omission than any one other cause. Most writers—poets in especial—prefer having it understood that they compose by a species of fine frenzy—an ecstatic intuition—and would positively shudder at letting the public take a peep behind the scenes, at the elaborate and vacillating crudities of thought—at the true purposes seized only at the last moment—at the innumerable glimpses of idea that arrived not at the maturity of full view—at the fully-matured fancies discarded in despair as unmanageable—at the cautious selections and rejections—at the painful erasures and interpolations—in a word, at the wheels and pinions—the tackle for scene-shifting—the step-ladders, and demon-traps—the cock's feathers, the red paint and the black patches, which, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, constitute the properties of the literary histrio.

I am aware, on the other hand, that the case is by no means common, in which an author is at all in condition to retrace the steps by which his conclusions have been attained. In general, suggestions, having arisen pell-mell are pursued and forgotten in a similar manner.

What does Poe give as the primary reason that an article by an author about how he composed a work has not been written?

Possible Answers:

The process of writing is too painful for authors to write about.

Authors are too vain to admit how difficult the writing process is.

Poe offers no reason for why such a work has not been written.

Authors write according to inuition, and such an article would take too much planning.

Correct answer:

Authors are too vain to admit how difficult the writing process is.

Explanation:

Poe mentions "autorial vanity" and how authors prefer not to let readers see how they do what they do as the primary reason for the lack of such an article.

Example Question #9 : Making Inferences And Predictions In Literature Passages

Adapted from "The Philosophy of Composition" by Edgar Allan Poe (1846)

I have often thought how interesting a magazine paper might be written by any author who would—that is to say, who could—detail, step by step, the processes by which any one of his compositions attained its ultimate point of completion. Why such a paper has never been given to the world, I am much at a loss to say—but, perhaps, the authorial vanity has had more to do with the omission than any one other cause. Most writers—poets in especial—prefer having it understood that they compose by a species of fine frenzy—an ecstatic intuition—and would positively shudder at letting the public take a peep behind the scenes, at the elaborate and vacillating crudities of thought—at the true purposes seized only at the last moment—at the innumerable glimpses of idea that arrived not at the maturity of full view—at the fully-matured fancies discarded in despair as unmanageable—at the cautious selections and rejections—at the painful erasures and interpolations—in a word, at the wheels and pinions—the tackle for scene-shifting—the step-ladders, and demon-traps—the cock's feathers, the red paint and the black patches, which, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, constitute the properties of the literary histrio.

I am aware, on the other hand, that the case is by no means common, in which an author is at all in condition to retrace the steps by which his conclusions have been attained. In general, suggestions, having arisen pell-mell are pursued and forgotten in a similar manner.

In the second paragraph, Poe states that another reason such an essay hasn't been written before is because __________.

Possible Answers:

some writers want to keep the way they write their works to themselves for fear that other writers will copy their method of writing

some writers write in such a manner that they may have forgotten how they created a work

some writers do not have a set process for creating a work

some writers are too distracted while writing to make note of what they are doing

Correct answer:

some writers write in such a manner that they may have forgotten how they created a work

Explanation:

Poe says that some writers cannot retrace their steps in writing a work because they work in such a haphazard and spontaneous way.

Example Question #2 : Analyzing Argumentative Claims, Bias, And Support In Humanities Passages

Adapted from “A Defense of Slang” in The Romance of the Commonplace by Gelett Burgess (1902)

Could Shakespeare come to Chicago and listen curiously to "the man in the street," he would find himself more at home than in London. In the mouths of messenger boys and clerks he would find the English language used with all the freedom of unexpected metaphor and the plastic, suggestive diction that was the privilege of the Elizabethan dramatists; he would say, no doubt, that he had found a nation of poets. There was hardly any such thing as slang in his day, for no graphic trope was too virile or uncommon for acceptance, if its meaning were patent. His own heroes often spoke what corresponds to the slang of today.

The word, indeed, needs precise definition, before we condemn all unconventional talk with vigor. Slang has been called "poetry in the rough," and it is not all coarse or vulgar. There is a prosaic as well as a poetic license. The man in the street calls a charming girl, for instance, a "daisy." Surely this is not inelegant, and such a reference will be understood a century from now. Slang, to prove adjuvant to our speech, which is growing more and more rigid and conventional, should be terse; it should make for force and clarity, without any sacrifice of beauty.

The author believes that slang should primarily be used __________.

Possible Answers:

to praise or insult an individual

to describe something inelegantly

to add color and clarity to language

sparingly, so as not to cause offense

when writing plays and sonnets

Correct answer:

to add color and clarity to language

Explanation:

The author’s opinion on the use of slang can be found in the concluding statement to this passage where he says “Slang, to prove adjuvant to our speech, which is growing more and more rigid and conventional, should be terse; it should make for force and clarity, without any sacrifice of beauty.” The statement about how formal speech is growing more and more rigid provides a clue that the author believes slang should be used to add color to our language. In addition, the author states himself that slang should make for clarity. The other answer choices are neither explicitly nor implicitly stated in the passage.

Example Question #351 : Humanities Passages

Adapted from “A Defense of Slang” in The Romance of the Commonplace by Gelett Burgess (1902)

Could Shakespeare come to Chicago and listen curiously to "the man in the street," he would find himself more at home than in London. In the mouths of messenger boys and clerks he would find the English language used with all the freedom of unexpected metaphor and the plastic, suggestive diction that was the privilege of the Elizabethan dramatists; he would say, no doubt, that he had found a nation of poets. There was hardly any such thing as slang in his day, for no graphic trope was too virile or uncommon for acceptance, if its meaning were patent. His own heroes often spoke what corresponds to the slang of today.

The word, indeed, needs precise definition, before we condemn all unconventional talk with vigor. Slang has been called "poetry in the rough," and it is not all coarse or vulgar. There is a prosaic as well as a poetic license. The man in the street calls a charming girl, for instance, a "daisy." Surely this is not inelegant, and such a reference will be understood a century from now. Slang, to prove adjuvant to our speech, which is growing more and more rigid and conventional, should be terse; it should make for force and clarity, without any sacrifice of beauty.

Why does the author believe there was no slang in Shakespeare’s time?

Possible Answers:

Slang was considered too vulgar and its usage was discouraged by Queen Elizabeth I.

The people of Elizabethan England were too serious for such prosaic creativity.

There were too few laboring classes from which slang could be drawn.

Even strong, offensive, and unusual language was widely accepted and understood.

English dramatists refused to employ slang in their work.

Correct answer:

Even strong, offensive, and unusual language was widely accepted and understood.

Explanation:

The author makes a statement that there was “hardly any such thing as slang” in Shakespeare’s day. But, we know that the author has compared the slang spoken in Chicago to the language of Elizabethan England. To remedy this apparent discrepancy, it is necessary to read on and pay attention to the phrase “no graphic trope was too virile or uncommon for acceptance.” Here, the author is stating that slang language in Elizabethan England was part of the common city-wide vernacular and not confined to smaller groups, such as the “messenger boys and clerks” of Chicago. The author clearly feels that even offensive or unusual language was widely used and understood.

Example Question #4 : Drawing Generalizations About Humanities Passages

Adapted from “A Defense of Slang” in The Romance of the Commonplace by Gelett Burgess (1902)

Could Shakespeare come to Chicago and listen curiously to "the man in the street," he would find himself more at home than in London. In the mouths of messenger boys and clerks he would find the English language used with all the freedom of unexpected metaphor and the plastic, suggestive diction that was the privilege of the Elizabethan dramatists; he would say, no doubt, that he had found a nation of poets. There was hardly any such thing as slang in his day, for no graphic trope was too virile or uncommon for acceptance, if its meaning were patent. His own heroes often spoke what corresponds to the slang of today.

The word, indeed, needs precise definition, before we condemn all unconventional talk with vigor. Slang has been called "poetry in the rough," and it is not all coarse or vulgar. There is a prosaic as well as a poetic license. The man in the street calls a charming girl, for instance, a "daisy." Surely this is not inelegant, and such a reference will be understood a century from now. Slang, to prove adjuvant to our speech, which is growing more and more rigid and conventional, should be terse; it should make for force and clarity, without any sacrifice of beauty.

The passage as a whole suggests that a “nation of poets” __________.

Possible Answers:

existed in the upper classes of American society

could have been found in Elizabethan England

can be found in working-class Chicago

should be considered vulgar and coarse

could not exist without a sacrifice of linguistic beauty

Correct answer:

can be found in working-class Chicago

Explanation:

To solve this question, you have to read in-context. The author states that if Shakespeare came to Chicago and listened to the “man in the street,” he would hear a “nation of poets.” The author even expands his definition of “man in the street” and tells the reader that it is “messenger boys and clerks.” This suggests that a nation of poets would be found in the working classes of Chicago, and of America. The important point here is to extrapolate from information found in the text. The author does not explicitly make a statement about working classes, but he uses idioms such as “man in the street” to implicitly make his point.

Example Question #3 : Argumentative Humanities Passages

"Commentaries" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

The idea of a commentary is not anywhere as simple as most people think. To the popular imagination, the commentator makes a few observations based on a text, not going far beyond its contents. This standard opinion completely misses the various types of commentaries that can be written. Indeed, even the notion of “literal commentary” is itself so variegated that it is incorrect to imagine that such “literal” work is merely a slavish repetition of an original text.

Some literal commentaries truly are “literal,” that is, based on the letters and words of the text. Such philological studies investigate the language structures and meanings of a text. The interpretation of the text proceeds based on these linguistic investigations. Often, this process will note the types of rhetoric being used, the dialects utilized, and any odd language structures that might imply something with regard to the text’s meaning. All of these methods remain very concerned with the “letter of the text” in a very direct manner.

Indeed, even the Medieval commentaries on Aristotle’s works could be considered “literal,” though they do differ from such linguistic approaches. Men like Thomas Aquinas would very carefully read Aristotle’s text, giving what was called a divisio textus for every section of the text in question. This “division of the text” sought to provide a succinct but correct outline of the text in question so that its literal meaning might be more easily noticed. Certainly, the commentary that followed this divisio textus did express some aspects of Aquinas’ own thought. However, he (like other literal commentators of this type) would attempt to remain as close to the literal meaning of the text as possible, always using the divisio textus as a guide for understanding the structure of the original author’s thought.

What was the purpose of the so-called divisio textus mentioned in the third paragraph above?

Possible Answers:

To remove any questionable passages from the text in question.

To provide an outline to be used for interpreting the text in question.

To extract the interesting portions from the text in question.

To correct the errors found in longer commentaries on the same text.

To provide a religious manner to understand a questionable pagan text.

Correct answer:

To provide an outline to be used for interpreting the text in question.

Explanation:

The key sentence to note is: "This 'division of the text' sought to provide a succinct but correct outline of the text in question so that its literal meaning might be more easily noticed." The divisio textus, this "division of the text," was meant to provide a short but correct outline for the sake of finding and interpreting the text's literal meaning.

Example Question #131 : Humanities

Passage adapted from “Utopia” by Thomas More (1516) in Ideal CommonwealthsComprising More's Utopia, Bacon's New Atlantis, Campanella's City of the Sun, and Harrington's Oceans (1901)

Thus have I described to you, as particularly as I could, the constitution of that commonwealth, which I do not only think the best in the world, but indeed the only commonwealth that truly deserves that name. In all other places it is visible that, while people talk of a commonwealth, every man only seeks his own wealth; but there, where no man has any property, all men zealously pursue the good of the public, and, indeed, it is no wonder to see men act so differently, for in other commonwealths every man knows that unless he provides for himself, how flourishing soever the commonwealth may be, he must die of hunger, so that he sees the necessity of preferring his own concerns to the public; but in Utopia, where every man has a right to everything, they all know that if care is taken to keep the public stores full no private man can want anything, for among them there is no unequal distribution, so that no man is poor, none in necessity, and though no man has anything, yet they are all rich; for what can make a man so rich as to lead a serene and cheerful life, free from anxieties, neither apprehending want himself, nor vexed with the endless complaints of his wife? He is not afraid of the misery of his children, nor is he contriving how to raise a portion for his daughters, but is secure in this, that both he and his wife, his children and grandchildren, to as many generations as he can fancy, will all live both plentifully and happily, since, among them, there is no less care taken of those who were once engaged in labor, but grow afterwards unable to follow it, than there is, elsewhere, of these that continue still employed. I would gladly hear any man compare the justice that is among them with that of all other nations;among whom may I perish if I see anything that looks either like justice or equity; for what justice is there in this: that a nobleman, a goldsmith, a banker, or any other man, who either does nothing at all, or, at best, is employed in things that are of no use to the public, should live in great luxury and splendor upon what is so ill acquired, and a mean man, a carter, a smith, or a plowman, who works harder even than the beasts themselves, and is employed in labors so necessary, that no commonwealth could hold out a year without them, can only earn so poor a livelihood and must lead so miserable a life, that the condition of the beasts is much better than theirs? For as the beasts do not work so constantly, so they feed almost as well, and with more pleasure, and have no anxiety about what is to come, whilst these men are depressed by a barren and fruitless employment, and tormented with the apprehensions of want in their old age; since that which they get by their daily labour does but maintain them at present, and is consumed as fast as it comes in, there is no overplus left to lay up for old age.

Which of the following does the narrator NOT give as a reason why the beasts live better lives than plowmen?

Possible Answers:

The beasts don't work as unceasingly as the ploughmen do.

The beasts don't worry about the future in general.

The food the beasts eat is almost as good as that of the ploughmen in terms of quality and quantity.

The beasts don't need to worry about being able to afford the tools they need to do their jobs.

The ploughmen have to worry about whether they will be able to save enough money to live on when they are too old to continue working; the beasts don't.

Correct answer:

The beasts don't need to worry about being able to afford the tools they need to do their jobs.

Explanation:

The narrator mentions a plowman near the end of the passage, describing him as working "harder even than the beasts themselves." He goes on to say that ploughmen "earn so poor a livelihood and must lead so miserable a life, that the condition of the beasts is much better than theirs." The sentence following this one gives numerous reasons supporting this statement: "For as the beasts do not work so constantly, so they feed almost as well, and with more pleasure, and have no anxiety about what is to come, whilst these men are depressed by a barren and fruitless employment, and tormented with the apprehensions of want in their old age." The only answer choice that is not a reason given by the narrator is that "the beasts don't need to worry about being able to afford the tools needed to do their jobs." While one might infer that the narrator would agree with this reason, it is not given as a reason supporting the narrator's argument in the passage.

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