PSAT Critical Reading : Analyzing Main Idea, Theme, and Purpose in Humanities Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for PSAT Critical Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #141 : Humanities Passages

Adapted from Thoughts on Man (1831) by William Godwin

It is, in reality, obvious that man and woman, as they come from the hands of nature, are so much upon a par with each other as not to afford the best subjects between whom to graft a habit of entire, unalterable affection. In the scenes of vulgar and ordinary society, a permanent connection between persons of opposite sexes is too apt to degenerate into a scene of warfare, where each party is forever engaged in a struggle for superiority, and neither will give way. A penetrating observer, with whom in former days I used intimately to converse, was accustomed to say that there was generally more jarring and ill blood between the two parties in the first year of their marriage than during all the remainder of their lives. It is at length found necessary, as between equally matched belligerents on the theatre of history, that they should come to terms, make a treaty of peace, or at least settle certain laws of warfare that they may not waste their strength in idle hostilities.

There is nothing in which the superiority of modern times over the ancient has been more conspicuous than in our sentiments and practices on this subject. This superiority, as well as several other of our most valuable acquisitions, took its rise in what we call the dark ages. Chivalry was, for the most part, the invention of the eleventh century. Its principle was built upon a theory of the sexes, giving to each a relative importance, and assigning to both functions full of honor and grace. The knights (and every gentleman during that period in due time became a knight) were taught, as the main features of their vocation, the "love of God and the ladies." The ladies in return were regarded as the genuine censors of the deeds of knighthood. From these principles arose a thousand lessons of humanity. The ladies regarded it as their glory to assist their champions to arm and to disarm, to perform for them even menial services, to attend to them in sickness, and to dress their wounds. They bestowed on them their colors, and sent them forth to the field hallowed with their benedictions. The knights on the other hand considered any slight toward the fair sex as an indelible stain to their order; they contemplated the graceful patronesses of their valor with a feeling that partook of religious homage and veneration, and esteemed it as perhaps the first duty of their profession to relieve the wrongs and avenge the injuries of the less powerful sex.

This simple outline as to the relative position of the one sex and the other gave a new face to the whole scheme and arrangements of civil society. It is, like those admirable principles in the order of the material universe or those grand discoveries brought to light from time to time by superior genius, so obvious and simple that we wonder the most common understanding could have missed them, yet so pregnant with results that they seem at once to put a new life and inspire a new character into every part of a mighty and all-comprehensive mass.

The passion between the sexes, in its grosser sense, is a momentary impulse merely. There was danger that, when the fit and violence of the passion was over, the whole would subside into inconstancy and a roving disposition, or at least into indifference and almost brutal neglect. But the institutions of chivalry immediately gave a new face to this. Either sex conceived a deep and permanent interest in the other. In the unsettled state of society which characterized the period when these institutions arose, the defenseless were liable to assaults of multiplied kinds and the fair perpetually stood in need of a protector and a champion. The knights, on the other hand, were taught to derive their fame and their honor from the suffrages of the ladies. Each sex stood in need of the other and the basis of their union was mutual esteem.

One of the main points made in the first paragraph is that __________.

Possible Answers:

men and women are easy to unite in affection

a declaration of prenuptial rules needs to be drawn up before a union is made

men and women are like heroes and villains on a stage

married couples squabble more in later years of marriage

men and women are equals

Correct answer:

men and women are equals

Explanation:

The author says that men and women are “so much upon a par with each other;” they are therefore equally matched or, more simply, equals. The author does not mention prenuptial agreements and when “belligerents on the theatre of history” is mentioned, the allusion is to past events rather than historical dramas adapted for the stage.

Example Question #241 : Humanities Passages

Adapted from Thoughts on Man (1831) by William Godwin

It is, in reality, obvious that man and woman, as they come from the hands of nature, are so much upon a par with each other as not to afford the best subjects between whom to graft a habit of entire, unalterable affection. In the scenes of vulgar and ordinary society, a permanent connection between persons of opposite sexes is too apt to degenerate into a scene of warfare, where each party is forever engaged in a struggle for superiority, and neither will give way. A penetrating observer, with whom in former days I used intimately to converse, was accustomed to say that there was generally more jarring and ill blood between the two parties in the first year of their marriage than during all the remainder of their lives. It is at length found necessary, as between equally matched belligerents on the theatre of history, that they should come to terms, make a treaty of peace, or at least settle certain laws of warfare that they may not waste their strength in idle hostilities.

There is nothing in which the superiority of modern times over the ancient has been more conspicuous than in our sentiments and practices on this subject. This superiority, as well as several other of our most valuable acquisitions, took its rise in what we call the dark ages. Chivalry was, for the most part, the invention of the eleventh century. Its principle was built upon a theory of the sexes, giving to each a relative importance, and assigning to both functions full of honor and grace. The knights (and every gentleman during that period in due time became a knight) were taught, as the main features of their vocation, the "love of God and the ladies." The ladies in return were regarded as the genuine censors of the deeds of knighthood. From these principles arose a thousand lessons of humanity. The ladies regarded it as their glory to assist their champions to arm and to disarm, to perform for them even menial services, to attend to them in sickness, and to dress their wounds. They bestowed on them their colors, and sent them forth to the field hallowed with their benedictions. The knights on the other hand considered any slight toward the fair sex as an indelible stain to their order; they contemplated the graceful patronesses of their valor with a feeling that partook of religious homage and veneration, and esteemed it as perhaps the first duty of their profession to relieve the wrongs and avenge the injuries of the less powerful sex.

This simple outline as to the relative position of the one sex and the other gave a new face to the whole scheme and arrangements of civil society. It is, like those admirable principles in the order of the material universe or those grand discoveries brought to light from time to time by superior genius, so obvious and simple that we wonder the most common understanding could have missed them, yet so pregnant with results that they seem at once to put a new life and inspire a new character into every part of a mighty and all-comprehensive mass.

The passion between the sexes, in its grosser sense, is a momentary impulse merely. There was danger that, when the fit and violence of the passion was over, the whole would subside into inconstancy and a roving disposition, or at least into indifference and almost brutal neglect. But the institutions of chivalry immediately gave a new face to this. Either sex conceived a deep and permanent interest in the other. In the unsettled state of society which characterized the period when these institutions arose, the defenseless were liable to assaults of multiplied kinds and the fair perpetually stood in need of a protector and a champion. The knights, on the other hand, were taught to derive their fame and their honor from the suffrages of the ladies. Each sex stood in need of the other and the basis of their union was mutual esteem.

Based on the passage, the primary purpose for the establishment of a code of chivalry was to __________.

Possible Answers:

empower women who could use the system to censor men's actions

placate both sexes by giving them duties within an imaginary order

imprison both sexes in gendered roles

pacify women and subjugate them to the will of men

allow men to protect women from the evils of the world

Correct answer:

placate both sexes by giving them duties within an imaginary order

Explanation:

At the start of the third paragraph when the author begins talking about the code of chivalry, he comments that “[chivalry's] principle was built upon a theory of the sexes, giving to each a relative importance, and assigning to both functions full of honor and grace.” This giving of importance lead to both sexes being satisfied with their roles, despite them being fanciful.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Main Idea, Theme, And Purpose In Humanities Passages

Adapted from “Advice to Youth” by Mark Twain (1882)

Being told I would be expected to talk here, I inquired what sort of talk I ought to make. They said it should be something suitable to youth--something didactic, instructive, or something in the nature of good advice. Very well. I have a few things in my mind which I have often longed to say for the instruction of the young; for it is in one’s tender early years that such things will best take root and be most enduring and most valuable. First, then I will say to you my young friends--and I say it beseechingly, urgently-- Always obey your parents, when they are present. This is the best policy in the long run, because if you don’t, they will make you. Most parents think they know better than you do, and you can generally make more by humoring that superstition than you can by acting on your own better judgment.

Be respectful to your superiors, if you have any, also to strangers, and sometimes to others. If a person offends you and you are in doubt as to whether it was intentional or not, do not resort to extreme measures; simply watch your chance and hit him with a brick. That will be sufficient. If you shall find that he had not intended any offense, come out frankly and confess yourself in the wrong when you struck him; acknowledge it like a man and say you didn’t mean to. 

Go to bed early, get up early--this is wise. Some authorities say get up with the sun; some say get up with one thing, others with another. But a lark is really the best thing to get up with. It gives you a splendid reputation with everybody to know that you get up with the lark; and if you get the right kind of lark, and work at him right, you can easily train him to get up at half past nine, every time--it’s no trick at all.

Now as to the matter of lying. You want to be very careful about lying; otherwise you are nearly sure to get caught. Once caught, you can never again be in the eyes to the good and the pure, what you were before. Many a young person has injured himself permanently through a single clumsy and ill finished lie, the result of carelessness born of incomplete training. Some authorities hold that the young ought not to lie at all. That of course, is putting it rather stronger than necessary; still while I cannot go quite so far as that, I do maintain, and I believe I am right, that the young ought to be temperate in the use of this great art until practice and experience shall give them that confidence, elegance, and precision which alone can make the accomplishment graceful and profitable. Patience, diligence, painstaking attention to detail--these are requirements; these in time, will make the student perfect; upon these only, may he rely as the sure foundation for future eminence. 

But I have said enough. I hope you will treasure up the instructions which I have given you, and make them a guide to your feet and a light to your understanding. Build your character thoughtfully and painstakingly upon these precepts, and by and by, when you have got it built, you will be surprised and gratified to see how nicely and sharply it resembles everybody else’s.

The primary purpose of this passage is to __________.

Possible Answers:

mock youthfulness

establish a counterargument

give unconventional advice

establish a precedent

compile a list

Correct answer:

give unconventional advice

Explanation:

The author establishes the purpose of this passage in the first paragraph. The first two sentences reveal that the author intends to use this passage to give advice. He says: “Being told I would be expected to talk here, I inquired what sort of talk I ought to make. They said it should be something suitable to youth--something didactic, instructive, or something in the nature of good advice.” From there you are required to understand the author’s tone to gather that the author feels this advice is in some way different from the advice that would more commonly be given to young people.

Example Question #1 : Content Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from “Coddling in Education” by Henry Seidel Canby (1922)

American minds have been coddled in school and college for at least a generation. There are two kinds of mental coddling. The first belongs to the public schools, and is one of the defects of our educational system that we abuse privately and largely keep out of print. It is democratic coddling. I mean, of course, the failure to hold up standards, the willingness to let youth wobble upward, knowing little and that inaccurately, passing nothing well, graduating with an education that hits and misses like an old typewriter with a torn ribbon. America is full of "sloppy thinking," of inaccuracy, of half-baked misinformation, of sentimentalism, especially sentimentalism, as a result of coddling by schools that cater to an easy-going democracy.

A dozen causes are responsible for this condition, and among them, I suspect, one, which if not major, at least deserves careful pondering. The teacher and the taught have somehow drifted apart. His function in the large has been to teach an ideal, a tradition. He is content, he has to be content, with partial results. In the mind of the student a dim conception has entered, that this education--all education--is a garment merely, to be doffed for the struggle with realities. The will is dulled. Interest slackens.

But it is in aristocratic coddling that the effects of our educational attitude gleam out to the least observant understanding. The teaching in the best American preparatory schools and colleges is as careful and as conscientious as any in the world. That one gladly asserts. Indeed, an American boy in a good boarding-school is handled like a rare microbe in a research laboratory. He is ticketed; every instant of his time is planned and scrutinized; he is dieted with brain food, predigested, and weighed before application. I sometimes wonder if a moron could not be made into an Abraham Lincoln by such a system--if the system were sound.

It is not sound. The boys and girls, especially the boys, are coddled for entrance examinations, coddled through freshman year, coddled oftentimes for graduation. And they too frequently go out into the world fireproof against anything but intellectual coddling. Such men and women can read only writing especially prepared for brains that will take only selected ideas. They can think only on simple lines. They can live happily only in a life where no intellectual or esthetic experience lies too far outside the range of their curriculum. A world where one reads the news and skips the editorials; goes to musical comedies, but omits the plays; looks at illustrated magazines, but seldom at books; talks business, sports, and politics, but never economics, social welfare, and statesmanship--that is the world for which we coddle the best of our youth. Many indeed escape the evil effects by their own innate originality; more bear the marks to the grave.

The author of this passage is primarily focused on __________.

Possible Answers:

the strength of the public school system

the abilities of the common man

how to incorporate the common man into the political arena

the indulgence of school children

how to prevent school children from failing their exams

Correct answer:

the indulgence of school children

Explanation:

The author of this passage is primarily concerned with the coddling (overindulgence and protection) of school children in education and how the current public school system does not prepare young boys and girls for the realities of adult life. The author states: “They too frequently go out into the world fireproof against anything but intellectual coddling. Such men and women can read only writing especially prepared for brains that will take only selected ideas.” It is clear that the author believes the overindulgence of school children is of grave concern.

Example Question #1 : Summarizing And Describing Humanities Passage Content

Adapted from “How I Conquered Stage Fright” by Mark Twain (1906)

My heart goes out in sympathy to anyone who is making his first appearance before an audience of human beings. I recall the occasion of my first appearance. San Francisco knew me then only as a reporter, and I was to make my bow to San Francisco as a lecturer. I knew that nothing short of compulsion would get me to the theater. So I bound myself by a hard-and-fast contract so that I could not escape. I got to the theater forty-five minutes before the hour set for the lecture. My knees were shaking so that I didn't know whether I could stand up. If there is an awful, horrible malady in the world, it is stage-fright--and seasickness. They are a pair. I had stage-fright then for the first and last time. I was only seasick once, too. It was on a little ship on which there were two hundred other passengers. I--was--sick. I was so sick that there wasn't any left for those other two hundred passengers.

It was dark and lonely behind the scenes in that theater, and I peeked through the little peek holes they have in theater curtains and looked into the big auditorium. That was dark and empty, too. By and by it lighted up, and the audience began to arrive. I had got a number of friends of mine, stalwart men, to sprinkle themselves through the audience armed with big clubs. Every time I said anything they could possibly guess I intended to be funny, they were to pound those clubs on the floor. Then there was a kind lady in a box up there, also a good friend of mine, the wife of the governor. She was to watch me intently, and whenever I glanced toward her she was going to deliver a gubernatorial laugh that would lead the whole audience into applause.

At last I began. I had the manuscript tucked under a United States flag in front of me where I could get at it in case of need. But I managed to get started without it. I walked up and down--I was young in those days and needed the exercise--and talked and talked. Right in the middle of the speech I had placed a gem. I had put in a moving, pathetic part which was to get at the hearts and souls of my hearers. When I delivered it they did just what I hoped and expected. They sat silent and awed. I had touched them. Then I happened to glance up at the box where the Governor's wife was--you know what happened.

Well, after the first agonizing five minutes, my stage fright left me, never to return. I know if I was going to be hanged I could get up and make a good showing, and I intend to. But I shall never forget my feelings before the agony left me, and I got up here to thank you for her for helping my daughter, by your kindness, to live through her first appearance. And I want to thank you for your appreciation of her singing, which is, by the way, hereditary.

Which of the following best characterizes the author’s feelings towards his audience?

Possible Answers:

Disgust 

Ambivalence 

Apathy 

Gratitude 

Hatred

Correct answer:

Gratitude 

Explanation:

The author of this passage demonstrates his feelings for the audience in the conclusion when he says: “I got up here to thank you for her for helping my daughter, by your kindness, to live through her first appearance. And I want to thank you for your appreciation of her singing, which is, by the way, hereditary.” The author is expressing his appreciation for the kindness of the audience, which is closest in meaning to gratitude (which means a feeling of being thankful). Ambivalence means uncertainty; apathy means not caring.  

Example Question #811 : Sat Critical Reading

"Not Just Brains Can Be Smart: Why You Should Educate Your Body Too" by Megan Simon (2013)

Several years ago, a communications professor of mine was discussing the unequal opportunities that are available to African American students in America. Many students, she said, were told by society that the only way they could succeed and go on to a higher education was if they excelled at athletics. Discouraged from the hope of excelling in an intellectual field, they resorted to “selling their bodies.”

This comment, although obviously well-meant and addressed towards an unacceptable situation of racial inequality, disturbed me in a way that I was not able to articulate at the time. Reflecting upon it, however, it becomes obvious why I find this type of attitude deeply concerning. I am a dancer. The primary instrument in my field is the human body. I use my body everyday to gain creative, academic, and professional success. Am I selling myself?

Let’s say that I am. But now think about other professions, like literature or mathematics. Novelists, what do they do? They sell their words. Mathematicians? They sell their reasoning. And this exchange is socially acceptable. We strive to sell our brains, to place them on the open market. When it comes to the body, on the other hand, things become dirty, cheap—comparable to prostitution.

Academia does the best that it can to separate the mind from the body, to keep pure intellectualism free from the superficiality of the physical body. So proud are we of our human ability to think and reflect that we value the abstract world of reason more than corporeal one around us. We think that by doing so we remove physical limitations and supersede physical prejudices. But limitations and prejudices exist just as much in the realm of the mind as that of the body.

How is dance affected by this fierce devotion to the mind/body dichotomy? It has been forced to fight its way into academic institutions, even more so than the other arts. Visual arts and music are clearly products of the creative mind, but dance is tainted by its association with the body. Before gaining academic legitimacy, it has had to prove that it can be notated, theorized, and philosophized.

While I recognize the great value in these more mind-based approaches to dance, it worries me that so few people recognize the existence of a physical intelligence. Dancers know that movement communicates in a way that is not possible to articulate with words and logic. They know that they can train their bodies to be aware and communicate more effectively, that they can discover new approaches to movement and physical being, and that they can create a bodily discourse. I believe that everyone realizes the power of this communication on some level, but it is so often relegated to the role of interesting afterthought—If you are bored by the actual content of the presidential debates, here’s how to analyze the candidates’ gestures! We have an attitude that if we can’t come up with a consensus of how to describe it in words, it must not be worth studying. And with this attitude, we exclude so much of the world from the ivory tower.

I understand what that communications professor was trying to say. No one should think that their mind is not worthy of higher education. No one should be excluded from that type of intellectual endeavor. But focusing on training the body, whether it be athletics or dance or even everyday, physical communication, should not be seen as a less desirable alternative. The mind and the body could not exist without one another. It is past time that we threw away this arbitrary separation and embraced the entire human experience.

The author’s purpose in writing this article is best described as which of the following?

Possible Answers:

To critically evaluate the role of dance in academic institutions

To provoke people to think about racial inequality in America

To describe the dance scene in America today

To persuade people that physical pursuits and communication should be valued as highly as intellectual ones in academia

To argue with her communications professor who said that athletics are not important

Correct answer:

To persuade people that physical pursuits and communication should be valued as highly as intellectual ones in academia

Explanation:

While all of the topics in the options here are parts of the article, the main purpose of the piece is that physical pursuits should be valued more highly. This is a theme that develops throughout the essay, rather than only taking up a paragraph or two. Also, this piece is structured in a way that its purpose is primarily persuasive; it’s not a description or evaluation.

Example Question #21 : Analyzing Main Idea, Theme, And Purpose In Humanities Passages

Adapted from “Gin-Shops” by Charles Darwin (1836)

We will endeavor to sketch the bar of a large gin-shop, and its ordinary customers, for the edification of such of our readers as may not have had opportunities of observing such scenes; and on the chance of finding one well suited to our purpose, we will make for Drury Lane. The filthy and miserable appearance of this part of London can hardly be imagined by those have not witnessed it. Wretched houses with broken windows patched with rags and paper: every room let out to a different family, and in many instances to two or even three; fruit manufacturers in the cellars, barbers and red-herring vendors in the front parlors, cobblers in the back; a bird-fancier in the first floor, three families on the second, starvation in the attics, Irishmen in the passage, a "musician" in the front kitchen, and a charwoman and five hungry children in the back one; filth everywhere, a gutter before the houses and a drain behind, clothes drying and slops emptying, from the windows; girls of fourteen or fifteen, with matted hair, walking about barefoot, and with only white coats to cover them; boys of all ages, in coats of all sizes and no coats at all; men and women, in every variety of scanty and dirty apparel, lounging, scolding, drinking, smoking, squabbling, fighting, and swearing.

You turn the corner. What a change! All is light and brilliancy. The hum of many voices issues from that splendid gin-shop which forms the commencement of the two streets opposite; and the gay building with the fantastically ornamented parapet, the illuminated clock, the plate-glass windows surrounded by stucco rosettes, and its profusion of gas-lights in richly-gilt burners, is perfectly dazzling when contrasted with the darkness and dirt we have just left. Yet, the gin shop is dazzling in appearances only. Soon it grows late and the throng of men, women, and children, who have been constantly going in and out, dwindles down to two or three occasional stragglers--cold, wretched-looking creatures, in the last stage of emaciation and disease. The knot of Irish laborers at the lower end of the place, who have been alternately shaking hands with, and threatening the life of each other, for the last hour, become furious in their disputes, and finding it impossible to silence one man, who is particularly anxious to adjust the difference, they resort to the expedient of knocking him down and jumping on him afterwards. The man in the fur cap, and the potboy rush out; a scene of riot and confusion ensues; half the Irishmen get shut out, and the other half get shut in; the potboy is knocked among the tubs in no time; the landlord hits everybody, and everybody hits the landlord; the barmaids scream; the police come in; the rest is a confused mixture of arms, legs, staves, torn coats, shouting, and struggling. Some of the party are borne off to the station-house, and the remainder slink home to beat their wives for complaining, and kick the children for daring to be hungry.

Gin-drinking is a great vice in England, but wretchedness and dirt are a greater; and until you improve the homes of the poor, or persuade a half-famished wretch not to seek relief in the temporary oblivion of his own misery gin-shops will increase in number and splendor. If Temperance Societies would suggest an antidote against hunger and filth gin-palaces would vanish. In the meantime, they shall only grow in prominence.

From the context of the whole of this passage, what does the author feel is primarily responsible for the vice of gin-drinking in England?

Possible Answers:

The animosity of the wealthy

The condition of the poor

Temperance Societies

The government 

Religion

Correct answer:

The condition of the poor

Explanation:

The author makes numerous references to the living conditions of the poor throughout the passage. His intention is to ensure the reader is already convinced of the relationship between deplorable living conditions and alcohol abuse (through vivid description) so that when the reader comes to the conclusion he/she will easily agree with the author’s statement: “Gin-drinking is a great vice in England, but wretchedness and dirt are a greater; and until you improve the homes of the poor, or persuade a half-famished wretch not to seek relief in the temporary oblivion of his own misery gin-shops will increase in number and splendor.”

Example Question #21 : Analyzing Main Idea, Theme, And Purpose In Humanities Passages

Adapted from Walden by Henry Thoreau (1854)

Still we live meanly, like ants; it is error upon error, and clout upon clout, and our best virtue has for its occasion a superfluous and evitable wretchedness. Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumbnail. In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce other things in proportion.

Our life is like a German Confederacy, made up of petty states, with its boundary forever fluctuating, so that even a German cannot tell you how it is bounded at any moment. The nation itself, with all its so-called internal improvements, which, by the way are all external and superficial, is just such an unwieldy and overgrown establishment, cluttered with furniture and tripped up by its own traps, ruined by luxury and heedless expense, by want of calculation and a worthy aim, as the million households in the land; and the only cure for it, as for them, is in a rigid economy, a stern and more than Spartan simplicity of life and elevation of purpose. It lives too fast. Men think that it is essential that the Nation have commerce, and export ice, and talk through a telegraph, and ride thirty miles an hour, without a doubt, whether they do or not, but whether we should live like baboons or like men is a little uncertain. If we do not get out sleepers, and forge rails, and devote days and nights to the work, but go to tinkering upon our lives to improve them, who will build railroads? And if railroads are not built, how shall we get to heaven in season? But if we stay at home and mind our business, who will want railroads? We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us. Did you ever think what those sleepers are that underlie the railroad? Each one is a man, an Irishman, or a Yankee man. The rails are laid on them, and they are covered with sand, and the cars run smoothly over them. They are sound sleepers, I assure you.

The author thinks that contemporary life in the United States is too __________.

Possible Answers:

hectic

immoral

prejudiced

straightforward

uninspiring

Correct answer:

hectic

Explanation:

The author is not concerned with morals and never mentions prejudice or inspiration (or a lack of either) in the passage, so we can immediately discard the answer choices “immoral” and “uninspiring,” leaving us with “straightforward,” “hectic,” and “unorganized.” The author wouldn’t likely think that modern life is “straightforward”; he argues in the passage that his contemporary era was unnecessarily complex in its pursuits. This leaves us with the correct answer, “hectic.” This is visible in quotations from the passage such as “I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand,” and “[The nation] lives too fast.”

Example Question #2 : Determining Authorial Purpose In Argumentative Humanities Passages

Adapted from a letter by T. Thatcher published in The Publishers Circular on September 27th, 1902

A PLEA FOR A LONG WALK

Sir—In these days of increasing rapid artificial locomotion, may I be permitted to say a word in favor of a very worthy and valuable old friend of mine, Mr. Long-Walk?

I am afraid that this good gentleman is in danger of getting neglected, if not forgotten. We live in days of water trips and land trips, excursions by sea, road, and rail—bicycles and tricycles, tram cars and motor cars, hansom cabs and ugly cabs; but in my humble opinion good honest walking exercise for health beats all other kinds of locomotion into a cocked hat. In rapid traveling all the finer nerves, senses, and vessels are "rush" and unduly excited, but in walking every particle of the human frame, and even the moral faculties, are evenly and naturally brought into exercise. It is the best discipline and physical mental tonic in the world. Limbs, body, muscles, lungs, chest, heart, digestion, breathing, are healthily brought into normal operation, while. especially in the long distance walk, the exercise of patience, perseverance, industry, energy, perception, and reflection—and, indeed, all the senses and moral faculties—are elevated and cultivated healthfully and naturally. Many never know the beauty of it because they never go far enough: exercise and hard work should never be relinquished at any age or by either sex. Heart disease, faintness, and sudden death, and even crime, are far more due to the absence of wholesome normal exercise and taste than to anything else, to enervating luxuries rather than to hill climbing.

I usually give myself a holiday on a birthday, and as I lately reached my 63rd I determined to give myself a day with my old friend Mr. Long-Walk, and decided to tramp to the city of Wells and back for my birthday holiday—a distance of about forty-two miles. Fortune favors the brave, and, thanks to a mosquito that pitched on my nose and was just commencing operations, I woke very early in the morning. It is an ill wind that blows no one any good. Mosquitoes are early birds, but I stole a march on them. But to my journey.

I started at about 5 A.M., and proceeding via Dundry and Chow Stoke, reached Wells soon after 10 A.M. After attending the cathedral, I pursued my walk homeward by a different route, via Chewton Mendip, Farrington, Temple Cloud, Clutton, and Pensford.

To make a walk successful, mind and body should be free of burden. I never carry a stick on a long walk, but prefer to be perfectly free, giving Nature’s balancing poles—the pendulum arms—complete swing and absolute liberty. Walking exercises, together with a well-educated palate, are the greatest physicians in the world: no disease can withstand them. I returned from my forty-two miles tramp with birthday honors and reward. I had no headache on the following morning, but was up early in good form, fresh and ready for work. Forty-two miles may be too strong a dose for many, but I cannot too strongly recommend for a day’s companionship the society of my old and well-tried friend, Mr. Long-Walk.

Faithfully yours,

T. Thatcher

44 College Green, Bristol.

The purpose of this letter is mostly likely to __________.

Possible Answers:

complain about modern traffic

encourage people to slow down and take walks

discuss famous literary works in which the main characters spend much of their time walking for its health benefits

provide a reference for a friend

dissuade people from visiting doctors

Correct answer:

encourage people to slow down and take walks

Explanation:

Throughout the letter, he is encouraging people to take walks, rather than take other faster modes of transportation. While he does complain about cabs and say that walks are better than doctors, those are minor points in his letter. The "friend" is a rhetorical device.

Example Question #42 : Act Reading

Adapted from What I Think and Feel at Twenty-Five (1922) by F. Scott Fitzgerald

As a man grows older it stands to reason that his vulnerability increases. Three years ago, for instance, I could be hurt in only one way—through myself. If my best friend’s wife had her hair torn off by an electric washing-machine, I was grieved, of course. I would make my friend a long speech full of “old mans,” and finish up with a paragraph from Washington’s Farewell Address; but when I’d finished I could go to a good restaurant and enjoy my dinner as usual. In fact I was pretty much invulnerable. I put up a conventional wail whenever a ship was sunk or a train got wrecked; but I don’t suppose, if the whole city of Chicago had been wiped out, I’d have lost a night’s sleep over it—unless something led me to believe that St. Paul was the next city on the list. Even then I could have moved my luggage over to Minneapolis and rested pretty comfortably all night.

But that was three years ago when I was still a young man. I was only twenty-two. Now, I’m vulnerable. I’m vulnerable in every way. I used to have about ten square feet of skin vulnerable to chills and fevers. Now I have about twenty. I have not personally enlarged, the twenty feet includes the skin of my family, but I might as well have, because if a chill or fever strikes any bit of that twenty feet of skin I begin to shiver. And so I ooze gently into middle-age; for the true middle-age is not the acquirement of years, but the acquirement of a family. The incomes of the childless have wonderful elasticity. Two people require a room and a bath; a couple with child requires the millionaire’s suite on the sunny side of the hotel. And yet I think that marriage is the most satisfactory institution we have. I’m simply stating my belief that when Life has used us for its purposes it takes away all our attractive qualities and gives us, instead, ponderous but shallow convictions of our own wisdom and “experience.” The older I grow the more I get so I don’t know anything. If I had been asked to do this article about five years ago it might have been worth reading.

From the context of the whole passage, what can be inferred about the author’s opinions on the “wisdom and experience” of middle-age?

Possible Answers:

It is a distant longing.

It cannot replace good humor.

It is illusory.

It is necessary for individual growth.

It is important for raising a family.

Correct answer:

It is illusory.

Explanation:

The author contends that the “wisdom and experience” of middle-age are illusory sensations. Throughout the whole passage the author makes reference to the growing vulnerability that accompanies middle-age.  The author says “I’m simply stating my belief that when Life has used us for its purposes it takes away all our attractive qualities and gives us, instead, ponderous but shallow convictions of our own wisdom and 'experience.' The older I grow the more I get so I don’t know anything.” In addition to admitting his own feelings about growing older the author disparages middle-aged wisdom as “shallow convictions” and even goes to the length of putting experience in quotations.

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