PSAT Critical Reading : Considering Analogous Concepts in Humanities Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for PSAT Critical Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #41 : Extrapolating From The Text In Humanities Passages

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.

Imagine you meet a Utopian who knows nothing of countries other than his or her own. Based on the passage, which of the following would likely be a new concept to him or her?

Possible Answers:

Going to a hospital when feeling ill

Attending a religious service

Clearing a forest in order to make paper from the trees

Saving money for retirement

Taking off work for a national holiday

Correct answer:

Saving money for retirement


Saving money for retirement would be most likely to be a new concept to a Utopian based on the passage, as it states that "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." This quotation tells us that Utopians don't have to worry about saving money on which to live on when they are too old to work—or in other words, saving money for retirement.

Example Question #1 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Idea And Theme In Literature Passages

Adapted from a letter of Thomas Jefferson popularly known as “A Dialogue Between the Head and Heart” (October 12th, 1786) in Volume II of Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies, from the Papers of Thomas Jefferson (1830)

(Note: This work is presented like a play having two characters, the “Head” and the “Heart.” In the following passage, we are privy to the words of the “Head.”)

Every thing in this world is matter of calculation. Advance, then, with caution, the balance in your hand. Put into one scale the pleasures which any object may offer, but put fairly into the other the pains which are to follow, and see which preponderates. The making an acquaintance is not a matter of indifference. When a new one is proposed to you, view it all round. Consider what advantages it presents, and to what inconveniences it may expose you. Do not bite at the bait of pleasure, till you know there is no hook beneath it. The art of life is the art of avoiding pain, and he is the best pilot, who steers clearest of the rocks and shoals with which it is beset. Pleasure is always before us, but misfortune is at our side; while running after that, this arrests us.

The most effectual means of being secure against pain is to retire within ourselves and to suffice for our own happiness. Those which depend on ourselves are the only pleasures a wise man will count on, for nothing is ours, which another may deprive us of. Hence the inestimable value of intellectual pleasures. Ever in our power, always leading us to something new, never cloying, we ride serene and sublime above the concerns of this mortal world, contemplating truth and nature, matter and motion, the laws which bind up their existence, the laws which bind up their existence, and that Eternal Being, who made and bound them up by those laws.

Let this be our employ. Leave the bustle and tumult of society to those who have not talents to occupy themselves without them. Friendship is but another name for an alliance with the follies and the misfortunes of others. Our own share of miseries is sufficient: why enter then as volunteers into those of another? Is there so little gall poured into our cup, that we must heed help to drink that of our neighbor? A friend dies, or leaves us: we feel as if a limb was cut off. He is sick: we must watch over him, and participate of his pains. His fortune is shipwrecked: ours must be laid under contribution. He loses a child, a parent, or a partner: we must mourn the loss as if it were our own.

Which of the following most agrees with the view of life expressed in the first paragraph?

Possible Answers:

Life is like a marketplace, so we should procure as much as possible.

None of the other answers

Life is like a stormy sea in which we must find the calmest waters possible.

Life is an amazing adventure, though quite frightening.

Life is a great joy, though hemmed in with many troubles.

Correct answer:

Life is like a stormy sea in which we must find the calmest waters possible.


Throughout this passage, the idea of life's many "ups and downs" is in the forefront. The author clearly wants to propose a way of life that helps to avoid the problems of pains and ensures that someone can have as calm of a life as possible. Indeed, even using words like "rocks and shoals," he wishes to evoke images of the sea. Therefore, life is like the sea, in which we must find the safest path by avoiding pain—at least for the narrator.

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