PSAT Critical Reading : Function of a Paragraph

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for PSAT Critical Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Function Of A Paragraph

This passage is adapted from Adam K. Fetterman and Kai Sassenberg, “The Reputational Consequences of Failed Replications and Wrongness Admission among Scientists", first published in December 2015 by PLOS ONE.

We like to think of science as a purely rational. However, scientists are human and often identify with their work. Therefore, it should not be controversial to suggest that emotions are involved in replication discussions. Adding to this inherently emotionally volatile situation, the recent increase in the use of social media and blogs by scientists has allowed for instantaneous, unfiltered, and at times emotion-based commentary on research. Certainly social media has the potential to lead to many positive outcomes in science–among others, to create a more open science. To some, however, it seems as if this ease of communication is also leading to the public tar and feathering of scientists. Whether these assertions are true is up for debate, but we assume they are a part of many scientists’ subjective reality. Indeed, when failed replications are discussed in the same paragraphs as questionable research practices, or even fraud, it is hard to separate the science from the scientist. Questionable research practices and fraud are not about the science; they are about the scientist. We believe that these considerations are at least part of the reason that we find the overestimation effect that  we do, here.

Even so, the current data suggests that while many are worried about how a failed replication would affect their reputation, it is probably not as bad as they think. Of course, the current data cannot provide evidence that there are no negative effects; just that the negative impact is overestimated. That said, everyone wants to be seen as competent and honest, but failed replications are a part of science. In fact, they are how science moves forward!

While we imply that these effects may be exacerbated by social media, the data cannot directly speak to this. However, any one of a number of cognitive biases may add support to this assumption and explain our findings. For example, it may be that a type of availability bias or pluralistic ignorance of which the more vocal and critical voices are leading individuals to judge current opinions as more negative than reality. As a result, it is easy to conflate discussions about direct replications with “witch- hunts” and overestimate the impact on one’s own reputation. Whatever the source may be, it is worth looking at the potential negative impact of social media in scientific conversations.

If the desire is to move science forward, scientists need to be able to acknowledge when they are wrong. Theories come and go, and scientists learn from their mistakes (if they can even be called “mistakes”). This is the point of science. However, holding on to faulty ideas flies in the face of the scientific method. Even so, it often seems as if scientists have a hard time admitting wrongness. This seems doubly true when someone else fails to replicate a scientist’s findings. Even so, it often seems as if scientists have a hard time admitting wrongness. This seems doubly true when someone else fails to replicate a scientist’s findings. In some cases, this may be the proper response. Just as often, though, it is not. In most cases, admitting wrongness will have relatively fewer ill effects on one’s reputation than not admitting and it may be better for reputation. It could also be that wrongness admission repairs damage to reputation.

It may seem strange that others consider it less likely that questionable research practices, for example, were used when a scientist admits that they were wrong. However, it does make sense from the standpoint that wrongness admission seems to indicate honesty. Therefore, if one is honest in one domain, they are likely honest in other domains. Moreover, the refusal to admit might indicate to others that the original scientist is trying to cover something up. The lack of significance of most of the interactions in our study suggests that it even seems as if scientists might already realize this. Therefore, we can generally suggest that scientists admit they are wrong, but only when the evidence suggests they should.

The chart below  maps how scientists view others' work (left) and how they suspect others will view their own work (right) if the researcher (the scientist or another, depending on the focus) admitted to engaging in questionable research practices.

Adapted from Fetterman & Sassenberg, "The Reputational Consequences of Failed Replications and Wrongness Admission among Scientists." December 9, 2015, PLOS One. 

The last paragraph serves mainly to

Possible Answers:

explain the place of this research within the discussion of the greater scientific method.

suggest avenues for future research.

concede an exception to the rule discussed elsewhere in the passage.

offer an explanation for a surprising finding and put forth a course of action.
Correct answer:
offer an explanation for a surprising finding and put forth a course of action.
Explanation:

Whenever a question asks about the purpose of a statement or paragraph within a passage as a whole, remember that your job is first to find the main idea of the paragraph and then to match that against your answer choices to see which matches something that the paragraph serves to do. The paragraph in question tries to reconcile the fact that admitting wrongdoing actually leads others to believe that researchers are more honest rather than less honest. The authors then state that scientists should generally admit that they are wrong. This matches "offer an explanation for a surprising finding and put forth a course of action". It explains a surprising finding and then offers a course of action for scientists.

Among the other answers, "suggest avenues for future research" can be eliminated because no future research is suggested. "Concede an exception to the rule discussed elsewhere in the passage" can be eliminated because it discusses a general rule rather than an exception. "Explain the place of this research within the discussion of the greater scientific method" can be eliminated because there is no research about the scientific method.

Example Question #2 : Function Of A Paragraph

This passage is adapted from Jane Austen, Mansfield Park. Originally published 1814. Fanny has recently moved to live with her relatives at Mansfield Park.

The little girl performed her long journey in safety; and at Northampton was met by Mrs. Norris, who thus regaled in the credit of being foremost to welcome her, and in the importance of leading her  in to the others, and recommending her to their kindness.

Fanny Price was at this time just ten years old, and though there might not be much in her first appearance to captivate, there was, at least, nothing to disgust her relations. She was small of her age, with no glow of complexion, nor any other striking beauty; exceedingly timid and shy, and shrinking from notice; but her air, though awkward, was not vulgar, her voice was sweet, and when she spoke  her countenance was pretty. Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram received her very kindly; and Sir Thomas, seeing how much she needed encouragement, tried to be all that was conciliating: but he had to work against a most untoward gravity of deportment; and Lady Bertram, without taking half so much trouble, or speaking one word where he spoke ten, by the mere aid of a good-humored smile, became immediately the less awful character of the two. 

The young people were all at home, and sustained their share in the introduction very well, with much good humor, and no embarrassment, at least on the part of the sons, who, at seventeen and sixteen, and tall of their age, had all the grandeur of men in the eyes of their little cousin. The two girls were more at a loss from being younger and in greater awe of their father, who addressed them on the occasion with rather an injudicious particularity. But they were too much used to company and praise to have anything like natural shyness; and their confidence increasing from their cousin's total want of it, they were soon able to take a full survey of her face and her frock in easy indifference. 

They were a remarkably fine family, the sons very well-looking, the daughters decidedly handsome, and all of them well-grown and forward of their age, which produced as striking a difference between the cousins in person, as education had given to their address; and no one would have supposed the girls so nearly of an age as they really were. There were in fact but two years between the youngest and Fanny. Julia Bertram was only twelve, and Maria but a year older.

The little visitor meanwhile was as unhappy as possible. Afraid of everybody, ashamed of herself, and longing for the home she had left, she knew not how to look up, and could scarcely speak to be heard, or without crying. Mrs. Norris had been talking to her the whole way from Northampton of Fanny’s wonderful good fortune, and the extraordinary degree of gratitude and good behavior which it ought to produce, and her consciousness of misery was therefore increased by the idea of its being a wicked thing for her not to be happy.

The fatigue, too, of so long a journey, became soon no trifling evil. In vain were the well-meant condescensions of Sir Thomas, and all the officious prognostications of Mrs. Norris that she would be a good girl; in vain did Lady Bertram smile and make her sit on the sofa with herself and pug, and  vain was even the sight of a gooseberry tart towards giving her comfort; she could scarcely swallow two mouthfuls before tears interrupted her, and sleep seeming to be her likeliest friend, she was taken to finish her sorrows in bed.

“This is not a very promising beginning,” said Mrs. Norris, when Fanny had left the room. “After all that I said to her as we came along, I thought she would have behaved better; I told her how much might depend upon her acquitting herself well at first. I wish there may not be a little sulkiness of temper—her poor mother had a good deal; but we must make allowances for such a child—and I do not know that her being sorry to leave her home is really against her, for, with all its faults, it was her home, and she cannot as yet understand how much she has changed for the better; but then there is moderation in all things.”

It required a longer time, however, than Mrs. Norris was inclined to allow to reconcile Fanny to the novelty of Mansfield Park, and the separation from everybody she had been used to. Her feelings were very acute and too little understood to be properly attended to. Nobody meant to be unkind, but nobody put themselves out of their way to secure her comfort.

Fanny, whether near or from her cousins, whether in the schoolroom, the drawing-room, or the shrubbery, was equally forlorn, finding something to fear in every person and place. She was disheartened by Lady Bertram's silence, awed by Sir Thomas's grave looks, and quite overcome by Mrs. Norris's admonitions. Her elder cousins mortified her by reflections on her size, and abashed her by noticing her shyness: Miss Lee wondered at her ignorance, and the maid-servants sneered at her clothes; and when to these sorrows was added the idea of the brothers and sisters among whom she had always been important as playfellow, instructress, and nurse, the despondence that sunk her little heart was severe.

In the context of the passage, Mrs. Norris's statement in the highlighted lines serves to

Possible Answers:

 express sympathy for Fanny’s discomfort.

provide context for a statement made in the next paragraph. 

express the family’s disappointment that Fanny is too much like her mother.

contradict a claim made earlier in the passage.

Correct answer:
provide context for a statement made in the next paragraph. 
Explanation:

Whenever you are asked what a line or set of lines "serves to do" within the context of the passage, that's a sure sign that you're looking at a function question. For any function question, first consider what the portion of the passage is saying and then look at in context - how does it fit in with the passage as a whole? The quotation in question ("After all ... in all things.") is Mrs. Norris saying that she expected Fanny to adapt to her new home more quickly, but that she can understand why Fanny might not feel comfortable yet since she was taken from her home. Mrs. Norris also mentions Fanny's mother in this quotation as a way of suggesting (and then dismissing) that Fanny might be prone to "sulkiness." The next paragraph goes on to say that it took even longer for Fanny to get used to Mansfield Park - a statement that needs the context given by Mrs. Norris's statement in the previous paragraph. "Provide context for a statement made in the next paragraph" is correct.

Among the another answers, "express the family’s disappointment that Fanny is too much like her mother" is something that is mentioned in the text, but is not the reason that the quotation is included. "Express sympathy for Fanny’s discomfort" is also in the text - Mrs. Norris does express some sympathy - but the sympathy given is counteracted by the last phrase in the quotation, "there is moderation in all things," which implies that Mrs. Norris still doesn't understand Fanny's discomfort. "Contradict a claim made earlier in the passage" is just false - there is no previous statement to contradict.

Example Question #3 : Function Of A Paragraph

This passage is adapted from Jane Austen, Mansfield Park. Originally published 1814. Fanny has recently moved to live with her relatives at Mansfield Park.

The little girl performed her long journey in safety; and at Northampton was met by Mrs. Norris, who thus regaled in the credit of being foremost to welcome her, and in the importance of leading her  in to the others, and recommending her to their kindness.

Fanny Price was at this time just ten years old, and though there might not be much in her first appearance to captivate, there was, at least, nothing to disgust her relations. She was small of her age, with no glow of complexion, nor any other striking beauty; exceedingly timid and shy, and shrinking from notice; but her air, though awkward, was not vulgar, her voice was sweet, and when she spoke  her countenance was pretty. Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram received her very kindly; and Sir Thomas, seeing how much she needed encouragement, tried to be all that was conciliating: but he had to work against a most untoward gravity of deportment; and Lady Bertram, without taking half so much trouble, or speaking one word where he spoke ten, by the mere aid of a good-humored smile, became immediately the less awful character of the two. 

The young people were all at home, and sustained their share in the introduction very well, with much good humor, and no embarrassment, at least on the part of the sons, who, at seventeen and sixteen, and tall of their age, had all the grandeur of men in the eyes of their little cousin. The two girls were more at a loss from being younger and in greater awe of their father, who addressed them on the occasion with rather an injudicious particularity. But they were too much used to company and praise to have anything like natural shyness; and their confidence increasing from their cousin's total want of it, they were soon able to take a full survey of her face and her frock in easy indifference. 

They were a remarkably fine family, the sons very well-looking, the daughters decidedly handsome, and all of them well-grown and forward of their age, which produced as striking a difference between the cousins in person, as education had given to their address; and no one would have supposed the girls so nearly of an age as they really were. There were in fact but two years between the youngest and Fanny. Julia Bertram was only twelve, and Maria but a year older.

The little visitor meanwhile was as unhappy as possible. Afraid of everybody, ashamed of herself, and longing for the home she had left, she knew not how to look up, and could scarcely speak to be heard, or without crying. Mrs. Norris had been talking to her the whole way from Northampton of Fanny’s wonderful good fortune, and the extraordinary degree of gratitude and good behavior which it ought to produce, and her consciousness of misery was therefore increased by the idea of its being a wicked thing for her not to be happy.

The fatigue, too, of so long a journey, became soon no trifling evil. In vain were the well-meant condescensions of Sir Thomas, and all the officious prognostications of Mrs. Norris that she would be a good girl; in vain did Lady Bertram smile and make her sit on the sofa with herself and pug, and  vain was even the sight of a gooseberry tart towards giving her comfort; she could scarcely swallow two mouthfuls before tears interrupted her, and sleep seeming to be her likeliest friend, she was taken to finish her sorrows in bed.

“This is not a very promising beginning,” said Mrs. Norris, when Fanny had left the room. “After all that I said to her as we came along, I thought she would have behaved better; I told her how much might depend upon her acquitting herself well at first. I wish there may not be a little sulkiness of temper—her poor mother had a good deal; but we must make allowances for such a child—and I do not know that her being sorry to leave her home is really against her, for, with all its faults, it was her home, and she cannot as yet understand how much she has changed for the better; but then there is moderation in all things.”

It required a longer time, however, than Mrs. Norris was inclined to allow to reconcile Fanny to the novelty of Mansfield Park, and the separation from everybody she had been used to. Her feelings were very acute and too little understood to be properly attended to. Nobody meant to be unkind, but nobody put themselves out of their way to secure her comfort.

Fanny, whether near or from her cousins, whether in the schoolroom, the drawing-room, or the shrubbery, was equally forlorn, finding something to fear in every person and place. She was disheartened by Lady Bertram's silence, awed by Sir Thomas's grave looks, and quite overcome by Mrs. Norris's admonitions. Her elder cousins mortified her by reflections on her size, and abashed her by noticing her shyness: Miss Lee wondered at her ignorance, and the maid-servants sneered at her clothes; and when to these sorrows was added the idea of the brothers and sisters among whom she had always been important as playfellow, instructress, and nurse, the despondence that sunk her little heart was severe.

The main purpose of the highlighted paragraph is to

Possible Answers:

highlight Mrs. Norris's disappointment with Fanny.

argue that Fanny doesn't understand her own feelings.

show Mrs. Norris's lack of empathy with Fanny's situation.

contrast Fanny's feelings with the behavior of the rest of the family.

Correct answer:

contrast Fanny's feelings with the behavior of the rest of the family.

Explanation:

Whenever the SAT asks you to determine the main purpose of a line, sentence, or paragraph within a passage, your job is to first consider the paragraph itself and what it's saying and then to consider the surrounding information and then determine how the section in question fits into that context. The eighth paragraph explains that Fanny took a while to settle in a Mansfield Park. It goes on to explain that this was partially because - even though no one was unkind to her - no one helped her get comfortable with her surroundings. The paragraph before talks about Mrs. Norris's opinions on Fanny's first weeks, and the paragraph after continues to talk about Fanny's discomfort as part of the Mansfield Park household. Because the big shift in this part of the passage is between talking about Mrs. Norris's disappointment and Fanny's own feelings, the best answer is "contrast Fanny's feelings with the behavior of the rest of the family."

"Highlight Mrs. Norris's disappointment with Fanny" can be eliminated because while the previous paragraph does discuss Mrs. Norris's disappointment, this paragraph does not and instead discusses Fanny's feelings. Similar to that, "show Mrs. Norris's lack of empathy with Fanny's situation" can be eliminated because the focus of the paragraph is on Fanny, not Mrs. Norris. "Argue that Fanny doesn't understand her own feelings" is too literal: while the narrator does say that Fanny's feelings were "too little understood," establishing that Fanny doesn't understand her own feelings isn't the point of the paragraph.

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