PSAT Critical Reading : Purpose and Effect of Phrases or Sentences in Social Science / History Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for PSAT Critical Reading

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Example Question #61 : Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from “Queen of the Sea’s Awful Fate on Her First Trip Out” from The Times Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), April 28, 1912.

The giant Titanic of the White Star Line, the biggest ship afloat when she sailed from Southampton, England, on April 10, on her maiden voyage to the Port of New York, lies to-day a broken wreck, 2,760 fathoms beneath the ocean's surface, some 800 miles from shore off the great Newfoundland Banks. The ship that was unsinkable, in the minds of her makers and the men that ran her, has been sunk. The Queen of the Seas is less to-day than one of her lifeboats which bobs up and down on the broken surface of the Hudson River, safe between the piers of the White Star Line.

And in her sinking the Titanic exacted greater toll than humanity ever before had been made to pay for its efforts to conquer the sea. Of the 2,340 persons composing passengers and crew of the big liner, only 705 ever reached this port. More than two-thirds of those who embarked on the Titanic for her maiden Journey--1,635 persons exactly--went down with her when she snubbed her nose beneath the waves, hung, quivering an instant, half above and half below the surface, and then started her downward plunge to the bottom, nearly two miles below.

Since then the cable ships Mackay-Bennett and Minia have been at the scene of the wreck searching for bodies. Some have been identified by articles in the clothing and are now on their way to Halifax aboard the Mackay-Bennett. Altogether 205 had been picked up last Thursday. The steamship is due there this morning. Others were recommitted to the sea after it had been found that they were unrecognizable. The Minia will remain at the scene of the disaster for some days to come, and it will not be until there is a fair certainty that everybody recoverable has been found that the search will be abandoned.

It was collision with an iceberg which caused the destruction of the Titanic, and those who would moralize over the great ship's loss can see in such a meeting the hand of Fate, which required the greatest example of man's handiwork afloat on the sea to point its protest against his ambition. For it seems certain that nothing less than an iceberg could have withstood collision with the enormous Titanic. Than her no ship which sails the seas was better prepared to meet unexpected encounters with others. Even a war vessel, the heaviest Dreadnought, probably must have succumbed to the rushing impetus of the monster Titanic had they jostled each other in the narrow lanes of the ocean. It had to be something greater than any ship afloat to sink the Titanic, and that something was supplied in the tremendous berg, eight-ninths of whose bulk skulked beneath the waves while it presented a paltry lump of ice, some 120 feet in height to do combat with the steamship.

Which of the following sentences is the best example of the author's belief that the Titanic disaster is proof that mankind has become too advanced? 

Possible Answers:

"Even a war vessel, the heaviest Dreadnought, probably must have succumbed to the rushing impetus of the monster Titanic had they jostled each other in the narrow lanes of the ocean." (Paragraph 4)

"The Queen of the Seas is less to-day than one of her lifeboats which bobs up and down on the broken surface of the Hudson River, safe between the piers of the White Star Line." (Paragraph 1)

"The giant Titanic of the White Star Line, the biggest ship afloat when she sailed from Southampton, England, on April 10, on her maiden voyage to the Port of New York, lies to-day a broken wreck, 2,760 fathoms beneath the ocean's surface, some 800 miles from shore off the great Newfoundland Banks." (Paragraph 1)

"It was collision with an iceberg which caused the destruction of the Titanic, and those who would moralize over the great ship's loss can see in such a meeting the hand of Fate, which required the greatest example of man's handiwork afloat on the sea to point its protest against his ambition." (Paragraph 4)

Correct answer:

"It was collision with an iceberg which caused the destruction of the Titanic, and those who would moralize over the great ship's loss can see in such a meeting the hand of Fate, which required the greatest example of man's handiwork afloat on the sea to point its protest against his ambition." (Paragraph 4)

Explanation:

In this passage the author states that "only Fate could have destroyed a vessel as well-built as the Titanic. In this case, Fate is a higher power, or God." In the second paragraph, the author claims that, "...in her sinking the Titanic exacted greater toll than humanity ever before had been made to pay for its efforts to conquer the sea." The implication from these sentences is that mankind was trying to conquer nature, Fate intervened to prove its superiority.

Example Question #61 : Social Science / History Passages

Passage adapted from Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain's "The Passing of the Armies" (1915) 

The attack was impetuous; the musketry hot.  Major Glenn with his six companies in skirmishing order dashed through the stream and struck the enemy's breastworks front and flank.  In a moment everything started loose.  The entire brigade forded the stream and rolled forward, closing upon Glenn right and left, and the whole command swept onward like a wave, carrying all before it a mile or more up the road, to the buildings of the Lewis Farm.  The enemy now re-enforced made a decided stand, and the fight became sharp.  But our enveloping line pressed them so severely that they fell back after each struggle to the edge of a thick wood, where a large body had gathered behind a substantial breastwork of logs and earth.

A withering volley breaks our line into groups.  Courage and resolution are great, but some other sentiment mightier for the moment controls our men; a backward movement begins, but the men retire slowly, bearing their wounded with them, and even some of their dead.  The enemy, seeing this recoil, pour out of their shelter and make a dash upon our broken groups, but only to be dashed back in turn hand to hand in eddying whirls.  And seized by our desperate fellows, so many are dragged along as prisoners in the receding tide that it is not easy to tell which side is the winning one.  Much of the enemy's aim is unsteady, for the flame and murk of their thickening fire in the heavy moist air are blown back into their eyes by the freshening south wind.  But reinforcements are coming in, deepening and broadening their line beyond both our flanks.  Now roar and tumult of motion for a fierce pulse of time, then again a quivering halt.  At length one vigorous dash drives the assailants into the woods again with heavy loss.  We had cleared the field, and thought it best to be content with that for the present.  We reform our lines each side the buildings of the Lewis Farm, and take account of the situation. 

In the second paragraph, what "other sentiment" is the author describing when he says, "Courage and resolution are great, but some other sentiment mightier for the moment controls our men...?"

Possible Answers:

Self-preservation

Insanity

Courage

Greed

Correct answer:

Self-preservation

Explanation:

Self-preservation is the only sentiment that makes sense in this sentence. The troops are suddenly, viciously attacked by severe musket fire. The sentence in question describes their courage, but states "some other sentiment" takes over, so courage cannot be the correct answer. The paragraph further describes how the troops retreat, but in good order. They stop to help their wounded and retreat slowly. These are not the actions of insane men. Finally, greed is not described in any way. The troops are merely trying to save their own lives.

Example Question #62 : Social Science / History Passages

Passage adapted from Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain's "The Passing of the Armies" (1915)

The attack was impetuous; the musketry hot.  Major Glenn with his six companies in skirmishing order dashed through the stream and struck the enemy's breastworks front and flank.  In a moment everything started loose.  The entire brigade forded the stream and rolled forward, closing upon Glenn right and left, and the whole command swept onward like a wave, carrying all before it a mile or more up the road, to the buildings of the Lewis Farm.  The enemy now re-enforced made a decided stand, and the fight became sharp.  But our enveloping line pressed them so severely that they fell back after each struggle to the edge of a thick wood, where a large body had gathered behind a substantial breastwork of logs and earth.

A withering volley breaks our line into groups.  Courage and resolution are great, but some other sentiment mightier for the moment controls our men; a backward movement begins, but the men retire slowly, bearing their wounded with them, and even some of their dead.  The enemy, seeing this recoil, pour out of their shelter and make a dash upon our broken groups, but only to be dashed back in turn hand to hand in eddying whirls.  And seized by our desperate fellows, so many are dragged along as prisoners in the receding tide that it is not easy to tell which side is the winning one.  Much of the enemy's aim is unsteady, for the flame and murk of their thickening fire in the heavy moist air are blown back into their eyes by the freshening south wind.  But reinforcements are coming in, deepening and broadening their line beyond both our flanks.  Now roar and tumult of motion for a fierce pulse of time, then again a quivering halt.  At length one vigorous dash drives the assailants into the woods again with heavy loss.  We had cleared the field, and thought it best to be content with that for the present.  We reform our lines each side the buildings of the Lewis Farm, and take account of the situation. 

The term "eddying whirls" in the second paragraph serves to __________.

Possible Answers:

convey a sense of despair among the troops

describe the terrain of the battle

add poetic imagery to the author's description of the waves

increase the sense of disorganization and confusion

Correct answer:

add poetic imagery to the author's description of the waves

Explanation:

In the first paragraph, the troops "roll forward" and "the whole command swept forward like a wave." This sets the tone for the second paragraph where the imagery is continued. The battle moves forward and then backward, just like waves. The enemy then dashes forward, trying to cut off the US troops that have been broken up into small groups just like "eddying whirls." As the US troops retreat, "many (men) are dragged along as prisoners in the receding tide."

Example Question #2 : Analyzing Meaning, Purpose, And Effect Of Specified Text In Mixed Passages

Adapted from The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (1776)

The greatest improvements in the productive powers of labor, and the greater part of the skill, dexterity, and judgment with which it is anywhere directed or applied, seem to have been the effects of the division of labor. The effects of the division of labor, in the general business of society, will be more easily understood by considering in what manner it operates in some particular manufactures. It is commonly supposed to be carried furthest in some very trifling ones; not perhaps that it really is carried further in them than in others of more importance, but in those trifling manufactures that are destined to supply the small wants of but a small number of people, the whole number of workmen must necessarily be small; and those employed in every different branch of the work can often be collected into the same workhouse, and placed at once under the view of the spectator.

In those great manufactures, on the contrary, which are destined to supply the great wants of the great body of the people, every different branch of the work employs so great a number of workmen that it is impossible to collect them all into the same workhouse. We can seldom see more, at one time, than those employed in one single branch. Though in such manufactures, therefore, the work may really be divided into a much greater number of parts, than in those of a more trifling nature, the division is not near so obvious, and has accordingly been much less observed.

To take an example, therefore, from a very trifling manufacture, but one in which the division of labor has been very often taken notice of: the trade of a pin-maker. A workman not educated to this business (which the division of labor has rendered a distinct trade), nor acquainted with the use of the machinery employed in it (to the invention of which the same division of labor has probably given occasion), could scarce, perhaps, with his utmost industry, make one pin in a day, and certainly could not make twenty. But in the way in which this business is now carried on, not only the whole work is a peculiar trade, but it is divided into a number of branches, of which the greater part are likewise peculiar trades. One man draws out the wire; another straights it; a third cuts it; a fourth points it; a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head; to make the head requires two or three distinct operations; to put it on is a peculiar business; to whiten the pins is another; it is even a trade by itself to put them into the paper; and the important business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about eighteen distinct operations, which, in some manufactories, are all performed by distinct hands, though in others the same man will sometimes perform two or three of them.

In every other art and manufacture, the effects of the division of labour are similar to what they are in this very trifling one; though, in many of them, the labour can neither be so much subdivided, nor reduced to so great a simplicity of operation. The division of labour, however, so far as it can be introduced, occasions, in every art, a proportionable increase of the productive powers of labour. The separation of different trades and employments from one another, seems to have taken place, in consequence of this advantage.

In which of the following sentences does the author directly state why he discusses pin-making as an example of the division of labor in the third paragraph?

Possible Answers:

“It is commonly supposed to be carried furthest in some very trifling ones; not perhaps that it really is carried further in them than in others of more importance, but in those trifling manufactures . . . those employed in every different branch of the work can often be collected into the same workhouse, and placed at once under the view of the spectator.”

“In those great manufactures, on the contrary . . .  every different branch of the work employs so great a number of workmen that it is impossible to collect them all into the same workhouse.”

“The greatest improvements in the productive powers of labor, and the greater part of the skill, dexterity, and judgment with which it is anywhere directed or applied, seem to have been the effects of the division of labor.”

“The effects of the division of labor, in the general business of society, will be more easily understood by considering in what manner it operates in some particular manufactures.” 

Correct answer:

“The effects of the division of labor, in the general business of society, will be more easily understood by considering in what manner it operates in some particular manufactures.” 

Explanation:

This question is asking you to pick out a quotation in which the author is justifying part of his method: the presentation of a specific example in paragraph three. While many of the answer choices may be read as setting up the pin-making example, only in one of the answer choices does the author state why he will be bringing up an example: “The effects of the division of labor, in the general business of society, will be more easily understood by considering in what manner it operates in some particular manufactures.” Loosely paraphrased, the author is here saying that it is easier to understand the division of labor when considering how it works in some specific example industries. He then goes on to present pin-making as just such an example industry in paragraph three.

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