SAT Critical Reading : Comparing and Contrasting Content in Paired Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT Critical Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Comparing And Contrasting Paired Passages

Passage One

Adapted from The Every-day Life of Abraham Lincoln by Francis Fisher Browne (1913)

It is stated that Lincoln "had an almost morbid dislike to an escort, or guard, and daily exposed himself to the deadly aim of an assassin." To the remonstrances of friends, who feared his constant exposure to danger, he had but one answer: "If they kill me, the next man will be just as bad for them; and in a country like this, where our habits are simple, and must be, assassination is always possible, and will come if they are determined upon it." A cavalry guard was once placed at the gates of the White House for a while, and Lincoln said that he "worried until he got rid of it." He once remarked to Colonel Halpine: "It would never do for a President to have guards with drawn sabers at his door, as if he fancied he were, or were trying to be, or were assuming to be, an emperor." While the President's family were at their summer-house, near Washington, he rode into town of a morning, or out at night, attended by a mounted escort; but if he returned to town for a while after dark, he rode in unguarded, and often alone, in his open carriage. On more than one occasion, the same writer tells us, he "has gone through the streets of Washington at a late hour of the night with the President, without escort, or even the company of a servant, walking all the way, going and returning. Considering the many open and secret threats to take his life, it is not surprising that Lincoln had many thoughts about his coming to a sudden and violent end.


Passage Two

Adapted from Volume Two of Abraham Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life by William H. Herndon and Jesse W. Weik (1896)

Bancroft's eulogy on Lincoln never pleased the latter's lifelong friends—those who knew him so thoroughly and well. February 16, 1866, David Davis, who had heard it, wrote me: "You will see Mr. Bancroft's oration before this reaches you. It is able, but Mr. Lincoln is in the background. His analysis of Mr. Lincoln's character is superficial. It did not please me. How did it satisfy you?" On the 22nd he again wrote: "Mr. Bancroft totally misconceived Mr. Lincoln's character in applying 'unsteadiness' and confusion to it. Mr. Lincoln grew more steady and resolute, and his ideas were never confused. If there were any changes in him after he got here they were for the better. I thought him always master of his subject. He was a much more self-possessed man than I thought. He thought for himself, which is a rare quality nowadays. How could Bancroft know anything about Lincoln except as he judged of him as the public do? He never saw him, and is himself as cold as an icicle. I should never have selected an old Democratic politician, and that one from Massachusetts, to deliver an eulogy on Lincoln."

In what way does the content of Passage One differ from Passage Two?

Possible Answers:

Passage Two criticizes a leader, while Passage One praises him.

Passage Two examines a eulogy, while Passage One does not.

Passage One is opinionated, while Passage Two is not.

Passage One speaks out against current funereal practices, while Passage Two avoids the topic.

Passage Two evaluates a eulogy, while Passage One is a eulogy.

Correct answer:

Passage Two examines a eulogy, while Passage One does not.


Passage Two is evaluating a eulogy for Abraham Lincoln and criticizing its shortcomings. On the other hand, Passage One is examining Lincoln’s disregard for his personal safety and his refusal to employ bodyguards, both of which may have contributed to his assassination. None of the other answer choices apply here.

Example Question #4 : Paired Passages

Passage #1

Adapted from "On War" by James Boswell (1777)

When I saw workingmen engaged with grave assiduity in fashioning weapons of death, I was struck with wonder at the shortsightedness of human beings, who were soberly preparing the instruments of destruction of their own species. I have since found upon a closer study of man, that my wonder might have been spared. The views of most individuals are limited to their own happiness, and the workmen whom I beheld so busy in the arsenal of Venice saw nothing but what was good in the labor for which they received such wages as procured them the comforts of life. That their immediate satisfaction was not hindered by a view of the remote consequential and contingent evils for which they were responsible would not surprise one who has had seen too much of the world. We must have the telescope of philosophy to make us perceive distant ills; further, we know that there are individuals of our species to whom the immediate misery of others is nothing in comparison with their own advantage—for we know that in every age there have been found men very willing to perform the office of executioner.


Passage #2

Adapted from "What is Patriotism?" by Max Eastman (1915)

With proper recognition of the possible variation of individuals, we can say that patriotism is one of these unalterable facts of man's nature. A talent for fighting solidarity with a group is a part of the instinct of human beings. It is composed of two tendencies that are laid down in his nervous system when he is born called pugnacity and gregariousness, or group-loyalty. All men and most animals are pugnacious. They love to fight. Everybody loves to fight. Some people get all the fighting they want at the breakfast table, and other people have to carry it out in the law courts or the battlefield, where it makes more noise. [Theodore] Roosevelt loves to charge up San Juan Hill, and then he loves to prosecute for libel anybody that says he didn't charge up San Juan Hill. War people fight for war and peace people fight for peace. When Roosevelt calls the peace people mollycoddles and college sissies, I only want to walk up and smash him.

It is far better though that we should conquer our instinct to fight and put faith in reason. It may seem gigantic; but it is by no means a utopian undertaking to unite the whole world of nations in such a federation. For all the organic interests of men, except their sheer love of patriotic fighting itself, are against the perpetual recurrence of international war. War and the mere joy of existence are incompatible. War makes it impossible to live, and it makes it impossible even to die for a noble purpose. Let men but understand themselves, and the mechanism of their emotions by which they are brought into this perennial catastrophe, and they will be ready enough to take gigantic measures to prevent it.

In what way does Passage 1 differ from Passage 2?

Possible Answers:

passage 1 is more argumentative in tone.

passage 1 offers a personal account.

passage 1 draws on a reference to authority.

passage 2 constructs a narrative.

Correct answer:

passage 1 offers a personal account.


Passage 1 differs from Passage 2 in that the first passage offers a personal account. The author of Passage 1 uses evidence gathered on his visit to an armory in Venice to help make his argument. Specifically, he states, “The views of most individuals are limited to their own happiness, and the workmen whom I beheld so busy in the arsenal of Venice saw nothing but what was good in the labor for which they received such wages as procured them the comforts of life.” Contrast this with the second passage, where the author makes no reference to a personal account.

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