SAT Critical Reading : Understanding the Content of Social Science / History Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT Critical Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #2 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Narrative Social Science Passages

"The Sociology of Deviance" by Joseph Ritchie (2014)

Sociologically, deviance is defined as behaviors or actions that violate informal or formal social sanctions. A formal social sanction is one set by a proper authority, such as a state or federal legislature. Formal laws and sanctions are often enforced and propagated by an official body or organization, such as police departments and court houses. Informal sanctions are known as "folkways" and "mores." Informal sanctions are not proposed as law and are enforced by informal means such as exclusion, avoidance, or negative sentiments. Deviance and the enforcement of social norms, both formal and informal, play important roles in the construction of society and its values.

Sociologist Emile Durkheim hypothesized that deviance is an important and necessary part of the organization of society. He stated that deviance performs the following functions: it affirms cultural norms, defines moral boundaries, strengthens society’s bonds through its enforcement, and advances social revolution. This is considered to be a structural-functionalist theory because it outlines deviance’s function in the structure and construction of society.

Robert Merton outlined deviance as the product of the interactions between an individual’s cultural goals and the means to obtain these goals as produced by society or institutions. Cultural goals can be described as financial success, acquisition of academic degrees, or the pursuit of "the American Dream." Institutionalized means are best described as society’s proposed paths to achieve cultural goals. Merton hypothesized that the acceptance or rejection of cultural goals and institutionalized means of achievement defined an individual’s level of deviance. Conformists accept cultural norms and institutionalized means while retreatists reject both norms and means. An innovator will accept cultural goals but reject the institutionalized means to obtain them. A ritualist will embrace the rules set forth by society but will lose sight of and reject cultural norms. Lastly, rebellious individuals will create a counter-culture that not only rejects a society's goals and means, but also creates new cultural norms and means to achieve these goals.

Deviance plays a role in society that has been studied by various sociologists. Some feel that it is a necessary element utilized in the structure and function of society, while others feel that it defines an individual’s outlook on societal norms and means of achievement. Deviance can be described as behavior that goes against the grain of conduct deemed acceptable by society. The phenomena that exist in its composition and purpose will continue to be studied by researchers in an effort to better understand society and culture.

Which of the following sociologists claim that deviance is necessary for the organization of society?

Possible Answers:

Durkheim

Becker

None of the other answers

Goffman

Merton

Correct answer:

Durkheim

Explanation:

In the second paragraph of the passage, it is stated that Durkheim hypothesized that deviance is important for the organization of society. This is because deviance performs the following functions: "it affirms cultural norms, defines moral boundaries, strengthens society’s bonds through its enforcement, and advances social revolution."

Example Question #4 : Understanding The Content Of Social Science / History Passages

"The Sociology of Deviance" by Joseph Ritchie (2014)

Sociologically, deviance is defined as behaviors or actions that violate informal or formal social sanctions. A formal social sanction is one set by a proper authority, such as a state or federal legislature. Formal laws and sanctions are often enforced and propagated by an official body or organization, such as police departments and court houses. Informal sanctions are known as "folkways" and "mores." Informal sanctions are not proposed as law and are enforced by informal means such as exclusion, avoidance, or negative sentiments. Deviance and the enforcement of social norms, both formal and informal, play important roles in the construction of society and its values.

Sociologist Emile Durkheim hypothesized that deviance is an important and necessary part of the organization of society. He stated that deviance performs the following functions: it affirms cultural norms, defines moral boundaries, strengthens society’s bonds through its enforcement, and advances social revolution. This is considered to be a structural-functionalist theory because it outlines deviance’s function in the structure and construction of society.

Robert Merton outlined deviance as the product of the interactions between an individual’s cultural goals and the means to obtain these goals as produced by society or institutions. Cultural goals can be described as financial success, acquisition of academic degrees, or the pursuit of "the American Dream." Institutionalized means are best described as society’s proposed paths to achieve cultural goals. Merton hypothesized that the acceptance or rejection of cultural goals and institutionalized means of achievement defined an individual’s level of deviance. Conformists accept cultural norms and institutionalized means while retreatists reject both norms and means. An innovator will accept cultural goals but reject the institutionalized means to obtain them. A ritualist will embrace the rules set forth by society but will lose sight of and reject cultural norms. Lastly, rebellious individuals will create a counter-culture that not only rejects a society's goals and means, but also creates new cultural norms and means to achieve these goals.

Deviance plays a role in society that has been studied by various sociologists. Some feel that it is a necessary element utilized in the structure and function of society, while others feel that it defines an individual’s outlook on societal norms and means of achievement. Deviance can be described as behavior that goes against the grain of conduct deemed acceptable by society. The phenomena that exist in its composition and purpose will continue to be studied by researchers in an effort to better understand society and culture.

Which of the following statements correctly describes structural-functionist theory as it is presented in the passage?

Possible Answers:

None of the other answers

Structural-function theory theorizes about society by building structural models meant to demonstrate the social function of various behaviors.

Structural-functionist theory explores society through observing the symbolic interaction of cultural norms and individual definitions of societal phenomena.

Structural-functionist theory explores society by observing societal structures and their functions within the organization and propogation of societal culture and norms.

Structural-functionist theory explores society through the observation of social conflicts.

Correct answer:

Structural-functionist theory explores society by observing societal structures and their functions within the organization and propogation of societal culture and norms.

Explanation:

Structural-functionist theory explores society by observing societal structures and their function within the organization and propogation of societal culture and norms. The second paragraph of the passage states that "structural-functionalist theory outlines deviance’s function in the structure and construction of society." This answer is very straightforward. A theory is structural-functionalist if it observes structures and their function within society.

Example Question #2 : Ideas In History Passages

Adapted from The Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln (1863)

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow, this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

In this passage, the author describes the battlefield as being __________.

Possible Answers:

miserable

mythical 

insignificant

haunted 

sacred

Correct answer:

sacred

Explanation:

The author of this passage is Abraham Lincoln. This passage is adapted from Lincoln’s famous 1863 Gettysburg Address. Lincoln emphasizes the sacred nature of the battlefield; its importance to the Civil War effort. He describes how the men who fought and died on the battlefield, in the name of preserving the union, consecrated (to make sacred or holy) the ground. Lincoln makes no reference to the misery suffered in war, nor would he likely imply that the battle fought at Gettysburg was insignificant. Similarly, there is no mention in the passage of the battlefield being haunted or that its status is mythical (legendary).

Example Question #5 : Understanding The Content Of Social Science / History Passages

"Goffman's Theory of Institutions" by Joseph Ritchie (2014)

Sociological inquiry often investigates members of society considered to be on its outer edges. These individuals often live in precarious and vulnerable situations. Traditionally, sociologists have studied these groups to gain insight into the lives of people who are forgotten victims of the blind eye of society. In 1961, Erving Goffman published the book Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates. This book outlined the theory of a total institution as seen in prisons and asylums. Goffman’s interests and theory helped to reveal the inner mechanics of asylums and the process of institutionalization that takes place within a total institution.

According to Goffman’s observations and subsequent theories, a total institution seeks to erode the relationships of an individual with the outside world and consume their personal identities and daily activities. The end goal of a total institution is to break down and deconstruct the barriers that separate the spheres of sleep, play, and work in an individual’s life by conducting all of these aspects of life in the same location under the same authority. In these institutions, Goffman stated that there is an intentional divide between a large, managed group and a supervisor, which often results in feelings of submissiveness and reluctance to leave the institutionalized setting on the part of the “inmates.” This suggests that these restrictive environments lead to the institutionalization of an individual into the group and away from his or her previous, independent life. In these structures, an individual’s admission procedures shape and engineer the new member in what may be described as a process of programming. This programming of an individual is characterized by a “leaving off” of one’s identity and a “taking on” of one supplied by the establishment. Members of these establishments are alienated from their previous lives and encircled by the ideals and principals of the new institution. A prolonged exposure to similar institutions results in a phenomenon known as "disculturation," which is an un-training that renders an individual temporarily incapable of managing certain features of daily life outside the structures of the institutions.

Sociologists often study groups forgotten or ignored by society. Goffman’s work illuminated issues with vulnerable populations at asylums and other institutions. Ethnographic field studies have continued this tradition and in doing so have theorized the causes of many of society’s ills. Goffman’s work is just one example of sociology’s ability to delve into an understudied region of society, propose explanations of issues, and theorize possible avenues of reform.

What is the end goal of a total institution?

Possible Answers:

None of the choices are the end goal of a total institution.

The goal of a total institution is to be completely self-sufficient.

The goal of a total institution is to brainwash members of its community.

The goal of a total institution is to strengthen community ties.

The goal of a total institution is to deconstruct the ties an individual has with the outside world.

Correct answer:

The goal of a total institution is to deconstruct the ties an individual has with the outside world.

Explanation:

The end goal of a total institution is to weaken the ties an individual has with the outside world. The institution encircles an individual in order to eliminate other relationships. In doing so, these institutions foster an individual's dependency upon the group for survival.

Example Question #21 : Understanding The Content Of Social Science / History Passages

"Goffman's Theory of Institutions" by Joseph Ritchie (2014)

Sociological inquiry often investigates members of society considered to be on its outer edges. These individuals often live in precarious and vulnerable situations. Traditionally, sociologists have studied these groups to gain insight into the lives of people who are forgotten victims of the blind eye of society. In 1961, Erving Goffman published the book Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates. This book outlined the theory of a total institution as seen in prisons and asylums. Goffman’s interests and theory helped to reveal the inner mechanics of asylums and the process of institutionalization that takes place within a total institution.

According to Goffman’s observations and subsequent theories, a total institution seeks to erode the relationships of an individual with the outside world and consume their personal identities and daily activities. The end goal of a total institution is to break down and deconstruct the barriers that separate the spheres of sleep, play, and work in an individual’s life by conducting all of these aspects of life in the same location under the same authority. In these institutions, Goffman stated that there is an intentional divide between a large, managed group and a supervisor, which often results in feelings of submissiveness and reluctance to leave the institutionalized setting on the part of the “inmates.” This suggests that these restrictive environments lead to the institutionalization of an individual into the group and away from his or her previous, independent life. In these structures, an individual’s admission procedures shape and engineer the new member in what may be described as a process of programming. This programming of an individual is characterized by a “leaving off” of one’s identity and a “taking on” of one supplied by the establishment. Members of these establishments are alienated from their previous lives and encircled by the ideals and principals of the new institution. A prolonged exposure to similar institutions results in a phenomenon known as "disculturation," which is an un-training that renders an individual temporarily incapable of managing certain features of daily life outside the structures of the institutions.

Sociologists often study groups forgotten or ignored by society. Goffman’s work illuminated issues with vulnerable populations at asylums and other institutions. Ethnographic field studies have continued this tradition and in doing so have theorized the causes of many of society’s ills. Goffman’s work is just one example of sociology’s ability to delve into an understudied region of society, propose explanations of issues, and theorize possible avenues of reform.

The "supervisor" of an institution often produces which of the following feelings in the "inmates"?

Possible Answers:

Anger and frustration

Self-contemplation and confusion about one's identity

Adoration and respect

Submissiveness and reluctance to leave

Confusion and lack of confidence

Correct answer:

Submissiveness and reluctance to leave

Explanation:

The passage states in its second paragraph, "there is an intentional divide between a large managed group and a supervisor, which often results in feelings of submissiveness and reluctance to leave the institutionalized setting on the part of the 'inmates.'" A supervisor produces feelings of submissiveness and reluctance, which results in the inmate feeling dependent upon the institution for his or her needs and existence.

Example Question #22 : Understanding The Content Of Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from War from the Inside: The Story of the 132nd Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry in the War for the Suppression of the Rebellion, 1862-1863 by Col. Frederick L. Hitchcock (1903)

Never did day open more beautiful. We were astir at the first streak of dawn. We had slept, and soundly too, just where nightfall found us under the shelter of the hill near Keedysville. No reveille call this morning. Too close to the enemy. Nor was this needed to arouse us. A simple call of a sergeant or corporal and every man was instantly awake and alert. All realized that there was ugly business and plenty of it just ahead. This was plainly visible in the faces as well as in the nervous, subdued demeanour of all. The absence of all joking and play and the almost painful sobriety of action, where jollity had been the rule, was particularly noticeable.

Before proceeding with the events of the battle, I should speak of the "night before the battle," of which so much has been said and written. My diary says that Lieutenant-Colonel Wilcox, Captain James Archbald, Co. I, and I slept together, sharing our blankets; that it rained during the night; this fact, with the other, that we were close friends at home, accounts for our sharing blankets. Three of us with our gum blankets could so arrange as to keep fairly dry, notwithstanding the rain.

The camp was ominously still this night. We were not allowed to sing or make any noise, nor have any fires—except just enough to make coffee—for fear of attracting the fire of the enemies' batteries. But there was no need of such an inhibition as to singing or frolicking, for there was no disposition to indulge in either. Unquestionably, the problems of the morrow were occupying all breasts. Letters were written home—many of them "last words"—and quiet talks were had, and promises made between comrades. Promises providing against the dreaded possibilities of the morrow. "If the worst happens, Jack." "Yes, Ned, send word to mother and to——, and these; she will prize them," and so directions were interchanged that meant so much.

I can never forget the quiet words of Colonel Oakford, as he inquired very particularly if my roster of the officers and men of the regiment was complete, for, said he, with a smile, "We shall not all be here to-morrow night."

Now to resume the story of the battle. We were on the march about six o'clock and moved, as I thought, rather leisurely for upwards of two miles, crossing Antietam creek, which our men waded nearly waist deep, emerging, of course, soaked through, our first experience of this kind. It was a hot morning and, therefore, the only ill effects of this wading was the discomfort to the men of marching with soaked feet. It was now quite evident that a great battle was in progress. A deafening pandemonium of cannonading, with shrieking and bursting shells, filled the air beyond us, towards which we were marching. An occasional shell whizzed by or over, reminding us that we were rapidly approaching the "debatable ground." Soon we began to hear a most ominous sound which we had never before heard, except in the far distance at South Mountain, namely, the rattle of musketry. It had none of the deafening bluster of the cannonading so terrifying to new troops, but to those who had once experienced its effect, it was infinitely more to be dreaded. The fatalities by musketry at close quarters, as the two armies fought at Antietam and all through the Civil War, as compared with those by artillery, are at least as 100 to 1, probably much more than that.

These volleys of musketry we were approaching sounded in the distance like the rapid pouring of shot upon a tin pan, or the tearing of heavy canvas, with slight pauses interspersed with single shots, or desultory shooting. All this presaged fearful work in store for us, with what results to each personally the future, measured probably by moments, would reveal.

One of the main points made in the last paragraph is __________.

Possible Answers:

The sound of musket fire told them they were losing.

The sound of musket fire was awe inspiring.

The sound of the musket fire told them what they were about to face. 

The sound of musket was followed by the sound of canvas tearing.

The sound of musket fire told them victory was at hand.

Correct answer:

The sound of the musket fire told them what they were about to face. 

Explanation:

The author explains the sound of the musket fire and states at the end of the paragraph that “fearful work was in store for us.” They know that they are approaching the enemy soldiers and perhaps their deaths.

Example Question #23 : Understanding The Content Of Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from War from the Inside: The Story of the 132nd Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry in the War for the Suppression of the Rebellion, 1862-1863 by Col. Frederick L. Hitchcock (1903)

Never did day open more beautiful. We were astir at the first streak of dawn. We had slept, and soundly too, just where nightfall found us under the shelter of the hill near Keedysville. No reveille call this morning. Too close to the enemy. Nor was this needed to arouse us. A simple call of a sergeant or corporal and every man was instantly awake and alert. All realized that there was ugly business and plenty of it just ahead. This was plainly visible in the faces as well as in the nervous, subdued demeanor of all. The absence of all joking and play and the almost painful sobriety of action, where jollity had been the rule, was particularly noticeable.

Before proceeding with the events of the battle, I should speak of the "night before the battle," of which so much has been said and written. My diary says that Lieutenant-Colonel Wilcox, Captain James Archbald, Co. I, and I slept together, sharing our blankets; that it rained during the night; this fact, with the other, that we were close friends at home, accounts for our sharing blankets. Three of us with our gum blankets could so arrange as to keep fairly dry, notwithstanding the rain.

The camp was ominously still this night. We were not allowed to sing or make any noise, nor have any fires—except just enough to make coffee—for fear of attracting the fire of the enemies' batteries. But there was no need of such an inhibition as to singing or frolicking, for there was no disposition to indulge in either. Unquestionably, the problems of the morrow were occupying all breasts. Letters were written home—many of them "last words"—and quiet talks were had, and promises made between comrades. Promises providing against the dreaded possibilities of the morrow. "If the worst happens, Jack." "Yes, Ned, send word to mother and to——, and these; she will prize them," and so directions were interchanged that meant so much.

I can never forget the quiet words of Colonel Oakford, as he inquired very particularly if my roster of the officers and men of the regiment was complete, for, said he, with a smile, "We shall not all be here to-morrow night."

Now to resume the story of the battle. We were on the march about six o'clock and moved, as I thought, rather leisurely for upwards of two miles, crossing Antietam creek, which our men waded nearly waist deep, emerging, of course, soaked through, our first experience of this kind. It was a hot morning and, therefore, the only ill effects of this wading was the discomfort to the men of marching with soaked feet. It was now quite evident that a great battle was in progress. A deafening pandemonium of cannonading, with shrieking and bursting shells, filled the air beyond us, towards which we were marching. An occasional shell whizzed by or over, reminding us that we were rapidly approaching the "debatable ground." Soon we began to hear a most ominous sound which we had never before heard, except in the far distance at South Mountain, namely, the rattle of musketry. It had none of the deafening bluster of the cannonading so terrifying to new troops, but to those who had once experienced its effect, it was infinitely more to be dreaded. The fatalities by musketry at close quarters, as the two armies fought at Antietam and all through the Civil War, as compared with those by artillery, are at least as 100 to 1, probably much more than that.

These volleys of musketry we were approaching sounded in the distance like the rapid pouring of shot upon a tin pan, or the tearing of heavy canvas, with slight pauses interspersed with single shots, or desultory shooting. All this presaged fearful work in store for us, with what results to each personally the future, measured probably by moments, would reveal.

What is the main idea of the second paragraph?

Possible Answers:

The author wants to mention his comrades.

The author cannot remember the night preceding the battle.

The author thinks he should talk about the night preceding the battle, so he refers to his diary. 

The author feels that he needs to discuss the weather they experienced on the night before the battle.

The author wishes to remember his fallen comrades.

Correct answer:

The author thinks he should talk about the night preceding the battle, so he refers to his diary. 

Explanation:

The author is conscious that he should talk about the “night before the battle” as “ so much has been said and written” about it already by others. He refers to the details in his diary, probably to make it more factual and less descriptive or fanciful.

Example Question #2 : Understanding The Content Of Social Science Passages

Adapted from “Introductory Remarks” in The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud (trans. 1913)

In attempting to discuss the interpretation of dreams, I do not believe that I have overstepped the bounds of neuropathological interest. For, when investigated psychologically, the dream proves to be the first link in a chain of abnormal psychic structures whose other links—the hysterical phobia, the obsession, and the delusion—must interest the physician for practical reasons. The dream can lay no claim to a corresponding practical significance; however, its theoretical value is very great, and one who cannot explain the origin of the content of dreams will strive in vain to understand phobias, obsessive and delusional ideas, and likewise their therapeutic importance.

While this relationship makes our subject important, it is responsible also for the deficiencies in this work. The surfaces of fracture, which will be frequently discussed, correspond to many points of contact where the problem of dream formation informs more comprehensive problems of psychopathology which cannot be discussed here. These larger issues will be elaborated upon in the future.

Peculiarities in the material I have used to elucidate the interpretation of dreams have rendered this publication difficult. The work itself will demonstrate why all dreams related in scientific literature or collected by others had to remain useless for my purpose. In choosing my examples, I had to limit myself to considering my own dreams and those of my patients who were under psychoanalytic treatment. I was restrained from utilizing material derived from my patients' dreams by the fact that during their treatment, the dream processes were subjected to an undesirable complication—the intermixture of neurotic characters. On the other hand, in discussing my own dreams, I was obliged to expose more of the intimacies of my psychic life than I should like, more so than generally falls to the task of an author who is not a poet but an investigator of nature. This was painful, but unavoidable; I had to put up with the inevitable in order to demonstrate the truth of my psychological results at all. To be sure, I disguised some of my indiscretions through omissions and substitutions, though I feel that these detract from the value of the examples in which they appear. I can only express the hope that the reader of this work, putting himself in my difficult position, will show patience, and also that anyone inclined to take offense at any of the reported dreams will concede freedom of thought at least to the dream life.

The author has written this passage in order to __________.

Possible Answers:

respond to a specific critic who has cast doubt on his work’s reliability

justify his work and address some of its limitations

propose a psychological experiment

teach the reader how to interpret his or her own dreams

discuss common causes of nightmares

Correct answer:

justify his work and address some of its limitations

Explanation:

The author begins his work from a defensive standpoint, arguing in the first sentence that he has not “overstepped the bounds of neuropathological interest” in investigating and writing about the interpretation of dreams. He then goes on to addresses some of his study’s limitations in the second and third paragraphs. Thus, we can say that the author’s purpose in writing this passage is to “justify his work and address some of its limitations.” None of the other answer choices are supported by the passage.

Example Question #15 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Ideas In Social Science Or History Passages

Adapted from The Destructive Male (1868) by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony

The male element is a destructive force, stern, selfish, aggrandizing, loving war, violence, conquest, acquisition, breeding in the material and moral world alike discord, disorder, disease, and death. See what a record of blood and cruelty the pages of history reveal! Through what slavery, slaughter, and sacrifice, through what inquisitions and imprisonments, pains and persecutions, black codes and gloomy creeds, the soul of humanity has struggled for the centuries, while mercy has veiled her face and all hearts have been dead alike to love and hope!

The male element has held high carnival thus far; it has fairly run riot from the beginning, overpowering the feminine element everywhere, crushing out all the diviner qualities in human nature, until we know but little of true manhood and womanhood, of the latter comparatively nothing, for it has scarce been recognized as a power until within the last century. Society is but the reflection of man himself, not tempered by woman's thought; the hard iron rule we feel alike in the church, the state, and the home. No one need wonder at the disorganization, at the fragmentary condition of everything, when we remember that man, who represents but half a complete being, with but half an idea on every subject, has undertaken the absolute control of all sublunary matters.

People object to the demands of those whom they choose to call the strong-minded, because they say "the right of suffrage will make the women masculine." That is just the difficulty in which we are involved today. Though disfranchised, we have few women in the best sense; we have simply so many reflections, varieties, and dilutions of the masculine gender. The strong, natural characteristics of womanhood are repressed and ignored in dependence, for so long as man feeds woman she will try to please the giver and adapt herself to his condition.

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

Possible Answers:

None of these answers 

so long as man is in control woman will be forced to change her nature to accommodate him

women are used to being controlled; at church, in the home, in the nation

the male element is a dangerous and destructive force

female identity is growing stronger and stronger

Correct answer:

so long as man is in control woman will be forced to change her nature to accommodate him

Explanation:

The author states that “The strong, natural characteristics of womanhood are repressed and ignored in dependence, for so long as man feeds woman she will try to please the giver and adapt herself to his condition.” This quote supports the answer choice that the author argues that so long as man is in control women will change to accommodate and reflect him.

Example Question #2 : Critical Comprehension

While the Gutenberg press was perhaps one of the greatest inventions of all time, we should not let its importance blind us to other very important events in the history of linguistic development. Granted, the efficiency of printing allowed for the dissemination of much learning in Europe. Still, such printing was not unique to Europe, and even in the scope of world history, there are several events that are equally as miraculous regarding the transmission of knowledge.

For instance, most people overlook the amazing nature of the first time that human beings communicated with spoken language. Perhaps there were simple signs by which these early humans could indicate their needs to each other; however, when the first event of person-to-person speech occurred, it was far more marvelous than simple practical communication. Such speech was like a sharing in ideas. When true speech happened, persons were able to communicate knowledge to each other, freeing it from its isolation in one lonely person. By means of such speech, knowledge could be orally transmitted from generation to generation, thus preserving wisdom in a way that is completely impossible without speech.

Of course, such spoken tradition is very fragile, relying on memories and stories that are passed down from generation to generation. For this reason, the invention of writing is extremely important. In contrast to the spoken word, the written word can continue to exist and be useful so long as it can be read intelligently. Likewise, much more can be recorded than ever could be remembered by someone with the best of memories. Indeed, once these records are written, copies can be sent to anyone who is able to read the language in question. Just so, it can be translated into written copies to be read by others. For these (as well as many other reasons) the invention of writing was a very significant event in history, greatly expanding the possibilities for the exchange of knowledge.

Thus, the printing press is quite important, but it is part of a larger story. Like both spoken and written communication, it allows human beings to communicate knowledge not only to each other but also across multiple generations. Often, we think of the press merely in its ability to provide a great number of books in a short period of time; however, when considered as a chapter in this longer tale, it likewise appears as the means by which humanity is able to conquer time by allowing the knowledge of today to live for multiple generations.

What is the main idea of this selection?

Possible Answers:

The Gutenberg press should be ignored by historians after many years of over-emphasis.

The Gutenberg press is the single greatest achievement of human history.

The Gutenberg press should be understood as part of a longer history of the development of human communication.

The Gutenberg press is a fascinating case study but really nothing more.

The Gutenberg press was in fact a rather unimportant invention compared to a number of others.

Correct answer:

The Gutenberg press should be understood as part of a longer history of the development of human communication.

Explanation:

This whole selection aims to show that the significance of the Gutenberg press should be understood in light of the importance of speech and writing. From the beginning, it acknowledges that it was an important invention; however, it follows by providing a short explanation of how speech and writing are likewise very important means of human communication. The closing paragraph repeats the main point, namely that the press was important but is really part of a larger history.

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