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

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Example Question #29 : Identifying And Analyzing Important Details 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.

Based on this passage the primary opposition to women’s suffrage is the belief __________.

Possible Answers:

in the inability of women to understand the contentious nature of politics

that women do not possess the spiritual faculties to make moralistic decisions

that men have a natural capacity for power and rational thinking

in God’s divine appropriation of power in the hands of men

that female empowerment will make women more masculine

Correct answer:

that female empowerment will make women more masculine

Explanation:

The author reveals her perception of the primary opposition to woman’s suffrage when she claims that “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.'”

Example Question #71 : Understanding The Content Of Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft (1792)

In the middle rank of life, to continue the comparison, men, in their youth, are prepared for professions, and marriage is not considered as the grand feature in their lives; whilst women, on the contrary, have no other scheme to sharpen their faculties. It is not business, extensive plans, or any of the excursive flights of ambition, that engross their attention; no, their thoughts are not employed in rearing such noble structures. To rise in the world, and have the liberty of running from pleasure to pleasure, they must marry advantageously, and to this object their time is sacrificed, and their persons often legally prostituted. A man when he enters any profession has his eye steadily fixed on some future advantage (and the mind gains great strength by having all its efforts directed to one point) and, full of his business, pleasure is considered as mere relaxation; whilst women seek for pleasure as the main purpose of existence. In fact, from the education, which they receive from society, the love of pleasure may be said to govern them all; but does this prove that there is a sex in souls? It would be just as rational to declare that the courtiers in France, when a destructive system of despotism had formed their character, were not men, because liberty, virtue, and humanity, were sacrificed to pleasure and vanity.—Fatal passions, which have ever domineered over the whole race!

The same love of pleasure, fostered by the whole tendency of their education, gives a trifling turn to the conduct of women in most circumstances: for instance, they are ever anxious about secondary things; and on the watch for adventures, instead of being occupied by duties.

A man, when he undertakes a journey, has, in general, the end in view; a woman thinks more of the incidental occurrences, the strange things that may possibly occur on the road; the impression that she may make on her fellow travelers; and, above all, she is anxiously intent on the care of the finery that she carries with her, which is more than ever a part of herself, when going to figure on a new scene; when, to use an apt French turn of expression, she is going to produce a sensation.—Can dignity of mind exist with such trivial cares? This observation should not be confined to the fair sex; however, at present, I only mean to apply it to them.

The third paragraph establishes all of the following EXCEPT __________.

Possible Answers:

Men work towards set goals.

The author's intention is to apply a certain image to women to support their argument.

Men do not consider marriage to be a big part of their lives.

The author's portrait of women is also applicable to some men.

Women fashion themselves so as to make an impression.

Correct answer:

Men do not consider marriage to be a big part of their lives.

Explanation:

The correct answer is partially established in the first paragraph, not in the third. The sentence is also incorrect in that it says “men” rather than “young men.” All of the other sentences are established in the third paragraph.

Example Question #311 : Psat Critical Reading

Adapted from The Extermination of the American Bison by William T. Hornaday (1889)

We come now to a history which I would gladly leave unwritten. Its record is a disgrace to the American people in general, and the Territorial, State, and General Government in particular. It will cause succeeding generations to regard us as being possessed of the leading characteristics of the beast of prey—cruelty and greed. We will be likened to the blood-thirsty tiger of the Indian jungle, who slaughters a dozen bullocks at once when he knows he can eat only one.

The men who killed buffaloes for their tongues and those who shot them from the railway trains for sport were murderers. In no way does civilized man so quickly revert to his former state as when he is alone with the beasts of the field. Give him a gun and something which he may kill without getting himself in trouble, and, presto! He is instantly a killer again, finding exquisite delight in bloodshed, slaughter, and death, if not for gain, then solely for the joy and happiness of it. There is no kind of warfare against game animals too unfair, too disreputable, or too mean for white men to engage in if they can only do so with safety to their own precious carcasses. They will shoot buffalo and antelope from running railway trains, drive deer into water with hounds and cut their throats in cold blood, kill does with fawns a week old, kill fawns by the score for their spotted skins, slaughter deer, moose, and caribou in the snow at a pitiful disadvantage, just as the wolves do; exterminate the wild ducks on the whole Atlantic seaboard with punt guns for the metropolitan markets; kill off the Rocky Mountain goats for hides worth only 50 cents apiece, destroy wagon loads of trout with dynamite, and so on to the end of the chapter.

Perhaps the most gigantic task ever undertaken on this continent in the line of game-slaughter was the extermination of the bison in the great pasture region by the hide-hunters. Probably the brilliant rapidity and success with which that lofty undertaking was accomplished was a matter of surprise even to those who participated in it. The story of the slaughter is by no means a long one.

The period of systematic slaughter of the bison naturally begins with the first organized efforts in that direction, in a business-like, wholesale way. Although the species had been steadily driven westward for a hundred years by the advancing settlements, and had during all that time been hunted for the meat and robes it yielded, its extermination did not begin in earnest until 1820, or thereabouts. As before stated, various persons had previous to that time made buffalo killing a business in order to sell their skins, but such instances were very exceptional. By that time the bison was totally extinct in all the region lying east of the Mississippi River except a portion of Wisconsin, where it survived until about 1830. In 1820 the first organized buffalo hunting expedition on a grand scale was made from the Red River settlement, Manitoba, in which five hundred and forty carts proceeded to the range. Previous to that time the buffaloes were found near enough to the settlements around Fort Garry that every settler could hunt independently; but as the herds were driven farther and farther away, it required an organized effort and a long journey to reach them.

The American Fur Company established trading posts along the Missouri River, one at the mouth of the Teton River and another at the mouth of the Yellowstone. In 1826 a post was established at the eastern base of the Rocky Mountains, at the head of the Arkansas River, and in 1832 another was located in a corresponding situation at the head of the South Fork of the Platte, close to where Denver now stands. Both the latter were on what was then the western border of the buffalo range. Elsewhere throughout the buffalo country there were numerous other posts, always situated as near as possible to the best hunting ground, and at the same time where they would be most accessible to the hunters, both white and Native American.

According to the passage's fourth paragraph, how would one accurately describe the population of buffalo east of the Mississippi River around 1820?

Possible Answers:

Overly plentiful

Common

Rare

Almost completely extinct

Extinct

Correct answer:

Almost completely extinct

Explanation:

In the fourth paragraph, the author writes that the extermination of the buffalo "did not begin in earnest until 1820, or thereabouts," and then later adds,"By that time the bison was totally extinct in all the region lying east of the Mississippi River except a portion of Wisconsin, where it survived until about 1830." So, because the bison was "totally extinct" with the exception of a single area in Wisconsin, the best answer is "almost completely extinct."

Example Question #5 : 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.

How many distinct tasks does the author estimate are involved in manufacturing a pin?

Possible Answers:

Eighteen

Twelve

Six

Twenty-five

Correct answer:

Eighteen

Explanation:

As the author only discusses pin-making in the passage’s last paragraph, we can focus on that paragraph in looking for the answer to this question. At the end of the paragraph, the author writes, “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.” This tells us that the process of pin-making is divided into about eighteen distinct operations, or tasks.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Cause And Effect In Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from On Sumner and the South (1874) by Lucius Q.C. Lamar

Charles Sumner in life believed that all occasion for strife and distrust between the North and South had passed away, and there no longer remained any cause for continued estrangement between those two sections of our common country. Are there not many of us who believe the same thing? Is not that the common sentiment, or if not, ought it not to be, of the great mass of our people, North and South? Bound to each other by a common constitution, destined to live together under a common government, forming united but a single member of the great family of nations, shall we not now at last endeavor to grow toward each other once more in heart, as we are indissolubly linked to each other in fortunes? Shall we not, while honoring the memory of this great champion of liberty, this feeling sympathizer with human sorrow, this earnest pleader for the exercise of human tenderness and heavenly charity, lay aside the concealments which serve only to perpetuate misunderstandings and distrust, and frankly confess that on both sides we most earnestly desire to be one—one not merely in political organization; one not merely in community of language, and literature, and traditions, and country; but more and better than all that, one also in feeling and in heart?

Am I mistaken in this? Do not the concealments of which I speak still cover animosities, which neither time nor reflection nor the march of events has yet sufficed to subdue? I cannot believe it. Since I have been here I have scrutinized your sentiments, as expressed not merely in public debate, but in the abandon of personal confidence. I know well the sentiments of these my Southern friends, whose hearts are so infolded that the feeling of each is the feeling of all; and I see on both sides only the seeming of a constraint which each apparently hesitates to dismiss.

The South—prostrate, exhausted, drained of her life-blood as well as her material resources, yet still honorable and true—accepts the bitter award of the bloody arbitration without reservation, resolutely determined to abide the result with chivalrous fidelity. Yet, as if struck dumb by the magnitude of her reverses, she suffers on in silence. The North, exultant in her triumph and elevated by success, still cherishes, as we are assured, a heart full of magnanimous emotions toward her disarmed and discomfited antagonist; and yet, as if under some mysterious spell, her words and acts are words and acts of suspicion and distrust. Would that the spirit of the illustrious dead, whom we lament today, could speak from the grave to both parties to this deplorable discord, in tones which would reach each and every heart throughout this broad territory: My countrymen! Know one another and you will love one another.

The political sentiments of Charles Sumner are used in this passage to __________.

Possible Answers:

dismiss the claims made by Southerners

encourage harmony between the North and South

question the outcome of the Civil War

foment discord between the North and South

support the policies of the Reconstruction Era government

Correct answer:

encourage harmony between the North and South

Explanation:

The author employs a description of Charles Sumner’s life and political perspective to support his argument in favor of greater harmony between the North and the South. This can be primarily observed in lines 1-3: “Charles Sumner in life believed that all occasion for strife and distrust between the North and South had passed away, and there no longer remained any cause for continued estrangement between those two sections of our common country. Are there not many of us who believe the same thing?”

Example Question #2 : Analyzing Cause And Effect In Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from On Women’s Right to Vote (1872) by Susan B. Anthony

Friends and fellow citizens, I stand before you tonight under indictment for the alleged crime of having voted at the last presidential election, without having a lawful right to vote. It shall be my work this evening to prove to you that in thus voting, I not only committed no crime, but, instead, simply exercised my citizen's rights, guaranteed to me and all United States citizens by the National Constitution, beyond the power of any state to deny.

The preamble of the Federal Constitution says: "We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union. And we formed it, not to give the blessings of liberty, but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity, but to the whole people—women as well as men. And it is a downright mockery to talk to women of their enjoyment of the blessings of liberty while they are denied the use of the only means of securing them provided by this democratic-republican government—the ballot.

What does the author of this passage believe is the only means of securing the “blessings of liberty” (line 16)?

Possible Answers:

Adhering to the Cult of Domesticity

Organized exhortations of politicians

Rewriting the United States Constitution

Peaceful protest

Voting in elections

Correct answer:

Voting in elections

Explanation:

This question can be answered simply by reading the concluding sentence to the passage. The author states that the “blessings of liberty” can only be secured at “the ballot.” This is an idiomatic way of expressing that liberty is secured through voting in elections. Although the author does mention the United States Constitution, it is primarily used to quote the authority of a respected source and to support the author’s argument.

Example Question #112 : Isee Upper Level (Grades 9 12) Reading Comprehension

Adapted from "Federalist No. 46. The Influence of the State and Federal Governments Compared" by James Madison in The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay (1788)

Many considerations, besides those suggested on a former occasion, seem to place it beyond doubt that the first and most natural attachment of the people will be to the governments of their respective states. Into the administration of these a greater number of individuals will expect to rise. From the gift of these a greater number of offices and emoluments will flow. By the superintending care of these, all the more domestic and personal interests of the people will be regulated and provided for. With the affairs of these, the people will be more familiarly and minutely conversant. And with the members of these, will a greater proportion of the people have the ties of personal acquaintance and friendship, and of family and party attachments; on the side of these, therefore, the popular bias may well be expected most strongly to incline.

Experience speaks the same language in this case. The federal administration, though hitherto very defective in comparison with what may be hoped under a better system, had, during the war, and particularly whilst the independent fund of paper emissions was in credit, an activity and importance as great as it can well have in any future circumstances whatever. It was engaged, too, in a course of measures which had for their object the protection of everything that was dear and the acquisition of everything that could be desirable to the people at large. It was, nevertheless, invariably found, after the transient enthusiasm for the early Congresses was over, that the attention and attachment of the people were turned anew to their own particular governments; that the federal council was at no time the idol of popular favor; and that opposition to proposed enlargements of its powers and importance was the side usually taken by the men who wished to build their political consequence on the prepossessions of their fellow-citizens.

Which of the following is NOT a result the author mentions as likely to arise from people being more attached to their state governments than to their federal government?

Possible Answers:

More state governmental offices will be created.

State taxes will increase in order to pay for expanding state governments.

More individuals will work for state governments.

Citizens will be more aware of the actions of their state governments.

More people will have friends and relatives who work in the state governments.

Correct answer:

State taxes will increase in order to pay for expanding state governments.

Explanation:

While it is logical that state taxes may very well rise if all of the other effects of citizens' preference for state government take place, the author never mentions taxes in the paragraph. All of the other answer choices are mentioned in the first paragraph of the passage as potential effects caused by the relative popularity of state governments.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Cause And Effect In Social Science / History 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 argues that understanding the content of dreams is necessary for __________.

Possible Answers:

understanding the rest of the work from which this passage is drawn

understanding delusional ideas

comprehending the therapeutic importance of dreams

understanding why he had difficulty choosing dreams to discuss in the work that follows

accurately diagnosing a number of psychological conditions in patients

Correct answer:

understanding delusional ideas

Explanation:

At the end of the first paragraph, the author states, “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.” Thus, the correct answer is that understanding the content of dreams is necessary for understanding delusional ideas.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Cause And Effect 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.

Which of the following does the author identify as the likely cause of the invention of the specific machinery involved in manufacturing pins?

Possible Answers:

the relative usefulness of pins.

the huge demand for pins.

the number of people involved in the pin-making industry.

the division of labor.

Correct answer:

the division of labor.

Explanation:

The only point at which the author discusses the machinery involved in manufacturing pins is in the third paragraph, when he states, “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.” The second parenthetical remark tells us that the author thinks that the division of labor likely gave rise to the machinery used in pin-making.

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