SAT Critical Reading : Context-Dependent Meaning of Words in Social Science / History Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT Critical Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #41 : Determining Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Social Science Or History Passages

Adapted from Harvard University Address by Booker T. Washington (1896)

Why you have called me from the Black Belt of the South, from among my humble people, to share in the honors of this occasion, is not for me to explain; and yet it may not be inappropriate for me to suggest that it seems to me that one of the most vital questions that touch our American life, is how to bring the strong, wealthy and learned into helpful touch with the poorest, most ignorant, and humble and at the same time, make the one appreciate the vitalizing, strengthening influence of the other.

How shall we make the mansions on Beacon street feel and see the need of the spirits in the lowliest cabin in the Alabama cotton fields or the Louisiana sugar bottoms? This problem Harvard University is solving, not by bringing itself down, but by bringing the masses up.

If through me, an humble representative, seven millions of my people in the South might be permitted to send a message to Harvard — Harvard that offered up on death's altar, young Shaw, and Russell, and Lowell and scores of others, that we might have a free and united country, that message would be: Tell them that the sacrifice was not in vain. Tell them that by the way of the shop, the field, the skilled hand, habits of thrift and economy, by way of industrial school and college, we are coming.

We are crawling up, working up, yea, bursting up. Often through oppression, unjust discrimination and prejudice, but through them all we are coming up, and with proper habits, intelligence and property, there is no power on earth that can permanently stay our progress.

As it is used in the passage's last sentence, the underlined word “stay” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

reside 

halt 

live 

continue

wait 

Correct answer:

halt 

Explanation:

From the context of the sentence you know that the author of this passage is describing how the poor are being elevated through their own hard work and that the author feels that their progress is somewhat inevitable. This should indicate that by “stay” the author means nothing can “halt” their progress.

Example Question #21 : Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from The Crisis by Carrie Chapman Catt (1916)

The war will soon end and the armies will return to their native lands. To many a family, the men will never come back. The husband, who returns to many a wife, will eat no bread the rest of his life save of her earning. What then, will happen after the war? Will the widows left with families to support cheerfully leave their well-paid posts for those commanding lower wages? Not without protest! Will the wives who now must support crippled husbands give up their skilled work and take up the occupations which were open to them before the war? Will they resignedly say: "The woman who has a healthy husband who can earn for her, has a right to tea and raisin cake, but the woman who earns for herself and a husband who has given his all to his country, must be content with tasteless bread?" Not without protest! On the contrary, the economic axiom, denied and evaded for centuries, will be blazoned on every factory, counting house and shop: "Equal pay for equal work"; and common justice will slowly, but surely enforce that law. The European woman has risen. She may not realize it yet, but the woman "doormat" in every land has unconsciously become a "door-jamb." She will have become accustomed to her new dignity by the time the men come home. She will wonder how she ever could have been content lying across the threshold now that she discovers the upright jamb gives so much broader and more normal a vision of things. The men returning may find the new order a bit queer but everything else will be strangely unfamiliar too, and they will soon grow accustomed to all the changes together. The "jamb" will never descend into a "doormat" again.

The male and female anti-suffragists of all lands will puff and blow at the economic change which will come to the women of Europe. They will declare it to be contrary to Nature and to God's plan and that somebody ought to do something about it. Suffragists will accept the change as the inevitable outcome of an unprecedented world's cataclysm over which no human agency had any control and will trust in God to adjust the altered circumstances to the eternal evolution of human society. They will remember that in the long run, all things work together for good, for progress and for human weal.

The economic change is bound to bring political liberty. From every land, there comes the expressed belief that the war will be followed by a mighty, oncoming wave of democracy for it is now well known that the conflict has been one of governments, of kings and czars, kaisers and emperors — not of peoples. The nations involved have nearly all declared that they are fighting to make an end of wars. New and higher ideals of governments and of the rights of the people under them, have grown enormously during the past two years. Another tide of political liberty, similar to that of 1848, but of a thousand-fold greater momentum, is rising from battlefield and hospital, from camp and munitions factory, from home and church which, great men of many lands, tell us, is destined to sweep over the world. On the continent, the women say, "It is certain that the vote will come to men and women after the war, perhaps not immediately but soon. In Great Britain, which was the storm centre of the suffrage movement for some years before the war, hundreds of bitter, active opponents have confessed their conversion on account of the war services of women. Already, three great provinces of Canada, Manitoba, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, have given universal suffrage to their women in sheer generous appreciation of their war work.

In context, the description of woman as a “doormat” highlights pre-war male __________.

Possible Answers:

accountability

aggression

dominance

hysteria 

kindness

Correct answer:

dominance

Explanation:

The word “doormat” is employed by the author to demonstrate female subservience to men prior to the outbreak of World War One. Comparing a group of people to doormats is evocative imagery; it makes the reader think about how a doormat is used and how it might feel to be a human “doormat.” The change of women from something that is walked all over “a doormat” to something that stands up for itself “a door-jamb” highlights the shrinking male dominance over women and society.

Example Question #2 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Words In 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-travellers; 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.

As it is used in the first paragraph, the underlined word “faculties” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

abilities 

dreams

considerations

installations 

staff

Correct answer:

abilities 

Explanation:

The author is comparing women and their pursuits to men and their pursuits. Men have careers whilst, other than marriage, women “have no other scheme to sharpen their faculties.” In this context, “abilities” is the closest listed synonym of "faculties." If “staff” was chosen, then the association was with faculties of staff in schools whereas the passage is implying something more akin to mental faculties, which can be inferred from close reading.

Example Question #41 : Determining Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Social Science Or History Passages

Adapted from The Man with the Muck-Rake by Theodore Roosevelt (1906)

There are in the body politic, economic and social, many and grave evils, and there is urgent necessity for the sternest war upon them. There should be relentless exposure of and attack upon every evil man, whether politician or business man, every evil practice, whether in politics, business, or social life. I hail as a benefactor every writer or speaker, every man who, on the platform or in a book, magazine, or newspaper, with merciless severity makes such attack, provided always that he in his turn remembers that the attack is of use only if it is absolutely truthful.

The liar is no whit better than the thief, and if his mendacity takes the form of slander he may be worse than most thieves. It puts a premium upon knavery untruthfully to attack an honest man, or even with hysterical exaggeration to assail a bad man with untruth. An epidemic of indiscriminate assault upon character does no good, but very great harm. The soul of every scoundrel is gladdened whenever an honest man is assailed, or even when a scoundrel is untruthfully assailed.

The word “assail” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

encourage 

protect

praise 

indoctrinate 

accuse 

Correct answer:

accuse 

Explanation:

The word “assail” generally refers to an attack on someone’s character. The correct answer is therefore “accuse.” If you did not know this definition it would become necessary to read-in-context to determine the correct answer. The paragraph that contains the word “assail” discusses attacks and assaults on character and very little else. So when you read the sentence “The soul of every scoundrel is gladdened whenever an honest man is assailed . . .” it should clue you in that in this context “assail” means “to accuse.”

Example Question #21 : Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from The Crisis by Carrie Chapman Catt (1916)

We are passing through a world crisis. All thinkers of every land tell us so; and that nothing after World War One will be as it was before. Those who profess to know claim that 100 millions of dollars are being spent on the war every day and that 2 years of war have cost 50 billions of dollars or 10 times more than the total expense of the American Civil War. Our own country has sent 35 millions of dollars abroad for relief expenses.  Were there no other effects to come from the world's war, the transfer of such unthinkably vast sums of money from the usual avenues to those wholly abnormal would give so severe a jolt to organized society that it would vibrate around the world and bring untold changes in its wake.

But three and a half million lives have been lost. The number becomes the more impressive when it is remembered that the entire population of the American Colonies was little more than three and a half millions. These losses have been the lives of men within the age of economic production. They have been taken abruptly from the normal business of the world and every human activity from that of the humblest, unskilled labor to art, science, and literature has been weakened by their loss. Millions of other men will go to their homes, blind, crippled, and incapacitated to do the work they once performed. The stability of human institutions has never before suffered so tremendous a shock. Great men are trying to think out the consequences but one and all proclaim that no imagination can find color or form bold enough to paint the picture of the world after the war. British and Russian, German and Austrian, French and Italian agree that it will lead to social and political revolution throughout the entire world. Whatever comes, they further agree that the war presages a total change in the status of women.

Women by the thousands have knocked at the doors of munitions factories and, in the name of patriotism, have begged for the right to serve their country there. Their services were accepted with hesitation but the experiment once made, won reluctant but universal praise. An official statement recently issued in Great Britain announced that 660,000 women were engaged in making munitions in that country alone. In a recent convention of munitions workers, composed of men and women, a resolution was unanimously passed informing the government that they would forego vacations and holidays until the authorities announced that their munitions supplies were sufficient for the needs of the war and Great Britain pronounced the act the highest patriotism. Lord Derby addressed such a meeting and said, "When the history of the war is written, I wonder to whom the greatest credit will be given; to the men who went to fight or to the women who are working in a way that many people hardly believed that it was possible for them to work."

Which of these words is the best antonym for “incapacitated?”

Possible Answers:

Happy 

Capable 

Impoverished

Wealthy 

Disabled 

Correct answer:

Capable 

Explanation:

The word “incapacitated” generally means disabled or incapable. In this instance it is used to describe the difficulties faced by men trying to reintegrate into society with physical and mental injuries. The best antonym for “incapacitated” is capable.

Example Question #31 : Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from The Crisis by Carrie Chapman Catt (1916)

We are passing through a world crisis. All thinkers of every land tell us so; and that nothing after World War One will be as it was before. Those who profess to know claim that 100 millions of dollars are being spent on the war every day and that 2 years of war have cost 50 billions of dollars or 10 times more than the total expense of the American Civil War. Our own country has sent 35 millions of dollars abroad for relief expenses.  Were there no other effects to come from the world's war, the transfer of such unthinkably vast sums of money from the usual avenues to those wholly abnormal would give so severe a jolt to organized society that it would vibrate around the world and bring untold changes in its wake.

But three and a half million lives have been lost. The number becomes the more impressive when it is remembered that the entire population of the American Colonies was little more than three and a half millions. These losses have been the lives of men within the age of economic production. They have been taken abruptly from the normal business of the world and every human activity from that of the humblest, unskilled labor to art, science, and literature has been weakened by their loss. Millions of other men will go to their homes, blind, crippled, and incapacitated to do the work they once performed. The stability of human institutions has never before suffered so tremendous a shock. Great men are trying to think out the consequences but one and all proclaim that no imagination can find color or form bold enough to paint the picture of the world after the war. British and Russian, German and Austrian, French and Italian agree that it will lead to social and political revolution throughout the entire world. Whatever comes, they further agree that the war presages a total change in the status of women.

Women by the thousands have knocked at the doors of munitions factories and, in the name of patriotism, have begged for the right to serve their country there. Their services were accepted with hesitation but the experiment once made, won reluctant but universal praise. An official statement recently issued in Great Britain announced that 660,000 women were engaged in making munitions in that country alone. In a recent convention of munitions workers, composed of men and women, a resolution was unanimously passed informing the government that they would forego vacations and holidays until the authorities announced that their munitions supplies were sufficient for the needs of the war and Great Britain pronounced the act the highest patriotism. Lord Derby addressed such a meeting and said, "When the history of the war is written, I wonder to whom the greatest credit will be given; to the men who went to fight or to the women who are working in a way that many people hardly believed that it was possible for them to work."

The word “crisis” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

mistake 

disaster

upheaval 

punishment 

conflict 

Correct answer:

upheaval 

Explanation:

The word “crisis” in this instance is used to refer to a change or upheaval in society. The author reveals this meaning in the sentence that immediately follows the sentence that contains the word “crisis.” The author says: “All thinkers of every land tell us so; and that nothing after World War One will be as it was before.” This indicates that the primary emphasis of “crisis” is not on the conflict or the disaster, but on the upheaval.

Example Question #31 : Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from The Crisis by Carrie Chapman Catt (1916)

We are passing through a world crisis. All thinkers of every land tell us so; and that nothing after World War One will be as it was before. Those who profess to know claim that 100 millions of dollars are being spent on the war every day and that 2 years of war have cost 50 billions of dollars or 10 times more than the total expense of the American Civil War. Our own country has sent 35 millions of dollars abroad for relief expenses.  Were there no other effects to come from the world's war, the transfer of such unthinkably vast sums of money from the usual avenues to those wholly abnormal would give so severe a jolt to organized society that it would vibrate around the world and bring untold changes in its wake.

But three and a half million lives have been lost. The number becomes the more impressive when it is remembered that the entire population of the American Colonies was little more than three and a half millions. These losses have been the lives of men within the age of economic production. They have been taken abruptly from the normal business of the world and every human activity from that of the humblest, unskilled labor to art, science, and literature has been weakened by their loss. Millions of other men will go to their homes, blind, crippled, and incapacitated to do the work they once performed. The stability of human institutions has never before suffered so tremendous a shock. Great men are trying to think out the consequences but one and all proclaim that no imagination can find color or form bold enough to paint the picture of the world after the war. British and Russian, German and Austrian, French and Italian agree that it will lead to social and political revolution throughout the entire world. Whatever comes, they further agree that the war presages a total change in the status of women.

Women by the thousands have knocked at the doors of munitions factories and, in the name of patriotism, have begged for the right to serve their country there. Their services were accepted with hesitation but the experiment once made, won reluctant but universal praise. An official statement recently issued in Great Britain announced that 660,000 women were engaged in making munitions in that country alone. In a recent convention of munitions workers, composed of men and women, a resolution was unanimously passed informing the government that they would forego vacations and holidays until the authorities announced that their munitions supplies were sufficient for the needs of the war and Great Britain pronounced the act the highest patriotism. Lord Derby addressed such a meeting and said, "When the history of the war is written, I wonder to whom the greatest credit will be given; to the men who went to fight or to the women who are working in a way that many people hardly believed that it was possible for them to work."

The word “presages” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

halts 

resists 

redirects

prevents 

foreshadows

Correct answer:

foreshadows

Explanation:

The word “presages” means portends or foreshadows some future event. In context the author is discussing the changes that will be wrought in the future, by the actions of the present. From the information given in the rest of the passage it is clear that the author feels these changes to women’s place in society will happen and therefore she would not believe that the war could prevent or halt that movement.

Example Question #1 : Passage Reasoning In 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.

"Folkways" and "mores" are best described as which of the following terms?

Possible Answers:

Theories

Laws

Felonies

Formal social sanctions

Informal social sanctions

Correct answer:

Informal social sanctions

Explanation:

In its first paragraph, the passage describes "folkways" and "mores" as informal social sanctions. These informal sanctions are enforced by informal means. They are not proposed laws set forth by government legislature.

Example Question #62 : Comprehension

"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 represents behaviors or actions that violate informal and formal social sanctions?

Possible Answers:

Sociology

Goals

Folkways

Mores

Deviance

Correct answer:

Deviance

Explanation:

Deviance is defined in the first paragraph of the passage. The passage states that deviance is best described as behaviors that violate social sanctions. This answer is supported by the passage.

Example Question #31 : 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.

The word “exercised” (line 4) most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

condemned

forsaken

energized

abandoned

utilized

Correct answer:

utilized

Explanation:

The word "exercised" is most commonly defined as physical activity, but in this instance we are looking for one of its secondary meanings. This will happen a lot on standardized tests' reading sections; if a word seems too easy trust your instincts because it is most likely that the test is asking about the secondary meaning of a word. In this example the word “exercised” is used to mean putting something to practical use or utilized. The clues for its meaning are found in the surrounding phrases. The author states that in voting she has exercised on her rights. Condemned, forsaken, and abandoned are all opposite to the meaning of the sentence, and energized relates to the primary meaning of the word. Utilized must therefore be correct.

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