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

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Example Question #11 : Vocabulary

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 of ideas. When true speech happened, people 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. Likewise, 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 does the boldfaced word “dissemination” mean in its context?

Possible Answers:

Informing

Teaching

Circulation

Recounting

Procuring

Correct answer:

Circulation

Explanation:

The word "disseminate" comes from the Latin for "seed." When ideas are "disseminated," they are "spread abroad" like seeds being sown in a field. Clearly, this paragraph wishes to say that the Gutenberg press did allow for a great spreading or circulating of knowledge. While the remainder of the paragraph explains that there is a larger history to consider, in the immediate context, this is the unquestionable meaning of the word "dissemination."

Example Question #291 : Passage Based Questions

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 of ideas. When true speech happened, people 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. Likewise, 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 does the boldfaced word “across” mean in its context?

Possible Answers:

Contradicting

Opposed to

Sitting opposite to

Upon completion of

Spanning

Correct answer:

Spanning

Explanation:

The word "across" has a very general meaning of "from one side to another side." This applies not only the case of (e.g.) two people sitting across from each other, but it can also be used in many other contexts—like "travelling across the country" and "hiking across the mountain range." In this passage, the word is being used in the sense of "spanning across" multiple generations. When something "spans" a space or group of things, it fully covers it from end to end. This is the sense here. The knowledge preserved by writing and printing is able to remain for many generations.

Example Question #42 : Specific 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 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.

As it is used in the passage, the underlined word “domineered” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

incited violence

held court 

caused pain

sat jeeringly

exercised control 

Correct answer:

exercised control 

Explanation:

“Domineer” can mean tyrannize or exert control or arbitrary power over something. Here, it is best seen as an exercise of control where the passions of “pleasure and vanity” have “exercised control” over mankind. To help you, "incited" means caused to begin, and "jeeringly" means mockingly.

Example Question #51 : Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from Address to the Court by Eugene Debs (1918)

I believe, Your Honor, in common with all Socialists, that this nation ought to own and control its own industries. I believe, as all Socialists do, that all things that are jointly needed and used ought to be jointly owned—that industry, the basis of life, instead of being the private property of the few and operated for their enrichment, ought to be the common property of all, democratically administered in the interest of all.

John D. Rockefeller has today an income of sixty million dollars a year, five million dollars a month, two hundred thousand dollars a day. He does not produce a penny of it. I make no attack upon Mr. Rockefeller personally. I do not in the least dislike him. If he were in need, and it were in my power to serve him, I should serve him as gladly as I would any other human being. I have no quarrel with Mr. Rockefeller personally, nor with any other capitalist. I am simply opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful, to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all of the days of their lives secure barely enough for existence.

This order of things cannot always endure. I have registered my protest against it. I recognize the feebleness of my effort, but, fortunately, I am not alone. There are multiplied thousands of others who, like myself, have come to realize that before we may truly enjoy the blessings of civilized life, we must reorganize society upon a mutual and cooperative basis; and to this end we have organized a great economic and political movement that spreads over the face of all the earth.

There are today upwards of sixty millions of Socialists, loyal, devoted adherents to this cause, regardless of nationality, race, creed, color, or sex. They are all making common cause. They are spreading the propaganda of the new social order. They are waiting, watching, and working through all the hours of the day and night. They are still in the minority. But they have learned how to be patient and to bide their time. The feel—they know, indeed—that the time is coming, in spite of all opposition, all persecution, when this emancipating gospel will spread among all the peoples, and when this minority will become the triumphant majority and, sweeping into power, inaugurate the greatest social and economic change in history.

In that day we shall have the universal commonwealth—not the destruction of the nation, but, on the contrary, the harmonious cooperation of every nation with every other nation on earth. In that day war will curse this earth no more.

The word “jointly” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

exclusively 

equally 

inclusively 

disproportionately 

interconnected

Correct answer:

equally 

Explanation:

The word “jointly” means equally. In context it is used to describe the sharing of resources equally among all who have need for them.

Example Question #51 : Language In Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from Dangers of the Hour by Matilda Joslyn Gage (1890)

In 1889, four new States were admitted to the union, not one possessing a republican form of government as required by the Federal constitution, not one recognizing the rights of one half their citizens to self government. The defeat of woman suffrage was remarkable because in each of these four States a battle was fought in its favor by women. The new state of Washington is especially noticeable as three times under territorial laws woman had gained and used the ballot. Eighteen hundred and eighty-nine will not soon be forgotten by the friends of woman suffrage. Forty-one years after the first convention making such demand, four new States which at that period were unknown portions of the world, their very names yet to be given, if at all on geography or atlas, noted as desert lands, but now possessing tens of thousands of inhabitants, have this year come into the union denying the first principles upon which this government purports to be founded, equality of rights and self government.

We are told the country is in a dangerous condition with tens of thousands uncultured emigrants yearly pouring onto its shores. We are told our flag is hissed by anarchists who have 25,000 drilled men at their command. We are told the experiment of free government in towns and cities is a failure, but what danger from ignorant emigrants so great, what peril from anarchists so near, what experiment of free government such an utter failure as the admission of four new States largely populated by native-born American citizens, men and women of American birth, the young, the cultured, wide-awake business men and business women, under denial of the first principles of freedom?

The danger menacing our country does not lie with the foreigners, nor the Anarchists, nor in municipal mismanagement. Free institutions are jeopardized because the country is false to its principles in the case of one-half of its citizens. But back of this falsity away down to the depths of causes deep in the hidden darkness of men's minds, must we look for the source of this perennial wrong. To a person of thought this is easily found in early religious training. Men have not yet learned to regard woman as a being of equal creation with themselves. Do not yet believe that she stands on a par with them in natural rights even to the air she breathes. In order to secure victory for woman we must unfetter the minds of men from religious bondage.

We have petitioned legislatures and congress, we have appeared before committees with the best arguments founded on justice, we have educated men politically, and yet the victory is not ours because the teachings of the church have stood in the way. Now our warfare must be upon another plan, now we must free men from that bondage of the will which is the most direful form of slavery, now we must show the falsity of that reed upon which men lean. In the old anti-slavery times men did not hesitate to call the American Church the bulwark of American slavery. In like manner to-day we shall proclaim the Church-American, English, Greek, Protestant, Catholic-to be the bulwark of woman's slavery. Man trained by the church from infancy that woman is secondary and inferior to him, made for him, to be obedient to him, the same idea permeating the Jewish and all Christian churches, all social, industrial and educational life, all civil and religious institutions, it is no subject of astonishment, if one gives a moment's thought, that woman's political enfranchisement is so long delayed.

The word “bulwark” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

opponent 

defender 

arbiter 

translator 

violator 

Correct answer:

defender 

Explanation:

The word “bulwark” refers to a means of protection or defense. If you did not know this definition it would become necessary to read-in-context to determine the most likely meaning. “Bulwark” is used in the context of describing how the church contributes something to women’s slavery. From the rest of the passage it is clear that the author feels that the church fosters the subjugation of women, for example, “Man trained by the church from infancy that woman is secondary and inferior to him, made for him, to be obedient to him.”

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Meaning, Purpose, And Effect Of Specified Text In Mixed Passages

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

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

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

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

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

Which of the following terms could replace the word “scarce” in the underlined sentence without changing its meaning?

Possible Answers:

Infrequently

Never

Always

Hardly

Correct answer:

Hardly

Explanation:

The word “scarce” is used in the following sentence:

“A workman not educated to this business [of pin making] . . . nor acquainted with the use of the machinery employed in it . . .  could scarce, perhaps, with his utmost industry, make one pin in a day, and certainly could not make twenty.”

It is helpful to pause a moment and consider what kind of word “scarce” is in the sentence. “Scarce,” along with “perhaps” and “with his utmost industry,” describes the verb “make.” So, “scarce” is functioning as an adverb. “Always” and “never” don’t make sense in the sentence; each word is contradicted by the “perhaps” that follows “scarce.” This leaves us with “infrequently” and “hardly.” The combination of “infrequently, perhaps . . . make one pin in a day, and certainly could not make twenty” doesn’t make as much sense as does “hardly,” which works better with the comparison being made. Furthermore, “scarce” cannot mean infrequently, so “hardly” is the best answer choice. This is how the author is using the term in the passage: to state that one person could hardly make a pin in a day, much less twenty.

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