SAT Critical Reading : Language in Humanities Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT Critical Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #11 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Words In Humanities Passages

Adapted from “Talking About Our Troubles” by Mark Rutherford (1901)

We may talk about our troubles to those persons who can give us direct help, but even in this case we ought as much as possible to come to a provisional conclusion before consultation; to be perfectly clear to ourselves within our own limits. Some people have a foolish trick of applying for aid before they have done anything whatever to aid themselves, and in fact try to talk themselves into perspicuity. The only way in which they can think is by talking, and their speech consequently is not the expression of opinion already and carefully formed, but the manufacture of it.

We may also tell our troubles to those who are suffering if we can lessen their own. It may be a very great relief to them to know that others have passed through trials equal to theirs and have survived. There are obscure, nervous diseases, hypochondriac fancies, almost uncontrollable impulses, which terrify by their apparent singularity. If we could believe that they are common, the worst of the fear would vanish.

But, as a rule, we should be very careful for our own sake not to speak much about what distresses us. Expression is apt to carry with it exaggeration, and this exaggerated form becomes henceforth that under which we represent our miseries to ourselves, so that they are thereby increased. By reserve, on the other hand, they are diminished, for we attach less importance to that which it was not worthwhile to mention. Secrecy, in fact, may be our salvation.

The word "perspicuity" most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

concern 

fear 

opulence 

clarity 

misunderstanding 

Correct answer:

clarity 

Explanation:

"Perspicuity" means clarity or lucidity. Other than knowing the meaning of the word the only way to solve this problem is to read-in-context. From the context of the first paragraph it is clear that the author is talking about how some people do not deal with their problems but instead try and talk them through with other people until they reach “perspicuity.” You can therefore infer that perspicuity must refer to some sort of desirable conclusion. "Misunderstanding," "concern," and "fear" are all undesirable conclusions, and "opulence" simply refers to fanciness or luxury.

Example Question #7 : How To Find The Meaning Of A Word

Adapted from The Spoiled Children of Civilization (1912) by Samuel McChord Crothers

To spoil a child is no easy task, for Nature is all the time working on behalf of the childish virtues and veracities, and is gently correcting the abnormalities of education. Still it can be done. The secret of it is never to let the child alone, and to insist on doing for him all that he would otherwise do for himself—and more.

In that "more" is the spoiling power. The child must be early made acquainted with the feeling of satiety. There must be too much of everything. If he were left to himself to any extent, this would be an unknown experience. For he is a hungry little creature, with a growing appetite, and naturally is busy ministering to his own needs. He is always doing something for himself, and enjoys the exercise. The little egoist, even when he has "no language but a cry," uses that language to make known to the world that he wants something and wants it very much. As his wants increase, his exertions increase also. Arms and legs, fingers and toes, muscles and nerves and busy brain are all at work to get something which he desires. He is a mechanic fashioning his little world to his own uses. He is a despot who insists on his divine right to rule the subservient creatures around him. He is an inventor devising ways and means to secure all the ends which he has the wit to see. That these great works on which he has set his heart end in self is obvious enough, but we forgive him. Altruism will come in its own time if we can train ourselves.

The word “altruism” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

timidity

honesty

selflessness

discretion

bravery

Correct answer:

selflessness

Explanation:

The word “altruism” refers to acts of kindness and selflessness. It is often associated with charitable behavior. Within context of the sentence you know that “altruism” must refer to something positive, or opposite to the child’s previous behavior; because the author states that we “forgive the child” and wait for something to “come in its own time.” Bravery and honesty are both positive, but are less literal opposites to living a life of selfishness and need-fulfillment.

Example Question #12 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Words In Humanities Passages

Adapted from What I Think and Feel at Twenty-Five (1922) by F. Scott Fitzgerald

As a man grows older it stands to reason that his vulnerability increases. Three years ago, for instance, I could be hurt in only one way—through myself. If my best friend’s wife had her hair torn off by an electric washing-machine, I was grieved, of course. I would make my friend a long speech full of “old mans,” and finish up with a paragraph from Washington’s Farewell Address; but when I’d finished I could go to a good restaurant and enjoy my dinner as usual. In fact I was pretty much invulnerable. I put up a conventional wail whenever a ship was sunk or a train got wrecked; but I don’t suppose, if the whole city of Chicago had been wiped out, I’d have lost a night’s sleep over it—unless something led me to believe that St. Paul was the next city on the list. Even then I could have moved my luggage over to Minneapolis and rested pretty comfortably all night.

But that was three years ago when I was still a young man. I was only twenty-two. Now, I’m vulnerable. I’m vulnerable in every way. I used to have about ten square feet of skin vulnerable to chills and fevers. Now I have about twenty. I have not personally enlarged, the twenty feet includes the skin of my family, but I might as well have, because if a chill or fever strikes any bit of that twenty feet of skin I begin to shiver. And so I ooze gently into middle-age; for the true middle-age is not the acquirement of years, but the acquirement of a family. The incomes of the childless have wonderful elasticity. Two people require a room and a bath; a couple with child requires the millionaire’s suite on the sunny side of the hotel. And yet I think that marriage is the most satisfactory institution we have. I’m simply stating my belief that when Life has used us for its purposes it takes away all our attractive qualities and gives us, instead, ponderous but shallow convictions of our own wisdom and “experience.” The older I grow the more I get so I don’t know anything. If I had been asked to do this article about five years ago it might have been worth reading.

What is the nearest meaning to the word “elasticity?”

Possible Answers:

Posterity 

Informality 

Longevity 

Absurdity

Respectability

Correct answer:

Longevity 

Explanation:

The meaning of the word “elasticity” is usually flexibility or ability to retain shape; however, in this instance the author is using it to describe how far a wealthy childless couple can stretch their money. In this sense it most nearly resembles longevity which means how long something can last. Absurdity means ridiculousness; respectability means satisfactory or acceptability; informality means the opposite of formal; posterity refers to preserving something.

Example Question #11 : Word Meaning

Adapted from Benares Hindu University Speech (1916) by Mohandas Gandhi

We have been told during the last two days how necessary it is, if we are to retain our hold upon the simplicity of Indian character, that our hands and feet should move in unison with our hearts. But this is only by way of preface. I wanted to say it is a matter of deep humiliation and shame for us that I am compelled this evening under the shadow of this great college, in this sacred city, to address my countrymen in a language that is foreign to me. I know that if I was appointed an examiner, to examine all those who have been attending during these two days this series of lectures, most of those who might be examined upon these lectures would fail. And why? Because they have not been touched.

I was present at the sessions of the great Congress in the month of December. There was a much vaster audience, and will you believe me when I tell you that the only speeches that touched the huge audience in Bombay were the speeches that were delivered in Hindustani? In Bombay, mind you, not in Benaras where everybody speaks Hindi. But between the vernaculars of the Bombay Presidency on the one hand and Hindi on the other, no such great dividing line exists as there does between English and the sister language of India; and the Congress audience was better able to follow the speakers in Hindi. I am hoping that this University will see to it that the youths who come to it will receive their instruction through the medium of their vernaculars. Our language is the reflection of ourselves, and if you tell me that our languages are too poor to express the best thought, then I say that the sooner we are wiped out of existence the better for us. Is there a man who dreams that English can ever become the national language of India? Why this handicap on the nation? Just consider for one moment what an equal race our lads have to run with every English lad.

I had the privilege of a close conversation with some Poona professors. They assured me that every Indian youth, because he reached his knowledge through the English language, lost at least six precious years of life. Multiply that by the numbers of students turned out by our schools and colleges, and find out for yourselves how many thousand years have been lost to the nation. The charge against us is that we have no initiative. How can we have any, if we are to devote the precious years of our life to the mastery of a foreign tongue? We fail in this attempt also. Was it possible for any speaker yesterday and today to impress his audience as was possible for Mr. Higginbotham? It was not the fault of the previous speakers that they could not engage the audience. They had more than substance enough for us in their addresses. But their addresses could not go home to us. I have heard it said that after all it is English educated India which is leading and which is leading and which is doing all the things for the nation. It would be monstrous if it were otherwise. The only education we receive is English education. Surely we must show something for it. But suppose that we had been receiving during the past fifty years education through our vernaculars, what should we have today? We should have today a free India, we should have our educated men, not as if they were foreigners in their own land but speaking to the heart of the nation; they would be working amongst the poorest of the poor, and whatever they would have gained during these fifty years would be a heritage for the nation. Today even our wives are not the sharers in our best thought. Look at Professor Bose and Professor Ray and their brilliant researches. Is it not a shame that their researches are not the common property of the masses?

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

Possible Answers:

Fevered

Inspired 

Unmoved 

Saddened

Saddened 

Correct answer:

Unmoved 

Explanation:

This question is asking you to decipher the meaning of the word “touched” which is inspired and then to find the antonym (word that is opposite in meaning) to inspired. The correct answer is “unmoved.”

Example Question #541 : Passage Based Questions

Adapted from Luxuries (1922) by George Ade

Right here, and nowhere else, except in two or three other new countries, poor people get in on the luxuries. Do you know of any one past the age of eight who never rode in a motor car? Countless millions in Europe regard the automobile as a rich man's luxury. It is a symbol of splendor which chases them off the roadways. They never dream of becoming acquainted with anything so huge and important. 

The farmer in France or Italy or Germany has no telephone in his house. Meat on the table means a family feast. The movie to him is a holiday treat and ice cream is a semi-annual jamboree. The daughter has never rocked around on high heels or hit herself in the nose with a powder rag. The son has never worn a snappy suit with the belt surrounding the lungs instead of the digestive organs.

Most of the human beings outside of this hemisphere line up as paupers. Invoice their holdings and you will find that the assets, per person, run up to about $8.75. The ordinary man we pass in the street carries probably $75 worth of merchandise. The guess is low rather than high, because we have to take into account a suit of clothes, a hat, a pair of shoes, various undergarments, buttons made of a precious metal, and possibly some expensive fillings in the teeth. If he had been born in Egypt or Ceylon or Burma or China or Japan or Africa he would be wearing a costume worth $1.80 and be thankful for it.

About sixty-five per cent of all the people in the world think they are getting along great when they are not starving to death. In these days of recession, when so many of us are curled up in mental anguish because we cannot frivolously spend money as we did in 1919, it may help if we reflect that, at least, each of us has a mattress at night, meals as usual, books to read, and some sort of entertainment in the next block.

The word “acquainted” (line 5) most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

enamored 

familiar 

disgusted

impressed 

belonging 

Correct answer:

familiar 

Explanation:

The word acquainted or acquaintance most often applies to a friendship or relationship between two individuals. In this instance the secondary meaning of the word, familiar with something, is being used. Impressed means to be awed by something and disgusted, which means to be grossed out by something, could not fit this sentence; neither could "belonging," which means being the possession of. "Enamored" means to be in love with.  

Example Question #1 : Context Dependent Meanings Of Words And Phrases In Narrative Humanities Passages

Passage adapted from "Of One Defect in Our Government" in Essays of Michael, Seigneur de Montaigne in The Complete Works of Michael de Montaigne (1580, trans. C. Cotton, ed. W. Hazlitt 1842)

My late father, a man that had no other advantages than experience and his own natural parts, was nevertheless of a very clear judgment, formerly told me that he once had thoughts of endeavoring to introduce this practice; that there might be in every city a certain place assigned to which such as stood in need of anything might repair, and have their business entered by an officer appointed for that purpose. As for example: I want a chapman to buy my pearls; I want one that has pearls to sell; such a one wants company to go to Paris; such a one seeks a servant of such a quality; such a one a master; such a one such an artificer; some inquiring for one thing, some for another, every one according to what he wants. And doubtless, these mutual advertisements would be of no contemptible advantage to the public correspondence and intelligence: for there are evermore conditions that hunt after one another, and for want of knowing one another's occasions leave men in very great necessity.

I have heard, to the great shame of the age we live in, that in our very sight two most excellent men for learning died so poor that they had scarce bread to put in their mouths: Lilius Gregorius Giraldus in Italy and Sebastianus Castalio in Germany: and I believe there are a thousand men would have invited them into their families, with very advantageous conditions, or have relieved them where they were, had they known their wants. The world is not so generally corrupted, but that I know a man that would heartily wish the estate his ancestors have left him might be employed, so long as it shall please fortune to give him leave to enjoy it, to secure rare and remarkable persons of any kind, whom misfortune sometimes persecutes to the last degree, from the dangers of necessity; and at least place them in such a condition that they must be very hard to please, if they are not contented.

My father in his domestic economy had this rule (which I know how to commend, but by no means to imitate), namely, that besides the day-book or memorial of household affairs, where the small accounts, payments, and disbursements, which do not require a secretary's hand, were entered, and which a steward always had in custody, he ordered him whom he employed to write for him, to keep a journal, and in it to set down all the remarkable occurrences, and daily memorials of the history of his house: very pleasant to look over, when time begins to wear things out of memory, and very useful sometimes to put us out of doubt when such a thing was begun, when ended; what visitors came, and when they went; our travels, absences, marriages, and deaths; the reception of good or ill news; the change of principal servants, and the like. An ancient custom, which I think it would not be amiss for every one to revive in his own house; and I find I did very foolishly in neglecting it.

Based on the context in which it is used, what is the meaning of the underlined word "contemptible" in the first paragraph?

Possible Answers:

Detestable

Convenient

Financial

Insignificant

Crucial

Correct answer:

Insignificant

Explanation:

First, let's consider the sentence in which "contemptible" is used: "And doubtless, these mutual advertisements would be of no contemptible advantage to the public correspondence and intelligence: for there are evermore conditions that hunt after one another, and for want of knowing one another's occasions leave men in very great necessity."

You may be familiar with the word "contemptible" as meaning detestable, and while "detestable" is an answer choice, it's important to consider the context in which the word is used in the paragraph, as "detestable" is not the correct answer here. While the passage discusses "financial" and "convenient" things, neither of those are the meaning of the word "contemptible" in context either. This leaves us with "insignificant" and "crucial" as potential answers. Considering the sentence and the entire first paragraph, the narrator is advocating for a public system of tracking people's desires and needs so that other people can be aware of them. This is what he's referring to as "these mutual advertisements." Logically, the narrator would think that this system would have a great advantage to the public. So, we need to pick out the answer choice that results in the meaning of a large advantage. 

Double negatives are at work in the sentence; something of "no crucial advantage" would be of no serious advantage, so not very advantageous. This is the opposite of the meaning we're looking for. On the other hand, something of "no insignificant advantage" would mean something of significant advantage. This fits with the meaning of the sentence, so "insignificant" is the correct answer.

Example Question #1 : Context Dependent Meanings Of Words And Phrases In Narrative Humanities Passages

Passage adapted from "Of One Defect in Our Government" in Essays of Michael, Seigneur de Montaigne in The Complete Works of Michael de Montaigne (1580, trans. C. Cotton, ed. W. Hazlitt 1842)

My late father, a man that had no other advantages than experience and his own natural parts, was nevertheless of a very clear judgment, formerly told me that he once had thoughts of endeavoring to introduce this practice; that there might be in every city a certain place assigned to which such as stood in need of anything might repair, and have their business entered by an officer appointed for that purpose. As for example: I want a chapman to buy my pearls; I want one that has pearls to sell; such a one wants company to go to Paris; such a one seeks a servant of such a quality; such a one a master; such a one such an artificer; some inquiring for one thing, some for another, every one according to what he wants. And doubtless, these mutual advertisements would be of no contemptible advantage to the public correspondence and intelligence: for there are evermore conditions that hunt after one another, and for want of knowing one another's occasions leave men in very great necessity.

I have heard, to the great shame of the age we live in, that in our very sight two most excellent men for learning died so poor that they had scarce bread to put in their mouths: Lilius Gregorius Giraldus in Italy and Sebastianus Castalio in Germany: and I believe there are a thousand men would have invited them into their families, with very advantageous conditions, or have relieved them where they were, had they known their wants. The world is not so generally corrupted, but that I know a man that would heartily wish the estate his ancestors have left him might be employed, so long as it shall please fortune to give him leave to enjoy it, to secure rare and remarkable persons of any kind, whom misfortune sometimes persecutes to the last degree, from the dangers of necessity; and at least place them in such a condition that they must be very hard to please, if they are not contented.

My father in his domestic economy had this rule (which I know how to commend, but by no means to imitate), namely, that besides the day-book or memorial of household affairs, where the small accounts, payments, and disbursements, which do not require a secretary's hand, were entered, and which a steward always had in custody, he ordered him whom he employed to write for him, to keep a journal, and in it to set down all the remarkable occurrences, and daily memorials of the history of his house: very pleasant to look over, when time begins to wear things out of memory, and very useful sometimes to put us out of doubt when such a thing was begun, when ended; what visitors came, and when they went; our travels, absences, marriages, and deaths; the reception of good or ill news; the change of principal servants, and the like. An ancient custom, which I think it would not be amiss for every one to revive in his own house; and I find I did very foolishly in neglecting it.

Based on the context in which the word is used, which of the following is the definition of the underlined word “chapman”?

Possible Answers:

A gossip

A farmer

A fortune teller

A politician

A peddler

Correct answer:

A peddler

Explanation:

"Chapman" is used in the first paragraph in the following context: "I want a chapman to buy my pearls; I want one that has pearls to sell . . . " So, what do we know about "a chapman" from the passage? We know that a chapman is someone who would buy pearls, and possibly sell them, depending if "one" is referring to "a chapman" or working as a general pronoun, as in the sentence "One should always check one's work." We know for sure that a chapman buys pearls, however, so with that, let's consider the answer choices. The only answer choice that makes sense is "a peddler," or in other words, a traveling salesman

Example Question #21 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Words In Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Mr. Coleridge" from The Spirit of the Age by William Hazlitt (1825)

The present is an age of talkers, and not of doers, and the reason is, that the world is growing old. We are so far advanced in the Arts and Sciences, that we live in retrospect, and dote on past achievements. The accumulation of knowledge has been so great that we are lost in wonder at the height it has reached, instead of attempting to climb or add to it, while the variety of objects distracts and dazzles the looker-on. What niche remains unoccupied? What path untried? What is the use of doing anything, unless we could do better than all those who have gone before us? What hope is there of this? We are like those who have been to see some noble monument of art, who are content to admire without thinking of rivaling it; or like guests after a feast, who praise the hospitality of the donor "and thank the bounteous Pan"—perhaps carrying away some trifling fragments; or like the spectators of a mighty battle, who still hear its sound afar off, and the clashing of armor and the neighing of the war-horse and the shout of victory is in their ears, like the rushing of innumerable waters!

Mr. Coleridge has "a mind reflecting ages past”; his voice is like the echo of the congregated roar of the "dark rearward and abyss" of thought. He who has seen a mouldering tower by the side of a crystal lake, hid by the mist, but glittering in the wave below, may conceive the dim, gleaming, uncertain intelligence of his eye; he who has marked the evening clouds up rolled (a world of vapors), has seen the picture of his mind: unearthly, unsubstantial, with gorgeous tints and ever-varying forms.

Our author's mind is (as he himself might express it) tangential. There is no subject on which he has not touched, none on which he has rested. With an understanding fertile, subtle, expansive, "quick, forgetive, apprehensive," beyond all living precedent, few traces of it will perhaps remain. He lends himself to all impressions alike; he gives up his mind and liberty of thought to none. He is a general lover of art and science, and wedded to no one in particular. He pursues knowledge as a mistress, with outstretched hands and winged speed; but as he is about to embrace her, his Daphne turns—alas! not to a laurel! Hardly a speculation has been left on record from the earliest time, but it is loosely folded up in Mr. Coleridge's memory, like a rich, but somewhat tattered piece of tapestry; we might add (with more seeming than real extravagance), that scarce a thought can pass through the mind of man, but its sound has at some time or other passed over his head with rustling pinions. On whatever question or author you speak, he is prepared to take up the theme with advantage—from Peter Abelard down to Thomas Moore, from the subtlest metaphysics to the politics of the Courier. There is no man of genius, in whose praise he descants, but the critic seems to stand above the author, and "what in him is weak, to strengthen, what is low, to raise and support”; nor is there any work of genius that does not come out of his hands like an Illuminated Missal, sparkling even in its defects. If Mr. Coleridge had not been the most impressive talker of his age, he would probably have been the finest writer; but he lays down his pen to make sure of an auditor, and mortgages the admiration of posterity for the stare of an idler. If he had not been a poet, he would have been a powerful logician; if he had not dipped his wing in the Unitarian controversy, he might have soared to the very summit of fancy. But in writing verse, he is trying to subject the Muse to transcendental theories: in his abstract reasoning, he misses his way by strewing it with flowers. All that he has done of moment, he had done twenty years ago: since then, he may be said to have lived on the sound of his own voice. Mr. Coleridge is too rich in intellectual wealth to need to task himself to any drudgery: he has only to draw the sliders of his imagination, and a thousand subjects expand before him, startling him with their brilliancy, or losing themselves in endless obscurity.

Which of these is the best antonym to the underlined word “varying,” as used in this passage?

Possible Answers:

quintessential

colloquial

matching 

comparing 

differing 

Correct answer:

matching 

Explanation:

The verb “vary,” which is a root for the word “varying,” in this context means be different or diverse. The antonym therefore would be “match” or “matching.” This answer can be attained by elimination, with “comparing” being the closest word to “matching” as an incorrect answer. To provide further help, “colloquial” speech is informal, and “quintessential” means typical or representative of an idea.

Example Question #91 : Ssat Upper Level Reading Comprehension

Adapted from "Mr. Coleridge" from The Spirit of the Age by William Hazlitt (1825)

The present is an age of talkers, and not of doers, and the reason is, that the world is growing old. We are so far advanced in the Arts and Sciences, that we live in retrospect, and dote on past achievements. The accumulation of knowledge has been so great that we are lost in wonder at the height it has reached, instead of attempting to climb or add to it, while the variety of objects distracts and dazzles the looker-on. What niche remains unoccupied? What path untried? What is the use of doing anything, unless we could do better than all those who have gone before us? What hope is there of this? We are like those who have been to see some noble monument of art, who are content to admire without thinking of rivaling it; or like guests after a feast, who praise the hospitality of the donor "and thank the bounteous Pan"—perhaps carrying away some trifling fragments; or like the spectators of a mighty battle, who still hear its sound afar off, and the clashing of armor and the neighing of the war-horse and the shout of victory is in their ears, like the rushing of innumerable waters!

Mr. Coleridge has "a mind reflecting ages past”; his voice is like the echo of the congregated roar of the "dark rearward and abyss" of thought. He who has seen a mouldering tower by the side of a crystal lake, hid by the mist, but glittering in the wave below, may conceive the dim, gleaming, uncertain intelligence of his eye; he who has marked the evening clouds up rolled (a world of vapors), has seen the picture of his mind: unearthly, unsubstantial, with gorgeous tints and ever-varying forms.

Our author's mind is (as he himself might express it) tangential. There is no subject on which he has not touched, none on which he has rested. With an understanding fertile, subtle, expansive, "quick, forgetive, apprehensive," beyond all living precedent, few traces of it will perhaps remain. He lends himself to all impressions alike; he gives up his mind and liberty of thought to none. He is a general lover of art and science, and wedded to no one in particular. He pursues knowledge as a mistress, with outstretched hands and winged speed; but as he is about to embrace her, his Daphne turns—alas! not to a laurel! Hardly a speculation has been left on record from the earliest time, but it is loosely folded up in Mr. Coleridge's memory, like a rich, but somewhat tattered piece of tapestry; we might add (with more seeming than real extravagance), that scarce a thought can pass through the mind of man, but its sound has at some time or other passed over his head with rustling pinions. On whatever question or author you speak, he is prepared to take up the theme with advantage—from Peter Abelard down to Thomas Moore, from the subtlest metaphysics to the politics of the Courier. There is no man of genius, in whose praise he descants, but the critic seems to stand above the author, and "what in him is weak, to strengthen, what is low, to raise and support”; nor is there any work of genius that does not come out of his hands like an Illuminated Missal, sparkling even in its defects. If Mr. Coleridge had not been the most impressive talker of his age, he would probably have been the finest writer; but he lays down his pen to make sure of an auditor, and mortgages the admiration of posterity for the stare of an idler. If he had not been a poet, he would have been a powerful logician; if he had not dipped his wing in the Unitarian controversy, he might have soared to the very summit of fancy. But in writing verse, he is trying to subject the Muse to transcendental theories: in his abstract reasoning, he misses his way by strewing it with flowers. All that he has done of moment, he had done twenty years ago: since then, he may be said to have lived on the sound of his own voice. Mr. Coleridge is too rich in intellectual wealth to need to task himself to any drudgery: he has only to draw the sliders of his imagination, and a thousand subjects expand before him, startling him with their brilliancy, or losing themselves in endless obscurity.

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

Possible Answers:

forgotten 

venerable 

reconstructed

ancient 

decaying 

Correct answer:

decaying 

Explanation:

“Mouldering” is an adjective describing a state of decay like rotting or decomposing. This can be inferred from the root word “mould" (a variant spelling of "mold.") While the passage suggests that the tower is perhaps “ancient” or “forgotten,” the best synonym for “mouldering” is “decaying.” To provide further help, “venerable” means old and respected

Example Question #81 : Ssat Upper Level Reading Comprehension

Adapted from "Mr. Wordsworth" in The Spirit of the Age: or Contemporary Portraits by William Hazlitt (1825)

Mr. Wordsworth’s genius is a pure emanation of the Spirit of the Age. Had he lived in any other period of the world, he would never have been heard of. As it is, he has some difficulty to contend with the lethargy of his intellect, and the meanness of his subject. With him “lowliness is young ambition’s ladder;” but he finds it a toil to climb in this way the steep of Fame. His homely Muse can hardly raise her wing from the ground, nor spread her hidden glories to the sun. He has “no figures nor no fantasies, which busy passion draws in the brains of men:” neither the gorgeous machinery of mythological lore, nor the splendid colors of poetic diction. His style is vernacular: he delivers household truths. He sees nothing loftier than human hopes; nothing deeper than the human heart. This he probes, this he tampers with, this he poises, with all its incalculable weight of thought and feeling, in his hands, and at the same time calms the throbbing pulses of his own heart, by keeping his eye ever fixed on the face of nature. If he can make the life-blood flow from the wounded breast, this is the living coloring with which he paints his verse: if he can assuage the pain or close up the wound with the balm of solitary musing, or the healing power of plants and herbs and “skyey influences,” this is the sole triumph of his art. He takes the simplest elements of nature and of the human mind, the mere abstract conditions inseparable from our being, and tries to compound a new system of poetry from them; and has perhaps succeeded as well as anyone could. “Nihil humani a me alienum puto” (I consider nothing that is human alien to me)—is the motto of his works. He thinks nothing low or indifferent of which this can be affirmed: everything that professes to be more than this, that is not an absolute essence of truth and feeling, he holds to be vitiated, false, and spurious. In a word, his poetry is founded on setting up an opposition (and pushing it to the utmost length) between the natural and the artificial: between the spirit of humanity, and the spirit of fashion and of the world!

It is one of the innovations of the time. It partakes of, and is carried along with, the revolutionary movement of our age: the political changes of the day were the model on which he formed and conducted his poetical experiments. His Muse (it cannot be denied, and without this we cannot explain its character at all) is a leveling one. It proceeds on a principle of equality, and strives to reduce all things to the same standard. It is distinguished by a proud humility. It relies upon its own resources, and disdains external show and relief. It takes the commonest events and objects, as a test to prove that nature is always interesting from its inherent truth and beauty, without any of the ornaments of dress or pomp of circumstances to set it off. Hence the unaccountable mixture of seeming simplicity and real abstruseness in the Lyrical Ballads. Fools have laughed at, and wise men scarcely understand, them. He takes a subject or a story merely as pegs or loops to hang thought and feeling on; the incidents are trifling, in proportion to his contempt for imposing appearances; the reflections are profound, according to the gravity and aspiring pretensions of his mind.

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

Possible Answers:

explusion 

emission 

digression 

commission 

disgrace

Correct answer:

emission 

Explanation:

In this context of Wordsworth's genius being an “emanation,” the word means a production or an emergence. Here, the best synonym would be “emission,” as the only other suitable answer is “expulsion,” which does not fully fit the meaning of the passage. An “expulsion” is a throwing out, “disgrace” means shame, “digression” means a departure from the subject or an act of misbehaving, and a “commission” is a task or a job.

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