Are You Ready for the SAT & ACT?


Are You Ready for the SAT and ACT?

If you’re taking a standardized test such as the SAT or the ACT, you are likely to see a number of reading comprehension questions that ask you about the purposes of specific phrases or sentences. To answer these questions, begin by using the same process that you’ve used to answer questions earlier in this chapter. First, consider what the author says in the phrase or sentence in question. Then, look at what the author says immediately before and immediately after the phrase or sentence in question. Finally, think about how these thoughts connect, and see if you can explain, in your own words, why the author writes what he or she does. Wait until you have that answer before you go to the answer choices. If you know what you’re looking for, you’ll be much more likely to recognize the correct answer when you see it.

Ready to put your reading skills to use in a standardized test-style question? Read the paragraph below, and answer the multiple-choice question that follows.

I had neither kith nor kin in England, and was therefore as free as air—or as free as an income of eleven shillings and sixpence a day will permit a man to be. Under such circumstances, I naturally gravitated to London, that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained. There I stayed for some time at a private hotel in the Strand, leading a comfortless, meaningless existence, and spending such money as I had, considerably more freely than I ought. So alarming did the state of my finances become, that I soon realized that I must either leave the metropolis and rusticate somewhere in the country, or that I must make a complete alteration in my style of living. Choosing the latter alternative, I began by making up my mind to leave the hotel, and to take up my quarters in some less pretentious and less expensive domicile.

1. The primary purpose of the phrase as free as an income of eleven shillings and sixpence a day will permit a man to be is to

a)    indicate that the narrator’s wealth contributed to his freedom

b)    explain why the narrator preferred to live in London

c)    qualify a statement that the narrator made earlier in the paragraph

d)    support the claim that the narrator would never experience true liberty

e)    imply that the narrator would inevitably become homeless

What helps identify the primary purpose of the phrase? Consider first what the author says. He indicates that he has as much freedom as he can get from an income of eleven shillings and six pence per day. What does he discuss immediately before this sentence? He mentions that he is as free as air. What does he discuss after this sentence? He tells you that he went to London, where he spent money more freely than he should have, and that he needed to either move to the country or change his way of life. Thus, he must not truly be as free as air, so the phrase in question qualifies, or limits that statement; the narrator is really only as free as his income will allow him to be. Therefore, the correct answer is choice (c). Because the narrator indicates that he has been spending more money than he should, and needs to move, his income limits, rather than contributes to his freedom, so choice (a) is not the credited answer. The narrator does mention that he gravitated toward London, but the phrase in question does not explain why he gravitated toward London, so choice (b) is incorrect. Choice (d) is too extreme; the narrator’s freedom may be limited right now, but nothing in the text indicates that he will never be truly free. Choice (e) is similarly too extreme, because while the narrator says that he needs to change his lifestyle, he does not say that he cannot avoid becoming homeless.