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PURPOSE AND POINT OF VIEW

Finding the Primary Purpose of SAT and ACT Reading Passages

Now that you’ve had some practice finding the purpose of passages, put your skills to use on this non-fiction excerpt below. As you read, look for the big picture. See if you can identify the main topic, and focus on what the author says about that topic. Finally, in your own words, try to explain why the author wrote the passage. Once you have a firm grasp on the primary purpose of the passage, go to the answer choices and try to identify the choice that describes the passage’s main purpose.

After years of such strenuous critical work, the mind becomes molded in a certain cast. It is as impossible for me to put aside the habit of the literary critic as it would be for a hunter who had spent his whole life in the woods to be content in a great city. So when I started out on this trip around the world, the critical apparatus which I had used in getting at the heart of books was applied to the people and the places along this great girdle about the globe.

Much of the benefit of foreign travel depends upon the reading that one has done. For years my eager curiosity about places had led me to read everything printed about the Orient and the South Seas. Add to this the stories which were brought into a newspaper office by globe trotters and adventurers, and you have an equipment which made me at times seem to be merely revising impressions made on an earlier journey. When you talk with a man who has spent ten or twenty years in Japan or China or the Straits Settlements, you cannot fail to get something of the color of life in those strange lands, especially if you have the newspaper training which impels you to ask questions and to drag out of your informant everything of human interest that the reader will care to know.

This newspaper instinct, which is developed by training but which one must possess in large measure before he can be successful in journalism, seizes upon everything and transmutes it into “copy” for the printer. To have taken this journey without setting down every day my impressions of places and people would have been a tiresome experience. What seemed labor to others who had not had my special training was as the breath in my nostrils. Even in the debilitating heat of the tropics it was always a pastime, never a task, to put into words my ideas of the historic places which I knew so well from years of reading and which I had just seen. And the richer the background of history, the greater was my enjoyment in painting with words full of color a picture of my impressions, for the benefit of those who were not able to share my pleasure in the actual sight of these famous places of the Far East.

10. The primary purpose of the passage is to

a)    describe the benefits of traveling to the Orient and the South Seas

b)    demonstrate the advantages of pursuing a career in newspaper editing

c)    explain how one person’s background influenced that person’s outlook and actions while traveling

d)    define the term “newspaper instinct” and illustrate strenuous nature of a writer’s life

e)    contrast the lives of adventurers and globetrotters with those of the readers

The topic of this passage is the way in which the habits of a writer related to his travel experiences. So, what does the author say about this topic? In the first paragraph, he states that It is as impossible for me to put aside the habit of the literary critic as it would be for a hunter who had spent his whole life in the woods to be content in a great city. He then explains that he applied the critical thinking that he normally used to evaluate books to the people and places that he encountered during his travels. In the second paragraph, he says that in the past he had talked with individuals who had traveled all over the world, and then he explains that newspaper training … impels you to ask questions and to drag out of your informant everything of human interest that the reader will care to know. In the third paragraph, he discusses the newspaper instinct, and says that this instinct impels him to record impressions of places and people. Therefore, the passage as a whole is discussing the ways in which his background in journalism affected his actions and thoughts as he traveled. So, why did the author write about this topic? He must have written this passage to explain how his background in journalism affected what he did and what he thought as he traveled. Now examine the answer choices. The passage does mention the benefits of foreign travel, but it does not discuss the benefits of specifically traveling to the Orient and the South Seas, although it does mention these places by name. Therefore, choice (a) does not describe the primary purpose of the passage, and is not the credited answer. The passage does discuss the author’s background in journalism, and it also mentions some of the positive ways in which the man’s experiences in journalism affected his life. However, the passage does not specifically mention careers in editing (although it does talk about his career in writing). Additionally, the passage does not focus on the general advantages of pursuing a literary career; it only focuses on how the author’s literary background affected his views and actions as he traveled. Thus, choice (b) is incorrect. Choice (c) agrees with the answer mention earlier; the author wrote the passage to explain how his background in journalism affected what he did and what he thought as he traveled. Therefore, choice (c) is the correct answer. Now consider choice (d). The passage does include the term newspaper instinct, but the focus of the passage is not on defining that term. Additionally, while the introductory paragraph does mention years of strenuous critical work, the passage as a whole does not focus on the ways in which writing is a difficult career. Therefore, you can eliminate choice (d). Finally, while the passage does mention adventurers and globetrotters, it does not compare the lives of those individuals to your life and the lives of other readers, so you can eliminate choice (e).

Now that you have developed your critical reading skills in finding the primary purposes of sentences, paragraphs, and passages, try the drill questions that follow. As you tackle each drill, remember: If you’re looking for the primary purpose of a work, always ask what the author says andwhy he or she says it!