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Conquering Hard Passages

Answers and Explanations: Putting It All Together

Simplify the topic sentence of the first paragraph.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the best-selling novel of the nineteenth century.

Are there any transitions?

The transition although at the beginning of the sentence tells us that the second part of the sentence is different from the first. The introductory phrase says that it (which refers to Uncle Tom’s Cabin) is not popular today.

Simplify the topic sentence of the second paragraph.

Stowe penned the novel in response to a law.

Are there any transitions?

There are no transitions here, which indicates that it’s still on the same topic, telling us about Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Simplify the topic sentence of the third paragraph.

The serial was so popular that it was printed in book form.

Are there any transitions?

Again, no transitions, so we’re still talking about more details of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. If you’re not sure what a serial is, you can go back to some of the details in the topic sentence of the previous paragraph, which tell you that Uncle Tom’s Cabin “was originally published as a 40-week serial.” So a serial has something to do with publishing a book over (in this case) 40 weeks.

Simplify the topic sentence of the fourth paragraph.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was controversial when it was first published.

Are there any transitions?

Yes, finally! Despite at the beginning of the sentence tells us that the second part of the sentence will tell us something that goes against the idea of popularity. The mention of popularity in this beginning phrase shows that the previous paragraph must have been about the popularity of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which matches what we already read.

Simplify the topic sentence of the fifth paragraph.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin’s sway over politics was augmented by stage adaptations.

Are there any transitions?

Not really. The first part lets us know that the previous paragraph talked about politics, and the second part tells us that this paragraph will talk about how plays relate to that.

Simplify the topic sentence of the sixth paragraph.

One guy said Uncle Tom’s Cabin made him become an abolitionist, and the publication was an event leading up to the Civil War.

Are there any transitions?

There are not any transitions that tell us that this paragraph is different from what came before, so we’re still on the topic of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and politics. And in the middle of the sentence tells us that the two parts are related to each other. The first part of it tells us about how it influenced one guy, and the second part talks about its importance as an event leading up to the Civil War. Remember these ideas are related to each other, so the sentence moves from a small idea (how the book influenced one person) to a big idea (how it was important in history).

Simplify the topic sentence of the seventh paragraph.

There is no way of verifying Lincoln’s words, and people will continue to debate it.

Are there any transitions?

Just as in the previous paragraph, there are no transitions indicating a change in subject. The beginning of this sentence mentions Lincoln’s words, which indicates there was probably a quote from Lincoln in the previous paragraph. Again, there’s an and in the middle of the sentence, telling us that people will continue to debate Lincoln’s words.

1. Step 1: Find the relevant part of the passage: The question directs you to the first paragraph.

Step 2: Read (and simplify, if necessary) the relevant part of the passage: We already know that Uncle Tom’s Cabin was popular in the nineteenth century, but is not today. The particular lines this question asks about say that the novel “has been eschewed” in recent years, and then goes on to say why. If you don’t know what eschewed means, no problem: You know it’s not popular today, so it probably has something to do with that.

Step 3: POE: Choice (a) is too strong. The passage tells us the novel is not popular today, but that’s not the same as saying it’s never read. Choice (c) is irrelevant to this paragraph. Choice (d) is the opposite of what the passage says. Choice (b) is correct: It says Uncle Tom’s Cabin “has fallen out of favor,” which matches the idea in the passage that it’s no longer popular.

2. Step 1: Find the relevant part of the passage: The question directs you to the end of the fourth paragraph.

Step 2: Read (and simplify, if necessary) the relevant part of the passage: The topic sentence of the fourth paragraph indicates that the book was controversial when it was first published. The next sentence tells us about criticism of the book, and the following one tells us how Stowe defended herself against criticism by publishing another book. The next sentence, starting with it also, gives more detail about this second book, and the final sentence tells about how it, too, was criticized. The quote this question asks about comes from a reviewer who was criticizing the book. If the quote itself is hard to understand, look at the description of what the reviewer said before the semicolon (remember, a semicolon is a same direction transition, so what comes after it is more of the same). That’s much more straightforward: “It contained nothing new.”

Step 3: POE: Choice (a) has something to do with the criticism mentioned earlier in the paragraph, about Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but not with what this quotation refers to. Choice (b) is the opposite—this reviewer did not like Stowe’s book. Choice (c) also has the wrong tone—hope seems like the reviewer might have liked something, and facts is recycled language. Choice (d) is correct: The reviewer thought the second book contained nothing new, which matches retelling of the same information.

3. Step 1: Find the relevant part of the passage: The question tells you where to go: the fifth paragraph.

Step 2: Read (and simplify, if necessary) the relevant part of the passage: The topic sentence told us that this paragraph is how stage versions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin augmented its political impact. The paragraph then goes on to say that the plays started before the book was even published, and that a whole lot of people saw them. The last sentence may be a little harder to understand, but we get the idea: The message of the book got out partly because lots of people saw plays about it.

Step 3: POE: Choice (a) might sound good on first glance, but the words more important don’t quite match the passage. The passage said more people saw the plays, but it never discusses importance. Choice (c) has nothing to do with the passage. Choice (d) is true—it’s part of what the last sentence of the paragraph says—but it is not the main idea of the paragraph. Choice (b) is correct: Plays helped to spread the message.

4.Step 1: Find the relevant part of the passage: The question points you in the right direction, the sixth paragraph.

Step 2: Read (and simplify, if necessary) the relevant part of the passage: This paragraph discusses the influence of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, big and small. The second sentence gives us the quote from Lincoln that we were expecting to be there, and the next sentence starts with the phrase this question asks about. If you don’t know what apocryphal means, you can use the context to figure it out. The semicolon is a same direction transition, and after it we’re told that Stowe made no mention of this thing Lincoln said, and that there’s no record of it until over thirty years later. That all makes it sound like maybe it’s made-up, which is probably what apocryphal means. If we take a quick look at the beginning of the following sentence, “there is no way of verifying … Lincoln’s words,” it confirms that idea.

Step 3: POE: What’s at issue here is whether Lincoln actually said this thing about Stowe, not whether anyone will ever understand it, so you can eliminate choice (a). Stowe was advocating for abolition of slavery, and while that issue ultimately led to the Civil War, we didn’t read anything about her advocating for war, so eliminate choice (b) also. These last two paragraphs discuss whether Lincoln’s words are historically accurate, but don’t say that they’re not, so choice (d) is also out. Choice (c) is correct: may not be true better matches the passage. As far as the second part of the answer choice, there’s support for that in the seventh paragraph: “an accurate representation of the perceived import of the book” means pretty much the same thing as “conveys contemporary opinion.” Even if you have a hard time understand that part, though, there’s good reason to eliminate choices (a), (b), and (d), which leaves choice (c) as the best possibility.

5. Step 1: Find the relevant part of the passage: There’s no line reference here, but the second paragraph talked about a law that Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a response to.

Step 2: Read (and simplify, if necessary) the relevant part of the passage: The second paragraph mentions the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, and tells us that it was an expansion of an earlier version, from 1793. It also tells us that the law made Stowe mad, which is why she wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Step 3: POE: Choice (a) has nothing to do with the passage. Choice (b) has the change backwards; the law got stricter in 1850. While the law inspired controversy for Stowe at least, the passage doesn’t tell us about a more general reaction to it, so eliminate choice (d). Choice (a) is correct:The law was expanded in 1850, and Stowe first began to publish Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1851.

SUMMARY

• When faced with a difficult reading passage, read the topic sentences first, cutting the fat and simplifying as necessary to understand them.

• Pay close attention to transitions in the topic sentences, and after reading each topic sentence, think about what it tells you about both the previous paragraph and its own paragraph before moving on to the next one.

• When answering questions, first find the relevant part of the passage. If the question doesn’t have line references, use what you know about the passage from reading the topic sentences to help you find the right spot.

• Read the relevant portion of the sentence, cutting and simplifying as necessary, but be sure to add important details back in, and use context to help you figure out tough words.

• Finally, use Process of Elimination on the questions. If questions and answers are hard to understand or have tough vocabulary, you can cut and simplify them too.

• Most importantly, remember to focus on what you can understand, not what you can’t! Most of the time you’ll be able to understand enough to answer the question.