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Power of the “Word”


Now that we have looked at the smaller units of reading passages, let’s try to apply what we have learned to longer passages. These passages are more difficult than anything you’re likely to see on the SAT or the ACT, but you will find that applying what you’ve learned so far can make understanding these passages much easier.

The first passage comes from a lecture by William James entitled “What Pragmatism Means.”


(1) Some years ago, being with a camping party in the mountains, I returned from a solitary ramble to find every one engaged in a ferocious metaphysical dispute. (2) The corpus of the dispute was a squirrel—a live squirrel supposed to be clinging to one side of a tree-trunk; while over against the tree’s opposite side a human being was imagined to stand. (3) This human witness tries to get sight of the squirrel by moving rapidly round the tree, but no matter how fast he goes, the squirrel moves as fast in the opposite direction, and always keeps the tree between himself and the man, so that never a glimpse of him is caught. (4) The resultant metaphysical problem now is this: Does the man go round the squirrel or not? (5) He goes round the tree, sure enough, and the squirrel is on the tree; but does he go round the squirrel? (6) In the unlimited leisure of the wilderness, discussion had been worn threadbare. (7) Every one had taken sides, and was obstinate; and the numbers on both sides were even. (8) Each side, when I appeared therefore appealed to me to make it a majority. (9) Mindful of the scholastic adage that whenever you meet a contradiction you must make a distinction, I immediately sought and found one, as follows: “Which party is right,” I said, “depends on what you practically mean by ‘going round’ the squirrel. (10) If you mean passing from the north of him to the east, then to the south, then to the west, and then to the north of him again, obviously the man does go round him, for he occupies these successive positions. (11) But if on the contrary you mean being first in front of him, then on the right of him, then behind him, then on his left, and finally in front again, it is quite as obvious that the man fails to go round him, for by the compensating movements the squirrel makes, he keeps his belly turned towards the man all the time, and his back turned away. (12) Make the distinction, and there is no occasion for any farther dispute. You are both right and both wrong according as you conceive the verb ‘to go round’ in one practical fashion or the other.”


(1) Although one or two of the hotter disputants called my speech a shuffling evasion, saying they wanted no quibbling or scholastic hair-splitting, but meant just plain honest English ‘round,’ the majority seemed to think that the distinction had assuaged the dispute.


(1) I tell this trivial anecdote because it is a peculiarly simple example of what I wish now to speak of as the pragmatic method. (2) The pragmatic method is primarily a method of settling metaphysical disputes that otherwise might be interminable. (3) Is the world one or many?—fated or free?—material or spiritual?—here are notions either of which may or may not hold good of the world; and disputes over such notions are unending. (4) The pragmatic method in such cases is to try to interpret each notion by tracing its respective practical consequences. (5) What difference would it practically make to any one if this notion rather than that notion were true? (6) If no practical difference whatever can be traced, then the alternatives mean practically the same thing, and all dispute is idle. (7) Whenever a dispute is serious, we ought to be able to show some practical difference that must follow from one side or the other’s being right.

1. In the first sentence, the author uses the word ferocious. If he had not used this word, the sentence would read as follows: I returned from a solitary ramble to find everyone engaged in a metaphysical debate. How does the word ferocious alter this statement?

a)    The word ferocious indicates that the debate concerned the subject of violence in society.

b)    The word ferocious helps to underline how heated the debate had become.

c)    The word ferocious suggests that those participating in the debate were acting violently.

d)    The word does not make a difference.

2. What is the subject of this ferocious metaphysical debate?

a)    Violence in society

b)    The existence of God

c)    A squirrel

d)    The wilderness

3. Consider your answers to questions 1 and 2. What kind of tone does the author create, and how does the first sentence create it?

a)    Confused, because the author does not understand metaphysical debates.

b)    Dismissive, because the author prefers his solitary walk to the ferocious debate.

c)    Cruel, because no one likes to be in the middle of a ferocious debate in the wilderness.

d)    Humorous, because there is something silly about having a ferocious debate about squirrels.

4. Which side does the author choose in the metaphysical debate?

a)    He agrees with those who say the man goes around the squirrel.

b)    He agrees with those who say the man does not go around the squirrel.

c)    He says both sides are right and wrong depending on some other definitions.

d)    He does not comment and returns to his solitary walk in the woods.

5. What is the “point” sentence of the first paragraph?

a)    2

b)    4

c)    7

d)    There is no point sentence in this paragraph.

6. The author admits that his anecdote is trivial, so why does he include it?

a)    He wants to show that he is much smarter than most other people.

b)    He wants to indicate that he ultimately sided with one group over the other.

c)    He wishes to show that people can be wrong about the simplest things.

d)    He wants to give simple instance of the more complex subject he wishes to discuss.

7. Which of the following is NOT an example of one of the metaphysical disputes that otherwise might be interminable?

a)    Is the world fated or free?

b)    What does pragmatism mean?

c)    Does the man go around the squirrel?

d)    Is the world one or many?

8. What could make a metaphysical question serious rather than idle?

a)    A practical difference between the sides of the argument

b)    Ferocity in debating the subject

c)    Concern with life’s greatest mysteries

d)    Alternatives that mean practically the same thing

9. What is the pragmatic method?

a)    A philosophy that treats all questions as serious rather than idle

b)    A style of analysis that focuses on practical consequences

c)    Something that can be practiced in the unlimited leisure of the wilderness

d)    A style of debate that promotes ferocious arguing

10. Which of the following sentences best summarizes the “point” of the passage?

a)    Paragraph 1, Sentence 3

b)    Paragraph 1, Sentence 11

c)    Paragraph 2, Sentence 1

d) Paragraph 3, Sentence 4

This passage comes from Women and Economics by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.


(1) Since we have learned to study the development of human life as we study the evolution of species throughout the animal kingdom, some peculiar phenomena which have puzzled the philosopher and moralist for so long, begin to show themselves in a new light. (2) We begin to see that, so far from being inscrutable problems, requiring another life to explain, these sorrows and perplexities of our lives are but the natural results of natural causes, and that, as soon as we ascertain the causes, we can do much to remove them.


(1) In spite of the power of the individual will to struggle against conditions, to resist them for a while, and sometimes to overcome them, it remains true that the human creature is affected by his environment, as is every other living thing. (2) The power of the individual will to resist natural law is well proven by the life and death of the ascetic. (3) In any one of those suicidal martyrs may be seen the will, misdirected by the ill-informed intelligence, forcing the body to defy every natural impulse,—even to the door of death, and through it.


(1) But, while these exceptions show what the human will can do, the general course of life shows the inexorable effect of conditions upon humanity. (2) Of these conditions we share with other living things the environment of the material universe. (3) We are affected by climate and locality, by physical, chemical, electrical forces, as are all animals and plants. (4) With the animals, we farther share the effect of our own activity, the reactionary force of exercise. (5) What we do, as well as what is done to us, makes us what we are. (6) But, beyond these forces, we come under the effect of a third set of conditions peculiar to our human status; namely, social conditions. (7) In the organic interchanges which constitute social life, we are affected by each other to a degree beyond what is found even among the most gregarious of animals. (8) This third factor, the social environment, is of enormous force as a modifier of human life. (9) Throughout all these environing conditions, those which affect us through our economic necessities are most marked in their influence.


(1) Without touching yet upon the influence of the social factors, treating the human being merely as an individual animal, we see that he is modified most by his economic conditions, as is every other animal. (2) Differ as they may in color and size, in strength and speed, in minor adaptation to minor conditions, all animals that live on grass have distinctive traits in common, and all animals that eat flesh have distinctive traits in common—so distinctive and so common that it is by teeth, by nutritive apparatus in general, that they are classified, rather than by means of defence or locomotion. (3) The food supply of the animal is the largest passive factor in his development; the processes by which he obtains his food supply, the largest active factor in his development. (4) It is these activities, the incessant repetition of the exertions by which he is fed, which most modify his structure and develop his functions. (5) The sheep, the cow, the deer, differ in their adaptation to the weather, their locomotive ability, their means of defence; but they agree in main characteristics, because of their common method of nutrition.

11. What has enabled the author to see some human problems in a new light?

a)    A new finding that shows the ways humans and animals are different

b)    A new group of philosophers with new ideas

c)    A new way of describing lives of other species

d)    A refusal to be puzzled by the irrelevant problems of older philosophies

12. What has the study of the evolution of species shown the author?

a)    Human life is filled with sorrow and confusion.

b)    Human life is shaped by the environment in which humans live.

c)    Evolutionary ideas apply to the animal kingdom but not to humans.

d)    Human life can only be understood by natural scientists.

13. Which of the following quotations best shows the value of understanding environmental causes in influencing human life?

a)    “inscrutable problems, requiring another life to explain”

b)    “these sorrows and perplexities of our lives”

c)    “as soon as we ascertain the causes”

d)    “we can do much to remove them”

14. Identify the language of argument in the first sentence of the second paragraph.

a)    “in spite of” and “remains true”

b)    “struggle against” and “for a while”

c)    “affected” and “living thing”

d)    “individual will” and “environment”

15. What is the “point” sentence in the second paragraph?

a)    1

b)    2

c)    3

d)    There is no point sentence in the second paragraph.

16. The second sentence of the third paragraph reads, “Of these conditions we share with other living things the environment of the material universe.” How does the mention of other living things relate to the point made in the first paragraph about the evolution of species?

a)    The study of the evolution of other living things reveals all the conditions to which human beings are not subject.

b)    The study of the evolution of other living things was made possible by philosophers’ insistence on seeing them in a new light.

c)    The study of the evolution of other living things presents a series of inscrutable problems.

d)    The study of the evolution of other living things has revealed new things about human beings.

17. Use the topic sentences of the second, third, and fourth paragraphs to identify how these paragraphs relate to one another.

a)    Paragraph 2 discusses religious martyrs; Paragraph 3 discusses the weather; and Paragraph 4 discusses the eating habits of animals.

b)    Paragraph 2 discusses the importance of environmental conditions; Paragraph 3 lists some of those conditions; and Paragraph 4 identifies the most important condition.

c)    Paragraph 2 discusses human beings’ ability to resist the natural world; Paragraph 3 lists some exceptions to the general rule; and Paragraph 4 shifts the focus to economics.

d)    Paragraph 2 discusses individual human beings; Paragraph 3 discusses animals; and Paragraph 4 discusses both human beings and animals.

18. According to the author, what is the single most important condition that influences human behavior?

a)    Climate

b)    Diet

c)    Chemistry

d)    Economy

19. Why does the author end the fourth paragraph by discussing the role of food?

a)    She believes that what one does to obtain food influences many other behaviors.

b)    She believes that the types of food that one eats influence one’s economic output.

c)    She believes that cows, sheep, and human beings are identical because they all eat natural foods.

d)    She believes that humans that eat cows and sheep are economically superior to those animals.

20. Which of the following sentences best summarizes the “point” of the passage?

a)    Paragraph 1, Sentence 1

b)    Paragraph 2, Sentence 3

c)    Paragraph 3, Sentence 4

d) Paragraph 4, Sentence 1

This comes from Franklin Roosevelt’s 1933 “Fireside Chat” on the banking crisis that caused the Great Depression.


(1) We had a bad banking situation. (2) Some of our bankers had shown themselves either incompetent or dishonest in their handling of the people’s funds. (3) They had used the money entrusted to them in speculations and unwise loans. (4) This was of course not true in the vast majority of our banks but it was true in enough of them to shock the people for a time into a sense of insecurity and to put them into a frame of mind where they did not differentiate, but seemed to assume that the acts of a comparative few had tainted them all. (5) It was the Government’s job to straighten out this situation and do it as quickly as possible—and the job is being performed.


(1) I do not promise you that every bank will be reopened or that individual losses will not be suffered, but there will be no losses that possibly could be avoided; and there would have been more and greater losses had we continued to drift. (2) I can even promise you salvation for some at least of the sorely pressed banks. (3) We shall be engaged not merely in reopening sound banks but in the creation of sound banks through reorganization. (4) It has been wonderful to me to catch the note of confidence from all over the country. (5) I can never be sufficiently grateful to the people for the loyal support they have given me in their acceptance of the judgment that has dictated our course, even though all of our processes may not have seemed clear to them.


(1) After all there is an element in the readjustment of our financial system more important than currency, more important than gold, and that is the confidence of the people. (2) Confidence and courage are the essentials of success in carrying out our plan. (3) You people must have faith; you must not be stampeded by rumors or guesses. (4) Let us unite in banishing fear. (5) We have provided the machinery to restore our financial system; it is up to you to support and make it work.


(1) It is your problem no less than it is mine. (2) Together we cannot fail.

21. How would the second sentence of the first paragraph be changed if the words “Some of” were removed?

a)    It would suggest that all bankers contributed to the bad banking situation.

b)    It would name the specific bankers who were responsible for the bad banking situation.

c)    It would indicate that the bad banking situation does not apply to everyone.

d)    It would more clearly describe the reasons for the bad banking situation.

22. In the third sentence of the first paragraph, to whom does the word “They” refer?

a)    All bankers in the American banking system

b)    The bankers who acted in incompetent or dishonest ways

c)    The American people who entrusted their money to banks

d)    The government officials who allowed unethical bankers to thrive

23. Consider your answers to the first two questions. What is the speaker trying to do in separating one group out from another?

a)    To show the extent of the bad banking situation

b)    To demonstrate what happened with the vast majority of bankers

c)    To shock the people into recognizing the extent of the banking crisis

d)    To differentiate the few bad bankers from the many good ones

24. What is the “point” sentence of the first paragraph?

a)    1

b)    2

c)    3

d)    4

25. The speaker begins the second paragraph with the words “I do not promise you.…” Is this the language of argument? If yes, what does it imply?

a)    No, this is not the language of argument.

b)    Yes, it suggests that there is something that the speaker does promise.

c)    Yes, it suggests that people have been too demanding of the speaker.

d)    Yes, it suggests that the speaker has done all that he can.

26. In the last sentence of the third paragraph, how would the meaning of the sentence change if the word “sufficiently” were removed?

a)    The sentence would then indicate that the speaker will continue without the public’s support.

b)    The sentence would then state that the speaker did not appreciate the public’s support.

c)    The sentence would then show the speaker’s true appreciation for the public’s support.

d)    The sentence would be unchanged.

27. In the last sentence of the third paragraph, the speaker is especially grateful for the “acceptance” that the American public has given his plan. What is notable about this acceptance?

a)    The president appreciates this acceptance, but he is ungrateful for it.

b)    Many people accept the president’s plan even though it aids unethical bankers.

c)    The majority of people accept the plan, but a vocal minority rejects it.

d)    The public gives its acceptance, but it may not understand what it is accepting.

28. Why does the speaker use the word “stampeded” rather than a more neutral word like “influenced”?

a)    “Stampeded” suggests a violence and unreasonableness to the rumors and guesses of people who disagree with his plan.

b)    “Stampeded” suggests the extent of the damage that the bad banking system has done to the country.

c)    “Stampeded” suggests the type of action the public can be expected to take against unethical bankers.

d)    The more neutral word would make no difference.

29. Consider the language you have analyzed in the previous questions. How is the speaker portraying himself?

a)    As a man who is level-headed, able to separate the good from the bad, and who therefore deserves the public’s trust

b)    As a man who is fearful of the power of the banks, unsure how to proceed, and overly concerned with public approval

c)    As a man who has been stampeded by public disapproval, rejected by bankers, and committed to an idea that may not work

d)    As a man who refuses to make promises, separates himself from the general public, and sides with bankers over ordinary citizens

30. Which of the following sentences best summarizes the “point” of the passage?

a)    Paragraph 1, Sentence 1

b)    Paragraph 2, Sentence 2

c)    Paragraph 3, Sentence 5

d)    Paragraph 4, Sentence 1

This passage comes from a speech by Frederick Douglass entitled “The Hypocrisy of American Slavery.”


(1) Fellow citizens, pardon me, and allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here today? (2) What have I or those I represent to do with your national independence? (3) Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? (4) And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits, and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?


(1) Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions. (2) Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful. (3) For who is there so cold that a nation’s sympathy could not warm him? (4) Who so obdurate and dead to the claims of gratitude that would not thankfully acknowledge such priceless benefits? (5) Who so stolid and selfish that would not give his voice to swell the hallelujahs of a nation’s jubilee, when the chains of servitude had been torn from his limbs? (6) I am not that man. (7) In a case like that, the dumb might eloquently speak, and the “lame man leap as an hart.”


(1) But such is not the state of the case. (2) I say it with a sad sense of disparity between us. (3) I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! (4) Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. (5) The blessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common. (6) The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. (7) The sunlight that brought life and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. (8) This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. (9) You may rejoice, I must mourn. (10) To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. (11) Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today? (12) If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. (13) And let me warn you, that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation (Babylon) whose crimes, towering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrecoverable ruin.


(1) Fellow citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions, whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are today rendered more intolerable by the jubilant shouts that reach them. (2) If I do forget, if I do not remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, “may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!”


(1) To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs and to chime in with the popular theme would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world.


(1) My subject, then, fellow citizens, is “American Slavery.” (2) I shall see this day and its popular characteristics from the slave’s point of view. (3) Standing here, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this Fourth of July.

31. Look at the questions in the first two paragraphs. Why does the speaker ask them?

a)    He is hoping someone from the audience will respond with the correct answer.

b)    He is unsure what he is supposed to be talking about and is looking for help from the crowd.

c)    He is trying to adapt his speech to the interests of those in the crowd.

d)    He is setting up a series of answers that will lead to his main point.

32. What is the answer to the questions in the first paragraph?

a)    Yes

b)    No

c)    Maybe

d)    The speaker doesn’t give an answer.

33. What would make the speaker’s task light and his burden easy and delightful?

a)    If the answer to all the first paragraph’s questions were “Yes”

b)    If the answer to all the first paragraph’s questions were “No”

c)    If the audience were more receptive to the speaker’s ideas

d)    If the audience would provide thorough answers to the speaker’s questions

34. Look at the use of pronouns (us, you, me, I) in the second paragraph. How is each one used?

a)    Us is used to describe a common trait; you is the audience who asks questions; and me is the speaker who seeks to answer those questions.

b)    Us is used to describe a difference; you is the audience who cannot celebrate the 4th of July; and me is the speaker who celebrates it proudly.

c)    Us is used to describe a common trait; you is the audience celebrating the 4th of July; and me is the speaker who is answering questions.

d)    Us is used to describe a difference; you is the audience celebrating the 4th of July; and me is the speaker who cannot share in the celebration.

35. Which of the following is one of the “point” sentences of the third paragraph?

a)    1

b)    8

c)    11

d)    13

36. Who are the millions referred to fourth paragraph? Pay close attention to the language of this paragraph and look at the topic sentences of later paragraphs.

a)    Babylonians

b)    The audience

c)    American slaves

d)    Chains

37. Compare the first sentence of the fourth paragraph with a simplified version.

Fellow citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions, whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are today rendered more intolerable by the jubilant shouts that reach them.

Fellow citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions, whose chains are intolerable.

What does the simplified version remove from the meaning of the original?

a)    The simplified version removes all of the author’s anger toward the audience.

b)    The simplified version removes the author’s unwillingness to share in the celebration.

c)    The simplified version removes the emphasis on today as a particularly bad day.

d)    The simplified version removes the emphasis on the number of people in chains.

38. Why is the suffering of those in pain today rendered more intolerable than it is on any other day?

a)    The 4th of July celebrates independence, which is ironic given that some people are enslaved.

b)    The 4th of July celebrates independence, which is misleading because the nation was still under British rule.

c)    The 4th of July celebrates independence, which the speaker does not know how to enjoy.

d)    The 4th of July celebrates independence, which the speaker believes is not adequately celebrated in the United States.

39. In the last paragraph, the speaker declares himself identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine. Think of your answer to question 34 regarding the use of pronouns. Why does the speaker phrase his identification with the slaves in this way?

a)    He can suggest to the audience that everyone hearing his speech is currently a slave.

b)    He can show that all of those who are currently slaves can give sophisticated speeches.

c)    He can show his sympathy with those in slavery but also show that he is not a slave himself.

d)    He can voluntarily give himself back to slaveowners and begin working on a plantation.

40. Which of the following sentences best summarizes the “point” of the passage?

a)    Paragraph 1, Sentence 2

b)    Paragraph 2, Sentence 2

c)    Paragraph 3, Sentence 13

d)    Paragraph 6, Sentence 3