SAT 2016

CHAPTER 5

THE SAT READING TEST

The Three Secondary Questions

Lesson 6: Ask, “How does the author use language?”

Good writers choose their words carefully. Each word should serve a purpose in conveying an idea or tone to the reader. Often, SAT Reading questions ask you to determine the meaning or tone of particular words or phrases based on context.

How to attack word-in-context questions

Word-in-context questions test your “verbal inference” skills, that is, your ability to determine the meanings of words by how they are used in context. Here’s an example:

In line 24, the word “decline” most nearly means …

The word decline isn’t really a challenging word. Instead, it’s an ambiguous word. That is, it has a variety of possible meanings. It can mean “politely refuse,” “diminish in strength,” or “move downward.” Its meaning depends on its context.

To attack a word-in-context question, reread the sentence in which the word is used, recalling the purpose of that paragraph and the specific meaning of that sentence. Then think of a word or phrase you could replace the word with without altering the meaning of the sentence, and then find its best match among the choices.

Check your answer by rereading the sentence with the replacement word or phrase. Make sure the resulting sentence sounds okay, that is, it conveys the proper meaning and tone, and it follows Standard English idiom.

Consider question 4 in Exercise 2:

4. In line 40, “mortal” most nearly means

A)   human

B)   earthly

C)   bitter

D)   fatal

We can use the word mortal in many different ways. In Socrates is merely mortal, it means “human.” In The coffin contained our dog’s mortal remains, it means “earthly.” In They were mortal enemies, it means “bitter.” In The infection turned out to be a mortal one, it means “fatal.” So answering this question requires knowing more than the definition of mortal; it requires understanding the context of this particular sentence. When Pasteur said,“Never will the doctrine of spontaneous generation arise from this mortal blow,” he meant that the doctrine is as dead as an opponent who has been struck with a sword. Therefore, in this context, mortal means “fatal,” and the correct answer is D.

How to attack tone questions

The SAT Reading question will sometimes ask about the tone or attitude conveyed by the passage as a whole or in particular words or phrases. Here are some examples:

The author’s attitude toward the “critics” (line 22) can best be described as

The tone of lines 13–16 (“It was not until. … emergency”) is one of

When attacking tone questions, make sure to first recall the overall tone of the passage, and think about how the specified portion fits the overall tone. For instance, imagine that a question asks about the tone of a discussion about “voodoo practices.” In an expository essay about Caribbean anthropology, this discussion may have an “objective” tone. In a rhetorical essay about the dangers of superstitious behavior, it may have a “disdainful” tone. In a narrative about a woman’s fond recollections of her grandmother’s rituals, it may have an “affectionate” tone. Don’t assume that the author’s attitude toward a topic matches your own.

Before choosing an answer that suggests a very strong tone, like “alarmism,” “glorification,” or “disgust,” make sure that you can justify your choice with literal evidence from the passage.

When answering tone or attitude questions, pay attention to the voice of the speaker. Does the line in question represent the opinion of the author, or the opinion of someone else? Does it represent a point of view the author agrees with, or disagrees with?

Consider question 7 in Exercise 2:

7. In the final paragraph, the author characterizes
the early Earth primarily as

A)   idyllic

B)   mysterious

C)   perilous

D)   chaotic

The passage is Exercise 2 is an expository essay, and therefore has an objective overall purpose. This means that the author’s point of view is not at issue here. However, the author may still use language to convey tone. In the final paragraph, early Earth is described as a chemical-rich cauldron in which, by chance, the first self-replicating chemical units were formed. Although this is obviously not a portrayal of an idyllic (“blissful”) scene, a chemical-rich cauldron could certainly be mysteriousperilous, or chaotic. So which tone does the author primarily mean to convey?

To answer this question, as with so many SAT Reading questions, we must step back and look at the bigger picture. The point of this paragraph is that the earliest life most likely arose from the hot, seething, bubbling mixture of gas and liquid that pervaded the earth billions of years ago. In other words, the author describes a chaotic world. He is not portraying early Earth as mysterious, because he is claiming to understand important aspects of that ancient environment. He is also not portraying the early Earth as perilous, because no creatures yet existed to suffer its dangers.

Exercise 3

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This passage is adapted from John R. Skoyles and Dorion Sagan, Up from Dragons. ©2002 The McGraw-Hill Companies. Here, the authors discuss the evolution of human intelligence.

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1

The authors use the phrase “equal certainty” (lines 24–25) to make the point that

A)   the reason for the Neanderthals’ extinction is now well known

B)   Neanderthals may not have coexisted with modern humans after all

C)   scientists disagree about the vocal ability of Neanderthals

D)   the ability to communicate is necessary to the survival of a hunting species

2

The authors of this passage would most likely agree with which of the following statements?

A)   anthropological research should adopt higher standards of evidence

B)   physical weakness is not necessarily a disadvantage in the fight for survival

C)   Neanderthals lacked the vocal ability to develop sophisticated language

D)   modern humans could not have achieved as much without the help of the Neanderthals

3

Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?

A)   Lines 24–26 (“Equal certainty … did not”)

B)   Lines 30–33 (“Indeed, hunters … everyday life”)

C)   Lines 40–42 (“It is not … the Neanderthals”)

D)   Lines 43–47 (“The reason … our minds”)

4

The term Cro-Magnon refers to the earliest members of the species H. sapiens. Which of following statements is most justified by the diagram in Figure 1?

A)   The Cro-Magnon are direct descendants of H. neanderthalensis.

B)   The Cro-Magnon and H. heidelbergensis both share A. afarensis as a common ancestor.

C)   Competition with the Cro-Magnon led to the extinction of H. erectus.

D)   The Cro-Magnon and A. robustus both descended from H. habilis.

5

If the fossil record indicated in the accompanying diagram is assumed to be accurate and complete, what is the longest period of time that any single hominid species lived on the earth?

A)   1,000,000 years

B)   1,250,000 years

C)   1,750,000 years

D)   2,000,000 years

6

Which of the following best describes how the diagram supports the main argument of this passage?

A)   It shows that hominid species have existed for over 2,000,000 years.

B)   It shows that H. neanderthalensis had a long vocal chamber.

C)   It shows that H. sapiens and H. neanderthalensis both existed in the period between 100,000 and 40,000 years ago.

D)   It shows that H. sapiens and H. neanderthalensis had a common ancestor.

7

The authors mention that “hunter-gatherers use sophisticated sign language” (line 34) primarily in order to

A)   refute a common misconception about hunter-gatherers

B)   specify the mechanism by which modern humans came to replace Neanderthals

C)   bolster their claim about the larger brain size of Neanderthals

D)   suggest that long vocal chambers might not provide a decisive evolutionary advantage

8

In line 49, “tapping” most nearly means

A)   exploiting

B)   exhausting

C)   nominating

D)   monitoring

9

The authors mention “cell phones” and “diplomacy” (line 56) primarily as examples of

A)   universally admired commercial products

B)   effective means of global communication

C)   goods and services based on intellectual resources

D)   activities that require little physical strength

Lesson 7: Ask, “How does the author use evidence?”

Always be ready to justify your answer to any SAT Reading question, and to answer literal evidence questions and quantitative evidence questions.

How to attack literal evidence questions

Literal evidence questions are of the form

Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?

Every literal evidence question asks you to find a specific line in the passage that directly supports the point in the previous question. Make sure that the evidence you cite in the passage is cleardirect evidence, and does not require any broad inferences or dramatic leap of logic.

Consider questions 1 and 2 in Exercise 2:

1. The author regards the examples listed
in lines 5–7 as

A)   scientific frauds

B)   astonishing discoveries

C)   faulty conclusions

D)   quaint traditions

2. Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?

A)   Lines 1–4 (“In ancient … material”)

B)   Lines 7–10 (“Warmth … organisms”)

C)   Lines 21–23 (“In 1861 … matter”)

D)   Lines 30–32 (“But when … proliferate”)

Lines 5–7 list the following examples: frogs appeared to arise from damp earth, mice from putrefied matter, insects from dew, and maggots from decaying meat. In line 1, the author indicates that these are things that people commonly believed in ancient times. But the passage then goes on to explain that these beliefs are mistaken, and that life in fact does not arise that way. Therefore, the answer to question 1 is C: faulty conclusions.

What literal evidence best shows that the author regards these statements as faulty conclusions? In lines 21–23, the author states that in fact, living organisms cannot so easily arise from nonliving matter. Notice that this is a clear, direct statement that the author regards the beliefs listed in lines 5–7 as faulty conclusions. Therefore, the correct answer to question 2 is C. Choice A is incorrect because lines 1–4 simply state that ancient people believed these things, not that the author disagrees. Choice B is incorrect because lines 7–10 just give details about these beliefs, but no indication that the author doesn’t share them. Choice D is incorrect because lines 30–32 just give a detail about Pasteur’s experiment, and no direct indication that the author disagrees with the list of beliefs.

Consider questions 2 and 3 in Exercise 3:

2. The authors of this passage would most likely agree with which of the following statements?

A)   anthropological research should adopt higher standards of evidence

B)   physical weakness is not necessarily a disadvantage in the fight for survival

C)   Neanderthals lacked the vocal ability to develop sophisticated language

D)   modern humans could not have achieved as much without the help of the Neanderthals

3. Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?

A)   Lines 24–26 (“Equal certainty … did not”)

B)   Lines 30–33 (“Indeed, hunters … everyday life”)

C)   Lines 40–42 (“It is not … the Neanderthals”)

D)   Lines 43–47 (“The reason … our minds”)

The answer to question 2 is B: physical weakness is not necessarily a disadvantage in the fight for survival. How do we know? Because this is a direct implication of the main thesis that humans came to dominate the Neanderthals by taking advantage of their intellectual abilities rather than relying on their physical strength.

Where is the best literal evidence for this? In lines 43–47, where the authors state their main thesis: The reason we—anatomically modern humans—won out lies, we suspect, not in being brighter or better able to speak but in our very physical frailty and our resulting need to exploit our minds. Therefore, the correct answer to question 3 is choice D. Choice A is incorrect because this sentence merely states that scientists disagree about the length of the Neanderthal vocal chamber. Choice B is incorrect because this sentence merely states that hunters sometimes find it helpful to communicate silently. Choice C is incorrect because this sentence merely states that the ability to speak cannot explain our dominance over the Neanderthals.

How to attack quantitative evidence questions

Quantitative evidence questions ask about the content of graphs, tables, or diagrams that may be associated with the passage. Here are some examples:

Which claim about the United States prison population is best supported by the graph in Figure 1?

Which of the following best describes how Figure 1 supports the main argument of this passage?

As with literal evidence questions, quantitative evidence questions require you to identify the clear and direct evidence contained in the graph, table, or diagram.

When interpreting data, remember that correlation does not imply causation: the mere fact that quantity B goes up at the same time that (or soon after) quantity A goes up does not mean that A causes B.

Consider questions 4, 5, and 6 in Exercise 3:

4. The term Cro-Magnon refers to the earliest members of the species H. sapiens. Which of following statements is most justified by the diagram in Figure 1?

A)   The Cro-Magnon are direct descendants of H. neanderthalensis.

B)   The Cro-Magnon and H. heidelbergensis both share A. afarensis as a common ancestor.

C)   Competition with the Cro-Magnon led to the extinction of H. erectus.

D)   The Cro-Magnon and A. robustus both descended from H. habilis.

5. If the fossil record indicated in the diagram in Figure 1 is assumed to be accurate and complete, what is the longest period of time that any single hominid species lived on the earth?

A)   1,000,000 years

B)   1,250,000 years

C)   1,750,000 years

D)   2,000,000 years

6. Which of the following best describes how Figure 1 supports the main argument of this passage?

A)   It shows that hominid species have existed for over 2,000,000 years.

B)   It shows that H. neanderthalensis had a long vocal chamber.

C)   It shows that H. sapiens and H. neanderthalensis both existed between 100,000 and 40,000 years ago.

D)   It shows that H. sapiens and H. neanderthalensis had a common ancestor.

The figure shows a “family tree” of hominid species going back approximately 3 million years. The vertical bars represent the approximate time periods in which each species lived (according to the fossil record), and lines between species indicate the most likely lines of heritage. The dotted line in the lower left portion of the diagram indicates some uncertainty about whether or not A. robustus descended from A. africanus.

The correct answer to question 4 is B. The undotted lines in the diagram indicate that H. sapiens (which includes the Cro-Magnon) descended from H. heidelbergensis, which descended from H. erectus, which descended from H. habilis, which descended from A. afarensis. Therefore, theCro-Magnon and H. heidelbergensis both share A. afarensis as a common ancestor. Choice A is incorrect because the diagram shows no line of descent from H. neanderthalensis to H. sapiens. Choice C is incorrect because the diagram contains no information about the reasons for extinction. Choice D is incorrect because there is no line of descent from H. habilis to A. robustus.

The correct answer to question 5 is C. The longest vertical bar for any hominid species is that for H. erectus, which begins at about the 2-million-year mark and ends at about the 250,000-year mark. Subtracting these two values gives us a time span of about 1,750,000 years.

The correct answer to question 6 is C. Although statements A and D are both valid conclusions based on the information in the diagram, neither of these facts supports the main argument of the passage, which is found in lines 43–47: The reason we—anatomically modern humans—won out [in our competition with the Neanderthals] lies, we suspect, not in being brighter or better able to speak but in our very physical frailty and our resulting need to exploit our minds. Therefore, the argument rests on the fact that H. sapiens coexisted with H. neanderthalensis. The diagram clearly shows that both species lived in the period between approximately 100,000 years ago and 40,000 years ago, and so could have been in direct competition. It also shows that H. neanderthalensis appears to have gone extinct, because its vertical bar does not reach all the way up to the 0 mark.

Lesson 8: Ask, “How does the author use rhetorical devices?”

The SAT Reading test may ask you about the rhetorical effect of particular sections of the passage. These questions test your ability to recognize particular rhetorical and literary devices that the author may use to persuade the reader.

16 Basic Stylistic and Rhetorical Devices

An ad hominem is an attack “on the person” rather than an attack on his or her ideas or reasoning. For example, Her political opinions can’t be trusted because she is just an actress is not an argument, but merely an ad hominem.

An allusion is an implicit reference to something. For example, the statement He’s gone down the rabbit hole is an allusion to the bizarre and fanciful episodes in the story Alice in Wonderland.

An analogy is an illustrative comparison between things that have a similar function or structure. For example, the levels of processing in a computer provide an analogy for understanding levels of processing in the human brain.

An anecdote is an illustrative story. For example, a story about a friend whose headache went away after he stood on his head for ten minutes is anecdotal evidence, not scientific evidence, for the health benefits of inversion.

An aphorism is a widely accepted truth. For example, the aphorism If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it can provide a concise argument against spending a lot of money on a new program. Aphorisms are also called maximsadages, or proverbs.

An appeal to authority is a suggestion that the reader should agree with an idea because a respected authority happens to believe it. For example: The world’s greatest scientist, Sir Isaac Newton, believed that iron could be turned into gold, so who are we to question the idea?

An appeal to emotion is an attempt to persuade the reader through an emotionally charged anecdote or allusion. For example, a story about an infuriating experience with an insurance salesman may be an effective way to argue against aggressive sales tactics.

Characterization is the use of imagery, diction, or description to convey a particular attitude toward a person, thing, or idea. For example, referring to a proposal as a scheme characterizes it as being deceitful.

euphemism is a term that makes something seem more positive than it is. For example, salespersons or political canvassers often use the term courtesy call as a euphemism for an unwanted disruption.

Hyperbole is deliberate exaggeration for persuasive effect. For example, saying that Molly’s comma usage is a catastrophe is almost certainly hyperbole.

Irony is a deliberate reversal of expectations in order to surprise a reader. For example, Christopher Hitchens justified his attitude toward free will by using irony: I believe in free will, because I have no other choice.

metaphor is an application of a word or phrase to something it doesn’t literally apply to. For example, calling a refusal a slap in the face uses metaphor to emphasize its harshness.

Rhetorical parallelism is the use of repeated grammatical form to emphasize a point. For example, John F. Kennedy used parallelism in his inaugural address when he said we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

Personification is the attribution of personal qualities to something that is not a person. For example, we are using rhetorical personification when we say that an idea is on its last legs or gave its last gasp.

simile is a comparison using like or as. For instance, Irena Dunn used rhetorical simile when she said A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.

An understatement encourages the reader to complete a point by suggesting that it is less significant than it obviously is. For instance, it’s quite an understatement to say that Donald Trump is a tad self-absorbed.

Consider questions 4 and 5 from Exercise 1:

4. The passage includes all of the following EXCEPT

A)   ad hominem

B)   verifiable statistics

C)   amusing illustration

D)   social assessment

5. In line 32, the author’s use of the word “penetrating” is an example of

A)   subtle euphemism

B)   deliberate hyperbole

C)   sincere acclamation

D)    ironic sarcasm

The correct answer to question 4 is A: ad hominem. Although the passage criticizes widespread innumeracy, at no point does the author attack anyone personally. Choice B is incorrect because the author uses verifiable statistics liberally in the first, second, third, and sixth paragraphs. Choice C is incorrect because the joke described in the fourth paragraph is an amusing illustration. Choice D is incorrect because the passage makes a social assessment in lines 32–34 when he states that [t]his tendency to personalize is a characteristic of many who suffer from innumeracy, and again in lines 52–53 when he states that we too often lack an intuitive grasp for these numbers.

The correct answer to question 5 is D: ironic sarcasm. The author states that the innumerate will inevitably respond with the non sequitur, “Yes, but what if you’re that one,” and then nod knowingly, as if they’ve demolished your argument with penetrating insight (lines 28–32). In other words, the penetrating insight is really not penetrating at all: it is a non sequitur (a statement that does not follow logically from the premises). The author is using the word penetrating ironically and sarcastically. Choice A is incorrect, because the author is not using the word penetrating to make the insight seem more positive than it is. In fact, he is criticizing, not euphemizing. Choice B is incorrect because the author is not using exaggeration for rhetorical effect. Choice C is incorrect because penetrating is not intended as an acclamation (word of praise).