Passage-Based Reading Exercises

Level B


Most high school students have some difficulty comprehending reading passages on this level. Consider the reading passages that follow to be a good sample of the midrange prose excerpts you will face on the SAT.




Read each of the passages below, and then answer the questions that follow the passage. The correct response may be stated outright or merely suggested in the passage.


Questions 1–6 are based on the following passage.

In the following passage, author Peter Matthiessen considers Native American spirituality.


               We can no longer pretend—as we did for
so long—that Indians are a primitive people:
no, they are a traditional people, that is, a

Line “first” or “original” people, a primal people,

(5)  the inheritors of a profound and exquisite wisdom
distilled by long ages on this earth. The
Indian concept of earth and spirit has been
patronizingly dismissed as simple hearted
“naturalism” or “animism,” when in fact it

(10)  derives from a holistic vision known to all
mystics and great teachers of the most venerated
religions of the world.

               This universal and profound intuitive
knowledge may have come to North America

(15)  with the first peoples to arrive from Asia,
although Indians say it was the other way
around, that the assumption of white historians
that a nomadic people made a one-way journey
across the Bering Strait from Asia and

(20)  down into America, and never attempted to
travel the other way, makes little sense. Today
most Indians believe that they originated on
this continent: at the very least, there was travel
in both directions. (In recent years, this

(25)  theory has been given support by a young anthropologist
who, on the basis of stone tools and
skull measurements as well as pictographs and
cave drawings, goes so far as to suggest that
the Cro-Magnon—the first truly modern

(30)  men—who came out of nowhere to displace
the Neanderthals in Eurasia perhaps 40,000
years ago were a pre-Indian people from
North America.) According to the Hopi, runners
were sent west across the Bering Strait as

(35)  messengers and couriers, and information was
exchanged between North America and
Eurasia in very early times, long before
European history had begun.

               The Old Way—what the Lakota call

(40)  wouncage, “our way of doing”—is very consistent
throughout the Indian nations, despite
the great variety of cultures. The Indian cannot
love the Creator and desecrate the earth, for
Indian existence is not separable from Indian

(45)  religion, which is not separable from the natural
world. It is not a matter of “worshiping
nature,” as anthropologists suggest: to worship
nature, one must stand apart from it and call it
“nature” or the “human habitat” or “the environment.”

(50)  For the Indian, there is no separation.
Man is an aspect of nature, and nature
itself is a manifestation of primordial religion.
Even the word “religion” makes an unnecessary
separation, and there is no word for it in the

(55)  Indian tongues. Nature is the “Great Mysterious,”
the “religion before religion,” the profound intuitive
apprehension of the true nature of existence
attained by sages of all epochs, everywhere on
earth: the whole universe is sacred, man is the

(60)  whole universe, and the religious ceremony is life
itself, the miraculous common acts of every day.

   1. To the author, the distinction between the words primitive and primal (lines 2–4) is that

       (A) whereas the former is excessively positive, the latter is neutral in significance

       (B) while the latter is often used metaphorically, the former is not

       (C) the latter reinforces the notion of Indian barbarism that is implicit in the former

       (D) while the former has some negative connotations, the latter has neutral or positive ones

       (E) the former came into common use earlier than the latter did

   2. The author most likely used quotation marks around certain words in the last sentence of the first paragraph (lines 6–12) because

       (A) they are quotations from another work

       (B) they are slang

       (C) they come from another language

       (D) he disagrees with their application here

       (E) he wishes to emphasize their appropriateness

   3. Which of the following is the most accurate statement about the second paragraph of the passage?

       (A) It develops the idea of the first paragraph.

       (B) It is a digression from the author’s argument.

       (C) It provides examples to illustrate the points made in the first paragraph.

       (D) It provides a logical introduction to the third paragraph.

       (E) It is full of totally unsupported assumptions.

   4. The author’s attitude toward Indian religion is one of

       (A) respect

       (B) idolatry

       (C) condemnation

       (D) pity

       (E) indifference

   5. In line 57, “apprehension” most nearly means

       (A) capture

       (B) foreboding

       (C) understanding

       (D) achievement

       (E) approval

   6. By calling the common acts of every day miraculous (line 61), Matthiessen is being

       (A) paradoxical

       (B) allusive

       (C) sarcastic

       (D) analytical

       (E) apologetic

Questions 7–15 are based on the following passage.

The following passage, written by a zoological anthropologist, is an excerpt from a field-research study into the organization and behavior of chimpanzee society.


               Many primates live in an organized troop
in which all ages and both sexes are included,
and in which members always move compactly

Line together as a stable social unit. There is a

(5)  ranking hierarchy among troop males,
although the strictness with which the hierarchy
is enforced varies. The ranking relationship
is recognized among them and the hierarchy
functions to ameliorate conflict. The

(10)  highest-ranking male or males defend, control, and
lead the troop; the strong social bond among
members and their safety is maintained.

               On the other hand, chimpanzees lack a
stable social troop. Even members of a regional

(15)  population, who are acquainted with each
other, rarely move en masse but move in temporarily
formed parties that usually consist of
less than ten animals. Such parties maintain
associative and friendly contact through their

(20)  rich vocal and behavioral communication.
Chimpanzee society ensures the free and independent
movement of each individual based
on highly developed individuality without the
restriction of either territoriality or hierarchy.

(25)  On the other hand, a chimpanzee enjoys the
benefits of group life in that it can avoid the
enemy and find fruits with less effort.

               Although there is a loose dominant and
subordinate relationship among individuals,

(30)  chimpanzees are rarely placed under the
restraint of the ranking hierarchy. The rigidly
organized troop characteristic of most primates
must be an adaptation for avoiding enemies
like man and carnivores and for defense

(35)  against these enemies. In this context, a group
of monkeys is more likely to survive than a
single individual. The group provides a social
mechanism for survival. Females and young
monkeys, especially a female with a baby,

(40)  must be protected by others. As their food,
fruits, nuts, leaves, and some kinds of insects,
is scattered in a wide area in the natural habitat,
a dominant animal does not control the
entire food source, nor does a subordinate animal

(45)  starve when the former is satiated. An
important problem in the rigid hierarchical
social organization is that each animal must
adjust its movements and behaviors to those of
the troop. A rigidly organized troop cannot be

(50)  maintained when individuals do not subordinate
their personal desires for the good of
troop unity or solidarity. The flexible social
organization of the chimpanzee may be one
resolution of this problem. This kind of social

(55)  organization may be one of the original factors
raising individuality to the level of personality.
Chimpanzees have not rejected group life, but
they have rejected individual uniformity and the
pressure of a dominance hierarchy.

(60)       That a number of experienced big males
can serve as leader, appropriately coping with
critical situations, and that followers can
appropriately react to a leader’s behavior,
prove that chimpanzee society is not a simple

(65)  chaotic gathering but a developed society
based on highly developed psychological
processes and individuality. The identity of
fellow chimpanzees is formed in the mind of
those chimpanzees who utilize the same range.

(70)  The size of the regional population must be
restricted by the upper limit of members that
an animal can identify and have friendly relations
with. Another factor restricting population
size must be environmental conditions,

(75)  that is, the volume and the distribution of food
and shelter and the geophysical condition of
the habitat. The latter may influence the moving
pattern, moving range, and the grouping
pattern of each individual and group of individuals.

(80)  Chimpanzees form regional populations
even in continuous habitats such as those
found in the Budongo Forest.

   7. In many primate troops, the social hierarchy consists of

       (A) females only

       (B) males only

       (C) males of all ages

       (D) females of all ages

       (E) both males and females of all ages

   8. According to the passage, primate societies are

       (A) generally unstable

       (B) flexible

       (C) extremely competitive

       (D) dominated by adult males

       (E) frequently in conflict with each other

   9. The author believes that primates establish strong bonds within a troop in order to

       (A) protect the members of the troop

       (B) facilitate food-gathering

       (C) establish loyalty to the group

       (D) keep other troops from encroaching on their territory

       (E) teach the youngest members how to survive

   10. Unlike other primates, chimpanzees

       (A) are not bound to troops

       (B) lack a strict hierarchy within their troops

       (C) share the raising of their young

       (D) are hostile to chimpanzees from alien populations

       (E) form troops that consist of fewer than ten members

11. The author compares chimpanzees to other primates mainly to emphasize the point that

       (A) chimpanzees are more easily trained than other kinds of monkeys

       (B) great variations in behavior exist among primates of different species

       (C) chimpanzees are different

       (D) all primates have man as their common enemy

       (E) primate behavior is well understood

   12. The passage implies that chimpanzees are more human-like than other primates because

       (A) the basic unit of chimpanzee society is the family

       (B) chimpanzees know how to express their emotions

       (C) each chimpanzee has a distinct personality

       (D) chimpanzees learn from their mistakes

       (E) loyalty to the group takes precedence over individuality

   13. As described in the passage, the major difference between a rigid and a flexible social structure among primates is

       (A) the ability of each to withstand predators

       (B) the frequency of communication among members

       (C) the distances a member may travel from the main group

       (D) the amount of individual freedom afforded to members

       (E) the relative size of the main group

14. According to the passage, the chimpanzee population in a given area is partly determined by

       (A) dominant chimpanzee males

       (B) the proximity of humans

       (C) predators

       (D) the size of the food supply

       (E) the degree of compatibility between troops of chimpanzees

   15. The author cites the Budongo Forest (line 82) as an example of a place where

       (A) chimpanzee troops have distinctive personalities

       (B) troops of chimpanzees have formed a melting pot

       (C) several species of primates coexist

       (D) chimpanzee troops are severely restricted in size

       (E) regional populations of chimpanzees have developed

Questions 16–27 are based on the following passage.

The following passage, taken from a historical study of war, discusses a research project undertaken to determine the real causes of war.


               There has been no lack of theories on the
cause of war. But we do lack theories that hold
up when tested against the facts of history.

Line This deficiency of all existing theories has led

(5)  a group of scholars to try to reverse the typical
way of arriving at an explanation for war.
Instead of coming up with a theory and then
looking for the evidence, they have decided to
look first at the evidence. Their first undertaking

(10)  was to collect the most precise information
possible about wars, their length, destructiveness,
and participants. But before they could
do even this they needed careful definitions of
terms, so it would be clear which events

(15)  belonged in the category of “war,” when a
state could be considered “participating in a
war,” what in fact a “state” was, and so on.
Like all definitions, theirs were somewhat
arbitrary, but they carefully justified their

(20)  choices and, more important, they drew up
their definitions first, before arriving at their
conclusions so that they could not be accused
of defining events in a way that would prove
their presuppositions.

(25)       After agreeing on definitions, they set out
to collect data. Even though they confined
themselves to wars fought in the last 150 years,
they encountered difficulties in getting precise
information on items such as the number of

(30)  casualties. Nevertheless, they argue, their
results are better than any that preceded them.
These basic facts about wars they published in
a handbook, The Wages of War 1865–1965,
edited by two leaders of the project, J. David

(35)  Singer and Melvin Small. Even though this is
only the beginning of the project, it already
provides some answers to questions about
wars. You might hear a street corner preacher
tell you that the end of the world is at hand,

(40)  because the number of wars is increasing just
as the Bible prophesies. If you want to check
the validity of such an assertion, you could
turn to The Wages of War and answer the question
using the best available data.

(45)       The next step in the project is to identify
conditions or events that seem to be associated
with wars. They are not looking for explanations,
but just for correlations, that is, items
that usually accompany each other. It is for

(50)  this reason that they have named their project
“The Correlates of War.” Starting with their
collection of data on wars, they could examine
the hypothesis of Woodrow Wilson that autocracies
are the cause of wars. If this were true,

(55)  then autocracies would fight other autocracies
and democracies might fight autocracies in
defense but democracies would never fight
democracies. After defining “democracy” in a
way that could be measured (for example, the

(60)  frequency with which officeholders change
office), they would see if any of the wars they
had identified in the last 150 years had been
fought between two countries clearly identifiable
as democracies. If they could find no

(65)  such wars, they could say there was a correlation
between democracy and peace. It would
not yet be a proof that autocracies cause war.
There could be other explanations—the world
might contain only one or two democracies.

(70)  But a correlation would be an important first step.

               The Correlates of War project is just entering
this second stage. It will be some time
before a full theory appears. Even when the

(75)  project does produce a theory of war (if it
finds evidence to warrant such a theory), it
may not provide the final word on the subject.
Any such project must make decisions early in
the research, such as what counts as a war and

(80)  what does not. These decisions can crucially
affect the outcome, even though it might not
be evident for a long time that they will. Here
is an example of this problem. The Correlates
of War project counts the wars fought by

(85)  Prussia under Bismarck as three separate wars
because each stopped before the next one
started. On the other hand, Hitler’s belligerent moves
against neighboring countries in 1939
and 1940 (Poland, Denmark, Belgium, France,

(90)  Norway) are counted as only one war because
they took place in rapid succession. If these
data are used in specific ways, they could
“demonstrate” that Bismarck was more war-
like than Hitler. For some purposes this might

(95)  be satisfactory but not for others.

               Another problem is revealed by this example.
Because the Danes capitulated to the
Germans in 1940, that encounter is not listed
as a war at all. Because the Belgians did resist,

(100) that is counted as part of World War II. But the
difference between these two situations was
not the willingness of Germany to fight but
the willingness of Germany’s victim to resist.
What is measured, then, is not so much the

(105) willingness of states to go to war (which may
be the most important phenomenon to explain)
but the willingness of other states to resist
aggression. In spite of such objections, however,
the Correlates of War project is an

(110) important effort, in many ways superior to earlier
studies on the causes of war.

16. The goal of the research project described in the passage is to

       (A) put an end to war once and for all

       (B) develop a superior theory to explain the causes of war

       (C) correct errors in history books about the causes of war

       (D) reverse the method customarily used to study wars

       (E) compare and contrast several important wars

17. Historians participating in the study have devised new research methods because

       (A) evidence becomes harder to find as time goes on

       (B) past assumptions are being challenged by a new, younger generation of historians

       (C) professional historians are divided into two groups—theoreticians and practitioners

       (D) historians continually revise history as new evidence comes to light

       (E) existing theories fail to coincide with facts

18. By calling the scholars’ definitions of terms “somewhat arbitrary” (lines 18 and 19), the author of the passage is suggesting that

       (A) the procedures used in the study were sloppy

       (B) the scholars should have used dictionary definitions

       (C) too much effort was wasted on defining terms

       (D) the scholars had no better alternatives

       (E) writing precise definitions was not important to the study

19. In the opening paragraph, the author of the passage commends the researchers for

       (A) not being discouraged by the vast amount of factual information on war

       (B) condemning inadequate theories about the causes of war

       (C) thoroughly surveying all the previous theories about the subject

       (D) defining their terms as objectively as possible

       (E) devising a theory and then supporting it with evidence

20. The author uses the example of the street corner preacher (line 38) in order to make the point that

       (A) many Americans are ignorant about history

       (B) you should not trust the word of people who speak on street corners

       (C) facts speak louder than opinions

       (D) ancient wars described in the Bible were not included in the study

       (E) the Bible is not a reliable source of historical information

21. After collecting factual data about wars, the scholars devoted themselves to studying

       (A) the political and social conditions that have often led to war

       (B) democracies and autocracies

       (C) the effectiveness of wartime propaganda

       (D) the important figures (e.g., Wilson, Hitler) associated with various wars

       (E) what caused the actual outbreak of hostilities

22. The study described in the passage has derived its name, “The Correlates of War,” from

       (A) the name of the theory on which the study is based

       (B) a common explanation of the causes of war

       (C) the title of an important book on the subject

       (D) the researchers’ expectation that their project involves the collection of data

       (E) the research method used by the participants

23. According to the author, a potential weakness of the study is that

       (A) the limits of the study are not clearly defined

       (B) the correlations may be misinterpreted

       (C) other historians will not accept the findings of the study

       (D) the present study ignores previous studies of the same subject

       (E) most correlations are unreliable

24. The author of the passage implies that research studies like “The Correlates of War”

       (A) are an essential function of the academic world

       (B) add immeasurably to the world’s fund of knowledge

       (C) may fail to produce definitive results

       (D) lack the precision of earlier studies of war

       (E) serve as a valuable resource for policy makers

25. The author compares the warlike qualities of Bismarck and of Hitler in order to illustrate that

       (A) researchers generally prove whatever they want

       (B) research design and procedure may invalidate the findings

       (C) “The Correlates of War” project is notorious for its faulty research techniques

       (D) the preliminary findings of “The Correlates of War” project are invalid

       (E) Bismarck was more belligerent than Hitler

26. According to the final paragraph, the author seems to think that “The Correlates of War” project

       (A) is being carried out by hard-working researchers

       (B) is a formidable challenge for the researchers

       (C) has the potential to prevent future wars

       (D) is too flawed to be useful

       (E) is the best of its kind

27. Which pair of adjectives best describes the author’s overall feelings about “The Correlates of War” project?

       (A) amazed and astonished

       (B) scornful and cynical

       (C) optimistic and hopeful

       (D) resentful and bitter

       (E) casual and indifferent

Questions 28–40 are based on the following pair of passages.

Pablo Picasso was probably the most influential painter of the twentieth century. In the first passage, written by Picasso himself, the artist explains his views on art. The second passage discusses Cubism, the type of modern art originated by Picasso.

Passage 1


               I can hardly understand the importance
given to the word research in connection with
modern painting. In my opinion to search

Line means nothing in painting. To find, is the

(5)  thing. Nobody is interested in following a man
who, with his eyes fixed on the ground, spends
his life looking for the pocketbook that fortune
should put in his path. The one who finds
something no matter what it might be, even if

(10)  his intention were not to search for it, at least
arouses our curiosity, if not our admiration.

               Among the several sins that I have been
accused of committing, none is more false
than the one that I have, as the principal objective

(15)  in my work, the spirit of research. When I
paint, my object is to show what I have found
and not what I am looking for. In art intentions
are not sufficient and, as we say in Spanish:
love must be proved by facts and not by reasons.

(20)  What one does is what counts and not
what one had the intention of doing.

               We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a
lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth
that is given us to understand. The artist must

(25)  know the manner whereby to convince others
of the truthfulness of his lies. If he only shows
in his work that he has searched, and
researched, for the way to put over lies, he
would never accomplish anything.

(30)       The idea of research has often made painting
go astray, and made the artist lose himself
in mental lucubrations.
1 Perhaps this has been
the principal fault of modern art. The spirit of
research had poisoned those who have not

(35)  fully understood all the positive and conclusive
elements in modern art and has made them
attempt to paint the invisible and, therefore,
the unpaintable.

               They speak of naturalism in opposition to

(40)  modern painting. I would like to know if anyone
has ever seen a natural work of art. Nature
and art, being two different things, cannot be
the same thing. Through art we express our
conception of what nature is not.


1Meditation; study.

Passage 2


(45)       Cubism, with Picasso and Braque at its
head, rejected the conventional notions of
beauty. Discarding the world of perspectives
and naturalism, they put in their place a new
world obeying only the laws of the artist’s

(50)  inner vision. Picasso succeeded in freeing the
technique of painting from its slavish adherence
to the description of nature, and he gave
it new laws of harmony and balance. This
break with the past had far-reaching consequences.

(55)  From then on the painter became a
free creator, a poet.

               Through the break in the wall, poetry
crept into painting, with all that is unusual,
miraculous, and disturbing. Things around us

(60)  which do not seem worthy of the artist’s
glance, things often considered ugly, were
revealed in Picasso’s pictures in their most
ordinary essence but also in a new, extraordinary

(65)       “I put into my pictures all the things I
enjoy,” said Picasso, and so he does, with his
pipe, glass, packet of tobacco, and guitar. He
is tireless in seeking to define the forms of
these objects and their essential volume, transforming

(70)  them into poetic images, and treating
them freely and naturally as in daily life. In
this connection André Breton wrote of
Picasso: “It rested with a failure of the will of
this man, and what we are concerned about

(75)  would have been at least postponed, if not
utterly lost.” To which Paul Eluard added:
“Yes, for this man held in his hands the fragile
key to the problem of reality. He sought to see
what he sees, to set vision free, to attain sight.

(80)  He achieved this.”

               Picasso considers art a process that is
never completed; he studies the problem that
interests him over and over again, from different
angles. Thus he does not create pictures in

(85)  the conventional, picture-gallery sense of the
word; he does not seek, but finds, in the words
of the aphorism attributed to him. The elemental
side of his talent never allows him to rest
content with what he has achieved. He is

(90)  always interested exclusively in the present, in
the picture on which he is working. “Everything
must be done anew, and not just patched up,”
he says, and these words sum up his

(95)        The constant creativity which has no
regard for the nature of anything he has painted
before gives Picasso the freedom to move
at will in the boundless spaces of free expression.
It gives him the freedom to draw on all

(100) sources of inspiration for the most varied
motifs, opening up all spheres of culture, contemporary,
distant, or historic.

               Thus this restless, disturbing spirit, one of
the most truthful witnesses to the conflict-torn

(105) century we live in, goes again and again into
the attack on the gates of the unknown. Each
new development in his art does more than
merely increase the number of pictures he has
painted: it turns against his very work itself,

(110) testing the foundations on which it rests.
Picasso confounds his followers and turns
inside out the aesthetic principles he himself
has just established.

28. To Picasso, the author of Passage 1, the man who spends his life “with his eyes fixed on the ground” (lines 5 and 6) represents artists who

       (A) don’t appreciate modern art

       (B) try hard but have no artistic talent

       (C) contemplate their subjects too much before painting

       (D) paint only to make money

       (E) study the works of the great masters

29. The sentence “When I paint, my object is to show what I have found and not what I am looking for” (lines 15–17) is

       (A) a digression from the main point of the passage

       (B) a denial of an accusation

       (C) an explanation of one of “several sins” (line 12)

       (D) a paraphrase of what art critics have said about Picasso

       (E) a false statement that the author intends to disprove

30. The statement “Art is not truth” (line 22) implies that

       (A) artists are liars and are basically untrustworthy

       (B) we should not take art too seriously

       (C) art gives us more than truth; it gives us understanding

       (D) we should be prepared to suspend our disbelief when we view art

       (E) we must accept the idea that truth comes in many forms

31. To Picasso, the most successful art is that which

       (A) shows what the artist has seen

       (B) reveals what the artist has found

       (C) arouses our curiosity but not our admiration

       (D) accurately portrays the subject

       (E) conceals the artist’s techniques

32. As used in Passage 1, “naturalism” in art (line 39) refers to

       (A) realism

       (B) a school of contemporary art

       (C) pre-twentieth-century painting

       (D) outdoor paintings

       (E) paintings using colors found only in nature

33. The aspect of Picasso’s art that is emphasized in Passage 2 is his

       (A) profundity

       (B) enormous output of work

       (C) innovations

       (D) technical achievement

       (E) appeal to art lovers

34. Passage 2 implies that, before Picasso, artists

       (A) were held back by the social customs of the day

       (B) lacked the technique to portray nature realistically

       (C) were dependent on patrons for success

       (D) adhered to strict rules of art

       (E) restricted their paintings to one acceptable style

35. According to Passage 2, Picasso broke painting tradition in all of the following ways EXCEPT by

       (A) ignoring the need for harmony and balance

       (B) expanding the subject matter of paintings

       (C) throwing out the rules of perspective

       (D) expressing himself more freely

       (E) discarding the need for realistic painting

36. The statement “Everything must be done anew, and not just patched up” (lines 91 and 92) suggests that Picasso believes that

       (A) artists should practice leaving well enough alone

       (B) artists can benefit from their mistakes

       (C) bad pictures need more than just patching up

       (D) spontaneity is lost when artists start tinkering with their pictures

       (E) patching up a picture restricts artists’ freedom of expression

37. The author of Passage 2 seems to believe that Picasso is not only an energetic artist but also

       (A) an observer of the politics of his time

       (B) a social revolutionary

       (C) a bold experimenter

       (D) an inspiration to other artists

       (E) an intellectual

38. Eluard’s view that Picasso sought to “attain sight” (line 79) coincides with Picasso’s statement in Passage 1 that

       (A) “to search means nothing” (lines 3 and 4)

       (B) “my object is to show what I have found” (line 16)

       (C) “what one does is what counts” (line 20)

       (D) “art is a lie” (lines 22 and 23)

       (E) “Nature and art … cannot be the same thing” (lines 41–43)

39. Both Passage 1 and Passage 2 describe Picasso as an artist who

       (A) transforms objects into “poetic images” (line 70)

       (B) “does not seek, but finds” (line 86)

       (C) is never “content with what he has achieved” (line 89)

       (D) attacks the “gates of the unknown” (line 106)

       (E) “confounds his followers” (line 111)

40. Compared to Passage 2, Passage 1 is

       (A) less controversial

       (B) more up-to-date

       (C) more argumentative

       (D) more historical

       (E) less rhetorical