The Critical Reading Sections

Passage-Based Reading Questions


Passage-based reading questions ask about a passage’s main idea or specific details, the author’s attitude to the subject, the author’s logic and techniques, the implications of the discussion, or the meaning of specific words.


Directions: The passage below is followed by questions based on its content. Answer the questions on the basis of what is stated or implied in that passage.


                    Certain qualities common to the sonnet
should be noted. Its definite restrictions make
it a challenge to the artistry of the poet and

Line call for all the technical skill at the poet’s

(5)  command. The more or less set rhyme patterns
occurring regularly within the short space of
fourteen lines afford a pleasant effect on the
ear of the reader, and can create truly musical
effects. The rigidity of the form precludes a

(10)  too great economy or too great prodigality of
words. Emphasis is placed on exactness and
perfection of expression. The brevity of the
form favors concentrated expression of ideas
or passion.

   1. The author’s primary purpose is to

       (A) contrast different types of sonnets

       (B) criticize the limitations of the sonnet

       (C) describe the characteristics of the sonnet

       (D) explain why the sonnet has lost popularity as a literary form

       (E) encourage readers to compose formal sonnets

   2. In line 7, “afford” most nearly means

       (A) initiate

       (B) exaggerate

       (C) are able to pay for

       (D) change into

       (E) provide

   3. The author’s attitude toward the sonnet form can best be described as

       (A) amused toleration

       (B) grudging admiration

       (C) strong disapprobation

       (D) effusive enthusiasm

       (E) scholarly appreciation

The first question asks you to find the author’s main idea. In the opening sentence, the author says certain qualities of the sonnet should be noted or observed. He then goes on to tell you which of these qualities deserve your attention, characterizing them in some detail. Thus, he describes certain of the sonnet’s qualities or characteristics. The correct answer is (C). You can eliminate the other answers with ease. The author is upbeat about the sonnet: he doesn’t say that the sonnet has limitations or that it has become less popular. Similarly, he doesn’t discuss different types of sonnets. And while he talks about the challenge of composing formal sonnets, he never invites his readers to try writing them.

The second question asks you to figure out a word’s meaning from its context. The rhyme patterns have a pleasant effect on the ear of the listener; indeed they provide or afford this effect. The correct answer is (E).

The third question asks you to determine how the author feels about his subject. All the author’s comments about the sonnet form are positive, but he doesn’t go so far as to gush (he’s not effusive). The only answer that reflects this attitude is (E), scholarly appreciation.

See Part IV for tactics that will help you handle the entire range of passage-based reading questions.