The Passage-Based Reading Process In Action Against Real Questions - SAT PASSAGE-BASED READING - The SAT Prep Black Book

The SAT Prep Black Book


The Passage-Based Reading Process In Action Against Real Questions

To prove that the SAT Passage-Based Reading process works against real SAT questions like the ones you”ll see on test day, and to help you learn how to use that process on your own, we”ll go through all the Passage-Based Reading questions for the first Critical Reading section of the first test in the second edition of the College Board”s Blue Book, The Official SAT Study Guide. You”ll need a copy of that book to follow along. (Really, you”ll need a copy anyway, since it”s the only printed source of real SAT test questions—all printed practice tests from third-party prep companies contain fake tests that might not follow the same rules as the real test.) You can find a good deal on it here:

We”ll do the Passage-Based Reading questions starting on page 391 of The Official SAT Study Guide, second edition, since page 391 is the beginning of the first Critical Reading section in the first practice test in that book. After we go through those questions, we”ll go through the entire College Board book and do a selection of questions that students have traditionally found challenging from other sections in other practice tests.

(If you would like to see some video demonstrations of these ideas, go to for a selection of demonstration videos that are free to readers of this book.)

Page 391, Question 6

This is bit of a doozy to start off with, but oh well :)

First, let”s talk about why the wrong answers are wrong:

(A) is irrelevant to the passage. A lot of students will assume that making mistakes is automatically human, but the text never mentions anyone making a mistake or doing anything wrong, so this can”t be the answer.

(B) is irrelevant because the text doesn”t mention company—it never says whether other people are present with the speaker or not.

(C) is irrelevant. It”s true that the descriptions of nature are in the past tense, but the statement “It felt good to be human” is also in the past tense. Within the context of the passage, then, the good feeling of being human is happening at the same time as the rest of the paragraph.

(D) is correct—we”ll talk more about it below.

(E) doesn”t work because the text never mentions simplicity, nor a lack of complication, nor any other phrase that could mean the same thing as the word “simplicity.” It would be a common mistake for students to assume that the author thinks nature is simple, but on the SAT we must avoid these kinds of assumptions. We have to stick to the exact wording of the text, and the exact wording of the text never mentions any idea synonymous with the word “simplicity.”

Now let”s talk about why (D) is correct. The text mentions the “wondrous spectacle” of the “night sky.” The “night sky” is a natural thing, and the phrase “wondrous spectacle” is an appreciative, positive way to describe something that must be a visually appealing scene (because “wondrous” is positive and a “spectacle” is a visual scene), so the “night sky[“s]” “wondrous spectacle” is an example of “nature”s beauty.” That part is fairly straightforward. What might not be so obvious is why we can use those phrases from line 10 when the question asks us about line 12.

To figure this out, we need to remember the College Board”s unstated policy on ideas that appear consecutively in the text. This text talks about horses wandering past the speaker; the horses never look up at the “wondrous spectacle” of “the night sky,” but the speaker does. The next sentence says “it feels good to be human.” In SAT-code, this means that “to be human” is to do the opposite of what the horses do, and the horses aren”t looking up. Thus, “to be human” and to notice “the wondrous spectacle” of “the night sky” must be the same thing in the College Board”s way of thinking.

This is the first question we”ve looked at together, but right away it jumps into some of the harder ideas we”ll encounter on the SAT, like the parallelism issue. In a practical sense, many students would have an easier time recognizing that the four wrong answers are wrong than they would in singling out the correct answer right away. That”s fine. Just keep on working at it, and remember that most questions won”t be this challenging.

Page 391, Question 7

For this question, we have to remember that the College Board considers something “metaphorical” when it can only be taken non-literally. So (B) is correct because of phrases like “river of clouds,” which aren”t literally possible. Now let”s look at the wrong answers:

(A) is going to be tempting to a lot of students who mistakenly view the SAT Reading section as a test of literary interpretation.

(B) is correct.

(C) doesn”t work because there is no actual analogy here.

(D) is no good. Flashback doesn”t work because, while the text is in the past tense, its point of reference is also in the past tense. In other words, at the time that the author was actually standing on the Peak, he wasn”t thinking about his past. (Note that this wrong answer requires a mistake similar to the one that would lead us to choose (C) in the previous question.)

(E) is a problem because irony doesn”t work. The text doesn”t describe a contradiction that someone is unaware of.

Page 391, Question 8

Here, the correct answer is (C) because the passage tells us how she”s celebrated (“biographies, plays, novels, films”) and also why (“her fascinating life and lineage . . . have turned her into an icon”).

(A) doesn”t work because we aren”t told why she liked computers.

(B) doesn”t work because there”s no discussion of her character.

(C) is correct.

(D) doesn”t work because the text doesn”t mention the modern-day computer. It does mention “computer science” in general, and it does mention early computing devices from the 19th century, but it never specifically mentions a “modern-day” device.

(E) doesn”t work because the text doesn”t say anything about wanting other women to pursue similar careers. Many students who view this test as a normal school test might be tempted by this answer choice, because they would argue that it will probably encourage some women to enter the field of computing. But the text doesn”t actually say anything to encourage that, so (E) is wrong. Remember that, on the SAT, everything must be spelled out.

Page 391, Question 9

For this, we need a statement that contradicts the passage, because we”re asked to find a statement with which the author would disagree. (A) is right because the passage says the reason she is an “icon” has something to do with her “lineage,” which is her “family history” by definition.

(B) is wrong because the author says King”s design was the “first,” which means it was original. A lot of students would probably choose this by accident because they might accidentally misread the word “disagree” in the question stem.

(C) is wrong because the author specifically says she has become an icon, which means that interest in her exists in popular culture. Again, remember that we”re looking for an answer choice that specifically contradicts the text, because of the word “disagree” in the question stem.

(D) doesn”t work because the text never says that she was not well known long after her work was complete.

(E) doesn”t work because the text specifically says her life is “fascinating,” and we need to find the answer choice that contradicts the passage because of the word “disagree” in the question.

Students miss this question all the time in practice—not because they don”t understand the passage or the answer choices, but because they misread the question in the first place. Remember that answering questions correctly on the SAT will always require careful reading and attention to detail.

Page 392, Question 10

A lot of students miss this question because they don”t read it carefully enough. The correct answer is (D), because the passage is about the relationship between Africans and African-Americans, and it says that the world “takes note” of it, which means it is “significant.”

(A) doesn”t work because the passage doesn”t mention African Americans having an impact on African societies.

(B) doesn”t work because the passage doesn”t mention embracing American culture. It does say that people reached out to each other for “reassurance, reaffirmation, fraternity, and strength,” but reaching out for those things is not the same idea as embracing someone else”s culture.

(C) doesn”t work because of the word “ambivalent.”

(D) is correct.

(E) doesn”t work because of the word “nations.” The text talks about Africans and about African Americans, but Africa is a continent, not a “nation,” and African-Americans are a demographic group within the United States, not a “nation.” Remember that every word has to fit!

When students miss this question, they almost always choose (E), and with good reason: (E) only differs from the text by one word, “nation.” In fact, I would bet that if you were discussing this passage with a college professor and you accidentally referred to the groups in the text as nations, she wouldn”t stop to correct you. (E) would be a fine remark to make in most classroom settings, but it”s completely wrong on the SAT because it doesn”t exactly match the original text. Remember to pay attention to details when you work on the SAT!

Page 392, Question 11

This one is hard for a lot of students. The “message” is that “ties . . . must be maintained . . . if a people is to survive.” When you tell someone that they must do something in order to survive, you are cautioning them. (B) is the right answer for this reason.

(A) doesn”t work because there is no criticism here. This part of the text doesn”t mention anyone or anything being bad.

(B) is correct.

(C) might be tempting if it does happen to strike a reader as “questionable” that a tree can”t stand without its roots, but we always have to remember that the correct answer will restate a concept from the text; our own impressions and interpretations of the text don”t matter.

(D) doesn”t work because no phrase in the text indicates nostalgia, and the message itself isn”t described as being a fond memory.

(E) doesn”t work because the message is not “optimistic,” since it does not express hope for the future.

Page 392, Question 12

This question asks about a really bizarre proverb that students are unlikely to understand in any kind of clear way. Remember that, for these questions and for every question, we have to put aside our own interpretations and find the answer in the text. The text specifically says that the proverb “conveys the . . . instinctive pull of one”s heritage [and] curiosity in our origins.” This goes with (C), an interest in personal history. Note that “inherent” from the answer choice matches “instinctive” from the text, just as “interest in their history” goes with “curiosity in our origins.” The rest of the answer choices don”t reflect what the text says the maxim conveys. Many of the wrong answers might seem like decent literary or sociological interpretations if we were discussing this text in a real class, which is one more reason why we have to remember to stick to the stated message of the text for every single question.

Page 392, Question 13

This question was previously discussed in the section on parallelism. Here, we have to remember to read the text very carefully. The text says that “shadowy imaginings” don”t stand up to “real experience.” So “shadowy imaginings” and “real experience” are opposites as far as the College Board is concerned, because they are mentioned in quick succession and have a negating phrase between them.

Once we realize that the test wants us to treat “real experience” as the opposite of “shadowy imaginings,” we realize that “shadowy” must be the opposite of “real,” as far as the SAT is concerned. Now we have to find a word in the answer choices that can mean the opposite of the word “real.” The only possible option is “unsubstantiated,” because “substantiated” can mean “real” and “un” is a negating prefix. So the correct answer is (E).

The four wrong answers here might all sound like decent interpretations of the word “shadowy” in a literary sense, which is why it”s so important for us to remember that we have to find the correct answer stated plainly in the text itself.

In my opinion, this question is one of the hardest ones in the whole book when it comes to analyzing the text and the answer choices. Some test-takers get the question right just through lucky guessing, but the process of working out the correct answer with certainty requires a high degree of familiarity with the test and attention to detail.

Page 393, Question 14

For this one, the phrase “wondered if we hadn”t been mistaken” goes with the ideas of “uncertainty” and “doubt” in (C) and (E). It does not go with “fear,” “anger,” or “regret” from the other choices. (Be careful here—a lot of people might want to say that “uncertainty” goes with “regret,” but those two ideas aren”t actually the same if we think carefully about them. “Uncertainty” indicates a state in which we aren”t sure of something, but “regret” indicates a state in which we feel bad about something.)

Between the answers with “uncertainty” and “doubt,” we would want to see that “despair” doesn”t describe anything in the text. The text does say that Africa “left its mark” on the people being described, and that the world is forced to take note of Africans and African-Americans, which is a demonstration of the author”s “pride.” So (E) is correct.

Page 393, Question 15

Test-takers miss this one frequently because they think “personal anecdotes” is the answer, but the author never relays a personal story, so (D) is wrong. (B), on the other hand, is right, because the author repeatedly refers generally to all Africans and all African-Americans as though they were all the same.

(C) is another wrong answer that often attracts a lot of test-takers. The text does mention some things in the past tense, but it doesn”t give specific historical facts like “in 1492 Columbus captained three ships bound West from Spain.” Instead, we have only broad, figurative statements like “for centuries, we have gazed at one another across the transatlantic divide.”

Page 394, Question 16

(C) is correct because the popular appeal is mentioned in the first paragraph of Passage 1, which calls the Mona Lisa the “world”s most famous portrait,” and because Passage 2 says that the passage is “famous” in line 44 and in other places, and talks about its “renown” in line 67.

Some test-takers incorrectly choose (D) because the first passage talks about how the Mona Lisa was the first painting to include many features that were later adopted in other paintings (lines 10 through 15), and the second passage talks about how the painting captured the attention of Clarke and Barolsky. But Clarke and Barolsky are not described as artists in the second passage, and the answer (D) refers specifically to the painting”s influence on artists, not on critics and historians.

Page 394, Question 17

For questions like this one, students often get frustrated because they feel it”s impossible to find something stated directly in the text when we”re asked what the author of one passage would have said about the other. But remember that, even in these situations, the correct answer is stated directly somewhere.

The phenomena in Passage 1 are the giant crowds of people that turned out to see the painting, and in line 68 the author of Passage 2 says that “people, institutions, processes . . . have turned the Mona Lisa into the best-known painting in the world.” (A) restates this exactly, and no other choice does.

(B) is an answer choice that a lot of students will be attracted to, because it sounds like a decent interpretation that you could defend in a classroom discussion. But it”s wrong because the author of passage 2 doesn”t say anything about the true importance of the painting.

Page 395, Question 18

(A) doesn”t work because the passage never actually says that the painting is beautiful, or that the woman”s appearance was normal. Many test-takers will like this wrong answer because they personally believe the painting is beautiful or that the woman herself was normal in appearance, but we always have to remember that we”re looking for an answer choice that appears directly in the text, not for a choice that matches our own interpretation.

(B) doesn”t work because the passage doesn”t say anything about the portrait”s monetary value.

(C) doesn”t work because of “untimely demise.”

(D) doesn”t work because the text doesn”t mention a lack of charisma.

(E) is correct because “ordinary status” goes with “nobody special,” and “set the standard for painting” goes with “aesthetic significance.”

Page 395, Question 19

The text says that Leonardo is describing the effect of the technique in the sentence that begins on line 23, so (B) is correct. None of the other choices is spelled out in the text anywhere.

Page 395, Question 20

Again, even though the question is asking what one author would say about another author”s work, which seems like a fairly subjective question to ask, the correct answer must be stated directly in the text. Passage 2 mentions “features” that bring “instant recognition.” The only feature mentioned in Passage 1 is the “famous smile” in the last line, so the correct answer is (A). Note that “famous” in passage 1 goes with “brings instant recognition” in passage 2.

Page 395, Question 21

While each of the answer choices could be a synonym for the word “position” in a particular context, the correct answer will be the only one that restates something from the passage itself. Let”s trace the word “position” back through the text and see what happens.

The sentence that contains the word “position” equates that word with the pronoun “it” in the beginning of the sentence. The word “it” is referring back to the phrase “this idea” from the previous sentence. The phrase “this idea” is referring back to what the historians “argue” in line 38. So the word “position” is ultimately being equated with what people “argue” in line 38, which means the correct answer is that it”s a “view.” So (D) is correct here.

Some students incorrectly choose “policy,” but a policy isn”t the same thing as an opinion or view—a policy is a standard way of handling a particular situation, not a belief. As always, it”s very critical to think about exactly what each word specifically means, so you don”t end up choosing a wrong answer just because it”s somewhat close to the text.

Page 395, Question 22

Both people say that the painting seems three-dimensional. Passage 1 mentions this in lines 22 and 23, while Barolsky mentions the creation of “depth.” So (E) is the answer.

A lot of students get this one wrong, though.

(B) is a very popular wrong answer, because students often overlook the word “unduly.” Nobody ever mentions whether the painting deserves its recognition, so that single word makes the entire answer choice wrong.

(C) is reflected in the first passage, but Barolsky never specifically mentions any influence on other artists, so (C) doesn”t work.

(D) is close to something in passage 1, but it”s not reflected in Barolsky”s remark at all.

Page 395, Question 23

When we see unattributed quotation marks in a reading question, they are almost always serving to call the meaning of the quoted word into question. So (E) is the correct answer here.

Page 395, Question 24

(A) doesn”t work because the first passage doesn”t focus on the smile, and the second passage doesn”t focus on mystery.

(B) is also totally irrelevant.

(C) is correct because the first passage mentions the original techniques that Leonardo used to create the illusion of depth, while the second passage talks about the reasons why the painting is so famous.

(D) is wrong because the first text doesn”t speculate on the life of the subject. It only briefly mentions her probable identity. The second passage doesn”t reject art history, either—in fact, the author considers himself to be “like most historians” in line 66.

(E) is wrong because, among other things, the second text doesn”t debate the artistic merits of the painting. It does quote Barolsky”s comment on Leonardo”s technique, but it never offers an opposing viewpoint on that technique, so there is no debate.