Skim the first question before you read the passage. Skimming could give you
a clue about what to look for when reading the passage. This is called prereading.
(Notice that you can’t skim other questions because you can’t return
to a question.)
Suppose that the first question was as follows:
The author’s main purpose in writing this passage is to
As you preread the question, your focus should be on the main purpose. This
is a main-point question. Notice that you should not spend time reading the
choices when you preread. Preread the question only, focus on the key
word(s), and then read the passage.
Suppose that the first question was as follows:
The author implies which of the following about the New Jersey
As you preread the question, your focus should be on the words author implies . . .
about New Jersey progressives. This tells you to watch for what the author is saying
“between the lines” about New Jersey progressives. Again notice that you only preread
the question, and not the choices. Remember: You will only be able to preread
the first question to each passage given.
As you read the following passage, focus on “what the author is really saying,”
or “what point the author is trying to make.” Also, pay attention to “how the
passage is put together”—the structure.
Woodrow Wilson won his first office in 1910 when he was elected governor of
New Jersey. Two years later he was elected president in one of the most rapid political
rises in our history. For a while Wilson had practiced law but found it both boring
and unprofitable; then he became a political scientist and finally president of
Princeton University. He did an outstanding job at Princeton, but when he was
asked by the Democratic boss of New Jersey, Jim Smith, to run for governor,
Wilson readily accepted because his position at Princeton was becoming untenable.
Until 1910, Wilson seemed to be a conservative Democrat in the Grover Cleveland
tradition. He had denounced Bryan in 1896 and had voted for the National
Democratic candidate who supported gold. In fact, when the Democratic machine
first pushed Wilson’s nomination in 1912, the young New Jersey progressives
wanted no part of him. Wilson later assured them that he would champion the progressive
cause, and so they decided to work for his election. It is easy to accuse
Wilson of political expediency, but it is entirely possible that by 1912 he had
changed his views as had countless other Americans. While governor of New
Jersey, he carried out his election pledges by enacting an impressive list of reforms.
Wilson secured the Democratic nomination on the forty-sixth ballot. In the general
campaign, Wilson emerged as the middle-of-the-road candidate—between the
conservative William H. Taft and the more radical Theodore Roosevelt. Wilson
called his program the New Freedom, which he said was the restoration of free
competition as it had existed before the growth of the trusts. In contrast, Theodore
Roosevelt was advocating a New Nationalism, which seemed to call for massive
federal intervention in the economic life of the nation. Wilson felt that the trusts
should be destroyed, but he made a distinction between a trust and legitimately
successful big business. Theodore Roosevelt, on the other hand, accepted the
trusts as inevitable but said that the government should regulate them by establishing
a new regulatory agency.
On the “old” paper and pencil GRE, you could read actively by marking (circling,
underlining, and so on) important items in the passage. But because
you cannot mark on the computerized GRE, you must learn to focus on the
main point(s) and the structure. Knowing the structure will help you go back
into the passage and find things quickly.
Always look for the main point of the passage. There are many ways to ask
about the main point of a passage. What is the main idea? What is the best title?
What is the author’s purpose?
The author’s main purpose in writing this passage is to
- argue that Wilson is one of the great U.S. presidents
- survey the difference between Wilson, Taft, and Roosevelt.
- explain Wilson’s concept of the New Freedom.
- discuss some major events of Wilson’s career.
- suggest reasons that Wilson’s presidency may have started World War I.
The best answer is D discuss some major events of Wilson’s career.. Choices A and E are irrelevant to the information in the
passage, and choices B and C mention secondary purposes rather than the
Some information is not directly stated in the passage but can be gleaned by
reading between the lines. This implied information can be valuable in answering
The author implies which of the following about the New Jersey progressives?
- They did not support Wilson after he was governor.
- They were not conservative Democrats.
- They were more interested in political expediency than in political causes or reforms.
- Along with Wilson, they were supporters of Bryan in 1896.
- They particularly admired Wilson’s experience as president of Princeton University.
The best choice is B They were not conservative Democrats.. In the second paragraph, Wilson’s decision to champion the
progressive cause after 1912 is contrasted with his earlier career, when he seemed
to be a conservative Democrat. Thus, you may conclude that the progressives,
whom Wilson finally joined, were not conservative Democrats, as was Wilson
earlier in his career. Choices A and D contradict information in the paragraph, and
choices C and E are not suggested by any information given in the passage.
Watch for important conclusions or information that might support a conclusion.
The passage supports which of the following conclusions about the progress of Wilson’s political career?
- Few politicians have progressed so rapidly toward the attainment of higher office.
- Failures late in his career caused him to be regarded as a president who regressed instead of progressed.
- Wilson encountered little opposition after he determined to seek the presidency.
- The League of Nations marked the end of Wilson’s reputation as a strong leader.
- Wilson’s political allies were Bryan and Taft.
The best choice is A Few politicians have progressed so rapidly toward the attainment of higher office.. This choice is explicitly supported by the second sentence in
paragraph 1, in which you are told that Wilson was elected president in one of the
most rapid political rises in our history.
Understand the meaning and possible reason for using certain words or phrases in the passage. And take advantage of the line numbers given.
In the statement “Wilson readily accepted because his position at Princeton
was becoming untenable”, the meaning of “untenable” is probably
which of the following?
- unlikely to last for years
- filled with considerably less tension
- difficult to maintain or continue
- filled with achievement that would appeal to voters
- something he did not have a tenacious desire to continue
The best choice is C difficult to maintain or continue. On any reading comprehension test, it is best to be alert to
the positive and negative connotations of words and phrases in each passage, as
well as in the questions themselves. In the case of untenable, the prefix un- suggests
that the word has a negative connotation. The context in which the word occurs
does so as well. Wilson left his position at Princeton; therefore, you may
conclude that the position was somehow unappealing. Only two of the answer
choices, C and E, provide a negative definition. Although choice E may attract
your attention because tenacious looks similar to tenable, the correct choice is C,
which is the conventional definition of untenable.
Your answer choice must be supported by information either stated or implied in the passage. Eliminate those choices that are not supported by the passage.
According to the passage, which of the following was probably true about
the presidential campaign of 1912?
- Woodrow Wilson won the election by an overwhelming majority.
- The inexperience of Theodore Roosevelt accounted for his radical position.
- Wilson was unable to attract two-thirds of the votes but won anyway.
- There were three nominated candidates for the presidency.
- Wilson’s New Freedom did not represent Democratic interests.
The best choice is D There were three nominated candidates for the presidency.. Choices A, B, and C contain information that is not addressed
in the passage. You may eliminate them as irrelevant. Choice E contradicts
the fact that Wilson was a Democratic candidate. The discussion of Taft and
Roosevelt as the candidates who finally ran against Wilson for the presidency supports
A Shorter Passage
The fact that bacteria are capable of chemical communication first emerged from
investigations into marine bacteria able to glow in the dark. In 1970 Kenneth H.
Nealson and John Woodland Hastings of Harvard University observed that luminous
bacteria in culture do not glow at a constant intensity. In fact, they emit no
light until the population reaches a high density.
Nealson and Hastings knew the light resulted from chemical reactions catalyzed
by the enzyme luciferase. They postulated that this enzyme was ultimately
controlled not by some mechanism inside each bacterial cell but by a molecular
messenger that traveled between cells. Once inside target cells, the messenger,
which the researchers called autoinducer, could induce expression of the genes
coding for luciferase and for the other proteins involved in light production; that
is, autoinducer could stimulate synthesis of the encoded proteins and, thus, of
light. Their theory met with skepticism at first but has since been confirmed and
Read all the choices because you are looking for the best answer given.
According to the passage, Nealson and Woodland’s research was
instrumental in indicating that
- bacteria communicate through molecular messengers that travel between cells.
- luminous bacteria glow not at a constant density but at various densities.
- bacteria are genetically coded by the autoinducer.
- the molecular messenger luciferase causes bacteria to glow at high densities.
- the autoinducer, not the enzyme luciferase as was previously believed, produces the luminosity of certain marine bacteria.
The best choice is A bacteria communicate through molecular messengers that travel between cells.. Although the research focused on marine bacteria that glow,
its broader significance is that it shows the chemical communication between bacteria.
Choice B is the observation that led to the theory but is not the best answer.
Choice C is inaccurate; an autoinducer does not code genes but induces their
expression. Choice D is also incorrect. The molecular messenger that causes bacteria
to glow is not the enzyme luciferase. Choice E might seem correct at first
reading, but although the autoinducer allows the expression of the light-producing
enzymes such as luciferase, it doesn’t produce light itself.
Some questions deal with specific detail in the passage. Know where to locate this detail.
Which of the following are characteristics of the autoinducer involved in
light production by marine bacteria?
- It catalyzes chemical reactions in bacterial cells.
- It stimulates synthesis of certain proteins.
- It acts as a messenger between enzymes and bacteria.
- I and II only
- II and III only
- II only
- III only
- I, II, and III
The best choice is C II only. Only II is correct. Luciferase, not the autoinducer,
catalyzes the reactions that cause light, making I incorrect. III is incorrect
because the autoinducer acts as a messenger between bacteria cells and, not between enzymes and bacteria.
Another Short Passage
History gives a cruel experience of human nature, in showing how exactly the regard
due to the life, possessions, and entire earthly happiness of any class of persons,
was measured by what they had the power of enforcing; how all who made
any resistance to authorities that had arms in their hands, however dreadful might
be the provocation, had not only the law of force but all other laws, and all the notions
of social obligation against them; and in the eyes of those whom they resisted,
were not only guilty of crime, but of the worst of all crimes, deserving the
most cruel chastisement that human beings could inflict. The first small vestige of
a feeling of obligation in a superior to acknowledge any right in inferiors, began
when he had been induced, for convenience, to make some promise to them.
Though these promises, even when sanctioned by the most solemn oaths, were for
many ages revoked or violated on the most trifling provocation or temptation, it is
probable that this, except by persons of still worse than average morality, was seldom
done without some twinges of conscience.
Notice what the author is stating and what the author is implying.
The author implies that laws are based on
- the necessity of protecting the weakest members of a society.
- the interests of those in a society who possess the most power.
- the notions of social obligation that are passed from generation to generation.
- promises made to those without power by those with the most power.
- the belief that “earthly happiness” is the right of everyone in society, including those who resist authority.
The best choice is B the interests of those in a society who possess the most power.. The author makes it clear that the person with the most
power has “not only the law of force but all other laws” behind him, implying that
the law itself exists to protect the interests of the powerful. Choices A and E are
incorrect; in fact, the passage suggests the contrary. Choice C is also inaccurate;
“all the notions of social obligation” support the powerful, according to the passage.
Choice D might be tempting, but according to the author, promises are made
only for the convenience of the powerful; laws are made to protect their interests.
Try to recognize the tone and purpose of the passage. Would the author agree or disagree with something?
The author of this passage would be most likely to agree with which of the following statements?
- In order to prevent chaos in a society, authority must be strong and unquestioned.
- All men, whether weak or strong, desire justice in their dealings with others.
- Social obligation is the most important factor ensuring protection of the weak by the strong.
- Rights are granted to those without power when to do so will benefit those with power.
- In the past, when rights have been granted to people, only the most extreme circumstances have led to their being rescinded.
The best choice is D Rights are granted to those without power when to do so will benefit those with power.. According to the passage, the rights of the weak were acknowledged
only when the strong were induced to do so for their own convenience
(lines 8–10). Choice A is irrelevant; the author doesn’t advocate strong,
unquestioned authority; he only defines what he sees as the realistic situation.
Choice B is incorrect; the author states that the powerful are concerned with their
own interests, not with justice. Choice C is also incorrect; notions of social obligation
are, like laws, based on the needs of the powerful. Choice E is refuted in the
passage; the author states that rights have been “revoked or violated on the most
Analyzing Another Long Passage
As the Moorish states in all parts of Spain fell into progressive political, military,
and literary decadence, the atmosphere of the established Christian centers became
increasingly more favorable to an intensive and varied literary development.
The growth of cities had produced a comparatively urban and cultured population
with sufficient leisure and security to find time for literary entertainment. The
growth of commerce had brought Spaniards into contact with other societies that
had developed original and stimulating literary traditions. The growth of a recognized
and responsible central government, following the definitive unification of
Castile and León under Ferdinand III early in the thirteenth century, had provided
a court or central cultural focus toward which men of literary ability could gravitate.
The growing self-awareness of the writer as a unique creative personality,
from the anonymity of the cantares de gesta to the tentative identification we see
in the poetry of Berceo, to intense and affirmative individualism of the later
mester de clerecía in Juan Ruiz and López de Ayala, demands an ever broader
field in which to realize and fulfill itself. In obedience to this sort of aesthetic
need and nurtured on the expanding possibilities of a settled and prospering society,
the fifteenth century represents a period of great fecundity in the development
and widening of literary genres.
The medieval cantar de gesta, which had so magnificently served the needs of a
society of embattled warriors, undergoes a major change, possibly through the influence
of the mester de clerecía. In the new society there was neither time, place,
nor public for the recitation of the long and usually complex epic poems, but the
great deeds, the great heroes still held their magic for the general public. These
survive in a new poetic form, the romances. The anonymous romances are short
poems of regular meter and assonance that capture an intense and dramatic moment-
of sorrow, of defeat, of parting, of return-in simple and direct language.
They are generally fragmentary, combining lyricism and narration taken from the
dramatic high points of the epics. Some critics have thought that the oldest romances
represent a survival of the raw material from which the long cantares
grew, but the more generally accepted opinion is that they represent the opposite
process; as the old cantares fell into oblivion, the best moments and the most stirring
passages were conserved and polished and given new life.
Supporting this view is the fact that the earliest romances go back only to the middle
of the fourteenth century, a time in which the cantares were in a period of final
decadence and the oldest epic poems already forgotten. They share the realism
and directness of the cantares, and also the greater polish and lyricism of the
mester de clerecía. Some thousands of them have been collected and not all relate
to the material of the Spanish epics.
Be careful to spot the word “EXCEPT” in a question.
According to the passage, all of the following probably contributed to
increasing the number of literary genres in fifteenth century Spain EXCEPT
- growth of Spanish cities.
- Spaniards’ increased contact with other societies.
- conflicts between the Moorish and Christian states.
- unification of Castile and León.
- a change in the writer’s view of himself.
The best choice is C conflicts between the Moorish and Christian states.. The passage indicates that more literary genres developed in
Spain because the Christian states provided a “settled and prospering society”
-not because of conflicts between Moors and Christians. Choices A, B,
D, and E are all mentioned as contributing to the developing literary climate in
fifteenth century Spain.
Use an elimination strategy. That is, immediately eliminate answers that are irrelevant, not addressed, or just wrong. Do not consider them again.
The passage implies that
- the cantares focus on heroic deeds associated with war, whereas the romances are concerned with peace.
- the authors of romances were well-educated, recognized writers.
- the influence of Moorish culture on the romance was less strong than it was on the cantares.
- the romances probably influenced the mester de clerecía.
- the cantares were often recited to audiences.
The best choice is E the cantares were often recited to audiences.. The implication in lines 21–23 is that the cantares were
more often recited in public than read in private. Choice A is incorrect. The romances
combine lyricism with narration taken from the dramatic high points of
the epics; nothing suggests they are concerned with peace rather than war. Notice
that defeat is mentioned as one of the moments captured by romances. Eliminate
choice A. Choice B is contradicted in line 24, where the romances are characterized
as anonymous. Eliminate choice B. The passage does not refer to Moorish influence
on any of the genres, so choice C can be eliminated. Choice D is a
reversal of what the passage suggests (line 19–21). Eliminate choice D. Although
only choice E remains, you should read it anyway to make sure that it is correct
and that you have not misread one of the other choices.
Some questions ask you to reason from the information given.
According to the passage, the theory that the romances come from the same
raw material as the cantares is questionable because
- romances came into being only after the decline of the cantares.
- the subject matter of romances is the lives of everyday people rather than the lives of heroes.
- romances are more lyrical and complex than cantares.
- the cantares were unavailable to the writers of the romances.
- foreign influences are prevalent in the romances but not in the cantares.
The best choice is A romances came into being only after the decline of the cantares.. According to the author, the cantares were in a period of “final
decadence” at the time the romances were born, so it is unlikely that they came
from the same raw material. Choice B is incorrect; the subject matter of romances
was not the lives of everyday people. In line 22 the cantares are described as “usually
complex,” whereas in line 26 the romances are characterized as written in
“simple and direct” language, making choice C also a bad choice. Because the subject
matter of romances often derives from the epics, choice D is also incorrect.
Foreign influences on the genres, choice E, are not addressed in the passage.
Realize what you can and can’t infer from the passage. Watch for answers that are too general or too specific.
From the passage the reader can infer that
- before the fifteenth century most Spaniards were illiterate.
- the cantar was the only literary genre in Spain before 1600.
- the decline of the Moorish states in Spain resulted in the destruction of much early Spanish literature.
- fifteenth century Spanish culture benefited from outside influences.
- the mester de clerecía were more popular than the cantares.
The best choice is D fifteenth century Spanish culture benefited from outside influences.. The author cites Spaniards’ contact with other societies as a
positive influence on Spain’s literary development (lines 5–7). The statements in
both choices A and B are far too sweeping, based on information in the passage.
Choice C is not mentioned or implied, and nothing suggests the mester de
clerecía were more popular than the epics, choice E.
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