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The Six Questions

 

The key to performing well on the passages is not the particular reading technique you use (so long as it’s not speed reading). Rather the key is to become completely familiar with the question types—there are only six—so that you can anticipate the questions that might be asked as you read the passage and answer those that are asked more quickly and efficiently. As you become familiar with the six question types, you will gain an intuitive sense for the places from which questions are likely to be drawn. Note, the order in which the questions are asked roughly corresponds to the order in which the main issues are presented in the passage. Early questions should correspond to information given early in the passage, and so on.

 

The following passage and accompanying questions illustrate the six question types. Read the passage slowly to get a good understanding of the issues.

 

Although the well-documented association between parental divorce and adolescent delinquency is generally assumed to be environmental (i.e., causal) in origin, genetic mediation is also possible. Namely, the behavior problems often found in children of divorce could derive from similar pathology in the parents, pathology that is both heritable and increases the risk that the parent will experience divorce. To test these alternative hypotheses, we reasoned that if genes common to parent and child mediate this association, non-adopted youth should manifest increased delinquency in the presence of parental divorce even if the divorce preceded their birth (i.e., was from a prior parental relationship). However, should the association be environmental in origin, adolescents should manifest increased delinquency only in response to divorce exposure, and this association should not vary by adoption status. Experimental results firmly supported the latter, suggesting that it is the experience of parental divorce, and not common genes, that drives the association between divorce and adolescent delinquency.

 

From S. Alexandra Burt, et al. “Parental Divorce and Adolescent Delinquency”, 2008

Main Idea Questions

 

The main idea is usually stated in the last—occasionally the first—sentence of the first paragraph. If it’s not there, it will probably be the last sentence of the entire passage. Main idea questions are usually the first questions asked.

 

Some common main idea questions are

  • Which one of the following best expresses the main idea of the passage?
  • The primary purpose of the passage is to. . .
  • In the passage, the author’s primary concern is to discuss . . .

Main idea questions are rarely difficult; after all, the author wants to clearly communicate her ideas to you. If, however, after the first reading, you don’t have a feel for the main idea, review the first and last sentence of each paragraph; these will give you a quick overview of the passage.

 

Because main idea questions are relatively easy, the GRE writers try to obscure the correct answer by surrounding it with close answer- choices (“detractors”) that either overstate or understate the author’s main point. Answer-choices that stress specifics tend to understate the main idea; choices that go beyond the scope of the passage tend to overstate the main idea.

 

The answer to a main idea question will summarize the author’s argument, yet be neither too specific nor too broad.

 

In many GRE passages, the author’s primary purpose is either to persuade the reader to accept her opinion or to describe something.

 

Example:

Although the well-documented association between parental divorce and adolescent delinquency is generally assumed to be environmental (i.e., causal) in origin, genetic mediation is also possible. Namely, the behavior problems often found in children of divorce could derive from similar pathology in the parents, pathology that is both heritable and increases the risk that the parent will experience divorce. To test these alternative hypotheses, we reasoned that if genes common to parent and child mediate this association, non-adopted youth should manifest increased delinquency in the presence of parental divorce even if the divorce preceded their birth (i.e., was from a prior parental relationship). However, should the association be environmental in origin, adolescents should manifest increased delinquency only in response to divorce exposure, and this association should not vary by adoption status. Experimental results firmly supported the latter, suggesting that it is the experience of parental divorce, and not common genes, that drives the association between divorce and adolescent delinquency.

 

From S. Alexandra Burt, et al. “Parental Divorce and Adolescent Delinquency”, 2008

 

The primary purpose of the passage is to

  1. investigate all possible explanations for juvenile delinquency
  2. explain how juvenile delinquency is related to the experience of parental divorce
  3. delineate the adverse effects of parental divorce on young children
  4. convince parents to avoid divorce whenever possible for the sake of their children
  5. address two possible explanations for divorce-related child delinquency and determine which one is the more probable

The answer to a main idea question will summarize the passage without going beyond it. (A) violates these criteria by overstating the scope of the passage. Beware of extreme words. “All” is a red flag that this answer choice is not correct. (B) violates the criteria by understating the scope of the passage. It talks about not just the experience of the divorce but a possible genetic explanation as well. As to (C) and (D), both can be quickly dismissed since neither is mentioned in the passage. Finally, the passage does two things: it presents two possible explanations for divorce-related juvenile delinquency and shows why one is better. (E) aptly summarizes this, so it is the best answer.

 

Application: 

As Xenophanes recognized as long ago as the sixth century before Christ, whether or not God made man in His own image, it is certain that man makes gods in his. The gods of Greek mythology first appear in the writings of Homer and Hesiod, and, from the character and actions of these picturesque and, for the most part, friendly beings, we get some idea of the men who made them and brought them to Greece.

 

But ritual is more fundamental than mythology, and the study of Greek ritual during recent years has shown that, beneath the belief or skepticism with which the Olympians were regarded, lay an older magic, with traditional rites for the promotion of fertility by the celebration of the annual cycle of life and death, and the propitiation of unfriendly ghosts, gods or demons. Against this dark and dangerous background arose Olympic mythology on the one hand and early philosophy and science on the other.

 

In classical times the need of a creed higher than the Olympian was felt, and Aeschylus, Sophocles and Plato finally evolved from the pleasant but crude polytheism the idea of a single, supreme and righteous Zeus. But the decay of Olympus led to a revival of old and the invasion of new magic cults among the people, while some philosophers were looking to a vision of the uniformity of nature under divine and universal law.

From Sir William Cecil Dampier, A Shorter History of Science, ©1957, Meridian Books.

 

The main idea of the passage is that

  1. Olympic mythology evolved from ancient rituals and gave rise to early philosophy
  2. early moves toward viewing nature as ordered by divine and universal law coincided with monotheistic impulses and the disintegration of classical mythology
  3. early philosophy followed from classical mythology
  4. the practice of science, i.e., empiricism, preceded scientific theory

 

Most main idea questions are rather easy. This one is not—mainly, because the passage itself is not an easy read. Recall that to find the main idea of a passage, we check the last sentence of the first paragraph; if it’s not there, we check the closing of the passage. Reviewing the last sentence of the first paragraph, we see that it hardly presents a statement, let alone the main idea. Turning to the closing line of the passage, however, we find the key to this question. The passage describes a struggle for ascendancy amongst four opposing philosophies: (magic and traditional rites) vs. (Olympic mythology) vs. (monotheism [Zeus]) vs. (early philosophy and science). The closing lines of the passage summarize this and add that Olympic mythology lost out to monotheism (Zeus), while magical cults enjoyed a revival and the germ of universal law was planted. Thus the answer is (B).

 

As to the other choices, (A) is false. “Olympic mythology [arose] on one hand and early philosophy and science on the other” (closing to paragraph two); thus they initially developed in parallel. (C) is also false. It makes the same type of error as (A). Finally, (D) is not mentioned in the passage.

Description Questions

 

Description questions, as with main idea questions, refer to a point made by the author. However, description questions refer to a minor point or to incidental information, not to the author’s main point.

 

Again, these questions take various forms:

  • According to the passage . . .
  • In line 37, the author mentions . . . for the purpose of . . .
  • The passage suggests that which one of the following would . . .

 

The answer to a description question must refer directly to a statement in the passage, not to something implied by it. However, the correct answer will paraphrase a statement in the passage, not give an exact quote. In fact, exact quotes (“Same language” traps) are often used to bait wrong answers.

 

Caution: When answering a description question, you must find the point in the passage from which the question is drawn. Don’t rely on memory—too many obfuscating tactics are used with these questions.

 

Not only must the correct answer refer directly to a statement in the passage, but it must also refer to the relevant statement. The correct answer will be surrounded by wrong choices that refer directly to the passage but don’t address the question. These choices can be tempting because they tend to be quite close to the actual answer.

 

Once you spot the sentence to which the question refers, you still must read a few sentences before and after it, to put the question in context. If a question refers to line 20, the information needed to answer it can occur anywhere from line 15 to 25, also depending of course on the length of the passage. Even if you have spotted the answer in line 20, you should still read a couple more lines to make certain you have the proper perspective.

 

 

Example: Use the following passage to answer the question that follows:

 

Although the well-documented association between parental divorce and adolescent delinquency is generally assumed to be environmental (i.e., causal) in origin, genetic mediation is also possible. Namely, the behavior problems often found in children of divorce could derive from similar pathology in the parents, pathology that is both heritable and increases the risk that the parent will experience divorce. To test these alternative hypotheses, we reasoned that if genes common to parent and child mediate this association, non-adopted youth should manifest increased delinquency in the presence of parental divorce even if the divorce preceded their birth (i.e., was from a prior parental relationship). However, should the association be environmental in origin, adolescents should manifest increased delinquency only in response to divorce exposure, and this association should not vary by adoption status. Experimental results firmly supported the latter, suggesting that it is the experience of parental divorce, and not common genes, that drives the association between divorce and adolescent delinquency.

From S. Alexandra Burt, et al. “Parental Divorce and Adolescent Delinquency”, 2008

 

Question: According to the passage, genetic mediation is NOT the best explanation for juvenile delinquency because

  1. non-adopted children showed increased levels of delinquency when the divorce took place prior to their birth
  2. adopted children demonstrated equal levels of delinquency as non-adopted children
  3. non-adopted children demonstrated increased levels of delinquency only in response to divorce exposure
  4. the association between parental divorce and adolescent delinquency is generally assumed to be environmental
  5. it is impossible to scientifically test the hypothesis

 

This is a description question, so the information needed to answer it must be stated in the passage—though not in the same language as in the answer. The needed information is found in lines 4-10, which states that experimental results supported the environmental origin theory, because non-adopted children demonstrated no increased delinquency in association with divorces that occurred prior to their birth. The answer is (C).

 

The other choices can be easily dismissed. (A) and (B) use a false claim ploy. In other words, the claims they make are not supported by the paragraph. This is an excellent example of why you should consult the paragraph and not rely on memory. (D) uses information from the paragraph that is not directly related to the question. It also uses direct quotation, which you should be wary of. Finally, (E) is not supported by the paragraph.

 

 

Example: Use the following passage to answer the question that follows:

 

If dynamic visual graphics, sound effects, and automatic scorekeeping are the features that account for the popularity of video games, why are parents so worried? All of these features seem quite innocent. But another source of concern is that the games available in arcades have, almost without exception, themes of physical aggression.... There has long been the belief that violent content may teach violent behavior…And there is evidence that violent video games breed violent behavior, just as violent television shows do....

 

The effects of video violence are less simple, however, than they at first appeared. The same group of researchers who found negative effects [from certain video games] have more recently found that two-player aggressive video games, whether cooperative or competitive, reduce the level of aggression in children’s play.... It may be that the most harmful aspect of the violent video games is that they are solitary in nature. A two-person aggressive game (video boxing, in this study) seems to provide a cathartic or releasing effect for aggression, while a solitary aggressive game (such as Space Invaders) may stimulate further aggression. Perhaps the effects of television in stimulating aggression will also be found to stem partly from the fact that TV viewing typically involves little social interaction.

 

From Patricia Marks Greenfield, Mind and Media: The Effects of Television, Video Games, and Computers.© 1984 by Harvard University Press.

 

 

Consider each of the three choices separately and select all that apply.

 

Question 1: According to the passage, which of the following would be likely to stimulate violent behavior in a child playing a video game?

  1. Watching the computer stage a battle between two opponents
  2. Controlling a character in battle against a computer
  3. Challenging another player to a battle in a non-cooperative two-person game

 

Answer:

A: True, stimulation would occur. This choice is qualitatively the same as passively watching violence on television.

B: True, stimulation would also occur. This is another example of solitary aggression.

C: False, no stimulation would occur. Two-player aggressive games are “cathartic.”

You will frequently see select-in questions in this category. Answering these questions requires the same thought-process as other description questions — finding the relevant sentence(s) of the passage and narrowing down the information to the most directly pertinent. For select-in passage questions, however, instead of looking for the best restatement of the information you have found, you must instead highlight the actual passage.

 

 

Question 2: Select the sentence that suggests a possible explanation for the adverse effects of violent video games. 

 

Answer: For this select-in passage, look for a sentence that suggests something rather than states a solid conclusion based on evidence. The sentence you are looking for is “It may be that the most harmful aspect of violent video games is that they are solitary in nature.”

 

Often you will be asked to define a word or phrase based on its context. For this type of question, again you must look at a few lines before and after the word. Don’t assume that because the word is familiar you know the definition requested. Words often have more than one meaning, and the GRE often asks for a peculiar or technical meaning of a common word. For example, as a noun, champion means “the winner,” but as a verb, champion means “to be an advocate for someone.” You must consider the word’s context to get its correct meaning.

 

On the GRE, the definition of a word will not use as simple a structure as was used above to define champion. One common way the GRE introduces a defining word or phrase is to place it in apposition to the word being defined.

 

Don’t confuse “apposition” with “opposition”: they have antithetical [exactly opposite] meanings. Words or phrases in apposition are placed next to each other, and the second word or phrase defines, clarifies, or gives evidence for the first word or phrase. The second word or phrase will be set off from the first by a comma, semicolon, hyphen, or parentheses. (Note: If a comma is not followed by a linking word - such as and, for, yet - then the following phrase is probably appositional.)

 

 

Example:

The discussions were acrimonious, frequently degenerating into name-calling contests.


Answer: After the comma in this sentence, there is no linking word (such as and, but, because, although, etc.). Hence, the phrase following the comma is in apposition to acrimonious —it defines or further clarifies the word. Acrimonious means bitter, mean-spirited talk, which would aptly describe a name-calling contest.

 

 

Example: 

The technical phenomenon, embracing all the separate techniques, forms a whole.... It is useless to look for differentiations. They do exist, but only secondarily. The common features of the technical phenomenon are so sharply drawn that it is easy to discern that which is the technical phenomenon and that which is not.

 

To analyze these common features is tricky, but it is simple to grasp them. Just as there are principles common to things as different as a wireless set and an internal-combustion engine, so the organization of an office and the construction of an aircraft have certain identical features. This identity is the primary mark of that thoroughgoing unity which makes the technical phenomenon a single essence despite the extreme diversity of its appearances.

 

As a corollary, it is impossible to analyze this or that element out of it—a truth which is today particularly misunderstood. The great tendency of all persons who study techniques is to make distinctions. They distinguish between the different elements of technique, maintaining some and discarding others. They distinguish between technique and the use to which it is put. These distinctions are completely invalid and show only that he who makes them has understood nothing of the technical phenomenon. Its parts are ontologically tied together; in it, use is inseparable from being.

 

From Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society,©1964 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

 

Question: The “technical phenomenon” referred to in the opening line can best be defined as

  1. all of the machinery in use today
  2. the abstract idea of the machine
  3. a way of thinking in modern society
  4. what all machines have in common

 

Answer:

A: False, it is clear from the passage that the technical phenomenon is more abstract than that, since it is described in the opening paragraph as uniting all the separate “techniques” (not machines) and as comprising the “features” that such things as an office and an aircraft have in common.

B: False, the passage states that the technical phenomenon is something that includes both techniques and their use (See closing lines of the passage); it is thus broader that just the idea of machinery.

C: True, this seems to be the best answer; it is broad enough to include both techniques and their uses and abstract enough to go beyond talking only about machines.

D: False, the passage suggests that it is something that techniques have in common and techniques can include airplanes or offices.

Writing Technique Questions

 

All coherent writing has a superstructure or blueprint. When writing, we don’t just randomly jot down our thoughts; we organize our ideas and present them in a logical manner. For instance, we may present evidence that builds up to a conclusion but intentionally leave the conclusion unstated, or we may present a position and then contrast it with an opposing position, or we may draw an extended analogy.

 

There are an endless number of writing techniques that authors use to present their ideas, so we cannot classify every method. However, some techniques are very common to the type of explanatory or opinionated writing found in GRE passages.

 

Compare and contrast two positions

 

This technique has a number of variations, but the most common and direct is to develop two ideas or systems (comparing) and then point out why one is better than the other (contrasting).

 

 

Some common tip-off phrases to this method of analysis are

  • By contrast
  • Similarly
  • Just as
  • Likewise
  • On the one hand; on the other hand
  • Whereas
  • Conversely

 

Some typical questions for these types of passages are

  • According to the passage, a central distinction between a woman’s presence and a man’s presence is: . . .
  • In which of the following ways does the author imply that birds and reptiles are similar?
  • Based on the evidence in the passage, which method for classifying music is more effective?

 

Writing-technique questions are similar to main idea questions, except that they ask about how the author presents his ideas, not about the ideas themselves. Generally, you will be given only two writing methods to choose from, but each method will have two or more variations.

 

 

Example:

Although the well-documented association between parental divorce and adolescent delinquency is generally assumed to be environmental (i.e., causal) in origin, genetic mediation is also possible. Namely, the behavior problems often found in children of divorce could derive from similar pathology in the parents, pathology that is both heritable and increases the risk that the parent will experience divorce. To test these alternative hypotheses, we reasoned that if genes common to parent and child mediate this association, non-adopted youth should manifest increased delinquency in the presence of parental divorce even if the divorce preceded their birth (i.e., was from a prior parental relationship). However, should the association be environmental in origin, adolescents should manifest increased delinquency only in response to divorce exposure, and this association should not vary by adoption status. Experimental results firmly supported the latter, suggesting that it is the experience of parental divorce, and not common genes, that drives the association between divorce and adolescent delinquency.

From S. Alexandra Burt, et al. “Parental Divorce and Adolescent Delinquency”, 2008

 

Which one of the following best describes the organization of the passage?

  1. Two explanations for divorce-related juvenile delinquency are contrasted, and one is deemed to be better than the other.
  2. One explanation for juvenile delinquency is presented as better than another. Then evidence is offered to support that claim.
  3. Two explanations for juvenile delinquency are analyzed, and one specific example is examined in detail.
  4. A set of examples is furnished. Then a conclusion is drawn from them.
  5. The inner workings of a delinquent juvenile mind are illustrated by two equally possible causes.

 

Clearly the author is contrasting two explanations for divorce-related juvenile delinquency before arguing that the environmental explanation is more accurate. The author opens the passage by explaining relevant background information, then describes two possible theories, then uses experimentally-based evidence to explain why the environmental theory is more valid.

 

Only two answer-choices, (A) and (B), have any real merit. They say essentially the same thing— though in different order. Notice in the passage that the author does not indicate which system is better until the end of the passage. This contradicts the order given by (B). Hence the answer is (A). (Note: In (A) the order is not specified and therefore is harder to attack, whereas in (B) the order is definite and therefore is easier to attack. Remember that a measured response is harder to attack and therefore is more likely to be the answer.)

 

Show cause and effect

 

In this technique, the author typically shows how a particular cause leads to a certain result or set of results. Conversely, it may first present an effect and then discuss the possible cause or causes. It is also not uncommon to introduce a sequence of causes and effects: A causes B, which causes C, which causes D, and so on. Hence, B is both the effect of A and the cause of C. For a discussion of the fallacies associated with this technique see Causal Reasoning in the section "Inductive vs. Deductive Logic." The variations on this rhetorical technique can be illustrated by the following schematics:

 

 

Some common tip-off phrases to this method of analysis are

  • Consequently
  • As a result
  • Because
  • Leads to
  • Results in
  • If…then

 

 

Example:

Thirdly, I worry about the private automobile. It is a dirty, noisy, wasteful, and lonely means of travel. It pollutes the air, ruins the safety and sociability of the street, and exercises upon the individual a discipline which takes away far more freedom than it gives him. It causes an enormous amount of land to be unnecessarily abstracted from nature and from plant life and to become devoid of any natural function. It explodes cities, grievously impairs the whole institution of neighborliness, fragmentizes and destroys communities. It has already spelled the end of our cities as real cultural and social communities, and has made impossible the construction of any others in their place. Together with the airplane, it has crowded out other, more civilized and more convenient means of transport, leaving older people, infirm people, poor people and children in a worse situation than they were a hundred years ago. It continues to lend a terrible element of fragility to our civilization, placing us in a situation where our life would break down completely if anything ever interfered with the oil supply.

George F. Kennan

 

Which of the following best describes the organization of the passage?

  1. A problem is presented and then a possible solution is discussed.
  2. The benefits and demerits of the automobile are compared and contrasted.
  3. A topic is presented and a number of its effects are discussed.
  4. A set of examples is furnished to support a conclusion.

 

This passage is laden with effects. Kennan introduces the cause, the automobile, in the opening sentence and from there on presents a series of effects—the automobile pollutes, enslaves, and so on. Hence the answer is (C). Note: (D) is the second-best choice; it is disqualified by two flaws. First, in this context, “examples” is not as precise as “effects.” Second, the order is wrong: the conclusion, “I worry about the private automobile” is presented first and then the examples: it pollutes, it enslaves, etc.

 

State a position and then give supporting evidence

 

This technique is common with opinionated passages. Equally common is the reverse order. That is, the supporting evidence is presented and then the position or conclusion is stated. And sometimes the evidence will be structured to build up to a conclusion which is then left unstated. If this is done skillfully, the reader will be likely to arrive at the same conclusion as the author.

 

 

Following are some typical questions for these types of passages:

  • According to the author, which of the following is required for one to become proficient with a computer?
  • Which of the following does the author cite as evidence that the bald eagle is in danger of becoming extinct?

 

Select-In Passage Questions

 

Select-in passage questions are most often writing technique questions. This type of question may look like the following examples:

  • Select the sentence that refutes a counter-premise to the author’s viewpoint.
  • Select the sentence that distinguishes two ways of integrating rock and classical music.
  • Select the sentence that answers a question posed early on in the passage.

 

Once again, having noted key words and phrases on your initial reading of the passage will help you to more easily and quickly locate these sentences.

Extension Questions

 

Extension questions are the most common. They require you to go beyond what is stated in the passage, to draw an inference from the passage, to make a conclusion based on the passage, or to identify one of the author’s tacit assumptions.

 

You may be asked to draw a conclusion based on the ideas or facts presented:

  • It can be inferred from the passage that . . .
  • The passage suggests (or implies) that . . .

 

Since extension questions require you to go beyond the passage, the correct answer must say more than what is said in the passage. Beware of same language traps with these questions: the correct answer will often both paraphrase and extend a statement in the passage, but it will not directly quote it.

 

 “Same Language” traps: For extension questions, any answer-choice that explicitly refers to or repeats a statement in the passage will probably be wrong.

 

The correct answer to an extension question will not require a quantum leap in thought, but it will add significantly to the ideas presented in the passage.

 

 

Example:

Although the well-documented association between parental divorce and adolescent delinquency is generally assumed to be environmental (i.e., causal) in origin, genetic mediation is also possible. Namely, the behavior problems often found in children of divorce could derive from similar pathology in the parents, pathology that is both heritable and increases the risk that the parent will experience divorce. To test these alternative hypotheses, we reasoned that if genes common to parent and child mediate this association, non-adopted youth should manifest increased delinquency in the presence of parental divorce even if the divorce preceded their birth (i.e., was from a prior parental relationship). However, should the association be environmental in origin, adolescents should manifest increased delinquency only in response to divorce exposure, and this association should not vary by adoption status. Experimental results firmly supported the latter, suggesting that it is the experience of parental divorce, and not common genes, that drives the association between divorce and adolescent delinquency.

From S. Alexandra Burt, et al. “Parental Divorce and Adolescent Delinquency”, 2008

Consider each of the three choices separately and select all that apply.

 

According to the passage, which of the following regarding adopted children should be true?

  1. adopted children should demonstrate lower levels of delinquency than non-adopted children in a parental divorce that takes place prior to their adoption or birth, respectively
  2. adopted children should demonstrate comparable levels of delinquency after parental divorce as non-adopted children
  3. adopted children should demonstrate no significant increase in delinquency as a result of a divorce that occurred prior to their adoption

 

This is an extension question, so the answer will not be explicitly stated in the passage, but it will be strongly supported by it.

 

The author states that genetic mediation does NOT appear to be a factor in juvenile delinquency, so adopted children and non-adopted children alike should remain unaffected by divorces that happen prior to their birth or adoption. This rules out answer choice (A). Using the same information, we can see that answer (C) is true.

 

The passage also states that “should the association be environmental in origin, adolescents should manifest increased delinquency only in response to divorce exposure, and this association should not vary by adoption status.” Since the paragraph later makes the claim that the association is indeed environmental, adopted children should demonstrate comparable levels of delinquency as non-adopted children. Thus, (B) is true.

The answer is (B) and (C).

 

Application:

Often, the central problem in any business is that money is needed to make money. The following discusses the sale of equity, which is one response to this problem.

 

Sale of Capital Stock: a way to obtain capital through the sale of stock to individual investors beyond the scope of one’s immediate acquaintances. Periods of high interest rates turn entrepreneurs to this equity market. This involves, of necessity, a dilution of ownership, and many owners are reluctant to take this step for that reason. Whether the owner is wise in declining to use outside equity financing depends upon the firm’s long-range prospects. If there is an opportunity for substantial expansion on a continuing basis and if other sources are inadequate, the owner may decide logically to bring in other owners. Owning part of a larger business may be more profitable than owning all of a smaller business.

Small-Business Management,6th Ed., © 1983 by South-Western Publishing Co.

 

 

The passage implies that an owner who chooses not to sell capital stock despite the prospect of continued expansion is

  1. subject to increased regulation
  2. more conservative than is wise under the circumstances
  3. likely to have her ownership of the business diluted
  4. sacrificing security for rapid growth

(A): No. This is not mentioned in the passage.

(B): Yes. The passage states that “the owner may decide logically to bring in other owners”; in other words, the owner would be wise to sell stock in this situation.

(C): No. By NOT selling stock, the owner retains full ownership.

(D) No. Just the opposite: the owner would be sacrificing a measure of security for growth if she did sell stock.

Application Questions

 

Application questions differ from extension questions only in degree. Extension questions ask you to apply what you have learned from the passage to derive new information about the same subject, whereas application questions go one step further, asking you to apply what you have learned from the passage to a different or hypothetical situation.

 

The following are common application questions:

  • Which one of the following is the most likely source of the passage?
  • Which one of the following actions would be most likely to have the same effect as the author’s actions?

 

You may be asked to complete a thought for the author:

  • The author would most likely agree with which one of the following statements?
  • Which one of the following sentences would the author be most likely to use to complete the last paragraph of the passage?

 

To answer an application question, take the author’s perspective. Ask yourself: What am I arguing for? What might make my argument stronger? What might make it weaker?

 

Because these questions go well beyond the passage, they tend to be the most difficult. Furthermore, because application questions and extension questions require a deeper understanding of the passage, skimming (or worse yet, speed-reading) the passage is ineffective. Skimming may give you the main idea and structure of the passage, but it is unlikely to give you the subtleties of the author’s attitude.

 

 

Example: 

Although the well-documented association between parental divorce and adolescent delinquency is generally assumed to be environmental (i.e., causal) in origin, genetic mediation is also possible. Namely, the behavior problems often found in children of divorce could derive from similar pathology in the parents, pathology that is both heritable and increases the risk that the parent will experience divorce. To test these alternative hypotheses, we reasoned that if genes common to parent and child mediate this association, non-adopted youth should manifest increased delinquency in the presence of parental divorce even if the divorce preceded their birth (i.e., was from a prior parental relationship). However, should the association be environmental in origin, adolescents should manifest increased delinquency only in response to divorce exposure, and this association should not vary by adoption status. Experimental results firmly supported the latter, suggesting that it is the experience of parental divorce, and not common genes, that drives the association between divorce and adolescent delinquency.

From S. Alexandra Burt, et al. “Parental Divorce and Adolescent Delinquency”, 2008

 

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

  1. divorce is the leading cause of juvenile delinquency in the United States
  2. divorce and juvenile delinquency are both demonstrably linked to inheritable genetic predispositions to social ineptitude
  3. juvenile delinquency is most likely the result of outside stimuli rather than inherent inclination
  4. juvenile delinquency is one of the most significant contributing factors
  5. divorce can usually be avoided by carefully making decisions regarding adopting children

 

Although application questions go beyond the scope of the passage, the correct answer will have a foundation within the author’s argument. Look for the answer that has some support within the paragraph. The paragraph addresses the causal relationship between divorce and juvenile delinquency as opposed to genetic predisposition, so the author will likely agree that juvenile delinquency in general is not attributable to genetics. (C) is the best answer choice.

 

The second best answer choice is (A). However, compared with (C), (A) cannot be supported as well by the passage. All the other answer choices have no relevance to the passage at all.

 

Application: 

The idea of stuff expresses no more than the experience of coming to a limit at which our senses or our instruments are not fine enough to make out the pattern.

Something of the same kind happens when the scientist investigates any unit or pattern so distinct to the naked eye that it has been considered a separate entity. He finds that the more carefully he observes and describes it, the more he is also describing the environment in which it moves and other patterns to which it seems inseparably related. As Teilhard de Chardin has so well expressed it, the isolation of individual, atomic patterns “is merely an intellectual dodge.”

 

...Although the ancient cultures of Asia never attained the rigorously exact physical knowledge of the modern West, they grasped in principle many things which are only now occurring to us. Hinduism and Buddhism are impossible to classify as religions, philosophies, sciences, or even mythologies, or again as amalgamations of all four, because departmentalization is foreign to them even in so basic a form as the separation of the spiritual and the material.... Buddhism ... is not a culture but a critique of culture, an enduring nonviolent revolution, or “loyal opposition,” to the culture with which it is involved. This gives these ways of liberation something in common with psychotherapy beyond the interest in changing states of consciousness. For the task of the psychotherapist is to bring about a reconciliation between individual feeling and social norms without, however, sacrificing the integrity of the individual. He tries to help the individual to be himself and to go it alone in the world (of social convention) but not of the world.

From Alan W. Watts, Psychotherapy East and West,© 1961 by Pantheon Books, a division of Random House.

 

What does the passage suggest about the theme of the book from which it is excerpted?

  1. The book attempts to understand psychotherapy in the context of different and changing systems of thought
  2. The book argues that psychotherapy unites elements of an exact science with elements of eastern philosophy
  3. The book describes the origins of psychotherapy around the world
  4. The book compares psychotherapy in the West and in the East

 

A: Yes, this is the most accurate inference from the passage. The passage discusses how the more carefully a scientist views and describes something the more he describes the environment in which it moves, and the passage traces similarities between psychotherapy and Eastern systems of (evolving) thought.

B: No, this is too narrow an interpretation of what the whole book would be doing.

C: No, too vague; the passage is too philosophical to be merely a history.

D: No, also too vague, meant to entrap those of you who relied on the title without thinking through the passage.

Tone Questions

 

Tone questions ask you to identify the writer’s attitude or perspective. Is the writer’s feeling toward the subject positive, negative, or neutral? Does the writer give his own opinion, or does he objectively present the opinions of others?

 

Strategy: Before you read the answer-choices, decide whether the writer’s tone is positive, negative, or neutral. It is best to do this without referring to the passage.

 

However, if you did not get a feel for the writer’s attitude on the first reading, check the adjectives that he chooses. Adjectives and, to a lesser extent, adverbs express our feelings toward subjects. For instance, if we agree with a person who holds strong feelings about a subject, we may describe his opinions as impassioned. On the other hand, if we disagree with him, we may describe his opinions as excitable, which has the same meaning as “impassioned” but carries a negative connotation.

 

Example: 

Although the well-documented association between parental divorce and adolescent delinquency is generally assumed to be environmental (i.e., causal) in origin, genetic mediation is also possible. Namely, the behavior problems often found in children of divorce could derive from similar pathology in the parents, pathology that is both heritable and increases the risk that the parent will experience divorce. To test these alternative hypotheses, we reasoned that if genes common to parent and child mediate this association, non-adopted youth should manifest increased delinquency in the presence of parental divorce even if the divorce preceded their birth (i.e., was from a prior parental relationship). However, should the association be environmental in origin, adolescents should manifest increased delinquency only in response to divorce exposure, and this association should not vary by adoption status. Experimental results firmly supported the latter, suggesting that it is the experience of parental divorce, and not common genes, that drives the association between divorce and adolescent delinquency.
From S. Alexandra Burt, et al. “Parental Divorce and Adolescent Delinquency”, 2008

 

The author’s tone can best be described as

  1. detached and indifferent
  2. formal and objective
  3. casual and impassioned
  4. colloquial and biased

 

Though the author concludes that one explanation for juvenile delinquency is more scientifically justified than another, the author refrains from giving any non-scientific or subjective weigh-in into the matter. Scanning over the passage again, we can see that the author avoids the use of slanted adjectives and adverbs. This is a scientific document and thus can best be described as (B) formal and objective.

 

Application: 

An elm in our backyard caught the blight this summer and dropped stone dead, leafless, almost overnight. One weekend it was a normal-looking elm, maybe a little bare in spots but nothing alarming, and the next weekend it was gone, passed over, departed, taken....

 

The dying of a field mouse, at the jaws of an amiable household cat, is a spectacle I have beheld many times. It used to make me wince.... Nature, I thought, was an abomination.

 

Recently I’ve done some thinking about that mouse, and I wonder if his dying is necessarily all that different from the passing of our elm. The main difference, if there is one, would be in the matter of pain. I do not believe that an elm tree has pain receptors, and even so, the blight seems to me a relatively painless way to go. But the mouse dangling tail-down from the teeth of a gray cat is something else again, with pain beyond bearing, you’d think, all over his small body. There are now some plausible reasons for thinking it is not like that at all.... At the instant of being trapped and penetrated by teeth, peptide hormones are released by cells in the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland; instantly these substances, called endorphins, are attached to the surfaces of other cells responsible for pain perception; the hormones have the pharmacologic properties of opium; there is no pain. Thus it is that the mouse seems always to dangle so languidly from the jaws, lies there so quietly when dropped, dies of his injuries without a struggle. If a mouse could shrug, he’d shrug....

 

Pain is useful for avoidance, for getting away when there’s time to get away, but when it is end game, and no way back, pain is likely to be turned off, and the mechanisms for this are wonderfully precise and quick. If I had to design an ecosystem in which creatures had to live off each other and in which dying was an indispensable part of living, I could not think of a better way to manage.

From Lewis Thomas, On Natural Death,© 1979 by Lewis Thomas.

 

Which one of the following would best characterize the author’s attitude toward the relationship between pain and death?

  1. Dismay at the inherent cruelty of nature
  2. Amusement at the irony of the relationship between pain and death
  3. Admiration for the ways in which animal life functions in the ecosystem
  4. A desire to conduct experiments on animals in order to discover more about the relationship between pain and death

 

The author’s attitude toward the relationship between pain and death evolves through three stages. First, he expresses revulsion at the relationship. This is indicated in the second paragraph by the words “wince” and “abomination”. Then in the third paragraph, he adopts a more analytical attitude and questions his previous judgment. This is indicated by the clause, “ I wonder if his dying is necessarily all that different from the passing of our elm.”. And in closing the paragraph, he seems resigned to the fact the relationship is not all that bad. This is indicated by the sentence, “If a mouse could shrug, he’d shrug”. Finally, in the last paragraph, he comes to express admiration for the relationship between pain and death. This is indicated by the phrase “wonderfully precise and quick,” and it is made definite by the closing line, “ If I had to design an ecosystem . . . in which dying was an indispensable part of living, I could not think of a better way to manage.” Thus, the answer is (C).

 

The other choices are easily ruled out. Choice (A) is perhaps superficially tempting. In the second paragraph the author does express dismay at the ways of nature, but notice that his concerns are in the past tense. He is now more understanding, wiser of the ways of nature. As to (B), the author is subtly reverential, never ironical, toward nature. Finally, (D) is not mentioned or alluded to in the passage.

 

Beware of answer-choices that contain extreme emotions. Remember the passages are taken from academic journals. In the rarefied air of academic circles, strong emotions are considered inappropriate and sophomoric. The writers want to display opinions that are considered and reasonable, not spontaneous and off-the-wall. So if an author’s tone is negative, it may be disapproving—not snide. Or if her tone is positive, it may be approving—not ecstatic.

 

Furthermore, the answers must be indisputable. If the answers were subjective, then the writers of the GRE would be deluged with letters from angry test takers, complaining that their test-scores are unfair. To avoid such a difficult position, the writers of the GRE never allow the correct answer to be either controversial or grammatically questionable.

 

Let’s use these theories to answer the following questions.

 

Example: 

Although the well-documented association between parental divorce and adolescent delinquency is generally assumed to be environmental (i.e., causal) in origin, genetic mediation is also possible. Namely, the behavior problems often found in children of divorce could derive from similar pathology in the parents, pathology that is both heritable and increases the risk that the parent will experience divorce. To test these alternative hypotheses, we reasoned that if genes common to parent and child mediate this association, non-adopted youth should manifest increased delinquency in the presence of parental divorce even if the divorce preceded their birth (i.e., was from a prior parental relationship). However, should the association be environmental in origin, adolescents should manifest increased delinquency only in response to divorce exposure, and this association should not vary by adoption status. Experimental results firmly supported the latter, suggesting that it is the experience of parental divorce, and not common genes, that drives the association between divorce and adolescent delinquency.

From S. Alexandra Burt, et al. “Parental Divorce and Adolescent Delinquency”, 2008

 

Which one of the following most accurately characterizes the author’s attitude with respect to Phillis Wheatley’s literary accomplishments?

  1. enthusiastic advocacy
  2. qualified admiration
  3. dispassionate impartiality
  4. detached ambivalence
  5. perfunctory dismissal

 

Even without reference to the passage, this is not a difficult question to answer.

 

Scholars may advocate each other’s work, but they are unlikely to be enthusiastic advocates. Furthermore, the context stretches the meaning of advocacy—to defend someone else’s cause or plight. So (A) is unlikely to be the answer.

 

(B) is the measured response and therefore is probably the answer.

 

“Dispassionate impartiality” is a rather odd construction; additionally, it is redundant. It could never be the answer to a GRE question. This eliminates (C).

 

“Detached ambivalence” is not as odd as “dispassionate impartiality,” but it is unusual. So (D) is unlikely to be the answer.

 

Remember, scholars want their audience to consider their opinions well thought out, not off-the-wall. But perfunctory means “hasty and superficial.” So (E) could not be the answer.

 

Hence, even without the passage we can still find the answer, (B).

 

 

Which one of the following best describes the author’s attitude toward scientific techniques?

  1. critical
  2. hostile
  3. idealistic
  4. ironic
  5. neutral

 

(A) is one of two measured responses offered. Now a scholar may be critical of a particular scientific technique, but only a crackpot would be critical of all scientific techniques—eliminate (A).

 

“Hostile” is far too negative. Scholars consider such emotions juvenile—eliminate (B).

 

“Idealistic,” on the other hand, is too positive; it sounds pollyannaish—eliminate (C).

 

“Ironic” seems illogical in this context. It’s hard to conceive of a person having an ironic attitude toward scientific techniques—eliminate (D).

 

(E) is the other measured response, and by elimination it is the answer.

Points to Remember

 

  1. The order of the passage questions roughly corresponds to the order in which the issues are presented in the passage.
  2. The six questions are
    • Main Idea
    • Description
    • Writing Technique
    • Extension
    • Application
    • Tone
  3. The main idea of a passage is usually stated in the last, sometimes the first, sentence of the first paragraph. If it’s not there, it will probably be the last sentence of the entire passage.
  4. If after the first reading, you don’t have a feel for the main idea, review the first and last sentence of each paragraph.
  5. The answer to a description question must refer directly to a statement in the passage, not to something implied by it. However, the correct answer will paraphrase a passage statement, not quote it exactly. In fact, exact quotes are used with these questions to bait wrong answers.
  6. When answering a description question, you must find the point in the passage from which the question is drawn.
  7. If a description question refers to line 20, the information needed to answer it can occur anywhere from line 15 to 25.
  8. Some writing techniques commonly used in the GRE passages are
    • Compare and contrast two positions
    • Show cause and effect
    • State a position; then give supporting evidence
  9. Select-in passage questions are usually either description or writing techniques questions, so you should use the same strategies for those questions.
  10. For extension questions, any answer-choice that refers explicitly to or repeats a statement in the passage will probably be wrong.
  11. Application questions differ from extension questions only in degree. Extension questions ask you to apply what you have learned from the passage to derive new information about the same subject, whereas application questions go one step further, asking you to apply what you have learned from the passage to a different or hypothetical situation.
  12. To answer an application question, take the perspective of the author. Ask yourself: what am I arguing for? what might make my argument stronger? what might make it weaker?
  13. Because application questions go well beyond the passage, they tend to be the most difficult.
  14. For tone questions, decide whether the writer’s tone is positive, negative, or neutral before you look at the answer-choices.
  15. If you do not have a feel for the writer’s attitude after the first reading, check the adjectives that she chooses.
  16. Beware of answer-choices that contain extreme emotions. If an author’s tone is negative, it may be disapproving—not snide. Or if her tone is positive, it may be approving—not ecstatic.
  17. The answers must be indisputable. A correct answer will never be controversial or grammatically questionable.




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