New SAT Reading : Author's Main Point

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for New SAT Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Author's Main Point

The following passage is adapted from Ricki Lewis, "Did Donkeys Arise from an Inverted Chromosome?", originally published 2018 in PLOSOne Blogs.

In the world of genome sequencing, donkeys haven’t received nearly as much attention as horses. But now a report on a new-and-improved genome sequence of Willy, a donkey (Equus asinus) jack 5 born at the Copenhagen Zoo in 1997, appears in the new issue of Science Advances, from Gabriel Renaud, of the Centre for GeoGenetics, Natural History Museum of Denmark. (A female is a jenny or jennet.) The new view provides clues to how donkeys may have branched from horses along the tree of evolution.

Horses and their relatives, past and present, are genetically peculiar in that their chromosomes are rearranged, with respect to each other. That should  prevent them from producing viable hybrids – yet they do. Donkeys have 62 chromosomes and horses have 64. A mule comes from the mating of a male donkey and a female horse, and has 63 chromosomes. Mules are known for their  intelligence, calm, stamina, and persistence. Their horse-like bodies perched on donkey-like limbs make them ideal for hauling tourists around the Grand Canyon and schlepping supplies in combat situations. The ears are large like those of the horse mom, and mules make a sound that begins as a whinny and becomes a bray.

The complementary couple, a female donkey and a male horse, produces a hinny, smaller than a mule. Hinnies are the flip side of the mule, with a donkey’s physique atop horsey limbs, and short donkey ears. They’re rarer than mules, but also have 63 chromosomes. It’s easy to mix them up.

Comparing Willy’s genome to a horse genome revealed their close evolutionary relationship. Only about 15% of horse genes aren’t also in the donkey genome, and only about 10% of a donkey’s genes don’t have counterparts in the horse. Most of the genes that they share provide basic “housekeeping” functions like dismantling proteins, repairing DNA, enabling embryonic development, and controlling cell division. So that’s why a copy of each genome can smush together to yield mules and hinnies.

A second form of information encoded in genomes, in addition to the A, C, T, G sequence, is the pattern of whether the two variants of individual genes are different (heterozygous) or the same (homozygous). Many contiguous homozygous genes form a “run of homozygosity” (ROH).

An ROH indicates a chromosome chunk, perhaps as long as millions of DNA bases, that’s the same from each of an individual’s parents, who in turn inherited it from a shared ancestor, like a grandparent that cousins share. The longer the ROH, the more recent the shared ancestor, because it takes time for mutations to accrue that would break the sameness of the sequence.

Scrutinizing ROHs can reveal recent inbreeding and domestication, help to reconstruct possible branching patterns of evolution, and, more practically, help ancestry companies assign the DNA in spit samples to geographic areas where people’s ancestors might have come from. The new study compared ROHs for the three zebra and three ass species, confirming that Willy’s most recent ancestors were Somali wild asses.

The researchers used Chicago HiRise assembly technology to up the quality of Willy’s genome sequence. “This new assembly allowed us to identify fine chromosomal rearrangements between the horse and the donkey that likely played an active role in their divergence and, ultimately, speciation,” they write.

The bigger pieces enabled them to zero in on DNA sequences where chromosomes contort, such as inversions (where a sequence flips) or translocations (where different chromosome types exchange parts). These events could have fueled the reproductive isolation of small populations that can expand into speciation.

If eventually sperm with one inverted chromosome fertilized eggs with the same inversion, animals would have been conceived in which both copies of the chromosome are inverted – and they’d be fertile with each other, but not with horses. Once a subpopulation with the inversion became established, further genetic changes would separate them further from the ancestral horse.

The primary purpose of this passage is to 

Possible Answers:

explain the difference between mules and hinnys.

illustrate a particular method in the construction of evolutionary trees.

introduce new findings about the evolutionary origin of the donkey.

argue that horses and donkeys shouldn’t be able to reproduce.

Correct answer:

introduce new findings about the evolutionary origin of the donkey.

Explanation:

Whenever the SAT asks you to determine the primary purpose of a passage, your job is to first determine the main idea of the passage and then use that to determine which of the answer choices the author accomplishes based on the main idea. Beware of scope shifts for questions like this - many answer choices will describe a part of the passage but not the passage as a whole. This passage leads off by discussing donkeys, horses, and mules, and the differences between them. It them discusses the new research into the evolution of the donkey and the methods scientists used to determine their evolutionary tree. Both "introduce new findings about the evolutionary origin of the donkey" and "illustrate a particular method in the construction of evolutionary trees"  are things that the passage does - the passage does discuss how the evolutionary tree was made and it does discuss new findings into the evolution of the donkey. However, notice that "illustrate a particular method in the construction of evolutionary trees" is too narrow. While the passage does discuss the methods the scientists used, that is not its main purpose. "Introduce new findings about the evolutionary origin of the donkey" is general enough to encompass the entire passage and is the correct answer.

Among the other two answers, "argue that horses and donkeys shouldn’t be able to reproduce" can be eliminated because the passage explains exactly why horses and donkeys can reproduce and "explain the difference between mules and hinnys" can be eliminated because, while the difference between mules and hinnys is discussed, it is not a main idea of the entire passage.

Example Question #2 : Author's Main Point

Passage 1 is adapted from Emma Hart Willard, "Improving Female Education." Originally published in 1819.

If the improvement of the American female character, and that alone, could be affected by public liberality, employed in giving better means of instruction; such improvement of one half of society, and that half, which barbarous and despotic nations have ever degraded, would of itself be an object, worthy of the most liberal government on earth; but if the female character be raised, it must inevitably raise that of the other sex; and thus does the plan proposed, offer, as the object of legislative bounty, to elevate the whole character of the community.

As evidence that this statement does not exaggerate the female influence in society, our sex  need but be considered, in the single relation of mothers. In this character, we have the charge of the whole mass of individuals, who are to compose the succeeding generation; during that period of youth, when the pliant mind takes any direction, to which it is steadily guided by a forming hand. How important a power is given by this charge! yet, little do too many of my sex know how, either to appreciate or improve it. Unprovided with the means of acquiring that knowledge, which flows liberally to the other sex- having our time of education devoted to frivolous acquirements, how should we understand the nature of the mind, so as to be aware of the importance of those early impressions, which we make upon the minds of our children? -or how should we be able to form enlarged and correct views, either of the character, to which we ought to mold them, or of the means most proper to form them aright?

Considered in this point of view, were the interests of male education alone to be consulted, that of females becomes of sufficient importance to engage the public attention. Would we rear the human plant to its perfection, we must first fertilize the soil which produces it. If it acquire its first bent and texture upon a barren plain, it will avail comparatively little, should it be afterwards transplanted to a garden.

Passage 2 is adapted from Benjamin Rush, "Thoughts upon Female Education". Originally published 1787.

A philosopher once said, "let me make all the ballads of a country and I care not who makes its laws." He might with more propriety have said, let the ladies of a country be educated properly, and they will not only make and administer its laws, but form its manners and character. It would require a lively imagination to describe, or even to comprehend, the happiness of a country where knowledge and virtue were generally diffused among the female sex. Our young men would then be restrained from vice by the terror of being banished from their company. The loud laugh and the malignant smile, at the expense of innocence or of personal infirmities– the feats of successful mimicry and the low priced wit which is borrowed from a misapplication of scripture phrases– would no more be considered as recommendations to the society of the ladies. A double-entendre in their presence would then exclude a gentleman forever from the company of both sexes and probably oblige him to seek an asylum from contempt in a foreign country.

If I am wrong in those opinions in which I have taken the liberty of departing from the general and fashionable habits of thinking I am sure you will discover and pardon my mistakes. But if I am right, I am equally sure you will adopt my opinions for to enlightened minds truth is alike acceptable, whether it comes from the lips of age or the hand of antiquity or whether it be obtruded by a person who has no other claim to attention than a desire of adding to the stock of human happiness.

To you, young ladies, an important problem is committed for solution: whether our present plan of education be a wise one and whether it be calculated to prepare you for the duties of social and domestic life. I know that the elevation of the female mind, by means of moral, physical, and religious truth, is considered by some men as unfriendly to the domestic character of a woman. But this is the prejudice of little minds and springs from the same spirit which opposes the general diffusion of knowledge among the citizens of our republics.If men believe that ignorance is favorable to the government of the female sex, they are certainly deceived, for a weak and ignorant woman will always be governed with the greatest difficulty. It  will be in your power ladies, to correct the mistakes and practice of our sex upon these subjects by demonstrating that the female temper can only be governed by reason and that the cultivation of reason in women is alike friendly to the order of nature and to private as well as public happiness. 

Which of the following describes the relationship between Passage 1 and Passage 2?

Possible Answers:

Passage 2 focuses on the problem of lack of education, while Passage 1 focuses on the benefits of education.

Passage 1 emphasizes the importance of women’s education to men, while Passage 2 does not.

Passage 2 focuses on the benefits of educated women in general, whereas Passage 1 focuses on the benefits of educating mothers.

Passage 1 has a wholly positive view of women’s education, while Passage 2 has some reservations.

Correct answer:

Passage 2 focuses on the benefits of educated women in general, whereas Passage 1 focuses on the benefits of educating mothers.

Explanation:

Whenever you are asked to compare two passages, remember that the correct answer will probably come down to a comparison of main idea and of scope. In this case, notice that Willard discusses women's education within the particular scope of motherhood, whereas Rush discusses women's education in general. Although he does mention women's different roles, he doesn't solely focus on motherhood. "Passage 2 focuses on the benefits of educated women in general, whereas Passage 1 focuses on the benefits of educating mothers" is correct.

Among the other answers, "passage 1 emphasizes the importance of women’s education to men, while Passage 2 does not" can be eliminated because both authors discuss the effects and benefits of women's education for men. "Passage 1 has a wholly positive view of women’s education, while Passage 2 has some reservations" can be eliminated because Passage 2 doesn't have any direct reservations, but merely repeats the words of others and then dismisses them. "Passage 2 focuses on the problem of lack of education, while Passage 1 focuses on the benefits of education" can be eliminated because neither passage focuses on the problems of lack of education, only the benefits of it.

Example Question #681 : New Sat

The following passage and corresponding figure are from Emilie Reas. "How the brain learns to read: development of the “word form area”", PLOS Neuro Community, 2018.

The ability to recognize, process and interpret written language is a uniquely human skill that is acquired with remarkable ease at a young age. But as anyone who has attempted to learn a new language will attest, the brain isn’t “hardwired” to understand written language. In fact, it remains somewhat of a mystery how the brain develops this specialized ability. Although researchers have identified brain regions that process written words, how this selectivity for language develops isn’t entirely clear. 

Earlier studies have shown that the ventral visual cortex supports recognition of an array of visual stimuli, including objects, faces, and places. Within this area, a subregion in the left hemisphere known as the “visual word form area” (VWFA) shows a particular selectivity for written words. However, this region is characteristically plastic. It’s been proposed that stimuli compete for representation in this malleable area, such that “winner takes all” depending on the strongest input. That is, how a site is ultimately mapped is dependent on what it’s used for in early childhood. But this idea has yet to be confirmed, and the evolution of specialized brain areas for reading in children is still poorly understood.

In their study, Dehaene-Lambertz and colleagues monitored the reading abilities and brain changes of ten six-year old children to track the emergence of word specialization during a critical development  period. Over the course of their first school-year, children were assessed every two months with reading evaluations and functional MRI while viewing words and non-word images (houses, objects, faces, bodies). As expected, reading ability improved over the year of first grade, as demonstrated by increased reading speed, word span, and phoneme knowledge, among other measures.

Even at this young age, when reading ability was newly acquired, words evoked widespread left-lateralized brain activation. This activity increased over the year of school, with the greatest boost occurring after just the first few months. Importantly, there were no similar activation increases in response to other stimuli, confirming that these adaptations were specific to reading ability, not a general effect of development or education. Immediately after school began, the brain volume specialized for reading also significantly increased. Furthermore, reading speed was associated with greater activity, particularly in the VWFA. The researchers found that activation patterns to words became more reliable with learning. In contrast, the patterns for other categories remained stable, with the exception of numbers, which may reflect specialization for symbols (words and numbers) generally, or correlation with the simultaneous development of mathematics skills.

What predisposes one brain region over another to take on this specialized role for reading words? Before school, there was no strong preference for any other category in regions that would later become word-responsive. However, brain areas that were destined to remain “non-word” regions showed more stable responses to non-word stimuli even before learning to read. Thus, perhaps the brain takes advantage of unoccupied real-estate to perform the newly acquired skill of reading.

These findings add a critical piece to the puzzle of how reading skills are acquired in the developing child brain. Though it was already known that reading recruits a specialized brain region for words, this study reveals that this occurs without changing the organization of areas already specialized for other functions. The authors propose an elegant model for the developmental brain changes underlying reading skill acquisition. In the illiterate child, there are adjacent columns or patches of cortex either tuned to a specific category, or not yet assigned a function. With literacy, the free subregions become tuned to words, while the previously specialized subregions remain stable.

The rapid emergence of the word area after just a brief learning period highlights the remarkable plasticity of the developing cortex. In individuals who become literate as adults, the same VWFA is present. However, in contrast to children, the relation between reading speed and activation in this area is weaker in adults, and a single adult case-study by the authors showed a much slower, gradual development of the VWFA over a prolonged learning period of several months. Whatever the reason, this region appears primed to rapidly adopt novel representations of symbolic words, and this priming may peak at a specific period in childhood. This finding underscores the importance of a strong education in youth. The authors surmise that “the success of education might also rely on the right timing to benefit from the highest neural plasticity. Our results might also explain why numerous academic curricula, even in ancient civilizations, propose to teach reading around seven years.”

The figure below shows different skills mapped to different sites in the brain before schooling and then with and without school. Labile sites refer to sites that are not currently mapped to a particular skill.

Screen shot 2020 08 20 at 3.23.45 pm

The primary purpose of this passage is to

Possible Answers:
explain the difference between VWFA development in adults and children.

discuss the effect of learning to read on brain development.

determine whether the ability to read is hardwired into the human brain.

present a theory about brain development in early adolescence.

Correct answer:

discuss the effect of learning to read on brain development.

Explanation:

Whenever a question asks about the primary purpose of the passage, remember that it is looking for two things: the scope and the main idea. The passage discusses the development of the VWFA in children learning to read and contrasts that development with adults learning to read and with children who do not learn to read. The correct answer must therefore have something to do with learning to read and with brain development. The only answer choice that has both is "discuss the effect of learning to read on brain development".

While "explain the difference between VWFA development in adults and children" does discuss VWFA development, it is too specific. The passage deals with development of the VWFA in general, not just the difference between children and adults. Similarly, while the passage does deal with brain development, "present a theory about brain development in early adolescence" doesn't quite work because the passage is dealing with a study rather than an overall theory of brain development and doesn't exclusively deal with children. "Determine whether the ability to read is hardwired into the human brain" is discussed in the passage as a goal of the study, but that question is not fully answered within the passage itself.

Example Question #4 : Author's Main Point

This passage is adapted from Adam K. Fetterman and Kai Sassenberg, “The Reputational Consequences of Failed Replications and Wrongness Admission among Scientists", first published in December 2015 by PLOS ONE.

We like to think of science as a purely rational. However, scientists are human and often identify with their work. Therefore, it should not be controversial to suggest that emotions are involved in replication discussions. Adding to this inherently emotionally volatile situation, the recent increase in the use of social media and blogs by scientists has allowed for instantaneous, unfiltered, and at times emotion-based commentary on research. Certainly social media has the potential to lead to many positive outcomes in science–among others, to create a more open science. To some, however, it seems as if this ease of communication is also leading to the public tar and feathering of scientists. Whether these assertions are true is up for debate, but we assume they are a part of many scientists’ subjective reality. Indeed, when failed replications are discussed in the same paragraphs as questionable research practices, or even fraud, it is hard to separate the science from the scientist. Questionable research practices and fraud are not about the science; they are about the scientist. We believe that these considerations are at least part of the reason that we find the overestimation effect that  we do, here.

Even so, the current data suggests that while many are worried about how a failed replication would affect their reputation, it is probably not as bad as they think. Of course, the current data cannot provide evidence that there are no negative effects; just that the negative impact is overestimated. That said, everyone wants to be seen as competent and honest, but failed replications are a part of science. In fact, they are how science moves forward!

While we imply that these effects may be exacerbated by social media, the data cannot directly speak to this. However, any one of a number of cognitive biases may add support to this assumption and explain our findings. For example, it may be that a type of availability bias or pluralistic ignorance of which the more vocal and critical voices are leading individuals to judge current opinions as more negative than reality. As a result, it is easy to conflate discussions about direct replications with “witch- hunts” and overestimate the impact on one’s own reputation. Whatever the source may be, it is worth looking at the potential negative impact of social media in scientific conversations.

If the desire is to move science forward, scientists need to be able to acknowledge when they are wrong. Theories come and go, and scientists learn from their mistakes (if they can even be called “mistakes”). This is the point of science. However, holding on to faulty ideas flies in the face of the scientific method. Even so, it often seems as if scientists have a hard time admitting wrongness. This seems doubly true when someone else fails to replicate a scientist’s findings. In some cases, this may be the proper response. Just as often, though, it is not. In most cases, admitting wrongness will have relatively fewer ill effects on one’s reputation than not admitting and it may be better for reputation. It could also be that wrongness admission repairs damage to reputation.

It may seem strange that others consider it less likely that questionable research practices, for example, were used when a scientist admits that they were wrong. However, it does make sense from the standpoint that wrongness admission seems to indicate honesty. Therefore, if one is honest in one domain, they are likely honest in other domains. Moreover, the refusal to admit might indicate to others that the original scientist is trying to cover something up. The lack of significance of most of the interactions in our study suggests that it even seems as if scientists might already realize this. Therefore, we can generally suggest that scientists admit they are wrong, but only when the evidence suggests they should.

The chart below maps how scientists view others' work (left) and how they suspect others will view their own work (right) if the researcher (the scientist or another, depending on the focus) admitted to engaging in questionable research practices.

Screen shot 2020 08 20 at 3.28.58 pm

Adapted from Fetterman & Sassenberg, "The Reputational Consequences of Failed Replications and Wrongness Admission among Scientists." December 9, 2015, PLOS One.

The primary purpose of the passage is to

Possible Answers:

encourage scientists to more carefully examine how they discuss questionable research practices on social media.

report the findings of a study and their impact on the scientific community.

discuss a research study’s findings in the context of a larger problem within the scientific community.

present a problem present in scientific research and propose several possible solutions to that problem.

Correct answer:

discuss a research study’s findings in the context of a larger problem within the scientific community.

Explanation:

As with other primary purpose questions, your goal with this question is to determine the main idea and the scope of the passage and then to match that with an answer choice. This passage discusses the problem of questionable research practices and whether researchers admit to wrongdoing. The author argues that the consequences of admitting that one is wrong are less than scientists often think, and that scientists are less likely to suspect others engaging in additional questionable research practices if they admit to past wrongdoing. This best matches "discuss a research study’s findings in the context of a larger problem within the scientific community". The "study" is the examination of researchers' feelings about admitting wrongdoing and the "larger problem" within the research community is the problem of questionable research practices.

Among the other answers, "encourage scientists to more carefully examine how they discuss questionable research practices on social media" can be eliminated because while the passage does discuss social media, it is not the main point of the article. "Present a problem present in scientific research and propose several possible solutions to that problem" can be eliminated because even though the passage does give a problem within the community (questionable research practices), it doesn't discuss possible solutions. "Report the findings of a study and their impact on the scientific community" can be eliminated because while the passage does report on the findings of the study, it doesn't discuss the effect these findings have on the research community.

Example Question #5 : Author's Main Point

Passage 1 is adapted from Emma Hart Willard, "Improving Female Education." Originally published in 1819.

If the improvement of the American female character, and that alone, could be affected by public liberality, employed in giving better means of instruction; such improvement of one half of society, and that half, which barbarous and despotic nations have ever degraded, would of itself be an object, worthy of the most liberal government on earth; but if the female character be raised, it must inevitably raise that of the other sex; and thus does the plan proposed, offer, as the object of legislative bounty, to elevate the whole character of the community.

As evidence that this statement does not exaggerate the female influence in society, our sex  need but be considered, in the single relation of mothers. In this character, we have the charge of the whole mass of individuals, who are to compose the succeeding generation; during that period of youth, when the pliant mind takes any direction, to which it is steadily guided by a forming hand. How important a power is given by this charge! yet, little do too many of my sex know how, either to appreciate or improve it. Unprovided with the means of acquiring that knowledge, which flows liberally to the other sex- having our time of education devoted to frivolous acquirements, how should we understand the nature of the mind, so as to be aware of the importance of those early impressions, which we make upon the minds of our children? -or how should we be able to form enlarged and correct views, either of the character, to which we ought to mold them, or of the means most proper to form them aright?

Considered in this point of view, were the interests of male education alone to be consulted, that of females becomes of sufficient importance to engage the public attention. Would we rear the human plant to its perfection, we must first fertilize the soil which produces it. If it acquire its first bent and texture upon a barren plain, it will avail comparatively little, should it be afterwards transplanted to a garden.

Passage 2 is adapted from Benjamin Rush, "Thoughts upon Female Education". Originally published 1787.

A philosopher once said, "let me make all the ballads of a country and I care not who makes its laws." He might with more propriety have said, let the ladies of a country be educated properly, and they will not only make and administer its laws, but form its manners and character. It would require a lively imagination to describe, or even to comprehend, the happiness of a country where knowledge and virtue were generally diffused among the female sex. Our young men would then be restrained from vice by the terror of being banished from their company. The loud laugh and the malignant smile, at the expense of innocence or of personal infirmities– the feats of successful mimicry and the low priced wit which is borrowed from a misapplication of scripture phrases– would no more be considered as recommendations to the society of the ladies. A double-entendre in their presence would then exclude a gentleman forever from the company of both sexes and probably oblige him to seek an asylum from contempt in a foreign country.

If I am wrong in those opinions in which I have taken the liberty of departing from the general and fashionable habits of thinking I am sure you will discover and pardon my mistakes. But if I am right, I am equally sure you will adopt my opinions for to enlightened minds truth is alike acceptable, whether it comes from the lips of age or the hand of antiquity or whether it be obtruded by a person who has no other claim to attention than a desire of adding to the stock of human happiness.

To you, young ladies, an important problem is committed for solution: whether our present plan of education be a wise one and whether it be calculated to prepare you for the duties of social and domestic life. I know that the elevation of the female mind, by means of moral, physical, and religious truth, is considered by some men as unfriendly to the domestic character of a woman. But this is the prejudice of little minds and springs from the same spirit which opposes the general diffusion of knowledge among the citizens of our republics.If men believe that ignorance is favorable to the government of the female sex, they are certainly deceived, for a weak and ignorant woman will always be governed with the greatest difficulty. It  will be in your power ladies, to correct the mistakes and practice of our sex upon these subjects by demonstrating that the female temper can only be governed by reason and that the cultivation of reason in women is alike friendly to the order of nature and to private as well as public happiness. 

The authors of both passages would likely agree with which of the following statements about women’s education?

Possible Answers:

Improving women’s education can lead to the improvement of the country as a whole.

It is counterproductive to try to limit women’s education in order to control them.

Men should take an active role in making sure that women are better educated.

Women are important in developing the laws and regulations of the new country.

Correct answer:

Improving women’s education can lead to the improvement of the country as a whole.

Explanation:

When you're asked what an author (or in this case, what two authors) would agree with, the key, generally, is to focus on the scope and main idea of each passage. Both passages agree that women's education is important not just for the woman, but also for the society in which she resides, whether that is society as a whole in Passage 2 or her children in Passage 1. This most closely matches with "improving women’s education can lead to the improvement of the country as a whole", that women's education can improve the country as a whole.

Among the other choices, "it is counterproductive to try to limit women’s education in order to control them" can be eliminated because only Passage 2 discusses why limiting women's education in order to control them is counterproductive. "Men should take an active role in making sure that women are better educate" can be eliminated because neither passage talks about the role of men. "Women are important in developing the laws and regulations of the new country" can be eliminated because both passages only talk about the indirect roles women might take in influencing policy, not their direct ability to develop laws.

Example Question #6 : Author's Main Point

This passage is adapted from “Flagship Species and Their Role in the Conservation Movement” (2020)

Until recently, two schools of thought have dominated the field of establishing “flagship” endangered species for marketing and awareness campaigns. These flagship species make up the subset of endangered species conservation experts utilize to elicit public support - both financial and legal - for fauna conservation as a whole. 

The first concerns how recognizable the general public, the audience of most large-scale funding campaigns, finds a particular species, commonly termed its “public awareness.” This school of thought was built on the foundation that if an individual recognizes a species from prior knowledge, cultural context, or previous conservational and educational encounters (in a zoo environment or classroom setting, for instance) that individual would be more likely to note and respond to the severity of its endangered status. However, recently emerging flagship species such as the pangolin have challenged the singularity of this factor. 

Alongside public awareness, conservation experts have long considered a factor they refer to as a “keystone species” designation in the flagstone selection process. Keystone species are those species that play an especially vital role in their respective habitats or ecosystems. While this metric is invaluable to the environmentalists in charge of designating funds received, recent data has expressed the more minor role a keystone species designation seems to play in the motivations of the public. 

Recent scholarship has questioned both the singularity and the extent to which the above classifications impact the decision making of the general public. Though more complicated to measure, a third designation, known as a species’ “charisma,” is now the yardstick by which most flagship species are formally classified. Addressing the charisma of a species involves establishing and collecting data concerning its ecological (interactions with humans/the environments of humans),  aesthetic (appealing to human emotions through physical appearance and immediately related behaviors), and corporeal (affection and socialization with humans over the short- and long-terms) characteristics. This process has been understandably criticized by some for its costs and failure to incorporate the severity of an endangered species’ status into designation, but its impact on the public has been irrefutable. While keystone and public awareness designations are still often applied in the field because of their practicality and comparative simplicity, charisma is now commonly accepted as the most accurate metric with which to judge a species’ flagship potential.

The primary purpose of this passage is to:

Possible Answers:

Make the case that the conservation of endangered species is an important cause worthy of public support

Criticize the negative feedback received by the charisma method of designation

Compare and contrast two commonly accepted theories

Analyze the contributing factors concerning a general scholarly trend

Correct answer:

Analyze the contributing factors concerning a general scholarly trend

Explanation:

In this case, we need to think about *why* the author has developed this passage. Is the author attempting to make a case for charisma as a designation process in an opinionated manner? Certainly not! We were told in the passage that this has already become the commonly accepted process! Though some elements of the passage speak about characteristics of each of the three methods cited, a direct comparison/contrast is never made, and would not encompass the purpose of the passage as a whole. Nor has the author developed the passage to directly criticize the negative feedback received. While it might be true that the author agrees that conservation is an important cause worthy of support, the tone and purpose of the passage do not align with “Make the case that the conservation of endangered species is an important cause worthy of public support.” The author is attempting to dig into the context and implications of the general transition being made toward the use of charisma as a primary designation - thus “analyzing the contributing factors concerning a general scholarly trend.”

Example Question #7 : Author's Main Point

The following passage is adapted from a speech delivered by Susan B. Anthony in 1873. The speech was delivered after Anthony was tried and fined $100 for voting in the 1872 presidential election.

Friends and fellow citizens: I stand before you tonight under indictment for the alleged crime of having voted at the last Presidential election, without having a lawful right to vote. It shall be my work this evening to prove to you that in thus voting, I not only committed no crime, but, instead, simply exercised my citizen’s rights, guaranteed to me and all United States citizens by the National Constitution, beyond the power of any State to deny.

The preamble of the Federal Constitution says: “We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union. And we formed it, not to give the blessings of liberty, but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity, but to the whole people— women as well as men. And it is a downright mockery to talk to women of their enjoyment of the blessings of liberty while they are denied the use of the only means of securing them provided by this democratic-republican government—the ballot.

For any State to make sex a qualification that must ever result in the disfranchisement of one entire half of the people is a violation of the supreme law of the land. By it the blessings of liberty are forever withheld from women and their female posterity. To them, this government had no just powers derived from the consent of the governed. To them, this government is not a democracy. It is not a republic. It is an odious aristocracy; a hateful oligarchy of sex; the most hateful aristocracy ever established on the face of the globe; an oligarchy of wealth, where the right govern the poor. An oligarchy of learning, where the educated govern the ignorant, or even an oligarchy of race, where the Saxon rules the African, might be endured, but this oligarchy of sex, which makes father, brothers, husband, sons, the oligarchs over the mother and sisters, the wife and daughters of every household—which ordains all men sovereigns, all women subjects, carries dissension, discord, and rebellion into every home of the nation. 

Webster, Worcester, and Bouvier all define a citizen to be a person in the United States, entitled to vote and hold office. The one question left to be settled now is: Are women persons? And I hardly believe any of our opponents will have the hardihood to say they are not. Being persons, then, women are citizens; and no State has a right to make any law, or to enforce any old law, that shall abridge their privileges or immunities. Hence, every discrimination against women are citizenswomen in the constitutions and laws of the several States is today null and void, precisely as is every one against African Americans.

The primary purpose of Susan B. Anthony’s speech is to

Possible Answers:

argue that the United States has an odious aristocracy.

describe the unjust laws that prevent women from voting and that led to her arrest.

explain the circumstances surrounding her arrest for voting in the election of 1872.

make the case that she is innocent and that women should be allowed to vote.

Correct answer:

make the case that she is innocent and that women should be allowed to vote.

Explanation:

In this example, the passage - originally a speech - begins by addressing that Anthony aims to convince her audience that she did nothing wrong, and was simply exercising her “citizen’s rights.” She then proceeds to do precisely that and cites the preamble to the constitution to support her claim, pointing out that common leadership and the voting laws at the time were in direct contradiction to the constitution. So, Anthony aims to use this speech to “make the case that she is innocent and that women should be allowed to vote.” While her speech addresses the unjust laws, the purpose of the speech is not to simply “describe” them, nor to explain the circumstances surrounding her arrest. Within the passage, Anthony makes reference to an “odious aristocracy.” However, she does so not to claim that the United States is an aristocracy, but to make the case that if the United States aims to be a democracy, they ought to follow their own overarching law of the land: the Constitution.

Example Question #8 : Author's Main Point

The passage is adapted from Carter G, Leffer L (2015) “Social Grooming in Bats: Are Vampire Bats Exceptional?” © 2015 Carter, Leffer

Long-term cooperative relationships are most evident in primates, but evidence for similar social relationships has been accumulating for several other social vertebrate groups including cetaceans, bats, elephants, hyenas and ravens. The functional importance of these complex social relationships across different species may have led to similar cognitive or behavioral mechanisms for manipulating social bonds. A prime example of such a mechanism is social grooming—the cleaning of the body by a partner. Experimental and observational studies show that primate social grooming can be ‘exchanged’ for multiple social benefits, including reciprocal grooming, social tolerance, access to food, and agonistic support. Individuals can spend up to 20% of their time grooming others, and the behavior provides proximate physiological rewards for both givers and receivers. Although most of what is known about social grooming comes from studies of primates, evidence for a role of social grooming in maintaining social ties is emerging from several other mammals (marsupials, deer, cows, horses, voles, mice, meerkats, coati, lions) and group-living birds.

In bats, adult social grooming is female-biased in species with female philopatry and has been most studied in the common vampire bat (Desmodus rotundus). Kerth et al. compared social grooming rates of vampire bats with the temperate and insectivorous Bechstein’s bat (Myotis bechsteinii). These two species both have long lifespans and demonstrate fission-fusion social dynamics, where individuals maintain long-term social associations while moving between several roost trees.  In both species, social grooming rates among individuals were not predicted by self-grooming or numbers of parasites. Bechstein’s bats spent more time grooming themselves (38% of their time in roosts) compared with vampires (23% of their roosting time), but wild vampire bats spent about 5% of their roosting time grooming others, which is 2–4 times higher than Bechstein’s bats.

Patterns of social grooming among categories of individuals also differed between the two species. In the Bechstein’s bat, adult female social grooming was not detectably symmetrical, and was predicted by kinship, occurring mostly between adult mothers and daughters, sometimes between sisters, and only rarely between non-kin. In vampires, female social grooming was highly symmetrical and relatively common among non-kin, where it correlated with co-roosting association and food sharing.

It is not entirely clear if vampire bat social grooming is typical or exceptional when compared to other bats or non-primate mammals. One hypothesis is that social grooming in vampire bats is exceptional in quantity and quality, because it is related to their uniquely cooperative food-sharing behavior. Like many primates, reciprocal patterns of vampire bat food sharing and social grooming extend beyond mother-offspring bonds, suggesting they may provide both direct and indirect fitness benefits. Among bats, the common vampire has an extraordinarily large brain and neocortex for its body size. In primates, increased neocortex size has been linked to higher metrics of social complexity, such as social grooming network size and strategic deception.

Alternatively, the apparent distinctiveness of vampire bat social grooming might stem from purely ecological factors. Social grooming may be more obvious in vampire bats due to higher levels of ectoparasite infestation. Bat fly density has been linked to species-level grooming rates and the two vampire species that were observed ranked 5th and 6th place out of 53 neotropical bats for average number of parasitic streblid flies per bat.  A sampling bias could also over-emphasize social grooming in vampire bats, because there is much effort focused on studying vampire bat social behavior and a lack of data on social grooming in other bats.

Comparing social grooming data across studies can be difficult due to study differences in ectoparasite density, temperature, sampling method, visibility, and level of human disturbance.  Still, there are important conclusions that can be made regarding social grooming among vampire bats from the studies that have been conducted.  With even better studies in the future – for instance, ones that compare groups of adult bats that have fixed levels of social association (stable group composition) and no insect ectoparasites – we will get a clearer picture of social grooming among vampire bats and its significance.

The primary purpose of this passage is to _______.

Possible Answers:

Discuss current scientific knowledge of social grooming habits among certain bats.

Argue that all female bats engage in various types of social grooming.

Prove that vampire bats are unique among species in the frequency and method of their social grooming.

Detail the results of one study that analyzed various social habits of bats.

Correct answer:

Discuss current scientific knowledge of social grooming habits among certain bats.

Explanation:

We can begin to analyze the primary purpose of this passage by understanding its tone. In this case, the tone is explanatory in nature. The author is not attempting to convince us of anything but simply aims to lay out the current field of knowledge on the topic at hand. So, “Prove that vampire bats are unique among species in the frequency and method of their social grooming” and “argue that all female bats engage in various types of social grooming” both conflict with the tone of the passage. Additionally, the passage addresses that current studies are inconclusive. Since there were plural studies conducted, “detail the results of one study that analyzed various social habits of bats” is too narrow an answer choice to fit the scope of the passage. This leaves us with our correct answer, “discuss current scientific knowledge of social grooming habits among certain bats.”

Example Question #9 : Author's Main Point

The following is an excerpt from Agnes Grey, an autobiographical novel by Anne Bronte that follows the life of a governess working in wealthy British households in the 19th century.

To avoid trouble and confusion, I have taken my pupils one by one, and discussed their various qualities; but this can give no adequate idea of being worried by the whole three together; when, as was often the case, all were determined to ‘be naughty, and to tease Miss Grey, and put her in a passion.’ 

Sometimes, on such occasions, the thought has suddenly occurred to me—’If they could see me now!’ meaning, of course, my friends at home; and the idea of how they would pity me has made me pity myself—so greatly that I have had the utmost difficulty to restrain my tears: but I have restrained them, till my little tormentors were gone to dessert, or cleared off to bed (my only prospects of deliverance), and then, in all the bliss of solitude, I have given myself up to the luxury of an unrestricted burst of weeping. But this was a weakness I did not often indulge: my employments were too numerous, my leisure moments too precious, to admit of much time being given to fruitless lamentations.

I particularly remember one wild, snowy afternoon, soon after my return in January: the children had all come up from dinner, loudly declaring that they meant ‘to be naughty;’ and they had well kept their resolution, though I had talked myself hoarse, and wearied every muscle in my throat, in the vain attempt to reason them out of it. I had got Tom pinned up in a corner, whence, I told him, he should not escape till he had done his appointed task. Meantime, Fanny had possessed herself of my workbag, and was rifling its contents—and spitting into it besides. I told her to let it alone, but to no purpose, of course. ‘Burn it, Fanny!’ cried Tom: and this command she hastened to obey. I sprang to snatch it from the fire, and Tom darted to the door. ‘Mary Ann, throw her desk out of the window!’ cried he: and my precious desk, containing my letters and papers, my small amount of cash, and all my valuables, was about to be precipitated from the three-story window. I flew to rescue it. Meanwhile, Tom had left the room, and was rushing down the stairs, followed by Fanny. Having secured my desk, I ran to catch them, and Mary Ann came scampering after. All three escaped me, and ran out of the house into the garden, where they plunged about in the snow, shouting and screaming in exultant glee.

What must I do? If I followed them, I should probably be unable to capture one, and only drive them farther away; if I did not, how was I to get them in? And what would their parents think of me, if they saw or heard the children rioting, hatless, bonnetless, gloveless, and bootless, in the deep soft snow?

Which of the following best summarizes the entire passage?

Possible Answers:

A governess describes her limited success in improving the behavior of three children.

A governess shows her disgust with three children and her desire to return home.

A governess shares her frustrations taking care of three children and illustrates them with a story.

A governess provides details of the conflicts with three children and their parents.

Correct answer:

A governess shares her frustrations taking care of three children and illustrates them with a story.

Explanation:

In the passage, a governess addresses her frustrations, and in the third paragraph, narrows in on a specific example. This fits perfectly with “A governess shares her frustrations taking care of three children and illustrates them with a story,” our correct answer. The passage does not suggest that the governess is attempting to improve the childrens’ behavior, or that she shows any disgust for them - language far too extreme for the tone of the passage. The passage also does not include any evidence of interactions with the parents of the children, only apprehension over what they might think if they thought she was doing her job improperly and endangering the unruly children.

Example Question #1 : Author's Main Point

The passage is adapted from Ngonghala CN, et. al’s “Poverty, Disease, and the Ecology of Complex Systems” © 2014 Ngonghala et al.

In his landmark treatise, An Essay on the Principle of Population, Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus argued that population growth will necessarily exceed the growth rate of the means of subsistence, making poverty inevitable. The system of feedbacks that Malthus posited creates a situation similar to what social scientists now term a “poverty trap”: i.e., a self-reinforcing mechanism that causes poverty to persist. Malthus’s erroneous assumptions, which did not account for rapid technological progress, rendered his core prediction wrong: the world has enjoyed unprecedented economic development in the ensuing two centuries due to technology-driven productivity growth. 

Nonetheless, for the billion people who still languish in chronic extreme poverty, Malthus’s ideas about the importance of biophysical and biosocial feedback (e.g., interactions between human behavior and resource availability) to the dynamics of economic systems still ring true. Indeed, while they were based on observations of human populations, Malthus ideas had reverberations throughout the life sciences. His insights were based on important underlying processes that provided inspiration to both Darwin and Wallace as they independently derived the theory of evolution by natural selection. Likewise, these principles underlie standard models of population biology, including logistic population growth models, predator-prey models, and the epidemiology of host-pathogen dynamics. 

The economics literature on poverty traps, where extreme poverty of some populations persists alongside economic prosperity among others, has a history in various schools of thought. The most Malthusian of models were advanced later by Leibenstein and Nelson, who argued that interactions between economic, capital, and population growth can create a subsistence-level equilibrium. Today, the most common models of poverty traps are rooted in neoclassical growth theory, which is the dominant foundational framework for modeling economic growth. Though sometimes controversial, poverty trap concepts have been integral to some of the most sweeping efforts to catalyze economic development, such as those manifest in the Millennium Development Goals. 

The modern economics literature on poverty traps, however, is strikingly silent about the role of feedbacks from biophysical and biosocial processes. Two overwhelming characteristics of under-developed economies and the poorest, mostly rural, subpopulations in those countries are (i) the dominant role of resource-dependent primary production—from soils, fisheries, forests, and wildlife—as the root source of income and (ii) the high rates of morbidity and mortality due to parasitic and infectious diseases. For basic subsistence, the extremely poor rely on human capital that is directly generated from their ability to obtain resources, and thus critically influenced by climate and soil that determine the success of food production. These resources in turn influence the nutrition and health of individuals, but can also be influenced by a variety of other biophysical processes. For example, infectious and parasitic diseases effectively steal human resources for their own survival and transmission. Yet scientists rarely integrate even the most rudimentary frameworks for understanding these ecological processes into models of economic growth and poverty. 

This gap in the literature represents a major missed opportunity to advance our understanding of coupled ecological-economic systems. Through feedbacks between lower-level localized behavior and the higher-level processes that they drive, ecological systems are known to demonstrate complex emergent properties that can be sensitive to initial conditions. A large range of ecological systems—as revealed in processes like desertification, soil degradation, coral reef bleaching, and epidemic disease—have been characterized by multiple stable states, with direct consequences for the livelihoods of the poor. These multiple stable states, which arise from nonlinear positive feedbacks, imply sensitivity to initial conditions. 

While Malthus’s original arguments about the relationship between population growth and resource availability were overly simplistic (resulting in only one stable state of subsistence poverty), they led to more sophisticated characterizations of complex ecological processes. In this light, we suggest that breakthroughs in understanding poverty can still benefit from two of his enduring contributions to science: (i) models that are true to underlying mechanisms can lead to critical insights, particularly of complex emergent properties, that are not possible from pure phenomenological models; and (ii) there are significant implications for models that connect human economic behavior to biological constraints.

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The primary purpose of the passage is to

Possible Answers:

provide a detailed explanation for how ecological factors can lead to poverty feedback loops.

suggest that current economic theory does not adequately consider some important causes of poverty previously put forth by Malthus.

argue that ecological factors and certain disease states are the most important factors in determining poverty.

criticize researchers who have neglected the relationship between ecological factors and economic factors in analyzing poverty.

Correct answer:

suggest that current economic theory does not adequately consider some important causes of poverty previously put forth by Malthus.

Explanation:

We can begin analyzing this passage by understanding its tone. Here, “criticize” and “argue” are extreme in nature considering the tone of the passage, and their associated answer options, “criticize researchers who have neglected the relationship between ecological factors and economic factors in analyzing poverty” and “argue that ecological factors and certain disease states are the most important factors in determining poverty” are too extreme and do not align with the tone or purpose of the passage. “Provide a detailed explanation for how ecological factors can lead to poverty feedback loops” is far too narrow in scope for the function of this passage. However, “suggest that current economic theory does not adequately consider some important causes of poverty previously put forth by Malthus” perfectly aligns with the tone, as well as the emphasis placed on the perspective of Malthus and where it was not considered by many studying social sciences and poverty.

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