The SAT 2005

Short Reading Comprehension Passages

The Short of It

Short RP questions are like the long-lost little brother of long RPs. They're a new addition to the SAT family, but they've got the same basic makeup as their older, longer siblings. Short RPs test the same skills and cover the same basic categories of science, literature, art, history, and narrative as long RPs. They even have the same instructions as long RPs. But there is one big difference: They're shorter. And that's enough to change your whole strategy, because it means you can read short RPs word for word.

14.1  What Short RPs Look Like

Short RPs are about 100 words long and are followed by just two questions. Short RP questions are just like long RP questions. Every question fits into one of the seven categories we covered for long RPs:

  1. Main Idea
  2. Attitude or Tone
  3. Specific Information
  4. Implied Information
  5. Themes and Arguments
  6. Technique
  7. Words in Context

A Complete Short RP Example

Here's a sample short RP, complete with two questions. Read the passage and the questions straight through. Then we'll go over strategies for approaching short RPs like this one, including an explanation of how to answer the two questions about this passage using our four-step short RP strategy.

Airplanes are such a common form of travel that it's easy to forget just how recently they were invented. Today, even a person in the middle of nowhere would not be surprised to see a plane in the sky. But before the Wright brothers flew their plane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1910, most scientists thought flight by heavier-than-air machines would never be achieved. Never. In fact, the word "airplane" didn't come into common usage until after 1945.

1. The reference to the "person in the middle of nowhere" primarily serves to
(A)introduce a new argument
(B)challenge common beliefs
(C)highlight the limitations of an accepted idea
(D)question modern morals
(E)indicate the scope of a change

2. The author of the passage would most likely agree with each of the following statements EXCEPT
(A)airplanes are a relatively recent innovation
(B)the Wright brothers took the first airplane flight
(C)air travel remains the privilege of the elite
(D)the word "airplane" was rarely used in the early twentieth century
(E)airplanes can be seen almost anywhere


14.2  Short RP Strategy

For long RPs, we advised you to read the entire passage, make a sketchy outline, then check out the questions. We suggested that you follow those steps in that order because it'd be impossible to keep an 800-word passage and eight to thirteen questions in your head.

But short RPs are short and have just two questions. That means you can comfortably fit the entire passage and the two questions in your head. It also means you don't have to worry about keeping an outline, since you're dealing with only one paragraph. The change in the length of the passage therefore flips your whole strategy on its head: You should read the questions before you read the passage. That way, you'll have the exact questions you need to answer in mind as you read the passage.

  1. Read the two questions but not the answer choices.
  2. Read the passage, with special focus on answering the two questions.
  3. Come up with answers for the two questions in your own words.
  4. Match your answer to the correct answer.

Now let's see what happens when we apply this method to the two questions from our sample short RP.

Sample Short RP Answers and Explanations

Here's the first question again:

1. The reference to the "person in the middle of nowhere" primarily serves to
(A)introduce a new argument
(B)challenge common beliefs
(C)highlight the limitations of an accepted idea
(D)question modern morals
(E)indicate the scope of a change


Let's say you ignore our four-step method and read through this passage, skipping step 1. You'd have no clue what the questions are, so you'd just breeze by the phrase about the "person in the middle of nowhere." Then you'd get to the first question and would have to go back to reread the entire sentence containing the "person in the middle of nowhere" phrase, wasting precious time.

Instead, if you had followed step 1 and read the questions first, you'd know what you were looking for. You'd then read the passage and keep an eye out for that particular phrase (step 2). You'd notice that the phrase "not even a person in the middle of nowhere would be surprised to see a plane in the sky" emphasizes how common airplanes are now, and it draws a contrast to a hundred years ago when scientists did not believe such flight was possible. That means the author uses that phrase to point out that today, no one, anywhere would be surprised to see a plane in the sky. That's your version of the answer to this technique question (step 3). Now take a look at the real answer choices and try to find one that matches yours closely (step 4). E matches almost perfectly. The author uses the reference to the "person in the middle of nowhere" to indicate the scope of the change from the days when airplanes were foreign to almost everyone.

Now, for the second question from the sample passage:

2. The author of the passage would most likely agree with each of the following statements EXCEPT
(A)airplanes are a relatively recent innovation
(B)the Wright brothers took the first airplane flight
(C)air travel remains the privilege of the elite
(D)the word "airplane" was rarely used in the early twentieth century
(E)airplanes can be seen almost anywhere


Reading the questions first (step 1) can save you lots of time on EXCEPT questions. This themes and arguments question asks you to find the statement that the author would not agree with, so as you read the passage with the question in mind, you can check off the statements that the passage confirms as you read. Notice that on EXCEPT questions like this one, you have to read the answer choices first as well, since the question alone does not give you enough information to work with as you read the passage (step 2). Using this method will actually allow you to skip step 3 and 4, since the answer will be the only unchecked answer choice that remains after you've read the passage and checked off the statements with which the author would agree.

The author's main argument in this passage is that air travel has become entirely commonplace even though the invention of flight only happened one hundred years ago. You can knock out A, since the author would certainly agree that air travel is a recent invention. Check off B since the author references the Wright brothers' famous first flight directly in the passage. D and E can get checks too, because they cover material that the author clearly supports in the passage: that airplanes can be seen even in the middle of nowhere and that the word airplane only came into common usage recently. Only C stands out as directly against the author's main theme and argument: rather than remaining exclusively for the wealthy, air travel can now be enjoyed by almost anyone. After having read the passage and checked off answer choices as you read, only C would remain, and that's the correct answer.

14.3  Challenged to a (Short) Dual

Dual short RPs present you with two 100-word passages, and then four questions. The first question deals with the first passage, the second covers the second passage, and the last two questions cover the relationship between the passages.

As with the long dual passage, you should treat each short dual passage individually:

  1. Read the questions about the first passage, and then read the first passage.
  2. Come up with your own answer and compare it to the actual answer choices in the question about the first passage.
  3. Read the questions about the second passage, then read the second passage. Think about how the second passage relates to the first.
  4. Come up with your own answer and compare it to the actual answer choices in the question(s) about the second passage.
  5. Answer the questions that address both passages together.

By the time you get to step 5, you'll be so familiar with the passages that you won't have to look back at them to answer the two questions that ask you to relate them.

Sample Short Dual RP

Here are two related brief passages followed by four questions: two that treat the passages together and two that treat them individually.

Few things in life are as rewarding and fulfilling as owning a pet. Whether it's a dog, cat, bird, or fish, the appeal is the same -- years of fun and unconditional love. Indeed, pets can actually satisfy many of the things people crave most: companionship, communication, loyalty, and plenty of amusement. Perhaps that's why pets are so popular among the elderly and people who live alone. As human relationships grow more complex with each new technological gadget, the simple bond between a pet and its owner offers a refreshing and comforting reprieve.

  In addition to protesting reprehensible practices like fur trapping and animal testing, animal rights groups have begun to attack owners of cats and dogs for keeping animals "imprisoned" in the home. Finally, these groups have started to make the justified comparison of owning a pet to keeping a domesticated animal like a sheep or a cow. Both pet ownership and domestication of animals stem from the same cruel source: human selfishness. No animal should be kept confined solely for the benefit of human beings, whether that benefit comes in the form of meat, leather, or the companionship of a pet.


Sample Dual Short RP Questions and Explanations

1. How might you sum up the author's main idea in the first passage?
(A)Owning a pet is cruel and unfair.
(B)Pets should always be leashed.
(C)Pet ownership has profound rewards.
(D)Pet ownership is technologically advanced.
(E)Pets need new forms of communication.

2. The word "reprehensible" in the second passage most nearly means
(A)demoralizing
(B)invigorating
(C)restorative
(D)disgraceful
(E)delightful

3. Based on information in these two passages, the authors disagree about whether
(A)animals should be kept as pets
(B)pets are beneficial for humans
(C)fur trapping should be illegal
(D)kennel conditions should be reformed
(E)human beings are inherently selfish

4. Which words among the pairs below best describe the tone of the first passage and of the second passage, respectively?
(A)alarmed and disengaged
(B)enthusiastic and critical
(C)despondent and exuberant
(D)elated and enervated
(E)wary and disapproving


Explanations

1.      C     Main Idea     

Step 1 tells you to read this question before reading the first passage, since it's specifically about the first passage. You then know to think about coming up with your own quick description of the main idea of the first passage as you read. This author strongly supports pet ownership because it rewards pet owners with years of fun and love. So, that's your answer to describe main idea of the passage.

Now take a look at the actual answer choices and look for a description of the passage's main idea that comes closest to your description of the joys of pet ownerships (step 2). A is out because it describes having a pet as "cruel" and "unfair." B, D, and E are all SAT traps because each mentions something vaguely mentioned in the passage (leashes, technological innovations, and communication), but none captures the main idea. Only C matches the answer you generated to describe the main idea: Owning a pet brings profound, or deep, rewards to pet owners. C is the correct answer.

2.      D     Words-in-Context     

Step 3 tells you to read the question(s) about the second passage before reading the second passage. You'd then know to pay close attention as you read the passage to the sentence with the word reprehensible so you don't have to go back and find it later.

And there it is, right in the first sentence. Since this is a words-in-context question, treat it like a Sentence Completion and use the rest of the paragraph to help you fill in the blank with your own answer. The sentence is: "In addition to protesting ---- practices like fur trapping and animal testing, animal rights groups have begun to attack owners of cats and dogs for keeping animals ‘imprisoned' in the home." The switch words in addition to show that the sentence is one-way: The animal rights groups are acting consistently. And it's clear from the rest of the passage that the writer is really, really against pet ownership. So, it would seem that the blank must be filled with an extremely negative word like awful.

You can throw out answers B, C, and E, because each is a positive word. That leaves demoralizing and disgraceful. These two words are both negative, but demoralizing means "negatively affecting morale," which isn't quite strong enough to reflect this writer's anger about the mistreatment of animals. So the answer is D.

3.      A     Themes and Arguments     

By the time you get to dual passage questions that ask about both passages together, you will have already read and answered specific questions about both passages. That means you don't need to read them again and can dive right in to generating your own answers and comparing them to the actual answer choices.

This question asks about what the authors of the two passage disagree about. The divergent views of the authors of these two passages are quite clear: One supports pet ownership enthusiastically and one objects to it strongly. Let's say that's the answer you generate on your own. Now let's see which answer choice matches it. Since you've established that the question of whether "animals should be kept as pets" is the core of their disagreement, A is the correct answer.

B is incorrect because while the first passage would agree with the statement, the second passage does not disagree; it just says that the question of whether having a pet is beneficial for the human is not the issue. C is an SAT trap. The SAT wants you to see "fur trapping," which the second passage mentions briefly, and pick that answer. But the first author does not mention fur trapping at all, so it is definitely not the main issue here. Cut C. Neither passage mentions kennels, so eliminate D. E is incorrect because only the author of the second passage would explicitly agree with the sentiment that human beings are selfish.

4.      B     Tone     

This question asks about the tone of the two passages. Since you've read both passages thoroughly already, generate your own answer and compare it to the real answer choices.

What words might you already have in mind to describe the tone of these two passages? The first is positive, encouraging, and excited about the prospect of owning a pet. The second is negative, disapproving, and concerned about pet ownership in general. With that in mind, you should be able to select B as correct: The first passage is enthusiastic in tone, whereas the second is critical.