One: Purpose of Passage

Download a preview of

RC Perfection Free Preview: Chapter 7 Part I​

Let’s start with a question type that we have already encountered countless times before, even as we were analyzing the passage structure in previous chapters.

Throughout Part I of the book, we learned the skills on how to actively read, how to engage with the content of the passage, and how to break the passage down in terms of its structure. A fundamental question that we repeatedly asked ourselves was “Why is the author writing this passage?

As we saw, there’s always a reason to compose a piece of writing. You write a shopping list to prevent yourself from forgetting things at the supermarket; you scribble in your diary to record what has happened during the day; you write an argumentative essay to arguing for a specific position or to attack someone else’s position. You write a love letter to express your feelings and infatuation for someone who will probably ghost you.

In Chapter 1, we used the CEER framework to figure out what the author is trying to do throughout the passage. Whenever we feel that our mind is beginning to wander or that we are struggling to processing what we’ve just read, CEER is a powerful tool for a reality check. Force yourself to answer this question: “What is the author doing? Are they making a comparison between two issues; explaining how something complicated works; evaluating the pros and cons; or recommending a position/course of action?”

The CEER framework can even be stretched to fit the entire passage in many instances. As you read through the passage, and when you have completed reading the passage, ask yourself, “Why did the author write this passage? Was it to compare, explain, evaluate, recommend, or something else?

Let’s revisit a passage that we’ve already seen before, this time with a Purpose of Passage question included:

PT27 S3 Q14 (PT27 Passage 2)

Personal names are generally regarded by European thinkers in two major ways, both of which deny that names have any significant semantic content. In philosophy and linguistics, John Stuart Mill’s formulation that “proper names are meaningless marks set upon…persons to distinguish them from one another” retains currency; in anthropology, Claude Lévi-Strauss’s characterization of names as being primarily instruments of social classification has been very influential. Consequently, interpretation of personal names in societies were names have other functions and meanings has been neglected. Among the Hopi of the southwestern United States, names often refer to historical or ritual events in order both to place individuals within society and to confer an identity upon them. Furthermore, the images used to evoke these events suggest that Hopi names can be seen as a type of poetic composition.

Throughout life, Hopis receive several names in a sequence of ritual initiations. Birth, entry into one of the ritual societies during childhood, and puberty are among the name-giving occasions. Names are conferred by an adult member of a clan other than the child’s clan, and names refer to that name giver’s clan, sometimes combining characteristics of the clan’s totem animal with the child’s characteristics. Thus, a name might translate to something as simple as “little rabbit,” which reflects both the child’s size and the representative animal.

More often, though, the name giver has in mind a specific event that is not apparent in a name’s literal translation. One Lizard clan member from the village of Oraibi is named Lomayayva, “beautifully ascended.” This translation, however, tells nothing about either the event referred to—who or what ascended—or the name giver’s clan. The name giver in this case is from Badger clan. Badger clan is responsible for an annual ceremony featuring a procession in which masked representations of spirits climb the mesa on which Oraibi sits. Combining the name giver’s clan association with the receiver’s home village, “beautifully ascended” refers to the splendid colors and movements of the procession up the mesa. The condensed image this name evokes—a typical feature of Hopi personal names—displays the same quality of Western Apache place names that led one commentator to call them “tiny imagist poems.”

Hopi personal names do several things simultaneously. They indicate social relationships—but only indirectly—and they individuate persons. Equally important, though, is their poetic quality; in a sense they can be understood as oral texts that produce aesthetic delight. This view of Hopi names is thus opposed not only to Mill’s claim that personal names are without inherent meaning but also to Lévi-Strauss’s purely functional characterization. Interpreters must understand Hopi clan structures and linguistic practices in order to discern the beauty and significance of Hopi names.

The author’s primary purpose in writing the passage is to

A. present an anthropological study of Hopi names

B. propose a new theory about the origin of name

C. describe several competing theories of names

D. criticize two influential views of names

E. explain the cultural origins of names

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

Let’s think back on what we had come up with as the Author’s Purpose in Chapter 3, where we last saw this passage. We know that the author briefly describes Mill and Levi-Strauss’ theory of names but goes on to say that the other functions and meanings of names have been ignored by these Eurocentric views. The author then goes into detail describing Hopi names, showing us how they can be miniature poems full of meaning and imagery, a quality of names not considered by Mill or Levi-Strauss.

So what is the Author’s Purpose? We are concerned with the “why,” rather than the “what” in Passage Purpose questions. In these questions, the test-makers will frequently throw in wrong answer choices that do actually describe something that the author does in the passage. But such an answer, unfortunately, is not describing the overarching purpose behind the passage as a whole.

Let me use an example to illustrate: Why are you studying for the LSAT? Obviously, it’s to apply to law school and attend law school eventually. During this process, you may have improved your reading ability, your ability to refute a fallacious argument, or spot conditional statements. But none of these are the reason why you are studying for the LSAT, they are simply effects.

Similarly, while studying for the LSAT you may have read a bunch of books, mine included; you may have registered for an account on a test prep website; you may have hired a tutor. These are things that you did, but they are not why you are studying for the LSAT.

So on Purpose of Passage questions, always try to think about the why, rather than the what. We want an answer that tells us why the author wrote the passage, not recount what the author did in the passage.

With this in mind, let’s look at the answer choices:

A. present an anthropological study of Hopi names

So there are two questions that we must ask ourselves in a Purpose of the Passage question whenever we see an answer choice:

  1. Does the author actually do this?
  2. Is this why the author wrote the passage?

Does the author present an “anthropological study” of Hopi names? I suppose the author does talk about Hopi names in detail, in that sense it could maybe be considered an “anthropological study.” But the verb “present” is also suspicious. “Presenting an anthropological study” sounds like you are presenting a paper at a conference or presenting a new discovery to a group of peers…it has the connotation of something organized, structured, and academic.

I think the author does present some unique features of Hopi names, but to call it “presenting an anthropological study” is a little too far fetched. So I wouldn’t say that the author actually does this in the passage. I don’t like this answer all that much.

B. propose a new theory about the origin of name

The author does mention that the traditional, European theories are not adequate. But is a new theory presented? If so, what is that new theory, and where is it mentioned in the passage?

I’d say that the author is more pointing out a glaring gap in existing theories, rather than propose a new theory. Perhaps the author thinks that a new theory is in order, but they never propose it.

Compared to Answer Choice A, I like this even less.

C. describe several competing theories of names

Does the author do this? Sure. Mill’s theory is described, Levi-Strauss’ theory is also described (all in the first paragraph). The rest of the passage talks about Hopi names, and I’m not too clear whether there is a theory that encompasses Hopi names or that such theory is described.

This answer is typical of the trap we just described. It does describe something the author did, but it’s not the reason why this passage was written.

D. criticize two influential views of names

This answer choice, on the surface, feels a little off topic. The majority of the passage is devoted to describing Hopi names, there’s barely any criticism levelled at anyone.

But on the other hand, if we had a strong grasp of the passage’s structure and content and had did our best to anticipate what the correct answer might look like, then answer choice D may make more sense. Remember how the passage starts by talking about two theories of names, but then goes on to describe an important quality of names that these theories have overlooked. The rest of the passage goes on to talk about the meaning and semantic content of Hopi names, which is exactly what the two European theories overlook. In other words, the author is using the example of Hopi names as a counterexample to demonstrate the shortcomings of Mill and Levi-Strauss’ theories. Indeed, the author mentions this in the very last paragraph: “This view of Hopi names is thus opposed not only to Mill’s claim that personal names are without inherent meaning but also to Lévi-Strauss’s purely functional characterization.”

If we think about the passage in this light, then we will realize that the author was trying to highlight a shortcoming in both Mill’s and Levi-Strauss’ theories.

E. explain the cultural origins of names

Does the author do this? Tell us where names come from culturally? For Hopi names, they do: we are told that they originate from one’s tribal affiliation, specific events in one’s life, and from a specific name giver. These are things that the author tells us about Hopi names.

But is this why we must differentiate what the author did in the passage and why the author wrote the passage. It is so very easy to get lost in the details of the answer choices, or be led astray by answer choices that sound reasonable on a first glance.

The biggest single helpful tip one can give when approaching RC questions is to anticipate, as much as you can, what the correct answer might look like before you tackle the answer choices.

Of course, this is not always possible. But for questions asking us about the Purpose of the Passage, this is usually doable.

We also saw how important it was to read the very first paragraph in detail.

The sentence where the author points out a shortcoming in Mill’s and Levi-Strauss’ theories is subtle and easily missed. If we had seen that sentence, it would guide our subsequent approach to the rest of the passage. If we had missed it, then we might have very easily thought the passage’s whole point was to describe Hopi names per se.

Lastly, get into the habit of ranking answer choices.

Because the differences between the answer choices can be extremely subtle, especially on the harder questions; we must try to develop the subconscious habit of not being caught up on the truth/falsity of a single answer choice, but rather, to find the best possible answer choice out of five potential candidates.

This is where ranking answers will come in handy. For this question, I’d say that Answer Choice D > C > A/E > B.

The correct answer is D.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

Let’s take a look at the answer choices: 

 

A. Draws a conclusion about the population in general based only on a sample of that population

 

What the test makers are describing here is a sampling bias fallacy. The previous question where the author concludes anyone fishing for trout based on how the best fishermen felt about the best selling bait would be such a flaw. Here, even though a survey and sampling are involved, we simply do not have enough information to know whether such a flaw is committed. On the real test, I would keep this answer and move on. 

 

B. Confuses a sufficient condition with a required condition

 

This is the flaw we are looking for, the conditional logic flaw. 

 

C. Is based on an ambiguity of one of its terms

 

The flaw this answer is talking about is called Equivocation, where one word has two meanings and the meaning of the word shifts through the argument. 

 

D. Draws a conclusion about a specific belief based on responses to queries about two different specific beliefs

 

This answer is tricky because it’s half wrong half right. The author drew a conclusion about two specific beliefs (more people believe Indicted → Resign than Convicted → Resign) based upon two specific beliefs, one of which is the same (Indicted → Resign), and one of which is different. (Resign → Convicted)

 

E.. Contains premises that cannot all be true

 

This is the Self Contradiction flaw, it does not appear here. 

Let’s look at another passage and an associated question that asks us for the Author’s Purpose. Think about what we’ve learned so far, remember to read the first paragraphs of the passage in detail, and try to anticipate what the Author’s Purpose might be as you read through the passage:

PT21 S4 Q7 (PT21 Passage 1)

Musicologists concerned with the “London Pianoforte school,” the group of composers, pedagogues, pianists, publishers, and builders who contributed to the development of the piano in London at the turn of the nineteenth century, have long encountered a formidable obstacle in the general unavailability of music of this “school” in modern scholarly editions. Indeed, much of this repertory has more or less vanished from our historical consciousness. Granted, the sonatas and Gradus ad Parnassum of Muzio Clementi and the nocturnes of John Field have remained familiar enough (though more often than not in editions lacking scholarly rigor), but the work of other leading representatives, like Johann Baptist Cramer and Jan Ladislav Dussek, has eluded serious attempts at revival.

Nicholas Temperley’s ambitious new anthology decisively overcomes this deficiency. What underscores the intrinsic value of Temperley’s editions is that the anthology reproduces nearly all of the original music in facsimile. Making available this cross section of English musical life—some 800 works by 49 composers—should encourage new critical perspectives about how piano music evolved in England, an issue of considerable relevance to our understanding of how piano music developed on the European continent, and of how, finally, the instrument was transformed from the fortepiano to what we know today as the piano.

To be sure, the concept of the London Pianoforte school itself calls for review. “School” may well be too strong a word for what was arguably a group unified not so much by stylistic principles or aesthetic creed as by the geographical circumstance that they worked at various times in London and produced pianos and piano music for English pianos and English markets. Indeed, Temperley concedes that their “variety may be so great as to cast doubt on the notion of a ‘school.’”

The notion of a school was first propounded by Alexander Ringer, who argued that laws of artistic survival forced the young, progressive Beethoven to turn outside Austria for creative models, and that he found inspiration in a group of pianists connected with Clementi in London. Ringer’s proposed London Pianoforte school did suggest a circumscribed and fairly unified group—for want of a better term, a school—of musicians whose influence was felt primarily in the decades just before and after 1800. After all, Beethoven did respond to the advances of the Broadwood piano—its reinforced frame, extended compass, triple stringing, and pedals, for example—and it is reasonable to suppose that London pianists who composed music for such an instrument during the critical phase of its development exercised no small degree of influence on Continental musicians. Nevertheless, perhaps the most sensible approach to this issue is to define the school by the period (c. 1766–1873) during which it flourished, as Temperley has done in the anthology.

The author of the passage is primarily concerned with:

A. Explaining the influence of the development of the pianoforte on the music of Beethoven

B. Describing Temperley’s view of the contrast between the development of piano music in England and the development of piano music elsewhere in Europe

C. Presenting Temperley’s evaluation of the impact of changes in piano construction on styles and forms of music composed in the era of the London Pianoforte school

D. Considering an alternative theory to that proposed by Ringer concerning the London Pianoforte school

E. Discussing the contribution of Temperley’s anthology to what is known of the history of the London Pianoforte school  

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

So the first thing that we should have done was to try to anticipate what the Author’s Purpose might be even as we are reading the passage. It doesn’t really matter if such a question exists or not; simply figuring out what might be the Author’s Purpose for writing this passage will help us engage with the rest of the material.

For instance, if we realize that the author is primarily comparing two positions, we will look extra carefully for what these two positions are as we read. If we had figured out that the author is making an evaluation, then we would know to look for the author’s attitude, whether it’s positive or negative, and to ask ourselves why.

So back to the passage, what does the author do throughout the passage, and why are they doing it?

We know from the passage that the author presents a situation in the first paragraph: the music of the LPS has largely faded from our consciousness. The author then introduces Temperley’s new anthology, telling us that it addresses this deficiency (lack of exposure of LPS composers). The author then describes Temperley’s new book, its views, and its merits. The author finally defends Temperley’s categorization of LPS musicians based on time period, rather than to treat them as a closely knit group.

We know that the author looks upon Temperley’s work favorably. But why is the author writing this passage? I think it’s to do two things: one, to introduce the audience to Temperley’s new anthology; and two, to give it a favorable review.

With this in mind, let’s look at the answer choices:

A. Explaining the influence of the development of the pianoforte on the music of Beethoven

Again, whenever we are looking at Purpose of the Passage answers, two questions to ask: does this happen, and is this the reason why the entire passage was written.

Does the author explain the influence of pianoforte development on Beethoven?

Alexander Ringer kind of touches upon this. But what exactly that influence entails wasn’t made clear. Further, it was a view held by an academic mentioned by the author, it’s not the whole purpose behind why the author wrote this passage.

B. Describing Temperley’s view of the contrast between the development of piano music in England and the development of piano music elsewhere in Europe

Is there contrast between the development of English piano music and continental piano music? I suppose that a case can be made that the English and the subsequent Broadwood piano were influential on the continent. But “contrast” means difference. What was the difference between the two styles of music? We don’t really know for sure.

C. Presenting Temperley’s evaluation of the impact of changes in piano construction on styles and forms of music composed in the era of the London Pianoforte school

Let’s break down this answer choice:

So changes in piano construction caused the styles and forms of music to change.

And Temperley made an evaluation of these changes (e.g. are the changes positive or negative).

The passage is presenting Temperley’s evaluation, which means that it’s basically making a list of Temperley’s views on how changes in piano construction changed the style and form of music.

The passage must satisfy these three requirements in order for this answer choice to be a contender.

This doesn’t happen in the passage.

D. Considering an alternative theory to that proposed by Ringer concerning the London Pianoforte school

Does Ringer propose a theory concerning the LPS? I believe so. Ringer calls this group of composers and musicians a “school.” On the other hand, Temperley may believe that this group is less tight-knit than Ringer had believed. So in that sense, perhaps the content can be construed as an “alternative theory.”

But this is really only the focus of the last two paragraphs. To think about the author’s overarching purpose in writing the passage, we really must consider the entirety of the passage. We know that in the first two paragraphs, the author introduces Temperley’s new work and how it addresses a current shortcoming in scholarship. If we think about this aspect of the passage as well, then we will realize that the passage’s purpose is to provide a favorable review of Temperley’s new work.

E. Discussing the contribution of Temperley’s anthology to what is known of the history of the London Pianoforte school

This answer is the closest match to our anticipated answer. The word “discussing” is fairly bland and neutral. I would have preferred something like “highlighting the contribution of Temperley’s anthology,” but I suppose the author is, after all, “discussing” Temperley’s contribution too.

So what are Temperley’s contributions? He provides an encompassing and holistic overview of the music that has been forgotten and overlooked. (Discussed in Paragraphs 1 and 2)

He also categorizes these musicians and composers as a loosely affiliated group based on chronology rather than a tight-knit cohort. (Discussed in Paragraphs 3 and 4)

E is the correct answer.

At the end of the day, E wins over the other answer choices because it satisfies the few requirements we would consider when looking at a Purpose of the Passage answer choice.

In the first place, what was discussed in answer choice E actually takes place in the passage. Secondly, it is the closest match to our anticipated answer, based on our close reading of the first paragraph, our hypothesis, and our confirmation after reading the entire passage. (Re-read Chapter 1 if you need on refresher on the general approach to a passage)

Common trap answers include answer choices describing things that did not happen in the passage; or things that did occur in the passage, but is not the reason why the author wrote the passage in the first place.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

Let’s take a look at the answer choices: 

 

A. Draws a conclusion about the population in general based only on a sample of that population

 

What the test makers are describing here is a sampling bias fallacy. The previous question where the author concludes anyone fishing for trout based on how the best fishermen felt about the best selling bait would be such a flaw. Here, even though a survey and sampling are involved, we simply do not have enough information to know whether such a flaw is committed. On the real test, I would keep this answer and move on. 

 

B. Confuses a sufficient condition with a required condition

 

This is the flaw we are looking for, the conditional logic flaw. 

 

C. Is based on an ambiguity of one of its terms

 

The flaw this answer is talking about is called Equivocation, where one word has two meanings and the meaning of the word shifts through the argument. 

 

D. Draws a conclusion about a specific belief based on responses to queries about two different specific beliefs

 

This answer is tricky because it’s half wrong half right. The author drew a conclusion about two specific beliefs (more people believe Indicted → Resign than Convicted → Resign) based upon two specific beliefs, one of which is the same (Indicted → Resign), and one of which is different. (Resign → Convicted)

 

E.. Contains premises that cannot all be true

 

This is the Self Contradiction flaw, it does not appear here.