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III.  4 Step Method of Attacking Reading Comprehension Passages
 
 

In the above section we gave you the six strategies to analyze a Reading Comprehension text and what the common questions are. Now you need to know how to apply them when you get to a passage:

  1. Dissect the introductory paragraph.
  2. Create a mental road map.
  3. Once you finish the essay, stop to summarize the entire passage.
  4. Tackle the questions.

1. Dissect the introductory paragraph.
Read the introductory paragraph in an active manner. Think through the concepts while you are reading the text. What is the author's point? What is he trying to prove?

2. Create a mental road map.
Diagram the organization of the passage. What are the purposes of the different paragraphs? What is the content of the different paragraphs? You are not graded on reading the essay, but answering the questions. Your goal here is to simply get an idea of roughly how the essay works. You do not need a perfect understanding of the essay and do not have enough time to read it completely. Instead, attack each paragraph by reading the first sentence and quickly skimming the rest. When you've read all of the paragraphs, you can get an idea about the essay's organization.


3. Stop to summarize the essay.
Before answering the questions, take a few seconds to summarize your mental road map and the point of the essay.

4. Tackle the questions.
Answer the questions based on your mental road map of the passage. Locate the answer to each question within the paragraph that relates to the question. Here you may have to read more thoroughly than when you were skimming in step 2 above.

To see how these techniques work, try the sample essay below:

One of the most persistently troubling parts of national domestic policy is the development and use of water resources. Because the technology of water management involves similar construction skills, whether the task is the building of an ocean jetty for protection of shipping or the construction of a river dam for flood control and irrigation, the issues of water policy have mingled problems of navigation and agriculture. A further inherent complexity of water policy is the frequent conflict between flood control and irrigation and between requirements for abundance and those for scarcity of water. Both problems exist in America, often in the same river basins; the one is most typically the problem of the lower part of the basin and the other the problem of the upper part.

Then there are the problems of cities located along the major American rivers, not infrequently directly on the very flood plains of highly erratic streams. In the arid parts of the land it has recently become clear that climate varies over time, with irregular periods of serious drought followed by wet periods marked by occasional floods. The problems of land and water, then, are inherently difficult. For this reason alone, shortcomings and failures have probably been inevitable. Moreover, in the scale of the undertakings that have been attempted involving on occasion no less than the reversal of stream flow and the altering of the natural features of whole river basins, it is inevitable.

Nevertheless, the most startling fact about the history of water projects in the United States is the degree to which their shortcomings have been associated with administrative failures. Again and again these shortcomings have proved to be the consequences of inadequate study of water flow: of soil, of factors other than construction technology and of faulty organization. In 1959, the Senate Select Committee on National Water resources found that twenty different national commissions or committees charged with examining these problems and seeking solutions had emphasized with remarkable consistency the need for coordination among agencies dealing with water.

 

Let's take a second to follow the set strategy.

1. Dissect the first paragraph.

One of the most persistently troubling parts of national domestic policy is the development and use of water resources. Because the technology of water management involves similar construction skills, whether the task is the building of an ocean jetty for protection of shipping or the construction of a river dam for flood control and irrigation, the issues of water policy have mingled problems of navigation and agriculture. A further inherent complexity of water policy is the frequent conflict between flood control and irrigation between requirements for abundance and those for scarcity of water. Both problems exist in America, often in the same river basins; the one is most typically the problem of the lower part of the basin and the other the problem of the upper part.


The main point is that there are problems with water management that result from conflicts of interest between flood control, irrigation, navigation and the upper/lower parts of the basin.


2. Create a mental road map.

Paragraph 1 is about the problems with water management that result from conflicts of interest between flood control, irrigation, navigation and the upper/lower parts of the basin.

Paragraph 2 describes the effects of floods, streams and other natural variances that add another level of complexity to the issue.

Paragraph 3 describes how the attempts to deal with these conflicts have been incompetently managed. Note the use of strong phrase "startling." It appears that the author's main point is in paragraph 3.



3. Stop to summarize the essay

Clearly, the author's main intention of writing this essay is to reveal the incompetence of agencies managing water. The first two paragraphs describe the scale of the problem; the final paragraph describes the problems faced in attempting to solve it.



4. Tackle the questions.

1. According to the passage, the shortcomings of water projects in the U.S. are primarily the consequences of?
a) conflict between flood control and irrigation
b) inadequate study and faulty coordination among agencies
c) Problems of land and water
d) inadequate construction technology
e) the scale of the projects


Explanation: The passage makes it clear that the primary cause of the shortcomings of water projects in the U.S. is (B) inadequate study and faulty coordination among agencies. The passage does not refer to conflicts between flood control, problems of land and water, inadequate construction technology, or the scale of projects. The correct answer is (B).
Having the discipline to stick to the 4 point strategy pays off here. We identified that the main point of the passage was incompetent agencies in step 3. We used our knowledge that the author will use strong language "startling... incompetence" to identify his main point. The author's purpose here is to point out bad management.

 

 

2. Of the issues named below, which is more typically the problem of the upper part of a river basin?
a) navigation
b) shipping
c) flood control
d) drought followed by wet period
e) scarcity



This is a simple recall question. The passage makes it clear that in the lower part of the basin, flooding is the problem; in the upper part, scarcity is the problem. Scarcity is the only problem identified with the upper part of a basin. (A), (B), (C), and (D) are irrelevant to this question and, as a result, are incorrect. (E) is the correct answer.


3. Which of the following is not a problem associated with the development of water resources?
a) a conflict between flood control and irrigation
b) problems of navigation and agriculture
c) location of cities on flood plains
d) inadequate design technology
e) variations in climate

 


The passage makes it plain that (A), conflict of purpose; (B), practical problems of use; (C), vulnerability of cities on flood plains; and (E), climatic variations, impede the development of water resources. Design technology is not one of the impediments identified by this passage. The correct answer is (D).


4. Which statement below may be inferred from the information given in this passage?
a) The intersection of problems of climate, geography, purpose, technology, and administration complicates the development of water projects.
b) Innovative design and construction technology eliminate conflict in demand for flood control and for irrigation.
c) In the design of a water project, upper and lower parts of a river basin must be regarded as identical entities.
d) In the design of a water project, predominant problems derive from the presence of erratic streams.
e) Irregularity of climate is the most critical impediment to the development of water projects.


The passage makes it clear that problems of climate, geography, purpose, and technology complicate the development of water projects, but the most serious impediment is inadequate study and faulty coordination. The inference in (B) is wholly unsupported by the passage. (C) directly contradicts the major scientific argument of the passage. The inferences in (D) and (E) are not supported by information in the passage. This question is easy to get because all of the concepts are covered in the road map. The correct answer is (A).

Additional Example

 

As in the case of so many words used by the biologist and physiologist, the word acclimatization is hard to define. With increase in knowledge and understanding, meanings of words change. Originally the term acclimatization was taken to mean only the ability of human beings or animals or plants to accustom themselves to new and strange climatic conditions, primarily altered temperature. A person or a wolf moves to a hot climate and is uncomfortable there, but after a time is better able to withstand the heat. But aside from temperature, there are other aspects of climate. A person or an animal may become adjusted to living at higher altitudes than those it was originally accustomed to. At really high altitudes, such as aviators maybe exposed to, the low atmospheric pressure becomes a factor of primary importance. In changing to a new environment, a person may, therefore, meet new conditions of temperature or pressure, and in addition may have to contend with different chemical surroundings. On high mountains, the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere may be relatively small; in crowded cities, a person may become exposed to relatively high concentrations of carbon dioxide or even carbon monoxide, and in various areas may be exposed to conditions in which the water content of the atmosphere is extremely high or extremely low. Thus in the case of humans, animals, and even plants, the concept of acclimatization includes the phenomena of increased toleration of high or low temperature, of altered pressure, and of changes in the chemical environment.

Let us define acclimatization, therefore, as the process in which an organism or a part of an organism becomes inured to an environment which is normally unsuitable to it or lethal for it. By and large, acclimatization is a relatively slow process. The term should not be taken to include relatively rapid adjustments such as our sense organs are constantly making. This type of adjustment is commonly referred to by physiologists as "adaptation." Thus our touch sense soon becomes accustomed to the pressure of our clothes and we do not feel them; we soon fail to hear the ticking of a clock; obnoxious odors after a time fail to make much impression on us, and our eyes in strong light rapidly become insensitive.

The fundamental fact about acclimatization is that all animals and plants have some capacity to adjust themselves to changes in their environment. This is one of the most remarkable characteristics of living organisms, a characteristic for which it is extremely difficult to find explanations.


1. According to the reading selection, all animals and plants

(A) have an ability for acclimatization.
(B) can adjust to only one change in the environment at a time.
(C) are successful in adjusting themselves to changes in their environments.
(D) can adjust to natural changes in the environment but not to artificially induced changes.
(E) that have once acclimatized themselves to an environmental change can acclimatize themselves more rapidly to subsequent changes.




(A) Choice A is correct. See the start of the last paragraph: “The fundamental fact ... in their environment.” Choices B, D, and E are incorrect because the passage does not indicate that these statements are true. Choice C is incorrect because it is only partially true. The passage does not state that all animals and plants are successful in adjusting themselves to changes in their environments.




2. It can be inferred from the reading selection that

(A) every change in the environment requires acclimatization by living things.
(B) plants and animals are more alike than they are different.
(C) biologist and physiologists study essentially the same things.
(D) the explanation of acclimatization is specific to each plant and animal.
(E) as science develops, the connotation of terms may change.


2. Choice E is correct. See the third sentence in paragraph 1: “Originally the term acclimatization . .. altered temperature.” Also see sentence 5 in paragraph 1: “But aside from temperature originally accustomed to.” Choices A, B, C, and D are incorrect because one cannot infer from the passage what any of these choices state.




3. According to the reading selection, acclimatization

(A) is similar to adaptation.
(B) is more important today than it formerly was.
(C) involves positive as well as negative adjustment.
(D) may be involved with a part of an organism but not with the whole organism.
(E) is more difficult to explain with the more complex present-day environment than formerly.





3. Choice A is correct. Acclimatization and adaptation are both forms of adjustment. Accordingly, these two processes are similar. The difference between the two terms, however, is brought out in the second sentence in second paragraph: By and large ... as adaptation.” Choice D is incorrect because the passage does not indicate what is expressed in Choice D. See the first line of the second paragraph: “Let us define acclimatization.. . lethal for it.” Choices B, C, and E are incorrect because the passage does not indicate that any of these choices are true.



4. By inference from the reading selection, which one of the following would not require the process of acclimatization?


(A) an ocean fish placed in a lake
(B) a skin diver making a deep dive
(C) an airplane pilot making a high-altitude flight
(D) a person going from daylight into a darkened room
(E) a businessman moving from Denver, Colorado, to New Orleans, Louisiana




4. (D) Choice D is correct. A person going from daylight into a darkened room is an example of adaptation— not acclimatization. See the second through fourth sentences in paragraph two: “By and large as ‘adaptation.” Choices A, B, C, and E all require the process of acclimatization. Therefore, they are incorrect choices. An ocean fish placed in a lake (Choice A) is a chemical change. Choices B, C, and E are all pressure changes. Acclimatization, by definition, deals with chemical and pressure changes.

 

 

 


5. According to the passage, a major distinction between acclimatization and adaptation is that acclimatization

(A) is more important than adaptation.
(B) is relatively slow and adaptation is relatively rapid.
(C) applies to adjustments while adaptation does not apply to adjustments.
(D) applies to terrestrial animals and adaptation to aquatic animals.
(E) is applicable to all animals and plants and adaptation only to higher animals and man.


5. Choice B is correct. See the third sentence of paragraph two: “The term [acclimatization] should not be taken. . . as ‘adaptation.’ “Choices A, D, and E are incorrect because the passage does not indicate that these choices are true. Choice C is partially correct in that acclimatization does apply to adjustments, but the choice is incorrect because adaptation also applies to adjustments. See paragraph two sentence three: “This type of adjustment as ‘adaptation.”


 

6. The word "inured" in the first sentence of paragraph two most likely means

(A) exposed
(B) accustomed
(C) attracted
(D) associated
(E) in love with

 


Choice B is correct. Given the context in the sentence, Choice B is the best.

 

 

Review

1. Dissect the introductory paragraph.
Read the introductory paragraph in an active manner. Think through the concepts while you are reading the text. What is the author's point? What is he trying to prove?

2. Create a mental road map.
Diagram the organization of the passage.

3. Stop to summarize the essay.
Before answering the questions, take a few seconds to summarize your mental road map.

4. Tackle the questions.
Answer the questions based on your mental road map of the passage.



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