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    Reading Comprehension
  I: Introduction  
  II: The Challenge  
  III: The Five Steps  
  IV: Question Types  
  V: Tips  
  VI: Sample Essays  
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VI. Reading Comprehension Sample Questions- Hard Essay 1  
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Sample Essays



8 questions/ 12 minutes

On the grassy slope below me was the god's precinct, a sacred spot, entered on pain of death. Indeed, worshipers of old believed that, once there, neither man nor beast could cast a shadow. In times past they had processed up this mountain in the night to reenact a ritual human sacrifice to their god—or so ancient sources tell us. At the festive meal, a person who chanced to eat human flesh mixed with the flesh of sacrificed animals would transform into a werewolf. In fact, Lykaion signifies wolf.

These enigmatic rites were celebrated not by an uncivilized people in a forgotten land but rather in the heart of classical Greece during its so-called Golden Age. The practitioners of these rites were respected Greek citizens, not fringe cultists, who worshiped Zeus, the king of the gods. In a way, these rites were no more bizarre than countless mainstream festivals of the time: During the Athenian Thesmophoria, women retrieved the decayed bodies of piglets from pits into which they had tossed the dead animals months earlier, and in the rites of the goddess Artemis that took place at Brauron little girls impersonated bears.

Like all periods of history, the Classical Age of Greece, which lasted from about 500 B.C. until the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C., was complex and contradictory, a mix of superstition and rationality that blended revolutionary concepts and age-old traditions. Classical Greece is rightly regarded as a high-water mark of civilization. Yet the living, breathing people who created this culture did not exist merely to turn out masterpiece after masterpiece for the later Western world to study, though it may seem that way to students of the humanities reluctant to embrace the less enchanting aspects of the culture. Because so much of Western culture has its roots in classical Greece, it is easy to overlook the living context from which this heritage arose. We focus on what we know, ignoring the features that strike us as bizarre or even repugnant.

The great masterpieces of ancient Greece are our heritage, but it is doubtful that any modern Western person can fully comprehend their background. How can we, in the 20th century, envision the magic spells of the sorceress Medea or the magic behind the routine spilling of animal blood as sacrifice? Or the use of curse objects to summon ghosts from the underworld to harm one's enemies? Yet these practices and beliefs, as much as the spirit of democracy and the value of aesthetic beauty, formed the nerves and sinews of ancient Greek culture. To professional classicists this is old news, but to the layman these unfamiliar aspects of Classical Greece are shocking. Unfamiliar as well, to the layman, are the centuries of earlier Greek life that laid the foundation for the famous “Golden Age” we study in school. For these reasons, I determined that when I traveled to Greece, I would visit all these different eras and rituals. I would pay tribute to the Parthenon — but also examine the “voodoo dolls” in the Kerameikos Museum in Athens.

On the island of Euboea, north of Athens, an unusual site demonstrates that the Golden Age did not spring into existence fully formed but instead was centuries in the making. On a nondescript hillock overlooking the sea near the town of Lefkandi, a tenth-century B.C. grave was revealed when ground was dug up for a house. The work unearthed the remains of an elaborate cremation and burial, uncannily similar to the burials of heroes described in Homer's Iliad. In addition to the deceased's bones, carefully wrapped in a piece of fabric and placed in an heirloom bronze urn, excavators found evidence of a building nearly 160 feet in length that had once covered the burial site.

Dating from the era traditionally known as Greece's Dark Age — some three and a half centuries that began with the collapse of the Mycenaean world — the Lefkandi finds were a reminder that however murky or “dark” this historical period may be to us, to the people of the time it was life. The Dark Age was an age of many things: oral bards continued the tradition of transmitting the Homeric masterpieces, the Iliad and Odyssey; distinctive pottery with geometric patterns was made throughout Greece; and as the Lefkandi site indicated, people built impressive structures to bury their dead in a manner befitting heroes. Like the carefully preserved bronze urn, two centuries older than the bones it contained, ideas — and culture — were passed on from generation to generation of Greek people.

1. Which of the following is/are not representative of the Dark Age?

(A) the creation of the Iliad
(B)  ideas and culture
(C) geometrically patterned pottery
(D) large burial sites
(E) urn burial

2. Classical Greece is one basis of Western culture and heritage. This statement

(A)  follows directly from the passage
(B)  is partially true
(C)  cannot be derived from the passage
(D)  is an unstated assumption made in the passage
(E)  may be inferred from the passage

3. “Students of the humanities” are called reluctant by the author because:

(A) Studying Ancient Greece is not pleasant.
(B) Classical Greece has so many facets to study.
(C) History is normally approached with reluctance.
(D) The Greeks did not always turn out masterpieces.
(E) None of the above.

4. Which of the following may be inferred from the passage?

(A) Mount Lykaion's history embodies that past of Greece, which, though little known, holds its audience enthralled.
(B) Mount Lykaion represents historical Greece in an enigmatic, unfriendly and rare manner.
(C) Mount Lykaion's story is the story of a Greece that is at the same time repulsive and interesting.
(D) The history of Mount Lykaion tells the intimidating past of a Greece that is unknown.
(E) Mount Lykaion represents an aspect of ancient Greek civilization that is little known and definitely not celebrated.

5. The “nerves and sinews” of ancient Greek culture would omit which of the following?

(A)  bizarre practices
(B)  the spirit of democracy
(C)  the canons of beauty
(D)  a belief in ghosts and sacrifices
(E)  revolutionary architecture

6. The Lefkandi findings indicate that

(A) Life was as complex and difficult during the Dark Age as any other period in history.
(B) Life went on just as it had for centuries in Greece, regardless of how we now classify that time period.
(C) However “dark” this period may seem to later civilizations it was an honorable age.
(D) The Iliad and the Odyssey were transferred by oral bards.
(E) Large burial sites only existed during the Dark Age

7. The town of Lefkandi is situated

(A)  near mount Lykaion
(B)  near the Aegean Sea
(C)  in the outskirts of Athens
(D)  on the island of Euboea
(E)  near to the Parthenon

8. The author's attitude towards the Dark Age of Ancient Greece is one of

(A) surprise
(B) amusement
(C) reverence
(D) acceptance
(E) opposition



Medium Essay 6

Hard Essay 2