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PSAT Writing & Language Test: Analysis Questions

Instructor: Jay Simons

Jay has taught college writing and literature and has a PhD in English.

This lesson covers Analysis questions as they appear on the PSAT Writing & Language Test. You will learn about different kinds of Analysis questions and discover some strategies for responding to them.

Analysis Questions

The different subcategories of Writing and Language Test questions (e.g., Analysis) are not labeled or grouped together on the test. It is not necessary for you to recognize the type, but it may be helpful to do so.

Analysis questions ask you to engage in the critical reading of passages from various fields (social studies, history, and science), often prompting you to make decisions on how best to edit a sentence or paragraph. For example, a question may have you substitute a sentence in a paragraph to better develop a particular idea or to better connect the surrounding sentences. Or a question may ask you to indicate the significance of a particular sentence within its paragraph.

Sample Questions

Let's imagine that the following passage appears on the test:

Adapted from The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding by Ian Watt (1957, ed. 2001)

Robinson Crusoe falls most naturally into place, not with other novels, but with the great myths of Western civilization, with Faust, Don Juan and Don Quixote. All these have as their basic plots, their enduring images, a single-minded pursuit by the protagonist of one of the characteristic desires of Western man. Each of their heroes embodies an arete and a hubris, an exceptional prowess and a vitiating excess, in spheres of action that are particularly important in our culture.

Here are two examples of Analysis questions for this passage:

1) Which choice as a substitute for the second sentence ('All these have…') most effectively develops the idea expressed in the first sentence while logically leading into the third sentence?

A) NO CHANGE

B) These literary works long ago took on a life of their own, spawning imitations in various artistic media, including music and painting.

C) None of these myths, though, has produced a more engaging protagonist than has Robinson Crusoe.

D) Western man has always displayed a simultaneous heroism and weakness.

In this case, the correct answer is A). The sentence groups Robinson Crusoe with the great myths of Western civilization (the previous sentence having separated it from other novels), describing the basic plot shared by all of them. B) focuses on the popularity of the works mentioned, rather than describing characteristics of them. C) contrasts Robinson Crusoe with the other works mentioned. While D) engages with the ideas found in the third sentence, it drops the paragraph's focus on the works/myths mentioned in the first sentence.

2) How can the significance of the final sentence ('Each of their heroes…') to the overall paragraph best be described?

A) It describes the characteristics of the protagonists of great Western myths.

B) It makes a particular point about the good and bad qualities of Western culture.

C) It describes the importance of Western culture to the novel.

D) It points out the bipolar nature of all culture heroes.

The best choice is A). The sentence, in keeping with the rest of the paragraph, is focused on Robinson Crusoe as one of the great myths of Western civilization. It briefly summarizes the features that the protagonists of all the great Western myths share.

Now let's suppose that this passage appears on the test:

Adapted from Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego by Sigmund Freud (1921, ed. 1959)

In order to make a correct judgement upon the morals of groups, one must take into consideration the fact that when individuals come together in a group all their individual inhibitions fall away and all the cruel, brutal and destructive instincts, which lie dormant in individuals as relics of a primitive epoch, are stirred up to find free gratification. Without the restrictive presence of the superego to monitor morality, individuals in groups readily succumb to a myriad of base urges.

Here is an example of an Analysis question for this passage:

3) Which choice as a substitute for the final sentence ('Without the restrictive presence…') best provides a contrast to the ideas expressed in the previous sentence?

A) NO CHANGE

B) The uninhibited individual has no qualms regarding actions that would, under other circumstances, be considered appalling.

C) The high standard of morality of the individual, therefore, falls prey to the enervating group dynamic.

D) But under the influence of suggestion groups are also capable of high achievements in the shape of abnegation, unselfishness, and devotion to an ideal.

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