Practice with Long Reading Passages on the PSAT

Instructor: Richard Pierre

Richard has a doctorate in Comparative Literature and has taught Comparative Literature, English, and German

In this lesson, you'll practice working with a long reading passage like those found on the PSAT. You will learn techniques for analyzing the passage, and strategies for answering questions.

Dane's worried about the long reading passages on the Reading section of the PSAT. These always include a passage from U.S. or world literature, a passage related to the founding of the U.S., or something inspired in another country by a U.S. founding document, a passage related to social sciences (economics, psychology, sociology, etc.) and a passage related to fundamental ideas in sciences like geology, biology or physics. The questions ask you to do things like summarize ideas, and consider the implications of sentences or words. Let's help Dane prepare by reviewing the types of multiple-choice questions he'll encounter.

Sample Long Reading Passage

Dane sees the following passage from Thomas Paine's Common Sense, published in 1776, early in the American Revolution:

I have heard it asserted by some, that as America hath flourished under her former connexion with Great Britain, that the same connexion is necessary towards her future happiness, and will always have the same effect. Nothing can be more fallacious than this kind of argument. We may as well assert that because a child has thrived upon milk, that it is never to have meat, or that the first twenty years of our lives is to become a precedent for the next twenty. But even this is admitting more than is true, for I answer roundly, that America would have flourished as much, and probably much more, had no European power had any thing to do with her. The commerce, by which she hath enriched herself are the necessaries of life, and will always have a market while eating is the custom of Europe.

Question Types

First, read the passage carefully. The questions will be drawn solely from the passage. Here, this means you won't be tested on facts about the American Revolution or Thomas Paine, only your ability to read and analyze. Familiarizing yourself with standard question types makes the PSAT easier.

Main Purpose or Argument Questions

Dane will surely see a question asking him to identify a passage's main argument or purpose. Take this sample one for Common Sense:

1. The main argument in this passage is

A. the American colonies should pay taxes to Britain.

B. the American colonies' success should not be attributed to Britain.

C. the American colonies should enter war against Britain.

D. Britain should grant the colonies independence.

Dane focuses on these lines: I answer roundly, that America would have flourished as much, and probably much more, had no European power had any thing to do with her. The commerce, by which she hath enriched herself are the necessaries of life, and will always have a market while eating is the custom of Europe. Dane paraphrases this as saying the colonies were successful regardless of how Britain was involved, may have done even better without colonial rule, and have agricultural goods that Europe depends on. This makes it very clear that B is the best choice.

Evidence-Based Questions

The next question is related to the first:

2. Which choice best provides evidence for the answer to the previous question?

A. ''Nothing can be ... argument.''

B. ''I have heard it asserted … the same effect.''

C. ''We may as well assert … for the next twenty.''

D. ''The commerce … custom of Europe.''

This is an evidence-based question, asking Dane to find an instance in the passage that proves an idea. In thinking through the first question, Dane identified the line referenced in answer D as exemplifying part of the passage's main argument. He selects that choice.

Analytical Questions

Dane takes a look at the third question:

3. The author recognizes a counterclaim to the passage's argument by

A. noting that the colonies have been successful under British rule.

B. acknowledging that American agriculture is dependent upon trade with Europe.

C. admitting that he was born in England.

D. suggesting that the American colonies could have their own king.

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