The SAT Reading questions can be divided into 5 different types and assess students’ different skills. The recommendation of the College Board, the organization that formulates the test, is to adopt a holistic approach and focus only on reading the passages in the best possible way. However, knowing the structure of the issues is very important. With that in mind, here are 3 questions to introduce you to the format of this section. Come on?
For the questions, we will take into account the following passage, adapted from the book “Ethan Frome”, by the author Edith Wharton, which was originally published in 1911. It is a little long, but it is exactly the size of text you will find in the SAT Reading questions:
Mattie Silver had lived under Ethan’s roof for a year, and from early morning till they met at supper he had frequent chances of seeing her; but no moments in her company were comparable to those when, her arm in his, and her light step flying to keep time with his long stride, they walked back through the night to the farm. He had taken to the girl from the first day, when he had driven over to the Flats to meet her, and she had smiled and waved to him from the train, crying out, “You must be Ethan!” as she jumped down with her bundles, while he reflected, looking over her slight person: “She don’t look much on housework, but she ain’t a fretter, anyhow.” But it was not only that the coming to his house of a bit of hopeful young life was like the lighting of a fire on a cold hearth. The girl was more than the bright serviceable creature he had thought her. She had an eye to see and an ear to hear: he could show her things and tell her things, and taste the bliss of feeling that all he imparted left long reverberations and echoes he could wake at will.
It was during their night walks back to the farm that he felt most intensely the sweetness of this communion. He had always been more sensitive than the people about him to the appeal of natural beauty. His unfinished studies had given form to this sensibility and even in his unhappiest moments field and sky spoke to him with a deep and powerful persuasion. But hitherto the emotion had remained in him as a silent ache, veiling with sadness the beauty that evoked it. He did not even know whether any one else in the world felt as he did, or whether he was the sole victim of this mournful privilege. Then he learned that one other spirit had trembled with the same touch of wonder: that at his side, living under his roof and eating his bread, was a creature to whom he could say: “That’s Orion down yonder; the big fellow to the right is Aldebaran, and the bunch of little ones — like bees swarming — they’re the Pleiades… ”or whom he could hold entranced before a ledge of granite thrusting up through the fern while he unrolled the huge panorama of the ice age, and the long dim stretches of succeeding time. The fact that admiration for his learning mingled with Mattie’s wonder at what he taught was not the least part of his pleasure. And there were other sensations, less definable but more exquisite, which drew them together with a shock of silent joy: the cold red of sunset behind winter hills, the flight of cloud-flocks over slopes of golden stubble, or the intensely blue shadows of hemlocks on sunlit snow. When she said to him once: “It looks just as if it was painted!” it seemed to Ethan that the art of definition could go no farther,
As he stood in the darkness outside the church these memories came back with the poignancy of vanished things. Watching Mattie whirl down the floor from hand to hand he wondered how he could ever have thought that his dull talk interested her. To him, who was never gay but in her presence, her gaiety seemed plain proof of indifference. The face she lifted to her dancers was the same which, when she saw him, always looked like a window that has caught the sunset. He even noticed two or three gestures which, in his fatuity, he had thought she kept for him: a way of throwing her head back when she was amused, as if to taste her laugh before she let it out, and a trick of sinking her lids slowly when anything charmed or moved her.
Over the course of the passage, the main focus of the narrative shifts from the…
A. reservations a character has about a person he has just met to a growing appreciation that character has of the person’s worth.
B. ambivalence a character feels about his sensitive nature to the character’s recognition of the advantages of having profound emotions.
C. intensity of feeling a character has for another person to the character’s concern that that intensity is not reciprocated.
D. value a character attaches to the wonders of the natural world to a rejection of that sort of beauty in favor of human artistry.
This question assesses whether you understand the general context of the passage. This is one of the types of SAT Reading questions. In this case, alternative C is the best answer. The first paragraph traces the beginning of Ethan’s feelings for Mattie: he “had taken the girl from day one” and saw her “like the lighting of a fire in a cold fireplace”. The second paragraph focuses on “night walks back to the farm” and Ethan’s joy at realizing that “another spirit … trembled with the same touch of admiration”. In other words, the main focus of the first two paragraphs is the intensity of the feeling that one character, Ethan, has for another, Mattie.
The last paragraph shifts the focus from the passage to changing Ethan’s perception. He sees Mattie in a social setting, interacting with other men, and wonders “how could he have thought his boring conversation interested her”. In this, the character interprets Mattie’s apparent happiness as “clear proof of indifference” towards him, and sees betrayal in “two or three gestures that, in his fantasy, he thought she kept for him”.
In the context of the passage, the author’s use of the phrase “her light step flying to keep time with his long stride” (first paragraph) is primarily meant to convey the idea that…
A. Ethan and Mattie share a powerful enthusiasm.
B. Mattie strives to match the speed at which Ethan works.
C. Mattie and Ethan playfully competes with each other.
D. Ethan walks at a pace that frustrates Mattie.
This is a “Function” question, one of the types of SAT Reading questions. These questions want to know what effect a detail has on the text.
In the case of this question, in particular, option A is the best answer. The author uses the phrase primarily to introduce a topic discussed in detail in the second paragraph – namely, the growing connection that Ethan sees bloom with Mattie over many night walks during which they share similar feelings for the wonders of the natural world. In the context of the passage, the phrase evokes an image of two people walking greedily and in harmony.
The description in the first paragraph indicates that what Ethan values most about Mattie is her…
A. fitness for farm labor.
B. vivacious youth.
C. receptive nature.
D. freedom from worry.
This is an example of an inference question, another of the SAT Reading question types. These questions ask you to interpret the meaning of a line, a paragraph, or the entire passage. This meaning will never be too subjective or ambiguous, as there can only be one correct answer.
Therefore, alternative C is the best answer to this question. The text mentions many of Mattie’s traits: she is friendly (“ smiled and waved “), greedy (“ jumped down with her bundles “), relaxed (“ she ain’t a fretter “) and lively (“ like the lighting of a fire on a cold hearth”).
However, the characteristic that most pleases Ethan, as mentioned in the last paragraph, is his openness to the world around him: “She had an eye to see and an ear to hear: he could show her things and tell her things, and taste the bliss of feeling that all he imparted left long reverberations and echoes he could wake at will”.