April 16, 2017

SAT Practice Test 2, Reading #1-10: Detailed Answer Explanations

Here are detailed answer explanations for the first Critical Reading passage of official SAT Practice Test 2. Reading is the trickiest section of the new SAT, so I've tried to be as thorough as possible.

To avoid getting distracted by small details, let's summarize the passage's main point:

A guy hates his job because of his jealous, mean boss.
(That guy happens to be both the narrator and the main character.)

Now let's look at the questions.

1. Which choice best summarizes the passage? 
A) A character describes his dislike for his new job
and considers the reasons why.
B) Two characters employed in the same office
become increasingly competitive.
C) A young man regrets privately a choice that he
defends publicly.
D) A new employee experiences optimism, then
frustration, and finally despair.
Since this question asks us for a summary of the whole passage, we should immediately check the answer choices for the its main point: A guy hates his job because of his jealous, mean boss.

Choice (A) looks right. The main character definitely doesn't like his job, so we just have to find evidence that he's considering the reasons why. The evidence is in lines 28 (the antipathy [deep dislike] which had sprung up between myself and my employer), 54 (day by day did his malice watch my tact), and 62 (he was a hard, grinding master; he wished to be an inexorable tyrant).

Choice (B) is a trap. The main character and his boss are definitely competitive, but only one of them is an employee. It only takes one word to make an answer wrong; in the case, the word is employed.

Choice (C) is tricky. The main character definitely has negative feelings about his job: he considers it intolerable (line 67). There's also some evidence for regret in lines 10-21 in the repeated use of the words should have. The should haves are conditional, though: "The thing itself - the work of copying and translating business-letters - was a dry and tedious task enough, but had that been all, I should have borne with the nuisance...." In other words, if his job had only been boring, he should have put up with it. The character makes it clear that boredom was not the only problem, though: But this was not all; the antipathy which had sprung up between myself and my employer.... excluded me from every glimpse of the sunshine of life (lines 27-31). These lines, as well as the passage as a whole, suggest the should haves don't really apply to this particular job. The passage doesn't actually say that the character regrets the particular choice to oppose his boss, and even if he does, there's no evidence that he publicly defends that decision.

You might consider the mistake in the choice of his profession in line 1 to be an expression of regret, but there are people who are proud of their mistakes! The passage has to clearly suggest the concept of regret as opposed to just making a mistake.

You might think that the phrase justifying to myself and others in line 12 indicates a public defense, but look at how the narrator finishes his sentence: justifying to myself and others the resolution I had taken to become a tradesman, I should have endured in silence the rust and cramp of my best faculties; I should not have whispered, even inwardly, that I longed for liberty (lines 12-17). The justification actually refers to the narrator staying at his job and not telling others about his suffering.

Choice (D) is also a trap. It might be true that employees in general move from optimism to frustration to despair, but we need to see evidence for that experience in this particular passage for (D) to be correct.  The closest thing we can find to optimism is line 62, but just because he considered a boss to be like a brother doesn't mean that he was optimistic (confident about the future). It's possible to have friends and still be a pessimist!

As you move through the answer choices, cross off the words that make each answer choice wrong. That makes it easy to check your work later. Here's the question again with the appropriate words crossed out:
1. Which choice best summarizes the passage? 
A) A character describes his dislike for his new job and considers the reasons why.
B) Two characters employed in the same office
become increasingly competitive.
C) A young man regrets privately a choice that he
defends publicly.
D) A new employee experiences optimism, then
frustration, and finally despair.

Here's question 2. I've marked the correct answer and crossed off words in the incorrect answers for you.
2. The main purpose of the opening sentence of the passage is to 
A) establish the narrator’s perspective on a
B) provide context useful in understanding the
narrator’s emotional state.

C) offer a symbolic representation of
Edward Crimsworth’s plight.
D) contrast the narrator’s good intentions with his
malicious conduct.
Choice (A) is incorrect. The first sentence uses some negative words (mistake, baffled), but these don't point to a controversy, which is a heated public disagreement. To row long against wind and tide suggests a conflict, but that conflict happens because of a man's unwillingness to admit his mistakes, which doesn't necessarily lead to public debate.

Choice (B) is tricky, so we have to find evidence for every word. There's evidence for useful context, since no man is a generalization that puts the main character's struggle in a larger perspective. The context does help us understand the narrator better, since it relates to his justifying to myself and others the resolution I had taken to become a tradesman in lines 12-14. The narrator's choice does impact his emotional state (longed for liberty, pent in every sigh, distress, I began to feel like a plant growing in humid darkness out of the slimy walls of a well in lines 17-33).

Choice (C) is a trap for those who don't remember which character is which. Edward Crimsworth is the boss, not the narrator!

Choice (D) is off-topic. There is a contrast in the first sentence, but it's between a mistake and the stubborn refusal to acknowledge the mistake, not between good intentions and malicious conduct.

3. During the course of the first paragraph, the narrator’s focus shifts from 
A) recollection of past confidence to
acknowledgment of present self-doubt.
B) reflection on his expectations of life as a
tradesman to his desire for another job.
C) generalization about job dissatisfaction to the specifics of his own situation.
D) evaluation of factors making him unhappy to
identification of alternatives.
Choice (A) is a trap: we have to read the first paragraph very carefully to avoid getting caught. We're trying to identify the narrator's shift in focus, which may not be the same as the order that events happened in real time. There is some evidence of past confidence in the resolution made in line 13, but line 13 is in the middle of the paragraph, not the beginning, so it's hard to see how self-confidence could be the first part of the narrator's focus. There's also no evidence of self-doubt: as we saw in question 1, the should haves in the paragraph don't necessarily apply to the narrator's situation, since his job isn't just boring: he has a jealous, mean boss.

Choice (B) is also a trap: the narrator doesn't say anything about his expectations of life as a tradesman. Mentioning negative things isn't enough: remember the should haves indicating that he would have chosen to put up with his job if his boss hadn't been so mean. He also doesn't mention his desire for another job: if anything, lines 1-5 and the resolution in line 13 suggest that he's stubbornly trying to stick with the job he already has.

Choice (C) is indirectly correct. There's definitely a movement from a general concept to the narrator's situation ("no man" to "my occupation" in lines 1 and 7), The generalization is about job dissatisfaction, though the reason may not be obvious at first. We can see job satisfaction in the narrator's specific situation based on the emotional state that we discussed in question 2. The mistake in the narrator's choice of profession has to do with how boring his job is and possibly about how bad his boss is. Since that's a specific example of the mistake in line 2, the generalization is about job dissatisfaction, too.

Choice (D) is a trap. You might think that a normal person would consider alternatives if he didn't like his job, but the narrator says the exact opposite. No man likes to acknowledge that he has made a mistake in his choice of profession, and every man, worthy of the name, will row long against wind and tide... (lines 1-3). He applies that idea to himself as well: justifying to myself and others the resolution I had taken to become a tradesman, I should have endured... (lines 12-14).

4. The references to “shade” and “darkness” at the end of the first paragraph mainly have which effect? 
A) They evoke the narrator’s sense of dismay.
B) They reflect the narrator’s sinister thoughts.
C) They capture the narrator’s fear of confinement.
D) They reveal the narrator’s longing for rest.
This is an example of a New SAT vocabulary question. Instead using memorized definitions from flash cards, you have to figure out the meanings of ordinary words used in unusual ways.

Choice (A) could work. As we've already seen in questions 1-3, the narrator spends a lot of time describing his dismay (distress), and the negative images of exclusion, darkness, and slime are consistent with those feelings.

Choice (B) is a trap. Just because the narrator has negative feelings doesn't mean that those feelings are sinister (evil). Reading passages generally avoid the use of extreme words like sinister, completely, utterly, and only, so when you see that kind of language in an answer choice you like, you need to find equally extreme language in the passage justifying your answer. The evil words in the second paragraph (envy, hated, malignity, snake-like) describe the narrator's boss. The narrator uses positive words to describe himself (punctuality, industry, accuracy, caution, tact, and observation).

Choice (C) is also a trap. It might seem like exclusion (line 30) would lead to fear, but the passage doesn't actually say it does. You can be excluded from friends at school and feel a whole range of emotions other than fear (anger, hatred, confusion, or pity, for example). Being trapped in a well (33) might seem like confinement, but that imagery is a metaphor for the negative feelings the narrator describes earlier in the paragraph. It's possible that he feels confined, but the passage doesn't explicitly say so. We can be more sure that he feels dismay, already making (A) a valid answer.

Choice (D) is a trap for Bible scholars! Being covered, protected, and shaded is a Biblical metaphor for rest. In the context of this particular passage, though, shade and darkness represent the negative feelings described earlier in the paragraph. Rest is associated with positive feelings, so it's not the answer.

Caution, my friend. Tact. Observation.

5. The passage indicates that Edward Crimsworth’s 
behavior was mainly caused by his
A) impatience with the narrator’s high spirits.
B) scorn of the narrator’s humble background.
C) indignation at the narrator’s rash actions.
D) jealousy of the narrator’s apparent superiority.
Choice (A) is wrong. In the second paragraph, the narrator lists the characteristics that make his boss jealous: punctuality, industry, accuracy, the potential to become a successful tradesman, and mental wealth. It's possible that the narrator pretended to have high spirits in order to justify the resolution he made in line 13, but just because something is possible doesn't mean it's true. In any case, the passage doesn't connect the possible high spirits with the cause of the boss's behavior.

Choice (B) is a trap, The narrator's background does annoy the boss, but that background isn't humble (involving a low social status). Line 38 does mention the narrator's southern accent, but don't read modern preconceptions back into this 1857 passage. The narrator specifically says that his language evinces (reveals) a degree of education (line 39).

Choice (C) contradicts the passage. In lines 48-56, the narrator says how careful he is to avoid being caught by his boss's attempts to humiliate him. Caution is the opposite of rashness.

Choice (D) is correct: there's support for jealousy (envy) in line 42 and apparent (obvious) superiority in lines 39-48.

6. The passage indicates that when the narrator began working for Edward Crimsworth, he viewed Crimsworth as a 
A) harmless rival.
B) sympathetic ally.
C) perceptive judge.
D) demanding mentor.
This question is tricky because the answer is in one hard-to-find line. You'll see it if you scan the passage for the word Crimsworth: I had long since ceased to regard Mr. Crimsworth as my brother - he was a hard, grinding master; he wished to be an inexorable tyrant: that was all (lines 60-64).

The word brother (a positive word) is set in contrast against inexorable (unyielding) tyrant (a negative-sounding phrase).

Choice (A) doesn't work: rival is a negative word.
Choice (B) works better: both sympathetic and ally are positive words.
Choice (C) doesn't work either: judge is a negative word.
Choice (D) doesn't work: demanding is a negative word.

7. Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question? 
A) Lines 28-31 (“the antipathy . . . life”)
B) Lines 38-40 (“My southern . . . irritated him”)
C) Lines 54-56 (“Day . . . slumber”)
D) Lines 61-62 (“I had . . . brother”)
If you've already done question 6, you can just find the answer choice that supports the answer you picked. (If you tend to run out of time on the Critical Reading section, try starting with question 7 and matching up its answer choices with the ones in question 6. That will narrow down the number of choices you have to consider for both questions.)

Choices (A), (B), and (D) are wrong because they describe the narrator's present relationship with his boss, while question 6 asks about their past relationship. Since you had to pick positive words in your answer for question 6, the negative words used in choices A, B, and D are warning signs.

Choice (C) uses the same lines as we did to arrive at our answer for question 6.

8. At the end of the second paragraph, the comparisons of abstract qualities to a lynx and a snake mainly have the effect of 
A) contrasting two hypothetical courses of action.
B) conveying the ferocity of a resolution.
C) suggesting the likelihood of an altercation.
D) illustrating the nature of an adversarial
The lynx-eyes are a metaphor for the narrator's natural sentinels (guards), which are Caution, Tact, and Observation (lines 51-53). Snake-like describes the boss's malice (lines 54-56), which the caution, tact, and observation are supposed to guard against. Since the lynx-eyes belong to the narrator and the snake-like malice belongs to his boss, the metaphors are hostile toward each other.

Choice (A) is a trap. The narrator might consider potential courses of action in the first paragraph, but that has nothing to do with the metaphors the question is asking us about, which are at the end of the second paragraph.

Choice (B) is also a trap. There's a resolution in line 13, but it's unrelated to the metaphors we're trying to describe.

Choice (C) is tricky. An altercation is a noisy, public disagreement, and it might seem like the conflict between the narrator and his boss makes a fight likely. If you read carefully, though, the narrator's lynx-eyes are guarding him from his boss's snake-like malice, and never once has the boss succeeded in his efforts to humiliate the narrator (lines 48-53). The narrator doesn't seem to think an alteraction is likely, and since the narrator is the person using the metaphors, you have to pay attention to what he's trying to do with them.

Choice (D), an adversarial relationship, is exactly what we need to describe the hostility we mentioned earlier. Even if you think (C) is a viable choice, you can't have an altercation without an adversarial relationship. The evidence for hostility is much stronger than the evidence for a possible public disagreement.

9. The passage indicates that, after a long day of work, the narrator sometimes found his living quarters to be 
A) treacherous.
B) dreary.
C) predictable.
D) intolerable.
Since the narrator mentions his lodgings in lines 21-27, you might get stuck there, reading the same few lines over and over without being able to eliminate any answers. If that happens, skip the question and come back to it after finishing the block of questions for this passage (#1-10).

In this case, question 10 is a Supporting Evidence question that tells you exactly where to look. You'll end up at lines 68-74.

Choice (A) is a trap. Treachery means betrayal or danger. The narrator might feel that his boss has betrayed him (lines 61-63), but (1) we don't have clear evidence that he feels this way, and (2) question 9 is asking about the narrator's living quarters, not his boss.

Choice (B) could work. The passage doesn't give us much to work with, but whatever word we need is the opposite of cheering red gleam. Dreary (depressing) works.

Choice (C) is a trap. Something that's dreary is often monotonous (predictable), but not always. Weather can be dreary without being predictable, for example. In this case, the narrator has to look to see whether his fire has gone out, so predictable is a questionable choice.

Choice (D) is a trap. The word intolerable shows up in line 67, but it describes the narrator's life at work, not his life at home.

10. Which choice provides the best evidence for theanswer to the previous question? 
A) Lines 17-21 (“I should . . . scenes”)
B) Lines 21-23 (“I should . . . lodgings”)
C) Lines 64-67 (“Thoughts . . . phrases”)
D) Lines 68-74 (“I walked . . . gleam”)
Choice (A) a trap. The adjectives in lines 17-21 describe a dreary situation, but that situation is where the narrator works, not where he lives.

Choice (B) is a trap that could get you confused unless you check both this choice and choice (D).

Choice (C) is a trap that could get you to choose either treacherous if you look at line 63 or intolerable if you look at line 67. Unfortunately, these lines describe the narrator's boss, not his living quarters!

Choice (D) is correct because it contains the lines we discussed for question 9.

Please add a comment to this article if there's anything I can do to fix or improve these explanations. Happy studying!


  1. thanks it was helpful... I preparing for SAT and its my first time so please guide me and give me some tips :)

  2. Thanks for the comment! I have a book review page for various SAT study resources here:

    If you want more specific study suggestions, please contact me using the form at the bottom of my Tutoring page:

    Happy studying!