The October 2013 Reading Comprehension section presented many test takers with some degree of challenge, following the trend in recent years to shift more of the test’s difficulty to the Reading Comprehension section.
Opening the section was a Science passage that dealt with a whole new infectious agent (prions, a recently discovered protein pathogen that causes Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease but normally exist innocuously as non-pathogenic cellular proteins). Technical and scientific terms tend to throw off many test takers, but those who were able to get past the jargon found a fairly straightforward passage. Reading comprehensions sections are generally comprised of mostly Must be True question, and that was true of this section as well, but the questions that followed the first passage made for an interesting mix: beyond the standard Main Point and two Must questions, there was an Evaluate the Argument question (#3), a Weaken question (#7), and two Cannot be True questions in a row (#5 and #6).
The author of the second passage in the section discusses Katherine Dunham’s technique, “dance isolation,” which she brought to North American dance thanks to her dual specialties of choreography and anthropological research. Since there wasn’t much overlap between people with expertise in dance and those with expertise in social research, Dunham pioneered in dance ethnology, in turn teaching techniques to others and integrate the moves into new forms of ballet, establishing African American dance as an art form. Some students found the language and content of this passage challenging, as well as the Parallel Reasoning question, Subject Perspective question, and Author’s Perspective questions that were included in the questions that followed the passage.
Passage Set Three:
Next came Social Science in the Comparative Reading Passages, both of discussed a study by researchers Solnick and Hemenway that dealt with the issues of wealth and happiness. (The study had people choose between a first option, making $50,000 per year with everyone else making $25,000, and second option of making $100,000 per year with everyone else making $200,000). Since the majority of respondents chose the first, the author of the first passage concludes that rivalry drives such decisions. The second author deals with the same study, but concludes that wanting more than others is evidence of the desire to add value to a society. The language used in the Comparative Reading passages was not overly sophisticated, but to do well on the questions that followed, it was vital that test takers retain a solid grasp on the two author’s respective perspectives—as is generally the case with Comparative Reading sets.
The final passage in the section, Law and Regulation passage, explores the issues of the determination of risk, both voluntary and involuntary, and protective government intervention. The issues include the difficulty of where to draw the line between voluntary and involuntary assumption of risk, and the fact that such characterizations can often, in reality, speak to underlying value determinations. The author concludes that these issues should be better understood if they are to affect policies surrounding government risk intervention. Much of the difficulty associated with this passage appeared in the questions;given that the question include three Author’s Perspective questions and a Purpose question, students needed a good understanding of the author’s tone and perspective.