Sample Critical Reading Problem!

Below is sample critical reading problem that has appeared on the verbal reasoning section of a past GRE, along with a solution.

PROBLEM:

Question type! Inference

Which of the following inferences about Henry James’s awareness of novelistic construction is best supported by the passage?
(A) James, more than any other novelist, was aware of the difficulties of novelistic construction.
(B) James was very aware of the details of novelistic construction.
(C) James’s awareness of novelistic construction derived from his reading of Bronte.
(D) James’s awareness of novelistic construction has led most commentators to see unity in his individual novels.
(E) James’s awareness of novelistic construction precluded him from violating the unity of his novels.

Tip! Always read the question first.  Then find the part of the passage the question is testing and read that area before answering the question.

SOLUTION:

Tip! First, identify the question type.

Your first step in tackling these problems is always to read the question and identify the question type.  This question asks you to make an inference about Henry James’s awareness of novelistic construction based on the information in the passage.  Remember that even though this is an inference question, you should still be able to support your answer with information directly from the passage.

Tip! Second, identify your area by looking for key words or line numbers.

While reading the question, look for key words or line numbers that indicate where you will find the answer to your question in the passage.  Then, skim the passage until you find the key words or line numbers from the question.  Remember, you can always find a specific area of the passage with the answer to a specific or inference question.  The key words in this question are “Henry James” and “novelistic construction,” so look for the part of the passage that discusses Henry James’s understanding of novelistic construction.  This will be the area where you find the answer to the question.

PASSAGE:

                 Many critics of Emily Bronte’s novel Wuthering

                 Heights see its second part as a counterpoint that

                 comments on, if it does not reverse, the first part,

                 where a “romantic” reading receives more confirmation.

(5)           Seeing the two parts as a whole is encouraged by the

                 novel’s sophisticated structure, revealed in its complex

                 use of narrators and time shifts. Granted that the

                 presence of these elements need not argue an authorial

                 awareness of novelistic construction comparable to that

(10)        of Henry James, their presence does encourage attempts

                 to unify the novel’s heterogeneous parts. However,

                 any interpretation that seeks to unify all of the novel’s

                 diverse elements is bound to be somewhat unconvincing.

                 This is not because such an interpretation necessarily

(15)        stiffens into a thesis (although rigidity in any interpreta-

                 tion of this or of any novel is always a danger), but

                 because Wuthering Heights has recalcitrant elements

                 of undeniable power that, ultimately, resist inclusion

                 in an all-encompassing interpretation. In this respect,

                 Wuthering Heights shares a feature of Hamlet.

Tip! Stick to your area! Only answer the question based on the information presented in the area.

AREA:

                                                                                     Granted that the

                 presence of these elements need not argue an authorial

                 awareness of novelistic construction comparable to that

(10)        of Henry James, their presence does encourage attempts

to unify the novel’s heterogeneous parts.

SOLUTION (continued):

Now that we have identified the area where we can find the answer to the question, we must now translate that area into words we can understand.  The sentence in our area makes reference to “these elements.”  Since the sentence in our area does not specify what “these elements” are, refer to the previous sentence in the passage.

Tip! If you encounter a vague or ambiguous pronoun such as “these” or “those,” refer to the preceding sentence for clarification.

From the preceding sentence, we can identify “these elements” as “the complex use of narrators and time shifts.”  The sentence in our area goes on to say that, although these elements are present, this does not indicate that the authorial awareness of novelistic construction is comparable to that of Henry James.  In other words, despite her use of complex elements, Emily Bronte’s awareness of novelistic construction is not quite as great as that of Henry James. Therefore, we can infer that Henry James also uses complex elements in his novels, and that he uses these elements even more extensively than they are used in Wuthering Heights.

Now that we have translated our area, let’s assess our answer choices and determine which one most closely matches our interpretation.

(A) James, more than any other novelist, was aware of the difficulties of novelistic construction.
Choice (A) does refer to novelistic construction, however, nothing in our area mentions whether or not this type of novelistic construction was difficult. We can eliminate this answer choice on the basis of the word “difficulty.”

(B) James was very aware of the details of novelistic construction.
We know from our area that James uses complex elements in his novels and that he uses them even more frequently than Emily Bronte.  Therefore, it would be a logical inference that James is very aware of the details of novelistic construction.  Although (B) looks like it could be the right answer, we must analyze all of the answer choices before selecting it as our final answer.

Tip! Always review all of the answer choices before making your final selection.

(C) James’s awareness of novelistic construction derived from his reading of Bronte.
Choice (C) suggests that James learned about novelistic construction based on his reading of Bronte.  Although our area does compare James to Bronte, it does not give any information regarding how James learned about novelistic construction.  Choice (C) is an assumption.  Do not be tricked into picking choice (C).

Tip! Never assume! Correct answers can always be supported with information directly from the paragraph.

(D) James’s awareness of novelistic construction has led most commentators to see unity in his individual novels.
This answer choice is tempting since it refers to “unify the novel’s heterogeneous parts,” which is in our area, but it is too much of an assumption.  Remember, a good inference must be firmly rooted in the information presented in the passage.  Although the passage states that the presence of complex elements associated with novelistic construction leads some scholars to attempt to unify the parts of Bronte’s, novels, it says nothing about whether it did the same for James.  Eliminate choice (D).

(E) James’s awareness of novelistic construction precluded him from violating the unity of his novels.
Choice (E) also discusses the unity of James’s novels.  Again, this is too far of a leap from the information presented in the passage.  Based on the passage, we know that scholars have attempted to unify the heterogenous elements in Bronte’s novels and that James also had complicated elements of novelistic construction in his novels, but there is no further information in our area. There is no information in the passage about whether James violated the unity of his novels, therefore we can eliminate choice (E).

Now that we have assessed all of our answer choices, we can confidently select choice (B).

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