Explanations October



In the sixteenth century, Thomas More coined the term utopia to describe a perfect yet fictitious island society’s ways of life. Since then, people have tried to replicate this society, not just in stories but also in real life. Around the world, a handful of towns and cities have been designed with this ideal society in mind. Though inevitably they fall short of perfection, it’s still possible to visit some of them.


What is the best placement for the underlined word?


A. Where it is now.
B. Before the word fall.
C. Before the word perfection.
D. Before the word possible.


The fact that inevitably ends in –ly indicates that this word is an adverb, meaning that it can modify a verb (likely) or an adjective (less likely). Because modifiers must be placed next to the words/phrases they modify, it is reasonable to assume that inevitably will be placed next to a verb. The only answer to contain this construction is (B), which places inevitably next to the verb fall. It does make sense to say Though they inevitably fall short of perfection, so (B) is correct.





Twenty-five hundred miles from the nearest continental landmass and adrift in oceanic isolation, the Hawaiian islands are the most habitat-diverse place on the planet. Of its’ 1,200 native plant species, 90 percent exist nowhere else on earth.


B. its
C. there
D. their


Start by determining the noun to which the underlined pronoun refers — that is, of whose 1,200 native plant species? Logically, it must be the Hawaiian islands, plural. (A) can be eliminated because its’ does not exist, and (B) can also be crossed out because its is singular. Although there refers to a place, the correct version of the pronoun must be possessive because a noun phrase follows (1,200 native plant species) — and a noun can only possess another noun. Their is both plural and possessive, so (D) is correct. Their 1,200 native plant species = the 1,200 native plant species of the Hawaiian islands.





When fragments of China’s famed terracotta warriors were discovered by farmers in 1974, Zhao Kangmin was one of the first archaeologists on the scene. He consistently pieced the fragments together, spurring an excavation that would reveal thousands more clay soldiers packed into underground corridors.


Which choice most strongly emphasizes that Zhao Kangmin worked in a careful and detailed way?


B. compellingly
C. exclusively
D. meticulously


To work meticulously is to work “in a careful and detailed way,” so (D) is the correct answer. Note that you do not need to know the definition of this word to answer the question: as long as you can recognize that consistently, compellingly, and exclusively do not fit the required definition, you can use process of elimination to come up with (D).





The exhibition “Faces of Frida” includes not only paintings by Frida Kahlo and also her letters, personal photographs, and unpublished writings. Visitors can peruse the pages of her colorful diary, read her letters to her mother, Matilde Calderón y González, and browse through photos of Kahlo and her husband, the artist Diego Rivera.


B. along with
C. but also
D. in addition to


Not only, which appears in the non-underlined portion of the sentence, must be paired with but also. That makes (C) correct.





The race is on to build the world’s first meaningful quantum computer—one that can help scientists do things like develop miraculous new materials and encrypt data with near-perfect security. Although technology companies persistently tout each new breakthrough, next-generation systems will also need new algorithms, software, interconnects and a number of other yet-to-be-invented technologies.


Which choice most clearly expresses that the technology companies are excited about new breakthroughs?


B. reportedly
C. breathlessly
D. skeptically


To say that something is done breathlessly is to say that it was done excitedly — the implication is that an action or event was so thrilling that it takes someone’s breath away. Persistently and repeatedly imply that technology companies are forceful — but not necessarily excited — about publicizing each new breakthrough, and reportedly implies that the writer does not know for certain that the companies actually tout (proclaim) each new breakthrough. In contrast, breathlessly has a clear connotation of excitement. That makes the answer (C).





Experts use to think that nearly all nitrogen in soil came directly from the atmosphere, sequestered by microbes or dissolved in rain. But it turns out that scientists have been overlooking another major source of this element, which is crucial to plant growth: up to a quarter of the nitrogen in soil and plants seeps out of bedrock.


B. use to think,
C. used to think
D. used to thinking


Used to think is an expression that means “previously thought” — use to does not exist. That eliminates (A) and (B). (D) can be eliminated as well because used to thinking is un-idiomatic and creates a nonsense construction when plugged into the sentence. (C) provides the correct version of the idiom, making that answer right.





No tidal dweller captured Rachel Carson’s imagination like Ascophyllum nodosum, a rubbery dark green algae known widely on the Atlantic coast as rockweed. The biologist was most enchanted by rockweed’s double life—how its identity changed with the tides.


B. nodosum, a rubbery, dark green, algae
C. nodosum a rubbery, dark green algae,
D. nodosum; a rubbery, dark green algae


(B) can be eliminated easily because no comma should be placed between an adjective (green) and the noun it modifies (algae). The same is true for (D) because a semicolon can only be used to separate two complete sentences, and a rubbery, dark green algae known widely on the Atlantic coast as rockweed is not a sentence. (C) is incorrect because a comma must be placed after nodosum in order to separate the independent clause that begins the sentence (No tidal dweller captured Rachel Carson’s imagination like Ascophyllum nodosum) from the dependent clause that modifies it (a rubbery dark green algae known widely on the Atlantic coast as rockweed). (A) is correct because it includes the necessary comma after nodosum and eliminates the unnecessary comma before algae. Note that the comma after rubbery is a distraction here — the sentence can be correct either with it (because rubbery can be understood to modify dark green algae) or without it (because it is acceptable to say rubbery and dark green algae).





The tradition of using everyday objects in artwork is known as assemblage. London’s Tate Museum, which includes many assemblage-based works, traces its history back to Europe in the early 1900s when Pablo Picasso started making 3-D works with found objects. Therefore, some of the most famous twentieth-century assemblage artists, like the artist Robert Rauschenberg—born Milton Rauschenberg in Port Arthur, Texas—may have pulled their inspiration from work by African-American folk artists.


B. However,
C. Hence,
D. Moreover,


To answer this question, ignore the transition already in the passage, and consider the information before and after it. The previous sentence indicates that the Tate traces its history back to Europe in the early 1900s. The statement after the transition indicates that some of the most famous twentieth-century assemblage artists may have been inspired by African-American folk artists. Those are contrasting ideas, so a contradictor is required. Only however fits, making (B) correct.





More than 150 years ago, the first whales and dolphins were brought from the wild and into aquariums, and since that time, scientists learn an enormous amount about their intelligence and complex social lives.


B. learned
C. have learned
D. would have learned


The tip-off word for this question is since — it indicates that the sentence is describing an action that began in the past and that is continuing into the present (scientists began learning about dolphins’ intelligence and complex social lives 150 years ago and are still doing so today). That makes the answer (C).





Cheesemaking, which began 10,000 years ago, was originally about survival for a farm family or community: taking a very perishable protein (milk) and transforming it into something less perishable (cheese) so that there would be something to eat later. Many of us today think of cheese in the context of tradition, flavor, or family farms, but a basic goal—whether a producer is making farm-made cheddar or concocting the cheeseless industrially produced dairy product Velveeta, has always been getting as much edible food from a gallon of milk as possible.


B. Velveeta has
C. Velveeta—has
D. Velveeta has,


If you read the entire sentence in which the underlined portion appears, you’ll notice that it contains a dash after goal. That construction suggests that a second dash is needed later in the sentence, which is in fact the case. To confirm, cross out the information from whether to Velveeta, and read the sentence without it: Many of us today think of cheese in the context of tradition, flavor, or family farms, but a basic goal…has always been getting as much edible food from a gallon of milk as possible. The remaining sentence makes sense, so the information is not essential. When one dash is used to begin a non-essential clause, a second dash is required to end it. That makes (C) correct.





To evoke and conjure the spirit of the Rocky Mountains, the people of Stoney Nakoda have created artworks that have deep roots in the history of their homeland. A seemingly straightforward landscape image, for instance, pays homage to the region as a place to gather herbs, hold vision quests, and hunt.


B. To evoke while conjuring
C. To evoke yet conjure
D. To evoke


Evoke and conjure have the same essential meaning (“call forth” or “convey”), so it is only necessary to include one of these words. That makes (D) correct.





The Loch Ness Monster is one of Scotland’s oldest and most enduring myths, having inspired books, TV shows and films, and sustains a major tourism industry around its home. The story of the monster can be traced back 1500 years to 565 AD, when an Irish missionary is said to have encountered a beast in the River Ness. Later, in the 1930s, they announced the first modern sighting of the creature, dubbed “Nessie.”


B. one
C. we
D. reporters


Although the general meaning of the last sentence is understandable, it is also vague — there is no noun specifying who “they” are. As a result, a noun must be provided, making (D) the answer. Shortcut: given the choice between a noun and a pronoun, the noun will almost always be correct.





It’s hard to imagine now, but a little over a century ago, there was hardly anyone in the world whom knew what plastic was. Today, that material fuels modern life, from medical devices to the lightweight materials used in cars, computers, spaceships, and shopping bags.


B. who knew
C. which knew
D. in which they knew


(A) is incorrect because whom cannot be used before a verb. (C) is incorrect because which is used for things, not people, and anyone refers to people. (D) is a jumbled construction that creates nonsense when plugged in. (B) is correct because it uses who before a verb and refers to people.





Throughout the exhibitions at The American Jazz Museum, collections of photographs, sheet music, and posters from the height of jazz’s popularity creates context for historic artifacts such as Charlie Parker’s Grafton saxophone and a sequined gown worn by Ella Fitzgerald.


B. create
C. has created
D. creating


The answer choices include a mix of singular verbs (creates, has created) and plural verbs (create), so start by identifying the subject and determining whether it is singular or plural. In this case, you must look all the way back to the beginning of the clause, after the comma. The subject of the underlined verb is collections — all the information between that word and the verb belongs to the prepositional phrase of photographs, sheet music, and posters from the height of jazz’s popularity. Because collections is plural, the verb must be plural as well, making (B) correct.





It’s probably no surprise to dog owners, but growing research suggests that dogs often act more human than canine. They can: read facial expressions, communicate jealousy, display empathy, and even watch television.


B. can read facial expressions; communicate jealousy; display empathy, and even watch television.
C. can read facial expressions, communicate jealousy; display empathy; and even watch television.
D. can read facial expressions, communicate jealousy, display empathy, and even watch television.


(A) is incorrect because a colon must follow a complete, standalone sentence, but they can cannot stand on its own as a thought. To check (B), (C), and (D), look for the option that uses only commas or only semicolons — either can be used to separate the items in a list (although commas are almost always correct), but these two types of punctuation cannot be mixed and matched. (D) contains commas alone, so it is correct.





The Outer Space Treaty—written in 1967 and signed by all the major world powers—is the closest thing we have to a constitution for space. For a document conceived before the moon landing, it’s remarkably forward-looking: it declares “celestial bodies” like the moon and asteroids off-limits for private development and requires that countries authorize and continually supervise companies’ activities in space.


B. company’s activities
C. companies activity’s
D. companies activities’


When two-word apostrophe questions are tested, work on one word at a time. To check whether the first word requires an apostrophe—that is, whether it is possessive or plural—look at the second word. A possessive noun must be followed by another noun. Here, activities is a noun, so the first word requires an apostrophe. That eliminates (C). The second word is followed by in, which is not a noun, so no apostrophe should be used. That eliminates (D). To choose between (A) and (B), you must consider the passage. Company’s is singular, and it does not make sense to say that countries authorize and continually supervise a single company’s activities in space. Grammatically, this does not make sense either: a singular noun here would be preceded by a or the. The most logical interpretation of the passage is that countries must authorize and supervise the activities of multiple companies. Companies‘ is the plural possessive of company, making (A) correct.





Not only are parrots known for being a loud and destructive bird, but they are also highly intelligent and live up to 80 years. Nevertheless, the draw to keep them can be irresistible.


B. a loud, and destructive bird, and
C. loud and destructive birds, but
D. loud and destructive birds, and


(A) is incorrect because parrots are birds, not a single bird. (B) is wrong for the same reason, plus the fact that no comma should be placed between two adjectives separated by the word and (loud and destructive). (D) is incorrect because not only appears earlier in the sentence, and that phrase must be paired with but also. (C) contains but, so that answer is correct.





A few years ago, my family and I piled into our car and headed west for a summer to explore Yosemite National Park. I tasted the freedom of the open road and experienced the wonders of wild places. I had never seen such dramatic scenery before. Last August, therefore, I set out on an expanded version of that adventure, seeking to spend 10 months visiting all the national parks in the contiguous United States.


Which choice provides the most effective transition between the previous sentence and the information that follows?


B. I couldn’t wait to experience that kind of adventure again.
C. I didn’t want to come at first, but my family insisted.
D. I’d been camping before, but never for so long.


Although the question is phrased in terms of a “transition,” you must focus on the information that follows because the underlined sentence must set up that information — what comes before is less important. The sentence that follows indicates that the writer decided to visit all the national parks in the United States as a result of his/her experience in Yosemite, as indicated by the word therefore. As a result, the correct option must be positive and consistent with the idea of wanting to visit additional national parks. (C) and (D) are both off-topic, but be careful with (A): the statement that the writer had never seen such dramatic scenery before might seem to explain the desire to visit more parks, but (B) is much more specific: the phrase couldn’t wait to experience that kind of adventure again indicates a direct cause for the statement that follows. (B) is thus correct.





The idea for the first youth hostel was conceived in 1909 by Richard Shirrmann, an elementary school teacher living in the industrial center of Germany. Alarmed at the effects of the industrial revolution on his students’ health, he created a “wandering school” on weekends by taking students on field trips into the countryside for fresh air and exposure to nature. Students unrolled their bedding each night in school buildings, and the concept of student “youth hostels” was born.


B. effects of the industrial revolution,
C. affects of the industrial revolution
D. affects of the industrial revolution,


Affects is a verb, whereas effects is a noun. Here, the first word of the underlined portion follows the, so it must be a noun. That eliminates (C) and (D). (B) can be eliminated as well because when this answer is plugged in, a comma is incorrectly placed before a preposition (on). (A) does not contain the comma, so it is correct.





Since the invention of digital technology and audio sampling, films have been able to rely on digital samples to imitate the sound of live instruments. Today, many scores are created and performed wholly by the composers, themselves, through the use of sophisticated music composition software.


B. composers themselves,
C. composers, themselves
D. composers themselves


“Self” words should not be surrounded by commas; in most instances, it is also incorrect to place a comma only before or only after such words. Because no comma is required for a separate reason, no punctuation should be used. (D) is thus correct.





Wilhelm Von Osten firmly believed that humanity had greatly underestimated the reasoning skills and intelligence of animals. To test his hypothesis, he took it upon himself to tutor a cat, a horse, and a bear in mathematics. The cat was indifferent in his efforts, and the bear seemed outright hostile, but the Arab stallion named Hans showed some real promise.


B. to
C. at
D. from


The correct idiom is indifferent to; any other preposition is incorrect. That makes (B) the answer.





Cactuses are spiky and rough, foreboding and strange, gnarled and occasionally dangerous. They evoke harsh and unforgiving landscapes, but when they are removed from their native habitats, individually potted, and selling as decorations for a house, a garden, or an office, they are among the easiest plants, requiring little or no care and still looking good.


B. selling them
C. they sell
D. sold


The underlined portion is the third item in a list, and so it must be presented in the same format as the first two items. Both of those items contain past-tense forms of a verb (removed, potted), so the third item must contain that form as well. (D) is the only option that fits, making it the answer.





Color vision depends on our eyes and brain working together to perceive different properties of light. Although we see the natural and artificial light that illuminates our world as white, but it is actually a mixture of colors that, perceived on their own, would span the visual spectrum from deep blue to deep red. You can see this when rain separates sunlight into a rainbow or a glass prism separates white light into a multi-color band.


B. so
C. when
D. DELETE the underlined word.


As a rule, two consecutive clauses should not both begin with conjunctions. Because the first clause begins with a conjunction (although), the following clause cannot also begin with a conjunction (but). As a result, the underlined conjunction must be deleted, making the answer (D).





In 1984, several graffiti vandals were given the option of either going to jail or taking part in a new city beautification initiative. They chose the latter and became some of the first members of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. Since then, the program overseen the creation of more than 3,800 pieces of art painted on sides of buildings. 2,000 of the works are still viewable by the public, making this collection the “World’s Largest Outdoor Art Gallery.”


B. has oversaw
C. has overseen
D. oversaw


The word since at the beginning of the sentence is a tip-off that the present perfect (has + past participle) is required. (A) and (D) do not place has before the verb, so they can be eliminated. (A) is also incorrect because the simple past form of oversee is oversaw. (B) can be eliminated as well because has must be followed by the past participle, overseen. (C) is correct because it supplies the appropriate form.





One issue that often plagues even the most sturdily built old homes is the “improvements’’ made in the intervening decades. Whether the culprit was a clueless homeowner or an unlicensed contractor or an unskilled handyman, substandard repairs are common.


B. most sturdy built
C. more sturdier built
D. sturdier built


Built is a verb, and so it must be modified by an adverb — sturdily, not sturdy or sturdier. That eliminates (B) and (D). (C) is incorrect because it is redundant to use both more and the comparative form of an adjective (sturdier). (A) correctly uses the adverb sturdily to modify the verb built.





Tokyo is one of my favorite places, but it’s also one of the most expensive cities in the world. During my last visit I decided to participate in a homestay in order to save money on a hotel. Through a tourist website, I found Yuko, a young Japanese woman who rented out a spare room in her house. She seemed excited to hear from me and sent me useful information about public transportation, along with some maps. Tokyo was originally known as Edo, but its name was changed to Tokyo when it became the imperial capital in 1868. I could not wait to meet this interesting Japanese family.


Which choice provides the most relevant information at this point in the passage?


B. She also described her husband, who had a black belt in Karate, and her 85-year-old grandmother, who still rode a bicycle.
C. The house was located in Shinjuku, which is one of the busiest and most popular areas of the city.
D. Tokyo is divided into 23 districts, or wards, each of which is governed as an independent city.


To answer this question, you must focus on the information that comes after that underlined statement — the beginning of the passage does not provide enough information. If you read the sentence after the underlined section, you’ll learn that the writer could not wait to meet this interesting Japanese family. Logically, then, the previous sentence must provide specific information about how Yuko’s family was interesting. The only answer to provide such information is (B); (A) and (D) are entirely off-topic, and (C) is about the location of Yuko’s house, not about her family.





Born William Harrison Dempsey in Manassa, Colorado, “Jack” Dempsey was one of 11 children. He left home at the age of 16 and traveled west on freight trains with hobos, settling occasionally in mining towns. It was during that period of his life that Dempsey learned how to box. Initially, he only needed to defend himself at first, but soon he showed exceptional talent for the sport.


B. first of all
C. in the first place
D. DELETE the underlined portion.


To answer this question, you must consider the sentence as a whole; the underlined section alone does not give you enough information to determine the correct option. When considered independently, the underlined portion makes sense; however, the beginning of the sentence already contains the word initially, which is a synonym for at first. As a result, at first is redundant and should be eliminated, making the answer (D).





In 1931, RCA Victor developed and released the first 33 1/3 rpm records to the public. The format initially was a commercial failure because the records and playback equipment were expensive and because the audio performance was poor. When the stylus for playback was improved and the product released, the record became the standard in music playback for decades.


B. the product that was released,
C. the product being released,
D. the product has been released,


The presence of the word and before the underlined portion signals a parallel construction: the correct option must be parallel to the stylus for playback was improved. The expected answer would be the product was released, but that is not one of the options. The key to answering the question is to recognize that the word was is optional — the appearance of that verb before improved can “apply” to released as well, making the repetition unnecessary. As a result, (A) is correct. In (B), the word that creates a jumbled and un-parallel construction; in (C), being is awkward and again creates a construction that is not parallel; and in (D), has been is not parallel to was.





The moment a volunteer with a therapy dog walks into a hospital room, you can instantly feel a change in mood. Their eyes immediately focus on the animal, and smiles spread across their faces.


B. Your
C. One’s
D. Patients’


The reference to a hospital room implies that the underlined pronoun refers to patients, but because that noun does not actually appear earlier in the passage, it must be explicitly stated. Even if the meaning is clear enough, the sentence lacks precision. Only (D) provides the noun, making it correct. Shortcut: given the choice between a pronoun and a noun, the noun will usually be correct.





Throwing everything you own into your beat-up van and heading to California is a familiar path many aspiring musicians and actors follow as they head out West to chase their dreams. Although the odds are stacked quite heavily against them, opportunities are there for the taking. Such is the case for Richard Gibbs, a dreamer turned rock star and blockbuster film composer whose had a knack for being in the right place at the right time.


B. who’s had a knack for being
C. who’s had a knack to be
D. whose knack for being


Who’s = who is/has; whose = possessive of who. The possessive form must be followed by a noun, but the underlined word is followed by had, which is a verb. As a result, (A) and (D) can be eliminated. In (C), knack is followed by “to be” instead of by the idiomatically correct “for + -ing word” or “for + noun”. (B) is correct because it supplies the appropriate form of who and is idiomatically correct.





People are divided about whether hedgehogs should be kept as pets. Wild animals should stay wild, one argument goes. On the other hand, cats and dogs were wild once, and domestication has to start somewhere. At first, a hedgehog may feel threatened and extend they’re quills when handled by humans, but eventually most hedgehogs come to enjoy being petted and cuddled.


B. their
C. its
D. it’s


Start by identifying the noun to which the underlined pronoun most refers — what feels threatened and extends its quills? The most logical referent is a hedgehog, singular. They’re and their are both forms of they, plural, so (A) and (B) can be eliminated. (D) can also be eliminated because it’s = it is, and it does not make sense to say a hedgehog may feel threatened and extend it is quills. Its is the possessive form, making (C) correct. Its quills = the quills of a hedgehog.



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