What does it mean to understand words “in context”?

What does it mean to understand words “in context”?

In the course of my recent research on the phonics debate, I came across an idea that in retrospect should have seemed obvious but that nevertheless seemed entirely surprising when I encountered it—namely, that a reliance on context clues is a strategy employed primarily by poor readers.

Consequently, when schools teach young children to use context clues as a decoding aid, they are actually encouraging them to behave like weak readers. Strong readers, in contrast, rely primarily on the letters themselves to figure out what words are written.

According to Louise Spear-Swerling, professor of Special Education at Southern Connecticut State University:

Skilled readers do not need to rely on pictures or sentence context in word identification, because they can read most words automatically, and they have the phonics skills to decode occasional unknown words rapidly. Rather, it is the unskilled readers who tend to be dependent on context to compensate for poor word identification. Furthermore, many struggling readers are disposed to guess at words rather than to look carefully at them, a tendency that may be reinforced by frequent encouragement to use context. Almost every teacher of struggling readers has seen the common pattern in which a child who is trying to read a word (say, the word brown) gives the word only a cursory glance and then offers a series of wild guesses based on the first letter: “Black? Book? Box?” (The guesses are often accompanied by more attention to the expression on the face of the teacher than to the print, as the child waits for this expression to change to indicate a correct guess.) (more…)

The Critical Reader Conversation with Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein

The Critical Reader Conversation with Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein

Photo credit: Tricia Koning Photography 

 

For this interview, we are happy to present Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein Graff, professors at the University of Illinois-Chicago. They are the authors of They Say/I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing, one of the most widely used college composition texts in the United States. In addition, their work has had an incalculable influence on both the original version of The Critical Reader and the AP Language and Composition edition of that book. We are enormously grateful for their participation in this series.

Bio

Gerald Graff, a Professor of English and Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago adn 2008 President of the Modern Language Association of America, has had a major impact on teachers through such books as Professing Literature: An Institutional History, Beyond the Culture Wars: How Teaching the Conflicts Can Revitalize American Education, and, most recently, Clueless in Academe: How Schooling Obscures the Life of the Mind.

Cathy Birkenstein, who first developed the templates used in They Say/I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing, is a Lecturer in English at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She received her PhD in American literature and is currently working on a study of Booker T. Washington. Together Gerald and Cathy teach courses in composition and conduct campus workshops on writing. They live with their son, Aaron, in Chicago.

 

 

How did you come to write They Say/I Say? Did it develop organically from your teaching over an extended period, or were there specific incidents that inspired you to write it?

It was more of a slow process that developed over time in the 1990S as we compared our experiences as college teachers. What struck us most vividly at this time was our students’ widespread confusion over how to write an academic paper. To us, this confusion seemed largely unnecessary since, in our view, academic writing follows a rather conventional, elemental pattern that students could readily learn. As we thought about our own struggles with writing, and about what successful writers do, we came to believe that, despite its many moving parts, academic writing has one big constant: the move of entering a conversation, which is usually done by summarizing what other people have said or are saying about your subject and then using that summary to launch your own view, whether to agree, disagree, or some combination of both. (more…)

Statement on ed-tech

Statement on ed-tech

I’ve been stunned by the reaction my previous post, “Unbalanced Literacy,” has generated (a couple of people have informed that I’m all over Twitter, a platform from which I remain willfully absent—let’s just say that pithy isn’t really my thing); had I known that the debate over phonics was still capable of generating such passion, I would have written something about it a long time ago! The piece took me hours and hours to write, and I’m gratified that it’s gotten such a great response.

That said, in light of some of the queries/interview requests I’ve received, I’d like to follow up on one of the points I made in the original piece, namely the fact that some teachers are suspicious of the push for increased phonics because they believe it represents an attempt by the ed-tech industry to exploit students for financial gain—essentially, that phonics will be marketed as the One Great Solution to magically boost reading scores, and that it will be used as an excuse to create all sorts of highly profitable apps and programs that can be marketed to school districts. (more…)

Unbalanced literacy

Unbalanced literacy

Over the last year or so, an education reporter named Emily Hanford has published a series of exceedingly important articles about the state of phonics instruction (or rather the lack thereof) in American schools. The most in-depth piece appeared on the American Public Media project website, but what are effectively condensed versions of it have also run on NPR and the NY Times op-ed page.

If you have any interest in how reading gets taught, I highly recommend taking the time for the full-length piece in APM: it’s eye-opening and fairly disquieting. While it reiterates a number of important findings regarding the importance of phonics, its originality lies in the fact that Hanford takes on the uneasy truce between phonics and whole language that supposedly put an end to the reading wars of the 1980s and ‘90s, and points out that so-called “balanced literacy” programs often exist in name only.

In principle, this approach recognizes that both development of sound-letter relationships and consistent exposure to high-quality literature are necessary ingredients in helping students become proficient readers. What Hanford does, however, is expose just how vast a chasm exists between theory and reality. In many schools, phonics is largely neglected, or even ignored entirely, while discredited and ineffective whole-language approaches continue to dominate. (more…)

Explanations August

8/31/20

 

Researchers at the University at Buffalo have developed a solar water purifier they hope can sanitize water more quickly, cheaply, and effectively than other models. The device resembles a small A-frame tent. Black carbon-dipped paper is draped over a triangular form and set on top of the water. The edges of the paper trail in the water, soaking it up like a sponge.

 

What is the best way to combine the underlined sentences?

 

A. A triangular form is set on top of the water and draped with carbon-dipped paper, whose edges trail in the water, soaking it up like a sponge.
B. A triangular form is set on top of the water, and carbon dipped-paper is draped over it, whose edges trail in the water and soak it up like a sponge.
C. Black carbon-dipped paper is draped over a triangular form and, then, set on top of the water, its edges trailing and soaking it up like a sponge.
D. Draped over a triangular form, black carbon-dipped paper is set on top of the water, whose edges trail, soaking it up like a sponge.

 

(B) is incorrect because whose edges trail in the water and soak it up like a sponge modifies carbon-dipped paper and should be placed next to it; however, the modifying phrase is placed after the word it (that is, water), creating a misplaced modifier. (C) is incorrect because its edges trailing and soaking it up like a sponge is used to modify water rather than carbon-dipped paper, creating the same error as in (B). (D) is likewise wrong because the construction water, whose edges trail is illogical because water does not have edges. Rather, it is the edges of the carbon-dipped paper that trail in the water. (A) is correct because the phrase whose edges trail in the water is clearly used to modify carbon-dipped paper.

 


 

8/30/20

 

In the late nineteenth century, the most sophisticated railroad managers and some economists argued that railroads were “natural monopolies,” the inevitable consequence of an industry that required huge investments in land and construction. However, competition was expensive and wasteful. In 1886, the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway and the Missouri Pacific Railroad both built railroad tracks heading west from the Great Bend of the Arkansas River in Kansas to Greeley County on the western border, roughly 200 miles away. The tracks ran parallel to each other, about two miles apart.

 

A. NO CHANGE
B. Therefore,
C. Indeed,
D. Still,

 

To answer this question, ignore the transition already in the passage, and consider the information before and after it. The previous sentence describes the idea that the railroads were natural monopolies because they required huge investments in land and construction, and the sentence begun by the transition states that competition [between railroad companies] was expensive and wasteful. Those are similar ideas, so (A) and (D) can be eliminated (still means “despite this”). (B) is incorrect as well because the fact that competition cost a lot of money and created waste was not a result of the fact that it required huge investments. Those ideas are connected, but the first is not the cause of the second. (C) is correct because indeed is used to emphasize a preceding statement, which is exactly what the rest of the sentence does. The example that follows then further supports that idea by illustrating how competition led to wasteful spending (that is, two sets of tracks built almost right next to one another).

 


 

8/29/20

 

In the early twentieth century, new knowledge about nutrition science fueled widespread “expert” condemnation of dishes featuring a range of ingredients mixed together. Instead, reformers insisted with great confidence (but scant evidence), that it was healthier to eat simple foods with few ingredients—meals in which meats and plain vegetables were clearly separated.

 

A. NO CHANGE
B. confidence, (but scant evidence),
C. confidence, (but scant evidence)
D. confidence (but scant evidence)

 

As a general rule, it is unnecessary for parentheses to be accompanied by commas, either before or after. Because two commas and two parentheses both serve to indicate non-essential information, it is redundant to include both. (In rare cases, a comma may be required after a close-parenthesis for other reasons, but that is not relevant to this question.) (D) is the only option that does not contain commas, so it is correct.

 


 

8/28/20

 

Debbie Smith has her work cut out for her. Since 2010, she has been the artist responsible to record the likeness of every clown registered with Clowns International, the oldest established organization for clowns in the United Kingdom. It’s a seemingly straightforward task—that is, until you discover what she uses as a canvas: eggs.

 

A. NO CHANGE
B. for recording
C. in recording
D. with recording

 

The correct idiom is responsible for + -ING. The infinitive (to record) or a preposition other than for cannot be used. As a result, (B) is correct.

 


 

8/27/20

 

Bill Bowerman’s “eureka” moment came while eating breakfast with his wife on a summer Sunday in 1976. As he stared at his waffles, it occurred to him that the grooves of the waffle iron were a perfect mold for multi-terrain sneaker soles. He poured molten rubber into iron after iron that he perfected the waffle-sole pattern that Nike, which he co-founded in 1964, continues to use on some running and training shoes today.

 

A. NO CHANGE
B. which
C. until
D. when

 

If the original sentence doesn’t make sense to you when you read it, try to avoid falling into a loop of continually reading and re-reading it; when you can’t figure out what a sentence is trying to say, that’s a pretty reliable sign that something is wrong with it. In this case, once you’ve determined that that doesn’t make sense, you are probably best served by ignoring it and plugging in each of the answers in turn. The only option that makes sense is (C) — logically, Bowerman must have poured molten rubber into iron after iron until he perfected the waffle-sole pattern. The other answers all create nonsense meanings.

 


 

8/26/20

 

During the Renaissance, first-person accounts of little-explored lands and botanical discoveries thrilled armchair gardeners, working horticulturists and scholars, although the high cost of producing books and manuscripts tended to limit their audience. At a more practical level, interest in garden design and new techniques of cultivation blossomed and was accompanied by a combustion of interest in previously unknown plants.

 

A. NO CHANGE
B. a bang
C. a blowup
D. an explosion

 

To say that there was an explosion of interest in something is to say that there was a dramatic increase in interest. Although the other answers have similar literal meanings to explosion, none of them can be used idiomatically to have this meaning. (D) is thus correct.

 


 

8/25/20

 

In 2004, Debra Britt and her sisters, Felicia Walker and Tamara Mattison, began to collect and make dolls, doll clothes, and accessories. By 2012, the serious hobby had overrun their home, so they rented a storefront space in downtown Mansfield, Massachusetts, where they were living, and transformed it into the National Black Doll Museum of History and Culture.

 

A. NO CHANGE
B. have lived
C. would live
D. would have lived

 

If you look at the rest of the passage, you can see that the other verbs are in the past tense (began, rented, transformed), so the underlined verb must be in the past tense as well. (B) can be eliminated because have lived is in the present perfect, which describes an action that began in the past but that is continuing into the present. (C) and (D) can also be eliminated because would live/would have lived are both used to indicate hypothetical actions — actions that could take place, or could have taken place, that did not actually occur. That leaves (A): although were living is not precisely parallel in form to the other verbs in the sentence, it is still in the past and is therefore sufficiently parallel to be correct. The progressive (were…-ING) is simply used here to emphasize that the sisters’ residence in Mansfield was an ongoing situation.

 


 

8/24/20

 

For most of history, humans weren’t interested in the direct consumption of milk. Instead, the early milkers of the fertile crescent transformed it into sour yogurt, butter and cheese because the hot climate caused milk to quickly spoil. Even so, milk was a vital symbol in the mythology of the Sumerians, Greeks and Egyptians.

 

Which of the following is the LEAST acceptable placement for the underlined word?

 

A. where it is now.
B. after the word climate.
C. after the word milk.
D. after the word spoil.

 

This is a question that needs to be done more or less by ear. (A) is incorrect (i.e., acceptable) because quickly (adverb) can be used to modify spoil (verb). (B) is acceptable because quickly can modify the verb caused. (D) is acceptable because it is equivalent to (A) — it merely places the adverb after the verb, rather than before it. (C) is the least acceptable option because adverbs typically are not placed before infinitives (to spoil); the construction is not idiomatic. That makes (C) correct.

 


 

8/23/20

 

In James Dinh’s proposal for the National Museum of the American Indian’s new memorial, concentric circles—“ripples,” in Dinh’s imagination—radiate outward from a star and fountain and is bounded on one side by a mound of earth inlaid with a stone wall. One stretch of this wall, which Dinh terms the “Wall of Stories,” is particularly striking: it features a seated bronze sculpture of a mother and child.

 

A. NO CHANGE
B. are
C. has been
D. have been

 

The answer choices contain both singular and plural verbs, indicating that this question is testing (in part) subject-verb agreement. To make the subject easier to identify, ignore the non-essential clause between the dashes: In James Dinh’s proposal for the National Museum of the American Indian’s new memorial, concentric circles…radiate outward from a star and fountain and is bounded on one side by a mound of earth inlaid with a stone wall. The subject is concentric circles (plural), so a plural verb (are) is required. That eliminates (A) and (C). Next, determine the tense: all of the other verbs in the passage are in the present (radiate, terms, is, features), so the underlined verb must be in the present as well. That makes the answer (B).

 


 

8/22/20

 

In a 2012 paper, marketing researchers Rajeev Batra, Aaron Ahuvia and Richard P. Bagozzi developed a model of “brand love.” Based on studies of consumers’ brand attachment, they showed that in order to form meaningful attachment with a brand, consumers need to experience them in ways that go beyond simply buying and using a product.

 

A. NO CHANGE
B. themselves
C. itself
D. it

 

The only plural noun to which the underlined pronoun could refer is consumers, but it does not make sense to say consumers need to experience consumers in ways that go beyond simply buying and using a product. A far more logical interpretation of the sentence is that the antecedent is the singular noun a brand. As a result, a singular pronoun must be used. That eliminates (A) and (B). (C) is incorrect because “self” words are used to indicate that someone/something is both the subject and the object of an action, and a brand cannot do anything to itself. It alone makes sense, so (D) is correct.

 


 

8/21/20

 

Before Star Trek premiered on September 8, 1966, the show’s ingredients had been slow-cooking in creator Gene Roddenberry’s brain for years. At first, Roddenberry’s initial idea was to write a show about a 19th-century blimp that journeyed from place to place, making contact with distant peoples. Deciding instead to set the show in the future, Roddenberry drew upon his youthful immersion in science fiction magazines like Astounding Stories.

 

A. NO CHANGE
B. Roddenberry had the initial idea
C. Roddenberry’s idea initially was
D. Roddenberry’s idea was

 

To answer this question, you must back up to the beginning of the sentence. It contains the phrase At first, which is a synonym for initially. As a result, it is redundant to include both. Because the beginning of the sentence cannot be changed, initially must be removed from the underlined portion. That makes (D) correct.

 


 

8/20/20

 

Even before the advent of digital technologies, critics predicted the collapse of existing media. After television was invented, many claimed radio would die. But radio ended up surviving by finding new uses; people started listening in cars, during train rides and on factory floors.

 

Which of the following would NOT be an acceptable alternative to the underlined word?

 

A. destruction
B. demise
C. revolt
D. disappearance

 

Destruction, demise, and disappearance can all be used to indicate that critics believed existing media was on its way out. Revolt (rebellion) implies the opposite, however, so it is NOT an acceptable alternative to the underlined word. That makes (C) correct.

 


 

8/19/20

 

On March 19, 1918, Woodrow Wilson signed the Calder Act, requiring people in the United States to set their clocks to standard time; less than two weeks later, on March 31, they would be required to abandon standard time and pushed their clocks ahead by an hour for the nation’s first experiment with daylight saving.

 

A. NO CHANGE
B. push
C. have pushed
D. had pushed

 

The presence of the word and before the underlined verb signals a parallel construction: they would be required to (1) abandon standard time and (2) x. There is no option that supplies the infinitive (to push); however, the to before abandon can “apply” to the underlined verb as well. As a result, the verb alone can be used. That makes the answer (B).

 


8/18/20

 

In an exhibition called Figuring History, the African-American artist Robert Colescott provided a tongue-in-cheek send-up of the famous depiction of George Washington crossing the Delaware. The Oakland, California, native places George Washington Carver, the agricultural pioneer at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, in the spot of his namesake.

 

A. NO CHANGE
B. artist, Robert Colescott
C. artist Robert Colescott,
D. artist, Robert Colescott,

 

When commas are tested with names that appear in the middle of a sentence, there are typically only two correct options: no commas (essential) or two commas (non-essential). The easiest way to determine which is correct is to treat the name like a non-essential item and cross it out of the sentence. If the sentence still makes sense in context, the information is not essential, and commas are required; if the sentence does not make sense in context, the information is essential, and no commas should be used. Crossed out: In an exhibition called Figuring History, the African-American artist…provided a tongue-in-cheek send-up of the famous depiction of George Washington crossing the Delaware. Athough the sentence that remains makes grammatical sense, it omits a very important piece of information: we no longer know who the African-American artist is. As a result, the reference to The Oakland, California, native in the following sentence does not make sense. The information is therefore essential, and no commas should be used, making the answer (A).

 


 

8/17/20

 

The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) has been the site of many creative adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays. Some are a multimedia mashup of characters, lines and scenes from Shakespeare’s history plays. “Extensively cut,” “deeply cut” and “severely cut” are some of the favorite phrases used by the reviewers of these types of experimental stage and film adaptations. The job can involve rearranging scenes, simplifying plotlines, and eliminating characters. In such cases, cutting up Shakespeare is not an act of destruction but an act of creation. Professional playwrights in Shakespeare’s time even thought about creating scripts as “cutwork,” like constructing costumes by cutting and stitching.

 

Which answer creates the most logical transition between the preceding sentence and the information that follows?

 

A. NO CHANGE
B. During Shakespeare’s time, it was not uncommon for multiple versions of plays to circulate.
C. Multimedia websites also offer contemporary “translations” of Shakespeare’s plays, along with notes and interviews.
D. Cutting, however, doesn’t necessarily mean getting rid of something.

 

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 after states that cutting up Shakespeare is not an act of destruction but an act of creation. Logically, then, the underlined sentence must be consistent with the idea that cutting Shakespeare is NOT about destroying his work. Be careful with (A): if you focus on the previous sentence, this answer might seem to fit with the general discussion of cutting, but the references to simplifying plotlines and eliminating characters are not really consistent with the idea of creation. (B) and (C) are simply off-topic. (D) is correct because the statement that cutting Shakespeare’s work is NOT about getting rid of something leads naturally into the idea that cutting = creation.

 


 

8/16/20

 

To some extent, the fear of having a book or movie plot “spoiled” is well-grounded. You only have one opportunity to learn something for the first time. Once you’ve learned it, that knowledge affects what you notice, what you anticipate, and even what your imagination can do.

 

A. NO CHANGE
B. what you can imagine.
C. what is in your imagination.
D. what your imagination is like.

 

The underlined portion involves the third item in a list, so the format of this item must match the format of the previous two. In most cases, you can determine the answer by focusing on the beginning of each item, but in this case all of the answers begin the same way, so you must consider the information that follows. In each of the first two items, what is followed by you + verb, so the third item must contain you + verb as well. (D) contains your rather than you, so it can be eliminated. In (C), a verb does follow what, but it also contains a prepositional phrase afterward, unlike the first two items. (B) contains two verbs (can and imagine), making it the closest match and thus the answer.

 


 

8/15/20

 

Long before smartphones filmed the stiffened appendages of people seeking internet fame, striking a pose was a popular form of entertainment in Victorian England. They called the practice “tableaux vivants” (literally, “living pictures”). The technique had its roots in medieval drama, but it became a fashionable Victorian-era dinner party game similar to charades. People would select a famous scene and position themselves in it, frozen, for their guests and friends to observe.

 

A. NO CHANGE
B. Participants
C. One
D. We

 

Although the general meaning of the sentence is clear in the original version, the pronoun they is vague and ambiguous — the sentence does not indicate who called the practice “tableaux vivants.” One and we create the same problem. Only (B) provides a noun, eliminating the ambiguity.

 


 

8/14/20

 

Paradoxically, time is perceived to pass slowly in situations in which there is either nothing happening or a great deal is happening. In other words, the complexity of the situation is either much higher or much lower than normal.

 

A. NO CHANGE
B. a great deal happens.
C. a great deal has happened.
D. a great deal happening.

 

The sentence in which the underlined portion appears describes two alternative scenarios, connected grammatically by the word or. Because the construction of the first item cannot be changed, the second must be made to match the first. The second item must also be able to follow there is. The first item contains nothing + -ING, so to remain parallel, the second item must contain a great deal + -ING. It is also correct to say time is perceived to pass slowly in situations in which there is…a great deal happening. Only (D) fits.

 


 

8/13/20

 

Since April 2017, a canoe powered solely by solar energy travels back and forth along the 42-mile stretch of the Capahuari and Pastaza rivers that connect the nine isolated settlements that live along their banks. The boat, named Tapiatpia after a mythical electric eel in the area, is the Amazon’s first solar powered public transport system.

 

A. NO CHANGE
B. has traveled
C. would travel
D. traveled

 

The word since is a tip-off that the present perfect (has/have + past participle) is required: this tense indicates that an action began in the past and is continuing into the present. (B) contains the correct construction, making it the answer.

 


 

8/12/20

 

Protection from ultraviolet (UV) rays is nothing new: many organisms, including microbes, plants, and animals, have developed the ability to shield themselves by producing small molecules that absorb UV rays, and block radiation, from entering cells and damaging the DNA.

 

A. NO CHANGE
B. molecules, that absorb UV rays and block radiation
C. molecules that absorb UV rays and block radiation
D. molecules that absorb UV rays and block radiation,

 

(A) and (D) can both be eliminated right away because they place a comma before a preposition (from), and (B) can be eliminated because as a rule, no comma should be placed before that. (C) is correct because no punctuation is required in the underlined portion.

 


 

8/11/20

 

Deep twilight settles in over Wales, Alaska. As the last traces of sunset orange give way to blue black on the western horizon, the icy Bering Strait and Siberia beyond are invisible in the night. All is quiet in the tiny village—a cluster of buildings with a single string of streetlights, tucked between frozen hills and frozen sea.

 

Which of the following is the LEAST acceptable alternative to the underlined portion?

 

A. village, a cluster
B. village: a cluster
C. village and a cluster
D. village; it is a cluster

 

The question asks you to identify the LEAST acceptable option, so the correct answer must be wrong. (A) is acceptable because a comma is used to set off a dependent clause that modifies the independent clause before it. (B) is acceptable because the colon is preceded by a complete sentence, and the information that follows is an explanation of what the tiny village is made up of. (D) is acceptable because the addition of it is at the beginning of the second clause makes that clause independent, and a semicolon is correctly used to separate it from the independent clause that comes before it. (C) is NOT acceptable because the word and prevents the information after the comma from describing the tiny village. This answer implies that a cluster of buildings, etc. is a separate location from the tiny village, a meaning not implied by the original construction in the passage. As a result, (C) is the LEAST acceptable answer and is thus correct.

 


 

8/10/20

 

Unlike his peers, the architect Frank Lloyd Wright also had a rare artistic passion that was very unusual: Japanese art. Wright first became interested in his early twenties, and within a decade, he was an internationally known collector of Japanese woodblock prints.

 

A. NO CHANGE
B. a rarely unusual artistic passion
C. a rare and unusual artistic passion
D. a rare artistic passion

 

Something that is rare is by definition unusual, so it is redundant to use both words. (D) is the only option that includes only one of these terms, so it is correct.

 


 

8/9/20

 

Spam has become a sought-after product in many countries around the world since its introduction in the 1930s, especially those that have faced economic hardship. Because it’s cheap, filling, and long-lasting, it addresses a genuine need.

 

A. NO CHANGE
B. Since its introduction in the 1930s, Spam has become a sought-after product in many countries around the world,
C. In many countries around the world, Spam has become a sought-after product since its introduction in the 1930s,
D. Around the world, in many countries, Spam has become a sought-after product since its introduction in the 1930s,

 

The key to answering this question is to focus on the information that comes after the underlined portion. The phrase especially those that have faced economic hardship can only refer to many countries around the world — if another phrase, e.g., in the 1930s, is placed at the end of the underlined portion, a misplaced modifier is created. As a result, the correct answer must end with the phrase many countries around the world. (B) is the only answer to contain that construction, so it is correct.

 


 

8/8/20

 

In the 1840s, the travel writer Alexander Mackay described the “extraordinary number” of newspapers that travelers would encounter everywhere they went. Henry David Thoreau, on the other hand, was more appalled than dazzled. In fact, he loathed newspapers, denouncing them for a variety of offenses, including “servility” and outright baseness.

 

A. NO CHANGE
B. However,
C. Likewise,
D. Subsequently,

 

Start by ignoring the transition already in the passage, and focus on determining the relationship between the sentence begun by the underlined transition and the sentences before. The preceding portion of the passage indicates that Thoreau was more appalled (horrified) than dazzled by the plethora of newspapers, and the sentence begun by the transition indicates that he loathed and denounced them. Those are similar ideas, so a continuer is required. That eliminates (B). (C) doesn’t quite fit: likewise is used to indicate that two distinct examples support the same point, or to introduce a new, similar idea — it is not used to continue the same point, as is the case here. (D) is incorrect because subsequently is a synonym for next, or afterward, and the transition is not introducing a new step in a sequence. In fact is correct because the statement begun by the transition serves to emphasize and expand on the idea that Thoreau was more appalled than dazzled. That makes the answer (A).

 


 

8/7/20

 

The more often people hear a statement, the more likely they are to believe it’s true—a phenomenon commonly known as the illusory truth effect. Adding a picture can also change how believable a statement is. Sometimes, images can make messages more convincing; other times, skepticism is increased.

 

A. NO CHANGE
B. skepticism would be increased.
C. there is an increase in skepticism.
D. they can increase skepticism.

 

The construction [s]ometimes…other times in the last sentence indicates that the second half of the sentence must be parallel in structure to the first. The first half begins with subject + can + verb, so the second half must match. (D) is the only answer to contain that construction (they can increase), so it is correct.

 


 

8/6/20

 

When he published The Sun Also Rises in 1926, Ernest Hemingway was already well-known among expatriate writers in Paris and cosmopolitan literary circles in New York and Chicago. However, it was his second novel A Farewell to Arms, that truly made him a celebrity. With this newfound fame, Hemingway learned, came fan mail, and lots of it.

 

A. NO CHANGE
B. novel: A Farewell to Arms
C. novel, A Farewell to Arms,
D. novel, A Farewell to Arms

 

The easiest answers to eliminate are (B) and (D). (B) is incorrect because a colon must follow a complete, standalone sentence, and However, it was his second novel clearly is not a sentence. (D) is incorrect because when a title appears in the middle of a sentence, it is always wrong to place a single comma before it. (A) and (C) both appear to violate a comma rule; however, when these answers are plugged into the sentence, the comma after Arms results in the seemingly incorrect placement of a comma after the word that. The only way that this construction can be made acceptable is if the title is made non-essential (two commas). When it is crossed out, the underlying structure of the sentence makes sense: However, it was his second novel…that truly made him a celebrity. In contrast, the placement of only a single comma after that creates an unnatural break. (A) can thus be eliminated, making (C) correct.

 


 

8/5/20

 

In the late 1970s, a group of researchers set out testing the improbable idea of making computers “talk” to one another by using digital information packets that could be traded among multiple machines. The project, called ARPANET, went on to fundamentally change life on Earth under its more common name: the Internet.

 

A. NO CHANGE
B. in testing
C. for testing
D. to test

 

The correct idiom is set out + infinitive (to test); the gerund (-ING) form is incorrect, regardless of whether a preposition is used before it. That makes (D) the only possible answer.

 


 

8/4/20

 

In the nineteenth century, people in the United States ate dessert puddings that still are recognizable today; however, they also ate main-course puddings like steak and kidney pudding, pigeon pudding, or eating mutton pudding, in which stewed meats were surrounded by a flour or potato crust. Other puddings had no crust at all. Some, like Yorkshire pudding, were a kind of cooked batter.

 

A. NO CHANGE
B. they ate
C. ate
D. DELETE the underlined word.

 

The underlined portion involves the third item in a list, so the format of this item must match the format of the previous two. The first two items contain nouns only (steak and kidney pudding, pigeon pudding), so the third item must contain only a noun as well. (A), (B), and (C) are incorrect because they contain other parts of speech. (D) creates the correct construction by deleting the verb, leaving only the noun mutton pudding.

 


 

8/3/20

 

You are invited into Do Ho Suh’s apartment. You put down your bag, remove your coat and step inside. The hallway changes color as you proceed, first pink, then green and then blue. There is a red staircase outside, and beyond it people are moving around. You can see them right through the walls. Back home, the only things that behave this way are cobwebs, but here, everything—door panels, chain locks, light switches, sprinkler system dissolves delightfully into colored light.

 

A. NO CHANGE
B. chain locks; light switches, sprinkler system,
C. chain locks, light switches sprinkler system
D. chain locks, light switches, sprinkler system—

 

The list door panels, chain locks, light switches, sprinkler system is non-essential because the sentence still makes sense when it is removed: Back at your house, the only things that behave this way are cobwebs, but here, everything…dissolves delightfully into colored light. As a result, a second dash must be used to mark the end of the non-essential clause. That makes (D) the only possible answer. In the other answers, the various types of punctuation within the list are only a distraction.

 


 

8/2/20

 

Researchers have reported that individuals, who live in urban areas of more than half a million inhabitants, are exposed to night-time light levels three to six times brighter than those in small towns and rural areas. People living in regions with more intense light sleep less, are more tired during the daytime, and report feeling more dissatisfied with their sleep.

 

A. NO CHANGE
B. individuals, who live in urban areas of more than half a million inhabitants
C. individuals who live in urban areas of more than half a million inhabitants,
D. individuals who live in urban areas of more than half a million inhabitants

 

When commas with “who” clauses in the middle of a sentence are tested, there are typically only two possible answers: two commas (non-essential) or no commas (essential). Answers with a comma only before the “who” clause are always wrong, and answers with a comma only after the “who” clause are, with a few rare exceptions, wrong as well. In this case, the clause is essential because the sentence is not talking about individuals in general, as two commas would imply, but rather about a specific group of individuals: those who live in urban areas with more than half a million inhabitants. In other words, the meaning of that clause is restricted to that particular group. No commas indicate a restricted meaning, so (D) is correct.

 


 

8/1/20

 

The Museum of Bad Art was founded in 1994, when Boston art and antique dealer Scott Wilson rescued a portrait of a handsome grandmother, pensively poised under an aggressively yellow sky in a windswept meadow, from a Boston trash heap. Wilson wanted to sell the frame, but upon seeing the painting (later dubbed Lucy in the Field with Flowers), an objection was made by his friend Jerry Reilly. Reilly took the tribute to someone else’s elder and hung it in his own home.

 

A. NO CHANGE
B. Jerry Reilly, his friend made an objection.
C. his friend Jerry Reilly, who made an objection.
D. his friend Jerry Reilly objected.

 

(A) is incorrect because it contains a dangling modifier, albeit a hidden one. To simplify the sentence and reveal the error, cross out the information in parentheses: Wilson wanted to sell the frame, but upon seeing the painting, an objection was made by his friend Jerry Reilly. Who saw the painting? Jerry Reilly, not an objection. Because Jerry Reilly is not placed immediately after painting, a dangling modifier is created. Although (B) and (C) place Reilly’s name in the appropriate spot, these answers are both incorrect because they contain fragments — in neither case does the verb correspond to the subject, Jerry Reilly. (D) corrects this error and is shorter, clearer, and less awkward, so it is the answer.

 


 

 

Looking for more practice? Check out the Quizzes and the Question of the Day Archives:

 

January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
December

 

 

And for additional practice, Critical Reader Books include hundreds of practice questions and explanations.