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Sample Multiple-Choice Question #1
Answers & Rationales

Read the following passage carefully before you choose your answers.


      It is not easy to write a familiar style. Many people mistake a 
      familiar for a vulgar style, and suppose that to write without 
      affectation is to write at random. On the contrary, there is nothing
      that requires more precision, and, if I may so say, purity of 
(5)   expression, than the style I am speaking of. It utterly rejects not 
      only all unmeaning pomp, but all low, cant phrases, and loose, 
      unconnected, slipshod allusions. It is not to take the first word 
      that offers, but the best word in common use; it is not to throw 
      words together in any combination we please, but to follow and
(10)  avail ourselves of the true idiom of the language. To write a 
      genuine familiar or truly English style, is to write as any one 
      would speak in common conversation, who had a thorough 
      command and choice of words, or who could discourse with ease, force, 
      and perspicuity, setting aside all pedantic and oratorical flourishes. 
(15)  Or to give another illustration, to write naturally is the
      same thing in regard to common conversation, as to read naturally
      is in regard to common speech. It does not follow that it is
      an easy thing to give the true accent and inflection to the words 
      you utter, because you do not attempt to rise above the level of 
(20)  ordinary life and colloquial speaking. You do not assume indeed 
      the solemnity of the pulpit, or the tone of stage-declamation: 
      neither are you at liberty to gabble on at a venture, without 
      emphasis or discretion, or to resort to vulgar dialect or clownish 
      pronunciation. You must steer a middle course. You are tied down 
(25)  to a given and appropriate articulation, which is determined by 
      the habitual associations between sense and sound, and which 
      you can only hit by entering into the author's meaning, as you 
      must find the proper words and style to express yourself by fixing 
      your thoughts on the subject you have to write about. Any one 
(30)  may mouth out a passage with a theatrical cadence, or get upon 
      stilts to tell his thoughts: but to write or speak with propriety 
      and simplicity is a more difficult task. Thus it is easy to affect a 
      pompous style, to use a word twice as big as the thing you want 
      to express: it is not so easy to pitch upon the very word that 
(35)  exactly fits it. Out of eight or ten words equally 
      common, equally intelligible, with nearly equal pretensions, it is a matter of some 
      nicety and discrimination to pick out the very one, the preferableness 
      of which is scarcely perceptible, but decisive. The reason 
      why I object to Dr. Johnson's style is, that there is no discrimination, 
(40)  no selection, no variety in it. He uses none but tall, 
      opaque words, "taken from the first row of the rubric:" -- words 
      with the greatest number of syllables, or Latin phrases with 
      merely English terminations. If a fine style depended on this sort 
      of arbitrary pretension, it would be fair to judge of an author's 
(45)  elegance by the measurement of his words, and the substitution 
      of foreign circumlocutions (with no precise associations) for the 
      mother-tongue. How simple it is to be dignified without ease, to 
      be pompous without meaning! Surely, it is but a mechanical rule 
      for avoiding what is low to be always pedantic and affected. It is 
(50)  clear you cannot use a vulgar English word, if you never use a 
      common English word at all. A fine tact is shown in adhering to 
      those which are perfectly common, and yet never falling into any 
      expressions which are debased by disgusting circumstances, or 
      which owe their signification and point to technical or professional 
(55)  allusions. A truly natural or familiar style can never be 
      quaint or vulgar, for this reason, that it is of universal force and 
      applicability, and that quaintness and vulgarity arise out of the 
      immediate connection of certain words with coarse and disagreeable, 
      or with confined ideas.

      (1821)
  1. Which of the following best describes the rhetorical function of the second sentence in the passage?
    1. It makes an appeal to authority.
    2. It restates the thesis of the passage.
    3. It expresses the causal relationship between morality and writing style.
    4. It provides a specific example for the preceding generalization.
    5. It presents a misconception that the author will correct.

    The correct answer, E, is supported by the second sentence of the passage and how this sentence relates to the rest of the passage. The author's intention to rectify a "misconception" is conveyed through such word choices as "mistake," "suppose," and "random." Also, note that the third sentence begins with "On the contrary" and proceeds to state the opposite (and the author's) point of view.

     

  2. Which of the following phrases does the author use to illustrate the notion of an unnatural and pretentious writing style?
    1. "unconnected, slipshod allusions" (line 7)
    2. "throw words together" (lines 8-9)
    3. "gabble on at a venture" (line 22)
    4. "get upon stilts" (lines 30-31)
    5. "pitch upon the very word" (line 34)

    The correct answer, D, is the only option that describes a characteristic of the ostentatious style about which the question asks. Options A, B, and C are incorrect because they refer to misconceptions that some people have about the familiar style of writing. Option E is also incorrect because it characterizes the familiar style -- to choose the "common" word that is best in context.

     

  3. In lines 10-32 of the passage, the author uses an extended analogy between
    1. language and morality
    2. preaching and acting
    3. writing and speaking
    4. vulgar English and incorrect pronunciation
    5. ordinary life and the theater

    The predominant focus in this section is a comparison between written and spoken language. The comparison is stated in lines 10-15 and developed and amplified in the lines that follow; thus, answer C is best.

     

  4. In context, the expression "to pitch upon" (line 34) is best interpreted as having which of the following meanings?
    1. To suggest in a casual way
    2. To set a value on
    3. To put aside as if by throwing
    4. To utter glibly and insincerely
    5. To succeed in finding

    In lines 32-38, the author's point is to emphasize the difficulty in selecting the exact word to convey a particular meaning. Thus, the term "to pitch upon" in line 34 is best interpreted as option E.

     

  5. The author's tone in the passage as a whole is best described as
    1. harsh and strident
    2. informal and analytical
    3. contemplative and conciliatory
    4. superficial and capricious
    5. enthusiastic and optimistic

    Of the choices given, option B best describes the author's tone. It is both informal, using unaffected language, and analytical, making careful distinctions.

See this question without the correct answers and rationales