RC Practice with Explanation

Tips on how to approach CAT Reading Comprehension passages
  • Don’t get into the minor details of the passage; just focus on what each paragraph has to say
  • As you read, create a map of the passage; you must remember what thing is located where in the passage
  • Once you read the question, come back to the part of the passage that is likely to have the answer
  • Compare the options and eliminate the incorrect choices based on the evidence that you see in the passage
  • Choose the answer once you are convinced of the right choice

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Passage

The recent centennial of the founding of the American Historical Association has given historians a properly historical reason for considering the present state of their discipline. The profession’s introspectionist analysis may be said to have begun a few years ago with the publication of The Past Before Us: Contemporary Historical Writing in the United States, an upbeat and self-congratulatory volume intended by the sponsoring AHA as a demonstration of “state of the art” historiography. Introducing this volume, editor Michael Kammen stated that after a changing of the guard in the 1970s, the professional historical community is mainly concerned with questions of social history, intergenerational conflict, and human responses to structures of power.

Having repudiated the basic commitments to nationalism and the ideal of scholarly detachment that had always sustained historical writing in the United States, professional historians found themselves—not surprisingly, one might add—cut off from their cultural environment. That this situation is markedly different from the formative period of historical scholarship can be seen in centennial numbers of the American Historical Review, the most recent expression of the profession’s reflective tendency, which have explored the nature of historical thinking at the time of the association’s founding a century ago.

What has been all but ignored in these official efforts at intellectual stocktaking is the enduring body of historical writing produced by American scholars between the end of the founding period in the early twentieth century and the onset of the excitement of the 1970s. Perhaps it is the thoroughness with which scholars have for two decades described the shift from progressive consensus to New Left history that accounts for this neglect. Whatever its reason, however, the oversight is fortunately rectified by the appearance of an “unofficial” volume on American historiography, Twentieth-Century American Historians which describes an approach to history that reminds us that until very recently history faithfully maintained its literary orientation and narrative character. It is a bit astonishing to learn that historians like Douglas Southall Freeman were nationally known figures whose books sold in the hundreds of thousands. It is instructive to recall that several of the most widely read and influential writers of history, such as Allan Nevins, Claude G. Bowers, and James Truslow Adams, possessed no formal historical training. And it is heartening to read of a time when, despite its academic institutional setting, cultural alienation was not asserted as a sign of intellectual sophistication and certification.

Although by no means uncritical, the authors of the essays in Twentieth-Century American Historians have approached their subject with an attitude of respectful admiration for the accomplishments of their intellectual mentors. It is unusual, moreover, to find in contemporary scholarship the open-mindedness to conservative points of view, and immunity to orthodox liberal assumptions, that inform this volume.


Question: If the claims made in the passage are correct, how would contemporary historians of the American Historical Association be expected to respond to a work that provides a nationalistic interpretation of American history?
[A] They would probably embrace it because it reflects the New Left approach to American history.
[B] They would probably embrace it because it appeals to their sense of national pride.
[C] They would probably denounce it because it conflicts with their philosophical orientation.
[D] They would probably denounce it because it violates the principle of scholarly objectivity.
Answer
Option (C)


Explanation
Where is nationalism mentioned? At the beginning of 2, where the AHA is said to have “repudiated” it. The author clearly believes they’re doing so on principle; choice (C) fits perfectly.

Wrong answers:

(A): Opposite. They’d reject it precisely because it doesn’t.

(B): Opposite. Again, they’d reject it because national pride isn’t their cup of tea.

(D): Out of Scope. While they’d surely denounce it, there’s nothing in the passage to indicate that they’re too concerned with objectivity. In fact, the author mentions that they’ve rejected scholarly detachment right along with nationalism.


Question: If the author of the passage was interested in further justifying the position made within the context of this passage, he would most likely find merit with which of the following books?
[A] A book about popular resistance to government policies written from an orthodox liberal perspective
[B] A book about the origins of the Civil War written for an intelligent middle-class audience
[C] A book about parent-child conflict in the American family during the First World War written for professional historians
[D] A book about the development of American nationalism written for New Left scholars
Answer
Option (B)


Explanation
What does the author praise or criticize in the passage? Predict quickly: He’ll like solid, old-fashioned histories like those praised by Twentieth-Century American Historians and look down on liberal, self-referential histories. A quick scan of the answer choices gets rid of all but (B), which is exactly the sort of straightforward stuff the author likes.

Wrong answers:

(A): Opposite. This is exactly the sort of book the AHA would love, and the author would scorn.

(C): Opposite. Self-referential, social history-ish. Sounds like another book the author would target.

(D): Opposite. The author wouldn’t be a fan of books written for “New Left scholars.”


Question: Based on information in the passage, which of the following statements in NOT true?
[A] Contemporary historians have largely overlooked the scholarly contributions of historians who published in the early decades of this century.
[B] Contemporary historians are generally less interested in economic history than social history.
[C] Contemporary historians are generally not receptive to conservative interpretations of history.
[D] Contemporary historians have usually closely analyzed the works of earlier historians such as Allan Nevins, Claude G. Bowers, and James Truslow Adams.
Answer
Option (D)


Explanation
Be sure to paraphrase the author’s main ideas before jumping to the answers so that you can spot an answer choice that contradicts. Hit the choices with frequent reference to your map and the passage. Only (D) isn’t supported, and (D) in fact is exactly the opposite of what the author says has happened: contemporary historians have overlooked this particular group (3).

Wrong answers:

(A): Opposite. This is simply the opposite of (D). If you noticed this when you got to (D), you could be sure that it was the right answer for the same reasons you eliminated this one.

(B): Opposite. A point the historians themselves make in 1.

(C): Opposite. The author makes this point in 3.


Question: Suppose that the American Historical Association has decided to sponsor a volume of essays about the American government’s decision to enter World War II. How would this information affect the passage’s claim about the current orientation of that organization?
[A] It would tend to undermine the passage’s claim.
[B] It would tend to support the passage’s claim.
[C] It would tend to undermine the passage’s claim only if it could be shown that the essays concentrate mainly on social questions.
[D] It would tend to support the passage’s claim only if it could be shown that the essays focus primarily on military matters.
Answer
Option (A)


Explanation
The author’s main critique of the AHA is that it’s overly concerned with social history at the expense of national histories. How would essays about the government’s decision to enter World War II affect this? It has the nationalist element, and doesn’t seem to be social at all. We’re looking for our standard weakening answer, and choice (A) fits the bill.

Wrong answers:

(B): Opposite. Simply the opposite of what we’re looking for.

(C): Opposite. If it could be shown that the essays concentrated on social issues, the author’s argument would actually be supported, and the AHA would be following the author's idea of them.

(D): Opposite. If it did focus on military matters, the author’s claim that the AHA was too oriented towards social history would be weakened still further.


Question: In the context of the passage, the phrase “intellectual stocktaking” (line 27) refers to:
[A] attempts to attack the orientation of the American Historical Association.
[B] assessments of the New Left’s influence on the writing of American history.
[C] efforts to assess the intellectual development of American historiography.
[D] changes in the ability of middle-class individuals to follow historical debates.
Answer
Option (C)


Explanation
Use your map to guide yourself to the relevant text. The author is referring back to the AHA’s attempt to analyze itself, as described in 1 ("the profession's introspectionist analysis"). (C) recommends itself immediately.

Wrong answers:

(A): Faulty Use of Detail. The author makes this attempt, but this phrase clearly refers to the AHA, not the author.

(B): Out of Scope. The author mentions this only obliquely, and not in reference to the phrase in question.

(D): Distortion. The author mentions the middle class in 3 in a context far removed from this phrase.


Question: In pointing out the distinctions of later American historians, the author notes earlier twentieth-century American historians. Implicit in the author’s discussion of these historians is the assumption that:
[A] these historians ignored the concept of scholarly objectivity.
[B] contemporary historians almost never write from a liberal perspective.
[C] New Left thinking has enriched the presentation of American history.
[D] D. historical scholarship should be accessible to the intelligent layman.
Answer
Option (D)


Explanation
Before hitting the answer choices, keep in mind the author’s generally favorable opinions of earlier twentieth-century historians. While three answer choices make statements the author would certainly disagree with, (D) reflects a positive opinion of these historians: the idea at the end of 3 that these historians had a valuable connection with the “educated middle class” (or "intelligent laymen").

Wrong answers:

(A): Opposite. We know from 2 that "scholarly detachment" was one of the things that the made these historians great.

(B): Opposite. The author repeatedly states that modern historians do write like this.

(C): Opposite. The author believes that the New Left’s approach compares unfavorably to that of the earlier historians.


Question: Which of the following assertions would most strengthen the author’s claim that many contemporary historians are “cut off from their cultural environment” (line 19)?
[A] They are very familiar with the writings of earlier historians like James Truslow Adams.
[B] The only people who read their books are other professional historians.
[C] They are criticized by the authors of essays in Twentieth-Century American Historians.
[D] Their intellectual sophistication has made them receptive to the conservative perspective.
Answer
Option (B)


Explanation
Why does the author argue that professional historians are cut off from their culture? Refer back to the text to see that this comes right on the heels of the argument that the AHA is too self-referential and too focused on social history. Look for an answer that would exemplify one or both of these points: Choice (B) fits the former perfectly.

Wrong answers:

(A): Opposite. The author claims in 3 that they aren’t familiar with this group of historians. If this were true the author’s argument would be weakened.

(C): Out of Scope. Even if this were true, it would have no effect on whether they’re cut off from their culture.

(D): Opposite. If this were true, it would counter the author’s arguments in the last paragraph. They’d be more closely in touch than the author gives them credit for.

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