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

Passage

The following is an exchange between two art historians over the recent restoration of the Sistine Chapel.

Scholar A

I shudder to think what Michelangelo’s reaction would be if he were to gaze up today at the famous frescoes he painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel over four centuries ago. He was a practical man and would not have been surprised by the effects of time and environment on his masterpiece. He would have been philosophical about the damage wrought by mineral salts left behind when rainwater leaked through the roof. He would also probably have taken in stride the layers of dirt and soot from the coal braziers that heated the chapel—if that dirt had not been removed during the restoration.

Scholar B

The armament of the restorer is no longer limited to artistic sensibility and historical knowledge. A chemist on the Vatican restoration team identified the composition of the layers swathing Michelangelo’s primary hues. Since there was a stratum of dirt between the painting and the first layer of glaze, it was clear that several decades had elapsed between the completion of the ceiling and the application of the glaze. This justified the use of cleaning solvents that would lift off all but that final layer of dirt, which was kept for the sake of protection of the frescoes.

Scholar A

The Vatican restoration team reveled in inducing a colorful transformation in the frescoes with their special cleaning solvents and computerized analysis equipment. But he would have been appalled at the ravages inflicted on his work by the restorers.

This effect was not, as they claim, achieved merely by removing the dirt and animal glue (which was, by the way, employed by earlier restorers to revive muted colors). They removed Michelangelo’s final touches as well. The ceiling no longer has its essential quality of suppressed anger and thunderous pessimism. That quality was not an artifact of grime, not a misleading monochrome imposed on the ceiling by time. Michelangelo himself applied a veil of glaze to the frescoes to darken them after he had deemed his work too bright. I think the master would have felt compelled to add a few more layers of glaze had the ceiling radiated forth as it does now. It is clear that the solvents of the restorers did not just strip away the shadows. They also reacted chemically with Michelangelo’s pigments to produce hues the painter himself never beheld.

Scholar B

The particular solvent they employed, AB 57, was chosen because of the overall neutral action of its two chemicals on pigments: one temporarily tones them down, but the other livens them up to the same degree. Thus, the colors that emerged from the shadows are truly what Michelangelo intended to be seen.

The luminous figures are without doubt the work of a master craftsman who executed typical Renaissance painting techniques to perfection. This is the source of the difficulty you have with the restoration: the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel no longer seems to be the fruit of the wayward genius, defiant of Renaissance fresco-painting protocol, that you always thought Michelangelo was. You don’t like the fact that the painter seems, like a vagabond given a good scrubbing, to be a complete stranger, rational and traditional and devoid of fearfulness and anger. But the veil that led to the misperceptions of Michelangelo has now been lifted, and we may better acquaint ourselves with him.

Scholar A

Of course, the restorers left open an avenue for the reversal of their own “lifting of the veil.” Since the layers of animal glue are no longer there to serve as protection, the atmospheric pollutants from the city of Rome now have direct access to the frescoes. In fact, we’ve already noticed significant darkening in some of the restored work, and it’s only been four years since the restoration was completed. It remains to be seen whether the measure introduced to arrest this process—an extensive climate-control system—will itself have any long-term effect on the chapel’s ceiling.


Question: In the context of the passage, the word philosophical (line 9) means:
[A] knowledgeable.
[B] abstract.
[C] unruffled.
[D] disturbed.
Answer
Option (C)


Explanation
Go back to the passage to review the word in context. The author is arguing that Michelangelo wouldn’t be surprised or chagrined at the damage to his paintings. Choice (C) matches up with this easygoing approach.

Wrong answers:

(A): Out of Scope. Philosophy and knowledge may have similar connotations, but have no relation to how the author uses the word.

(B): Out of Scope. While this is a possible quality of philosophy, it has nothing to do with the way the word is used in the passage.

(D): Opposite. This choice might be tempting as it’s the opposite of the correct answer. A quick common-sense double check of the word, though, will remind you that this opposes Scholar A's point about Michelangelo.

Strategy Point: Always go back to review definitions in context, especially if they’re asking about a single word. The MCAT loves to test the ability to understand less common, secondary definitions of common words.


Question: Scholar B’s argument that the presence of dirt between the painting and the first layer of glaze justified the use of cleaning solvents to remove the glaze assumes that:
[A] the dirt was laid down several decades after the painting’s completion.
[B] the cleaning solvents would never actually touch the frescoes.
[C] Michelangelo intended the glaze to be relatively temporary.
[D] Michelangelo could not have applied glaze to the ceiling decades after painting it.
Answer
Option (D)


Explanation
Review Scholar B’s arguments in 2. Because there’s dirt in between the painting and the first layer of glaze, "several decades had elapsed" before the glaze was applied. What assumption is needed to bridge this evidence and conclusion? That perhaps the glaze had been applied by later workers, not Michelangelo. Choice (D) fits. If unsure about the assumption, deny it (easy to do in this case since it’s already in the negative) and see how the author’s argument collapses.

Wrong answers:

(A): Out of Scope. The glaze was laid down decades after the painting, not the dirt.

(B): Out of Scope. The solvents don’t factor in to this part of the argument.

(C): Opposite. The scholar is arguing that Michelangelo didn’t lay the glaze at all.


Question: Based on Scholar B’s claim that Scholar A is unhappy because the ceiling “no longer seems to be the fruit of [a] wayward genius, defiant of Renaissance-painting protocol,” it is reasonable to conclude that:
[A] Michelangelo was not a fiercely independent thinker.
[B] the restoration has jeopardized Michelangelo’s position in history as a great artist.
[C] darkening colors to produce a gloomy effect was characteristic of Michelangelo’s time.
[D] historical conceptions of Michelangelo overestimated his negative traits.
Answer
Option (C)


Explanation
Paraphrase Scholar B’s argument here. It helps to think of this in the traditional view/new view framework that is so common on the MCAT. The traditional view was that Michelangelo was a rebel. Why? The Sistine colors were dark and gloomy. What has to be true based on this? That gloominess wasn’t the style of the time (and therefore Michelangelo was a rebel). Therefore Scholar B, arguing against the traditional view, would then say that gloominess was the style. (C) immediately rewards careful and efficient thought.

Wrong answers:

(A): Distortion. Scholar B is arguing that Michelangelo wasn’t a rebel against bright colors, but that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t an independent thinker.

(B): Out of Scope. The artist’s reputation isn’t built exclusively on his rebellious nature.

(D): Distortion. This is tempting, but the use of gloomy colors doesn’t necessarily indicate a negative trait.


Question: Which of the following statements seems most in agreement with Scholar A’s arguments regarding the Sistine Chapel?
[A] Artists achieve their immortality through their art.
[B] It is impossible to step inside the mind of an artist.
[C] Deterioration of an artwork may be an unfortunate but natural process.
[D] There is seldom an appreciable difference over time in the visual impact of an artwork.
Answer
Option (C)


Explanation
Review Scholar A’s arguments about the chapel, paying close attention as always to the purpose of the argument. Scholar A wished that the ceiling had been left alone. Scanning the answer choices with this prediction turns up (C) as a likely candidate, further reinforced by the argument in 1 that Michelangelo would have fully accepted his work’s deterioration.

Wrong answers:

(A): Out of Scope. Scholar A never argues this.

(B): Opposite. Scholar A makes assumptions in 1 about what Michelangelo would have thought, so he clearly disagrees with this.

(D): Opposite. Scholar A argues the opposite when he says that the ceiling has deteriorated over time.


Question: Scholar A’s claim that Michelangelo would have been appalled at the “ravages inflicted on his work by the restorers” is:
[A] true, given that some damage to the ceiling was inevitable.
[B] supported by the assertion that the restoration team reveled in inducing a colorful transformation.
[C] quite possibly false, given the possibility that the ceiling was never intended to be dark.
[D] not supported by any further claims by scholar A.
Answer
Option (C)


Explanation
Review Scholar A’s points about Michelangelo’s opinions in s1 and 3. Looking at the structure of the answer choices shows that you have to determine whether this assertion is supported or not supported. As the passage is fairly balanced, with no knockout punch on either side, it would be reasonable to predict that the opinion is probably true if the ceiling was intended to be dark, probably false if it was intended to be as bright as the restorers made it. This evenhanded prediction eliminates all but (C).

Wrong answers:

(A): Opposite. If some damage was inevitable, there would be no reason for the hypothetical Michelangelo to be appalled by it.

(B): Distortion. There’s every indication that the restoration team tried to be faithful to Michelangelo’s original.

(D): Opposite. Scholar A does support his claims in the fourth paragraph.


Question: If it were discovered after a few years that the climate-control system had protected the frescoes from further pollution damage, one would expect Scholar A to contend that:
[A] restorers should have allowed the frescoes to be darkened by pollution.
[B] pollution damage would not have occurred in the first place had there been no restoration.
[C] removal of the animal glue from the frescoes had turned out to be a wise undertaking.
[D] no further intervention on behalf of the frescoes would be likely to happen.
Answer
Option (B)


Explanation
Would this new information strengthen or weaken Scholar A’s argument? Review the last paragraph. Scholar A argues that the new climate control system was put in place to keep the frescoes from darkening after the restoration. He might also argue that if the animal glue had been left on, there would have been no pollution damage to protect against in the first place. (B) summarizes this point.

Wrong answers:

(A): Opposite. Scholar A argues that if restorers had kept their hands off, pollution damage wouldn’t have occurred.

(C): Opposite. Scholar A argues against this exact point in the last paragraph.

(D): Out of Scope. The scholar isn’t concerned with future interventions, only the effect on the recent ones.


Question: What does Scholar B’s comparison of Michelangelo to a “vagabond given a good scrubbing” (lines 61-62) imply about the painter?
[A] He is known to us almost exclusively through his art.
[B] He lived in poverty until he was commissioned to paint the Sistine Chapel.
[C] He was not appreciated as he should have been in his own time.
[D] He cared more about his art than about his personal well-being.
Answer
Option (A)


Explanation
Review the phrase in its context, keeping an eye on your map also. Scholar B is arguing that Michelangelo’s rebel-without-a-cause image has been changed by the discoveries of the restoration. Scanning for an answer choice based on this prediction doesn’t turn up any likely candidates, but consider the structure of the argument also. Scholar B is basing Michelangelo’s reputation past and present only on the his work in the chapel, as opposed to biography or anecdote. Choice (A) reflects this.

Wrong answers:

(B): Out of Scope. The author never makes this claim.

(C): Out of Scope. As above.

(D): Out of Scope. Another unfounded claim.


Question: Judging from the discussion between the two scholars, both Scholar A and Scholar B place a high value on:
[A] relying on artistic sensibility and historical knowledge.
[B] challenging long-established traditions.
[C] understanding the artist’s original intentions.
[D] applying modern technology to art preservation.
Answer
Option (C)


Explanation
Before answering, consider what the two scholars have in common. What is the point at issue? Michelangelo’s original vision of the chapel, specifically its colors. Scanning the choices with even this basic prediction turns up (C) instantly.

Wrong answers:

(A): Out of Scope. Neither scholar relies on these.

(B): Opposite. Scholar B might do this, but Scholar A certainly doesn’t.

(D): Opposite. As above: Scholar B seems gung-ho about this, while Scholar A would be deeply skeptical.


Question: In arguing that some of the restored work has already been darkened by pollution, which of the following assumptions did Scholar A make?
[A] I only
[B] I and II
[C] II and III
[D] I, II and III
Answer
Option (A)


Explanation
Review Scholar A’s points in the last paragraph about the new darkening. The scholar makes a direct point: pollution has caused the darkening. What is a possible assumption in this? That nothing else could have been the cause. While two Roman numerals have nothing to do with the scholar’s argument, RN I quickly jumps out as a necessary assumption. If other factors could have caused the darkening, Scholar A’s argument is severely weakened. RN II is never suggested, nor would it be a concern of Scholar A. RN III simply has no support in the passage.

Wrong answers:

(B): Opposite. As described above.

(C): Opposite. As above.

(D): Opposite. As above.


Question: In a longer debate it might reasonably be assumed that Scholar B would most likely argue that the “quality of suppressed anger and thunderous pessimism” mentioned by Scholar A was:
[A] the product of a chemical reaction between solvent and pigment.
[B] not a feature of the original frescoes.
[C] nothing more than a typical Renaissance painting effect.
[D] the subject of many different and often contradictory interpretations.
Answer
Option (B)


Explanation
Review the quote in context. Does Scholar A agree with this assessment of Michelangelo? Not at all; he thinks that the restoration has challenged this traditional view. He would therefore agree with the point made in (B), that the original frescoes never reflected such a personality.

Wrong answers:

(A): Faulty Use of Detail. Scholar B argues that the solvents used (AB 57, 5) neutralized each other, so that there was no overall change due to solvent effects.

(C): Opposite. Scholar B would argue that the dark pessimism was atypical, and that Michelangelo’s true intent was more in keeping with traditional Renaissance art.

(D): Out of Scope. There’s nothing to suggest many different claims.

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