RC Question Types
RC Question Types
The questions that follow RC passages will fall into six main categories:
  1. Implied Information
  2. Detail
  3. Detail Purpose
  4. Primary Purpose
  5. Organization
  6. Tone, Style, or Attitude
We’ll work through each type of question using the sample passage on the following page. Following Step 1 of our method, you should take a couple of minutes to skim and outline.
         Common to most interpretations of the role of art is the
    notion that art correlates directly with the environmental
    characteristics of its period of origin. If we understand
Line    technology not only as a practical set of techniques and machines
(5)    but also as an evolving dominant ideology of the modern age, it
    follows that we should witness an infiltration of technology into
    art, not just in terms of the tools and processes at artists’
    disposal but also in terms of technology’s influence on art’s
    place within society. The latter supposition is explored by
(10)    American writer and critic Lewis Mumford during various stages of
    his prolific career.
         Mumford posited an integrative role of medieval art
    corresponding to the unity of life characteristic of this
    pre-technological period. Medieval citizens, he argued, did not
(15)    attend the theater, concert hall, and museum as activities unto
    themselves as we do, but rather witnessed a fusion of music,
    painting, sculpture, architecture, and drama in unified religious
    ceremonies that incorporated people into the shared social and
    spiritual life of the community. Integral to this phenomenon was
(20)    the non-repeatability of the experience —live musicians,
    specially commissioned scores, unique paintings and sculptures,
    and inimitable speakers filling incomparable cathedrals with
    exhortation and prayer. Everything in the artist’s repertoire was
    brought to bear to ensure maximum receptivity to the political,
(25)    social, and religious teachings at the heart of this medieval
    spectacle.
         Mumford further speculated that the mass production of text
    and images from the sixteenth century forward ultimately
    disrupted the unity exemplified by the medieval experience, and
(30)    with it, the role of art as a testament to and reinforcement of
    that unity. He believed that modern communication technologies
    encourage the fragmentation of time, the dissociation of event
    and space, and the degradation of the symbolic environment via an
    endless repetition of cultural elements. The result is the
(35)    oft-commented-upon “alienating” experience of modern life.
         A new aesthetic orientation emerged to express this new
    reality. Art turned inward to focus on man’s struggle against a
    bureaucratized, impersonal, technological civilization. Mumford
    readily admits that the dissociation of the artist from communal
(40)    obligations greatly expanded the realm of artistic possibilities;
    freed from its integrative purpose, art was set loose to traverse
    previously inappropriate realms of psychology and individualism
    in startling new ways. However, the magnificent innovation born
    of this freedom has been somewhat hindered by art’s
(45)    apprenticeship to the dominant force of the technological milieu:
    the market. Out of necessity, money has replaced muse as
    motivation for many artists, resulting in the art world of today:
    a collection of “industries,” each concerned with nothing loftier
    than its own perpetuation. Mumford testified admirably to a unity
(50)    of art greater than the sum of its parts. Despite modern art’s
    potential, it is reasonable to infer the converse: that the
    individual arts of our technological landscape are diminished in
    isolation.
1. Implied Information
By definition, information that a passage implies, or that you infer, is not stated anywhere in the passage. To answer these questions, look for a statement that, although not stated directly, must almost certainly be true, given the information in the passage.
Remember that RC questions are open book, meaning that the answers are right in front of you. As you answer these questions, refer back to the passage to see which answer is definitely supported. Be careful to use only information from the passage. Don’t make large leaps in logic or use outside information to draw inferences.
Which of the following can most reasonably be inferred from the passage?
(A) Modern religious ceremonies never make use of specially commissioned scores.
(B) Most artists are grateful to be relieved of their communal obligations.
(C) Only art that turns inward is suitable to express dissatisfaction with one’s social and cultural environment.
(D) Medieval life was generally not alienating and impersonal.
(E) Mumford did not investigate the tools and processes at the disposal of modern artists.
There are no helpful trigger words, so we have no clue as to where the answer will be found. Moreover, in a general Implied Information question, it is impossible to predict the answer. Here we’ll simply have to attack the choices one by one.
A: Modern religious ceremonies are irrelevant—we’re told nothing about those, so we can’t determine where the music for those ceremonies comes from.
B is also irrelevant. We don’t know whether modern artists are even aware of the paradigm shift that Mumford outlines, or if they are, that they care.
C centers around the idea of necessity. While the passage does suggest that inward-turning art is effective at expressing dissatisfaction with one’s environment, nothing suggests that it is necessary for this purpose; that is, that it’s the only way to express this angst.
D is inferable. The author contrasts the unity and communal spirit of medieval life (both aided and expressed by the arts) with the impersonal alienation of modern times. It is thus inferable that medieval life was not generally alienating and impersonal, even if the author never quite states that directly.
E: We know what Mumford did investigate; as for what he didn’t, there’s no way to tell.
2. Detail
These questions require you to find specific details in the passage. You’ll be using the trigger words you discover in Step 2 to help you go back to the passage to search for specific words or phrases to answer these questions.
Let’s look at an example:
The author indicates that Mumford believed which of the following regarding modern communication technologies?
(A) Modern communication technologies play a part in engendering alienation.
(B) Modern communication technologies represent a unifying force in society.
(C) Modern communication technologies are the only factors degrading the symbolic environment.
(D) Modern communication technologies were invented to express the new aesthetic orientation that has arisen in the modern period.
(E) No culture experienced the fragmentation of time before the advent of modern communication technologies.
“The author indicates” tells us the answer is in the passage. It’s not implied. Therefore, we’re dealing with a Detail question: The answer is stated right in the passage itself. Mumford’s view on modern communication technologies appears in paragraph 3. The author tells us that Mumford believed that modern communication technologies fragment time, dissociate events and space, and degrade the symbolic environment, resulting in the alienating experience of modern life. A captures this notion best.
B goes against the grain of the passage. Mumford thought that modern communication technologies have diminished the kind of societal unity exhibited in the Middle Ages.
C goes too far. While Mumford believes that these technologies degrade the symbolic environment, nothing suggests that he thinks they’re the only things to do so.
D reverses cause and effect, at least as far as the author sees things. The author states that a new aesthetic orientation emerged to express the new reality created by the disintegrating effects of modern communication technologies. D gets it backward.
E: Just because Mumford believed that modern communication technologies have this fragmentation effect doesn’t mean he necessarily thinks this is the first time in history a society has experienced this.
3. Detail Purpose
Some RC questions ask for the purpose of some specific detail in the passage; not what the detail says (which would make it a Detail question proper), but why the author chose to include it. You’ll be given a specific issue to focus on, so you’ll enact Step 2 of the RC method to find the relevant passage material. When you’ve located the detail in question, analyze it in terms of its function. Think in terms of context—that is, how the detail relates to everything around it. That means going beyond the simple question of what is said to the more complicated issue of why it’s said. Let’s look at an example.
The author discusses the non-repeatability inherent in medieval citizens’ experience of art in lines 19-20 primarily in order to
(A) support Mumford’s contention that medieval citizens attended art events in isolation
(B) support the assertion that medieval life was characterized by alienation
(C) suggest the medieval disdain for the fragmentation of time and the dissociation of event and space
(D) demonstrate Mumford’s belief that the artist’s repertoire was brought to bear to ensure maximum receptivity to the political, social, and religious teachings at the heart of this medieval spectacle
(E) describe an orientation toward art that Mumford believes will be compromised by modern technology
“Non-repeatable” is the way Mumford characterized the artistic elements of the medieval religious experience. The terms live, specially commissioned, unique, and inimitable all reinforce the idea that the music, paintings, sculpture, architecture, and drama of religious ceremonies were all one-of-a-kind experiences not to be exactly repeated in the future. But why does the author make this point? To present a contrast to modern civilization, which, we’re told in paragraph 3, is characterized by the exact opposite: “an endless repetition of cultural elements.” The “non-repeatability” claim therefore serves to present a kind of art—unique, nonstandardized, nonrepetitive—that Mumford goes on to argue is compromised by modern communication technologies. E is correct.
A and B have it backward. Mumford argues that the medieval arts were not isolated but integrated into the life of the community, and that medieval life was characterized by unity, as opposed to the alienation of modern times discussed later in the passage. So these two choices go beyond distorting the author’s intention—they assert the exact opposite of it.
C: The fragmentation and dissociation discussed apply to the modern era. For all we know, medieval citizens couldn’t even conceptualize such things, living hundreds of years before even the invention of the telegraph.
D: The assertion that the artistic elements of medieval ceremonies were what the author calls “non-repeatable” speaks to the way that medieval audiences experienced the arts as a unique totality, not one by one in isolation. Nothing about this demonstrates Mumford’s claim regarding the way artists’ works were specifically used to support the societal framework and ideologies of the Middle Ages.
4. Primary Purpose
Some questions ask you about the passage as a whole. For example, you may be asked for the passage’s main idea, or for an appropriate title, which is essentially the main idea in sound-bite form. A very common question dealing with the passage in a global sense is the Primary Purpose question, which asks for the main reason why the author wrote the passage. Since the correct answer must reflect the author’s overall intention in the entire passage, beware of choices that deal with only part of the story. The correct choice will not be too broad or too narrow; it must be just right. Let’s look at a typical Primary Purpose question:
The author’s primary purpose in the passage is to
(A) outline an effect of a feature of modern society
(B) recommend a solution to a cultural problem
(C) bolster a critic’s speculations with supporting evidence
(D) describe a difference between two historical periods
(E) advocate for a change in society’s modes of communication
A presents a perfect match. Technology is the feature of modern society under consideration, and its influence on art, the main focus of the passage, is the “effect” to which the choice refers. So A is correct. As for the others:
B: The author laments what she perceives to be the degradation of modern art but proposes no solutions to this or any other cultural problem.
C: “Here’s what Mumford says, and here’s evidence to show that he’s correct” would have to be the main thing we get in this passage in order for C to be correct. “Here’s what Mumford says, and here’s how it supports my take on art and technology” is more like it.
D: The difference between the historical periods described by the author is intended to support a larger point about technology’s influence on art. The author did not write this passage primarily to compare the medieval world to the modern, despite the fact that that comparison does play a part in the passage.
E: The author spends most of her time describing things and only in the end ventures the opinion that modern art has suffered somewhat from changes in technology. Nowhere does she come close to advocating anything, let alone a change in communication techniques.
5. Organization
Like Primary Purpose questions, Organization questions deal with the passage as a whole, specifically how the passage unfolds. In addition to capturing the passage as a whole, the correct answers to these questions will always provide an accurate summary of the order in which the author presented ideas.
Here’s an example of an Organization question:
Which of the following most accurately describes the structure of the material presented in the passage?
(A) A theory is put forward, a specific means of testing the theory is outlined, and obstacles to carrying out the test are detailed.
(B) A consequence of accepting a particular definition is proposed, the validity of that proposal is affirmed, and a judgment based on that affirmation is stated.
(C) A supposition is introduced, a speculation regarding that supposition is described, and further speculations are detailed that counter the original supposition.
(D) An interpretation is offered, expert testimony opposing that interpretation is provided, and a consequence of that testimony is explored.
(E) A question is raised, and evidence from one time period and then another time period is presented to deem the question unanswerable.
The wording of the question itself identifies this as an Organization question. The best way to handle an Organization question is to meticulously compare the parts of each choice against your understanding of the passage. As soon as you find a single part of a choice that doesn’t work, eliminate that choice. Note that here you are working backward from the choices as it is much easier than making your own prediction. Remember, be flexible. The answers are right on the page. Let’s practice on the five choices of this question.
A: Is a theory put forward? Sure—the author’s notion that “we should witness an infiltration of technology into art” in numerous ways. But the author never veers off into any kind of discussion of how to test the theory or, even further afield, obstacles to such a test.
B: Is a particular definition presented? Yes; the author defines technology as both a practical set of techniques and an evolving dominant ideology. Is a consequence of accepting this definition proposed? Yes again: The author says that if we view technology in this particular light, something should follow; namely a particular relationship between technology and art. Is that proposed consequence affirmed? Yup; the next few paragraphs describe, with Mumford’s help, this very issue of technology’s influence over art. We’ve come this far—it would be a damn shame for it to fall to pieces now, and it doesn’t. A judgment (art has been diminished through this process) is rendered in the end.
C: The words supposition and speculation aren’t so egregious to raise red flags right off the bat, as there certainly is a lot of supposing and speculating going on in the beginning. We’ll even let “further speculations are detailed” slide, since Mumford does offer speculations in bulk. But we can’t be as forgiving of the phrase “counter the original supposition,” since no big turnaround occurs. The original supposition that technology should influence art in a particular way is affirmed, not countered.
D: No opposition to an interpretation appears in the passage. The closest we get to “expert testimony” are Mumford’s theories, which serve to support the author’s overall point.
E: It’s fair to deem the initial inquiry a “question,” as the author basically sets up the question of whether technology’s infiltration into art pans out as she supposes it should based on her conception of technology. Moreover, evidence from both the medieval and modern periods is provided in the course of the passage in the hopes of investigating this issue. This one breaks down over the phrase “deeming the question unanswerable.” The question is answered (technology does indeed affect art), and a value judgment based on this answer (art is diminished) is asserted.
6. Tone, Style, or Attitude
Questions about a passage’s tone, style, or attitude refer to how the passage is presented as opposed to what is presented in the passage.
Here’s a sample Attitude question:
Which of the following most accurately describes the author’s attitude toward modern art as expressed in the passage?
(A) Unqualified derision
(B) Bemused indifference
(C) Reserved disappointment
(D) Boundless optimism
(E) Mild puzzlement
In your initial skim of the passage, you should have noted that no authorial attitude emerges in this passage until the fourth paragraph, where hindered and diminished in isolation were our first hints as to the author’s feelings about modern art. That rules out “totally positive” as the author’s attitude, which kills D, and shows that she’s more than “neutral” too, which allows us to toss B as well. Having discarded these choices quickly for failing to even get in the ballpark, we can now turn our attention to the negatively tinged choices.
E fails on account of puzzlement. The author’s stance is too assured to qualify as puzzled, considering that she’s just spent an entire passage explaining to us the mechanism that has led to modern art’s diminishment.
That leaves A and C, which differ mainly in the author’s degree of negativity. You might ask yourself: What does “unqualified derision” sound like? Well, kind of like this: “THIS SUCKS! IT REALLY, REALLY, SUCKS!! No two ways about it . . . IT SUCKS!!” In fact, our mild-mannered author actually has some positive things to say about the change that has taken place, despite its overall negative impact: It “greatly expanded the realm of artistic possibilities,” “art was set loose” to cover new ground in “startling new ways,” and even the thing that has been “somewhat hindered” (notice the qualifier somewhat, which by itself works against A’s “unqualified derision”) is referred to as “magnificent innovation.” So putting it all together, she thinks modern art is worse off, despite great promise. “Reserved disappointment” best matches this attitude toward modern art, so C is the answer we seek.
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