A Sample Passage and Questions
A Sample Passage and Questions
It’s tough to talk about long RPs and questions without a sample passage and questions to look at. So, here’s a sample passage about Galileo with the italicized introduction.
As you read the passage, note the little numbers to the left. Those numbers count off every five lines of the passage (the “5” means that you’re reading the fifth line of the passage, the “10” means you’re reading the tenth line, and so on). Questions that ask you to refer to a specific word or section of the passage will include the line numbers of that word or section.
Sample Passage

The following passage discusses the scientific life of Galileo Galilei in reference to the political, religious, artistic, and scientific movements of the age.

         Galileo Galilei was born in 1564 into a Europe wracked by
    cultural ferment and religious strife. The popes of the Roman
    Catholic Church, powerful in their roles as both religious and
Line    secular leaders, had proven vulnerable to the worldly and
(5)    decadent spirit of the age, and their personal immorality brought
    the reputation of the papacy to historic lows. In 1517, Martin
    Luther, a former monk, attacked Catholicism for having become too
    worldly and politically corrupt and for obscuring the
    fundamentals of Christianity with pagan elements. His reforming
(10)    zeal, which appealed to a notion of an original, “purified”
    Christianity, set in motion the Protestant Reformation and split
    European Christianity in two.
         In response, Roman Catholicism steeled itself for battle and
    launched the Counter-Reformation, which emphasized orthodoxy and
(15)    fidelity to the true Church. The Counter-Reformation
    reinvigorated the Church and, to some extent, eliminated its
    excesses. But the Counter-Reformation also contributed to the
    decline of the Italian Renaissance, a revival of arts and letters
    that sought to recover and rework the classical art and
(20)    philosophy of ancient Greece and Rome. The popes had once been
    great patrons of Renaissance arts and sciences, but the
    Counter-Reformation put an end to the Church’s liberal leniency
    in these areas. Further, the Church’s new emphasis on religious
    orthodoxy would soon clash with the emerging scientific
(25)    revolution. Galileo, with his study of astronomy, found himself
    at the center of this clash.
         Conservative astronomers of Galileo’s time, working without
    telescopes, ascribed without deviation to the ancient theory of
    geocentricity. This theory of astronomy held that the earth
(30)    (“geo,” as in “geography” or “geology”) lay at the center of the
    solar system, orbited by both the sun and the other planets.
    Indeed, to the casual observer, it seemed common sense that since
    the sun “rose” in the morning and “set” at night, it must have
    circled around the earth. Ancient authorities like Aristotle and
(35)    the Roman astronomer Ptolemy had championed this viewpoint, and
    the notion also coincided with the Catholic Church’s view of the
    universe, which placed mankind, God’s principal creation, at the
    center of the cosmos. Buttressed by common sense, the ancient
    philosophers, and the Church, the geocentric model of the
(40)    universe seemed secure in its authority. The Ptolemaic theory,
    however, was not impervious to attack. In the 16th century,
    astronomers strained to make modern observations fit Ptolemy’s
    geocentric model of the universe.
         Increasingly complex mathematical systems were necessary to
(45)    reconcile these new observations with Ptolemy’s system of
    interlocking orbits. Nicholas Copernicus, a Polish astronomer,
    openly questioned the Ptolemaic system and proposed a
    heliocentric system in which the planets—including earth—orbited
    the sun (“helios”). This more mathematically satisfying way of
(50)    arranging the solar system did not attract many supporters at
    first, since the available data did not yet support a wholesale
    abandonment of Ptolemy’s system. By the end of the 16th century,
    however, astronomers like Johannes Kepler (1571–1630) had also
    begun to embrace Copernicus’s theory.
(55)         Ultimately, Galileo’s telescope struck a fatal blow to the
    Ptolemaic system. But, in a sense, the telescope was also nearly
    fatal to Galileo himself. The Catholic Church, desperately trying
    to hold the Protestant heresy at bay, could not accept a
    scientific assault on its own theories of the universe. The
(60)    pressures of the age set in motion a historic confrontation
    between religion and science, one which would culminate in 1633
    when the Church put Galileo on trial, forced him to recant his
    stated and published scientific beliefs, and put him under
    permanent house arrest.
The Seven Types of RP Questions
The SAT asks seven types of questions about RPs. These seven types of questions are the same for both long RPs and short RPs. So, if you’re ready for these seven types, you’re ready for every RP question that might appear on the new SAT.
Here’s a list of the seven RP question types:
  1. Main Idea
  2. Attitude or Tone
  3. Specific Information
  4. Implied Information
  5. Themes and Arguments
  6. Technique
  7. Words in Context
Below, we provide a more thorough explanation of each question type based on sample questions about the Galileo passage above. We provide an explanation of how to answer each question about the Galileo passage that will show you how to answer all questions of that type.
1. Main Idea
Main idea questions test your understanding of the entire passage. They don’t include specific quotations from the passage. Instead, they ask broad questions that focus on the passage’s primary purpose. Unlike themes and arguments questions (question type 5), main idea questions do not concern the author’s opinions on the subject—they just focus on the subject or idea itself. Main idea questions cover things such as
  • What’s the primary purpose of the passage?
  • What main idea is the author trying to convey?
  • Why did the author write it?
A Sample Main Idea Question
Which of the following best states the main idea of the passage?
(A) Science always conflicts with religion.
(B) Science is vulnerable to outside social forces.
(C) Ideally, scientific theories should reinforce religious doctrine.
(D) Science operates in a vacuum.
(E) Advanced technology is the only route to good scientific theories.
The best way to deal with main idea questions is to come up with a one-sentence summary of the passage. For this passage, you might come up with something like “Galileo’s scientific discoveries in particular, and science in general, were affected by the religious and social forces of the time.” Once you have the summary, go to the answer choices. In our example question, the answer that best fits the summary is B.
But since the passage takes a long time to discuss Galileo’s run-ins with the Roman Catholic Church, you might have been tempted by A. If you’re a bit unsure, a good way to back up your summary is to look at the opening and concluding sentences of the passage, and, if necessary, at the topic sentence of each paragraph (the topic sentence is the first sentence in each paragraph). In the Galileo passage, sentences like the first sentence of this passage—“Galileo Galilei was born in 1564 into a Europe wracked by cultural ferment and religious divisions”—make it clear that the passage is about a scientist in the midst of cultural and religious upheaval. The passage’s descriptions of the struggle between the orthodoxy of the Church and the rising scientific revolution help establish the main idea of the passage: that science is vulnerable to outside social forces, B.
2. Attitude or Tone
These questions test whether you understand the author’s view on the subject. To answer them correctly, you should write down whether the author is for or against his or her subject as you read the passage. It might also be helpful to jot down a few of the points or examples the writer uses to make his or her argument.
The differences in the answer choices for this type of question can be slight. For example, you might have to choose between “irritated” and “enraged.” Both of these words suggest that the author has negative sentiments about the topic, but the difference lies in the intensity of those feelings. Detecting the words and phrases that convey the intensity of an author’s feelings will help you distinguish between different extremes of a similar overall feeling. Determining that a certain topic upsets the author is only the first step. You then need to examine the author’s word choice closely to pinpoint the degree of his or her feeling. Is the upset author mildly disturbed? Strongly disapproving? Or enraged? It might help to imagine how the author might sound if he or she read the passage aloud.
If you can’t come to a firm decision about the intensity of a feeling, remember that even if all you know is whether the author’s tone is positive, negative, or neutral, you’ll almost definitely be able to eliminate at least some answer choices and turn the guessing odds in your favor.
A Sample Attitude or Tone Question
The author’s tone in this passage can best be described as
(A) analytical
(B) disturbed
(C) skeptical
(D) dramatic
(E) reverent
It will help you to first decide whether the author’s tone is positive, neutral, or negative, and then look at the answers in order to cross off those that don’t fit. So, is the Galileo author positive, neutral, or negative? The passage describes an entire time period, covering the different sides, and while it discusses how the Counter-Reformation affected Galileo, it never condemns or praises either the reformation or Galileo. It seeks mainly to describe what happened. So, it’s a pretty neutral passage, which means you can eliminate B and C, since those answer choices are negative, and E, since reverent (“expressing devotion”) is extremely positive. That leaves dramatic and analytical.
The next step is to ask yourself how the passage would sound if its tone were dramatic: It would be full of highs and lows, exclamations and sudden shifts, and it may lurch all over the emotional spectrum. What about if it were analytical? It would be a little dry, very informational, with few highs and lows and lots of explanation meant to scrutinize all sides of the problem. Based on that description, analytical sounds like the most accurate way to sum up this writer’s tone in the passage. A is the correct answer.
3. Specific Information
These questions ask about information that’s explicitly stated in the passage. On long RPs, specific information questions usually pinpoint parts of the passage via line numbers or a direct quotation. Very often, specific information questions come in the form of NOT or EXCEPT formats in which you have to choose the one wrong answer out of the five answer choices.
A Sample Specific Information Question
Which of the following was not a reason for Martin Luther’s attack on the Catholic Church (lines 4–6)?
(A) pagan elements in its practices
(B) the amorality of its leadership
(C) its excessive attention to piety
(D) its corruption and worldliness
(E) the political involvement of the popes
There’s no reason to ever try to answer this question type without going back to the passage. Take a brief look at the specific lines that the question addresses (in this example, lines 4–6). It’s time well spent.
In this passage, lines 4–6 say that Luther attacked the Church for “having become too worldly and politically corrupt and for obscuring the fundamentals of Christianity with pagan elements.” That takes out A, B, D, and E. so the answer is C.
4. Implied Information
Information is “implied” when certain facts, statements, or ideas convey the information but don’t declare it outright. Think of these as “suggestion” questions. Implied information questions identify a particular part of the passage and ask you about less obvious information that’s “between the lines.” To find the correct answer, you may have to deduce what’s being said or take a leap of logic. Remember that the leaps the SAT requires you to take are never very vast. Even though implied information questions ask you to reach a bit beyond what the passage states explicitly, they do not require you to think far outside the boundaries of the facts and opinions that the passage overtly contains. Often, you can spot implied information questions when you see words like context, inferred, implied, indicated, or suggested. Here is a sample of how the SAT phrases implied information questions.
A Sample Implied Information Question
In the second paragraph, the passage implies that during the Renaissance, the Catholic Church
(A) saw little conflict between its own goals and those of the arts and sciences
(B) promoted the arts as a way to limit the social influence of scientists
(C) supported Martin Luther’s views on religion and the Church
(D) had limited interaction with the religious affairs of commoners
(E) focused on spirituality as opposed to worldly matters
For this kind of question, it’s important to come up with your own answer before looking at the answer choices. Outside of the context of the passage, any one of the answer choices might look acceptable to you. It can also be very helpful to think about the main idea of the passage to help you figure out the implied information. Since the author is trying to support a main idea, the information implied in that support will also be associated with the main idea.
This question asks about the Catholic Church during the Renaissance and identifies the second paragraph as the place to look. In that paragraph, it says that during the Renaissance, the Church “was a great patron of the arts and sciences.” What does this suggest about the Church during that period? How about this: “The Church liked the arts and sciences during the Renaissance.” Now go through the answer choices and look for a match: A is by far the best fit and the best answer.
5. Themes and Arguments
The main idea of a passage is its overall purpose. Themes are the recurring concepts that an author uses to establish the main idea. Arguments are the specific perspectives and opinions an author expresses on his or her main idea. Themes and arguments questions test your ability to look at particular parts of a passage and identify the underlying feelings they convey about the main idea. Themes and arguments questions often test your ability to put what the passage says, or how the author feels, into your own words.
The main idea of a passage might be that “the growing rat population is damaging Chicago.” Three different themes that an author uses to establish the main idea could be disease, tourism, and city infrastructure. The author’s arguments, or specific opinions, could be that the growing rat population has caused the spread of influenza in Chicago, has led to a steep drop in tourism to the city, and threatens to destroy some of the city’s most important structures.
A Sample Themes and Arguments Question
Which of the following best explains why the Catholic Church started the Counter-Reformation? (lines 8–10)
(A) to fight scientific heresy
(B) to clean out its own ranks
(C) to reinvigorate artists and intellectuals
(D) to elect a new pope
(E) to counter Protestant challenges
The first thing you should do on this type of question is go back to the passage and then come up with your own answer to the question. Once you have this answer in your head, then look at the answer choices. If you look at the answer choices before going back to the passage, you’re much more likely to make a careless error.
This question tests whether you can follow the flow of argument within the text. More specifically, it tests your ability to differentiate between the causes and effects of the Counter-Reformation. Answers A, B, and C refer to effects of the Counter-Reformation, not the causes. But if you were to only look at the answers, any one of these choices might look familiar and therefore tempt you. Avoid temptation. Go back to the passage: “In 1517, Martin Luther, a former monk, attacked Catholicism for having become too worldly and politically corrupt and for obscuring the fundamentals of Christianity with pagan elements. His reforming zeal . . . set in motion the Protestant Reformation and split European Christianity in two. In response, Roman Catholicism steeled itself for battle and launched the Counter-Reformation, which emphasized orthodoxy and fidelity to the true Church.” So, your answer to the question of why the Catholic Church started the Counter-Reformation would be something like, “In response to the Protestants and Martin Luther.” Answer choice E is the best fit and the right answer.
6. Technique
Every author uses certain methods to convey his or her ideas. Technique questions require you to identify the specific literary tool or method the author of the passage uses in a specific part of the passage. This makes technique questions the most likely place for literary terms like simile and metaphor to appear.
Technique questions can focus on very small units in the passage, such as single words or simple parenthetical statements, or they can target larger units, such as a list, or even the relationship between entire paragraphs.
If you’re having trouble figuring out why or how an author is using a particular technique, it can often be helpful to take a step back and look at the technique in light of the author’s main point or idea. If you know the main idea, you can often use that information to figure out what an author is trying to accomplish in a particular area of a passage.
A Sample Technique Example
The author’s description of Galileo’s telescope as having “struck a fatal blow” is an example of a(n)
(A) simile
(B) metaphor
(C) personification
(D) allusion
(E) irony
This question tests your knowledge of literary terms—a new subject on the new SAT. (If you’re having trouble with literary terms, take some time to look over our literary terms list on page 158.) In this question, the telescope, an inanimate object, is described as having “struck a fatal blow.” In other words, it’s been given human qualities, which is the definition of personification.
7. Words in Context
These questions present a word or short phrase from the passage and then ask about the meaning of that word in the greater context of the passage. Such questions on long RPs include line numbers that direct you to where the words in the question appear in the passage.
The majority of words-in-context questions look like this:
The word “content” (line 34) is closest in meaning to which of the following words?
Words-in-context questions are a lot like sentence completions, only on these questions, the “blank” comes in the form of a word in quotes. You should try to ignore that word in quotes and imagine it as a blank. In other words, treat words-in-context questions as if they were Sentence Completions.
Why ignore those words in quotes? Because words-in-context questions often have answer choices with words that are indeed correct meanings of the tested word but not the correct meaning of the word as it appears in the passage. For example, the question above might contain answer choices such as satisfied and subject, both of which are correct meanings of the word content. But remember that these questions test the word in context. By approaching the sentence as if it were a sentence completion, you’ll be forced to consider the context of the word in quotes.
A Sample Words in Context Example
1. The term “ferment” in line 1 most closely means
(A) alienation
(B) turmoil
(C) consolidation
(D) decomposition
(E) stagnation
So here’s a words-in-context question. Treat it like it’s a Sentence Completion: “Galileo Galilei was born in 1564 into a Europe wracked by cultural ---- and religious strife.” The sentence is one-way (there are no switch words), so the blank needs to fit with the ideas of “wracked” and “strife,” both of which bring up associations with fighting and chaos. See page for Sentence Completion strategy.
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