Reading Passages
The Long RP
The purpose of this example is merely to give you an idea of what an RP looks like and to introduce the terms we’ll be using to refer to the various parts of an SAT RP. We’ll be returning to this RP throughout this book, so you’ll have ample opportunity to work through it.

Directions: The passage below is followed by questions based on the content of the passage. Answer the questions on the basis of what the passage states or implies and on any introductory material provided.

      The following passage is taken from an article on the architecture of the Etruscans, a tribe that dominated Italy before the rise of the Romans, and the Roman architect Vitruvius’ On Architecture, which was written in the first century B.C. during the reign of the emperor Augustus.

         As we have seen, decades of archeological research have
    shown that Vitruvius’ famous chapter on Etruscan temples
    idealized readily apparent diversity. While Vitruvius did
Line    accurately capture the main features of the Etruscan style,
(5)    actual Etruscan temples deviated quite significantly from his
    ideal. We might ask why Vitruvius ignored the architectural
    diversity of the many different Etruscan temples with which he
    clearly was familiar. Answering this question provides some
         useful insight into not only Vitruvius’ definition of the
(10)    Etruscan style but also the purpose of On Architecture as a
         Traditionally, scholars answered this question by pointing
    to Vitruvius’ allegiance to Greek philosophy. In chapter six,
    Vitruvius reports that he has had the benefit of a liberal Greek
(15)    education, which he recommends to all aspiring architects.
    Without such broad training, Vitruvius argues, no architect can
    understand proper architectural theory. For Vitruvius,
    architectural theory rested on the principles of mathematical
    proportion promulgated by such Greek philosophers as Pythagoras.
(20)    These philosophers believed that the universe was structured
    according to god-given mathematical laws. They further believed
    that the harmonious mathematical structure of the universe (the
    macrocosm) was reflected in the structure of the human body (the
    microcosm). Vitruvius extended this reflection to architectural
(25)    forms. Temples, Vitruvius believed, must reflect the mathematical
    proportionality of the body, just as the body reflects the
    mathematical proportionality of the universe. Thus, Vitruvius
    claimed to “find” correspondences between proportional
    measurements of the human body—that the hand’s length is
(30)    one-tenth the body’s height, for example—and proportional
    measurements of the Etruscan temple. Vitruvius Hellenized the
    Etruscan temple by superimposing Greek notions of mathematical
    proportionality on his purportedly empirical description of the
    Etruscan temple style.
(35)         Vitruvius’ belief that specific natural proportions should
    be extended to architectural forms does help to explain why he
    idealized Etruscan temples. After all, mathematical models
    generally don’t allow for much deviation. However, far more
    mundane considerations acted in concert with Vitruvius’
(40)    allegiance to Greek notions of mathematical harmony to encourage
    the idealization of the Etruscan temple.
         Despite its title, On Architecture was not written primarily
    for architects. It was written to convince the emperor Augustus,
    the most powerful patron in Rome, to give Vitruvius the
(45)    opportunity to do large-scale architectural work. Vitruvius knew
    that if Augustus devoted any time at all to On Architecture, the
    emperor would most likely do what busy executives still do to
    this day: he would read the introductions to each of the ten
    chapters and skip the rest of the book. Reading On Architecture
(50)    in this manner—each introduction in sequence—is a revelation. One
    quickly realizes that the chapter introductions constitute an
    ancient résumé designed to convince Augustus to entrust part of
    his architectural legacy to Vitruvius.
         Moreover, one must also keep in mind that On Architecture,
(55)    like all ancient books, was originally published as a series of
    scrolls. Each modern “chapter” most likely corresponds to one
    ancient scroll. This physical form lent even greater significance
    to the snappy, pertinent introductions and the concise writing
    that modern readers also demand. The physical act of reading a
(60)    scroll made the kind of flipping back and forth that modern
    paginated books allow significantly more inconvenient. Scrolls
    strongly encouraged ancient authors to front-load the most
    important ideas they wanted to convey. The ancient author had to
    earn each “unrolling” by concentrating that much more on the
(65)    order in which ideas were presented and the economy with which
    they were expressed—and how much more so when one’s intended
    audience is the emperor of Rome?
         Vitruvius’ idealization of Etruscan temples now becomes even
    more understandable. Tellingly, Vitruvius buried his discussion
(70)    of Etruscan temples toward the end of a chapter (i.e., scroll),
    which reveals that Vitruvius considered Etruscan temples to be
    relatively unimportant. In the unlikely event that Augustus (or
    his appointed reader) might have actually put in the effort to
    reach this discussion, the last thing Vitruvius would have wanted
(75)    his exalted audience to encounter is any unnecessary detail. In
    order to capture Augustus’ attention—and patronage—Vitruvius had
    to demonstrate his complete command of architecture in the
    smallest, most easily digestible package possible. The purpose of
    On Architecture was not to record architectural variety in
(80)    encyclopedic detail but rather to gain architectural commissions.
    This fact, along with Vitruvius’ fundamental belief in
    proportionality, goes a long way toward explaining why Vitruvius
    ignored the architectural diversity he doubtless saw in Etruscan
1. As used in line 12, the word “liberal” most nearly means
(A) tolerant
(B) generous
(C) free-thinking
(D) wide-ranging
(E) narrow
2. On the whole, the author’s attitude toward the traditional scholarly explanation of Vitruvius’ description of the Etruscan temple style described in lines 12-34is one of
(A) indifference
(B) respect
(C) frustration
(D) interest
(E) mistrust
3. The principal function of the fifth paragraph (lines 54-67) is to show
(A) that contemporary architects did not find On Architecture helpful to their work
(B) why Vitruvius ended up building so many structures for Augustus
(D) how Vitruvius constructed On Architecture’s ten chapters with his audience’s likely reading habits in mind that Augustus was as busy as any modern-day executive
(E) how the nature of ancient scrolls discouraged readers
4. The author would most likely agree that the physical form of ancient books
(A) prevented ancient authors from writing as well as modern authors
(B) encouraged the writing of encyclopedic overviews
(C) was responsible for the spread of ancient knowledge
(D) is a unique source of insight into ancient writing largely ignored by traditional scholars
(E) undermined the ability of ancient authors to gain patrons
5. The main purpose of the passage is to
(A) expose Vitruvius’ dishonesty
(B) prove the value of a Greek education
(C) suggest that Vitruvius considered Etruscan temples to be the most important type of temple
(D) discuss the differences between ancient scrolls and modern books
(E) account for the difference between Vitruvius’ written description of Etruscan temples and their archaeological remains
This RP may look pretty intimidating, but this is precisely what a real RP on the SAT is like. We’re here to give you detailed, focused preparation, and the best way to achieve that is by throwing you in the deep end of the pool. If you follow the concepts and strategies in this book, and if you give yourself plenty of time to practice, you’ll be acing RPs like this one in no time at all.
As you can see, a long RP consists of boxed directions, an italicized introduction, a multiparagraph passage, and several items, which is the more formal term for “questions.” Each item consists of a stem and five answer choices. One of these answer choices is correct; the other four answer choices are called distractors because they are designed to distract attention from the correct answer choice. The entire unit of passage-plus-items is called a set. Line numbers are given in the left-hand margin, as shown.
Long passages contain roughly 400 to 800 words, but this number has varied on past SATs, so you might see somewhat shorter or somewhat longer passages. As you’ll soon learn, the actual length of a passage doesn’t have a direct impact on how you handle reading passage sets.
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