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Yesterday's question, which happens to be one of the few questions that comes in to our site with such frequency and consistency that we sometimes almost wonder if it is the same questioner writing in and using different aliases, as though he/she were so obsessed with the question that we wouldn't stop coming across it until we explained the subject to his/her satisfaction.  (We have since learned that all the letters and notes were indeed written by different and unrelated people, helping us realize that indeed many people were indeed intrigued -- if not frustrated or angered -- by the surprising challenge involved in the assessment that most of us do in some form throughout our lives).


Dear Readers and Test-takers Everywhere, 

We will now pick up where we left off yesterday, which was in the midst of my giving an example of how this method of choosing the best answer choice for "main idea" or "best title" is carried out.  Let's say you just finished reading the essay, which talked exclusively about field mice, and the three choices from which you had to pick the best title for the piece were these:

1) "Rodents"

2) "Little Creatures"; and

3) "One Pest that Serves a Purpose"

Now, using the method we just discussed yesterday, imagine a miniature book.  Beginning at the top, if that little book was embossed with the title "Rodents", what would you expect the contents of the book to be likely to have?  Well, the first thing that pops into my mind here is that for a piece of writing solely about feild mice, the title "Rodents" is too broad.  I would expect a book entitlled Rodents to at least cover more than one species of rodent; more likely, the book would be a survey course of the different kinds of rodents that around today, and perhaps compare and contrast a few different species.

Now, if I saw a miniature book entitled Little Creatures, I would again expect the contents to cover more than just one species (the "field mouse"), and would probably anticipate the inclusion of information about different kinds of insects, etc.

That leaves us with the only viable choice, "One Pest that Serves a Purpose". 

I think it is worth repeating a point to which I alluded earlier: one often-forgotten aspect of this method of selecting the "best title" is that this technique of envisioning the most likely contents of a book with that title works equally well when the question doesn't just ask about the best "title"; it is just as effective in locating the corect answer when the question asks about but the piece's "main point" or "main idea".

NEXT, we come to what I think of as "category number 4 1/2".  This is the category of question most commonly referred to as the "Tone Question".  The reason I think of it as "4 1/2" rather than the next natural number, 5, is because it is really just one type of inference question.  These questions usually say something like, "The author's main feeling about the subject is... "

A) enthusiastic

B) cynical

C) academic

D) fearful

The main trick here is to decide if the passage is basicallly subjective or basically objective.  Remember, 'subjective' basically means opinion, and 'objective' basicaly means factual.

NOTE: When your grandmother describes you to others she can probably not be OBJECTIVE because she cannot help herself from thinking about the subject (you) at least as much as the facts.  ("Oh, my darling boy Max is wonderfully brilliant, handsome and kind, and, oh, so punctual...")

However, when your grandmother desribes an OBJECT, such as the television in the corner of her apartment, she can be more factual.  She may say, "It's too big, it's too heavy, the knobs are hard to turn, but it works."

It is important to note that the subject matter of a piece has nothing to do with whether or not the author has written about it in a subjective or objective manner.  (At least in theory).  For example, a good reporter should (in theory) be able to write about and describe accurately the murder scene in which his beloved mother and grandmother were butchered. Likewise, in theory, an author can write about a television set in a very subjective manner (especially if he/she works in the advertising business).

So, to recap, we have outlined the full range of categories of questions.  BUT, there is another side to the game:  There are also categories of passages, and some of these have particular ways of being approached that will help you a lot on the test.  And that is where we will begin next time, which is scheduled for tomorrow. Until then, I hope you found this brief overview of the questions the test-writers use interesting, and I hope you found the hints for each type helpful.  Until tomorrow, be well.

-- Mitch