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SAT Critical Reading
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The Verbal section on the SAT will contain 4 Critical Reading passages, each approximately 400 to 850 words, drawn from the arts, humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and fiction. One of these is a "paired passage," consisting of two related excerpts. There are a total of 40 Critical Reading questions associated with these passages, so Critical Reading will account for slightly more than half of your Verbal score. Critical Reading questions are designed to see whether you can get the gist of the prose—its underlying purpose and principal ideas—quickly and accurately. You'll be asked about the overall tone and content of a passage, the details, and what the passage suggests. With paired passages, you'll be asked to compare and contrast the two passages.

Sample Passage and Question #1

Directions: Answer this question after reading through the accompanying passage. Base your answers on information that is either stated or implied in the passage.

The following passage is an excerpt from an article written by a zoologist.

   Ever since the giant panda was discovered in the middle of the nineteenth century, a controversy has raged over its relation to other species. While the general public tends to view the giant panda as a kind of living teddy bear, biologists have not been sure how to classify this enigmatic animal. At different times, the panda has been placed alternately with bears in the Ursidae family, with raccoons in the Procyonidae family, and in its own "Ailuropodidae" family.    Biologists who classify animal species have tried to categorize the panda according to whether its traits are "homologous" or merely "analogous" to similar traits in other species. Homologous traits are those which species have in common because they have descended from a common ancestor. For instance, every species of cat has the homologous trait of possessing only four toes on its hind foot, because every member of the cat family descended from a common feline ancestor. The greater the number of such traits that two species share, the more closely they are related. A cat and a lion have more homologous traits between them than a cat and a human, for example—so cats and lions are more closely related, biologically.
    What appears to be a homologous trait may only be an analogous trait, however. An analogous trait is a trait that two species have in common not because they are descended from a common ancestor but because they have different ancestors that developed in similar ways in response to their environment. The eagle and the butterfly, for example, both possess the trait of wings.
    It is often difficult to distinguish homologous from analogous traits, which is why analysis of the panda's traits has raised more questions than it has answered. The panda may look like a bear, for example, but its appearance could just be an analogous trait; the panda also has many traits that bears do not possess. It has a more massive jaw than a bear since its diet consists primarily of bamboo. Giant pandas also have thumbs which are used to strip leaves from bamboo stalks. Bears do not have a similar digit. Furthermore, most bears growl or roar, but giant pandas bleat.    Progress has been made on the panda mystery only through examination of its genetic material. Using a technique known as DNA hybridization, biologists have demonstrated that the giant panda is indeed a relative of the bear, but the relationship is distant indeed. Their most recent common ancestor lived over fifteen million years ago.

The primary purpose of the passage is to:
praise the work that has been done by biologists in the attempt to classify the panda.

draw attention to the fact that the giant panda is not really a species of bear.

discuss the difficulty of determining
to which category the giant panda belongs.

point out the similarities between the panda and certain other animal species.

prove that the giant panda has long been incorrectly classified.

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