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GED Sample: Language Arts

Refer to the following excerpt, then try your hand at the practice questions that follow.

What Were the Things They Carried?

First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha, a junior at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey. They were not love letters, but Lieutenant Cross was hoping, so he kept them folded in plastic at the bottom of his rucksack. In the late afternoon, after a day's march, he would dig his foxhole, wash his hands under a canteen, unwrap the letters, hold them with the tips of his fingers, and spend the last hour of light pretending. He would imagine romantic camping trips into the White Mountains in New Hampshire. He would sometimes taste the envelope flaps, knowing her tongue had been there. More than anything, he wanted Martha to love him as he loved her, but the letters were mostly chatty, elusive on the matter of love. She was a virgin, he was almost sure. She was an English major at Mount Sebastian, and she wrote beautifully about her professors and roommates and midterm exams, about her respect for Chaucer and her great affection for Virginia Woolf. She often quoted lines of poetry; she never mentioned the war, except to say, Jimmy, take care of yourself. The letters weighed 10 ounces. They were signed Love, Martha, but Lieutenant Cross understood that Love was only a way of signing and did not mean what he sometimes pretended it meant. At dusk, he would carefully return the letters to his rucksack. Slowly, a bit distracted, he would get up and move among his men, checking the perimeter, then at full dark he would return to his hole and watch the night and wonder if Martha was a virgin.

— Excerpted from Tim O'Brien, "The Things They Carried," 1990

Practice questions

25. When did Jimmy read Martha's letters?

1. after a day's march

2. in his fox hole

3. under a canteen

4. at the bottom of his rucksack

5. in the first light of day

26. How would you best describe their relationship?

1. lovers

2. strangers

3. acquaintances

4. siblings

5. no relationship

27. How did Jimmy demonstrate his affection?

1. he washed his hands

2. he wrapped the letters

3. by the tips of his fingers

4. at the last hour of light

5. he tasted the envelope flaps

28. What does the phrase "mostly chatty" tell you about Martha's feelings toward Jimmy?

1. she cares deeply

2. she is just being friendly

3. she is infatuated

4. she has a casual interest

5. she has no feelings for Jimmy at all

29. How do you know Martha enjoyed writing letters?

1. her letters were full of news

2. her respect for Chaucer

3. she was an English major

4. she wrote beautifully

5. her professors and roommates

30. What do you think the letters really meant to Jimmy?

1. an interesting hobby

2. a pleasing pastime

3. a way to escape boredom

4. a sense of hope for the future

5. profound disappointment

Answers and analysis

25. 1. Jimmy finally got a chance to read Martha's letters after a day's march. The question asks "when" he read the letters. In the first light of day is not correct (the passage refers to the "last hour of light.") The other answers refer to "where," so they can't possibly be correct answers.

26. 3. Martha saw Jimmy as just an acquaintance, while he wished they could be lovers. Strangers, siblings and no relationship are not correct answers.

27. 5. He tasted the flaps of envelopes that he knew her tongue had sealed. This shows how much he cared for her. The other actions—washing his hands and wrapping the letters — are other ways, but aren't as strong as demonstrations of affection. Tips of fingers and the last hour of light don't describe his feelings.

28. 2. Martha enjoyed writing to Jimmy on a purely friendly basis. To say she cared deeply (she didn't), was infatuated (she wasn't), had a casual interest (it was more that casual), or no feelings at all (she does have some feelings) don't correctly describe her interest.

29. 1. The fact that her letters were thick and newsy indicates that she enjoyed writing letters. Her respect for Chaucer, her status as an English major, and her beautiful writing are not the best answers. Professors and roommates don't relate to her enjoyment.

30. 4. The letters served as a source of hope for the future. Other answers — an interesting hobby, a pleasing pastime, escape from boredom, and profound disappointment — may all be true but don't indicate the real reason for Jimmy's deep interest in the letters.

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