SAT Reading Practice: Paired Passages

By Geraldine Woods, Ron Woldoff

Paired passages double your trouble on the SAT Reading test, but if you approach them the right way, they also double your score. Twice as many chances to get the answer right!

You can expect some questions on Passage I, some on Passage II, and a couple that address the similarities or differences between both passages. The following example will give you some practice.

Read the following passages and answer the questions that follow based on what is stated or implied in the passages. Passage I discusses the relationship between geography and human culture. Passage II comes from The Secret Life of Dust by Hannah Holmes (Wiley). The author addresses climate change. (Note: An oviraptor is a type of dinosaur. Mount Pinatubo was a volcano that erupted in 1991.)

Sample passage I

Human culture is invariably rooted in the site in which it flourishes. Thus human history is also the study of land and water formations, climate, and characteristics of the physical world. Climate, of course, is neither a constant nor a sole factor in human development. The earth’s climate has undergone many variations in its long history. So too are there shifts in civilizations. Today’s fertile soil, verdant forests, and prosperous empire may very well be tomorrow’s ruins, as the fall of classic Mayan civilization following a prolonged drought in the ninth century illustrates.

Acknowledging the influence of climate, scientists today study the gradual rise in average temperature, preparing for major shifts in trade, population density, and political affinity. Modern science has in some sense inherited the mantle of ancient seers. One historian declared that climatologists have taken up the role of ancient priests — those in Egypt, for example, whose prayers to the gods were designed to ensure that the annual flood of the Nile River was sufficient for agriculture but not so extensive as to cause damage to settlements.

Yet anyone studying the effect of climate change on human culture must also take into account the consistency and resiliency of human life. Archaeologists at some sites have found similarities in artifacts and settlement patterns before and after major climate changes. More than 73,000 years ago, for example, the eruption of Mt. Toba, a volcano in Indonesia, ejected so much dust into the atmosphere that sunlight was dimmed and the earth entered an ice age. If climate change is such a powerful force, how is it that humanity survived this period with its culture largely intact?

Sample passage II

One very clear message in the ice is that the Earth’s climate is naturally erratic. According to the dust and gases trapped in the ice, the climate is always — always — in flux. If it’s not getting warmer, it’s getting colder. Year to year the shifts may be masked by an El Niño, a La Niña, a Mount Pinatubo, or some other temporary drama. But decade to decade, century to century, the world’s temperature is in constant motion.

On a grand scale, our moderate, modern climate is abnormal. Through most of the dinosaur era the planet’s normal state was decidedly steamier. When the oviraptor perished in the Gobi Desert, the world may have been eleven to fourteen degrees hotter, on average.

Then, just 2.5 million years ago, the planet entered a pattern of periodic ice ages, punctuated by brief warm spells. The ice caps, as a result, have taken to advancing and retreating intermittently. The glaciers have ruled for the lion’s share of time, with the warm “interglacials” lasting roughly ten thousand years each. We inhabit an interglacial known as the Holocene, which ought to be coming to an end any day now. The thermometer, however, does not seem poised for a plunge.

All things being equal, no climatologist would be surprised if the Holocene persisted for another few thousand years — climate change is that erratic. But all things are not equal. Human industry has wrought profound changes in the Earth’s atmosphere since the last warm period.

Practice questions

  1. Based on the statements in the first paragraph of Passage I, which position would the author most likely support?
    • A. History is intertwined with geography.
    • B. Human beings shape their environment, not the other way around.
    • C. Climate and prosperity are completely unrelated.
    • D. Dramatic climate changes always cause dramatic cultural shifts.
  2. In Passage II, the author mentions the oviraptor to illustrate
    • A. the difference between human and animal responses to climate
    • B. how living creatures adapt to many climates
    • C. a creature that became extinct because of climate shifts
    • D. a dinosaur that lived during a warm period

Answers and explanations

  1. A. Most of the choices are as extreme as a category-five hurricane, but the author’s position is closer to a moderate summer breeze. Lines 1 through 3 make clear that the site (that is, the geography and climate) where people live is a factor in human culture, a belief expressed by Choice (A). Did Choice (C) entrap you? Lines 6 through 7 refer to the fall of the Mayan Empire because of extreme drought, but Line 3 firmly asserts that climate isn’t the sole factor determining the stability of a civilization.
  2. D. The author doesn’t develop the oviraptor example. Choices (A), (B), and (C) are out because they call for a more extensive discussion of the dinosaur in question. Choice (D) is the correct answer.