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Everything you need to know to get a perfect ACT Reading score.

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Everything you need to know to get a perfect ACT English score.

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ACT Science

Everything you need to know to get a perfect ACT Science score.

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Everything you need to know to get a perfect ACT Math score.

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Everything you need to know to get a perfect ACT English score.

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Everything you need to know to get a perfect ACT Writing score.

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Everything you need to know to get a perfect ACT Science score.

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ACT Math

Everything you need to know to get a perfect ACT Math score.

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ACT Reading

Everything you need to know to get a perfect ACT Reading score.

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Everything you need to know to get a perfect ACT English score.

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Everything you need to know to get a perfect ACT Writing score.

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ACt Science

Everything you need to know to get a perfect ACT Science score.

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Everything you need to know to get a perfect ACT Math score.

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ACT Reading

Everything you need to know to get a perfect ACT Reading score.

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Everything you need to know to get a perfect ACT Writing score.

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Everything you need to know to get a perfect ACT Writing score.

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ACT Science

Everything you need to know to get a perfect ACT Science score.

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Everything you need to know to get a perfect ACT Math score.

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Everything you need to know to get a perfect ACT Reading score.

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The Main Idea

For each passage, you have to be on the hunt for the primary purpose. However, you must first identify the topic of the passage. Knowing both will help you quickly rule out incorrect answers and narrow in on a solution.

The Topic

The topic is nothing more than the subject of the passage. Usually, the topic is the word or phrase that appears most frequently throughout the passage, either by name or in rephrased form. For example, a computer could also be referred to as “the technology,” “the invention,” or “the machine.”Consider the following passage:

Citrus greening, the plague that could wipe out Florida’s $9 billion orange industry, begins with the touch of a jumpy brown bug on a sun-kissed leaf.From there, the bacterial disease incubates in the tree’s roots, then moves back up the trunk in full force, causing nutrient flows to seize up. Leaves turn yellow, and the oranges, deprived of sugars from the leaves, remain green, sour, and hard. Many fall before harvest, brown necrotic flesh ringing failed stems. For the past decade, Florida’s oranges have been literally starving. Since it first appeared in 2005, citrus greening, also known by its Chinese name, huanglongbing, has swept across Florida’s groves like a flood. With no hills to block it, the Asian citrus idyllic the invasive aphid relative that carries the disease has infected nearly every orchard in the state.By one estimate, 80 percent of Florida’s citrus trees are infected and declining. The disease has spread beyond Florida to nearly every orange-growing region in the United States. Despite many generations of breeding by humanity, no citrus plant resists greening; it afflicts lemons, grapefruits, and other citrus species as well. Once a tree is infected, it will die. Yet in a few select Floridian orchards, there are now trees that, thanks to innovative technology,can fight the greening tide.

In this passage, the topic (citrus greening) is introduced in the very first sentence. In the remainder of the passage, the topic is only referred to by that name one additional time. It is, however, referred to in other ways: the plague, the bacterial disease, hunaglongbing, and the greening tide. If you have difficulty drawing the connection between the original term and its many variations, you may not understand what the passage is about. Often, when students at AP Guru are asked to identify the topic of this passage, they say: “Ummrn...I think it talks about oranges and stuff” or “it mentions Florida,” or, a bit closer, “diseases.”However, the topic is not, in fact, “diseases.” It is actually one specific disease, namely citrus greening. That fact can become very important if you see a question like this:

The references to yellow leaves and green, sour, and hard oranges in lines 8 - 12 primarily serve to

A. describe some effects of citrus greening

B. point out the consequence of giving plants too many nutrients

C. suggest that farmers often harvest their crops too early

D. demonstrate the difficulty of growing crops in a humid climate

The only answer that directly refers to the passage’s topic is A, which is correct. Yes, this is a fairly straight forward question, but understanding the topic lets you jump right to the answer. When defining the topic, try to use no more than a few words (e.g., rise of social media, importance of Venus) and avoid saying things like, “Well, I think that the passage is like talking about xyz...” The former takes almost no time and gives you precisely the information you need; the latter is time-consuming, vague, and often off-topic.

The Primary Purpose

After the topic, the primary purpose should be the next thing you look for when reading a passage. The primary purpose of a reading is the main idea that the author wants to convey. The primary purpose is an argument that answers the question, “so what?” It tells us why the author thinks the topic is important.

You can use this “formula” to determine the primary purpose:

 Primary Purpose = Topic + So What?

Sometimes the author will directly state the primary purpose in the passage, most often in the introduction or beginning of the second paragraph, and then again for reiteration in the conclusion. When you find the primary purpose, you should underline it immediately. If the author does not state the primary purpose directly, you should write it yourself.

We cannot state this strongly enough: If you keep the primary purpose in mind, you can often eliminate answer choices simply because they do not make sense in context with the purpose. Even better, you can often identify the correct answer because it is the only choice that relates directly to the primary purpose. In fact, you can often answer nearly 60% of questions directly identifying the primary purpose.

If you practice finding the primary purpose of the passage, the process will eventually become second nature. Try it next time you are attempting to read and comprehend an SAT Reading Test Passage. It’s one of the most straight forward techniques you can adopt to improve your SAT Reading Test score and is proof that it’s sometimes the simple things that end up working the best.

The Art of Summarizing

The art of summarizing is one of the two key tools to identify the primary purpose and the topic of a passage.

A majority of AP Guru students aren’t entirely clear on the difference between describing the content of a passage and summarizing its argument. Describing content is recounting the information presented in the text, often in sequential “first x, then y, and finally z” form, without necessarily distinguishing between main ideas and supporting evidence. Summarizing an argument is identifying the essential point that the author wants to convey and eliminating any unnecessary detail. The goal is not to coverall of the information presented, but rather to recognize the parts of the passage that are most important. As a result, you must be able to separate the larger, more central ideas from the details.

Lets try to effectively summary the below passage:
Sometime near the end of the Pleistocene, a band of people left northeastern Asia, crossed the Bering land bridge when the sea level was low, entered Alaska and became the first Americans. Since the 1930s, archaeologists have thought these people were members of the Clovis culture. First discovered in New Mexico in the 1930s, the Clovis culture is known for its distinct stone tools, primarily fluted projectile points. For decades, Clovis artefacts were the oldest known in the New World, dating to 13,000 years ago. But in recent years, researchers have found more and more evidence that people were living in North and South America before the Clovis. The most recently confirmed evidence comes from is Washington. During a dig conducted from 1977 to 1979 researchers uncovered a bone projectile point stuck in a mastodon rib. Since then, the age of the find has been debated, but recently anthropologist Michael Waters and his colleagues announced a new radio carbon date for the rib: 13,800 years ago, making it 800 years older than the oldest Clovis artefact. Other pre-Clovis evidence comes from a variety of locations across the New World.

When students are asked to summarize the above passage, they generally state the topic as “the Clovis People.” Or they describe the content like this: “The Clovis people, right? They were, like, the first people who came across the Bering...Oh no, wait, they weren’t actually the first people to come across, it’s just that they thought that those people were first. But, so anyway, those people settled in New Mexico - I think it said like 13,000 years ago? Only now he’s saying that other people were actually there before the Clovis, and then he says something about a mastodon rib and then something about radio carbon dating.”

Notice how long, not to mention how vague,this version is. It doesn’t really distinguish between important and unimportant information; everything gets mushed in together, and frankly it doesn’t make a lot of sense. This summary gives us exactly zero help in terms of figuring out the main idea. It’s a colossal waste of time.

This is not what you want to do.

Effective Summary: New evidence shows the first inhabitants of the Americas were NOT Clovis people.

Notice how this version just hits the big idea and omits the details. All the details. Now notice how this version cuts out absolutely everything in order to focus on the absolute essentials.

It doesn’t even attempt to incorporate any sort of detail beyond the subject of the passage (Clovis People) or the “so what?” (they weren’t the first people in the Americas). We have captured the essential information without wasting any time.

The Pivot

We said earlier that the art of summarizing the passage is one of two key tools used to accurately identify its main idea.The other key strategy is to identify pivots related to the topic.Have you ever had someone break up with you by making a speech that began, “You are really amazing, and I’ve had such a wonderful time with you...” but you can tell that the conversation isn’t going any place good?

Then the person continues, “I really wish you the best in everything that you do, and you’re such a nice person...” and you’re absolutely sure that there’s a “but” about to happen? (As in, “BUT, I’ve met someone else” or “BUT, I just don’t think this can work.”)

SAT passages are like that. Except they’re often about things like sea urchins, not breakups.

Authors can spend a significant portion of a passage discussing ideas with which they do not agree. In fact, the author’s opinion may not emerge until halfway through the passage or later,occasionally not until the conclusion.

So, if you’re reading an SAT passage and all you’re reading is facts, you almost certainly haven’t gotten to the Main Idea yet. While you are reading an SAT passage, a small voice in the back of your mind should be saying something like, “Facts facts facts facts facts! BUT WHAT?!” (Imagine that in a silly voice. Facts facts facts facts facts! The facts are not the main idea - keep looking!)

Most of the pivots will fall into one of these three categories:

  • A Change (Here’s a situation, but now it’s different!)
  • A Twist (Here’s something that seems straightforward but it’s not what you think!)
  • A Judgment Call (Here are two options - I’m going to tell you which one is better!)

The pivots are particularly common in science/social science passages, many of which are organized in terms of the “people used to believe X, but now they believe Y.”   In this structure, the author typically begins by discussing an accepted idea or theory, then, at a certain point, explains why that theory is wrong, and why a new theory the author believes, is correct.

You must read carefully to make sure you do not confuse what the author says other people think with what the author actually thinks.

Words such as ‘but,’ ‘yet,’ and ‘however’ can indicate an author’s point of view. Whenever one of those words appears, you need to pay special attention to it. Not only will it provide important valuable about how the passage is structured, but it will also tell you where in the passage to focus because the author’s opinion will virtually always be stated after that transition.

In the following passage, the author jumps back and forth between discussing his own ideas and other people’s ideas. I want you to strike through the text that the author does not believe in. Leave the sentences that the author believes in, including his opinions and supporting background information, as they are.

This passage is adapted from “More Isn’t Always Better,”by Harvard Business Review.
Marketers assume that the more choices they offer, the more likely customers will be able to find just the right thing. They assume, for instance, that offering styles of jeans instead of two increases the chances that shoppers will find a pair they really like. Nevertheless, research now shows that there can be too much choice; when there is, consumers are less likely to buy anything at all, and if they do buy, they are less satisfied with their selection. It all began with jam. In 2000, psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper published a remarkable study. On one day, shoppers at an upscale food market saw a display table with 24 varieties of gourmet jam. Those who sampled the spreads received a coupon for any jam. On another day, shoppers saw a similar table, except that only six varieties of the jam were on display. The large display attracted more interest than the small one. But when the time came to purchase, people who saw the large display were one-tenth as likely to buy as people who saw the small display. Other studies have confirmed this result that more choice is not always better. As the variety of snacks, soft drinks, and beers offered at convenience stores increases, for instance, sales volume and customer satisfaction decrease. Moreover, as the number of retirement investment options available to employees increases, the chance that they will choose any decreases. These studies and others have shown not only that excessive choice can produce “choice paralysis,” but also that it can reduce people’s satisfaction with their decisions, even if they made good ones. My colleagues and I have found that increased choice decreases satisfaction with matters as trivial as ice cream flavors and as significant as jobs. These results challenge what we think we know about human nature and the determinants of well-being. Both psychology and business have operated on the assumption that the relationship between choice and well-being is straightforward: The more choices people have the better off the are. In psychology, the benefits of choice have been tied to autonomy and control. In business the benefits of choice have been tied to the benefits of free markets more generally.Added options make no one worse off and their bound to make someone better off. Choice is good for us, but its relationship to satisfaction appears to be more complicated than we had assumed. There is diminishing marginal utility in having alternatives; each new option subtracts a little from the feeling of well being, until the marginal benefits of added choice level off. What’s more, psychologists and business academics alike have largely ignored another outcome of choice: More of it requires increased time and effort and can lead to anxiety, regret, excessively high expectations, and self-blame the choices don’t work out. When the number of available options is small, these costs are negligible, but the costs grow with the number of options. Eventually, each new option makes us feel worse off than we did before. Without a doubt, having more options enables us, most of the time, to achieve better objective outcomes. Again, having 50 styles of jeans as opposed to two increases the likelihood that customers will find a pair that fits. But the subjective outcome may be that shoppers will feel overwhelmed and dissatisfied. This dissociation between objective and subjective results creates a significant challenge for retailers and marketers that look to choice as a way to enhance the perceived value of their goods and services. Choice can no longer be used to justify a marketing strategy in and of itself. More isn’t always better, either for the customer or for the retailer.Discovering how much assortment is warranted is a considerable empirical challenge. But companies that get the balance right will be amply rewarded.

Hope that was easy. Compare your work with the work below to see how accurately you could differentiate between the author’s opinions and the other opinions he is presenting. This passage is adapted from Barry Schwartz,“More isn’t Always Better,” by Harvard Business Review.

Marketers assume that the more choices they offer, the more likely customers will be able to find just the right thing. They assume, for instance, that offering 5 styles of jeans instead of two increases the chances that shoppers will find a pair they really like. Nevertheless, research now shows that there can be too much choice; when there is, consumers are less likely to buy anything at all,and if they do buy, they are less satisfied with their selection. It all began with jam. In 2000, psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper published a remarkable study. On one day, shoppers at an upscale food market saw a display table with 24 varieties of gourmet jam. Those who sampled the spreads received a coupon for any jam. On another day, shoppers saw a similar table, except that only six varieties of the jam were on display. The large display attracted more interest than the small one. But when the time came to purchase, people who saw the large display were one-tenth as likely to buy as people who saw the small display. Other studies have confirmed this result that more choice is not always better.As the variety of snacks, soft drinks, and beers offered at convenience stores increases, for instance, sales volume and customer satisfaction decrease.Moreover, as the number of retirement investment options available to employees increases, the chance that they will choose any decreases.These studies and others have shown not only that excessive choice can produce “choice paralysis,” but also that it can reduce people’s satisfaction with their decisions, even if they made good ones. My colleagues and I have found that increased choice decreases satisfaction with matters as trivial as ice cream flavors and as significant as jobs. These results challenge what we 45 think we know about human nature and the determinants of well-being. Both psychology and business have operated on the assumption that the relationship between choice and well-being is straightforward: The more choices people have the better off the are. In psychology, the benefits of choice have been tied to autonomy and control. In business the benefits of choice have been tied to the benefits of free markets more generally. Added options make no one worse off and their bound to make someone better off. Choice is good for us, but it relationship to satisfaction appears to be more complicated than we had assumed. There is diminishing marginal utility in having alternatives; each new option subtracts a little from the feeling of well being, until the marginal benefits of added choice level off. What’s more, psychologists and business academics alike have largely ignored another outcome of choice: More of it requires increased time and effort and can lead to anxiety, regret, excessively high expectations, and self-blame if the choices don’t work out. When the number of available options is small, these costs are negligible, but the costs grow with the number of options. Eventually, each new option makes us feel worse off than we did before. Without a doubt, having more options enables us, most of the time, to achieve better objective outcomes. Again, having 50 styles of jeans as opposed to two increases the likelihood that customers will find a pair that fits. But the subjective outcome may be that shoppers will feel overwhelmed and dissatisfied. This dissociation between objective and subjective results creates a significant challenge for retailers and marketers that look to choice as a way to enhance the perceived value of their goods and services. Choice can no longer be used to justify a marketing strategy in and of itself.More isn’t always better, either for the customer or for the retailer. Discovering how much assortment is warranted is a considerable empirical challenge. But companies that get the balance right will be amply rewarded.

Now it’s time to apply what we have learned to examples. For the three below examples, it’s important to compare your topic and primary purpose to what we’ve come up with here.

Were you off the mark, or did you hit the bulls eye? Did you summarize the topic and primary purpose in the fewest words possible?

Sample Passage 1: Rock Flour

Although organic agriculture may seem to be the wave of the future, some experts believe that the next stage in agricultural development requires the widespread adoption of something very inorganic: fertiliser made from powdered rocks, also known as “rock flour.” The bio chemical processes of life depend not only on elements commonly associated with living organisms, such as oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon (the fundamental element of organic chemistry), but also on many other elements in the periodic table. Specifically, plants need the so-called “big six” nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, sulfur, and magnesium. In modern industrial agriculture, these nutrients are commonly supplied by traditional chemical fertilizers. However, these fertilizers omit trace elements, such as are harvested, the necessary trace elements are not replaced and become depleted in the soil. Eventually, crop yields  diminish, despite the application or even over- application of traditional fertilizers. Rock flour, produced in abundance by quarry and mining operations, may be able to replenish trace elements cheaply and increase crop yields dramatically. Not all rock flour would be suitable for use as fertilizer. Certain chemical elements, such as lead and cadmium, are poisonous to humans; thus, applying rock flour containing significant amounts of such elements to farmland would be inappropriate, even if the crops themselves do not accumulate the poisons, because human contact could result directly or indirectly (e.g., via soil runoff into water, iron, molybdenum, and manganese, that are components of essential plant enzymes and pigments. For instance, the green pigment chlorophyll, which turns sunlight into energy that plants can use, requires iron. As crops supplies). However, most rock flour produced by quarries seems safe for use. After all, glaciers have been creating natural rock flour for thousands of years as they advance and retreat, grinding up the ground underneath. Glacial runoff carries this rock flour into rivers, and downstream, the resulting alluvial deposits are extremely fertile. If the use of man-made rock flour is incorporated into agricultural practices, it may be possible to make open plains as rich as alluvial soils. Such increases in agricultural productivity will be necessary to feed an evermore- crowded world.

The following is the topic and primary purpose you should have come up with:

Topic: Extol the potential benefits of rock flour.

Primary Purpose: The next stage in agricultural development requires the widespread adoption of fertilizer made from rock flour

Sample Passage 2: Ether’s Existence

In 1887, an ingenious experiment performed by Albert Michelson and Edwar Morley severely undermined classical physics by failing to confirm the existence of “ether,” a ghostly mass less medium that was thought to permeate the universe. This finding had profound results, ultimately paving the way for acceptance of Einstein’s special theory of relativity.Prior to the Michelson-Morley experiment,nineteenth-century physics conceived of light as a wave propagated at constant speed through the ether. The existence of ether was hypothesized in part to explain the transmission of light, which was believed to be impossible through “empty” space. Physical objects, such as planets, were also thought to glide frictionlessly through the unmoving ether. The Michelson-Morley experiment relied on the fact that the Earth, which orbits the Sun, would have to be in motion relative to a fixed ether. Just as a person on a motorcycle experiences a “wind” caused by her own motion relative to the air, the Earth would experience an “ethereal wind” caused by its motion through the ether. Such a wind would affect our measurements of the speed of light. If the speed of light is fixed with respect to the ether, but the earth is moving through the ether, then to an observer on Earth light must appear to move faster in a “downwind” direction than in an “upwind” direction. In 1887 there were no clocks sufficiently precise to detect the speed differences that would result from an ethereal wind. Michelson and Morley surmounted this problem by using the such speed differences. In their apparatus,known as an “interferometer,” a single beam of light is split in half. Mirrors guide each half of the beam along a separate trajectory before ultimately reuniting the two half-beams into a single beam. If one half-beam has moved more slowly than the other, the reunited beams will be out of phase with each other. In other words, peaks of the first half-beam will not coincide exactly with peaks of the second half beam, resulting in an interference pattern in the reunited beam. Michelson and Morley detected only a tiny degree of interference in the reunited light beam far less than what was expected based on the motion of the Earth.

The following is the topic and primary purpose you should have come up with:

Topic: Experiment that rejects the existence of Ethor

Primary Purpose: Failure to confirm the existence of ether undermined classical physics and gave rise to new theories

Sample Passage 3: Prescription Errors

In Europe, medical prescriptions were historically written in Latin, for many centuries the universal medium of communication among the educated. A prescription for eye drops written in Amsterdam could be filled in Paris, because the abbreviation OS meant “left eye” in both places. With the disappearance of Latin as a lingua franca, however, abbreviations such as OS can easily be confused with AS (“left ear”) or per os (“by mouth”), even by trained professionals. Such misinterpretations of medical instructions can be fatal. In the early 1990s, two infants died in separate but identical tragedies: they were each administered 5 milligrams of morphine, rather than 0.5 milligrams, as the dosage was written without an initial zero. The naked decimal was subsequently misread. The personal and economic costs of misinterpreted medical prescriptions and instructions are hard to quantify. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that misinterpretations are prevalent. While mistakes will always happen in any human endeavor, medical professionals, hospital administrators, and policymakers should continually work to drive the prescription error rate to zero, taking simple corrective steps and also pushing for additional investments. Certain measures are widely agreed upon, even if some are difficult to enforce, given the decentralization of the country’s healthcare system. For instance, the American Medical Association and other professional organizations have publicly advocated against the use of Latin abbreviations and other relics of historical pharmacology. As a result,incidents in which qd (“every day”), qid(“four times a day”), and qod (“every other day”) have been mixed up seem to be on the decline. Other measures have been taken by regulators who oversee potential areas of confusion, such as drug names.  For instance, the FDA asked a manufacturer to change the name of Levoxine, a thyroid medication, to Levoxyl, so that confusion with Lanoxin, a heart failure drug, would be reduced.Likewise, in 1990 the antacid Losec was renamed Prilosec at the FDA’s behest to differentiate it from Lasix, a diuretic. Unfortunately, since 1992 there have been at least a dozen reports of accidental switches between Prilosec and Prozac, an antidepressant. As more drugs reach the market, drug-name “traffic control”will only become more complicated. Other measures are controversialor require significant investment and consensus building. For instance, putting the patient’s condition on the prescription would allow double-checking but also reduce patient privacy; thus, this step continues to be debated. Computerized prescriber order entry (CPOE)systems seem to fix the infamous problem of illegible handwriting, but many CPOE systems permit naked decimals and other dangerous practices. Moreover,since fallible humans must still enter and retrieve the data,any technological fixes must be accompanied by substantial training. Ultimately, a multi-pronged approach is needed to address the issue.\

The following is the topic and primary purpose you should have come up with:

Topic: Prescription Errors and how can they be eradicated

Primary Purpose: Prescription error rate should become zero

Prose Fiction Passages

Prose fiction passages are not based on arguments but instead revolve around characters’ actions/reactions and relationships. As a result, deciphering the topic and primary purpose of a Prose fiction passage can be challenging.

For fiction passages, you can think of the topic and the primary purpose as an extremely condensed (8-10 word) summary of the passage. A “summary” question will accompany most fiction passages, so if you’ve already summarized the reading for yourself, you’ll have far less work to do and may be able to jump to the answer immediately.

That said, you should be careful to consider only the information provided by the author and not attempt to speculate about any broader meaning. What counts on the SAT Reading Test is your ability to understand the literal events of a passage. That’s it.

If you do go looking for some larger symbolism or start to make assumptions not explicitly supported by the passage, you can easily lose sight of the basics. Let’s try to work through this concept with an example. The following passage is divided into two parts.As you read, identify the pivot of the passage.

The following passage is adapted from the novel Summer by Edith Wharton, originally published in 1917.
The hours of the Hatchard Memorial librarian were from three to five; and Charity Royall’s sense of duty usually kept her at her desk until nearly half-past four. But she had never perceived that any practical advantage thereby accrued either to North Dormer or to herself; and she had no scruple in decreeing, when it suited her, that the library should close an hour earlier. A few minutes after Mr. Harney’s departure she formed this decision, put away her lace, fastened the shutters, and turned the key  in the door of the temple of knowledge. The street upon which she emerged was still empty:and after glancing up and down it she began to walk toward her house. But instead of entering she passed on, turned into a field-path and mounted to a pasture on the hillside. She let down the bars of the gate, followed a trail along the crumbling wall of the pasture, and walked on till she reached a knoll where a clump of larches shook out their fresh tassels to the wind. There she lay down on the slope, tossed off her hat and hid her face in the grass. She was blind and insensible to many things, and dimly knew it, but to all that was light and air,perfume and color, every drop of blood in her responded. She loved the roughness of the dry mountain grass under her palms, the smell of the thyme into which she crushed her face, the fingering of the wind in her hair and through her cotton blouse, and the creak of the larches as they swayed to it. She often climbed up the hill and lay there alone for the mere pleasure of feeling the wind and of rubbing her cheeks in the grass. Generally at such times she did not think of anything, but lay immersed in an inarticulate well-being. Today the sense of well-being was intensified by her joy at escaping from the library. She liked well enough to have a friend drop in and talk to her when she was on duty, but she hated to be bothered about books. How could she remember where they were, when they were so seldom asked for? Orma Fry occasionally took out a novel, and her brother Ben was fond of what he called“ jography,” and of books rel

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