SAT Reading

Paired Passages

Every reading section contains one paired passage. Each passage has a different author and a different point of view, but both will always revolve around the same basic idea or event, even if it isn’t always immediately obvious how the two passages relate to one another.

As a general rule, your goal should be to deal with the smallest amount of information possible at any given time. Therefore, it’s imperative that you initially work with each passage separately.  

On a paired passage, the strategy to follow is:

  1. Read the first passage
  2. Answer any questions that have to do with the first passage only
  3. Read the second passage
  4. Answer any questions that have to do with the second passage only
  5. Answer all the remaining questions

Every paired passage follows the same basic format. The authors either:

A. Disagree about something
Agree on something, but don’t agree on its cause or effects
Talk about two different elements or angles of the same topic

Example of A: Author 1 thinks that quantum theory can explain origin of life whereas Author 2 believes that the Big Bang theory can explain the origin of life.

Example of B: Both authors agree on the positive effects of DDT in curbing malaria, but Author 1 believes that legalizing DDT will do more harm than good whereas Author 2 claims that legalizing DDT will have widespread positive effects on developing nations.

Example of C: Author 1 talks about the link between science and religion, and Author 2 talks about the role of science and religion in today’s society.

There will be numerous details/background information/implications that the two authors use to make their points. However, your job is to completely ignore this information and identify the Primary Point each author wants to convey. The more you focus on the basic setup of each passage, and the differences between them, the better you’ll do. You want to name the relationship in the most simple, bare statements possible.

Name That Relationship

Why is it so important to determine the relationship between the passages? First, because paired passages will almost always include two to three questions that explicitly ask you to identify the relationship between the passages. If you’ve already defined the relationship, you’ve essentially answered those questions before you’ve even looked at the readings.

When the authors of the passages disagree, most of the answers to relationship questions will be negative, and you can automatically eliminate any positive or neutral answer just by reading its first few words. Similarly, when the authors agree, most correct answers will be positive.

This drill should give you a sense of the relationships that can exist between two passages.

Passage A: Jeffrey C. Goldfarb suggests public-spirited dialogue need not happen after a traditional theater show, as it is most successful when it happens through a show. He believes that the live component of the theater distinguishes it from other media objects, and allows meaning to arise from the interaction between performers and audience as the performance is happening. Whereas television or film, for instance, has no room for active dialogue, theater does because the performers and audience are present in the space together. The theatrical text becomes the medium, and the performers speak through the way in which they perform the text, while the audience does so through a number of culturally sanctioned actions: applause, laughter (both laughing with and laughing at), sighing, gasping, cheering, and booing.

Passage B1: Augusto Boal famously complained about how still everyone is expected to keep during any performance, constantly policed by other audience members. The high prices on professional theater tickets and an elitist value on cultural tradition (versus popular, technology-based mass media) combine to produce an aristocratic culture surrounding theater. In this manner, a “high class” code of etiquette is imposed upon the performance space, dictating that audience members are to remain quiet: the actors speak, the audience listens. As Boal criticizes in Legislative Theatre, traditional form sets up a relationship where “everything travels from stage to auditorium, everything is transported, transferred in that direction—emotions, ideas, morality!—and nothing goes the other way.” He argues that this relationship encourages passivity and thus cancels theater’s political potential.

Now take a look at these alternative B Passages. After reading each, identify the relationship to Passage A on the lines provided.

Passage B2: In 1994, Ward Cunningham invented the first wiki, a website that can be edited by any viewer using an internet browser. Titled, this wiki allowed a new type of communication between software developers. Since that time wikis have grown exponentially in popularity not only because of their ability to foster efficient and ongoing improvement of information sources, but also because of their impact upon the nature of information sharing itself. While most wikis have few contributors and editors, the opportunity to become an active participant frames any form of participation as a conscious choice. Because any user could alter the text, the passive user is endorsing any information that he or she views without editing, thus becoming an active participant through what might otherwise be called inaction.

Passage B3: Despite a widespread increase in the variety of low-cost and free recorded entertainment, attending live theater in some form continues to be a prominent component of many cultures. George Frentilo suggests that the enduring attraction can be traced to a basic need for approval and acceptance. He argues that sitting next to others and sharing in their reactions to the same event is interpreted subconsciously as joining in communal consideration and judgment of a potentially disruptive element in the community sphere. The fact that theater-goers remain anonymous allows them to avoid the risk and tension of having to individually proclaim their viewpoints and instead permits any attendee to passively join in the voicing of the majority opinion. Joining the act of shared judgment of the other, in this case the actors, gives each group member the sense that he or she is safe from the group’s judgment and potential punishment.

Passage B4: A production of Dziady (Forefather’s Eve) in Poland in 1968 had been ordered to close and, on its last night, the theater was overcrowded with supporters. They were an enthusiastic, vocal audience who read into the play’s anti-czarist language a critique of Soviet government. When the performance ended, the crowd went into the streets to protest. The play’s content became political through the audience’s interpretation of the content, and, in a way, the theater building held a public sphere where an anti-Soviet public gathered to affirm their political sentiment before taking it to the street in open, public protest.

The following are some of the relationships I have come up between passages. Please note that there are many different relationships you can draw between passages and all of them might be correct.

Passage A/Passage B1: This passage directly counters Passage A, criticizing theater for not allowing for dialogue.

Passage A/Passage B2: On the surface, this passage explores an entirely different topic, but both passages highlight a certain aspect of the phenomenon they describe. Both focus on the potential for dialogue through a specific medium or technology.

Passage A/Passage B3: Like Passage A, this passage explores how the interactive nature of theater makes it different from other media.

Passage A/Passage B4: In some ways, this passage offers an example of the general phenomenon described in Passage A: the theater in Poland became a “public sphere” in which the anti-Soviet audience responded to the themes in the play. However, this example isn’t a perfect match for Passage A - the audience does feel the need to engage in “public dialogue” after the play, and there is no real mention of the actual communication between the performers and the audience. So Passage B4 is looking at the same phenomenon in a way that only partially supports Goldfarb’s position.

Relationship Questions

Because there is absolutely no difference between questions that ask about only one passage in a P1/P2 set and questions about a single passage elsewhere on the test, you should approach both in the same way.

For most students, the real challenge is the relationship questions, most of which ask you to infer what one author would think about a particular idea in the other passage. In such cases, you must break down the question, making sure to define each idea separately and clearly before you attempt to determine the relationship between them.

Break “relationship” questions down like this:

  1. Re-read the question and figure out which author’s perspective you’re being asked about. It is your job to be 100%, triple-positive that you’re attributing the right opinion to the right person
  2. Reiterate the primary purpose of the passage’s author
  3. Determine whether the other author would agree or disagree
  4. Look at the answers: if the authors would agree, cross out all negative answers; if the authors would disagree, cross out all positive answers
  5. Check the remaining answers against the passage, focusing on the most specific part of each answer

The more you focus on the basic setup of each passage, and the differences between them, the better you’ll do. To answer the relationship questions, all you need is the primary purpose of each passage.

Let’s say author 1 is a “dolphins are smart” guy, and Author 2 is a “dolphin intelligence overrated” guy. If you’re asked what Author 2 thinks about Author 1’s evidence that dolphins are smart, what do you think he’d say? “Stinks.” Now go in and eliminate the answers that don’t say that. Ninety percent of the time, this is all the information that you’ll need!

Example 1
Passage A 
          As university researchers working in a “gift economy” dedicated to collegial sharing of ideas, we have long been insulated from market pressures. The recent tendency to treat research findings as commodities, tradable for cash, threatens this tradition and the role of research as a public good. The nurseries for new ideas are traditionally universities, which provide an environment uniquely suited to the painstaking testing and revision of theories. Unfortunately, the market process and values governing commodity exchange are ill suited to the cultivation and management of new ideas. With their shareholders impatient for quick returns, businesses are averse to wide-ranging experimentation. And, what is even more important, few commercial enterprises contain the range of expertise needed to handle the replacement of shattered theoretical frameworks. Further, since entrepreneurs usually have little affinity for adventure of the intellectual sort, they can buy research and bury its products, hiding knowledge useful to society or to their competitors. The growth of industrial biotechnology, for example, has been accompanied by a reduction in the free sharing of research methods and results—a high price to pay for the undoubted benefits of new drugs and therapies. Important new experimental results once led university scientists to rush down the hall and share their excitement with colleagues. When instead the rush is to patent lawyers and venture capitalists, I worry about the long-term future of scientific discovery.

Passage B
           The fruits of pure science were once considered primarily a public good, available for society as a whole. The argument for this view was that most of these benefits were produced through government support of universities, and thus no individual was entitled to restrict access to them. Today, however, the critical role of science in the modern “information economy” means that what was previously seen as a public good is being transformed into a market commodity. For example, by exploiting the information that basic research has accumulated about the detailed structures of cells and genes, the biotechnology industry can derive profitable pharmaceuticals or medical screening technologies. In this context, assertion of legal claims to “intellectual property”—not just in commercial products but in the underlying scientific knowledge becomes crucial. Previously, the distinction between a scientific “discovery” (which could not be patented) and a technical “invention” (which could) defined the limits of industry’s ability to patent something. Today, however, the speed with which scientific discoveries can be turned into products and the large profits resulting from this transformation have led to a blurring of both the legal distinction between discovery and invention and the moral distinction between what should and should not be patented. Industry argues that if it has supported—either in its own laboratories or in a university—the makers of a scientific discovery, then it is entitled to seek a return on its investment, either by charging others for using the discovery or by keeping it for its own exclusive use.

1. Which one of the following is discussed in Passage B but not in Passage A?
The blurring of the legal distinction between discovery and invention
The general effects of the market on the exchange of scientific knowledge
The role of scientific research in supplying public goods
New pharmaceuticals that result from industrial research

2. Both passages place in opposition the members of which one of the following pairs?
Commercially successful research and commercially unsuccessful research
Research methods and research results
A marketable commodity and a public good
A discovery and an invention

3. Both passages refer to which one of the following?
Theoretical frameworks
Venture capitalists
Physics and chemistry
Industrial biotechnology

4. It can be inferred from the passages that the authors believe that the increased constraint on access to scientific information and ideas arises from
the enormous increase in the volume of scientific knowledge that is being generated
the desire of individual researchers to receive credit for their discoveries
the striving of commercial enterprises to gain a competitive advantage in the market
moral reservations about the social impact of some scientific research

5. Which one of the following statements is most strongly supported by both passages?
Many scientific researchers who previously worked in universities have begun to work in the biotechnology industry.
Private biotechnology companies have invalidly patented the basic research findings of university researchers.
Because of the nature of current scientific research, patent authorities no longer consider the distinction between discoveries and inventions to be clear-cut.
In the past, scientists working in industry had free access to the results of basic research conducted in universities.

Passage 1:
Opinion with explanation, examples, consequences. Treating research findings as commodities threatens research as a public good.
Passage 2:
Objective discussion. Explanation of change in treatment of research findings.
How do the two passages relate to each other;
Passage A makes a strongly opinionated argument, and Passage B gives mostly objective information that seems to inform that argument. They present similar sorts of examples.

1. This is a time-consuming sort of question.
So if we have a feeling that A is correct, it might be worth taking a moment to confirm. The blurring of the legal distinction between “discovery and invention” is discussed in Passage B but not in Passage A. This is the correct answer.
Passage A discusses treating “research findings as commodities” and “the market process” as threats. In fact, most of Passage A is about the negative effects of this shift. Passage B documents the shift, too, and highlights the changes that have resulted
Both passages discuss scientific research as a public good, but not as supplying public goods.
Passage A discusses “new drugs and therapies” while Passage B mentions “pharmaceuticals” resulting from industrial biotechnology.

2. We can expect this to be about the tension between for-profit companies and not-for-profit institutions.
Comparison trap! The issue here is commercial vs. noncommercial, not commercially successful vs. commercially unsuccessful.
Specific research methods are not discussed in either passage.
This is what both passages are all about. This is the correct answer.
The legal distinction between discoveries and inventions is discussed in Passage B but not in Passage A. This is a half scope answer!

3. Uh-oh, another comparison question - tough to paraphrase, and, looking at the answer choices, the correct answer may be about a small detail.
Passage B never mentions theoretical frameworks.
Passage B never mentions venture capitalists.
While biotechnology is mentioned in both passages, there is no specific mention of physics or chemistry.
Both passages specifically refer to biotechnology undertaken by industry. This is the correct answer

4. This can be paraphrased: something about business interests.
These seem way off, especially since they each refer to something not discussed in either reading.
These also seem off, since they each refer to something not discussed in either reading.
Similar to our paraphrase and well supported by the text. This is the correct answer.
Watch out! Passage B discusses a “moral distinction between what should and should not be patented,” but neither passage gets into “moral reservations about the social impact of scientific research.”

5. This is a very general question! Perhaps this answer is something about the main topic – industry vs. public research - but it seems like it might be a minor point of agreement.
There is no direct reference made to researchers switching jobs in either passage.
Neither passage discusses invalidly patenting research findings.
Half scope. Passage A never mentions the distinction between discovery and invention.
This is mentioned throughout Passage A and the first paragraph of Passage B. This is the correct answer.