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:
- Read the first passage
- Answer any questions that have to do with the first passage only
- Read the second passage
- Answer any questions that have to do with the second passage only
- Answer all the remaining questions
Every paired passage follows the same basic format. The authors either:
A. Disagree about something
B. Agree on something, but don’t agree on its cause or effects
C. 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 c2.com, 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.
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:
- 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
- Reiterate the primary purpose of the passage’s author
- Determine whether the other author would agree or disagree
- Look at the answers: if the authors would agree, cross out all negative answers; if the authors would disagree, cross out all positive answers
- 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!