New SAT Reading Practice Test 24: A Study in Scarlet

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A Study in Scarlet

This passage is adapted from A Study in Scarlet, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's first story in his acclaimed Sherlock Holmes series. In this excerpt the narrator, Dr. Watson, observes Mr. Holmes, with whom he has recently entered into a shared housing arrangement, although he knows very little about this new roommate as of yet.

As the weeks went by, my interest in him and my
curiosity as to his aims in life gradually deepened
and increased. His very person and appearance
were such as to strike the attention of the most
05casual observer. In height he was rather over six
feet, and so excessively lean that he seemed to be
considerably taller. His eyes were sharp and pierc-
ing, save during those intervals of torpor to which I
have alluded; and his thin, hawk-like nose gave his
10whole expression an air of alertness and decision.
His chin, too, had the prominence and squareness
which mark the man of determination. His hands
were invariably blotted with ink and stained with
chemicals, yet he was possessed of extraordinary
15delicacy of touch, as I frequently had occasion to
observe when I watched him manipulating his
fragile philosophical instruments.…
He was not studying medicine. He had him-
self, in reply to a question, confirmed Stamford's1
20opinion upon that point. Neither did he appear to
have pursued any course of reading which might fit
him for a degree in science or any other recognized
portal which would give him an entrance into the
learned world. Yet his zeal for certain studies was
25remarkable, and within eccentric limits his knowl-
edge was so extraordinarily ample and minute that
his observations have fairly astounded me. Surely
no man would work so hard or attain such precise
information unless he had some definite end in
30view. Desultory readers are seldom remarkable for
the exactness of their learning. No man burdens his
mind with small matters unless he has some very
good reason for doing so.
His ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge.
35Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics
he appeared to know next to nothing. Upon my quot-
ing Thomas Carlyle,2 he inquired in the na?vest way
who he might be and what he had done. My surprise
reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally
40that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and
of the composition of the solar system. That any civi-
lized human being in this nineteenth century should
not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun
appeared to be to me such an extraordinary fact that I
45could hardly realize it.
You appear to be astonished, he said, smiling at
my expression of surprise. "Now that I do know it
I shall do my best to forget it."
To forget it!
50You see, he explained, "I consider that a man's
brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you
have to stock it with such furniture as you choose.
A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he
comes across, so that the knowledge which might
55be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is
jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he
has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now
the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to
what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have
60nothing but the tools which may help him in doing
his work, but of these he has a large assortment,
and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to
think that that little room has elastic walls and can
distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes
65a time when for every addition of knowledge you
forget something that you knew before. It is of the
highest importance, therefore, not to have useless
facts elbowing out the useful ones."
But the solar system! I protested.
70What the deuce is it to me?


1Stamford is the mutual acquaintance who introduced Dr. Watson to Mr. Holmes. In a previous scene he told Watson that Holmes was not a medical student.

2Thomas Carlyle was an influential writer and philosopher whose work was well known at the time of this novel's publication.

1. According to the passage, as time passes, Watson finds Holmes

  • A. increasingly intriguing.
  • B. frequently irritating.
  • C. somewhat snobby.
  • D. occasionally generous.

2. As used in line 5, "casual" most nearly means

  • A. careless.
  • B. comfortable.
  • C. relaxed.
  • D. occasional.

3. The passage most strongly suggests that which of the following is true of Holmes?

  • A. He tried, but failed, to become a doctor.
  • B. He was an excellent student at the university.
  • C. He studies things he is passionate about.
  • D. He is considered an expert in philosophy.

4. Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?

  • A. Lines 12-17 ("His hands were … instruments")
  • B. Lines 18-20 ("He was not … that point")
  • C. Lines 24-27 ("Yet his … astounded me")
  • D. Lines 27-30 ("Surely no man … in view")

5. What central idea does the passage communicate about Sherlock Holmes?

  • A. He is very secretive and hard to understand.
  • B. He is an excellent companion to Watson.
  • C. He is highly regarded by his peers.
  • D. He is an unusual and extraordinary man.

6. The passage most strongly suggests that Holmes believes which of the following about learning?

  • A. People should study broadly to know something about everything.
  • B. Philosophy is not a valid field of study to pursue.
  • C. The brain is limited in capacity, so you should prioritize what you learn.
  • D. Studying the solar system is unimportant.

7. Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?

  • A. Line 34 ("His ignorance … his knowledge")
  • B. Lines 35-36 ("Of contemporary … nothing")
  • C. Lines 41-45 ("That any … realize it")
  • D. Lines 66-68 ("It is of the … ones")

8. As used in line 8, "torpor" most nearly means

  • A. agitation.
  • B. sluggishness.
  • C. alertness.
  • D. illness.

9. The comparison of the brain to an "attic" is used to

  • A. demonstrate Holmes's unique views on how a person should make use of knowledge.
  • B. illustrate Watson's combative nature.
  • C. provide an alternate explanation for why Holmes doesn't know about Copernicus.
  • D. resolve the conflict between Watson and Holmes.

10. The decision to tell the story from Watson's point of view suggests that the author

  • A. wants the reader to dislike Holmes.
  • B. needed a sympathetic narrator.
  • C. will focus the rest of the story on Watson's actions.
  • D. hopes the reader will share Watson's curiosity about Holmes.