New SAT Reading Practice Test 83: Literary Standards

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An English professor and a Master of Fine Arts candidate share their thoughts on literary standards.

There is and must remain a standard by which good writing is measured and
acknowledged. Take a moment to consider the alternative, and you'll surely come to
agree with me. Without standard, anything and everything could be considered "literature."
More so, it would change from person to person and place to place based solely
05on the rudimentary preference of varied individuals. Without a clear idea of what is
meant by "literary," all writing is a chaotic mess of opinion and idiosyncratic interest
with genre romance being just as viable as those rare works of art that embody the
human experience, raise significant social and political questions, and remain in the
readers' minds long after the book is finished. Without measure, the?Twilight?series sits
10right next to the works of Toni Morrison.
Let us think about what makes important writing. Writing, like all great forms of
art, has the power to make us see the world more clearly. It is, when done effectively,
a carrier of history and truth, a script of humanity that can be felt. It is lasting, or as
Ezra Pound once remarked, "news that stays news." And it moves us. What I mean
15is that literature plays with the big questions, searches for the big things. It pursues
beauty, purpose, and meaning in an aesthetic way that arouses emotion. The canon is
acknowledged as superior and of artistic merit not because everyone likes reading the
stuff, but because it heightens our understanding of life and rattles our comfort levels.
In essence, reading literature makes us better humans, and certainly, not all writing
20can do that. To say that writing cannot be measured or that there is not a clear standard
is absurd. While you may not like everything deemed "literary," it surely has the
power to make you think and feel and wonder. It is this exploration of universal truths
that intensifies our understanding of humanity and stirs something deep within us
that makes literature. While you may laugh or cry or shout while reading Harry Potter,
25that in itself cannot classify it as one of the greats.

I used to revel at my anxiety after turning in an assignment in my first years of my
Creative Writing degree. One moment, I was quite sure that my work was genius. And
another, I was the most dim-witted simpleton to ever put pen to paper. I had absolutely
no idea whether my fiction would come back with an "A" or an "F" stamped on
30it—no clue how the professor might decide between the two. Often, I'd pull decent
grades, but moan aloud when the instructor picked out my very favorite sentence—the
one that was going to mark me the next Vonnegut or Kerouac—and crossed it out in
red ink. Rethink this she'd scribble underneath. It took me two years and the onset of
carpal tunnel to realize that there is no real way to know what's good, and that what's
35good is entirely subjective.
To test my theory, I submitted a few poems from previous semesters (highly
frowned upon by the university, but necessary for my experiment) in hopes of getting
a second opinion. I found that my grades varied only imperceptibly, but more interestingly,
instructor feedback bordered on polarity. And so, I realized there is no true
40standard of measurement for writing, not creative writing at least. Once you venture
past the "thesis statement" and "logical reasoning" and "coherent organization" of the
purely academic writing, the concession on what is good is really nonexistent.
Sure, we might be able to agree that something particularly terrible is just that,
and we might be able to nod our heads to a piece that is particularly brilliant and say
45that, at the very least, it isn't terrible. But overall, many will adore language that others
detest, and some will gasp appreciatively at a metaphor that makes the masses vomit.
I find enchanting what you find dull, and so it goes. And Mary Wright (fall semester)
will find the same image "ineffective," which Tobias Dalton (spring semester) calls
"delightful and provocative." And so I say, to each their own. What is thoughtful, good,
50and stirring is without impartiality, contingent not only on the reader, but the reader's
mood, location, and even on what the reader has recently read. Therefore, write what
you will and read what you wish, and if you like it, then declare with authority that it is
indeed exceptional.

1. How would the author of Passage 1 most likely respond to someone who contended that the quality of literature is directly related to the intensity of the reader's emotional response?

  • A. Agree with it wholeheartedly.
  • B. Argue that a more precise standard is needed.
  • C. Dismiss the statement outright.
  • D. Argue that emotions are irrelevant to literary analysis.

2. Which option gives the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?

  • A. Lines 4-5 ("More so . . . individuals")
  • B. Lines 11-12 ("Let us . . . clearly")
  • C. Lines 20-21 ("To say . . . absurd")
  • D. Lines 24-25 ("While . . . greats")

3. To what idea does the word "alternative" (line 2) most likely refer?

  • A. Aesthetic beauty
  • B. Artistic interpretation
  • C. Literary relativism
  • D. Linguistic impartiality

4. As used in line 17, the word "merit" most closely means

  • A. quality.
  • B. literature.
  • C. artwork.
  • D. honesty.

5. Which of the following, if true, would present the greatest challenge to the argument of Passage 2?

  • A. Some people adore Shakespeare, while others do not care for his work.
  • B. Well-trained literary minds are able to use more sophisticated language to give their views on the quality of different texts.
  • C. American book readership has steadily declined in the past three decades.
  • D. The writer's academic evaluators graded in a hurried, haphazard way.

6. Lines 40-42 ("Once . . . nonexistent.") serve to acknowledge that the author of Passage 2 believes that

  • A. writing for scholarly journals is like other literary forms in the randomness of its quality.
  • B. there are at least some writing qualities that in certain contexts are more objective.
  • C. those who have confidence in scientific objectivity need only review literature to see the error of their ways.
  • D. there are three key components to a high-quality piece of writing.

7. The author of Passage 2 would contend that she would be more likely to receive a better grade from a certain instructor if he or she

  • A. happened to be in a pleasant mood and nice setting while grading.
  • B. had rigorous training by reviewing past student essays on the topic.
  • C. received positive feedback on the fairness of his or her grading from past students.
  • D. was well-versed in the different types of rubrics that could be used for evaluation.

8. Which option gives the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?

  • A. Lines 27-28 ("One . . . paper")
  • B. Lines 30-33 ("Often . . . underneath")
  • C. Lines 43-45 ("Sure . . . terrible")
  • D. Lines 49-51 ("What . . . read")

9. As used in line 50, the word "contingent" most closely means

  • A. grouped.
  • B. dependent.
  • C. random.
  • D. disappointed.

10. The authors of both passages would most likely agree with which of the following statements?

  • A. The root of literary quality is whether it can express timeless truths.
  • B. We should agree to disagree on whether literary quality is a fact or opinion.
  • C. We can certainly agree that there are some literary works that are horrible.
  • D. Interest in high-quality literature has made significant progress in recent years.

11. Which option best expresses the overall relationship between the two passages?

  • A. Passage 1 argues for the existence of literary objectivity, while Passage 2 argues for the opposite.
  • B. Passage 1 asserts the primacy of reading literature, while Passage 2 asserts that writing is the only gateway to understanding.
  • C. Passage 1 contends that good literature makes readers uncomfortable, while Passage 2 contends that good literature is what is most popular.
  • D. Passage 1 focuses on the "great books," whereas Passage 2 focuses on excellence in poetic expression.