GMATPrep Reading Comp: Tackling a History Passage – Part 2

by on April 6th, 2017

Book with glassesIn the first installment of this series, we deconstructed a history-based Reading Comprehension passage from the GMATPrep® free question set. I gave you the full passage plus one problem. Today, I have the second problem for you.

Here is the passage again, plus the problem. (Note: if you haven’t read part 1 yet, I recommend going back there first. If you’d like to do both problems in a row, feel free.)

“Two recent publications offer different assessments of the career of the famous British nurse Florence Nightingale. A book by Anne Summers seeks to debunk the idealizations and present a reality at odds with Nightingale’s heroic reputation. According to Summers, Nightingale’s importance during the Crimean War has been exaggerated: not until near the war’s end did she become supervisor of the female nurses. Additionally, Summers writes that the contribution of the nurses to the relief of the wounded was at best marginal. The prevailing problems of military medicine were caused by army organizational practices, and the addition of a few nurses to the medical staff could be no more than symbolic. Nightingale’s place in the national pantheon, Summers asserts, is largely due to the propagandistic efforts of contemporary newspaper reporters.

“By contrast, the editors of the new volume of Nightingale’s letters view Nightingale as a person who significantly influenced not only her own age but also subsequent generations. They highlight her ongoing efforts to reform sanitary conditions after the war. For example, when she learned that peacetime living conditions in British barracks were so horrible that the death rate of enlisted men far exceeded that of neighboring civilian populations, she succeeded in persuading the government to establish a Royal Commission on the Health of the Army. She used sums raised through public contributions to found a nurse’s training hospital in London. Even in administrative matters, the editors assert, her practical intelligence was formidable: as recently as 1947 the British Army’s medical services were still using the cost-accounting system she devised in the 1860s.

“I believe that the evidence of her letters supports continued respect for Nightingale’s brilliance and creativity. When counseling a village schoolmaster to encourage children to use their faculties of observation, she sounds like a modern educator. Her insistence on classifying the problems of the needy in order to devise appropriate treatments is similar to the approach of modern social workers. In sum, although Nightingale may not have achieved all of her goals during the Crimean War, her breadth of vision and ability to realize ambitious projects have earned her an eminent place among the ranks of social pioneers.”

“The passage suggests which of the following about Nightingale’s relationship with the British public of her day?

“(A) She was highly respected, her projects receiving popular and governmental support.

“(B) She encountered resistance both from the army establishment and the general public.

“(C) She was supported by the working classes and opposed by the wealthier classes.

“(D) She was supported by the military establishment but had to fight the governmental bureaucracy.

“(E) After initially being received with enthusiasm, she was quickly forgotten.”

Here’s my Map again:

SK 416 - image 1

And here’s my little mental summary of the story:

Summers thinks FN wasn’t so great and provides reasons why. The “editors” (whoever they are) disagree—they think FN had a great impact both in her time and in future times. And the author agrees with the second opinion: FN had a big impact both in her own time and later (though, the author acknowledges, Summers may have a small point and maybe some of FN’s achievements were exaggerated).

Okay, let’s answer this thing!

Step 1: Identify the Question

The word suggests in the question stem indicates that this is an Inference question. Remind yourself briefly what that means.

On Inference questions, we have to find something that we can definitely deduce from some information in the passage. This inference must be true (according to info from the passage).

Step 2: Find the Proof

Step 3: Predict the Answer

Nightingale is all over the passage, so we need to focus in on the other keywords: the British public of her day. Where does the passage talk about how Nightingale’s contemporaries felt about her?

It does this in multiple places. The first paragraph says that Nightingale has a heroic reputation. (Note: even though Summers argues that she doesn’t deserve that reputation, it’s still what people think—and thought in the past.) Summers also thinks Nightingale’s importance … has been exaggerated—so people thought she was really important.

The second paragraph says Nightingale significantly influenced … her own age. The other examples here talk about her persuading the government to do something and raising sums, so the government listened to her and people donated money for her to do things.

Despite the fact that Summers doesn’t think Nightingale deserves all this acclaim, it’s still the case that most people think—and thought, back then—that she did great things. So the correct answer should basically say that people thought Nightingale was great.

Step 4: Eliminate and Find a Match

“(A) She was highly respected, her projects receiving popular and governmental support.”

These are all good things; they match what we said above. Leave this one in.

“(B) She encountered resistance both from the army establishment and the general public.”

No, she didn’t. Summers doesn’t think Nightingale fully deserves her reputation, but the examples in the passage don’t indicate that anyone back then resisted what she wanted to do. Eliminate.

“(C) She was supported by the working classes and opposed by the wealthier classes.”

The passage doesn’t say that she was opposed by anyone, nor does it make any distinction between working classes and wealthier classes. Eliminate.

“(D) She was supported by the military establishment but had to fight the governmental bureaucracy.”

It does sound like the military supported her—but the government did, too (she succeeded in persuading the government…). Eliminate.

“(E) After initially being received with enthusiasm, she was quickly forgotten.”

She wasn’t forgotten at all! In fact, that’s Summers’ point: Summers thinks that Nightingale is too highly praised or remembered. Summers probably thinks that Nightingale should have been more forgotten. Eliminate.

The correct answer is (A).

In the third installment of this series, we’ll talk about the next problem in the set.

Key Takeaways for RC

(1) Map the passage and articulate the Simple Story to yourself.

(2) Use the Map and Story to figure out where to look in the passage for specific detail questions. Most of the time, the question will point you to one specific area of the passage. Sometimes, as on this problem, you’ll need to gather information from multiple parts of the passage.

(3) Inference questions ask you to deduce something that must be true from information given in the passage. Watch out for traps that try to get you to infer something that might plausibly be true but don’t have to be true according to the given information. Also look for traps that try to mix up the information in the passage. In this case, Summers doesn’t think Nightingale deserves her reputation—but the question asks about the opinion of the British public of Nightingale’s day, not Summers’ opinion.

* GMATPrep® questions courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council. Usage of this question does not imply endorsement by GMAC.

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