GMATPrep Reading Comp: Tackling a History Passage – Part 4

by on April 22nd, 2017

Book with glassesAre you ready for your fourth question? We’ve been examining a History RC passage from the GMATPrep® free exams. If you’re just starting, go through the earlier installments first, then come back to this one—and feel free to do all four questions (one per installment) in a block for the passage. (Take some screen shots or set up separate browser tabs so that you can cycle through them all efficiently.)

Here are the passage and the fourth problem. Good luck!

“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.”

“With which of the following statements regarding the differing interpretations of Nightingale’s importance would the author most likely agree?

“(A) Summers misunderstood both the importance of Nightingale’s achievements during the Crimean War and her subsequent influence on British policy.

“(B) The editors of Nightingale’s letters made some valid points about her practical achievements, but they still exaggerated her influence on subsequent generations.

“(C) Although Summers’ account of Nightingale’s role in the Crimean War may be accurate, she ignored evidence of Nightingale’s subsequent achievement that suggests that her reputation as an eminent social reformer is well deserved.

“(D) The editors of Nightingale’s letters mistakenly propagated the outdated idealization of Nightingale that only impedes attempts to arrive at a balanced assessment of her true role.

“(E) The evidence of Nightingale’s letters supports Summers’ conclusion both about Nightingale’s activities and about her influence.”

First, what kind of question is this one?

It asks us to find an answer with which the author [would] most likely agree. You can think of this as a sort of mix of Primary Purpose (main idea) and Specific Detail. The answer should go along with the main idea (since the main idea is the author’s idea) but you’ll likely have to get more into the detail than that. The specific wording of the question stem will tell you what kind of detail you need to examine.

In this case, the question talks about the differing interpretations of Nightingale’s importance. Glance at your Map, with an eye toward reminding yourself about each of those interpretations and what the author thought about them. Here’s my Map:

SK 416 - image 1

Use that to jog your memory.

Summers is not a fan of FN.

But the editors are.

The author mostly goes along with the editors, though she does acknowledge that Summers may have had a point.

This would be a good time to go back into the text of the third paragraph to clarify exactly what the author thought.

“I believe that the evidence of her letters supports continued respect for Nightingale’s brilliance and creativity. [skimming….examples…skimming] 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.”

So the author acknowledges that Summers might be right that FN’s accomplishments during the Crimean War might have been somewhat exaggerated, but overall the author thinks that FN did some amazing things and her reputation is justified.

Okay, which answer choice matches that idea?

“(A) Summers misunderstood both the importance of Nightingale’s achievements during the Crimean War and her subsequent influence on British policy.”

The author does seem to think that Summers’ position about FN’s overall influence on British policy is not correct. However, the author also acknowledges that Summers might have a point about the importance of FN’s achievements during the Crimean War—not that Summers misunderstood that part. Eliminate (A).

“(B) The editors of Nightingale’s letters made some valid points about her practical achievements, but they still exaggerated her influence on subsequent generations.”

The author mostly agrees with the editors. She doesn’t say that they exaggerated anything. Rather, she acknowledges that Summers viewpoint (that Nightingale’s importance during the Crimean War has been exaggerated) may be valid. Eliminate (B).

“(C) Although Summers’ account of Nightingale’s role in the Crimean War may be accurate, she ignored evidence of Nightingale’s subsequent achievement that suggests that her reputation as an eminent social reformer is well deserved.”

The first part of this matches what we said: the author acknowledges that Summers’ view of FN’s role in the Crimean War may be valid. The second part might be good, too, as it does criticize Summers for not giving FN more credit for other things.

The words she ignored evidence are pretty strong, though—so double check paragraph 3. The author begins by praising the evidence of the letters (discussed in paragraph 2—ie, not Summers’ evidence). The passage doesn’t indicate that Summers addresses this evidence, so perhaps ignored could be acceptable.

Leave this in—but if something else exists that doesn’t have this kind of possible objection, that other choice might be better.

“(D) The editors of Nightingale’s letters mistakenly propagated the outdated idealization of Nightingale that only impedes attempts to arrive at a balanced assessment of her true role.”

This choice says that the editors have a faulty view of FN, but that’s not what the author thinks. The author generally agrees with what the editors said. Eliminate (D).

“(E) The evidence of Nightingale’s letters supports Summers’ conclusion both about Nightingale’s activities and about her influence.”

The editors argue that the letters do not support Summers’ conclusion—and the author generally agrees with the editors. In other words, the author does not think that the letters support Summers’ point of view. Eliminate (E).

Everything else has been eliminated, so the correct answer is (C).

Make sure to check back for the next installment in this series.

Key Takeaways for RC

(1) Follow the process. Don’t skip steps! That’s how mistakes creep in.

(2) On your read-through, go for the big ideas and the main contrasts or twists. Don’t get sucked into annoying detail. Jot down an abbreviated Map to help you navigate the passage later, when you’re answering questions. By the time you’re done, you will (hopefully!) be able to articulate the Simple Story of the passage.

(3) Know what kind of question type you have, as each type is asking you to perform a different kind of analysis. Occasionally, you’ll see a question like this one—something that asks what the author would most likely agree with. Keep an eye out for two things. First, the correct answer has to go along with the author’s overall point or position, so remind yourself what that is. Second, the passage will have some kind of twists with respect to that overall position—otherwise, the question would be too easy. Dive into the detail enough to make sure that you know what the author thinks as well as what the author does not think, so you can avoid the trap answers.

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

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