GMATPrep Reading Comp: Tackling a History Passage – Part 3

by on April 14th, 2017

Book with glassesIn the first installment of this series, we examined a History RC passage from the GMATPrep® free exams. If you’re just starting, go through part 1 and part 2 first, then come back to this one.

Feel free to do all three questions (one per installment) in a block for the passage.

Here are the passage and the third 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.”

“The passage is primarily concerned with evaluating

“(A) the importance of Florence Nightingale’s innovations in the field of nursing

“(B) contrasting approaches to the writing of historical biography

“(C) contradictory accounts of Florence Nightingale’s historical significance

“(D) the quality of health care in nineteenth century England

“(E) the effect of the Crimean War on developments in the field of health care”

First, what kind of question is this one?

The primarily concerned with language signals a Primary Purpose question. They want to know what the main idea is.

Glance at your Map. Here’s mine:

SK 416 - image 1Use that to jog your memory. Briefly re-articulate the main story to yourself.

People differ on FN’s importance. Summers thinks FN wasn’t as important as she was / is made out to be. The editors think FN was really important. The author agrees that FN was important.

Okay, which answer choice matches your idea?

“(A) the importance of Florence Nightingale’s innovations in the field of nursing”

Some of the people in the passage thought her innovations were really important—but Summers didn’t think so. And that contrast or disagreement was really the main message, so this can’t be the main idea. Eliminate (A).

“(B) contrasting approaches to the writing of historical biography”

The word contrasting is good. What about the rest? Summers does seem to have written a biography on FN. But the editors in the second paragraph just edited a volume of FN’s letters. That’s not the same as writing a biography of someone.

Also, the contrast isn’t about how these different people wrote about FN. The contrast is that they had fundamentally different conclusions about FN’s ultimate contributions and importance. This one is a tempting trap—but it’s still a trap. Eliminate (B).

“(C) contradictory accounts of Florence Nightingale’s historical significance”

Contradictory is a good word for this passage. There are definitely contradictory opinions at play. And the contradiction was around how important or significant FN was. This one is looking pretty good—leave it in.

“(D) the quality of health care in nineteenth century England”

While the passage does talk about health care in that time frame, this choice doesn’t mention FN or the contrasting opinions about her importance. This choice is too broad to be the main point of the passage. Eliminate (D).

“(E) the effect of the Crimean War on developments in the field of health care”

The passage does mention the Crimean War, but it’s mostly only in the first paragraph. Summers uses the war to talk about FN’s importance. The 2nd and 3rd paragraphs talk about lots of other examples that took place at different times, with a focus on FN, so the war alone is not the main idea. Eliminate (E).

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. On main idea (Primary Purpose) questions, your simple story and passage map should be enough to get you to your answer. Watch out for traps that involve going too broad (like answer D above) or too narrow (like answer E above). Also watch out for a “mix-up” type answer, where they use words that sound good (like contrasting in answer B) but they mix it up with other stuff that wasn’t actually what the passage said.

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

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