How confident are you in your SAT critical reading skills? This passage may not be the most exciting thing to read, but that’ll be true on your SAT, too—that’s not the point! Your goal is to understand the structure, function, and implication of the information you’re given. Take some notes, and don’t forget to refer back to the passage when answering the questions.
For many years before the publication of his seminal work On the Origin of Species in 1859, Charles Darwin had a nascent but growing understanding of the concept which he would eventually call “natural selection.” In fact, his first notes on the theory date back as far as 1839. There are several reasons why it took a full twenty years to publish his work, including no small amount of anticipated opposition from his contemporaries, but it seems there is a clear reason as to why he did eventually take the plunge. Only one year before Darwin’s manuscript was sent out to be published, Alfred Russel Wallace sent to Darwin a paper describing his own theory of natural selection.
Darwin was well aware of the implications that his theories might bring to the scientific conversation at the time, so he was understandably hesitant to publish before he had gathered sufficient data to support his controversial notions. Rather than act too soon, he built the foundations of his essays slowly while writing primarily on geology, from which he made his living.
However, his motivation to publish became much more pressing in 1858. Although Darwin had been in in contact with Wallace before, when he received Wallace’s paper detailing natural selection, Darwin was surprised at having been “forestalled.”
The initial action he took was fair and courteous; both Darwin’s and Wallace’s work were published in a joint essay titled “On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection.” But following that, he wasted little time in preparing his book for the press, and the result of that is clear. To this day, Darwin’s name is nearly synonymous with natural selection; Wallace, meanwhile, has faded into obscurity.
1. The author’s purpose is primarily to
- argue against the theories presented in the book On the Origin of Species
- present two opposing theories of natural selection formulated by contemporaries
- explain Darwin’s motivations for publishing his theories after a long period of hesitance
- detail the evidence of Charles Darwin’s theories gathered through two decades of studies
- summarize a series of communications made between two like-minded researchers
2. The word “nascent” (line 2) most nearly means
3. It can be inferred from the third paragraph that Darwin
- had anticipated a contemporary researcher publishing work similar to his own
- desired to be first in publishing theories on natural selection
- was unwilling to publish work which he believed would be rejected
- had not begun writing On the Origin of Species upon receiving Wallace’s essay
- suspected Wallace had plagiarized his theories on species’ mutations
Just to make sure you don’t accidentally see the answers before trying the questions, I’ll give you the key in the form of a simple riddle: If you’re standing on the street in New York City and you want to go somewhere, who do you flag down?
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About Lucas Fink
Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.
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