SAT Reading Comprehension Question Type: Direct Reference

In the previous installments, we took apart a reading comprehension passage. The passage is of medium length, and you will usually get a couple of these on the SAT. Typically, passages of this length have no more than six questions. As this is a tutorial of sorts, I’ve decided to milk the passage for ten questions. My aim is to go through a variety of different question types, so I will need to go over the usual limit of six.


Direct Reference

This question type will direct you to a specific part of the passage. In this case, the first paragraph. A direct reference should not be confused with a line reference question, which gives you the specific lines. The method for both questions, however, is similar. With the question below, we want to read the first paragraph, keeping in mind the question.

Once we read the passage we want to answer the question ourselves. That’s right – do not dive straight into the answer choices thinking they will offer salvation. The answer choices are meant to trick you and corrupt your interpretation of the passage. Next thing you know, you imagine the passage is saying completely different from your mini-narrative.

Once you have an answer match with answer choice. Good luck!

I recently dug up a photograph of myself from freshman year of college that made me smile. I have on the wrong shoes, the wrong socks, the wrong checkered shirt tucked the wrong way into the wrong slacks. I look like what I was: a boy sprung from a middlebrow burg who affected a secondhand preppiness. I look nervous. Compare that image to one from my senior-class dinner: now I am attired in a gray tweed jacket with a green plaid bow tie and a sensible button-down shirt, all purchased at the Yale Co-op. I look confident, and more than a bit contrived.

What happened in between those two photographs is that I experienced, then overcame, what the poet Meena Alexander has called “the shock of arrival.” When I was deposited at the wrought-iron gates of my residential college as a freshman, I felt more like an outsider than I’d thought possible. It wasn’t just that I was a small Chinese boy standing at a grand WASP temple; nor simply that I was a hayseed neophyte puzzled by the refinements of college style. It was both: color and class were all twisted together in a double helix of felt inadequacy.

For a while I coped with the shock by retreating to a group of my own kind—not follow Asians, but fellow marginal public school grads who resented the rah-rah Yalies to whom everything came effortlessly. Aligning myself this way was bearable—I was hiding, but at least I could place myself in a long tradition of underdog exiles at Yale. Aligning myself by race, on the other hand, would have seemed too inhibiting.

I know this doesn’t make much sense. I know also that college, in the multicultural era, is supposed to be where the deracinated minority youth discovers the “person of color” inside. To a point, I did. I studied Chinese, took an Asian American history course, a seminar on race politics. But ultimately, college was where the unconscious habits of my adolescent assimilation hardened into self-conscious strategy.


1. In the first paragraph, the change the author observes in his former self can best be described as one from

(A)  uncertainty to despair

(B)  confidence to conformity

(C)  insipidity to mediocrity

(D) awkwardness to poise

(E)  immaturity to jadedness


Explanation: In the first paragraph the author is looking at two pictures – one of himself as a freshman at Yale, the other as a senior. As a freshman he is wearing, “the wrong socks…shirt…slacks.” He notes that he is nervous, aware that he doesn’t fit in.  In the senior photo he is wearing – with confidence – a suit and shirt bought from the Yale store.

Answer (D) awkwardness to poise best captures this transition. (E) is in wrong because the jadedness is too extreme. To be jaded is to be bored from something that you’ve had too much of. (C) mediocre doesn’t work either, because he is focused on his dress, and how his dress shows that he has gone from this awkward, out-of-place freshman, to one who fits in to the Yale mold by wearing the “right” clothes.



  • Chris Lele

    Chris Lele is the Principal Curriculum Manager (and vocabulary wizard) at Magoosh. Chris graduated from UCLA with a BA in Psychology and has 20 years of experience in the test prep industry. He's been quoted as a subject expert in many publications, including US News, GMAC, and Business Because. In his time at Magoosh, Chris has taught countless students how to tackle the GRE, GMAT, SAT, ACT, MCAT (CARS), and LSAT exams with confidence. Some of his students have even gone on to get near-perfect scores. You can find Chris on YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook!

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