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TOEFL Reading Practice Set 2 – Answers and Discussion

Insert Text Question

In this post, we’ll look at the answers to the second reading practice set. We’re dealing with higher-level, critical thinking-type questions on the topic of American government.  To review these question types, check out more about the TOEFL Reading Section and TOEFL Reading Comprehension Questions.

Read the following excerpt from an American government textbook and answer the questions that follow.

In just this past month, several of the Constitution’s “stupidities” have been revealed. Chief among these is the electoral college. Not only does this feature make it possible to deny the presidency to the candidate who wins the popular vote, it also gives a significant advantage to small states, each of which is guaranteed at least three electoral votes. This means that a candidate gets significantly more benefit from carrying, say, Wyoming and the two Dakotas, which a total of nine electoral votes, than New Mexico, which has roughly the same population as the three states  combined but only five electoral votes. • The electoral college, and the disproportionate power it gives to small states, has rightly been put under the microscope. But a number of other flawed constitutional features also deserve closer scrutiny and discussion.

[The House’s ability to pick a president in case of a tie] is my choice for the most dubious feature of the Constitution. It provides that deadlocks over the choice of president in the electoral college may be broken by the U.S. House of Representatives on a one-state, one-vote basis. Although this hasn’t happened since 1824, when the House picked John Quincy Adams as president over Andrew Jackson, it loomed as a possibility in 1938 and 1968 , when third-party presidential candidates in those years each won more than 20 votes. •Even if you believe that the electoral college is a good idea, and that the advantage held there by small states is defensible, there is no defense, in 2000, for allowing Vermont’s single representative to offset the entire 30-member congressional delegation of my home state of Texas in the instance of a House vote for president.

If the House ever has to select the president—provided we retain the electoral college and accept its risk of deadlocks—then it should do so on a one-member, one-vote basis, the theory of representation that the Supreme Court has endorsed now for almost 40 years. As it happens, if this year’s election had come down to the House’s choosing, it probably would not have mattered which rule we had, since the Republicans can hold a majority of individual seats and control 29 of the state delegations. Consider the situation, though, if only half a dozen congressional districts had gone Democrat instead of Republican, giving the Democrats control of the House. • In that case, if the election had come to the House, Gore—the choice of the people as well [as] a majority of the people’s representatives—could have been deprived of the presidency due to the happenstance that the Republicans control most state delegations.

Source: Barbour, Christine and Matthew J. Streb, Ed. Clued in to Politics: A Critical Thinking Reader in American Government, 3rd Ed. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2010. pp.44-45.

 

Sentence Simplification Question

Which of the following best expresses the essential information in this sentence? If the House ever has to select the president—provided we retain the electoral college and accept its risk of deadlocks—then it should do so on a one-member, one-vote basis, the theory of representation that the Supreme Court has endorsed now for almost 40 years.

a) The House has never had to select the president.
b) Every member of the House of Representatives should receive one vote.
c) The Supreme Court should have the right to approve or disapprove the House’s choice of president.
d) Deadlocks are a frequent and inevitable part of the United States’ presidential election process.

The goal of this type of question is to be able to weed out unnecessary information. Let’s see what we can remove before we look at our answer choices. Information within parentheses or dashes is almost always non-essential, so we can go ahead and ignore that. Next I’m going to look for commas and read through anything they contain to see whether they contain essential information. “one-vote basis” seems to be essential, but the final clause is probably not; it’s simply adding more information about the one-member, one-vote system. Now that we’ve gotten rid of the clutter, I’ll restate the essential information in my own words. “If the House ever has to select a President, it should use the one-member, one-vote system.” B is the only answer choice that matches my summary.

 

Inference Question

What can be inferred about the author’s opinion of the electoral college?

a) The author thinks it is an unfair system.
b) The author supports the increase in influence that this system gives to small states.
c) The author believes that the United States should adopt the electoral college system.
d) The author has ambiguous feelings toward the electoral college system.

Right at the beginning, the author states that the electoral system is a “stupidity” of the Constitution. So immediately we can go through our answer choices and cross out any answers that are positive in connotation. This leaves us with just A and D. If you know the word “ambiguous”, then the correct answer should be clear. But if you don’t, then you’ll need to return to the text and look for specific examples to support or disprove the other answer choice. What clues do we have in the text that the author thinks the electoral college system is unfair? Check out paragraph 1. The electoral college system allows a candidate who did not receive the most support among the people (popular vote) to win, and it gives “disproportionate” (unfair) power to small states. So the correct answer is A.

 

Sentence Insertion Question

Look at the three circles that indicate where the following sentence could be added to the passage.

 The House does not often have to use its elective power, but the question of this power’s unfairness should be nonetheless a matter of great concern.

Where would the sentence best fit?

a) In just this past month, several of the Constitution’s “stupidities” have been revealed. Chief among these is the electoral college. Not only does this feature make it possible to deny the presidency to the candidate who wins the popular vote, it also gives a significant advantage to small states, each of which is guaranteed at least three electoral votes. This means that a candidate gets significantly more benefit from carrying, say, Wyoming and the two Dakotas, which a total of nine electoral votes, than New Mexico, which has roughly the same population as the three states  combined but only five electoral votes. The House does not often have to use its elective power, but the question of this power’s unfairness should be nonetheless a matter of great concern. The electoral college, and the disproportionate power it gives to small states, has rightly been put under the microscope. But a number of other flawed constitutional features also deserve closer scrutiny and discussion.

b) [The House’s ability to pick a president in case of a tie] is my choice for the most dubious feature of the Constitution. It provides that deadlocks over the choice of president in the electoral college may be broken by the U.S. House of Representatives on a one-state, one-vote basis. Although this hasn’t happened since 1824, when the House picked John Quincy Adams as president over Andrew Jackson, it loomed as a possibility in 1938 and 1968 , when third-party presidential candidates in those years each won more than 20 votes. The House does not often have to use its elective power, but the question of this power’s unfairness should be nonetheless a matter of great concern. Even if you believe that the electoral college is a good idea, and that the advantage held there by small states is defensible, there is no defense, in 2000, for allowing Vermont’s single representative to offset the entire 30-member congressional delegation of my home state of Texas in the instance of a House vote for president.

c) If the House ever has to select the president—provided we retain the electoral college and accept its risk of deadlocks—then it should do so on a one-member, one-vote basis, the theory of representation that the Supreme Court has endorsed now for almost 40 years. As it happens, if this year’s election had come down to the House’s choosing, it probably would not have mattered which rule we had, since the Republicans can hold a majority of individual seats and control 29 of the state delegations. Consider the situation, though, if only half a dozen congressional districts had gone Democrat instead of Republican, giving the Democrats control of the House. The House does not often have to use its elective power, but the question of this power’s unfairness should be nonetheless a matter of great concern. In that case, if the election had come to the House, Gore—the choice of the people as well [as] a majority of the people’s representatives—could have been deprived of the presidency due to the happenstance that the Republicans control most state delegations.

First of all, let’s find the keywords in the sentence we’re inserting. The sentence states that the House’s elective power is unfair. If we place the sentence in A, we encounter a problem: the House’s elective power has not yet been introduced. So A cannot be correct. In B, the new sentence is inserted between an explanation of the rule in question, and an argument over the rule’s indefensibility. So B seems like a good choice, but let’s continue to be sure. Paragraph C deals mostly with a particular election where a tiebreaker was almost needed. We are talking about a potentially unfair situation (from the perspective of the author), but the new sentence is inserted right in the middle of a historical example, disrupting the flow of the author’s argument.  So the correct answer is indeed B.

 

Rhetorical Purpose

Why does the author mention the Supreme Court in the bolded sentence in Paragraph 3?

a) To give an example of a progressive group that has implemented the change the author is discussing
b) To strengthen his argument by mentioning a powerful group that has shown support for it
c) To provide a counter-example to his argument
d) As an example of a group that successfully implemented the author’s recommendation 40 years ago

This question is a bit nasty—if you don’t know the word “endorsed,” then it’s difficult to pick the correct answer with 100% confidence. For now, ignore the answer choices. What is the author trying to do when he mentions the Supreme Court? He and the Supreme Court definitely seem to have the same theory of representation. We have no other information about the Supreme Court, but even with no outside knowledge, we can infer that it is a powerful group whose opinions are generally respected. The author is using their example to legitimize his opinion. Now let’s turn to the answer choices. Choice A describes the Supreme Court as progressive. This may or may not be true, but it’s definitely not mentioned in the article. Let’s go ahead and eliminate A. B seems very likely—it nearly matches the answer I came up with before. C is wrong because the Supreme Court agrees with him—they can’t provide a counter-example. And as for D, this is where it gets tricky. If endorse means “implement” (spoiler alert: it doesn’t), then D could be the correct answer. So I’m down to a 50% chance of picking the right answer. In the end, I’m going to pick B because it looks so similar to the answer I came up with on my own. And, indeed, B is correct.

 

Prose Summary

Below is an introductory sentence for a summary of the article you just read. Choose THREE ideas from the article that best support the most important ideas in the passage. Some sentences do not belong because they express minor ideas.

The way that the president is elected in the United States is in some ways unfair.

a)  Sometimes a presidential candidate does not win even though the majority of people support him/her.
b) If a presidential election ends in a tie, the House of Representatives must select a winner.
c) In 1938 a third-party candidate won more than twenty votes.
d) Vermont is a very small state, but in the case of a tie in an election, its vote is worth as much as that of a very large state.
e) 
The 2000 election was controversial, and the results could have been very different due to chance.

 By reading through the answer choices, I see that all of them are true and are mentioned in the article. My task, then, is to choose only the most important answer choices. A and B definitely seem important and closely related to the main idea. But C is a small detail, and therefore may not be important. Let’s go on before we eliminate it. D, again, is important to the idea of unfairness in elections. E is, once again, a detail. It is important, but not as important as A, B, and D, so those will be my choices.

 

Fill-In Table

Directions: Below are two main ideas from the passage. Fill in the supporting details by placing them under the appropriate heading. Two answer choices will not be used.

The electoral college system

  •  
  •  

The House’s selection of a President

  •  
  •  

Answer Choices:

a) Only happens in case of a tie
b) Gives each state the same number of votes.
c) Allows a third, non-competing party to choose the president
d) The winner of the election is always also the winner of the popular vote
e) Decided the winner of the 2000 presidential election
f) Almost was used to decide the winner of the 1968 presidential election

For this question, I will write a sentence from the article that tells me where each answer choice belongs.

A) [The House’s ability to pick a president in case of a tie] is my choice for the most dubious feature of the Constitution. – THE HOUSE’S SELECTION OF A PRESIDENT

B) It provides that deadlocks over the choice of president in the electoral college may be broken by the U.S. House of Representatives on a one-state, one-vote basis. – THE HOUSE’S SELECTION OF A PRESIDENT

C) Not mentioned in the passage – INCORRECT ANSWER

D) Not only does this feature make it possible to deny the presidency to the candidate who wins the popular vote…-INCORRECT ANSWER

E) Consider the situation, though, if only half a dozen congressional districts had gone Democrat instead of Republican, giving the Democrats control of the House. In that case, if the election had come to the House… – ELECTORAL COLLEGE

F) . Although this hasn’t happened since 1824, when the House picked John Quincy Adams as president over Andrew Jackson, it loomed as a possibility in 1938 and 1968 , when third-party presidential candidates in those years each won more than 20 votes. – ELECTORAL COLLEGE

 

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