The best way to get a high score on the TOEFL isn’t by cramming, but rather by making thoughtful and steady progress towards your goals. With this in mind, we’ll be going through a series of reading questions centered around one particular passage. Today, we’re looking at Paul Revere.
These posts will contain a reading passage and sample problem; I’ll provide answers and explanations in the next post. Today, let’s take a look at the answer to sample detail question #4. If you haven’t had a chance to look over the question yet, it’s repeated below; if you don’t want any spoilers, take a look at the original post here!
Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride
While many schoolchildren have learned about Paul Revere from the famous poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, fewer remember the historical details about Revere’s midnight ride that Longfellow did not include. Sent by Revolutionary Joseph Warren after British army activity suggested that the troops were beginning to move, Revere rode to alert the Massachusetts Provincial Congress to move military supplies away from town.
Little over a week later, the British commanders in the colonies (as the United States was then known) received orders to “disarm” the rebels, literally meaning to take their arms away, and to imprison their leaders. British General Gage was told to conduct this mission with the utmost secrecy, so as not to inspire further rebellion among the colonists. However, Warren found out about this mission and told Revere, as well as another colonist named William Dawes, that the British troops would sail from Boston for Cambridge, and eventually Lexington and Concord. The two men were sent to warn leaders in Lexington, as well as militias in the area.
Meanwhile, Revere had previously asked the sexton of a church to signal by lantern to let Charlestown residents know about the movement of the British troops. One lantern in the steeple window would indicate that the army was coming by land, while two lanterns would signify that it was coming by water. Secretly rowing across the Charles River, Revere rode to Lexington and warning almost every house he passed. Many patriots began to join him on horseback; by the end of the night, as many as 40 men may have been riding throughout the county. However, unlike the apocryphal legend, Revere never did shout “The British are coming!” To do so would have made him conspicuous to the British troops, as well as to the colonists.
The system that Revere and his fellow patriots used is known as “alarm and muster,” which the group had developed after an ineffectual colonial response to an alarm in September of 1774. By using this system, the Americans were able to deploy local militia quickly in the event of an emergency. In fact, this system had been used in early colonial battles in the “Indian wars,” but had fallen out of use during the French and Indian War.
Unluckily, Revere, Dawes, and another revolutionary were stopped by a British army control. The other two men were able to escape, but Revere was captured and held for questioning by the British. He informed them that the army was coming in from Boston, and also let it be known that a large number of patriots were gathered in Lexington. A British major led Revere towards Lexington, but approximately half a mile from the town, a gunshot rang out. As they approached, the town bell began to ring, which the captives told the British major was the militia’s call to arms. Taking heed of this, the British soldier decided to let his captives free and to head back to his base to warn his commander. The battle on Lexington Green had begun. Meanwhile, Revere made his way to the house of a nearby friend, where both John Hancock and John Adams were lodged. During the battle, Revere aided Hancock’s family as they escaped from the town.
Paul Revere would remain politically active for the rest of his life. He was passionate about the Federalist cause, and particularly concerned about the economy and power of the United States. Even after his 1811 retirement, Revere still contributed to petitions and political discussions. His actions were long remembered; even 40 years after his death, Longfellow’s poem “Paul Revere’s Ride,” infamously beginning “Listen, my children, and you shall hear/Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere” commemorated his heroic actions. Though the poem is less than historically accurate, Longfellow constructed it this way deliberately, in order to make the subject even more poetic and dramatic, ensuring that the patriot would live on in the memory of the nation.
4. The author’s description of Longfellow’s poem most nearly indicates that the poet
a. did not know the details of Revere’s ride.
b. had not realized the importance of Revere’s actions.
c. was interested in mythologizing Revere.
d. did not believe historical accuracy was important.
c. was interested in mythologizing Revere.
Why this answer?
To select the correct answer for TOEFL detail questions, make sure that you pull out the relevant information from the surrounding text. Here, we’re directed to information about Longfellow. Even though we’re not given a paragraph number, we can skim the passage to discover that this information will be in the first or last paragraphs. The first paragraph isn’t too informative—it just tells us that he wrote a poem about Revere—but the last paragraph is more helpful:
“Though the poem is less than historically accurate, Longfellow constructed it this way deliberately, in order to make the subject even more poetic and dramatic, ensuring that the patriot would live on in the memory of the nation.”
From this, make a prediction about what was important to Longfellow in representing Revere. He wanted to make Revere seem more “poetic and dramatic.” Summarize this in your own words: he wanted to make Revere seem more heroic, or legendary.
Then, scan the answer choices to see which one makes the most sense in this context. Here, “was interested in mythologizing Revere.” is the closest we have to a match, so (c) is correct.
Why not the other answers?
The other answer choices here aren’t supported by any keywords from the passage. The passage doesn’t mention anything about Longfellow’s ignorance of Revere’s actions (a) or their importance (b). In terms of historical accuracy, he seemed to think it was LESS important than making Revere into a legend—but that doesn’t mean that he didn’t believe it was important at all.
How can I use this practice in my test-day strategy?
Detail questions are some of the most common questions on the TOEFL. You’ll come across between one and four per passage. You want to watch out for details that come from parts of the passage other than the part the question stem references, anything that doesn’t directly relate to the question stem, and—especially—answers that contain words or phrases from the passage but mean totally different things (think of the “historical accuracy” example above!)