SAT Critical Reading Example Problem

cirque du soleilThe easiest way to improve your SAT Critical Reading Score is to practice! This means going through example problem after example problem until you begin to memorize key vocabulary words and recognize the ways SAT test makers attempt to trick you. Let’s jump right in…

1) The passage focuses primarily on which characteristic of the founders of Cirque de Soleil?

A)    Their innovativeness
B)    Their impracticality
C)    Their perseverance
D)    Their interest in the performing arts
E)    Their disdain for training animals


A)    The world “Innovative” means having the quality of inventing something, or creating something new. So, what exactly was new about Cirque de Soleil that we could interpret as innovative? The fact that it was the first circus to not use animals is a quality with enough importance that we could interpret it as part of Cirque de Soleil’s identity.

B)     The Cirque de Soleil did have an impractical approach, compared to others. But, due to the fact that they were successful and use the same strategies and business models to function every day, this means that we can infer that they are able to practice some form of practicality in their every day operation. “Impractical” is more closely associated with something not succeeding or being burdensome; the “rousing success” of Cirque de Soleil means that this is probably not the correct answer.

C)     The term perseverance implies that there is a struggle that the given subject has had to endure, and through said struggle had to persevere through. So, does the passage ever mention a struggle that Cirque de Soleil had to endure? No. This answer choice tests your assumptions, specifically the assumption that they struggled because of their “dearth of animals” which was not the case.

D)    According to the passage, is Cirque de Soleil interested in the performing arts? Of course! It is a circus after all. But, the thing to remember here is that the author never mentions HOW they were interested in the performing arts. Yes, he gives examples of using unconventional performers and performance techniques, BUT he uses them to prove a bigger point in the passage. This is summed up perfectly in the second sentence, “It had outrageous costumes, original music,

E)     Though Cirque de Soleil didn’t use animals, did they ever talk about training them? Of course not. So, since we didn’t even talk about the use or training of animals, how could we possibly discuss their disdain of said training?

The correct answer is “A.”

2) Why does the author consider Cirque de Soleil a success?

A)    It survived a series of nearly devastating challenges.
B)    It provided a new source of entertainment for parents.
C)    It was and outlet for the designers’ creative impulses.
D)    It made a number of shrewd financial decisions.
E)    It rescued an obsolete genre from near oblivion.


A)    Do we ever discuss any devastating occurrences? No. And without said occurrences, can we even assess whether they were challenging? No.

B)     Did the author ever mention that Cirque de Soleil was a new type of circus? Yes. But are there other sources of entertainment for parents as well? Yes. But does it say that Cirque de Soleil’s target audience was specifically parents, or adults? If you’re thinking adults, you’d be correct. If you look in line 10, the author sums up the passage generally, using the term “adults”, not just parents.

C)     With the term “outlet”, we need to remember that the use of such a word usually means that there was some kind of block or disruption in the designers’ creative process or delivery. So, do we ever mention a block of that sort in the passage? No. More importantly, the author doesn’t attribute the outlet as a primary reason for Cirque de Soleil’s success.

D)    Without focusing on the word “shrewd,” let’s think about the financial benefits of Cirque de Soleil. First, one of the major financial benefits mentioned is the lack of animals in the show. We can infer that this cuts the cost of training and maintaining animals for the productions. Second, the author mentions that the adults who came to the shows were theatergoers that were willing to pay higher prices. So, describing these decisions, what type of connotation does the word “shrewd? condone in the answer choice? Normally, we would think about “shrewd” in a negative light. But, does that mean that we are required to use it in that context? No. “Shrewd” can also be interpreted as conservative, which doesn’t always have a negative connotation. So, did cirque de Soleil make conservative financial decisions to boost their success? Yes.

E)     Are there other circus’? Yes. So, does that mean that the genre is obsolete? No. Remember, Cirque de Soleil merely created something new within the circus genre. They didn’t necessarily rescue it, because the author never mentions that the other circus’ struggled financially, creatively, or productively.

The correct answer is “D.”

College Compass by Test Masters regularly posts Critical Reading example problems, as well as example problems and solutions for the other areas of the SAT & PSAT. You can find additional example problems here.


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