SAT Critical Thinking

Realistic lithograph by artist Kevin Hayler

Consider the example problem below; read the short passage, review the question and answer choices, and try to determine the correct answer on your own before moving on to the solution.

This problem would fall under the Critical Reading category, however it is a little advanced for the SAT. That is to say, rest assured that the majority of questions you face on the SAT will not be as difficult as this example problem. The point of this exercise is to give you an example of the type of critical reasoning you will need to be capable of to obtain an exemplary score on the SAT.

Let us know if you have questions about this passage, or SAT Critical Reading in general!

Passage: In the 1960’s, long-term studies of primate behavior often used as subjects tamarians, small monkeys that were thought ideal because they require only small cages, breed frequently, and grow quickly. Field studies were not used because they were costly and difficult. Tamarians were kept caged in male-female pairs, because otherwise, serious fights erupted between unrelated females. On the basis of the fact that breeding occurred, tamarians were viewed as monogamous.

The view taken by the researchers concerning the monogamy of tamarians depended on a questionable assumption. Which of the following could have served as that assumption?

(A)   The suppression of fighting between related females serves to protect their common genetic inheritance.

(B)   Adult male tamarians contribute to the care of tamarian infants.

(C)   The social system of tamarians requires monogamous pairing.

(D)   Male tamarian monkeys do not display aggressive behavior in the wild.

(E)    The way the tamarians were kept in cages did not affect their mating behavior.

Solution: Here we are presented with a short passage discussing the presumed mating habits of tamarians; the question asks us which questionable assumption supports the view that tamarians are monogamous.

The passage states, “Tamarians were kept caged in male-female pairs”; of all the answer choices, the belief that “the way the tamarians were kept in cages did not affect their mating behavior” is thus the most questionable assumption that could have served to support the belief that tamarians are monogamous. By being kept in cages containing only one male-female pair, the researchers in effect forced them to be monogamous- the tamarians had no opportunities for infidelity. If tamarians were studied in the field, the scientists might have observed different breeding habits. The other answer choices do not address the most obvious flaw in this study, the way male-female pairs of tamarians were housed, and thus, the correct answer is (E).

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