Evaluating the Author’s Attitude
August 3, 2009
In any Reading Comprehension passage, it’s vital to keep an eye out for the author’s opinion. Stated opinions will often be used for main point and inference questions. However, there are some questions that concentrate more on the author’s tone than the content itself.
These questions, which typically ask for the author’s attitude, are a nuisance to many test takers. However, they can be more easily managed by utilizing one of the fundamental strategies of Reading Comprehension: locating keywords. Words such as "sadly," "fortunately," and "helpful" give explicit clues to the author’s feeling on any given subject. While reading the passage, these words should stand out to test takers, who should then underline or circle them for later reference. This will make the tone easier to discover, turning author attitude questions from undesired challenges to quick, welcome points.
Here are three examples taken from recent exams that will hopefully shed some light on how to answer these questions:
*One passage included a question asking for the author’s attitude toward a particular philosophy. A quick glance at the first paragraph turns up a claim that the philosophy’s followers have a point of view that "appears unnecessarily narrow." Right away, that opinionated comment knocks out answers that suggest "neutrality" and "ambivalence." Also, the negative vibe gets rid of the answer that suggests "respect." Once the author makes a more formal argument later (using a "however" to start the contrasting opinion), out goes "thoughtless disregard," leaving "reasoned dismissal" as the correct answer.
*Another passage included a question that tries to exaggerate the author’s view – a classic trap that should be anticipated. In the passage, the author describes a new discovery as "medically significant because it raises the possibility" of treatments. The author then discusses how it "could potentially help." Possibility? Potentially? Those are qualified terms. So, when the question asks about the author’s attitude toward that discovery, the answer suggesting that the author is "certain" that benefits "will be realized" should be recognized as too extreme. Instead, the answer that touts "optimism" about "potential applications" is more in line with the author’s positive, but not entirely certain, outlook.
*A third passage discusses a particular method of teaching. Starting off with an "although," the author admits that the method "can be valuable." However, as is expected with the word "although," there’s another side to the story. The author goes on to bemoan that the method "contributes little" to students’ understanding. Despite the author’s ultimately negative stance, the mere mention of the potential value immediately eliminates all three answers that suggest the author disapproves of "all of its effects." And since the author clearly has an opinion, "clinical indifference" doesn’t work either. That leaves the one answer that mentions the author’s "partial disapproval of the method" and the "partial approval of some of its effects."