Reading Passage Organization for Praxis I: Pre-Professional Skills Test Study Guide (page 3)
Organization questions on the PPST Reading test ask you to identify how a passage is structured. You need to be able to recognize organizational patterns, common transitional phrases, and how ideas relate within a passage. Understanding the structure of a passage can also help you locate concepts and information, such as the main idea or supporting details.
To organize their ideas effectively, writers rely on one of several basic organizational patterns. The four most common strategies are:
- chronological order
- order of importance
- comparison and contrast
- cause and effect
Chronological order arranges events by the order in which they happened, from beginning to end. Textbooks, instructions and procedures, essays about personal experiences, and magazine feature articles may use this organizing principle. Passages organized by chronology offer language cues—in the form of transitional words or phrases—to signal the passage of time and link one idea or event to the next. Here are some of the most common chronological transitions:
Order of importance organizes ideas by rank instead of by time. Instead of describing what happened next, this pattern presents what is most, or least, important. The structure can work two ways: Writers can organize their ideas either by increasing importance (least important idea → most important idea) or by decreasing importance (most important idea → least important idea).
Newspaper articles follow the principle of decreasing importance; they cover the most important information in the first sentence or paragraph (the who, what, when, where, and why about an event). As a result, readers can get the facts of an event without reading the entire article. Writing that is trying to persuade its readers or make an argument often uses the pattern of increasing importance. By using this structure, a writer creates a snowball effect, building and building upon her idea. "Saving the best for last" can create suspense for the reader and leave a lasting impression of the writer's main point.
Just as a chronological arrangement uses transitions, so does the order of importance principle. Keep your eye out for the following common transitional words and phrases:
Comparison and contrast arranges two things or ideas side by side to show the ways in which they are similar or different. This organizational model allows a writer to analyze two things and ideas and determine how they measure up to one another. For example, this description of the artists Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse uses comparison and contrast:
The grand old lions of modernist innovation, Picasso and Matisse, originated many of the most significant developments of twentieth-century art (comparison). However, although they worked in the same tradition, they each had a different relationship to painting (contrast). For example, Picasso explored signs and symbols in his paintings, whereas Matisse insisted that the things represented in his paintings were merely things: The oranges on the table of a still life were simply oranges on the table (contrast).
Writers use two basic methods to compare and contrast ideas. In the point-by-point method, each aspect of idea A is followed by a comparable aspect of idea B, so that a paragraph resembles this pattern: ABABABAB. In the block method, a writer presents several aspects of idea A, followed by several aspects of idea B. The pattern of the block method looks like this: AAAABBBB.
Again, transitions can signal whether a writer is using the organizing principle of comparison and contrast. Watch for these common transitions:
Cause and effect arranges ideas to explain why an event took place (cause) and what happened as a result (effect). Sometimes one cause has several effects, or an effect may have several causes. For example, a historian writing about World War I might investigate several causes of the war (assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, European conflicts over territory and economic power), and describe the various effects of the war (ten million soldiers killed, weakened European powers, enormous financial debt).
Key words offer clues that a writer is describing cause and effect. Pay attention to these words as you read:
A writer might also describe a contributing cause, which is a factor that helps to make something happen but can't make that thing happen by itself. On the opposite end of the spectrum is a sufficient cause, which is an event that, by itself, is strong enough to make the event happen. Often an author will offer her opinion about the cause or effect of an event. In that case, readers must judge the validity of the author's analysis. Are the author's ideas logical? Does she support the conclusions that she comes to?
Read the following excerpt and answer the practice question.
When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white person in Montgomery, Alabama, and was arrested in December 1955, she set off a train of events that generated a momentum the Civil Rights movement had never before experienced. Local civil rights leaders were hoping for such an opportunity to test the city's segregation laws. Deciding to boycott the buses, the African-American community soon formed a new organization to supervise the boycott, the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). The young pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., was chosen as the first MIA leader. The boycott, more successful than anyone hoped, led to a 1956 Supreme Court decision banning segregated buses.
Source: Excerpt from the Library of Congress, "The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship."
The author implies that the action and arrest of Rosa Parks directly resulted in
- the 1956 Supreme Court decision banning segregated buses.
- Martin Luther King, Jr.'s ascendancy as a civil rights leader.
- the formation of the Civil Rights movement in Montgomery, Alabama.
- the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama.
- the birth of a nationwide struggle for civil rights.
The correct answer is choice d. According to the passage, Rosa Parks's action directly inspired local civil rights leaders to institute the Montgomery bus boycott. Although Rosa Parks's action may have been a contributing factor to King's emergence as a civil rights leader (choice b) and the Supreme Court's later decision to ban segregated buses (choice a), it was not the direct cause of these events, according to the passage. Choice c is incorrect because the passage makes clear that a local Civil Rights movement already existed and was not the result of Rosa Parks's refusal to give up her bus seat. Likewise, choice e is incorrect. Rosa Parks may have furthered the national Civil Rights movement, but she was not its direct cause.
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