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Social Studies Critical Reading Practice Exercises Set 1

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Updated on Sep 27, 2011

Social Studies Critical Reading

Questions 1–4 are based on the following passage.

The following passage examines the possibility that early humans used toothpicks.

Could good dental hygiene be man's earliest custom? The findings of paleontologist Leslea Hlusko suggest that 1.8 million years ago early hominids used grass stalks to clean their teeth. Many ancient hominid teeth unearthed in archaeological digs have curved grooves near the gumline. Hlusko posited that these grooves were evidence of teeth cleaning by early man. However, critics pointed out that even though the use of toothpicks is still a common practice among modern man similar grooves are not found on modern teeth.

Hlusko, convinced that she was on the right track, experimented with grass stalks to see if they might have been the cause of the grooves. Unlike the wood used for modern toothpicks, grass contains hard silica particles that are more abrasive than the soft fibers found in wood. A stalk of grass is also about the same width as the marks found on the ancient teeth. To prove her theory Dr. Hlusko took a baboon tooth and patiently rubbed a grass stalk against it for eight hours. As she suspected, the result was grooves similar to those found on the ancient hominid teeth. She repeated the experiment with a human tooth and found the same result.

It seems that our early human ancestors may have used grass, which was easily found and ready to use, to floss between their teeth. As Hlusko suggests in the journal Current Anthropology, "Toothpicking with grass stalks probably represents the most persistent habit documented in human evolution."

  1. In line 5 the word posited most nearly means
    1. insisted.
    2. demanded.
    3. questioned.
    4. suggested.
    5. argued.
  2. Each of the following reasons is provided as evidence that early man used grass stalks as toothpicks EXCEPT the
    1. width of the grooves on ancient teeth.
    2. location of the grooves on ancient teeth.
    3. ready availability of grass.
    4. ongoing use of grass toothpicks.
    5. abrasive quality of grass.
  3. Dr. Hlusko's approach to determining the source of the grooves on ancient teeth can best be described as
    1. zealous.
    2. persistent.
    3. sullen.
    4. serendipitous.
    5. cautious.
  4. The passage suggests the theory that early man used grass stalks as toothpicks is
    1. a possibility.
    2. very probable.
    3. absolutely certain.
    4. fanciful.
    5. uncorroborated.

Questions 5–9 are based on the following passage.

The following passage analyzes data from the U.S. Census Bureau to draw conclusions about the economic well being of Americans in the years 1993 and 1994.

From year to year, the economic well being of many Americans changes considerably, even though the median income of the population as a whole does not vary much in real terms from one year to the next. One measure of economic well being is the income-topoverty ratio. This ratio measures a family's income compared to the poverty threshold (the income below which a family is considered to be in poverty) for that family. For example, the poverty threshold for a three-person family in 1994 was $11,817. A three-person family with an income of $20,000 would have an income-to-poverty ratio of 1.69

Between 1993 and 1994 roughly three-quarters of the population saw their economic well being fluctuate by 5% or more. Conversely, from year to year less than a quarter of Americans had stable incomes. In the 1990s fewer people saw their income grow than in the 1980s, and more people saw their incomes decline. Although the state of the economy is a notable factor in determining if incomes rise or fall, changes in personal circumstances are just as important. People had a good chance of seeing their income rise if they began to work fulltime, the number of workers or adults in their house increased, they married, or the number of children in the household decreased. Conversely, people could expect a decrease in their income if they ceased to be married or to work full-time.

Another factor that affected the direction of change in family income was its place on the economic ladder. The closer a family was to poverty the more likely they were to see their income rise. Whereas, 45% of families at the top of the economic ladder, those with income-to-poverty ratios of more than 4.0, experienced income decreases in 1994. While age, gender, and race play a significant role in determining one's place on the economic ladder, these factors are not good predictors of a rise or fall in income. The only population for which one of these factors was significant was the elderly, whose incomes tended to be fairly stable.

  1. According to the passage, in general, income across the United States tends to
    1. fluctuate wildly.
    2. change incrementally.
    3. increase slightly.
    4. decrease steadily.
    5. stay about the same.
  2. The first paragraph of the passage serves all the following purposes EXCEPT to
    1. define the term poverty threshold.
    2. explain income-to-poverty ratio.
    3. provide an example of an income-to-poverty ratio.
    4. state the author's thesis.
    5. establish the subject of the passage.
  3. According to the passage, people's income in the 1990s was
    1. likely to rise.
    2. likely to fall.
    3. greater than in the 1980s.
    4. less than in the 1980s.
    5. less likely to grow than in the 1980s.
  4. In the context of this passage, the phrase the economic ladder (line 26) most nearly means
    1. the range of occupations.
    2. the pecking order.
    3. the capitalist social structure.
    4. the caste system.
    5. the range of incomes.
  5. The tone of this passage can best be described as
    1. dry and neutral.
    2. statistical.
    3. unintentionally witty.
    4. theoretical.
    5. inflammatory.

Questions 10–16 are based on the following passage.

This passage, from research conducted for the Library of Congress Folklife Center, discusses the various folk beliefs of Florida fishermen.

Beliefs are easily the most enduring and distinctive aspects of maritime culture. Traditional beliefs, commonly called superstitions, are convictions that are usually related to causes and effects, and are often manifest in certain practices. Common examples include beliefs about good and bad luck, signs for predicting the weather, interpretations of supernatural happenings, and remedies for sickness and injury.

Because maritime occupations often place workers in a highly unpredictable and hazardous environment, it is not surprising that fishermen hold many beliefs about fortune and misfortune. A primary function of such beliefs is to explain the unexplainable. Watermen can cite many actions that invite bad luck. These actions include uttering certain words while aboard a boat, taking certain objects aboard a boat, going out in a boat on a certain day, or painting boats certain colors. Among Florida fishermen, saying "alligator," bringing aboard shells or black suitcases, and whistling are all considered bad luck while on a boat.

Beliefs about actions that invite good luck appear to be fewer in number than those about bad luck. Beliefs about good luck include breaking a bottle of champagne or other liquid over the bow of a vessel when it is launched, participating in a blessing-of-the-fleet ceremony, placing a coin under the mast, carrying a lucky object when aboard, and stepping on or off the boat with the same foot. There are many beliefs about predicting the weather and the movement of fish. These beliefs are often linked to the detection of minute changes in the environment and reflect fishermen's intimate contact with the natural environment.

A Florida shrimp fisherman told a researcher that when shrimps' legs are blood red you can expect a strong northeaster or strong southeaster. The direction of the wind is used to predict the best location for catching shrimp. Other signs for weather prediction include rings around the moon, the color of the sky at sunrise and sunset, and the color and texture of the sea. Sometimes beliefs are expressed in concise rhymes. An oysterman from Apalachicola, Florida, uses the rhyme, "East is the least, and west in the best" to recall that winds from the west generally produce conditions that are conducive to good catches.

Beliefs related to the supernatural—the existence of ghosts, phantom ships, burning ships, or sea monsters—are also found in maritime communities. Many fishermen are reluctant to discuss the supernatural, so these beliefs are less conspicuous than those about luck and the weather. However, one net maker told a researcher about his encounter with a ghost ship. He saw a schooner, a ship that was prevalent in the nineteenth century, come in across the Gulf and pass through water that was far too shallow for a ship of its size. The ship then suddenly disappeared from sight.

Commercial fishing is considered to be the most hazardous of all industrial occupations in the United States. Statistics show that fishermen are seven times more likely to die than workers in the next most dangerous occupation. Adhering to a system of beliefs most likely helps bring sense and order to a world in which natural disasters and misfortune are a part of daily life. Many fishermen also make a precarious living at best. Maritime beliefs contain the collective wisdom of generations and following these traditions may help fishermen catch more fish without taking unnecessary risks.

  1. In line 4, the phrase manifest in certain practices most nearly means
    1. obviously rehearsed.
    2. recorded in some religions.
    3. destined in certain circumstances.
    4. evident in particular activities.
    5. decreed in unwavering terms.
  2. According to the passage, fishermen are superstitious because
    1. they learn it from previous generations.
    2. they believe in the supernatural.
    3. fishing is a dangerous and unpredictable occupation.
    4. they are afraid of stormy weather.
    5. fishing is a terrible way to make a living.
  3. The author's attitude toward fishermen's beliefs about predicting the weather can best be characterized as
    1. unqualified respect.
    2. veiled disbelief.
    3. tempered belief.
    4. absolute fascination.
    5. minimal enthusiasm.
  4. According to information in the passage, fishermen's beliefs about the supernatural do not conform to the author's definition of traditional beliefs (lines 2–4) in that
    1. fishermen do not like to talk about them.
    2. they are not related to cause and effect.
    3. they are not conspicuous.
    4. they are not manifest.
    5. they are less rooted in the natural world.
  5. The purpose of the statistic in lines 45–47 is to
    1. qualify the statement that fishing is hazardous.
    2. prove that fishing is an undesirable occupation.
    3. illustrate the relative ease of other professions.
    4. quantify the hazardous nature of commercial fishing.
    5. demonstrate that fishermen need a system of beliefs.
  6. In lines 49–50, precarious most nearly means
    1. dangerous.
    2. steady.
    3. reduced.
    4. meager.
    5. uncertain.
  7. The primary purpose of the passage is to
    1. catalog the beliefs of Florida fishermen.
    2. demonstrate that traditional beliefs are effective.
    3. describe some traditional beliefs found among Florida fishermen.
    4. prove that superstitions are a valid guide to behavior.
    5. amuse readers with the peculiar beliefs of Florida fishermen.
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