Here is the passage we were discussing:
Let’s attempt another question on this passage.
This is a vocab-in-context question. It is asking you about the meaning of a word, given the context of a passage. The strategy for answering this question is to locate the word in question and read the lines immediately before and immediately after the word to get a sense of what it means.
We can look back at line 14 and we see that it is mentioned in the paragraph about coffee’s universal appeal. The text reads:
Coffee has an important place in the rational diet of all the civilized peoples of earth. It is a democratic beverage. Not only is it the drink of fashionable society, but it is also a favorite beverage of the men and women who do the world’s work, whether they toil with brain or brawn.
So, in this context democratic means universal, or appealing to all people.
Now, looking at the answer choices, we see our prediction in choice D. It would be hard to choose against it, but lets consider the other answer choices just to practice our process.
Choice A says “voluntary.” Obviously, this is not the right answer. Nowhere in the passage is coffee connected with anything voluntary. Someone who picked this answer choice probably didn’t read the passage.
Choice B says “decided by vote.” While this is the classic definition of a democracy, it doesn’t fit our passage on coffee in the least. Absolutely nothing is stated about coffee being decided by a vote.
Choice C says “free.” While this would undoubtedly overjoy millions of coffee drinkers, democratic certainly doesn’t mean free in this context. Nowhere are the prices of coffee even mentioned.
Finally, choice E says “politically modern.” You might be tempted by this answer if you think of democratic in terms of modern political parties, but, again, the point of that paragraph is not that coffee is modern but that it is universal in its appeal. Everyone drinks it.
Thus, choice D was our answer, and this was relatively straightforward, provided you read the passage critically.
Lets do one more question while we’re at it!
This is a classic tone question. It is asking about the author’s attitude in the passage as a whole. Notice again, that if we have read the passage analytically and identified the tone, this question should be relatively straightforward.
Remember that the author was all about coffee. In our words, we said that the entire purpose of the passage was to affirm coffee as a world favorite beverage, universal in appeal, and triumphant in popularity. So we would look for something that means ravished, or clearly affirmative.
Moving to the answer choices, choice A says “cautiously positive.” The author isn’t cautious at all, so we can eliminate it.
Choice B says “reluctantly acquiescent.” Again, the author isn’t reluctant about anything… so even if you didn’t know what acquiescent means, you can eliminate this answer choice. (Acquiescent, by the way, means giving in.)
Choice C says “decidedly objective.” This offers a neutral (=) tone, and does not match our prediction of a positively charged (+) tone, so we can eliminate it.
Choice D says “gently encouraging.” OK, this might work, the author probably can’t be classified as gently encouraging, but we’ll keep it just in case.
Choice E says “freely positive.” Yes, this is exactly what we were looking for, and this is our answer. Freely positive is exactly what the author’s tone is, and matches our prediction. We can get rid of D, pick E and move on.
The takeaway from these examples from reading comprehension questions is that if you want to do well on these, you must learn to read actively and critically. For practice, write down the main point of each paragraph, the subject matter and scope, and the tone of the author throughout the passage. Write the intention of the author in a few words and use these to direct you when you turn to the questions. Do these things on scratch paper until they become habit and you can do them in your head.
If you learn to read actively in this way, the wrong answer choices will begin to be recognizable, and the correct answer choices will begin to be more obvious. This will lead to greater success on Test Day, and of course, a higher GRE Score.