TOEFL Reading: Insert Text Questions

First of all, before returning to the reading section, I’d like to announce the information about my next TOEFL preparation course for all of you in Seville:

January 21st-March 13th for the March 14th exam.  Tuesdays and Thursdays 19-21:30.

For more information visit my website at www.toefl-prep-svq.com

OK, now with business out of the way, let’s look at the insert text question in the TOEFL reading, a question which appears in almost every set of questions for a TOEFL Reading text

What students are required to do in this question is to take a sentence that does not appear in the original text and correctly place it in one of the four locations given within a paragraph.  An example should make the task clear:

Look at the four squares that indicate where  the following sentence can be added to the passage:

Yet historians disagree profoundly over the extent and nature of their involvement. 

Where would the sentence best fit?

With the modern interest in “putting women back into medieval history”, the role of women in crusading has received some attention. A  For example, Ronald Finucane, noting the various accounts of women taking part in crusades, observed that “there are clear indications that women sometimes took a more active part in the fighting.”  B  However, Maureen Purcell, while admitting that women took part in crusades, denied emphatically that they were true crusaders, except for a brief period in the second half of the thirteenth century. When they accompanied a crusade, they did so as pilgrims rather than as crusaders, and they certainly did not fight.  C  Instead, some historians have commented on the various roles women played in the armies of the First Crusade, supporting the fighting men with food and water, encouragement and prayer.  These academics note that some women were killed in action, but not that they actually took an active role in the fighting.  James Powell studied the role of women in the Fifth Crusade, and argues that women certainly did take the cross and went in person “to fulfill their vows by carrying on important functions,” such as serving as guards in the camp, killing fugitives, and perhaps tending the sick and wounded. However, he was not sure whether they took part in the general fighting.

There is a lot of common-sense advice that needs to be given about this question.  Clearly, you need to focus on the possesive adjective  “their” and make sure that it agrees with both the phrase that comes before and after the place you want to insert the sentence.  You also need to pay close attention to connecting words which offer a chance to see the logical relationship between the phrases, and in the phrase to be inserted, we see the word “yet”, clearly indicating some sort of contrast in ideas.

Still, there is another piece of advice that has helped my students quite a bit.  Normally, students don’t have excessive difficulty discovering which sentence from the original text connects to the sentence that needs to inserted into the text.  However, they often struggle in deciding to place the sentence before or after that sentence.  In these cases, it is fundamental to keep in mind that the reasoning process in English goes from general to specific.

With that in mind, let’s take another look at the sentence that needs to be inserted in the paragraph:

Yet historians disagree profoundly over the extent and nature of their involvement. 

The first thing to notice here is that this is quite a general statement as no details are offered about any disagreement or the involvement of women in the Crusades.  This means that to properly insert the question we need to do the following things:

1.  Find an answer place before details regarding the disagreement and /or involvement

2.  Make sure that this place makes sense with the use of the logical connector “yet” and the possesive adjective “their”.

Returning to the text, we can see that with option we see that the word “yet” offers a nice contrast to the general introduction of the opening sentence, and “women” in the previous sentence matches up well with “their involvement” in the phrase to be inserted.  Most importantly, however, is the fact that after the general idea expressed in the inserted sentence, we see the details, including examples, of a disagreement between two historians about the involvement of women in the Crusades.  Hence, the correct answer is A.

Let’s change the situation a little using the same paragraph but this time trying to insert a phrase that offers more details:

Look at the four squares that indicate where  the following sentence can be added to the passage:

Instead, some historians have commented on the various roles women played in the armies of the First Crusade, supporting the fighting men with food and water, encouragement and prayer.

Where would the sentence best fit?

With the modern interest in “putting women back into medieval history”, the role of women in crusading has received some attention. Yet historians disagree profoundly over the extent and nature of their involvement.  A   For example, Ronald Finucane, noting the various accounts of women taking part in crusades, observed that “there are clear indications that women sometimes took a more active part in the fighting.”  B  However, Maureen Purcell, while admitting that women took part in crusades, denied emphatically that they were true crusaders, except for a brief period in the second half of the thirteenth century. When they accompanied a crusade, they did so as pilgrims rather than as crusaders, and they certainly did not fight.  C   These academics note that some women were killed in action, but not that they actually took an active role in the fighting.  James Powell studied the role of women in the Fifth Crusade, and argues that women certainly did take the cross and went in person “to fulfill their vows by carrying on important functions,” such as serving as guards in the camp, killing fugitives, and perhaps tending the sick and wounded. D  However, he was not sure whether they took part in the general fighting.

There are two main things to notice about the sentence to be inserted. First, note the word “Instead”, a clear indication of contrast.  Secondly, you should see that this sentence is quite detailed  with specific information about the roles that women played in the Crusades.

With these two pieces of information, you can now now look for a place in the text that makes sense with the idea of contrast, and that also gives us a general statement needing details to support it.  What we find is this phrase before option C:  

When they accompanied a crusade, they did so as pilgrims rather than as crusaders, and they certainly did not fight.

Thus, in option C, we can find both an opportunity to contrast “they certainly did not fight”, and an appropriate place to add details regarding what role these women played in the Crusades.  C  then is the correct answer.

To summarize, always keep the focus on logical connectors and pronoun and possesive adjective agreement, but most of all, make sure that you know if you are inserting a general idea or details.  If it’s general, look for an option before the relevant details.  If it is a detailed sentence, look for a general statement that those details support.