IELTS Academic Reading Sample 1.1

The sample below is comprised of a number of introductory paragraphs from a book* dealing with the historical connections between ancient Egypt and the composition of the Hebrew Bible. Read the extract and then answer the questions which follow:


Sample Extract

Exodus - the story of the Hebrew Slaves escaping captivity in Egypt - is one of the most influential stories of origins ever written, and it has been used time and again throughout human history to deal with the tragedies and traumas for which we as a species appear to have an interminable capacity for both instigating and surviving. This is primarily because Exodus is understood as an account of an event which occurred precisely as the Bible has it. Yet there has been an increasing threat to the historicity of Exodus, the most potent of which derives from the lack of archaeological evidence not only for the mass migration and wandering across the Sinai ‘wilderness’ of hundreds of thousands of people, but also for the ensuing conquests in ancient Palestine facilitating the occupation of vast tracts of land by a people who had not lived there for over four centuries! Despite this lack of evidence, and despite those who would say that this means that Exodus is not history, I say that it most certainly is. The problem lies with understanding what ‘history’ is.

In common parlance, use of the word ‘history’ can be confusing, and we talk about the history of our nation or our family as if it is incontestable. Yesterday is history; that old argument is history; my full head of hair is history. Overuse of the word leads to a presumption that history is a static phenomenon because what occurred in the past occurred as we believe it did and occupies a place to which we no longer have access; and so how can we say any different of it? I could say that I wrote a history of histories of a given topic, the latter incorporating accounts of past events, which, as such, might themselves be deemed histories. So, what exactly have I written? Even if I critically engaged with the material, I did not write a history of the place or event or person, but merely an evaluation of those who have gone before me who attempted to do so. Neither would I claim to have written the history of scholarship on the matter, for apart from the possibility that there is a vast amount of scholarship which no review can truly hope to incorporate, it will likely have changed before my account is even published. As for the history of a given topic – an authoritative, never-to-be-altered account of events incorporating every possible perspective and recounting everything precisely as it occurred – that is nothing short of the Holy Grail for historians (whether to find or create). Such a concept comes from a misconception of what the word means.

In the literary sense, history is an articulation of what is believed to have occurred; and in the investigative sense it is an attempt to access memories of events that may linger long after those events. History is primarily the product of the scholarly discipline of the same name, whereby accounts and memories of past events, people and places – whether preserved in earlier written histories, oral tradition, folk etymologies, temple or palace records, religious ordinances, ritual observance and so on – are brought together and critically analysed using data from related disciplines such as Archaeology, Sociology, and Anthropology, to construct a coherent, chronologically arranged account with a preconceived beginning and end. It should go without saying that histories are composed within a context postdating that same end, and we as historians should always seek to understand and appreciate that context as determining how, why, and in what way a history was written. Let us look at some definitions:

  • History is a narrative about the past. The past occurred exactly as it occurred (it cannot be changed), but because any retrospective account may not necessarily describe it faithfully, the production of multiple – conflicting – narratives has given rise to semantically-based arguments positing numerous hypothetical pasts (for example, that history is a narrative about a past). This is important to note when determining when to use the word ‘history’ as opposed to saying ‘the past’. While historians apply methods of critical analysis of memories and accounts of the past, history is essentially an artistic construct, subordinate to the conventions of oral or literary expression within which context it is produced. Likewise, methods of critical analysis are determined by the social, political, religious, ideological, and technological context(s) within which the historian operates.

  • The word historical simply means something pertaining to the past which has been afforded value distinguishing it from something else pertaining to the past. It is a qualitative label, albeit a paradoxical one: despite everything pertaining to the past bearing potential ‘historical’ value, the distinction is a construct related to perceptions of cause and effect; and it is entirely dependent upon the discovery or awareness of the existence in the past of the person, place, object or circumstance the significance of which or whom is determined by the effect of said existence.

  • An historical fact is a truth claimed by history (or historians) which has been afforded credibility based upon the criteria of verification at a given time. It is important to note that ‘historical facts’ can be overturned by developments in said criteria; yet it is doubly important to note that these developments may not necessarily be understood (objectively) as progressive. Therefore, while ‘historical facts’ are understood to be a truth about the past, they are in fact impermanent assertions, the integrity and longevity of which is entirely dependent upon the dominant ideologies of the group or society perpetuating their veracity.

  • An historical event is an event (retrospectively) perceived as a pivotal moment in a chain of events deemed integral to the narrative of a given history. Such a perception is informed by the context within which the history is produced (despite the possibility that it may be born of immediate recognition of the implications of the event), and thus the event described may not have occurred as the historian perceives it or reconstructs it. It is also possible that the ‘historical event’ did not occur at all, but in order for it be believed by the intended audience of the history (incorporating the malleable criteria of verification, as above), this would at the very least require a contextual disconnect from the spatial and temporal location within which framework the event has been situated.

With all this in mind, it is important to keep in mind that the history within which Exodus was positioned was subordinate to the literary conventions of its day, just as it was selective and subjective, and a product of specific motivations and aims. This history was comprised of ‘cause and effect’ sequences as the writer(s) interpreted them, just as the choices we make as historians as to what events and people we should investigate are determined by occupying a position evaluating those same perceived ‘sequences’. An historian’s conclusion as to a ‘cause’ necessarily begins with an investigation into the ‘effect’; and the motivations for this investigation ultimately determine what enters a history, and even what is to be deemed ‘historical’.


Sample Questions

Q1. Which of these two statements are closest to the writer’s characterization of history?

(i) History is a reliable account of what happened in the past

(ii) We write History to justify and legitimize our current circumstances

(iii) Writers of history prioritize collective memories over archaeological evidence

(iv) History is composed within the constraints of contemporary language and expression

(v) We should not trust something written down long after past events

A) (iv) and (v)

B) (ii) and (iii)

C) (ii) and (iv)

D) (i) and (v)

E) (i) and (ii)

Q2. The writer advises historians to not concern themselves with the motivations behind the composition of history; instead looking only to prove the claims true or false.

A) True

B) False

C) Not Given

Q3. The writer has a singular understanding of the meaning of the word ‘history’, and encourages historians towards this same understanding.

A) True

B) False

C) Not Given

Q4. According to the passage, from where or through which incident does the writer draw the concept of “Exodus”?

A) History of Palestine

B) History of Egypt

C) The story of the Hebrew Slaves escaping captivity in Egypt

D) Not Given

Q5. According to the passage, which text contains the reference and depiction of “Exodus” as we know it?

A) History of Egypt

B) The Bible

C) Story of the Journey Across Sinai

D) None of the above

E) Not Given

Q6. What are the reasons behind doubting the truth behind the Biblical recording of the “exodus”?

(i) Lack of archaeological evidence

(ii) Non-existence of any other source of reference

(iii) Inconclusive research findings on the historicity of the event

(iv) Inconclusiveness and scholarly disagreement over the validity of such research

A) Only (i)

B) Only (i) (ii) and (iii)

C) None of the options are correct

D) All options are correct

E) Not given

Q7. The writer includes a dash of humour while describing the concept of history. Identify it among the options.

A) Yesterday is history

B) History is a static phenomenon

C) My full head of hair is history

D) I wrote a history of histories

Q8. The word “authoritative” has been contextually used in the second paragraph of the passage. Identify its meaning from the options.

A) Commanding

B) Certified

C) Author-written

D) Assertive

E) None of the above

Q9. Complete the following sentence:

According to one of the definitions cited in the passage, history is constructed from a variety of sources, also drawing information from other disciplines such as ____________, ________________, and _______________.

A) Oral traditions, folklore, temple records

B) Paintings, carvings, murals

C) Religious texts, stories, folklore

D) Archaeology, Sociology, Anthropology

Q10. What does the writer mean when he refers to “spatial and temporal”?

A) Space and time

B) True and false

C) Location and framework

D) None of the above

Q11. Complete the first part of the sentence based upon your reading of the passage. You cannot use more than two words from the passage to complete it:

______________________ is the “Holy Grail for any historian.”

Q12. On the basis of your reading of the passage, suggest a title for it. You cannot copy directly from the text.

Q13. Write a note on the writer’s views on the subject. (Not more than 75 words)


(Answers on Next Page)

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