Here is the passage being analysed, from Francis Bacon's essay "Of Studies":

Read not to contradict and confute, nor to believe and take for granted, nor to find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly and with diligence and attention. Some books may also be read by deputy, and extracts made of them by others; but that would be only in the less important arguments and the meaner sort of books; else distilled books are like common distilled waters, flashy things. Reading maketh a full man, conference a reading man, and writing an exact man. And therefore if a man writes little, he had need have a good memory; if he confers little, he had need have a present wit; and if he reads little, he had need have much cunning to seem to know that he doth not.

Histories make men wise, poets witty, the mathematics subtle, natural philosophy deep, moral, grave, logic and rhetoric able to contend.

And here are the questions I'm expected to answer about this passage:

  1. What is meant by conference?

    • (A) A meeting where conversation is important
    • (B) A gathering of people
    • (C) A get together
    • (D) A group of people assembled to hear a speaker
  2. What does some books are to be tasted mean?

    • (A) To be read with diligence and attention
    • (B) To be read but not curiously
    • (C) To be read just for fun
    • (D) To be read only in parts
  3. How must we approach the 'meaner' sort of books?

    • (A) They are to be read by deputy and extracts made of them by others
    • (B) They are to be read but not to contradict and confute
    • (C) They are to be read but only in parts
    • (D) They are to be read but not curiously
  4. What should be the real object of reading?

    • (A) Not to contradict and confute
    • (B) To weigh and consider
    • (C) To distil the contents
    • (D) To understand the author's point of view
  5. If a man reads very little, what must he pretend?

    • (A) He must pretend to have a good memory
    • (B) He must pretend to have a lot of intelligence
    • (C) He must pretend to know a lot
    • (D) He must pretend to be witty


The answers I marked are: 2D, 3A, 4B, 5A. However, the correct answers are: 1D, 2A, 3D, 4D, 5C.

Now, my understanding is that the answers I marked are directly from the passage as it is. However, the correct answers seems to be different. Perhaps a great understanding of the passage is required?

  • 1
    @Shokhet Thank you for letting me know. I would keep this in mind for future questions.
    – Manny
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 13:42
  • 3
    I suggest you have another look at the expected answers. Having looked at the passage, I would agree that the answers you've selected for Q2, Q3 and Q4 at least are correct. Are you sure those are the expected answers?
    – Matt Thrower
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 15:27
  • 4
    I don't think any of the answers to #5 are good answers, and several seem equally least-wrong. I really hate that this is the way they teach reading comprehension. Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 20:29
  • 2
    In this test, it's not just the marked answers that are wrong, sometimes all the possible choices are wrong as well. @Joshua has already pointed this out for question 5. For question 1, the meaning of conference in the passage is the semi-archaic one (4a in the OED): “‘the act of conversing on serious subjects, formal discourse’ (Johnson).” None of the choices come very close, but A is clearly the closest.
    – Peter Shor
    Commented Jun 24, 2017 at 14:22
  • 3
    Either the OP or the question paper has misquoted Bacon; it should be "conference a ready man", not "reading man". And I agree with the general sentiment that all the "correct" answers are, in fact, wrong.
    – verbose
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 9:42

1 Answer 1


(This is mostly expanding on points made in comments, but I think it is worth having the details.)

  1. The multiple-choice answers for this question are all wrong. This should be clear from the parallelism in Bacon’s sentence structure:

    Reading maketh a full man
    conference [maketh] a ready man and
    writing [maketh] an exact man

    Reading and writing are actions, so the parallelism strongly suggests that conference is an action too, and so can’t be a meeting, gathering, get-togther, or group of people.

    A look at the Oxford English Dictionary finds the appropriate meaning in sense 4a:

    conference, n. 4. a. The action of conferring or taking counsel […]: Conversation, discourse, talk

    and the OED's second citation is from the very passage we are considering:

    1597   Bacon Ess. f. 1v   Reading maketh a full man, conference a readye man, and writing an exacte man.

  2. (D) is correct. This question is straightforward, since Bacon supplies his own gloss:

    Some books are to be tasted […]: that is, some books are to be read only in parts

  3. The question seems to be based on a failure to parse the logical structure of Bacon’s text. Nothing in the passage says that meaner books must be approached in a particular way. What Bacon says is that summarization is only appropriate for meaner books, otherwise the result will be ‘flashy’. That is, Bacon’s implication goes in one direction (if you are going to read in summary, then it should be a meaner book) but the question appears to understand it in the reverse direction (if you are going to read a meaner book, then it must be in summary).

    ‘Flashy’ here is used in sense 2b in the OED:

    flashy, adj. 2. †b. Insipid, tasteless, vapid.

    1625   Bacon Ess. (new ed.) 293   Distilled Bookes, are like common distilled Waters, Flashy Things.

  4. This question seems to be based on a misunderstanding. An ‘object’ is an end or purpose, but the phrases in the first sentence of the quoted passage are means, not ends:

    to contradict and confute
    to believe and take for granted
    to find talk and discourse
    to weigh and consider

    Bacon’s first sentence of the essay (not included in the extract quoted in the test) gives his opinion about the objects of study:

    Studies serve for delight, for ornament, and for ability.

  5. Like question 3, this seems to be based on a failure to parse the logical structure. Bacon says that if a man reads little, and if he wishes to pretend to know things, then he needs to have much cunning. But the question seems to read Bacon as saying that if a man reads little, then he must pretend to know things.

Bacon’s language is not so very archaic, and any difficulties in identifying the meaning of words like ‘conference’ and ‘flashy’ are easily resolved using a comprehensive dictionary, so the miscomprehensions in these questions seem pretty egregious. But possibly that’s because English was not the first language of the writer: the questions are from the 2016 Prelims Exam of the Uttar Pradesh Public Service Commission.

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