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Proficiency | Proficiency Reading Excercises

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Cleaning Day

1 Michelle Kennan’s studio was a mess. Yes, there was the standard art-studio debris—squashed, uncapped paint tubes oozed color over the worktable; the floor looked like a clown had exploded; the fine sable brushes yearned to be freed from their acrylic cocoons. But the mess went far beyond that, venturing into landfill territory. Take, for instance, an orange, which had been used as a model for one of Kennan’s paintings, long since abandoned to the ravages of time and mold. It now looked more like a grayish-green rodent than a citrus fruit. Crumpled pieces of sketch paper littered the floor, giving glimpses of abandoned studies—an eye with an overly arched brow, an elbow bent just so, an ear spiraling like a delicate seashell. The place was a dump. By contrast, Kennan’s paintings were immaculate. They were perfect, pure. The painted orange, whose model had long since become more science project than food, looked good enough to eat— better than good enough. It looked so real, so lifelike, that viewers’ mouths would water at its sight. More than one swore they could smell an actual orange when gazing at the work. Michelle Kennan was a photo-realistic painter. Her paintings looked like photographs—really, really big photographs. They typically stood about twenty feet tall. Her paintings towered over the viewer, looking for all the world like huge, precisely detailed photographs. It was only when someone neared Kennan’s work, his nose nearly touching the canvas, that he could see the meticulous brush strokes. Those strokes, repeated millions of times, combined to create, for instance, the giant orange—a mouthwateringly dimpled, enormously orangey orange. And Kennan’s immaculate paintings stood in direct contrast to the filth in which they were created. Kennan hadn’t always been so unkempt. There had been a time when she was very clean and tidy—perhaps obsessively so. After use, her brushes were soaked, cleaned, dried, and returned to specified places in her brush box. Paint tubes were wiped clean, capped, and arranged in a neat row according to hue, from lightest to darkest, left to right. Her easel was as clean as the day she brought it home from the art store, not a stray brush stroke to be found.

Proficiency, Proficiency Reading Excercises

5 Interestingly, during this time of cleanliness, Kennan’s paintings were not great—at least in her own mind. Most people thought they were very good. It wasn’t that her oranges didn’t look like oranges—they did. But they certainly didn’t make people smell oranges or provoke spontaneous mouthwatering. They simply looked like paintings of oranges, uninspired and flat. At that time, Kennan had been frustrated in her work. She knew that in order for her paintings to leap the great divide between good and great, she’d have to breathe life into them somehow. Instead of painting mere likenesses, she yearned to give her subjects a new life on canvas, where they would breathe and sigh and truly live. But how? Kennan’s deepest fear was that she simply lacked the talent necessary to make that grand leap. And so, Kennan hurled herself into her art. She began spending all her waking and most of her sleeping hours in her studio. She literally ate and drank paint—not on purpose, mind you. But if you paint while eating, you’re bound to include a bit of cadmium red or cobalt blue into your diet. And as Kennan devoted more and more of her time and energy to painting, she had less and less to give to housekeeping. Gradually, her easel became caked with color. Meals, absently chewed while Kennan worked, were left to sit and gather fuzz. Her unwashed clothes lay limp where dropped upon the floor. It was during this time of extreme dedication to her craft that Kennan’s art made the fateful leap—it became great. Kennan felt that these new works were not just painted by her, but rather had been given life by her. When Kennan made this realization, it was as though she had awakened from a dream. But her elation was short-lived. Now aware, she looked around her, blinking, and was stunned at what she saw. The wreckage that surrounded her made her swoon. Kennan wanted to begin cleaning immediately. She wanted to scrub the studio of the horrid mess until it gleamed as it had before. She wanted to move to another studio and start over fresh. She wanted to . . .

Proficiency, Proficiency Reading Excercises

10 But wait, she thought. What if it was the very disorder in the world around her that allowed her to give new life to her work? What if she needed this mess in order to be great? Now, whether or not the mess around Kennan had anything to do with her newfound abilities does not really matter. What does matter was that Kennan believed it did. So, like a superstitious pitcher on the mound who rubs his lucky rabbit’s foot, Kennan vowed to keep her studio as it was for fear of ending her winning streak. And so it went for years. Kennan’s work gradually became more renowned and was highly in demand. And supply of that demand was not easy. Kennan’s paintings were so large and meticulously created, and Kennan herself such a perfectionist, that each painting took Kennan about six months to complete. And all the while, her studio became more of a mess. Then came cleaning day. It was an honest mistake. One of Kennan’s neighbors was moving out and had hired a cleaning service to give his studio a “thorough cleaning.” The neighbor had had a copy of Kennan’s keys “just in case” and had accidentally given it to the cleaners. And in the cleaners came, the mop brigade, sweeping through the studio like a fastidious1 tornado, cleaning, dusting, and shining everything in their path. True to their mission, they did a “thorough cleaning.” They left nothing behind. Well, nearly nothing.

15 Even before Kennan entered her studio, she knew that something was wrong. It didn’t smell  right—it smelled like pine. Kennan fumbled for her keys and threw open the door. The studio stood almost completely bare except for Kennan’s worktable, on which sat her brushes, cleaned and put away, and her paints, arranged according to hue, lightest to darkest, left to right. Next to the worktable, leaning up against the wall, stood a fresh canvas. Kennan stood in the empty, too-clean room. Her eyes climbed the twenty-foot canvas. Its blank, white expanse towered over her. “Cleaning Day.” © 2009 WestEd.

1fastidious: very careful, particular, or demanding, especially in matters relating to details

Proficiency, Proficiency Reading Excercises


■1 How does the author create the tone of the first paragraph?

A He uses sarcasm and distorted descriptions to create a cynical tone.

B He uses vivid word choice and lengthy sentences to create an awed tone.

C He uses sophisticated sentences and ornate language to create a superior tone.

D He uses figurative language and humorous comparisons to create an amused tone.

Answer the following questions about the passage “Cleaning Day.”

■2 Which is the best analysis of the author’s use of the phrase “fastidious tornado” in paragraph 14?

A The phrase suggests that the cleaners create more havoc than order when they work; the term “fastidious” is intended to be primarily ironic.

B The phrase indicates that the cleaners know they only have a short time to complete their work; the word “tornado” particularly shows their sense of urgency.

C The word “fastidious” speaks to the thorough job the cleaners are doing, while the word “tornado” hints that the results will probably be disastrous. The contrast between the two terms echoes the contrast between Kennan’s art and her studio.

D The word “fastidious” shows that the cleaners are deliberately ruining Kennan’s studio, while the word “tornado” shows how quickly and destructively they are working. The two terms together show the depth of the author’s use of sensory details.

■3 Which sentence from the passage most effectively shows that Kennan is obsessed with her paintings?

A “Crumpled pieces of sketch paper littered the floor, giving glimpses of abandoned studies—an eye with an overly arched brow, an elbow bent just so, an ear spiraling like a delicate seashell.”

B “It was only when someone neared Kennan’s work, his nose nearly touching the canvas, that he could see the meticulous brush strokes.”

C “And so, Kennan hurled herself into her art.”

D “Meals, absently chewed while Kennan worked, were left to sit and gather fuzz.”

■4 Which best describes the relationship between the setting and the plot?

A The setting is the source of the main conflict.

B The setting creates calmness in the falling action.

C The setting builds tension between the characters.

D The setting is mainly of significance in the resolution.

■5 Which comment on humanity is the author relaying in the passage?

A Life-changing decisions sometimes get made for us.

B Well-intentioned people bear the brunt of life’s hardships.

C True greatness requires a balance between work and other aspects of life.

D Most disciplined people have a hard time allowing their creativity to flourish.

■6 How would the resolution most likely have been different if the passage were told in the first person point of view with Kennan as the narrator?

A The talent of Kennan would have been more strongly emphasized.

B Kennan’s reflections on the future of her art would have been included.

C Kennan’s appearance would have been more strongly emphasized.

D A conversation between Kennan and her neighbor would have been included.


This excerpt from Barbara Charline Jordan’s famous keynote address and the accompanying sidebar give insight into an impressive figure in American history. Read the passage. Then answer questions 7 through 12. An Excerpt from Barbara Charline Jordan’s 1976 National Convention Keynote Address

1 Even as I stand here and admit that we have made mistakes, I still believe that as the people of America sit in judgment on each party, they will recognize that our mistakes were mistakes of the heart. They’ll recognize that. And now—now we must look to the future. Let us heed the voice of the people and recognize their common sense. If we do not, we not only blaspheme our political heritage, we ignore the common ties that bind all Americans. Many fear the future. Many are distrustful of their leaders, and believe that their voices are never heard. Many seek only to satisfy their private work—wants; to satisfy their private interests. But this is the great danger America faces—that we will cease to be one nation and become instead a collection of interest groups: city against suburb, region against region, individual against individual; each seeking to satisfy private wants. If that happens, who then will speak for America? Who then will speak for the common good? This is the question which must be answered in 1976: Are we to be one people bound together by common spirit, sharing in a common endeavor; or will we become a divided nation? For all of its uncertainty, we cannot flee the future. We must not become the “New Puritans” and reject our society. We must address and master the future together. It can be done if we restore the belief that we share a sense of national community, that we share a common national endeavor. It can be done. There is no executive order; there is no law that can require the American people to form a national community. This we must do as individuals, and if we do it as individuals, there is no President of the United States who can veto that decision.

5 As a first step—As a first step, we must restore our belief in ourselves. We are a generous people, so why can’t we be generous with each other? We need to take to heart the words spoken by Thomas Jefferson: “Let us restore the social intercourse—Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and that affection without which liberty and even life are but dreary things.” A nation is formed by the willingness of each of us to share in the responsibility for upholding the common good. A government is invigorated when each one of us is willing to participate in shaping the future of this nation. In this election year, we must define the “common good” and begin again to shape a common future. Let each person do his or her part. If one citizen is unwilling to participate, all of us are going to suffer. For the American idea, though it is shared by all of us, is realized in each one of us.


And now, what are those of us who

are elected public officials supposed to

do? We call ourselves “public servants”

but I’ll tell you this: We as public servants

must set an example for the rest of the

nation. It is hypocritical1 for the public

official to admonish and exhort the people

to uphold the common good if we are

derelict in upholding the common good.

More is required—More is required of

public officials than slogans and

handshakes and press releases. More is

required. We must hold ourselves strictly

accountable. We must provide the people

with a vision of the future.

If we promise as public officials, we

must deliver. If—If we as public officials

propose, we must produce. If we say to

the American people, “It is time for you

to be sacrificial”—sacrifice. If the public

official says that, we [public officials]

must be the first to give. We must be.

And again, if we make mistakes, we must

be willing to admit them. We have to

do that. What we have to do is strike a

balance between the idea that government

should do everything and the idea, the

belief, that government ought to do

nothing. Strike a balance.

Let there be no illusions about the

difficulty of forming this kind of a

national community. It’s tough, difficult,

not easy. But a spirit of harmony will

survive in America only if each of us

remembers that we share a common

destiny; if each of us remembers, when

self-interest and bitterness seem to prevail,

that we share a common destiny.

10 I have confidence that we can form

this kind of national community.

Who Will Speak for the

Common Good?

Near the beginning of her speech, Representative

Barbara Jordan stated, “There is something special

about tonight. What is different? What is special?

I, Barbara Jordan, am a keynote speaker.”

With those words began the first keynote address

by any woman, let alone an African American

woman, at a political party’s national convention,

where presidential candidates are selected.

It was not always clear that this would be

Jordan’s destiny. Born in 1936 in Houston, Texas,

Jordan initially planned to become a pharmacist.

Then, one day at high school, her aspirations

changed. It was “career day,” and one of the speakers

was an African American female lawyer. Jordan

was mesmerized by the lawyer’s speech, and she

went home that evening with a new career goal:

to get a law degree. With hard work, she did just

that, graduating from Boston University Law School

in 1959.

Jordan began her law practice working out of her

parents’ dining room. As word of her reputation as

an excellent lawyer spread, she was able to afford an

office downtown.

In 1960, Jordan became actively involved in

politics, volunteering for a presidential campaign.

She decided to run for office in the Texas House of

Delegates in 1962. She lost. She ran again in 1964.

She lost again. Ever determined, she ran for office

in the Texas State Senate in 1966 and won. She was

the first African American woman to be elected to

the Texas Senate, and she served until 1972.

In 1972, Jordan was elected as a representative

to the U.S. Congress. She was the first African

American female to represent the southern states

in the House of Representatives.

(sidebar continued on next page)

1hypocritical: claiming to have feelings or

virtues one does not have

Proficiency, Proficiency Reading Excercises


In 1976, she and John Glenn, a senator from Ohio and the first American to orbit the Earth, were asked to be the keynote speakers at their political party’s national convention. After her opening, Jordan, clearly mindful of the significance of her speech, went on to say that her speech would not focus on praising her party’s accomplishments, nor would it attack her opponents. She also said that she would not focus on describing the problems of Americans, even though she was well aware of those problems. Instead, Jordan took a different tack in her speech, which is clearly revealed by the title of the speech: “Who, then, will speak for the common good?” Jordan delivered her speech during a period in U.S. history when the country was still feeling the pains of its involvement in the Vietnam War. Although the 1973 Paris Peace Accord had ended U.S. military participation in the war, Americans continued to be divided about the U.S.’s role in the war. Americans were also divided about many other issues, including the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974 (when he was under the threat of impeachment), the Women’s Movement, advances in civil rights, environmental activism, and increased immigration from developing countries. The 1970s were also a time of oil shortages, job loss, and rising crime rates. Americans were confused and frustrated, and many felt the country had lost its sense of direction. So, although Jordan did not address these problems directly, they were clearly in her mind when she delivered her speech. The speech was very well received, and many historians now consider it one of the best convention keynote speeches in modern history. “1976 National Convention Keynote Address” by Barbara Charline Jordan. Work is in the public domain. Barbara Charline Jordan

■7 Which technique does Jordan use in


paragraph 2 of the passage?

A testimonial

B bandwagon

C snob appeal

D appeal to emotion

■8 Barbara Jordan’s argument in paragraph 3

of the passage is based on which belief?

A American society is not beyond repair.

B The Puritans could be considered


C Americans are destined to feel


D The Puritans should not have rejected

their society.

■9 In paragraph 8 of the passage, why does

Jordan use the short sentences “We must

be” and “Strike a balance”?

A to give instructions to her audience

B to emphasize her message through


C to clarify her ideas for her audience

D to provide ideas counter to her main


■10 Which is the main way Jordan creates a

personal tone?

A by giving examples of hypocrisies

B by using a quote from a well-known

historical figure

C by making broad use of first-person

plural pronouns

D by directing a portion of what she says

to public officials

■11 In the context of the organizational structure

of the sidebar, what is the purpose of its

third paragraph?

A to transition to a discussion of

Jordan’s history

B to change the focus to women who

practice law

C to demonstrate another aspect of

Jordan’s character

D to provide an example to support the

rest of the text

■12 Based on the passage and the sidebar, how

was the content of the address influenced

by the political climate?

A The address expressed a desire to

overcome discord in society.

B The address acknowledged the common

sense of the American people.

C The address suggested that the

American government could

energize itself.

D The address questioned whether

anyone was willing to speak for the

common good.

Answer the following questions about the passage “An Excerpt from Barbara Charline Jordan’s

1976 National Convention Keynote Address.”

Page 10

Proficiency, Proficiency Reading Excercises

Proficiency | Proficiency Reading ExcercisesIn this passage, teenage Matthew Briggs experiences a frightening thunderstorm at the base of the

Grand Canyon. Read the passage. Then answer questions 13 through 19.

An Excerpt from The View from the Canyon

by Juanita Havill

1 In the early 1900s the Santa Fe Railway sent artists to the Southwest to paint pictures of the

scenery and the peoples who lived there. The paintings were used as advertisements to entice people

to travel by train to the vast and beautiful regions of the western United States.

Fourteen-year-old Matthew Briggs accompanied his father Arthur Briggs, a landscape painter

from Chicago, on an expedition to the Grand Canyon in 1906. Since arriving at the canyon rim,

Matthew has heard coyotes yipping in the distance, visited Indian ruins, met a photographer named

Henry, gotten sunburned while photographing mule deer, and in the following scene is now with his

father and Henry at the base of the canyon where the Colorado River flows.

The river water felt wonderfully cold, its iciness a relief to Matthew’s sweat-soaked body.

He had not expected the intense heat on the canyon floor nor the glacial cold of the river, a

refreshing chill which he welcomed now. As he waded near the riverbank, he looked up at the

rugged slopes and caught sight of something moving through the brush. He recognized the animal

and wanted to announce a coyote-sighting to Father and Henry, who were packing the mules nearby,

but he feared that speaking or turning away for a moment would cause him to lose sight of the

swift-moving creature. In a moment the coyote vanished, affording him little time to take a mental

picture of the long thin legs and camouflaged coat that blended into the landscape.

“Did you see that coyote?” Matthew pointed toward the slope. “Have you ever photographed

a coyote, Henry?”

5 “I can’t say as I’ve ever met a coyote that would sit still for his portrait,” said the cowboy


“If you study them and sketch them long enough, you’ll be able to paint them,” Father said.

Considering the stealthy creature in question, Matthew thought his father’s suggestion an

impossible one.

When they were packed, they set off on their return journey, content to let the mules plod

slowly up the winding trail. They stopped to rest at a rare, shady spot, one that afforded a flat rock

jutting from the canyon wall on which they could sit. Father immediately pulled out his sketch

pad and pencil and began to draw while Henry lay back and studied the sky with nervous interest.

Matthew unpacked Henry’s camera and sat waiting for wildlife to come into view. He had seen

a lizard dive into a crevice when they rode up, and he was confident that the lizard would emerge

again. Finally, Father turned his attention to sketching the clouds above.

Henry’s words broke the silence: “We would be wise to reach the rim before late afternoon.”

10 Within minutes gentle globs of rain began to plop onto the dust. Soon bigger drops fell,

picking up speed and intensity. At first, Matthew found the raindrops refreshing, and the pungent

smell filling the air reminded him of the turpentine that Father used to clean his brushes, but if

he remained in the open any longer, he would soon be soaked.

Page 11

HSPE Reading Instructional Materials

Go On

Copyright © 2009 by the Nevada Department of Education

Matthew replaced the camera in the case and ran underneath the rock ledge. Father and Henry

wasted no time in joining Matthew in the shallow cave. Rain rushed around their protective rock

and streamed into their shelter, soaking their boots. With no lull in the intensity, the rain continued

to pour, and as Matthew watched sheets of water pound the dust to mud, he wondered if it would

ever stop.

The streaming water carved deep ruts in the dirt and gushed over the rocks in a waterfall that

separated the men from the pack mules. Matthew watched the menacing waterfall widen and

worried that the tethered pack mules would panic and break away from the pine trees to which they

were tethered.

“Shouldn’t we get the mules?” he shouted.

“We should have,” Henry said. “If we try now, it’s so slippery we could end up a thousand

feet below.”

15 The temperature dropped precipitously, and Matthew wished that he could retrieve his coat from

one of the mule packs. Flashes of lightning stabbed at the landscape, and powerful thunderclaps set

the mules to braying. One mule tugged hysterically at its rope, and when the branch it was tied to

snapped, the mule slipped and fell on its side. The force of the rushing water swept it downward

with the supply pack strapped to its back.

Matthew watched helplessly as the mule came to a stop against a stand of pine trees. The mule

finally regained its footing and trotted out of sight, but its pack had fallen and no doubt been swept

downward by the torrents of rain. Matthew remembered that the lost supply pack had contained

Father’s paints, what food that remained, and his own treasures of rocks and fossils, bird feathers,

and a snake skin.

Would the mule find its way back? Matthew wondered. Would the rain ever stop and enable

them to escape to the dry shelter of their lodgings?

Henry and Father ran for the other three mules and tried to coax them back to the overhanging

rock. Matthew joined them and grabbed the reins of one mule so that he could rub its nose and try

to calm it while an ocean of water drenched down for another hour. It was so slippery when the rain

stopped that they were obliged to lead the mules instead of mounting them and risking a dangerous

plunge down the muddy ravines.

Soon it was dark, and with no lantern they continued to make their way upward. Even with a

lantern they could not have detected the trails since all had been washed out. Cold, hungry, wet, and

tired, Matthew was haunted by the image of the mule knocked off its feet by the force of the water.

If he had been sitting out there on the rock where he had been earlier, he would have been washed

away like a fly.

20 Finally, they returned to the lodge and collapsed in exhaustion to sleep away the trauma. The next

morning Henry told them that people drown in slip canyons when sudden storms flood them.

“Slip canyons are so narrow that they fill up rapidly and leave no way to escape,” Henry

explained from the safety of their breakfast table.

Page 12

HSPE Reading Instructional Materials

Go On

Copyright © 2009 by the Nevada Department of Education

“From now on,” said Father, “you can be sure I will heed clouds as well as sketch them.”

Matthew appreciated that Henry had not mentioned death by drowning yesterday in the midst

of the perilous storm. He agreed with Father about the clouds and would never look at them in the

same way.

The poor pack mule arrived later in the morning, scratched and bruised, but Henry thought it

would recover. The supplies had been carried away. Paint brushes, tubes of paint, and a snake skin

lay some place below.

25 Father said that what is important is that they escaped harm, and predicted that one day a

landscape painter on a canyon trail may have a sudden need for cobalt blue, and, lo and behold,

there it will be, in a clump of rabbit brush.

“The painter in need might even be me,” he said.

“The View from the Canyon” by Juanita Havill. © 2009 WestEd.

Page 13

HSPE Reading Instructional Materials

Go On

Proficiency, Proficiency Reading Excercises

■13 The author uses word choice to create a

shift in mood in which paragraphs?

A 5 and 6

B 8 and 9

C 15 and 16

D 20 and 21

■14 Which line from the passage most clearly

foreshadows the main conflict?

A “The river water felt wonderfully cold,

its iciness a relief to Matthew’s sweatsoaked


B “When they were packed, they set off

on their return journey, content to let the

mules plod slowly up the winding trail.”

C “Father immediately pulled out his

sketch pad and pencil and began to draw

while Henry lay back and studied the

sky with nervous interest.”

D “One mule tugged hysterically at its

rope, and when the branch it was tied

to snapped, the mule slipped and fell

on its side.”

■15 Which of the following is ironic in the


A Three travelers have pack mules with

them but are forced to walk to ensure

their own safety.

B A painter loses his paints in a freak

accident but believes they may be of

use to someone else.

C A sudden rainstorm transforms a dusty

canyon into a raging waterfall that puts

people in danger.

D Two men whose careers rely on careful

observation miss the warning signs of

a dangerous storm.

■16 This passage is told from a third person

limited point of view. Which is the best

evidence that the narrator is aware only

of Matthew’s thoughts and feelings?

A Dialogue between Matthew and other

characters is minimal.

B The reader knows that Matthew has

unpacked Henry’s camera.

Proficiency | Proficiency Reading ExcercisesC Matthew’s father is referred to as

“Father” rather than by his first name.

D The reader knows that Matthew

considers the waterfall to be


Answer the following questions about the passage “An Excerpt from The View from the Canyon.”

Proficiency, Proficiency Reading Excercises

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