TOEFL IBT Reading Practice Test 11 from IVY’s Reading Actual Test

Passage 2 | World History

The History of Soap

The history of soap is long but ambiguous, beginning by some estimates as far back as 2800 BC in ancient Babylon. Archaeological findings suggest that various ingredients including fats, oils, and greases were involved in the making of early soaps. Specific evidence was discovered during the excavation of ancient Babylon (modern-day Iraq), when ancient soapy matter was found in clay containers bearing inscriptions that indicated the contents were made by boiling fats with ashes – a method of soap making. Archaeological evidence from other ancient civilizations, like Egypt and Phoenicia, suggests that many cultures were using soaps to clean raw textiles before dyeing them. Early soaps were not commonly used for bathing, and different cultures used the products in different capacities—among other uses, soap was administered as a wound medicament and applied as a hair dye. There is no definitive evidence proving exactly where soap originated; it seems to have been discovered independently by several civilizations- Arabs, Celts, and Romans were all early users of soap-like substances.

One popular legend ascribes the discovery of the cleansing properties of soap to a fortunate coincidence: long ago, people washing their clothes in a river near a site for sacrificial offerings noticed that when they washed their laundry in that specific area, their clothes became particularly clean. They realized that the combination of ash and
animal fat produced by the burnt offerings created an effective laundering aid. Although this legend presents an interesting account of the origin of soap, there is no way to verify the authenticity of the story. As a result, it is considered by some to be a myth.

The first written documentation of soap appears in the writings of Gaius Plinius Secundus, a Roman writer and philosopher who had traveled throughout Western Europe, visiting several other cultures. He wrote about a substance made from a mixture of ash and animal fat—a simple soap that the Celts used as a hair product.

The craft of soap making had spread throughout Europe and reached England by the eleventh century, but in spite of its prevalence, soap was rarely used for bathing and personal hygiene. In fact, the devastating plagues of the Middle Ages—including the Black Death of the fourteenth century – are attributed to a lack of basic cleanliness.

Over time, cultures experimented with soap-making recipes and eventually discovered that the animal fat they used could be replaced by vegetable oils. Virtually any vegetable oil could be used to make soap— palm, coconut, and almond oil were some of the more popular choices. [A] In particular, soap made from olive oil came to be regarded as a superior product. [B] During the sixteenth century, one kind of olive-oil soap—castile soap, believed to be named for the region in Spain where it originated—was widely exported throughout Europe, becoming famous for its quality. [C] Even today, “castile soap” is a term used to refer to soaps that are made primarily of olive oil.

As soap became an increasingly popular trading commodity, British authorities recognized that control of the soap industry would give them significant economic influence. In the seventeenth century, the king of England enforced restrictions on the location of soap-making companies, demanding that they be based in London. Regulations and taxation made soap an expensive luxury that was not accessible to most people. It was not until the removal of the soap tax in the middle of the nineteenth century that it became possible for commoners to purchase this popular item.

Although soap making was a firmly established craft in Europe, early colonists in North America practiced soap making almost exclusively as a household chore, and there were few professional soap makers in the colonies. For some time, personal hygiene was considered a low priority, as the colonists were occupied with other concerns. Ideas about hygiene began to change during the Civil War, when improvements in hospital hygiene introduced Americans to the benefits of personal cleanliness. This resulted in a change in the way society viewed sanitation issues, leading to the installation of indoor bathrooms and sinks and introducing a demand for soap. The revolution in Americans’ attitudes toward hygiene was complete when twentieth-century soap makers began employing expensive, large-scale advertising strategies to increase their sales and expand their industry.

13. Which of the sentences below best expresses the essential information in the highlighted sentence in the passage? Incorrect choices change the meaning in important ways or leave out essential information.
(A) Archaeological excavations have uncovered clay containers that contain recipes for soap.
(B) Carvings on clay containers holding a soap-like material show that Babylonians made a kind of soap.
(C) In ancient times, soap was made by combining animal fats with ashes and heating the mixture in clay containers.
(D) Excavations in Babylon uncovered bathtubs that were once used for bathing with soap.

14. The word administered in the passage is closest in meaning to
(A) given
(B) tested
(C) labeled
(D) saved

15. The word authenticity in the passage is closest in meaning to
(A) science
(B) circumstance
(C) legend
(D) truth

16. Why does the author mention the legend in paragraph 2?
(A) To present evidence about the origin of soap
(B) To explain the origin of the word “soap”
(C) To emphasize the idea that soap was spiritually significant
(D) To support the idea that the origin of soap is uncertain

17. What can be inferred from paragraph 4 about epidemics in the Middle Ages?
(A) They generally affected populations of lower- and middle-class people more than communities of upper-class people.
(B) Their disastrous consequences would have been lessened if people had practiced better hygiene.
(C) They changed the way people thought about municipal sanitation and personal cleanliness.
(D) They were spread through contact with contaminated sources of water, especially public baths.

18. The word its in the passage refers to
(A) olive oil
(B) castile soap
(C) Spain
(D) Europe

19. What can be inferred from paragraph 5 about Castile?
(A) Its merchants had access to plenty of olive oil.
(B) It was located near a coastline.
(C) Its citizens were concerned about hygiene.
(D) It had a shortage of animals.

20 The word Regulations in the passage is closest in meaning to
(A) Governments
(B) Officials
(C) Rules
(D) Industries

21 According to paragraph 6, soap in England was not initially available to the masses because
(A) soap was not allowed to be sold in London
(B) they were prohibited by law from buying soap
(C) it was produced mainly in rural townships

(D) restrictions and duties made it difficult for many people to purchase

22. What can be inferred from paragraph 7 about colonists’ attitudes toward soap before the Civil War?
(A) They did not consider it an effective cleanser.
(B) They disliked it because it was difficult to make.
(C) They preferred to use it for washing laundry.
(D) They did not care about its cleansing properties.

23. The word concerns in the passage is closest in meaning to
(A) principles
(B) affairs
(C) opinions
(D) accomplishments

24. Look at the four squares []  that indicate where the following sentence could be added to the passage.

Soaps made with oils such as these were gentler on the skin than soaps made with animal fats, so vegetable-oil soaps quickly became desirable products.

Where would the sentence best fit?

25. Directions: An introductory sentence for a brief summary of the passage is provided below. Complete the summary by selecting the THREE answer choices that express the most important ideas in the passage. Some sentences do not belong in the summary because they express ideas that are not presented in the passage or are minor ideas in the passage. This question is worth 2 points.

Believed to date back thousands of years, the origin of soap is not entirely known, but it is dear that throughout its history, soap has varied in both composition and application depending on the cultures who used it.

Answer Choices

(A) Early soaps consisted of ingredients not easily found today and were used for practices now considered outdated.
(C) Some historians believe that the earliest soaps were used mainly for medicinal and cosmetic purposes.
(E) Unlike soap makers of the past, modern soap producers use more organic materials and focus more on hygiene.
(B) The first soaps were made from ash and animal fat, but later soaps used different types of vegetable oils.
(D) In ancient times, soap was valued as a precious commodity, so its creation and usage was limited to sacred occasions.
(F) Gradually, soap became the product it is today, a cleanser used for bathing and for personal hygiene.

Reading Passage 1  Reading Passage 3  Answer Keys & Explanation