Here is an article from an exam.

Imagine if just anybody could hike up the tallest mountain in the world and be back again in time for dinner, with no special equipment or training needed. Well, perhaps they can, because it seems that when it comes to measuring mountains the playing field is far from level. Traditionally, mountains have been measured from sea level to peak. So Mt Everest, with a peak 8848 meters above sea level, is undoubtedly the tallest. Expeditions to Everest take huge effort.

But what about mountains that do not begin at sea level? If we were to measure mountains from top to bottom, then the tallest mountain on Earth would be Mauna Kea on the island of Hawaii. Measured from sea level, Mauna Kea is only 4207 metres tall, but the base of Mauna Kea lies deep down on the floor of the pacific Ocean. From top to bottom, Mauna Kea stands a huge 10210 metres tall. Preparing for that expedition is a lot more civilised. It is an 8-hour trip from the Mauna Kea visitor centre to its summit, and you can even drive all the way to the top.


What is the meaning by the quotation, "when it comes to measuring mountains the playing field is far from level"

A) it is not possible to measure mountains that are not side by side
B) The mountains have not been measured accurately
C) It is not useful to compare the heights of mountains
D) There is more than one way to describe how tall a mountain is

(Edit) From Wikipedia:

.. a level playing field is a concept about fairness, not that each player has an equal chance to succeed, but that they all play by the same set of rules.

However it is not clear how this applies to mountains. Could someone please explain which would be the correct answer choice?

  • & what did a quick Google search for that phrase tell you that still leaves you in doubt? Aug 5 '18 at 12:17
  • Hi, Tetsujin. thanks for your comment. Google search does not answer my questions. which choice have you made ?
    – ppau2004
    Aug 5 '18 at 13:04
  • 1
    I made the choice to have you do some research & then tell us which you think it ought to be & why - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Level_playing_field Aug 5 '18 at 13:07
  • This question seems to be more about reading comprehension than the meaning of one specific idiomatic expression. Let me edit to make it more clear.
    – Andrew
    Aug 5 '18 at 22:07

I agree that this is an odd use of the idiomatic expression. Ordinarily a "level playing field" applies to some kind of competition, although not necessarily just sports. It could apply to business negotiations, elections, job applicants, home buying, military actions, and various others. For example, in a criminal trial:

Your honor, the prosecution needs to show us those witness transcripts. If we don't know what they said about the defendant, it's not a level playing field.

It's hard to see how measuring the height of mountains would be considered in any way a competition. A much better idiomatic expression would be compare apples to apples, meaning that if you're going to measure multiple objects, use the same standards for all of them.

In any case, the intended meaning seems to be "not all mountains can be measured in the same way", in which case D would be the correct answer.

  • Thanks Andrew. I chose D too. Though there are people chose C.
    – ppau2004
    Aug 6 '18 at 4:07
  • @ppau2004 Once you understand the vocabulary, the question is more about logic and critical reading skills. C is simply not supported by the passage -- actually the opposite, since why would it talk about how to measure different mountains if it wasn't useful? It's easy to jump to erroneous conclusions if you're not a careful reader.
    – Andrew
    Aug 6 '18 at 6:32

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