HSPT Reading : Main Ideas in Contemporary Life Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for HSPT Reading

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Main Ideas In Contemporary Life Passages

Often, children who read fantasy or science fiction books are thought to be quite strange and anti-social. While this stereotype exists today, these children—at least those who truly enjoy this kind of reading—should be glad that such a stereotype can exist at all. It has not always been the case that such literature even existed. It was only in the twentieth century that the idea of “fantasy,” as separate from traditional myths, really became popular and even able to be stereotyped.

Which of the following best concludes the paragraph in accord with its general idea?

Possible Answers:

The early twentieth was a period of great scientific expansion, leading the human imagination to fabricate a number of interesting creatures like those found in fantasy novels.

Before this, fantasy and science fiction books were so rare that they were almost completely unknown and unavailable.

Anti-social reading habits are often judged only based upon popular imaginations and not the actual facts of the case.

Such stereotypes have an element of unfairness, but still, they do express how strange these children can act at times.

Anyway, a little bit of social pressure never hurt anyone, so they should appreciate this stereotyping, which will likely make them psychologically stronger.

Correct answer:

Before this, fantasy and science fiction books were so rare that they were almost completely unknown and unavailable.

Explanation:

As the paragraph closes, it indicates that science fiction and fantasy only recently became popular. The paragraph intends to make the general case that the stereotyping of readers of this kind of literature could only have occurred after this popularization. Before this, it was little known or not known at all. The correct answer is the only one that focuses on this aspect. It is generally missed by the other options, which focus on things that are not the main idea of the paragraph (or are not even necessarily implied by it).

Example Question #2 : Main Ideas In Contemporary Life Passages

After twenty long years of debates and discussions, the church congregation finally decided to purchase the long-needed organ. Little did the outside world know that this delay was caused by the internal politics surrounding the purchase. To the outsiders who would merely attend the regular church organ concerts, it seemed as though the congregation merely lacked the necessary funds for the purchase.

Which of the following best concludes the paragraph?

Possible Answers:

Once the new organ was installed, the visitors were so overjoyed to attend the concerts again that they completely forgot the days when the old organ was barely functioning.

Such delays often confuse those outside the deciding community, causing much heartache and distress.

Admittedly, an organ is a very expensive thing to purchase, so the delay was completely understandable.

Because of their concerns, the outsiders donated a significant amount of money to the church's organ fund.

However, in reality, the delays were caused by fierce disagreements concerning the style, size, and location of organ and its parts.

Correct answer:

However, in reality, the delays were caused by fierce disagreements concerning the style, size, and location of organ and its parts.

Explanation:

The main idea of this paragraph is that, although the church did in fact buy a new organ, the outside world knew little about the politics of the debates surrounding the purchase. In the prompt given above, nothing is specifically said about the debates, so the best answer is one that provides a fact that can be opposed to the common opinion held by outsiders, who merely thought the delay was a matter of financing.

Example Question #3 : Main Ideas In Contemporary Life Passages

Life in a monastery is far less of a peaceful affair than many people think. In the popular imagination, monks live in quiet farmlands, often far removed from politics of the world and the busyness of day-to-day life in the modern world. These silent men are believed rarely to appear out of their tranquil churches and remote fields.

Which of the following sentences best completes this paragraph?

Possible Answers:

These outmoded ways of living, however, are coming to an end due to the pressures of the modern world, which are driving up the prices of commodities like fuel and food.

However, the daily functioning of any monastic community requires all the stressful activities that can be found in any communal undertaking, from financial affairs and concerns to the tumultuous politics of living in a group setting.  

Such peaceful scenes are a regular part of the images associated with monastic life, and it is true that they are found in almost all monasteries, no matter what their locations.

The old-fashioned lifestyle of monks leads to such images of this life, which indeed is far simpler than modern existence.

In place of agricultural occupations, many monasteries undertake things like brewing, weaving, and a number of artisan crafts.

Correct answer:

However, the daily functioning of any monastic community requires all the stressful activities that can be found in any communal undertaking, from financial affairs and concerns to the tumultuous politics of living in a group setting.  

Explanation:

The main idea of this paragraph is that monasteries are not as simple and quiet as many people think. All of the wrong answers either go off on some tangent regarding monasteries or say nothing about the complexities and tumult that are implied by the main idea. The correct answer expresses this added complexity by speaking of the "stressful activities" found in monastic life.

Example Question #4 : Main Ideas In Contemporary Life Passages

Although most people have found great happiness in their work, it is common wisdom that such satisfaction is ultimately fleeting. Most adults encourage their children to have an excellent work ethic, and perhaps this moral education has led many to equate happiness with success in employment. Still, it is certain that almost all people realize at some point that this original outlook is limited and needs to be outgrown if one is to find true happiness.

Which of the following sentences best concludes the paragraph in keeping with its main idea?

Possible Answers:

When they realize that they have been so misled, people rightfully are angry at their parents, who should have known better and not led them to hold such a foolish and psychologically damaging belief.

It is amazing that most people are so misinformed that they do not realize this fact sooner; however, people are very self-deceptive when you come to think about it.

If this realization does not come naturally in the process of personal growth, it almost inevitably occurs in the form of the so-called "midlife crisis," which often happens when a person realizes that a new outlook is necessary if the rest of his or her life is to have true meaning.

When people realize that their work has been meaningless, this inspires a great deal of depression and often ends in wasted years of anxiety and stress over nothing. 

At the end of the day, we all should not obsess so much about our work. We will all have to face death anyway and should just try to get by.

Correct answer:

If this realization does not come naturally in the process of personal growth, it almost inevitably occurs in the form of the so-called "midlife crisis," which often happens when a person realizes that a new outlook is necessary if the rest of his or her life is to have true meaning.

Explanation:

The passage does not say anything about the emotional reactions of people when they realize that they need to have a new attitude regarding work. The correct answer is the one that explains how this common notion comes about—either naturally by personal growth or by a midlife crisis.

Example Question #45 : Critical Comprehension

"Preparing for Standardized Tests: Two Approaches" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Generally speaking, there are two major camps regarding the appropriate manner by which one should approach a standardized test. On the one hand, there are those people and businesses that believe that you should learn the “tricks of the test.” This approach encourages the idea that the given exam relies on a set of “inside tricks” that will fool students who are not well-informed about the way such tricks are designed. It likewise focuses less on content then on strategies for answering questions. On the other hand, there is the camp that believes that the best way to approach an exam is to be a complete expert on the content that will be examined. While this approach focuses on teaching the subject matter that will be tested, it often focuses very little on the test-taking strategies that can aid students who are taking a given exam. Although there are numerous strong partisans regarding each approach, it must be admitted that both have their strengths and their weaknesses.

What is the main idea that this paragraph wishes to convey?

Possible Answers:

Test-taking strategies are a key component to success in preparing for a standardized test.

It is foolish to think that someone can become an expert in examination content before taking the standardized test.

There are two major approaches to preparing for standardized tests, one based on test strategies and another based on test content; ultimately, they both have relative strengths and weaknesses.

Test preparation is a great idea; no matter how you do it, you will make great improvement.

The "tricks of the test" approach is a foolish lie that has made a lot of money for those who support it.

Correct answer:

There are two major approaches to preparing for standardized tests, one based on test strategies and another based on test content; ultimately, they both have relative strengths and weaknesses.

Explanation:

Primarily, the passage outlines the differences found in two approaches to preparing for standardized tests.  However, note that at the end, it likewise does make a statement acknowledging that there are strengths and weaknesses to each approach.  Both of these aspects are necessary in forming a general statement of the main idea of this passage.

Example Question #46 : Critical Comprehension

"The Difficulties of Writing One's First Research Paper" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

When a high school student writes his or her first research paper, he or she likely will face a number of difficulties in finding and using sources for the essay. The single most significant of these difficulties is the finding of sources for the paper. The student will likely only know about his or her topic from the discussion that has occurred in class, based on the textbook that is being used. For a research paper, however, it will be necessary to find appropriate texts in the library to support the topic about which he or she is writing. This can be quite overwhelming, for there are often so many books on a given topic that it is difficult to know where to begin if your starting point is only a high school textbook. Many students will be tempted to use every book that they find, not focusing on the most appropriate texts for the topic. On the other hand, some students will rely heavily on a single book on the topic. In this case, many things are overlooked because of the student’s narrow research. Of course, there are a number of other difficulties involved in the writing of such a paper, but the use of sources likely remains the most troublesome by far.

What is the main idea of this selection?

Possible Answers:

Although the first research paper written by most high school students is not very focused, this improves with time.

There are so many problems with high school research papers that it would be better just to eliminate them from the curriculum entirely.

High school students sometimes attempt to write research papers when they really are unable to do so.

Two dangers face the high school student writing his or her first research paper, namely, extreme overuse or extreme underuse of resources.

The first research paper written by a high school student is generally of rather poor quality.

Correct answer:

Two dangers face the high school student writing his or her first research paper, namely, extreme overuse or extreme underuse of resources.

Explanation:

The first sentence to pay attention to is the opening one: "When a high school student writes his or her first research paper, he or she likely will face a number of difficulties in finding and using sources for the essay." Clearly, this problem of sources will be the main focus of the selection. This is followed by a reaffirmation that finding sources is the "single most significant" difficulty. After explaining the problem a bit, the author gives the two possible outcomes: (1) students will use far too many books, or (2) students will rely too much on one book.

Example Question #5 : Main Ideas In Contemporary Life Passages

"The Aging of Public Transportation Systems" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

As cities develop, their public transportation systems often show signs of aging that are mixed with aspects that are quite up-to-date. An example of such a situation can be found in the transportation system in Washington DC. This system is made up of a mixture of buses and trains that connect people to locations in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. While the system has been well maintained and updated over the years, it still shows evidence that certain sections are older than others.

This is particularly noticeable when one considers the multiple lines that connect in Washington DC itself. Within the city, there are five different sets of tracks that run in various directions and to sundry places. A number of the newer lines are in excellent condition and rarely break down; however, the case of the red line is somewhat different. This oldest line of the metro train system often has issues because of its age, experiencing a number of track and signal issues even at rush hour when the overall system is its most efficient. Admittedly, the transportation authority is working to update this line and make it less problematic. Still, until this work is completed, it is obvious to all who are familiar with the metro train system that the red line is the oldest and most out of date.

What is the main idea that this passage seeks to express?

Possible Answers:

Transportation systems in cities are always up-to-date, though an exception can be found in the example of the Washington DC transportation system.

Transportation systems in cities are almost always out of date, as is evident from the example of the Washington DC transportation system.

Transportation systems in cities often are a mix of the old and the new, as is evident from the example of the Washington DC transportation system.

City transportation systems often connect multiple states together, as can be seen in the example of the Washington DC transportation system.

The Washington DC metro train system is perhaps the most vexing of all such systems in the United States.

Correct answer:

Transportation systems in cities often are a mix of the old and the new, as is evident from the example of the Washington DC transportation system.

Explanation:

The main idea for this selection is directly state in the opening sentence: "As cities develop, their public transportation systems often show signs of aging that are mixed with aspects that are quite up-to-date." Although the second paragraph does focus on issues with the Washington DC red line, it likewise makes the point that this is in contrast to the newer lines that rarely break down; therefore, the best way to express the main idea of this selection is by stating, "Transportation systems in cities often are a mix of the old and the new, as is evident from the example of the Washington DC transportation system."

Example Question #73 : Contemporary Life Passages

"American Students and Foreign Languages" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

American students often find it difficult to understand the need for learning a foreign language. In part, this lack of understanding seems to occur because of the insulated nature of American geography. Unlike Europe, America is a massive country, comprised of states that all speak the same language. When an American travels from state to state, he or she is not confronted with a completely different language group as is the case when, for example, a Frenchman travels from his native land to the neighboring country of Italy or to England. Although America does have Canada to its north and Mexico to its south, it still does not have the great internal variety of languages as one finds in the small European continent. Therefore, students often do not experience the practical importance of knowing other languages.

Of course, America has always been called the “melting pot,” for many peoples have arrived on its shores, bringing their own distinctive cultures and languages with them. Still, this very expression—“melting pot”—shows that these immigrant cultures do not forever retain their own particular manners and languages. With time, these varied cultures become part of the American culture as a whole. While they do influence and change the culture, they likewise become assimilated into it. Their spoken language often becomes English. Even if they retain their mother tongue, they generally speak it privately. This is done as a matter of personal heritage, not as part of the day-to-day life in the culture. 

Additionally, America’s global dominance likewise allows Americans to avoid learning other languages. Since America has such influence over the rest of the world, it is generally in the interests of other peoples to learn English in order to be part of the economic, political, and military world in which America operates. Therefore, even at international meetings that are filled with people from many nationalities and language groups, English-speakers are at an advantage because they can talk with the many individuals who speak English. The work and learning of other peoples thus allows the Americans to convince themselves that there is no need to learn another language. 

Lastly, American education has come to emphasize mathematics and science to such a great degree that things such as language can often seem unimportant. The main goals of education are said to be the training of students for the technology workforce. If this is presented as the main goal of school, few children will understand why any of the non-scientific subjects are included in the curriculum. If a subject does not help in learning math and science, it will appear to be irrelevant. In particular, foreign languages do not seem to add to the teaching of math and science, which can be done very easily and effectively in English alone. 

Of course, many other reasons could be considered, and a more detailed discussion would undertake such a lengthy investigation. Still, the factors discussed above do provide some sense as to why American students find it difficult to understand the importance of learning a foreign language.

What is the purpose of the second paragraph?

Possible Answers:

To provide a cultural history of American immigration and its effects on language and civic awareness

To show that immigrant populations have often come to America, bringing with them cultures and languages that they retain

To qualify the strong statements of the first paragraph by using the example of the "melting pot" analogy to show that Americans do indeed have an appreciation of other cultures and languages

To show that the "melting pot" experience is extremely important to the linguistic formation of American English

To show that even though it is a "melting pot" made up of different immigrant cultures, America is able to maintain the state of having a single spoken language

Correct answer:

To show that even though it is a "melting pot" made up of different immigrant cultures, America is able to maintain the state of having a single spoken language

Explanation:

The key sentence here is, "Still, this very expression—'melting pot'—shows that these immigrant cultures do not forever retain their own particular manners and languages." This sentence represents a reversal of the first sentence, which might lead you to think that the second paragraph is going to qualify the things that were said before this. While it does indeed concede that America is a "melting pot," the paragraph goes on to argue that the "melting" that occurs—that is, the assimilation that occurs—leads people to abandon their distinctive language groups, at least in their public activities.

Example Question #84 : Narrative Humanities Passages

Adapted from Scientific American Supplement No. 1082 Vol. XLII (September 26th, 1896)

The rowboat Fox, of the port of New York, manned by George Harbo, thirty-one years of age, captain of a merchantman, and Frank Samuelson, twenty-six years of age, left New York for Havre on the sixth of June. Ten days later the boat was met by the German transatlantic steamer Fürst Bismarck proceeding from Cherbourg to New York. On the eighth, ninth and tenth of July, the Fox was cast by a tempest upon the reefs of Newfoundland. The two men jumped into the sea, and thanks to the watertight compartments provided with air chambers fore and aft, it was possible for them to right the boat; but the unfortunates lost their provisions and their supply of drinking water. On the fifteenth they met the Norwegian three-masted vessel Cito, which supplied them with food and water. The captains of the vessels met with signed the log book and testified that the boat had neither sail nor rudder. The Fox reached the Scilly Islands on the first of August, having at this date been on the ocean fifty-five days. It arrived at Havre on the seventh of August.

Cost what it might, the men were bent upon reaching this port in order to gain the reward promised by Mr. Fox, of the Police Gazette. Thanks to the wind and a favorable current, they made one hundred and twenty-five miles in twenty-four hours. One slept three hours while the other rowed. Their skins and faces were tumefied by the wind, salt water, and sun; the skin of their hands was renewed three times; their legs were weakened; and they were worn out.

George Harbo and Frank Samuelson were trying to __________.

Possible Answers:

row across the Atlantic without the help of a sail or a rudder

reach Europe from America without stopping for additional fuel

swim across the Atlantic ocean

be the first men to sail across the Atlantic ocean unassisted by others

reach America from Europe without stopping for additional fuel

Correct answer:

row across the Atlantic without the help of a sail or a rudder

Explanation:

It is clear that these two men were trying to cross the Atlantic ocean in some fashion that would be considered difficult. You have to read carefully to determine how exactly they were trying to do so. The author notes that when they met with a Norwegian ship, the captain "signed the log book and testified that the boat had neither sail nor rudder.” So, the two men were trying to row across the Atlantic without using a sail or a rudder to guide and power their ship.

Example Question #6 : Main Ideas In Contemporary Life Passages

Adapted from The Spoiled Children of Civilization (1912) by Samuel McChord Crothers

To spoil a child is no easy task, for Nature is all the time working on behalf of the childish virtues and veracities, and is gently correcting the abnormalities of education. Still it can be done. The secret of it is never to let the child alone, and to insist on doing for him all that he would otherwise do for himself—and more.

In that "more" is the spoiling power. The child must be early made acquainted with the feeling of satiety. There must be too much of everything. If he were left to himself to any extent, this would be an unknown experience. For he is a hungry little creature, with a growing appetite, and naturally is busy ministering to his own needs. He is always doing something for himself, and enjoys the exercise. The little egoist, even when he has "no language but a cry," uses that language to make known to the world that he wants something and wants it very much. As his wants increase, his exertions increase also. Arms and legs, fingers and toes, muscles and nerves and busy brain are all at work to get something which he desires. He is a mechanic fashioning his little world to his own uses. He is a despot who insists on his divine right to rule the subservient creatures around him. He is an inventor devising ways and means to secure all the ends which he has the wit to see. That these great works on which he has set his heart end in self is obvious enough, but we forgive him. Altruism will come in its own time if we can train ourselves.

In this passage the author emphasizes which aspect of the child?

Possible Answers:

Aversions

Wants and needs

Intelligence

Health

Growth

Correct answer:

Wants and needs

Explanation:

The entirety of the second paragraph focuses on developing the argument that children are initially driven by the fulfillment of their wants and needs. The author describes, for example, how a child is “always naturally busy ministering to his own needs. He is always doing something for himself, and enjoys the exercise.” The author makes brief mention of the child’s growth, but no mention of intelligence, health or aversions.

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