HSPT Reading : Main Ideas in Social Science Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for HSPT Reading

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Ideas In Contemporary Life Passages

"Conservatism" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

In American politics, there is perhaps no word that is more over-simplified than “conservative.” Many people use this term as though it has a single meaning and expresses a single historical-political outlook. Nothing could be further from the truth. The development of American conservatism must be understood as a combination of a number of strands of ideology that often coexist with great tension and difficulty. Although there are many groups that are combined in this larger assortment, two examples will suffice to show the great diversity present in this seemingly simple group.

For instance, there are the “traditionalist conservatives,” who generally are concerned with preserving Western culture and tradition against the developments of modern thought and culture. In many ways, this type of conservatism is the most “conserving”; that is, traditionalists are primarily concerned with maintaining the “old order” of Western civilization and learning. Because of these concerns, the traditionalist conservatives are very wary of any kind of major governmental program that promises to bring a “new order” into existence. While not disagreeing with the idea of progress, these conservatives believe that any such changes should occur organically, in a natural manner over a period of years. 

On the other hand, there are also the “libertarians," who are often classed as “conservatives” as well. They are surprisingly different from the traditionalist conservatives. The libertarians are primarily concerned with maximizing freedom and limiting the role of government in individual lives. In many ways, they represent the kind of modern individualism disagreed with by the traditionalists.

These two opposed groups are able to come together in the general notion of “conservatism” because of their shared attitudes toward the government, particularly the federal government. The traditionalists wish to limit the role of the federal government out of a fear that it will ruin traditional culture through radically new plans and agendas. The libertarians seek to limit it out of a desire to give individual citizens maximum freedom of choice and action. While these two branches of “conservatism” are in many ways opposed to each other, they somehow manage to coexist along with many other positions that are all called “conservative” in spite of similarly striking differences.

What is the main point of this selection?

Possible Answers:

The word "conservative," as used in American politics, describes a reality that is far more complex than many realize.

The term "conservative" should be dropped from American English usage because it is, at best, a vague term.

Those who use the name "conservative" can be separated into two distinct groups, namely, the traditionalist conservatives and the libertarians.

Conservatives are always at war internally because of their inconsistent ideals.

The word "conservative" is really senseless, for their politics are not concerned with conserving anything but with ruling.

Correct answer:

The word "conservative," as used in American politics, describes a reality that is far more complex than many realize.

Explanation:

This passage does not aim to give an exhaustive description of conservatism. Likewise, it does not intend to critique the term "conservative." Instead, it aims to show that this group is very diverse, using two examples and explaining how they can come together in spite of their significant differences. The correct answer expresses this by noting that the word is more complex than many realize. The passage aims to show how this is the case.

Example Question #3 : Recognizing The Main Idea In Argumentative Social Science Passages

"The Founding Fathers' Beliefs" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Frequently, people make egregiously mistaken remarks about the religious convictions of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Such errors could be said to “cut in both directions.” On the one hand, there is a school of thought that wishes to make this important founding generation into nothing more than group of Christian legislators who founded a Christian nation. This image is far too simple. It clearly distorts the religious convictions of these men, whose idea of Christianity was often far worldlier than some Christians would be comfortable with. In addition, it distorts the meaning of the American Constitution, which is not a document of Christian legislation but a very modern, secular political document. On the other hand, it is important to note that those who believe that the Founders were agnostics or even hidden atheists also overstate their opinion. The culture of these eighteenth-century men was still one that deeply imbued with Christian sensitivities, and while their religious convictions were much more varied than some imagine, they were far from being without any religious beliefs whatsoever. These beliefs certainly had an influence on their political lives, though this influence was often subtle and indirect.

What is the main idea of this selection?

Possible Answers:

People always make mistakes regarding the Founding Fathers of America.

Atheists utterly distort the history of America's founding.

Religious zealots have co-opted the meaning of the American founding.

Often, people are mistaken regarding the role of Christianity in the American founding, some underestimating its role and others overestimating it.

History is extremely complex, having many subtleties that need to be considered adequately.

Correct answer:

Often, people are mistaken regarding the role of Christianity in the American founding, some underestimating its role and others overestimating it.

Explanation:

The overall purpose of this passage is to express two different views of the American founding, each of which is wrong, though in different ways. The passage is not meant to issue a massive judgment against either party but instead shows the partial nature of their outlooks.

Example Question #62 : Narrative Social Science Passages

"The Sociology of Deviance" by Joseph Ritchie (2014)

Sociologically, deviance is defined as behaviors or actions that violate informal or formal social sanctions. A formal social sanction is one set by a proper authority, such as a state or federal legislature. Formal laws and sanctions are often enforced and propagated by an official body or organization, such as police departments and court houses. Informal sanctions are known as "folkways" and "mores." Informal sanctions are not proposed as law and are enforced by informal means such as exclusion, avoidance, or negative sentiments. Deviance and the enforcement of social norms, both formal and informal, play important roles in the construction of society and its values.

Sociologist Emile Durkheim hypothesized that deviance is an important and necessary part of the organization of society. He stated that deviance performs the following functions: it affirms cultural norms, defines moral boundaries, strengthens society’s bonds through its enforcement, and advances social revolution. This is considered to be a structural-functionalist theory because it outlines deviance’s function in the structure and construction of society.

Robert Merton outlined deviance as the product of the interactions between an individual’s cultural goals and the means to obtain these goals as produced by society or institutions. Cultural goals can be described as financial success, acquisition of academic degrees, or the pursuit of "the American Dream." Institutionalized means are best described as society’s proposed paths to achieve cultural goals. Merton hypothesized that the acceptance or rejection of cultural goals and institutionalized means of achievement defined an individual’s level of deviance. Conformists accept cultural norms and institutionalized means while retreatists reject both norms and means. An innovator will accept cultural goals but reject the institutionalized means to obtain them. A ritualist will embrace the rules set forth by society but will lose sight of and reject cultural norms. Lastly, rebellious individuals will create a counter-culture that not only rejects a society's goals and means, but also creates new cultural norms and means to achieve these goals.

Deviance plays a role in society that has been studied by various sociologists. Some feel that it is a necessary element utilized in the structure and function of society, while others feel that it defines an individual’s outlook on societal norms and means of achievement. Deviance can be described as behavior that goes against the grain of conduct deemed acceptable by society. The phenomena that exist in its composition and purpose will continue to be studied by researchers in an effort to better understand society and culture.

Laws produced by legislative bodies are best described as which of the following terms?

Possible Answers:

Mores

Informal social sanctions

Formal social sanctions

Folkways

Goals

Correct answer:

Formal social sanctions

Explanation:

Laws are best described as formal social sanctions because they are produced by official government bodies. This is supported by information presented in the first paragraph of the passage: "A formal social sanction is one set by a proper authority such as state and federal legislatures. Formal laws and sanctions are often enforced and propagated by a official body or organization such as police departments and court houses."

Example Question #34 : Language In Social Science / History Passages

"The Sociology of Deviance" by Joseph Ritchie (2014)

Sociologically, deviance is defined as behaviors or actions that violate informal or formal social sanctions. A formal social sanction is one set by a proper authority, such as a state or federal legislature. Formal laws and sanctions are often enforced and propagated by an official body or organization, such as police departments and court houses. Informal sanctions are known as "folkways" and "mores." Informal sanctions are not proposed as law and are enforced by informal means such as exclusion, avoidance, or negative sentiments. Deviance and the enforcement of social norms, both formal and informal, play important roles in the construction of society and its values.

Sociologist Emile Durkheim hypothesized that deviance is an important and necessary part of the organization of society. He stated that deviance performs the following functions: it affirms cultural norms, defines moral boundaries, strengthens society’s bonds through its enforcement, and advances social revolution. This is considered to be a structural-functionalist theory because it outlines deviance’s function in the structure and construction of society.

Robert Merton outlined deviance as the product of the interactions between an individual’s cultural goals and the means to obtain these goals as produced by society or institutions. Cultural goals can be described as financial success, acquisition of academic degrees, or the pursuit of "the American Dream." Institutionalized means are best described as society’s proposed paths to achieve cultural goals. Merton hypothesized that the acceptance or rejection of cultural goals and institutionalized means of achievement defined an individual’s level of deviance. Conformists accept cultural norms and institutionalized means while retreatists reject both norms and means. An innovator will accept cultural goals but reject the institutionalized means to obtain them. A ritualist will embrace the rules set forth by society but will lose sight of and reject cultural norms. Lastly, rebellious individuals will create a counter-culture that not only rejects a society's goals and means, but also creates new cultural norms and means to achieve these goals.

Deviance plays a role in society that has been studied by various sociologists. Some feel that it is a necessary element utilized in the structure and function of society, while others feel that it defines an individual’s outlook on societal norms and means of achievement. Deviance can be described as behavior that goes against the grain of conduct deemed acceptable by society. The phenomena that exist in its composition and purpose will continue to be studied by researchers in an effort to better understand society and culture.

Which of the following represents behaviors or actions that violate informal and formal social sanctions?

Possible Answers:

Folkways

Mores

Goals

Deviance

Sociology

Correct answer:

Deviance

Explanation:

Deviance is defined in the first paragraph of the passage. The passage states that deviance is best described as behaviors that violate social sanctions. This answer is supported by the passage.

Example Question #15 : History Passages

Adapted from A Modern History from the Time of Luther to the Fall of Napoleon by John Lord (1874)

For more than ten centuries, great struggles have been going on in society between the dominant orders and sects. The victories gained by the oppressed millions over their different masters, constitute what is called the progress of society. When any great order defended the cause of the people against the tyranny and selfishness of another order, then the people have advanced a step in civil and social freedom.

When feudalism weighed heavily upon the people, the clergy sought justice on their behalf. By the aid of the church, royalty also rose above feudalism, and aided the popular cause. The church, having gained the ascendency, sought then to enslave the kings of the earth. But royalty, borrowing help from humiliated nobles and from the people, became the dominant power in Europe.

In these struggles, the people acquired political importance. They had obtained a knowledge of their rights and of their strength; and they were determined to maintain them. They liked not the tyranny of either nobles, priests, or kings; but they bent all their energies to suppress the power of the latter, since the two former had been already humiliated.

The struggle of the people against royalty is preeminently the genius of the English Revolution. It is to be doubted whether any king could have resisted the storm of popular fury which hurled Charles from his throne. But no king could have managed worse than he; no king could be more unfortunately and unpropitiously placed, and his own imprudence and folly hastened the catastrophe.

The House of Commons, which had acquired great strength, spirit, and popularity during the reign of James, fully perceived the difficulties and necessities of Charles, but made no adequate or generous effort to relieve him from them. Some of the more turbulent rejoiced in them. They knew that kings, like other men, were selfish, and that it was not natural for people to part with their privileges and power without a struggle, even though this power was injurious to the interests of society. In the Middle Ages, barons, bishops, and popes had fought desperately in the struggle of classes; and it was only from their necessities that either kings or people had obtained what they demanded. King Charles, no more than Pope Boniface VIII, would surrender, as a boon to man, without compulsion, his supposed omnipotence.

According to the author, “social progress” is defined by __________.

Possible Answers:

the greater recognition of universal human rights

the advancement of the clergy as opposed to the nobles or kings

the victories achieved by the oppressed over their oppressors

the replacement of faith with scientific reason

the increasing influence of religion upon people’s lives

Correct answer:

the victories achieved by the oppressed over their oppressors

Explanation:

In the opening paragraph, the author says, “The victories gained by the oppressed millions over their different masters constitute what is called the progress of society.” You can clearly see that, to the author, “social progress” is defined by the victories achieved by the oppressed over their oppressors. From the surrounding context,  you might infer that the correct answer should be to do with religion or the clergy specifically, but this is just an example the author gives of how “social progress” has been achieved.

Example Question #16 : History Passages

Adapted from A Modern History from the Time of Luther to the Fall of Napoleon by John Lord (1874)

For more than ten centuries, great struggles have been going on in society between the dominant orders and sects. The victories gained by the oppressed millions over their different masters, constitute what is called the progress of society. When any great order defended the cause of the people against the tyranny and selfishness of another order, then the people have advanced a step in civil and social freedom.

When feudalism weighed heavily upon the people, the clergy sought justice on their behalf. By the aid of the church, royalty also rose above feudalism, and aided the popular cause. The church, having gained the ascendency, sought then to enslave the kings of the earth. But royalty, borrowing help from humiliated nobles and from the people, became the dominant power in Europe.

In these struggles, the people acquired political importance. They had obtained a knowledge of their rights and of their strength; and they were determined to maintain them. They liked not the tyranny of either nobles, priests, or kings; but they bent all their energies to suppress the power of the latter, since the two former had been already humiliated.

The struggle of the people against royalty is preeminently the genius of the English Revolution. It is to be doubted whether any king could have resisted the storm of popular fury which hurled Charles from his throne. But no king could have managed worse than he; no king could be more unfortunately and unpropitiously placed, and his own imprudence and folly hastened the catastrophe.

The House of Commons, which had acquired great strength, spirit, and popularity during the reign of James, fully perceived the difficulties and necessities of Charles, but made no adequate or generous effort to relieve him from them. Some of the more turbulent rejoiced in them. They knew that kings, like other men, were selfish, and that it was not natural for people to part with their privileges and power without a struggle, even though this power was injurious to the interests of society. In the Middle Ages, barons, bishops, and popes had fought desperately in the struggle of classes; and it was only from their necessities that either kings or people had obtained what they demanded. King Charles, no more than Pope Boniface VIII, would surrender, as a boon to man, without compulsion, his supposed omnipotence.

According to the author, how did the people primarily realize their political importance?

Possible Answers:

Through the extension of human rights achieved by the House of Commons.

By currying favor with the clergy by resisting the influence of the nobility.

None of these answers is correct; the author believes the people have still yet to realize their political importance.

By manipulating the power struggles between the various controlling orders to suit the advancement of universal interests.

Through the spread of literature and literacy in Renaissance Europe.

Correct answer:

By manipulating the power struggles between the various controlling orders to suit the advancement of universal interests.

Explanation:

Many of these answer choices are specific examples of how the people have advanced their rights and privileges, but only one answer represents the broad and primary means by which the common man has advanced throughout history. This is the answer choice "By manipulating the power struggles between the various controlling orders to suit the advancement of universal interests." Evidence for this answer choice can be seen primarily when the author says, “In these struggles, the people had acquired political importance. They had obtained a knowledge of their rights and of their strength, and they were determined to maintain them.”

Example Question #13 : Locating Details In Narrative Social Science Passages

Adapted from A Child’s History of England by Charles Darwin (1905) 

On Christmas Day, William was crowned in Westminster Abbey under the title of William the First, but he is best known as William the Conqueror. It was a strange coronation. One of the bishops who performed the ceremony asked the Normans, in French, if they would have William the Conqueror for their king. They answered "Yes." Another of the bishops put the same question to the Saxons, in English. They too answered "Yes," with a loud shout. The noise was heard by a guard of Norman horse-soldiers outside, and was mistaken for resistance on the part of the English. The guard instantly set fire to the neighboring houses, and chaos ensued, in the midst of which the king, being left alone in the abbey with a few priests (and they all being in a terrible fright together) was hurriedly crowned. When the crown was placed upon his head, he swore to govern the English as well as the best of their own monarchs. I dare say you think, as I do, that if we except the great Alfred, he might pretty easily have done that.

Why does the author think the crowning of William was a “strange coronation”?

Possible Answers:

Because the bishops in attendance were unwilling to crown William without the consent of all the people

Because of the romantic nature of the conquered English people

Because of the hurried nature of the ceremony

Because of the aggressive behavior of the Norman conquerors

Because of the tensions between the Normans and the English

Correct answer:

Because of the tensions between the Normans and the English

Explanation:

The author says it was a “strange coronation” because there were tensions between the conquering Normans and the conquered English that too easily broke out into chaos and conflict. Take the portion of text immediately after the author says it was a “strange coronation,” the author writes, “One of the bishops who performed the ceremony asked the Normans, in French, if they would have William the Conqueror for their king. They answered "Yes." Another of the bishops put the same question to the Saxons, in English. They too answered "Yes," with a loud shout. The noise was heard by a guard of Norman horse-soldiers outside, and was mistaken for resistance on the part of the English.” The strangeness is not derived from the nature of the ceremony, the behavior of the Normans or the English, or the bishops. It is a result of the tensions between the Normans, who clearly felt the English might not accept their leader as their king, and the inability of the two groups to understand one another.

Example Question #1 : Isee Middle Level (Grades 7 8) Reading Comprehension

"The Holy Roman Empire" by Daniel Morrison (2014)

The Holy Roman Empire was somewhat unique among the various organized states of Middle and Early Modern Europe in that the Emperor was chosen by a group of electors. This is in stark contrast to the strict hereditary nature of English or French succession, where the position of monarch was handed down from the outgoing ruler to his closest legitimate heir, usually a son. In the Holy Roman Empire, the Emperor was chosen by seven electors, which in theory might seem to give the Empire a sort of early democratic flavor. However, in practice, only two or three families were ever able to draw on sufficient personal wealth to stand for election. Of these, the Luxembourgs and the Hapsburgs are most well known. The Hapsburgs were so successful that they were able to maintain their “elected” position for almost four centuries, and the Luxembourgs somehow still have a small country named after their family almost seven hundred years after their fall from dominance.

What is the main idea of this passage?

Possible Answers:

That the English and French monarchies suffered from their direct form of inheritance.

That the Luxembourg family is lucky to still have a country named after it.

That the Hapsburg family is the most powerful in European history.

That the Holy Roman Empire was neither, strictly speaking, Holy, Roman, nor an Empire.

That the Holy Roman Empire was unusual in European history because it was not based on inheritance.

Correct answer:

That the Holy Roman Empire was unusual in European history because it was not based on inheritance.

Explanation:

The main idea or argument of this article is that the Holy Roman Empire was unusual in European history. The title of the article suggests this, and the author highlights this at the beginning of the passage when he says, “The Holy Roman Empire was somewhat unique among the various organized states of Middle and Early Modern Europe in that the Emperor was chosen by a group of electors. This is in stark contrast to the strict hereditary nature of English or French succession." The other answer choices are either not mentioned in the text, or else are part of the author’s less significant arguments.

Example Question #1 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Idea And Theme In History Passages

Adapted from The Man who Spoiled Napoleon’s Destiny by Rev. W. H. Fitchett, LL.D. (1899)

From March 18 to May 20, 1799—for more than sixty days and nights, that is—a little, half-forgotten, and more than half-ruined Syrian town was the scene of one of the fiercest and most dramatic sieges recorded in military history. And rarely has there been a struggle so apparently one-sided.

A handful of British sailors and Turkish irregulars were holding Acre, a town without regular defenses, against Napoleon, the most brilliant military genius of his generation, with an army of 10,000 war-hardened veterans, the "Army of Italy"—soldiers who had dared the snows of the Alps and conquered Italy, and to whom victory was a familiar experience. In their ranks military daring had reached, perhaps, its very highest point. And yet the sailors inside that ring of crumbling wall won! At Acre Napoleon experienced his first defeat; and, years after, at St. Helena, he said of Sir Sidney Smith, the gallant sailor who baffled him, "That man made me miss my destiny." It is a curious fact that one Englishman thwarted Napoleon's career in the East, and another ended his career in the West, and it may be doubted which of the two Napoleon hated most—Wellington, who finally overthrew him at Waterloo, or Sidney Smith, who, to use Napoleon's own words, made him "miss his destiny," and exchange the empire of the East for a lonely pinnacle of rock in the Atlantic.

What is the "destiny” that Napoleon misses out on?

Possible Answers:

To be Emperor of the East

To be General of the Army of Italy

To be named protector of France

To live on a rock in the Atlantic

To die in Syria

Correct answer:

To be Emperor of the East

Explanation:

The author says that Napoleon felt he had missed out on his destiny when Sir Sidney Smith defeats him at Acre. The author says: “. . . to use Napoleon's own words, made him "miss his destiny," and exchange the empire of the East for a lonely pinnacle of rock in the Atlantic.” Here “his destiny” is equated with “the empire of the East,” so you can infer that Napoleon’s destiny is “to be Emperor of the East.”

Example Question #42 : Narrative Social Science Passages

Adapted from The Man who Spoiled Napoleon’s Destiny by Rev. W. H. Fitchett, LL.D. (1899)

From March 18 to May 20, 1799—for more than sixty days and nights, that is—a little, half-forgotten, and more than half-ruined Syrian town was the scene of one of the fiercest and most dramatic sieges recorded in military history. And rarely has there been a struggle so apparently one-sided.

A handful of British sailors and Turkish irregulars were holding Acre, a town without regular defenses, against Napoleon, the most brilliant military genius of his generation, with an army of 10,000 war-hardened veterans, the "Army of Italy"—soldiers who had dared the snows of the Alps and conquered Italy, and to whom victory was a familiar experience. In their ranks military daring had reached, perhaps, its very highest point. And yet the sailors inside that ring of crumbling wall won! At Acre Napoleon experienced his first defeat; and, years after, at St. Helena, he said of Sir Sidney Smith, the gallant sailor who baffled him, "That man made me miss my destiny." It is a curious fact that one Englishman thwarted Napoleon's career in the East, and another ended his career in the West, and it may be doubted which of the two Napoleon hated most—Wellington, who finally overthrew him at Waterloo, or Sidney Smith, who, to use Napoleon's own words, made him "miss his destiny," and exchange the empire of the East for a lonely pinnacle of rock in the Atlantic.

Who does Napoleon believe “robbed him of his destiny”?

Possible Answers:

God

Wellington

The weather

Sir Sidney Smith

The French Government

Correct answer:

Sir Sidney Smith

Explanation:

This question is asking if you can identify the main point of a passage. This passage is talking about Sir Sidney Smith and Napoleon, and how Smith “robbed” Napoleon of his destiny. The answer is also directly stated in the passage's last line, when the author says, “. . . Sidney Smith, who, to use Napoleon's own words, made him "miss his destiny," and exchange the empire of the East for a lonely pinnacle of rock in the Atlantic.”

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