HSPT Reading : Making Inferences in Social Science Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for HSPT Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #63 : Isee Middle Level (Grades 7 8) Reading Comprehension

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.

Based on the passage, one can tell that the author most supports __________.

Possible Answers:

the people

It is impossible to tell.

the clergy

the nobles


Correct answer:

the people


The author begins by discussing how "the people" relate to "the dominant orders and sects" in the first paragraph. The specific attention he gives to the people at the expense of the other groups mentioned throughout the essay suggests he is probably on their side. Furthermore, later in the essay, the author states, "The struggle of the people against royalty is preeminently the genius of the English Revolution." This combined with the earlier clue suggests that the author is on the side of the people more so than any of the other specific groups mentioned.

Example Question #1 : Understanding And Evaluating Opinions And Arguments 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.

Which of these assumptions does the author most notably make in this text?

Possible Answers:

His audience understands the significance of where William comes from

His audience does not care where William was crowned

His audience understands the similarities between the English and the French

His audience does not want to read a disagreeable story

His audience is already familiar with aspects of English history

Correct answer:

His audience is already familiar with aspects of English history


When the author says, “I dare say you think, as I do, that if we except the great Alfred, he might pretty easily have done that,” he is guilty of assuming that his audience is well-read in English history. He does not explain who Alfred is and says something along the lines of “I expect you agree with me that William ruled England almost as well as Alfred did.” The fact of where William comes from is mentioned—he is a Norman—but there is no assumption made on the part of the author that the audience understands the significance of that. Likewise, the author goes to great lengths to say exactly where William was crowned, so he would hardly assume his audience does not care. The story is disagreeable, resulting in a fire and chaos, so this answer choice is also incorrect. Finally, the similarities between the English and French are both unmentioned and unimportant.

Example Question #2 : Textual Relationships 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 can you infer about Sir Sidney Smith?

Possible Answers:

He is Emperor of the East. 

He is an ally of Napoleon.

He is a native of Acre.

He has never been on a boat.

He is an Englishman. 

Correct answer:

He is an Englishman. 


We know that Sir Sidney Smith has been on a boat because he is a sailor, and likewise, we know he is not an ally of Napoleon because he fights him in a battle. There is no evidence to suggest that he is from Acre or Emperor of the East. The only verifiable answer is that Sir Sidney Smith is an Englishman. The author says, “It is a curious fact that one Englishman thwarted Napoleon's career in the East, and another ended his career in the West." The Englishman that he is referring to as thwarting Napoleon in the the East is Sir Sydney Smith.

Example Question #1 : Making Inferences In Social Science Passages

Adapted from Early European History by Hutton Webster (1917) 

The prehistoric period is commonly divided, according to the character of the materials used for tools and weapons, into the Age of Stone and the Age of Metals. The one is the age of savagery; the other is the age of barbarism or semi-civilization.

Man's earliest implements were those that lay ready to his hand. A branch from a tree served as a spear; a thick stick in his strong arms became a powerful club. Later, perhaps, came the use of a hard stone such as flint, which could be chipped into the forms of arrowheads, axes, and spear tips. The first stone implements were so rude in shape that it is difficult to believe them of human workmanship. They may have been made several hundred thousand years ago. After countless centuries of slow advance, early people learned to fasten wooden handles to their stone tools and weapons and also to use such materials as jade and granite, which could be ground and polished into a variety of forms. Stone implements continued to be made during the greater part of the prehistoric period. Every region of the world has had a Stone Age.  Its length is reckoned, not by centuries, but by millennia.

The Age of Metals, compared with its predecessor, covers a brief expanse of time. The use of metals came in not much before the dawn of history. The earliest civilized peoples, the Babylonians and Egyptians, when we first become acquainted with them, appear to be passing from the use of stone implements to those of metal. Copper was the first metal in common use. The credit for the invention of copper tools seems to belong to the Egyptians. At a very early date they were working the copper mines on the peninsula of Sinai. The Babylonians probably obtained their copper from the same region. Another source of this metal was the island of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean. The Greek name of the island means "copper." But copper tools were soft and would not keep an edge. Some ancient smith, more ingenious than his fellows, discovered that the addition of a small part of tin to the copper produced a new metal—bronze—harder than the old, yet capable of being molded into a variety of forms. At least as early as 3000 BCE we find bronze taking the place of copper in both Egypt and Babylonia. Somewhat later bronze was introduced into the island of Crete, then along the eastern coast of Greece, and afterwards into other European countries.

The introduction of iron occurred in comparatively recent times. At first it was a scarce, and therefore a very precious, metal. The Egyptians seem to have made little use of iron before 1500 BCE They called it "the metal of heaven," as if they obtained it from meteorites. In the Greek Homeric poems, composed about 900 BCE or later, we find iron considered so valuable that a lump of it is one of the chief prizes at athletic games. In the first five books of the Bible iron is mentioned only thirteen times, though copper and bronze are referred to forty-four times. Iron is more difficult to work than either copper or bronze, but it is vastly superior to those metals in hardness and durability. Hence it gradually displaced them throughout the greater part of the Old World.

What can you infer about iron, as opposed to bronze and copper, based on the number of times each is mentioned in the Old Testament?

Possible Answers:

Iron was scarcer than copper or bronze.

Iron was more readily available than copper or bronze.

Iron was weaker than copper of bronze.

Iron was stronger than copper or bronze.

The authors of the Bible thought that iron was less favored by God than was copper or bronze.

Correct answer:

Iron was scarcer than copper or bronze.


The author says, “In the first five books of the Bible iron is mentioned only thirteen times, though copper and bronze are referred to forty-four times.” From this, you could infer that copper and bronze were more common than iron during the era in which the Bible was written. In addition, earlier in the passage, the author remarks, “The introduction of iron occurred in comparatively recent times. At first it was a scarce, and therefore a very precious, metal.” To help you, “scarce” means rare.

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