ISEE Lower Level Reading : Analyzing Passage Logic, Genre, and Organization in Contemporary Life Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ISEE Lower Level Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #5 : Authorial Purpose In Humanities Passages

Adapted from Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads by John A. Lomax (1910)

The big ranches of the West are now being cut up into small farms. The nester has come, and come to stay. Gone is the buffalo and the free grass of the open plain—even the stinging lizard, the horned frog, the centipede, the prairie dog, the rattlesnake, are fast disappearing. Save in some of the secluded valleys of southern New Mexico, the old-time round-up is no more; the trails to Kansas and to Montana have become grass-grown or lost in fields of waving grain; the maverick steer, the regal longhorn, has been supplanted by his unpoetic but more beefy and profitable Polled Angus, Durham, and Hereford cousins from across the seas. The changing and romantic West of the early days lives mainly in story and in song. The last figure to vanish is the cowboy, the animating spirit of the vanishing era. He sits his horse easily as he rides through a wide valley, enclosed by mountains, clad in the hazy purple of coming night,—with his face turned steadily down the long, long road, "the road that the sun goes down." Dauntless, reckless, without the unearthly purity of Sir Galahad though as gentle to a woman as King Arthur, he is truly a knight of the twentieth century. A vagrant puff of wind shakes a corner of the crimson handkerchief knotted loosely at his throat; the thud of his pony's feet mingling with the jingle of his spurs is borne back; and as the careless, gracious, lovable figure disappears over the divide, the breeze brings to the ears, faint and far yet cheery still, the refrain of a cowboy song.

Why does the author start the passage by listing disappearing species of the plains?

Possible Answers:

To describe the sparse economic resources that cowboys had available to them

To draw attention to the problem of endangered species

To highlight the bravery of the cowboys

To compare the cowboy to other disappearing figures of the American West

To give the reader important context about the ecosystem of the American West

Correct answer:

To compare the cowboy to other disappearing figures of the American West

Explanation:

The author starts the paragraph by describing how the entire western landscape, including the variety of animals that live there, is changing. He then shifts to talking about cowboys with this transition: “The last figure to vanish is the cowboy, the animating spirit of the vanishing era.” In this way, the author puts the cowboy into context by comparing him to other classic—and disappearing—figures of the American West.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Passage Logic, Genre, And Organization In Contemporary Life Passages

"Why Learning Multiple Languages in Graduate School is Important" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

In graduate school, students are often required to learn a number of foreign languages in addition to their regular coursework. This can be quite frustrating and difficult, for the normal courses in graduate school require significantly more reading and writing than do undergraduate courses. It is not unusual for graduate students to have regular reading assignments of several hundred pages for each course that they take. Likewise, they often write papers of much greater length than those that they wrote as undergraduate students. When language examinations are added to this difficult course load, it can be very frustrating for graduate students to try to find the time to prepare for these additional examinations.

Although these frustrations are understandable, this system has not been created solely to cause woe for graduate students. Much of the work for which these students are being prepared will focus on research. While much has been written in English about many topics, adequate research can only be done if one is able to read what people have written in other languages. For instance, there are many important articles and books written about almost every topic by European scholars. If a graduate student does not know any foreign languages, all of these article and books will be impossible to read, and hence useless to their research endeavors. This would be a great loss for a student's research. Therefore, in spite of its frustrating aspects, the language examination process is an important component of graduate school education.

In addition to introducing the topic, what is the purpose of the first paragraph in this passage?

Possible Answers:

To advocate on behalf of an elimination of graduate school language exams

To explain the the justifications for delaying graduate school language exams for several years

To describe the dire plight of students who cannot learn languages well

To make a concession and present reasons why people dislike language exams in graduate school

To discuss the various means of language examinations used in graduate schools

Correct answer:

To make a concession and present reasons why people dislike language exams in graduate school

Explanation:

The first paragraph presents a view that is then (indirectly) opposed in the second paragraph. This is signaled by the second paragraph's opening sentence, "Although these frustrations are understandable, . . ."  The second paragraph then continues by providing justifications for the language examinations given in graduate schools. It then closes with the key sentence, "Therefore, in spite of its frustrating aspects, the language examination process is an important component of graduate school education." The first paragraph did concede that these exams are frustrating, providing some reasons for that frustration.

Example Question #2 : Analyzing Passage Logic, Genre, And Organization In Contemporary Life Passages

"Why Learning Multiple Languages in Graduate School is Important" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

In graduate school, students are often required to learn a number of foreign languages in addition to their regular coursework. This can be quite frustrating and difficult, for the normal courses in graduate school require significantly more reading and writing than do undergraduate courses. It is not unusual for graduate students to have regular reading assignments of several hundred pages for each course that they take. Likewise, they often write papers of much greater length than those that they wrote as undergraduate students. When language examinations are added to this difficult course load, it can be very frustrating for graduate students to try to find the time to prepare for these additional examinations.

Although these frustrations are understandable, this system has not been created solely to cause woe for graduate students. Much of the work for which these students are being prepared will focus on research. While much has been written in English about many topics, adequate research can only be done if one is able to read what people have written in other languages. For instance, there are many important articles and books written about almost every topic by European scholars. If a graduate student does not know any foreign languages, all of these article and books will be impossible to read, and hence useless to their research endeavors. This would be a great loss for a student's research. Therefore, in spite of its frustrating aspects, the language examination process is an important component of graduate school education.

What is the purpose of the second paragraph in this passage?

Possible Answers:

To condemn the laziness of those students who dislike graduate school language examinations

To argue on behalf of an increase in the number of language exams from their current number

To remark on the marvels of language and the enlightenment that it affords

To disagree with the methods of examining often proposed by students

To present the author's argument that the language exams in question are, in fact, reasonable

Correct answer:

To present the author's argument that the language exams in question are, in fact, reasonable

Explanation:

The second paragraph opens by stating that the system of language exams was not created to cause distress for graduate students. It argues that there are indeed justifications for these exams, particularly in view of the research that students will be undertaking. The remainder of the paragraph provides supporting reasons for the importance of languages in preparing graduate students to undertake research. All of this aims to show the reasonableness of this system, in spite of the remarks that were noted in the first paragraph.

Example Question #95 : Critical Comprehension

"Addictions" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Addictions come in many forms, often quite hidden from those who should be aware of them. It is helpful to be aware of how hidden these obsessive behaviors can be. Often, they appear to be harmless, but this appearance is deceptive.  Perhaps several examples can assist in increasing the reader’s awareness of these potentially problematic habits. 

A very simple example of such an apparently innocuous addiction is the addiction that many people have to a beverage like coffee. While not as destructive as an addiction to alcohol, an extreme need for caffeine often covers a need for more sleep or an overzealous desire to be completely energetic at every waking moment. Also, a great deal of caffeine can potentially do damage to one’s heart due to the stress caused by its stimulating effects. 

Another example of a seemingly harmless addiction can be found in the case of people who are addicted to work. It is very tempting to praise such obsessive behavior, as it provides many benefits for others and even for the one doing the work. The advancement of a career certainly seems beneficial and often allows for great personal and financial fulfillment. Nevertheless, constant work often hides some sadness, insecurity, or fear that should be confronted by the person who slaves away without cessation. Likewise, over time, such continuous work often can be greatly destructive of important personal relationships.

Of course, many more examples could be brought forth, for one can obsess over almost anything. Still, even these two simple examples should make clear to the reader that it is possible for there to be apparently harmless—indeed, seemingly helpful—life practices that in reality can pose a potential harm to one’s physical or mental well-being.

What is the purpose of the second and third paragraphs?

Possible Answers:

To provide specific examples of addictions that appear to be harmless at first glance

To provide examples of several extremely harmful addictions

To explain how deceptive addictions hide their harmfulness

To explain the meaning of the notion of "harmless addictions"

To provide examples of several addictions that ultimately are not harmful

Correct answer:

To provide specific examples of addictions that appear to be harmless at first glance

Explanation:

The beginnings of these paragraphs' sentences express their purpose very well:

(1) "A very simple example of such an apparently innocuous addiction . . ."

(2) "Another example of a seemingly harmless addiction . . ."

The key words are "apparently innocuous" and "seemingly harmless."  These show that the addictions being enumerated appear harmless (though they actually are). This was also implied in the opening paragraph.

Example Question #3 : Analyzing Passage Logic, Genre, And Organization In Contemporary Life Passages

Adapted from "Errors in Our Food Economy" in Scientific American Supplement No. 1082 Vol. XLII (September 26th, 1896)

Scientific research, interpreting the observations of practical life, implies that several errors are common in the use of food.

First, many people purchase needlessly expensive kinds of food, doing this under the false impression that there is some peculiar virtue in the costlier materials, and that economy in our diet is somehow detrimental to our dignity or our welfare. And, unfortunately, those who are most extravagant in this respect are often the ones who can least afford it.

Secondly, the food which we eat does not always contain the proper proportions of the different kinds of nutritive ingredients. We consume relatively too much of the fuel ingredients of food, such as the fats of meat and butter, and the starch which makes up the larger part of the nutritive material of flour, potatoes, sugar, and sweetmeats. Conversely, we have relatively too little of the protein of flesh-forming substances, like the lean of meat and fish and the gluten of wheat, which make muscle and sinew and which are the basis of blood, bone and brain.

Thirdly, many people, not only the well-to-do, but those in moderate circumstances, use needless quantities of food. Part of the excess, however, is simply thrown away with the wastes of the table and the kitchen; so that the injury to health, great as it may be, is doubtless much less than if all were eaten. Probably the worst sufferers from this evil are well-to-do people of sedentary occupations.

Finally, we are guilty of serious errors in our cooking. We waste a great deal of fuel in the preparation of our food, and even then a great deal of the food is very badly cooked. A reform in these methods of cooking is one of the economic demands of our time.

In the first sentence of the passage, the author is primarily __________.

Possible Answers:

establishing that what follows is based on scientific observation

contesting a commonly held opinion about the scarcity of food resources

lamenting the lack of scientific research that has been done on people’s eating habits

highlighting the need for additional scientific inquiry into the topic under discussion

mourning the loss of scientific documents about the topic under discussion in recent years

Correct answer:

establishing that what follows is based on scientific observation

Explanation:

The first sentence of this passage reads as follows: “Scientific research, interpreting the observations of practical life, implies that several errors are common in the use of food.” The author wants his audience to understand that the argument he is making is based on “scientific observation.” He does this so as to lend extra credibility to his argument. There is no indication that he is “lamenting” or “mourning” anything, nor that he is arguing against a commonly held opinion or highlighting a need for additional research.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Passage Logic, Genre, And Organization In Contemporary Life Passages

Adapted from The Principles of Breeding by S. L. Goodale (1861)

The Jersey cow, formerly known as the Alderney, is almost exclusively employed for dairy purposes, and may not be expected to give satisfaction for other uses. Their milk is richer than that of any other cows, and the butter made from it possesses a superior flavor and a deep rich color, and consequently commands an extraordinary price in all markets where good butter is appreciated.

Jersey cattle are of Norman origin, and are noted for their milking properties. The cows are generally very docile and gentle, but the males when past two or three years of age often become vicious and unmanageable. It is said that the cows fatten readily when dry.

There is no branch of cattle husbandry which promises better returns than the breeding and rearing of milch cows. In the vicinity of large towns and cities are many cows which having been culled from many miles around, on account of dairy properties, are considerably above the average, but taking the cows of the country together they do not compare favorably with the oxen. Farmers generally take more pride in their oxen, and strive to have as good or better than any of their neighbors, while if a cow will give milk enough to rear a large steer calf and a little besides, it is often deemed satisfactory.

The author would likely characterize the “pride” of the farmer as __________.

Possible Answers:

wise

abhorrent

beneficial

misplaced

ridiculous

Correct answer:

misplaced

Explanation:

In context, the author says, “Farmers generally take more pride in their oxen, and strive to have as good or better than any of their neighbors, while if a cow will give milk enough to rear a large steer calf and a little besides, that is often good enough for the farmer.” He is talking about how farmers take more pride in their oxen then they do in their dairy cows. From the context of the rest of the essay, where the author is arguing for an increased attention being paid to the selective breeding of dairy cows, it is easy to infer that the author would view the pride in oxen as “misplaced." He would encourage farmers to pay greater attention to their dairy cows and less attention to their oxen. The answer choices “ridiculous” and “abhorrent” (offensive and disgraceful) are too strong for the author’s word choices here, and “wise” and “beneficial” (helpful) have the opposite meaning to the correct answer.

Example Question #1 : Making Inferences In Contemporary Life Passages

Adapted from The Principles of Breeding by S. L. Goodale (1861)

The Jersey cow, formerly known as the Alderney, is almost exclusively employed for dairy purposes, and may not be expected to give satisfaction for other uses. Their milk is richer than that of any other cows, and the butter made from it possesses a superior flavor and a deep rich color, and consequently commands an extraordinary price in all markets where good butter is appreciated.

Jersey cattle are of Norman origin, and are noted for their milking properties. The cows are generally very docile and gentle, but the males when past two or three years of age often become vicious and unmanageable. It is said that the cows fatten readily when dry.

There is no branch of cattle husbandry which promises better returns than the breeding and rearing of milch cows. In the vicinity of large towns and cities are many cows which having been culled from many miles around, on account of dairy properties, are considerably above the average, but taking the cows of the country together they do not compare favorably with the oxen. Farmers generally take more pride in their oxen, and strive to have as good or better than any of their neighbors, while if a cow will give milk enough to rear a large steer calf and a little besides, it is often deemed satisfactory.

The author would most likely view using a Jersey cow as a source of beef as __________.

Possible Answers:

a situational consideration

a foolish, but understandable mistake

It is impossible to say.

a viable way to make a profit

a waste of resources

Correct answer:

a waste of resources

Explanation:

Answering this question requires you to read the first paragraph carefully and make an inference from what the author says: “These cattle, formerly known as Alderney, are almost exclusively employed for dairy purposes, and may not be expected to give satisfaction for other uses.” He goes on to say that the milk and butter produced from these cows is very valuable, so if a farmer employed a Jersey cow for different purposes, the author would probably view the decision as “a waste of resources.”

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