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

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Determining Authorial Purpose In Narrative Social Science Passages

Adapted from "Crossing the Rubicon" in History of Julius Caesar by Jacob Abbott (1902)

There was a little stream in ancient times, in the north of Italy, which flowed eastward into the Adriatic Sea, called the Rubicon. This stream has been immortalized by the transactions which we are now about to describe.

The Rubicon was a very important boundary, and yet it was in itself so small and insignificant that it is now impossible to determine which of two or three little brooks here running into the sea is entitled to its name and renown. In history the Rubicon is a grand, permanent, and conspicuous stream, gazed upon with continued interest by all mankind for nearly twenty centuries; in nature it is an uncertain rivulet, for a long time doubtful and undetermined, and finally lost.

The Rubicon originally derived its importance from the fact that it was the boundary between all that part of the north of Italy which is formed by the valley of the Po, one of the richest and most magnificent countries of the world, and the more southern Roman territories. This country of the Po constituted what was in those days called the hither Gaul, and was a Roman province. It belonged now to Cæsar's jurisdiction, as the commander in Gaul. All south of the Rubicon was territory reserved for the immediate jurisdiction of the city. The Romans, in order to protect themselves from any danger which might threaten their own liberties from the immense armies which they raised for the conquest of foreign nations, had imposed on every side very strict limitations and restrictions in respect to the approach of these armies to the capital. The Rubicon was the limit on this northern side. Generals commanding in Gaul were never to pass it. To cross the Rubicon with an army on the way to Rome was rebellion and treason. Hence the Rubicon became, as it were, the visible sign and symbol of civil restriction to military power.

Why does the author discuss the geographical nature of the Rubicon at the beginning of the second paragraph? 

Possible Answers:

To illustrate how close the river was to the city of Rome

To demonstrate how simple it would have been for Caesar to cross the river

To contrast the smallness of its actual size with the massive effect it has had on history

To discuss the logistical problems faced by Caesar’s army

To defend against allegations that Caesar was an abhorrent tyrant

Correct answer:

To contrast the smallness of its actual size with the massive effect it has had on history

Explanation:

The author discusses the geographic smallness of the river to contrast the river's size with its historical significance. Immediately after remarking on the smallness of the river, the author states, “In history the Rubicon is a grand, permanent, and conspicuous stream, gazed upon with continued interest by all mankind for nearly twenty centuries; in nature it is an uncertain rivulet, for a long time doubtful and undetermined, and finally lost.” To provide further help, “conspicuous” means striking or easily noticed, and “rivulet” means small river.

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

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

Henry Plantagenet, when he was but twenty-one years old, quietly succeeded to the throne of England, according to his agreement made with the late king at Winchester. Six weeks after Stephen’s death, he and his queen, Eleanor, were crowned in that city, into which they rode on horseback in great state, side by side, amidst much shouting and rejoicing, and clashing of music, and strewing of flowers.

The reign of King Henry the Second began well. The king had great possessions, and (with his own property, and with that of his wife) was lord of one-third part of France. He was a young man of strength, ability, and determination, and immediately applied himself to remove some of the evils which had arisen in the last unhappy reign. He took away all the grants of land that had been hastily made, on either side, during the recent struggles; he forced numbers of disorderly soldiers to depart from England; he reclaimed all the castles belonging to the crown; and he forced the wicked nobles to pull down their own castles, to the number of eleven hundred, in which such dismal cruelties had been inflicted on the people.  

The king’s brother, Geoffrey, rose against him in France and forced Henry to wage a war in France. After he had subdued and made a friendly arrangement with his brother (who did not live long), his ambition to increase his possessions involved him in a war with the French king, Louis. He had been on such friendly terms with the French king just before, that to his infant daughter, then a baby in the cradle, he had promised one of his little sons in marriage, who was a child of five years old. However, the war came to nothing at last, and the Pope made the two kings friends again.

The theme of the second paragraph is that __________.

Possible Answers:

War with France was inevitable once Henry became King.

Henry was facing an impossible task in trying to keep England under control.

Henry had many difficulties to confront upon becoming king and was able to meet them due to his strong and talented nature.

The reign of the previous king had been much more successful than Henry’s was.

Stephen had left Henry a great deal of wealth to spend.

Correct answer:

Henry had many difficulties to confront upon becoming king and was able to meet them due to his strong and talented nature.

Explanation:

In the second paragraph, the author says, “[King Henry] was a young man of strength, ability, and determination, and immediately applied himself to remove some of the evils which had arisen in the last unhappy reign.” The author then goes on to list the many difficult tasks that Henry had to accomplish once he became king and suggests that he was able to do so because of his “strength, ability, and determination.” This tells you that theme of the second paragraph is that “Henry had many difficulties to confront upon becoming king and was able to meet them due to his strong and talented nature.”

Example Question #3 : 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 does not want to read a disagreeable story

His audience understands the similarities between the English and the French

His audience understands the significance of where William comes from

His audience does not care where William was crowned

His audience is already familiar with aspects of English history

Correct answer:

His audience is already familiar with aspects of English history

Explanation:

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 #1 : Analyzing Passage Logic, Genre, And Organization In History Passages

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

Henry Plantagenet, when he was but twenty-one years old, quietly succeeded to the throne of England, according to his agreement made with the late king at Winchester. Six weeks after Stephen’s death, he and his queen, Eleanor, were crowned in that city, into which they rode on horseback in great state, side by side, amidst much shouting and rejoicing, and clashing of music, and strewing of flowers.

The reign of King Henry the Second began well. The king had great possessions, and (with his own property, and with that of his wife) was lord of one-third part of France. He was a young man of strength, ability, and determination, and immediately applied himself to remove some of the evils which had arisen in the last unhappy reign. He took away all the grants of land that had been hastily made, on either side, during the recent struggles; he forced numbers of disorderly soldiers to depart from England; he reclaimed all the castles belonging to the crown; and he forced the wicked nobles to pull down their own castles, to the number of eleven hundred, in which such dismal cruelties had been inflicted on the people.  

The king’s brother, Geoffrey, rose against him in France and forced Henry to wage a war in France. After he had subdued and made a friendly arrangement with his brother (who did not live long), his ambition to increase his possessions involved him in a war with the French king, Louis. He had been on such friendly terms with the French king just before, that to his infant daughter, then a baby in the cradle, he had promised one of his little sons in marriage, who was a child of five years old. However, the war came to nothing at last, and the Pope made the two kings friends again.

The theme of the second paragraph is that __________.

Possible Answers:

Henry was facing an impossible task in trying to keep England under control.

Stephen had left Henry a great deal of wealth to spend.

War with France was inevitable once Henry became King.

The reign of the previous king had been much more successful than Henry’s was.

Henry had many difficulties to confront upon becoming king and was able to meet them due to his strong and talented nature.

Correct answer:

Henry had many difficulties to confront upon becoming king and was able to meet them due to his strong and talented nature.

Explanation:

In the second paragraph, the author says, “[King Henry] was a young man of strength, ability, and determination, and immediately applied himself to remove some of the evils which had arisen in the last unhappy reign.” The author then goes on to list the many difficult tasks that Henry had to accomplish once he became king and suggests that he was able to do so because of his “strength, ability, and determination.” This tells you that theme of the second paragraph is that “Henry had many difficulties to confront upon becoming king and was able to meet them due to his strong and talented nature.”

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