ISEE Lower Level Reading : Analyzing the Text in Literature Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #5 : Language In Literature Passages

Adapted from The Fight at the Pass of Thermopylæ by Charlotte M. Yonge (1876)

The troops sent for this purpose were from different cities, and amounted to about 4,000 who were to keep the pass against two millions. The leader of them was Leonidas, who had newly become one of the two kings of Sparta, the city that above all in Greece trained its sons to be hardy soldiers, dreading death infinitely less than shame. Leonidas had already made up his mind that the expedition would probably be his death, perhaps because a prophecy had been given at the Temple at Delphi that Sparta should be saved by the death of one of her kings of the race of Hercules. He was allowed by law to take with him 300 men, and these he chose most carefully, not merely for their strength and valor, but selecting those who had sons, so that no family might be altogether destroyed. These Spartans, with their helots or slaves, made up his own share of the numbers, but all the army was under his generalship. It is even said that the 300 celebrated their own funeral rites before they set out lest they should be deprived of them by the enemy, since, as we have already seen, it was the Greek belief that the spirits of the dead found no rest till their obsequies had been performed. Such preparations did not daunt the spirits of Leonidas and his men, and his wife, Gorgo, not a woman to be faint-hearted or hold him back. Long before, when she was a very little girl, a word of hers had saved her father from listening to a traitorous message from the King of Persia; and every Spartan lady was bred up to be able to say to those she best loved that they must come home from battle "with the shield or carried upon it."

Which of these best restates the message of the line "come home from battle 'with the shield or carried upon it'"?

Possible Answers:

Come back with your shield or don’t bother.

Believe in the gods and they shall guide your shield in battle.

Come back victorious or having sacrificed your life.

Do not come back until the battle is won.

If your life is danger, flee; do not desert your family.

Correct answer:

Come back victorious or having sacrificed your life.

Explanation:

We are told earlier in the passage that Spartan society instilled in every individual the importance of fearing shame more than death, so it can be inferred that when the author discusses how “every Spartan lady was bred up to be able to say to those she best loved that they must come home from battle 'with the shield or carried upon it'," he is highlighting the importance of self-sacrafice over individual preservation and that the line in question means come back victorious or else having sacrificed your life. 

Example Question #4 : Language In Literature Passages

Adapted from The Fight at the Pass of Thermopylæ by Charlotte M. Yonge (1876)

The troops sent for this purpose were from different cities, and amounted to about 4,000 who were to keep the pass against two millions. The leader of them was Leonidas, who had newly become one of the two kings of Sparta, the city that above all in Greece trained its sons to be hardy soldiers, dreading death infinitely less than shame. Leonidas had already made up his mind that the expedition would probably be his death, perhaps because a prophecy had been given at the Temple at Delphi that Sparta should be saved by the death of one of her kings of the race of Hercules. He was allowed by law to take with him 300 men, and these he chose most carefully, not merely for their strength and valor, but selecting those who had sons, so that no family might be altogether destroyed. These Spartans, with their helots or slaves, made up his own share of the numbers, but all the army was under his generalship. It is even said that the 300 celebrated their own funeral rites before they set out lest they should be deprived of them by the enemy, since, as we have already seen, it was the Greek belief that the spirits of the dead found no rest till their obsequies had been performed. Such preparations did not daunt the spirits of Leonidas and his men, and his wife, Gorgo, not a woman to be faint-hearted or hold him back. Long before, when she was a very little girl, a word of hers had saved her father from listening to a traitorous message from the King of Persia; and every Spartan lady was bred up to be able to say to those she best loved that they must come home from battle "with the shield or carried upon it."

Which of these sentences best restates the underlined portion of text, "Sparta, the city that above all in Greece trained its sons to be hardy soldiers, dreading death infinitely less than shame"?

Possible Answers:

Spartan soldiers were trained to fear embarrassment more than death.

Spartan soldiers were taught to fear death above everything else.

Spartan boys were told that dying in battle was deeply shameful.

Spartan soldiers were educated in the ways of philosophy and warfare.

None of these answers

Correct answer:

Spartan soldiers were trained to fear embarrassment more than death.

Explanation:

“Dreading” means greatly fearing, “infinitely” informally means a great deal, and “shame” means embarrassment, so Spartan soldiers were trained to dread embarrassment much less than death. 

Example Question #54 : Critical Comprehension

Adapted from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (1876)

Within two minutes, or even less, he had forgotten all his troubles. Not because his troubles were one whit less heavy and bitter to him than a man's are to a man, but because a new and powerful interest bore them down and drove them out of his mind for the time—just as men's misfortunes are forgotten in the excitement of new enterprises. This new interest was a valued novelty in whistling, which he had just acquired, and he was suffering to practice it undisturbed. It consisted in a peculiar bird-like turn, a sort of liquid warble, produced by touching the tongue to the roof of the mouth at short intervals in the midst of the music—the reader probably remembers how to do it, if he has ever been a boy. Diligence and attention soon gave him the knack of it, and he strode down the street with his mouth full of harmony and his soul full of gratitude. He felt much as an astronomer feels who has discovered a new planet—no doubt, as far as strong, deep, unalloyed pleasure is concerned, the advantage was with the boy, not the astronomer.

The summer evenings were long. It was not dark, yet. Presently Tom checked his whistle. A stranger was before him—a boy a shade larger than himself. A newcomer of any age or either sex was an impressive curiosity in the poor little shabby village of St. Petersburg. This boy was well-dressed, too—well-dressed on a weekday. This was simply astounding. His cap was a dainty thing, his close-buttoned blue cloth roundabout was new and natty, and so were his pantaloons. He had shoes on—and it was only Friday. He even wore a necktie, a bright bit of ribbon. He had a citified air about him that ate into Tom's vitals. The more Tom stared at the splendid marvel, the higher he turned up his nose at his finery and the shabbier and shabbier his own outfit seemed to him to grow. Neither boy spoke. If one moved, the other moved—but only sidewise, in a circle; they kept face to face and eye to eye all the time.

In context, the underlined phrase "the knack of it" most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

confusion about it

a hard time with it

an upsetting experience with it

the skill to do it

a notch in it

Correct answer:

the skill to do it

Explanation:

The phrase "the knack of it" appears in the following sentence in the passage's first paragraph, which discuss's Tom's experience learning to whistle: "Diligence and attention soon gave him the knack of it, and he strode down the street with his mouth full of harmony and his soul full of gratitude." We can tell that Tom successfully learned to whistle because the next sentence compares his happiness to that of an astronomer who has just discovered a new planet. So, based on the context in which the phrase is used in the passage, the correct answer is "the skill to do it."

Example Question #4 : Language In Literature Passages

Adapted from Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (1871)

One thing was certain, that the white kitten had had nothing to do with it—it was the black kitten's fault entirely. For the white kitten had been having its face washed by the old cat for the last quarter of an hour (and bearing it pretty well, considering); so you see that it COULDN'T have had any hand in the mischief.

The way Dinah washed her children's faces was this: first she held the poor thing down by its ear with one paw, and then with the other paw she rubbed its face all over, the wrong way, beginning at the nose: and just now, as I said, she was hard at work on the white kitten, which was lying quite still and trying to purr—no doubt feeling that it was all meant for its good.

But the black kitten had been finished with earlier in the afternoon, and so, while Alice was sitting curled up in a corner of the great arm-chair, half talking to herself and half asleep, the kitten had been having a grand game of romps with the ball of worsted Alice had been trying to wind up, and had been rolling it up and down till it had all come undone again; and there it was, spread over the hearth-rug, all knots and tangles, with the kitten running after its own tail in the middle.

'Oh, you wicked little thing!' cried Alice, catching up the kitten, and giving it a little kiss to make it understand that it was in disgrace. 'Really, Dinah ought to have taught you better manners! You OUGHT, Dinah, you know you ought!' she added, looking reproachfully at the old cat, and speaking in as cross a voice as she could manage—and then she scrambled back into the arm-chair, taking the kitten and the worsted with her, and began winding up the ball again. But she didn't get on very fast, as she was talking all the time, sometimes to the kitten, and sometimes to herself. Kitty sat very demurely on her knee, pretending to watch the progress of the winding, and now and then putting out one paw and gently touching the ball, as if it would be glad to help, if it might.

Based on the second paragraph, Dinah’s method of washing her kittens is __________ for the kittens.

Possible Answers:

baffling

scary

uncomfortable

pointless

pleasant

Correct answer:

uncomfortable

Explanation:

Let’s look at the second paragraph and how it describes the way in which Dinah washes her kittens:

“The way Dinah washed her children's faces was this: first she held the poor thing down by its ear with one paw, and then with the other paw she rubbed its face all over, the wrong way, beginning at the nose: and just now, as I said, she was hard at work on the white kitten, which was lying quite still and trying to purr—no doubt feeling that it was all meant for its good.”

The white kitten doesn’t seem to be afraid, so we can eliminate “scary” as an answer choice. Neither “baffling” (confusing) nor “pointless” is supported by the passage either, so we can discard those answer choices as well. This leaves us with “pleasant” and “uncomfortable.” The fact that the narrator refers to the kitten being washed as “the poor thing,” describes how Dinah “rubbed its face all over, the wrong way,” and the idea that the white kitten was “no double feeling it was all meant for its good” support the idea that Dinah’s method of washing her kittens is uncomfortable for the kittens.

Example Question #51 : Literature Passages

Adapted from The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss (1879 Kingston ed.)

Thus talking, we pushed on until we came to a pleasant grove which stretched down to the water's edge. Here, we halted to rest, seating ourselves under a large tree, by a rivulet that murmured and splashed along its pebbly bed into the great ocean before us. A thousand gaily-plumaged birds flew twittering above us, and Fritz and I gazed up at them. 

My son suddenly started up.

"A monkey," he exclaimed. “I am nearly sure I saw a monkey." 

As he spoke, he sprang round to the other side of the tree, and in doing so, stumbled over a small round object. He handed it to me, remarking as he did so that it was a round bird's nest, of which he had often heard. "You may have done so," said I, laughing, "but this is a coconut."

We split open the nut, but, to our disgust, found the kernel dry and uneatable. 

"Hullo," cried Fritz, "I always thought a coconut was full of delicious sweet liquid, like almond milk."

"So it is," I replied, "when young and fresh, but as it ripens the milk becomes congealed, and in course of time is solidified into a kernel. This kernel then dries as you see here, but when the nut falls on favorable soil, the germ within the kernel swells until it bursts through the shell, and, taking root, springs up a new tree."

"I do not understand," said Fritz, "how the little germ manages to get through this great thick shell, which is not like an almond or hazelnut shell, which is divided down the middle already."

"Nature provides for all things," I answered, taking up the pieces. " Look here, do you see these three round holes near the stalk? It is through them that the germ obtains egress. Now let us find a good nut if we can." 

As coconuts must be overripe before they fall naturally from the tree, it was not without difficulty that we obtained one in which the kernel was not dried up. When we succeeded, however, we were so refreshed by the fruit that we could defer eating until later in the day, and so spare our stock of provisions.

Which of the following best restates the meaning of the underlined sentence, “As coconuts must be overripe before they fall naturally from the tree, it was not without difficulty that we obtained one in which the kernel was not dried up”?

Possible Answers:

Coconuts that are perfectly ripe don’t fall off of the trees, so it is difficult to gather them.

Coconuts are only edible after they are overripe.

Coconuts that are underripe remain on the trees, so one must look for the ripe ones amongst the overripe ones on the ground.

Coconuts that are too ripe don’t fall off of the trees, so it’s easy to gather the ones that are ripe.

Coconuts ripen quickly.

Correct answer:

Coconuts that are perfectly ripe don’t fall off of the trees, so it is difficult to gather them.

Explanation:

Let’s break up the indicated sentence into pieces and analyze those to figure out which answer choice is correct. In the first part of the sentence, “As coconuts must be overripe before they fall naturally from the tree,” the “as” is functioning like “because” or “since.” So, it is saying that “Since coconuts must be “overripe”—that is, too ripe—before they fall off of the trees, something occurred. This something is the rest of the sentence: “it was not without difficulty that we obtained one in which the kernel was not dried up.” The negative construction may seem difficult, but we can tell that “it was not without difficulty” means “it was difficult.” So, the narrator is saying that it was hard for them to find one without a dried-up kernel. Putting the parts of the sentence together, we have, paraphrased: “Since coconuts have to be too ripe before they fall off of the tree, it was hard for us to find one without a dried-up kernel.”

So, which answer choice matches that meaning? We can discard the answer choices that begin with “Coconuts that are too ripe don’t fall off trees,” because this is the opposite of the meaning we figured out. “Coconuts ripen quickly” has nothing to do with the meaning we figured out, so it can’t be correct either. “Coconuts are only edible after they are overripe” can’t be correct either, since the narrator said the overripe coconuts fall off of the trees, meaning they would be easy to find on the ground, yet they had a hard time finding one in which the kernel wasn’t dried-up. We can tell that the coconuts with the dried-up kernels are inedible from the conversation the narrator has with Fritz earlier in the passage as well. Considering the answer choice “coconuts that are underripe remain on the trees, so one must look for the ripe ones amongst the overripe ones on the ground,” we can tell that this doesn’t match the meaning of the indicated sentence, which says that only the coconuts that are too ripe fall off the trees, meaning that the ripe ones remain on the tree. This means that the correct answer is “Coconuts that are perfectly ripe don’t fall off of the trees, so it is difficult to gather them.” This matches the meaning of our paraphrase of the indicated sentence.

Example Question #3 : Fact / Fiction

Adapted from "The Eulogy of the Dog" by George Graham Vest (1870)

The best friend a man has in this world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter whom he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name, may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has, he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it the most. A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.

Gentlemen of the jury, a man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he can be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince.

When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens. If fortune drives the master forth an outcast into the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him, to guard him against danger, to fight against his enemies. And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes his master in its embrace and his body is laid in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open, in alert watchfulness, faithful and true, even unto death.

The expression “riches take wings” could be paraphrased as __________.

Possible Answers:

a person makes a great deal of profit

a person loses money

a person makes a successful investment

a person owns property 

a person misplaces gold

Correct answer:

a person loses money

Explanation:

The author uses “riches take wings” in the context of negative situations that a man can experience over the course of his lifetime; therefore, you can reasonably assume that the answer choice must describe a negative experience. This eliminates "a person makes a successful investment," "a person makes a great deal of profit," and "a person owns property" as possible answer choices. As gold is never explicitly mentioned, "a person misplaces gold" seems an unlikely answer choice. “Riches” suggests money and “take wings” suggests having something fly away or losing something. The correct answer is “a person loses money."

Example Question #52 : Literature Passages

Adapted from "The Sing-Song of Old Man Kangaroo" in Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling (1902)

Not always was the Kangaroo as now we do behold him, but a Different Animal with four short legs. He was grey and he was woolly, and his pride was inordinate: he danced on an outcrop in the middle of Australia, and he went to the Little God Nqa.

He went to Nqa at six before breakfast, saying, “Make me different from all other animals by five this afternoon.”

Up jumped Nqa from his seat on the sand flat and shouted, “Go away!”

He was grey and he was woolly, and his pride was inordinate: he danced on a rock-ledge in the middle of Australia, and he went to the Middle God Nquing.

He went to Nquing at eight after breakfast, saying, “Make me different from all other animals; make me, also, wonderfully popular by five this afternoon.”

Up jumped Nquing from his burrow in the spinifex and shouted, “Go away!”

He was grey and he was woolly, and his pride was inordinate: he danced on a sandbank in the middle of Australia, and he went to the Big God Nqong.

He went to Nqong at ten before dinner-time, saying, “Make me different from all other animals; make me popular and wonderfully run after by five this afternoon.”

Up jumped Nqong from his bath in the salt-pan and shouted, “Yes, I will!”

Nqong called Dingo—Yellow-Dog Dingo—always hungry, dusty in the sunshine, and showed him Kangaroo. Nqong said, “Dingo! Wake up, Dingo! Do you see that gentleman dancing on an ashpit? He wants to be popular and very truly run after. Dingo, make him SO!”

Up jumped Dingo—Yellow-Dog Dingo—and said, "What, that cat-rabbit?"

Off ran Dingo—Yellow-Dog Dingo—always hungry, grinning like a coal-scuttle—ran after Kangaroo.

Off went the proud Kangaroo on his four little legs like a bunny.

This, O Beloved of mine, ends the first part of the tale!

He ran through the desert; he ran through the mountains; he ran through the salt-pans; he ran through the reed-beds; he ran through the blue gums; he ran through the spinifex; he ran till his front legs ached.

He had to!

Still ran Dingo—Yellow-Dog Dingo—always hungry, grinning like a rat-trap, never getting nearer, never getting farther—ran after Kangaroo.

He had to!

Still ran Kangaroo—Old Man Kangaroo. He ran through the ti-trees; he ran through the mulga; he ran through the long grass; he ran through the short grass; he ran through the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer; he ran till his hind legs ached.

He had to!

Still ran Dingo—Yellow-Dog Dingo—hungrier and hungrier, grinning like a horse-collar, never getting nearer, never getting farther; and they came to the Wollgong River.

Now, there wasn't any bridge, and there wasn't any ferry-boat, and Kangaroo didn't know how to get over; so he stood on his legs and hopped.

He had to!

By the end of the passage, what is the Dingo's intention?

Possible Answers:

To catch and eat the Kangaroo

To force the Kangaroo to apologize

To chase the Kangaroo home

To chase the Kangaroo forever

To make the Kangaroo tired

Correct answer:

To catch and eat the Kangaroo

Explanation:

We can see that by the end of the passage, the Dingo wants to eat the Kangaroo, as the passage says, “Still ran Dingo—Yellow-Dog Dingo—hungrier and hungrier, grinning like a horse-collar . . . ” suggesting that the Dingo, in his hunger, intends to devour the Kangaroo when he catches up to him. He is grinning because he knows the Kangaroo is getting tired and will likely soon be cornered.

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