ISEE Lower Level Reading : Comparing and Contrasting in Literature Passages

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

varsity tutors app store varsity tutors android store

Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Comparing And Contrasting In Literature Passages

Adapted from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (1900)

Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies, with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer's wife. Their house was small, for the lumber to build it had to be carried by wagon many miles. There were four walls, a floor and a roof, which made one room; and this room contained a rusty looking cookstove, a cupboard for the dishes, a table, three or four chairs, and the beds. Uncle Henry and Aunt Em had a big bed in one corner, and Dorothy a little bed in another corner. There was no garret at all, and no cellar—except a small hole dug in the ground, called a cyclone cellar, where the family could go in case one of those great whirlwinds arose, mighty enough to crush any building in its path. It was reached by a trap door in the middle of the floor, from which a ladder led down into the small, dark hole.

When Dorothy stood in the doorway and looked around, she could see nothing but the great gray prairie on every side. Not a tree nor a house broke the broad sweep of flat country that reached to the edge of the sky in all directions. The sun had baked the plowed land into a gray mass, with little cracks running through it. Even the grass was not green, for the sun had burned the tops of the long blades until they were the same gray color to be seen everywhere. Once the house had been painted, but the sun blistered the paint and the rains washed it away, and now the house was as dull and gray as everything else.

When Aunt Em came there to live she was a young, pretty wife. The sun and wind had changed her, too. They had taken the sparkle from her eyes and left them a sober gray; they had taken the red from her cheeks and lips, and they were gray also. She was thin and gaunt, and never smiled now. When Dorothy, who was an orphan, first came to her, Aunt Em had been so startled by the child's laughter that she would scream and press her hand upon her heart whenever Dorothy's merry voice reached her ears; and she still looked at the little girl with wonder that she could find anything to laugh at.

Uncle Henry never laughed. He worked hard from morning till night and did not know what joy was. He was gray also, from his long beard to his rough boots, and he looked stern and solemn, and rarely spoke.

It was Toto that made Dorothy laugh, and saved her from growing as gray as her other surroundings. Toto was not gray; he was a little black dog, with long silky hair and small black eyes that twinkled merrily on either side of his funny, wee nose. Toto played all day long, and Dorothy played with him, and loved him dearly.

Today, however, they were not playing. Uncle Henry sat upon the doorstep and looked anxiously at the sky, which was even grayer than usual. Dorothy stood in the door with Toto in her arms, and looked at the sky too. Aunt Em was washing the dishes.

Whereas Uncle Henry and Aunt Em are __________, Dorothy is __________.

Possible Answers:

drab and austere . . . youthful and cheerful

old and ailing . . . healthy and energetic

adventurous and brave . . . shy and cowardly

relaxed and calm . . . anxious and nervous

talkative and extroverted . . . quiet and introverted

Correct answer:

drab and austere . . . youthful and cheerful

Explanation:

It wouldn't make sense to call Uncle Henry and Aunt Em "adventurous and brave," "talkative and extroverted," or "relaxed and calm" based on any information in the passage, so we can eliminate those answer choices, leaving us to choose between "Whereas Uncle Henry and Aunt Em are old and ailing, Dorothy is healthy and energetic" and "Whereas Uncle Henry and Aunt Em are drab and austere, Dorothy is youthful and cheerful." Nowhere in the passage are we told that Uncle Henry and Aunt Em are "ailing," or sick, so the correct answer is ""Whereas Uncle Henry and Aunt Em are drab and austere, Dorothy is youthful and cheerful." ("Drab" means dull or not brightly colored and "austere" means severe and unemotional.)

Example Question #1 : Comparing And Contrasting In Literature Passages

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.

Which of the following is a comparison that the passage makes between Tom and the new boy?

Possible Answers:

Able to whistle vs. unable to whistle

Dressed in fancy clothing vs. dressed in unremarkable clothing

Older vs. younger

Able to swim vs. unable to swim

American vs. European

Correct answer:

Dressed in fancy clothing vs. dressed in unremarkable clothing

Explanation:

Nothing in the passage tells us whether Tom and/or the new boy are American or European. While we know that Tom can whistle, we don't know whether or not the new boy can whistle. While the new boy is said to be "a shade larger than" Tom, we don't know if he is any older than Tom. Nothing is mentioned about either boy knowing or not knowing how to swim. The passage's second paragraph focuses instead on how each boy is dressed—specifically, how the new boy is dressed in clothes that are fancier than Tom's.

Example Question #2 : Comparing And Contrasting In Literature Passages

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.

Which of the following does the last sentence of the passage's first paragraph suggest?

Possible Answers:

Tom has just discovered a new planet.

Tom is upset for the same reasons as an astronomer might be.

Tom is likely happier than an astronomer who has discovered a new planet.

Astronomers often learn to whistle.

Tom is likely not quite as happy as an astronomer who has discovered a new planet.

Correct answer:

Tom is likely happier than an astronomer who has discovered a new planet.

Explanation:

The last line of the passage's first paragraph is, "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." Let's analyze this line in detail. The first part of the line, "He felt much as an astronomer feels who has discovered a new planet," tells us that Tom feels as happy as an astronomer who has discovered a new planet. The rest of the line develops this comparison further, by telling us that "as far as strong, deep, unalloyed pleasure is concerned, the advantage was with the boy, not the astronomer." In other words, this latter part of the line is saying that Tom was not only as happy as the hypothetical astronomer, but likely actually happier, as he has "the advantage" "as far as strong, deep, unalloyed pleasure is concerned." So, the correct answer is "Tom is likely happier than an astronomer who has discovered a new planet."

Example Question #1 : Textual Relationships 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.

One kitten could be described as __________, the other as __________.

Possible Answers:

frustrated . . . glum

cooperative . . . mischievous

unfriendly . . . feral

a troublemaker . . . playful

pitiful . . . angry

Correct answer:

cooperative . . . mischievous

Explanation:

This question is tricky because the kittens are not specified; either adjective could refer to either kitten, so you must attribute one adjective in each answer to each kitten and see if the answer makes sense. Let’s consider each answer choice individually:

“unfriendly . . . feral”: Neither kitten can be said to be “unfriendly” or “feral” (semi-wild), so this answer choice cannot be correct.

“pitiful . . . angry”: The white kitten might seem somewhat “pitiful,” but neither kitten can be described as “angry,” so this answer choice cannot be correct. 

“frustrated . . . glum”: The white kitten might be described as somewhat “frustrated,” but the black kitten never seems “glum” in the passage, so this answer cannot be correct.

“a troublemaker . . . playful”: The black kitten could be described as “a troublemaker” and “playful,” but neither of these adjectives accurately describes the white kitten, so this answer choice cannot be correct.

“cooperative . . . mischievous”: The white kitten can be described as “cooperative” since while it is being cleaned, it is “lying quite still and trying to purr—no doubt feeling that it was all meant for its good.” The black kitten can be described as mischievous because it plays in the ball of worsted, unwinds it, and gets in trouble with Alice. This is thus the correct answer.

Example Question #2 : Textual Relationships In 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.

According to Fritz, almond shells and hazelnut shells have something in common that coconuts don't have. What feature is that?

Possible Answers:

They are both hard.

They are both inedible.

They are both very expensive.

They are both divided down the middle.

They are both used in recipes.

Correct answer:

They are both divided down the middle.

Explanation:

In the eighth paragraph, Fritz says, "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." From this, we can correctly answer this question in saying that Fritz says almond shells and hazelnut shells are "both divided down the middle." While almond shells, hazelnut shells, and coconut shells may all be "inedible" and "hard," we are looking for the feature which is common to almond and hazelnut shells but not applicable to coconut shells, so neither of these can be the correct answer.

Learning Tools by Varsity Tutors

Incompatible Browser

Please upgrade or download one of the following browsers to use Instant Tutoring: