ISEE Lower Level Reading : Determining Context-Dependent Word Meanings in Contemporary Life Passages

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

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Example Questions

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Example Question #2 : Vocabulary

My dear old friend Sebastian used to tell me that he had something of a sliding scale regarding the musicians to which he could listen. For him, Bach was the most celestial of musicians, and he could listen to him for an eternity without ever being wearied. Mozart was likewise favorably judged, though Sebastian said that he could only endure his music for approximately three to five hours at a time. When it came to Richard Wagner, however, my dear friend was quite unable to bear the intensity of the composer’s works. In stark contrast to his great patience and love for the music of Bach, he could spend little more than five minutes listening to compositions by Wagner.

In its context, what does "celestial" (underlined) mean?

Possible Answers:

extremely high-class

extremely good or beautiful

extra-terrestrial

at an extremely elevated altitude

astrological

Correct answer:

extremely good or beautiful

Explanation:

The word "celestial" does mean "heavenly" or "pertaining to the heavens" (that is, to space). It has a metaphorical meaning that is being used here in this paragraph. Here, it has that sense of "heavenly" that we associate with being very beautiful or good. This is implied by the love that Sebastian had for Bach.

Example Question #52 : Narrative 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.

As used in the passage, the underlined word “vagrant” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

traveler

beggar

wandering

accidental

unpredictable

Correct answer:

wandering

Explanation:

First off, we can eliminate “beggar” and “traveler” because they are nouns, and the context calls for an adjective. “Accidental” does not make sense for a puff of air, and it doesn’t seem relevant whether or not it’s "unpredictable." “Wandering” is the best answer; not only is it a standard definition of “vagrant,” but it also makes the most sense in the context of the sentence.

Example Question #2 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In Contemporary Life Passages

"The Aging of Public Transportation Systems" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

As cities develop, their public transportation systems often show signs of aging that are mixed with aspects that are quite up-to-date.  An example of such a situation can be found in the transportation system in Washington DC. This system is made up of a mixture of buses and trains that connect people to locations in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. While the system has been well maintained and updated over the years, it still shows evidence that certain sections are older than others.

This is particularly noticeable when one considers the multiple lines that connect in Washington DC itself. Within the city, there are five different sets of tracks that run in various directions and to sundry places. A number of the newer lines are in excellent condition and rarely break down; however, the case of the red line is somewhat different. This oldest line of the metro train system often has issues because of its age, experiencing a number of track and signal issues even at rush hour when the overall system is its most efficient. Admittedly, the transportation authority is working to update this line and make it less problematic. Still, until this work is completed, it is obvious to all who are familiar with the metro train system that the red line is the oldest and most out of date.

What does the “sundry” mean in its context?

Possible Answers:

Important

Dried areas underground

Several or various

Having beautiful vistas

Questionable

Correct answer:

Several or various

Explanation:

The word "sundry" generally means "several" or "having a variety of kinds / types." This is definitely what is being expressed here, for the sentence is discussing tracks that run in various directions to different places. The word "sundry" is related to "sunder," which means "to cut apart." Things that are "varied" can be said to be, in a sense, cut apart from each other.

Example Question #51 : 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 meaning of the underlined word, “woe,” in the passage above?

Possible Answers:

distress

anger

waste

fear

hatred

Correct answer:

distress

Explanation:

The word "woe" can mean either "significant sorrow" or also "distress." The sentence begins by saying that these students do have understandable frustrations; however, the point being made is that the system of examinations is not intended solely to cause such distressing conditions. This is the best meaning for the word "woe" among those provided.

Example Question #24 : Evaluative Understanding In Nonfiction Passages

"Soccer" by Daniel Morrison (2014)

Soccer is considered by some Americans to be a European and Latin American sport. For numerous reasons, the sport has struggled to take hold professionally in the United States, but there is growing participation in the sport at the youth level. This can probably be attributed to the relative dangers faced by those playing soccer and those playing America’s traditional favorite youth sport—American football.

Young children who play American football are at high risk of several catastrophic injuries such as concussions, fractures and spinal damage. The universal concern among parents to protect the health of their children has lead many to encourage their child to take up soccer as opposed to American football. If this trend continues, which it almost certainly will as our society becomes more aware of the degree of damage done by repeated collisions in American football, it will not be long before the popularity of soccer spreads upwards to the professional level.

The underlined word “catastrophic” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

highly contagious

very unforgiving

simply tragic

unfairly dismissive

extremely damaging

Correct answer:

extremely damaging

Explanation:

The author mentions the fear of “catastrophic injuries” as something that encourages parents to push their children towards playing soccer over American football. The author also lists what these injuries are: “concussions, fractures, and spinal damage.” We may therefore conclude that “catastrophic” means extremely damaging.

Example Question #1 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In Contemporary Life Passages

"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 meaning of the underlined word, “innocuous,” in its context?

Possible Answers:

healthy

sanitary

lacking disease

harmless

vigorous

Correct answer:

harmless

Explanation:

Do not be confused by the relationship of "innocuous" to "inoculate." To be "inoculated" is to be provided with immunity so that exposure to a given disease is made to be harmless for the inoculated person. When something is "innocuous" it is harmless. This is the sense used here. This could be gleaned from the first paragraph, which states that these behaviors can "appear to be harmless."

Example Question #354 : Isee Lower Level (Grades 5 6) Reading Comprehension

Adapted from Scientific American Supplement No. 1082 Vol. XLII (September 26th, 1896)

The rowboat Fox, of the port of New York, manned by George Harbo, thirty-one years of age, captain of a merchantman, and Frank Samuelson, twenty-six years of age, left New York for Havre on the sixth of June. Ten days later the boat was met by the German transatlantic steamer Fürst Bismarck proceeding from Cherbourg to New York. On the eighth, ninth and tenth of July, the Fox was cast by a tempest upon the reefs of Newfoundland. The two men jumped into the sea, and thanks to the watertight compartments provided with air chambers fore and aft, it was possible for them to right the boat; but the unfortunates lost their provisions and their supply of drinking water. On the fifteenth they met the Norwegian three-masted vessel Cito, which supplied them with food and water. The captains of the vessels met with signed the log book and testified that the boat had neither sail nor rudder. The Fox reached the Scilly Islands on the first of August, having at this date been on the ocean fifty-five days. It arrived at Havre on the seventh of August.

Cost what it might, the men were bent upon reaching this port in order to gain the reward promised by Mr. Fox, of the Police Gazette. Thanks to the wind and a favorable current, they made one hundred and twenty-five miles in twenty-four hours. One slept three hours while the other rowed. Their skins and faces were tumefied by the wind, salt water, and sun; the skin of their hands was renewed three times; their legs were weakened; and they were worn out.

The underlined word “tempest” most probably means __________.

Possible Answers:

blessing

ship

joke

storm

fish

Correct answer:

storm

Explanation:

In the context that the word "tempest" is used, the author says, “On the eighth, ninth and tenth of July, the Fox was cast by a tempest upon the reefs of Newfoundland. The two men jumped into the sea, and thanks to the watertight compartments provided with air chambers fore and aft, it was possible for them to right the boat; but the unfortunates lost their provisions and their supply of drinking water.” So, a “tempest” is something that causes a boat to be thrown off of its usual course and passengers to be forced into the open water. From this clue, you can reasonably infer that a “tempest” is a storm.

Example Question #23 : Context Dependent Meanings Of Words And Phrases In Narrative Humanities Passages

Adapted from "A Very Narrow Shave" by John Lang in Adventures in Many Lands (1912)

It was a cold, clear, frosty morning when we started, the stars throbbing and winking as they seem to do only during frost, and we toiled, not particularly gaily, up the bed of a creek, stumbling in the darkness and barking our shins over more boulders and big stones than one would have believed existed in all creation. Just before dawn, when the grey light was beginning to show us more clearly where we were going, we saw in the sand of the creek fresh tracks of a large bear, the water only then beginning to ooze into the prints left by his great feet, and I can hardly say that I gazed on them with the amount of enthusiasm that Halley professed to feel.

The underlined word “toiled” most likely means __________.

Possible Answers:

enamored

deplored

struggled

leapt

embraced

Correct answer:

struggled

Explanation:

In context, the author says, “we toiled, not particularly gaily, up the bed of a creek, stumbling in the darkness and barking our shins over more boulders and big stones than one would have believed existed in all creation.” From this description you can reasonably see that the author and his party were “struggling” to carry out their expedition. It was dark, they were falling over, and there were more obstacles than “one would have believed existed in all creation.” Even if you don’t know that “toil” means work and “toiled” means worked hard or struggled, you can infer this meaning from the manner in which the author talks about the expedition. To provide further help, “leapt” means jumped high; “embraced” means enthusiastically adopted or hugged; “enamored” means in love with; and “deplored” means hated.

Example Question #11 : Argumentative Science 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 underlined word “docile” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

morose

disobedient

natural

obedient

unnatural

Correct answer:

obedient

Explanation:

In context, the author says, “The cows are generally very docile and gentle, but the males, when past two or three years of age, often become vicious and unmanageable.” The use of the word “but” suggests that the cows mentioned in the first clause are the opposite of “vicious and unmanageable.” Also, the use of the word “gentle” suggests “docile” must mean something that is complementary to “gentle.” The combination of these clues should lead you to select the correct answer “obedient.” To provide further help, “docile” means able to be easily controlled and calm; “disobedient” means not obeying rules; and “morose” means sad and miserable.

Example Question #12 : Language In Contemporary Life Passages

Adapted from Scientific American Supplement No. 1157 Vol. XLV (March 5th, 1898).

Eleven submarine cables traverse the Atlantic between 60 and 40 degrees north latitude. Nine of these connect the Canadian provinces and the United States with the territory of Great Britain; two (one American, the other Anglo-American) connect France. Of these, seven are largely owned, operated or controlled by American capital, while all the others are under English control and management. There is but one direct submarine cable connecting the territory of the United States with the continent of Europe, and that is the cable owned and operated by the Compagnie Francais Cables Telegraphiques, whose termini are Brest, France, and Cape Cod, on the coast of Massachusetts.

All these cables between 60 and 40 degrees north latitude, which unite the United States with Europe, except the French cable, are under American or English control, and have their termini in the territory of Great Britain or the United States. In the event of war between these countries, unless restrained by conventional act, all these cables might be cut or subjected to exclusive censorship on the part of each of the belligerent states. Across the South Atlantic there are three cables, one American and two English, whose termini are Pernambuco, Brazil, and St. Louis, Africa, and near Lisbon, Portugal, with connecting English lines to England, one directly traversing the high seas between Lisbon and English territory and one touching at Vigo, Spain, at which point a German cable company has recently made a connection. The multiplication under English control of submarine cables has been the consistent policy of Great Britain, and today her cable communications connect the home government with all her colonies and with every strategic point, thus giving her exceptional advantages for commercial as well as for political purposes.

The underlined word “belligerent” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

remorseful

peaceable

competing

uncaring

strong

Correct answer:

competing

Explanation:

The world “belligerent” usually means hostile or aggressive; however, this is usually when the word is used to describe the personality of someone or something. In the passage, the word is being used to describe the relationship between two countries—the United States and Great Britain. Specifically, the word is being used to describe them if they were to enter into a state of war. Consider the word in context: “In the event of war between these countries, unless restrained by conventional act, all these cables might be cut or subjected to exclusive censorship on the part of each of the belligerent states.” You are told that the two “belligerent states" are in a state of war with one another, and thus "belligerent" may be most closely seen as meaning “competing” in the war. To provide further help, “peaceable” is an antonym of “belligerent”; it means not hostile, or peaceful. “Remorseful” means feeling bad about something one has done.

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