ISEE Lower Level Reading : Identifying and Analyzing Main Idea and Theme in Contemporary Life Passages

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

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Example Question #81 : Humanities 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completed, it is obvious to all who are familiar with the metro train system that the red line is the oldest and most out of date.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 is the main idea that this passage seeks to express?

Possible Answers:

Transportation systems in cities often are a mix of the old and the new, as is evident from the example of the Washington DC transportation system.

Transportation systems in cities are almost always out of date, as is evident from the example of the Washington DC transportation system.

City transportation systems often connect multiple states together, as can be seen in the example of the Washington DC transportation system.

Transportation systems in cities are always up-to-date, though an exception can be found in the example of the Washington DC transportation system.

The Washington DC metro train system is perhaps the most vexing of all such systems in the United States.

Correct answer:

Transportation systems in cities often are a mix of the old and the new, as is evident from the example of the Washington DC transportation system.

Explanation:

The main idea for this selection is directly state in the opening sentence: "As cities develop, their public transportation systems often show signs of aging that are mixed with aspects that are quite up-to-date." Although the second paragraph does focus on issues with the Washington DC red line, it likewise makes the point that this is in contrast to the newer lines that rarely break down; therefore, the best way to express the main idea of this selection is by stating, "Transportation systems in cities often are a mix of the old and the new, as is evident from the example of the Washington DC transportation system."

Example Question #1 : Authorial Purpose 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 overall purpose of the passage?

Possible Answers:

To list frustrations that are felt about taking language examinations in graduate school

To defend the language examination system found in graduate schools

To summarize the state of language exams in graduate schools

To consider the antiquated methods of graduate school education

None of the other answers

Correct answer:

To defend the language examination system found in graduate schools

Explanation:

For this passage, it is necessary to pay attention to the whole text to find the overall purpose. The very last sentence is particularly revealing: "therefore, in spite of its frustrating aspects, the language examination process is an important component of graduate school education." In the second paragraph, author spends a significant amount of time defending the usefulness of learning other languages in graduate school. At the beginning of this paragraph, he admits that the frustrations are understandable, but nevertheless supports the helpfulness of this system; therefore, the best way to describe the author's purpose is "to defend the language examination system found in graduate schools."

Example Question #3 : Authorial Purpose 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 intention of the author of this passage?

Possible Answers:

To overcome social stereotypes regarding addiction

To raise awareness regarding potentially hidden but dangerous behaviors

To condemn certain types of behaviors

To express dissatisfaction with the psychological community's treatment of psychological disorders

To note the crassness of a society that overlooks the suffering and addiction experienced by others

Correct answer:

To raise awareness regarding potentially hidden but dangerous behaviors

Explanation:

The key sentence for discerning the author's purpose is: "Perhaps several examples can assist in increasing the reader’s awareness of these potentially problematic habits." This helps to interpret the first three sentences in the opening paragraph. The author is not merely intending to provide information about hidden types of addiction. In addition, the author wishes to "increase the reader's awareness." Thus, the best answer regarding the purpose is "to raise awareness regarding potentially hidden but dangerous behaviors."

Example Question #1 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Idea And Theme In Contemporary Life 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.

What is the main idea of this passage?

Possible Answers:

The relative safety of playing soccer for young children will lead to an increased popularity of the sport professionally.

Soccer is growing in popularity versus American football, but the author is unsure why this is the case.

Soccer cannot compete with the immense popularity of American football in the United States despite massive youth participation.

American parents are overly concerned about the health and well-being of their children.

Soccer is a game for young children and is never going to be popular at the professional level.

Correct answer:

The relative safety of playing soccer for young children will lead to an increased popularity of the sport professionally.

Explanation:

The main idea of this passage is that soccer is a relatively safe game for American children compared to American football. The author clearly believes that the growing emphasis of American parents to protect the health of their children means that soccer will continue to grow in popularity at the professional level. This argument is stated by the author when he says “it will not be long before the popularity of soccer spreads upwards to the professional level" at the end of the passage.

Example Question #2 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Idea And Theme In Contemporary Life Passages

"The Dangers of Sugar" by Daniel Morrison (2014)

Sugar is a highly addictive substance that plays a dangerous role in the health and well-being of people around the world. It is particularly threatening to American health, as it is placed in everything from carbonated sodas to beef jerky and vegetable juice. The average American consumes seventy-five pounds of sugar every year—that is roughly the weight of a elementary school child. Many health experts believe that sugar is the number one contributing factor in the high rates of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes that can be found in the contemporary United States.

Why does the author believe that sugar is “particularly threatening to American health”?

Possible Answers:

Because it is especially addictive to American people

Because the government refuses to ban or regulate sugar consumption

Because it is found in so many different products in the United States

Because it is grown and harvested in the United States

Because it is consumed by such a large percentage of the population

Correct answer:

Because it is found in so many different products in the United States

Explanation:

Answering this question first requires understanding what “particularly threatening” means. Something that is “threatening” looks like it could cause harm. When the author says “particularly,” he means that Americans are more threatened by sugar than people in other countries. The reason the author gives for this is that, in America, sugar “is placed in everything from carbonated sodas to beef jerky and vegetable juice.” So, you can say that sugar is “particularly threatening to American health” because “it is found in so many different products in the United States.”

Example Question #3 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Idea And Theme In Contemporary Life Passages

"The Dangers of Sugar" by Daniel Morrison (2014)

Sugar is a highly addictive substance that plays a dangerous role in the health and well-being of people around the world. It is particularly threatening to American health, as it is placed in everything from carbonated sodas to beef jerky and vegetable juice. The average American consumes seventy-five pounds of sugar every year—that is roughly the weight of a elementary school child. Many health experts believe that sugar is the number one contributing factor in the high rates of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes that can be found in the contemporary United States.

What is the author’s main point in this passage?

Possible Answers:

That sugar consumption is dangerously high in the United States

That sugar is unhealthy

That sugar is produced from the maple-tree

That sugar has only recently been understood as bad for you

That the United States eats more sugar than any other country

Correct answer:

That sugar consumption is dangerously high in the United States

Explanation:

It is true that in the second paragraph the author talks about how too much sugar “is unhealthy” and he does seem to suggest that “the United States eats more sugar than any other country.” Both of these factor as parts of the author’s main point, which is “that sugar consumption is dangerously high in the United States.” This is shown by excerpts such as “The average American consumes seventy-five pounds of sugar every year - that is roughly the weight of a elementary school child.” And, “Many health experts believe that sugar is the number one contributing factor in the high rates of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes that can be found in the contemporary United States.”

Example Question #4 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Idea And Theme In Contemporary Life 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.

Which of these themes or ideas is not supported by the passage?

Possible Answers:

Parents are worried about the health and safety of their children.

Most parents encourage their child to play a particular sport based on the health risks involved.

The popularity of a game at the professional level is related to its popularity at the youth level.

Some Americans view soccer as less traditionally American than American football.

It may be more expensive to play American football than to play soccer.

Correct answer:

It may be more expensive to play American football than to play soccer.

Explanation:

The idea that “American football has greater youth investment than soccer” is unrelated to this passage because the author never mentions money or compares relative levels of investment. The other four answer choices are all very important ideas in the author’s main argument. The author says “Soccer is considered by many Americans to be a European and Latin American sport,” which suggests that “Some Americans view soccer as less traditionally American than American football.” He also says, “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,” which supports the answer choices “Parents are worried about the health and safety of their children” and “The primary reason most parents encourage their child to play a particular sport is the health risks involved.” Finally, the idea that “The popularity of a game at the professional level is related to its popularity at the youth level” is supported by the author’s statement that “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.”

Example Question #83 : Humanities Passages

Adapted from "The Dartmoor Ponies, or the Wandering of the Horse Tribe" by Arabella B. Buckley in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

It was a calm misty morning one day last week, giving promise of a bright and sunny day, when I started off for a long walk across the moor to visit the famous stone-circles, many of which are to be found not far off the track called Abbot’s Way, leading from Buckfast Abbey to the Abbey of Tavistock.

My mind was full of the olden times as I pictured to myself how, seven hundred years or more ago, some Benedictine monk from Tavistock Abbey paced this narrow path on his way to his Cistercian brothers at Buckfast, meeting some of them on his road as they wandered over the desolate moor in search of stray sheep. For the Cistercians were shepherds and wool-weavers, while the Benedictines devoted themselves to learning, and the track of about twenty-five miles from one abbey to the other, which still remains, was worn by the members of the two communities, the only variety in whose lives consisted probably in these occasional visits to each other.

Yet even these monks belonged to modern times compared to the ancient Britons who raised the stone-circles over the moor; and my mind drifted back to the days when, long before that pathway was worn, men clad in the skins of beasts hunted wild animals over the ground on which I was treading, and lived in caves and holes of the ground.

I wondered, as I thought of them, whether the monks and the ancient Britons delighted as much in the rugged scenery of the moor as I did that morning. For many miles in front of me the moor stretched out wild and treeless, while the early mist was rising off the hill-tops. It was a pleasure, there on the open moor, with the lark soaring overhead, and the butterflies and bees hovering among the sweet-smelling furze blossoms, to see horses free and joyous, with no thought of bit or bridle, harness or saddle, whose hooves had never been handled by the shoeing-smith, nor their coats touched with the singeing iron. Those little colts, with their thick heads, shaggy coats, and flowing tails, will have at least two years more liberty before they know what it is to be driven. Only once a year are they gathered together, claimed by their owners and branded with an initial, and then left again to wander where they will.

Which of these themes is most relative to this text?

Possible Answers:

The joy of the wilderness

The love of religion

The cost of travel

The passage of time

Hatred of horses

Correct answer:

The joy of the wilderness

Explanation:

Throughout this passage, the author expresses a great deal of joy about her experience of walking through the wilderness. This can be seen in excerpts such as “I wondered, as I thought of them, whether the cultured monks and the ancient Britons delighted as much in the rugged scenery of the moor as I did that morning.” She also says, “It was a pleasure, there on the open moor, with the lark soaring overhead, and the butterflies and bees hovering among the sweet-smelling furze blossoms, to see horses free and joyous, with no thought of bit or bridle, harness or saddle." This suggests that the primary theme of this text is “the joy of the wilderness.” Although the author does discuss the passage of time, with relation to the various groups of people that have lived on the moor in centuries past, this is part of her general reflection on the joy of walking through the land.

Example Question #321 : 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.

George Harbo and Frank Samuelson were trying to __________.

Possible Answers:

swim across the Atlantic ocean

reach America from Europe without stopping for additional fuel

reach Europe from America without stopping for additional fuel

be the first men to sail across the Atlantic ocean unassisted by others

row across the Atlantic without the help of a sail or a rudder

Correct answer:

row across the Atlantic without the help of a sail or a rudder

Explanation:

It is clear that these two men were trying to cross the Atlantic ocean in some fashion that would be considered difficult. You have to read carefully to determine how exactly they were trying to do so. The author notes that when they met with a Norwegian ship, the captain "signed the log book and testified that the boat had neither sail nor rudder.” So, the two men were trying to row across the Atlantic without using a sail or a rudder to guide and power their ship.

Example Question #2 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Idea And Theme 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.

The primary theme of this essay is that __________.

Possible Answers:

The economic divide between wealthy and poor people is contributing negatively to the supply of food in the world.

Poorer people are particularly vulnerable to changes in the food market.

Wealthy people are just as guilty as poor people when it comes to eating a nutritionally balanced diet.

If humanity is to survive the massive growth in population, people need to get smarter about the types and quantities of food they consume.

Humans misuse their food resources heavily to the detriment of individual health and social equality.

Correct answer:

Humans misuse their food resources heavily to the detriment of individual health and social equality.

Explanation:

While it is true that the differences between wealthy people and poor people in the purchase, preparation, and consumption of food is an important theme in this text, it is more accurate to say that the primary theme is that all “humans misuse their food resources heavily.“ The author employs examples of the ways in which poor and wealthy people both do this to demonstrate that this mistake is not unique to one or the other, but rather is a universal tendency of humanity.

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