ISEE Middle Level Reading : Analyzing the Text in History Passages

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

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Example Questions

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Example Question #252 : Passage Based Questions

Adapted from “Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions” by Elizabeth Cady Stanton; Lucretia Mott; and others (1848)

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of women under this government, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled.

The use of the word “patient” in the passage's last sentence is intended to highlight which aspect of women’s suffering?

Possible Answers:

Its solutions 

Its depth 

Its causes

Its brevity 

Its length 

Correct answer:

Its length 

Explanation:

The use of the word “patient” is meant to evoke a feeling in the reader that women have suffered for a long time. In order to be patient one must experience something dissatisfactory for an extensive period of time. For the sake of clarity, brevity means something quick or brief.

Example Question #2 : Analyzing Passage Logic, Genre, And Organization In History Passages

Adapted from Women’s Political Future by Frances E. W. Harper (1893)

The world has need of all the spiritual aid that woman can give for the social advancement and moral development of the human race. The tendency of the present age, with its restlessness, religious upheavals, failures, blunders, and crimes, is toward broader freedom, an increase of knowledge, the emancipation of thought, and recognition of the brotherhood of man; in this movement woman, as the companion of man, must be an equal. So close is the bond between man and woman that you cannot raise one without lifting the other. The world cannot move without woman's sharing in the movement, and to help give a right impetus to that movement is woman's highest privilege.

If the fifteenth century discovered America to the Old World, the nineteenth is discovering woman to herself. Not the opportunity of discovering new worlds, but that of filling this old world with fairer and higher aims than the greed of gold and the lust of power, is hers. Through weary, wasting years men have destroyed, dashed in pieces, and overthrown, but today we stand on the threshold of woman's era, and woman's work is grandly constructive. In her hand are possibilities whose use or abuse must tell upon the political life of the nation, and send their influence for good or evil across the track of unborn ages.

In context, the reference to the discovery of America is meant to underline what aspect of women’s life in the nineteenth century?

Possible Answers:

The removal of obstacles to sexual equality

The growing opportunities for self-realization

The education of women in private schools

The ability of women to vote

The closeness of men and women

Correct answer:

The growing opportunities for self-realization

Explanation:

The author makes reference to the discovery of America in the fifteenth century in comparison to women’s discovery of their own identity in the nineteenth century. The author states that “the nineteenth is discovering woman to herself” and that “today we stand on the threshold of woman's era.”

Example Question #2 : Narrative Social Science Passages

Adapted from Early European History Hutton Webster (1917)

It was the work of Darius to provide for his dominions a stable government which should preserve what the sword had won. The problem was difficult. The empire was a collection of many people widely different in race, language, customs, and religion. Darius did not attempt to weld the conquered nations into unity. As long as the subjects of Persia paid tribute and furnished troops for the royal army, they were allowed to conduct their own affairs with little interference from the Great King.

The entire empire, excluding Persia proper, was divided into twenty satrapies, or provinces, each one with its civil governor, or satrap. The satraps carried out the laws and collected the heavy tribute annually levied throughout the empire. In most of the provinces there were also military governors who commanded the army and reported directly to the king. This device of entrusting the civil and military functions to separate officials lessened the danger of revolts against the Persian authority. As an additional precaution Darius provided special agents whose business it was to travel from province to province and investigate the conduct of his officials. It became a proverb that "the king has many eyes and many ears."

Darius also established a system of military roads throughout the Persian dominions. The roads were provided at frequent intervals with inns, where postmen stood always in readiness to take up a letter and carry it to the next station. The Royal Road from Susa, the Persian capital, to Sardis in Lydia was over fifteen hundred miles long; but government couriers, using relays of fresh horses, could cover the distance within a week. An old Greek writer declares with admiration that "there is nothing mortal more swift than these messengers."

The underlined proverb “the king has many eyes and many ears” is intended to demonstrate what?

Possible Answers:

The extent of Darius’ control 

The belief that Darius was a divine being

The fear that Darius inspired in his people

The wisdom and benevolence of the king

The malevolence and diabolical nature of the king 

Correct answer:

The extent of Darius’ control 

Explanation:

The revelation that it became a proverb to say “the king has many eyes and many ears” is offered immediately after an account of the extent of Darius’ power and control in the Persian Empire. For example, the preceding sentence says, “As an additional precaution, Darius provided special agents whose business it was to travel from province to province and investigate the conduct of his officials.” Therefore, when the author reveals this proverb he is intending to add a little color to his portrayal of the extent of Darius’ control. 

Example Question #2 : Argumentative Humanities Passages

"Newton's Mistakes" by Daniel Morrison (2014)

Isaac Newton has often been thought of as the greatest thinker in human history. His insight into the role that gravity plays in existence and physics completely changed our collective understanding of the universe and our place in it. He was understood in his own time as a genius. One famous quote by Alexander Pope (himself quite an intelligent man) demonstrates the deep affection felt for Newton: “Nature, and nature’s mysteries, lay bathed in night, God said 'Let there be Newton,’ and all was light.”

Yet, when the famous economist John Kenneth Galbraith purchased Newton’s journals and diaries at auction, he found to his astonishment, and partial dismay, that more than half of Newton’s work was dedicated to the practice of alchemy—the pursuit of turning ordinary materials into precious metals. Our current understanding of science tells us that this is impossible and that Newton was wasting a significant proportion of his time.

Another famous story about Newton tells of his attempts to figure out the effect of direct exposure to sunlight on the human eye. To carry out this experiment he decided to stare at the sun for as long as humanly possible to see what would happen. The effect, as you might have guessed, was that he very nearly went permanently blind and was indeed completely unable to see for two days.

One might determine from these stories that Newton was not the genius we consider him to be—that he was, in fact, a fool; however, it should tell us something about the nature of genius. It is not merely deep intelligence, but the willingness to try new things and the rejection of the fear of failure. Newton was not a genius in spite of his mistakes, but because of them.

What is Alexander Pope trying to highlight about Isaac Newton in the underlined quotation in the first paragraph?

Possible Answers:

The illuminating impact of Newton’s revelations

The inherent foolishness in Isaac Newton’s genius

The reverence for Newton held by historical scientific scholars

The impact of Newton’s theories about gravity on the field of architecture

The high esteem in which Newton was held by his contemporaries

Correct answer:

The illuminating impact of Newton’s revelations

Explanation:

“Illuminating” means shedding light on or making an idea clear. So, when Alexander Pope said that Newton gave “light” to “nature’s mysteries,” he is referring to the “illuminating impact of Newton’s revelations.” The answer choice that reads “the inherent foolishness in Isaac Newton’s genius” is incorrect and is only brought up later in the passage, and the answer choice that reads “the high esteem with which Newton was held by his contemporaries” is closer to the reason why the author employs Alexander Pope’s quote.

Example Question #1 : Determining Authorial Purpose In Argumentative Humanities Passages

"Newton's Mistakes" by Daniel Morrison (2014)

Isaac Newton has often been thought of as the greatest thinker in human history. His insight into the role that gravity plays in existence and physics completely changed our collective understanding of the universe and our place in it. He was understood in his own time as a genius. One famous quote by Alexander Pope (himself quite an intelligent man) demonstrates the deep affection felt for Newton: “Nature, and nature’s mysteries, lay bathed in night, God said 'Let there be Newton,’ and all was light.”

Yet, when the famous economist John Kenneth Galbraith purchased Newton’s journals and diaries at auction, he found to his astonishment, and partial dismay, that more than half of Newton’s work was dedicated to the practice of alchemy—the pursuit of turning ordinary materials into precious metals. Our current understanding of science tells us that this is impossible and that Newton was wasting a significant proportion of his time.

Another famous story about Newton tells of his attempts to figure out the effect of direct exposure to sunlight on the human eye. To carry out this experiment he decided to stare at the sun for as long as humanly possible to see what would happen. The effect, as you might have guessed, was that he very nearly went permanently blind and was indeed completely unable to see for two days.

One might determine from these stories that Newton was not the genius we consider him to be—that he was, in fact, a fool; however, it should tell us something about the nature of genius. It is not merely deep intelligence, but the willingness to try new things and the rejection of the fear of failure. Newton was not a genius in spite of his mistakes, but because of them.

What is the author trying to highlight about Isaac Newton by employing Alexander Pope’s saying in the underlined quote in the first paragraph?

Possible Answers:

The impact of Newton’s theories about gravity on the field of architecture

The reverence that Newton is held in by historical scientific scholars

The inherent foolishness in Isaac Newton’s genius

The high esteem in which Newton was held by his contemporaries

The illuminating impact of Newton’s revelations

Correct answer:

The high esteem in which Newton was held by his contemporaries

Explanation:

It is clear that Alexander Pope himself is highlighting the “illuminating impact of Newton’s revelations” from his use of the word “light.” But, this question is asking you why the author employs Alexander Pope’s quotation, which is a much different question. To understand why the author employs this quotation, you have to go consider what the author says directly before sharing the quotation. He says, “He was understood in his own time as a genius; one famous quote by Alexander Pope (himself quite an intelligent man) demonstrates the deep affection felt for Newton . . . “ This suggests that the author employs Alexander Pope’s famous quotation to demonstrate “the high esteem in which Newton was held by his contemporaries.”

Example Question #1 : Humanities Passages

Adapted from The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Van Loon (1921)

During the first twenty years of his life, young Napoleon was a professional Corsican patriot—a Corsican Sinn Feiner, who hoped to deliver his beloved country from the yoke of the bitterly hated French enemy. But the French revolution had unexpectedly recognised the claims of the Corsicans and gradually Napoleon, who had received a good training at the military school of Brienne, drifted into the service of his adopted country. Although he never learned to spell French correctly or to speak it without a broad Italian accent, he became a Frenchman. In due time he came to stand as the highest expression of all French virtues. At present he is regarded as the symbol of the Gallic genius.

Napoleon was what is called a fast worker. His career does not cover more than twenty years. In that short span of time he fought more wars and gained more victories and marched more miles and conquered more square kilometers and killed more people and brought about more reforms and generally upset Europe to a greater extent than anybody (including Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan) had ever managed to do.

He was a little fellow and during the first years of his life his health was not very good. He never impressed anybody by his good looks and he remained to the end of his days very clumsy whenever he was obliged to appear at a social function. He did not enjoy a single advantage of breeding or birth or riches. For the greater part of his youth he was desperately poor and often he had to go without a meal or was obliged to make a few extra pennies in curious ways.

He gave little promise as a literary genius. When he competed for a prize offered by the Academy of Lyons, his essay was found to be next to the last and he was number 15 out of 16 candidates. But he overcame all these difficulties through his absolute and unshakable belief in his own destiny, and in his own glorious future. Ambition was the main-spring of his life. The thought of self, the worship of that capital letter "N" with which he signed all his letters, and which recurred forever in the ornaments of his hastily constructed palaces, the absolute will to make the name Napoleon the most important thing in the world next to the name of God, these desires carried Napoleon to a pinnacle of fame which no other man has ever reached.

The author’s attitude towards Napoleon is primarily one of __________.

Possible Answers:

forgiveness

commiseration

anger

reverence

confusion

Correct answer:

reverence

Explanation:

It is clear that the author has great respect (“reverence”) for Napoleon from excerpts such as “In due time he came to stand as the highest expression of all French virtues," as well as the author’s belief that Napoleon had no advantages of birth and yet raised himself up to one of the most powerful and influential men in history. Certainly the author’s attitude could not be described as “anger” or “confusion.” “Forgiveness” might make sense in the context of Napoleon’s life, but does not fit with the tone of this text. Finally, “commiseration” only makes up a small part of this text. To “commiserate” means to share in someone’s suffering and offer comfort. The author does this when he talks about Napoleon’s disadvantages of birth, but it is not the primary attitude in this text.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing The Text In History Passages

Adapted from Scientific American Supplement No. 841 Vol. XXXIII (February 13th 1892)

From the earliest times of which we have record, man has been disposed to strive with his fellow man, either to maintain his own rights or to possess himself of some rights or material advantage enjoyed by others. When one or only a few men encroach on the rights of others in an organized community, they may be restrained by the legal machinery of the state, such as courts, police, and prisons, but when a whole community or state rises against another, the civil law becomes powerless and a state of war ensues. It is not proposed here to discuss the ethics of this question, nor the desirability of providing a suitable court of nations for settling all international difficulties without war. The great advantage of such a system of avoiding war is admitted by all intelligent people. We notice here a singular inconsistency in the principles upon which this strife is carried on, viz.: If it be a single combat, either a friendly contest or a deadly one, the parties are expected to contest on equal terms as nearly as may be arranged; but if large numbers are engaged, or in other words, when the contest becomes war, the rule is reversed and each party is expected to take every possible advantage of his adversary, even to the extent of stratagem or deception. In fact, it has passed into a proverb that "all things are fair in love and war."

Which of these is not a reason that the author notes as to why mankind might work together in a state of war or rebellion?

Possible Answers:

To gain rights enjoyed by others

None of these answers is correct; the author does not specifically talk about why people work together in a state of war or rebellion.

All of these answers are reasons noted by the author

To achieve material privileges

To maintain rights already enjoyed

Correct answer:

All of these answers are reasons noted by the author

Explanation:

Answering this question is a simple matter of reading the first sentence of this text and understanding exactly what the author is saying. Let us examine: “From the earliest times of which we have record man has been disposed to strive with his fellow man, either to maintain his own rights or to possess himself of some rights or material advantage enjoyed by others.” To help you, “strive” means work hard or try to achieve. The author says “to maintain his own rights” and “to possess himself of some rights or material advantages enjoyed by others.” We can say here that the author is talking about how people fight to maintain rights they already have or to gain rights or material privileges of others. All of these answer choices are therefore correct.

Example Question #2 : Analyzing Argumentative Claims, Bias, And Support In Social Science Passages

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

Since William II of Germany ascended the throne as German Emperor and King of Prussia on June 15, 1888, the eyes of Europe have been fixed on him. The press of the world delights in showing up his weak points, and the "war lord" undoubtedly has them, but, at the same time, he has qualities which are to be admired and which make him conspicuous among the rulers of Europe.

He is popular in Germany, and it is not surprising, for, in spite of being autocratic to the last degree, he is honest, courageous, ambitious, hard working, and a thorough German, being intensely patriotic. Indeed, if the people of Germany had the right to vote, they would undoubtedly choose their present ruler, for, while the virtues we have named may seem commonplace, they are not so when embodied in an emperor. One thing which places William at a disadvantage is his excessive frankness. His mistakes have largely resulted from his impulsive nature coupled with chauvinism, which is, perhaps, excusable, in a ruler.

Since the time when William was a child, he evidenced a strong desire to become acquainted with the details of the office to which his lofty birth entitled him. In the army he has worked his way up like any other officer and has a firm grasp on all the multifarious details of the military establishment of the great country. He believes in militarism, or in force, to use a more common expression, but in this he is right, for it has taken two hundred and fifty years to bring Prussia to the position it now holds, and what it has gained at the point of the sword must be retained in the same way. The immense sacrifices which the people make to support the army and navy are deemed necessary for self-preservation, and with France on one side and Russia on the other, there really seems to be ample excuse for it.

Which of these reasons best explains why, according to the author, William II is widely loved and respected in Germany?

Possible Answers:

He is a proud warrior and a great general in battle.

He is an industrious man.

He possesses virtues which are rare and desirable in a ruler.

He is a learned man with a great respect for hard-work and intelligence.

He is consistently frank and honest with the German people.

Correct answer:

He possesses virtues which are rare and desirable in a ruler.

Explanation:

The author talks at length about how William II is honest, frank, hard-working, industrious, learned, and with great respect for intelligence. But, none of these answer choices really explains wholly why William II is widely loved and respected in Germany. The author does note, “Indeed, if the people of Germany had the right to vote, they would undoubtedly choose their present ruler, for, while the virtues we have named may seem commonplace, they are not so when embodied in an emperor.” So, the combination of all the traits listed above are what constitute William II’s main appeal to the people of Germany.

Example Question #1 : Language In History Passages

Adapted from A Modern History from the Time of Luther to the Fall of Napoleon by John Lord (1874)

For more than ten centuries, great struggles have been going on in society between the dominant orders and sects. The victories gained by the oppressed millions over their different masters, constitute what is called the progress of society. When any great order defended the cause of the people against the tyranny and selfishness of another order, then the people have advanced a step in civil and social freedom.

When feudalism weighed heavily upon the people, the clergy sought justice on their behalf. By the aid of the church, royalty also rose above feudalism, and aided the popular cause. The church, having gained the ascendency, sought then to enslave the kings of the earth. But royalty, borrowing help from humiliated nobles and from the people, became the dominant power in Europe.

In these struggles, the people acquired political importance. They had obtained a knowledge of their rights and of their strength; and they were determined to maintain them. They liked not the tyranny of either nobles, priests, or kings; but they bent all their energies to suppress the power of the latter, since the two former had been already humiliated.

The struggle of the people against royalty is preeminently the genius of the English Revolution. It is to be doubted whether any king could have resisted the storm of popular fury which hurled Charles from his throne. But no king could have managed worse than he; no king could be more unfortunately and unpropitiously placed, and his own imprudence and folly hastened the catastrophe.

The House of Commons, which had acquired great strength, spirit, and popularity during the reign of James, fully perceived the difficulties and necessities of Charles, but made no adequate or generous effort to relieve him from them. Some of the more turbulent rejoiced in them. They knew that kings, like other men, were selfish, and that it was not natural for people to part with their privileges and power without a struggle, even though this power was injurious to the interests of society. In the Middle Ages, barons, bishops, and popes had fought desperately in the struggle of classes; and it was only from their necessities that either kings or people had obtained what they demanded. King Charles, no more than Pope Boniface VIII, would surrender, as a boon to man, without compulsion, his supposed omnipotence.

The author primarily characterizes the clergy, nobility, and royalty as __________.

Possible Answers:

obsessed with possessing ultimate control over society

confused about how to maintain control over the common people

tools to be wielded by the common man

deliberate agents of social advancement throughout history

focused on keeping the common man oppressed

Correct answer:

obsessed with possessing ultimate control over society

Explanation:

It is true that the author characterizes these three groups as “agents of social advancement,” but the key word that renders that answer incorrect is “deliberate.” They were not trying to advance the status of the common man, according to the author; they were trying to gain and maintain their own power. The author spends much of the essay talking about how the various dominant orders tried to use the common man to preserve or establish their ultimate control over people. Therefore the best answer choice is that the clergy, nobility, and royalty are primarily characterized as “obsessed with possessing ultimate control over society.”

Example Question #44 : History Passages

Adapted from Ten Great Events in History by James Johonnot (1887)

Following the Council of Clermont, preparations for invading the Holy Land began in almost every country of Europe. The nobles mortgaged their estates, the farmer endeavored to sell his plow, and the artisan his tools to purchase a sword. During the spring and summer of 1096, the roads teemed with crusaders, all hastening to the towns and villages appointed as the rendezvous of the district. Very few knew where Jerusalem was. Some thought it fifty thousand miles away, and others imagined it but a month's journey; while at the sight of every tower or castle the children exclaimed "Is that Jerusalem?" 

Little attempt at any organization was made, though the multitude had three leaders. It is said that the first band, consisting of twenty thousand foot, with only eight horsemen, were led by a Burgundian gentleman called Walter the Penniless. They were followed by a rabble of forty thousand men, women, and children led by Peter the Hermit. Next followed a band of fifteen thousand men, mostly Germans, under a priest named Gottschalk.

Like their nominal leader, each of the followers of Walter the Penniless was poor to penury, and trusted for subsistence to the chances of the road. In Hungary, they met with loud resistance from the people, whose houses they attacked and plundered, but in Bulgaria, the natives declared war against the hungry horde; they were dispersed and almost exterminated. Some, including Walter, reached Constantinople, where they awaited Peter and his companions. The Hermit, who had the same difficulties to contend with in marching through Hungary and Bulgaria, reached Constantinople with his army greatly reduced, and in a most deplorable condition. Here he and Walter joined forces. They were hospitably received by the emperor, but their riotous conduct soon wearied out his patience, and he was glad to listen to a proposal to help them at once pass into Asia. 

The rabble accordingly crossed the Bosphorus, and took up their quarters in Bethynia. Here they became perfectly ungovernable, ravaging the country around, and committing incredible excesses; at length Peter, utterly disgusted and despairing, left them to their own guidance and returned to Constantinople. The bravest of them were annihilated in a battle fought near Nice, Walter the Penniless falling with seven mortal wounds. Between two and three thousand alone escaped. The emperor dismissed them, with orders to return home, and thus ended the disastrous expedition of Walter the Penniless and Peter the Hermit.

The fifteen thousand Germans led by Gottschalk never reached Constantinople, being slaughtered or dispersed during their passage through Hungary. Thus, within a few months, upward of a quarter of a million of human beings were swept out of existence. And they had spent their lives, without one important result having been accomplished. This was the worst paroxysm of the madness of Europe.

Which of the following correctly lists the order in which the listed places were visited by the crusades, first to last?

Possible Answers:

Constantinople, Hungary and Bulgaria, Bethynia

Constantinople, Bethynia, Hungary and Bulgaria

Bethynia, Hungary and Bulgaria, Constantinople

Hungary and Bulgaria, Bethynia, Constantinople

Hungry and Bulgaria, Constantinople, Bethynia

Correct answer:

Hungry and Bulgaria, Constantinople, Bethynia

Explanation:

In the third passage, the author describes how Walter the Penniless, Peter the Hermit, and their respective armies traveled through Hungary and Bulgaria, and in the last paragraph, he states that Gottschalk and his army never made it through Hungary, so we can narrow down our potential answer choices to the two that begin with "Hungary and Bulgaria"; these are "Hungry and Bulgaria, Constantinople, Bethynia" and "Hungary and Bulgaria, Bethynia, Constantinople." To differentiate between them, we have to figure out if the crusaders then went to Constantinople or to Bethynia. The author discusses the crusaders reaching Constantinople at the end of the third paragraph, and at the start of the fourth paragraph, notes how they proceeded from Constantinople to Bethynia. This means that the correct answer is "Hungry and Bulgaria, Constantinople, Bethynia."

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