ISEE Middle Level Reading : Analyzing Tone, Style, and Figurative Language 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 #1 : Passage Wide Features In Social Science / History Passages

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.

For what purpose does the author employ the language of the first few lines of the United States Constitution?

Possible Answers:

To chastise a group or an individual

To deny the relevance of an established authority

To establish an argument that will be later refuted

To frame a new idea within the context of familiar language

To distract from the main point

Correct answer:

To frame a new idea within the context of familiar language

Explanation:

You may have noticed that the author slightly manipulates the language of the Constitution. The Constitution states that “all men are created equal” and the author alters this to say “that all men and women are created equal.” The purpose of doing this is to contextualize a new idea within the framework of existing, and familiar, language. The author clearly feels that this will make her argument more evocative and relevant.

Example Question #3 : Analyzing Tone, Style, And Figurative Language In History Passages

Adapted from The Man with the Muck-Rake by Theodore Roosevelt (1906)

There are in the body politic, economic and social, many and grave evils, and there is urgent necessity for the sternest war upon them. There should be relentless exposure of and attack upon every evil man, whether politician or business man, every evil practice, whether in politics, business, or social life. I hail as a benefactor every writer or speaker, every man who, on the platform or in a book, magazine, or newspaper, with merciless severity makes such attack, provided always that he in his turn remembers that the attack is of use only if it is absolutely truthful.

The liar is no whit better than the thief, and if his mendacity takes the form of slander he may be worse than most thieves. It puts a premium upon knavery untruthfully to attack an honest man, or even with hysterical exaggeration to assail a bad man with untruth. An epidemic of indiscriminate assault upon character does no good, but very great harm. The soul of every scoundrel is gladdened whenever an honest man is assailed, or even when a scoundrel is untruthfully assailed.

The tone of this passage is __________.

Possible Answers:

angry and emotive

whimsical and sardonic

apathetic and miserly

jubilant and celebratory

urgent and serious

Correct answer:

urgent and serious

Explanation:

The overall tone of this passage is urgent and serious. This is clear throughout as the author employs several phrases to demonstrate the urgency and severity of the situation. Most obviously, and helpfully, the author uses the word “urgent.” The only other possible correct answer choice could be “angry and emotive.” However, the author uses very little angry or aggressive language and instead focuses on highlighting the seriousness of the situation.

Example Question #3 : 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 tone of this passage could best be described as __________.

Possible Answers:

informative and authoritative 

disparaging and humorous 

critical and harsh 

aggressive and bellicose

enigmatic and emotive 

Correct answer:

informative and authoritative 

Explanation:

Okay, before we try to figure out the tone, let's define all the answer choices that are a little challenging. “Authoritative” means deriving power from authority; “informative” means imparting useful information; “disparaging” means mocking; “humorous” means funny; “bellicose” means war-like; “enigmatic” means mysterious; “emotive” means showing emotion; and “aggressive” means hostile and angry. Of these terms, it would be difficult to use any of the more emotional or strong terms because this is a historical passage, not a persuasive essay. The author’s tone could not be said to be “mocking,” “funny,” “critical,” “aggressive,” or “enigmatic.” Simply put, the author is presenting a brief historical account, so the tone best described as “informative” and “authoritative.”

Example Question #16 : Purpose And Effect Of Phrases Or Sentences In Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from Citizenship in a Republic (1910) by Theodore Roosevelt

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

The author’s description of those “who neither know victory nor defeat” is __________.

Possible Answers:

incomprehensible

ambivalent 

friendly 

derisive 

respectful 

Correct answer:

derisive 

Explanation:

The author contrasts those who do not even try to compete (those that do not know victory or defeat) with those “worthy” men who are not afraid to throw themselves into any challenge or competition. It is clear from the author’s tone in this passage that he believes in the greatness of men who boldly meet competition and therefore that he would feel the opposite about those who shrink away. The author even describes those “who neither know victory nor defeat” as “cold and timid.”

Example Question #24 : Authorial Purpose

"The Holy Roman Empire" by Daniel Morrison (2014)

The Holy Roman Empire was somewhat unique among the various organized states of Middle and Early Modern Europe in that the Emperor was chosen by a group of electors. This is in stark contrast to the strict hereditary nature of English or French succession - where the position of monarch was handed down from the outgoing ruler to his closest legitimate heir, usually a son. In the Holy Roman Empire the Emperor was chosen by seven electors which in theory might seem to give the Empire a sort of early democratic flavor. However, in practice, only two or three families were ever able to draw on sufficient personal wealth to stand for election. Of these the Luxembourgs and the Hapsburgs are most well known. The Hapsburgs were so successful that they were able to maintain their “elected” position for almost four centuries. And, the Luxembourgs somehow still have a small country named after their family almost seven hundred years after their fall from dominance.

What can you infer about the author’s use of quotations around the word “elected”?

Possible Answers:

That he is deriding the influence of the Hapsburgs on European history

That he does not really believe the position of Holy Roman Emperor was truly an elected position

That he wishes to emphasize the personal wealth needed to stand for the position of Holy Roman Emperor

That he is mocking the Luxembourg family for their spectacular fall from grace

That he wants to highlight the democratic nature of the Holy Roman Empire

Correct answer:

That he does not really believe the position of Holy Roman Emperor was truly an elected position

Explanation:

When authors use quotation marks in text without actually describing something that someone has directly said, it is usually done to suggest that what the author is mocking or expressing his disbelief in something. So, when the author says, “The Hapsburgs were so successful that they were able to maintain their 'elected' position for almost four centuries," he really means that the position was clearly not an elected position.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Tone, Style, And Figurative Language In History Passages

Adapted from Scientific American Supplement No. 1178 Vol. XLV (June 25th, 1898)

The United States “regular" is in many respects the least-equipped foot soldier of my acquaintance. This was my reflection as I overhauled the kit of a private this morning. There was not a single brush in his knapsack. I counted three in that of a Spanish foot soldier only a few weeks ago. The American’s knapsack is not intended to be carried on any extended marches, although the total weight he is ever called upon to carry is only 50 pounds, a good 12 pounds less than what is carried by German privates. The men of this regiment carry an overcoat with a cape, amongst other things; on this expedition overcoats are a superfluity, and it is absurd that troops should be sent to the tropics in summer wearing exactly the same uniform they would be using throughout the winter on the frontiers of Canada. This war will, no doubt, produce a change after English models.

Now, as to discipline in the American army I cannot speak at present, for the war is yet too young. It may, however, be worth noting that in this particular regiment, while most complete liberty was allowed the men all the twelve days of the rail journey from San Francisco to Tampa, not a single breach of discipline was reported. The firing discipline during the three times we have been under fire has been excellent; the obedience of soldiers to their officers has been as prompt and intelligent as anything I have seen in Europe; and as to coolness under fire and accuracy of aim, what I have seen is most satisfactory.

All this I note, because I have more than once heard European officers question the possibility of making an army out of elements different from those to which they were accustomed. I have heard Germans insist that unless the officer appears in uniform he cannot command the respect of his men. On this ship it would be frequently difficult to tell officers from men when the tunic is laid aside and shoulder straps are not seen. But we must go a little beneath the surface and see things, not on the parade ground, but in actual war. For the American parade uniform has been designed by a lot of unsoldierly politicians and tailors about Washington. They have made the patient United States army a victim of their vulgar designs. On the battlefield, however, there are no political tailors, and the Washington dress regulations are ruthlessly disregarded.

The author’s tone in this essay is primarily one of __________.

Possible Answers:

total confusion

frustrated frankness

condescending admiration

arrogant disrespect

belligerent dismissal

Correct answer:

condescending admiration

Explanation:

Reading this from a modern American perspective, it is perhaps tempting to argue that the author’s tone is primarily “arrogant disrespect.” And certainly there are elements of this throughout the essay, but this is far from the primary tone. The author seems to be arguing that the American regular is poorly equipped and loose in formal discipline, and yet is nonetheless a fantastically loyal and committed soldier on the battlefield and possessed of extraordinary natural respect and control. That his tone is condescending is evidenced throughout, such as in excerpts like “On this expedition overcoats are a superfluity, and it is absurd that troops should be sent to the tropics in summer wearing exactly the same uniform they would be using throughout the winter on the frontiers of Canada. This war will, no doubt, produce a change after English models.” However, that his tone is also one of admiration is also evident throughout, most notably in the conclusion where he says “On the battlefield, however, there are no political tailors, and the Washington dress regulations are ruthlessly disregarded.“ To provide further help, “belligerent” means aggressive; “dismissal” means not considering, ignoring, or declaring is not worthy; “haughty” means brash, arrogant; “frankness” means honesty; “condescending” means talking down to someone.

Example Question #133 : Reading Comprehension

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.

The author’s tone throughout this passage is primarily one of __________.

Possible Answers:

disrespect

frankness

reverence

condescension

admonishment

Correct answer:

reverence

Explanation:

It is clear from the whole of this passage that the author has a great and deep respect for William II. The author seems to be defending William for what he views as his unfair treatment by the media of the rest of Europe and America and goes to great lengths to show how William is a virtuous man and a great leader for Germany. His tone is therefore best described as one of “reverence,” which means deep respect. To provide further help, “frankness” is excessive honesty, often to the point of being rude; “condescension” is talking down to someone; and “admonishment” is scolding or punishment.

Example Question #141 : Reading Comprehension

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.

The author would likely view the criticism directed by “the press of the world” at William II as __________.

Possible Answers:

malicious

whimsical, yet unfair

deeply foolish

misguided but understandable

disrespectful

Correct answer:

misguided but understandable

Explanation:

We know from the context of the whole of this passage that the author is a supporter of William II and would likely view any sustained criticism directed at William as inaccurate. However, the author also makes the following admission in the first paragraph: “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." He suggests that William II does have weak points, but that these are overshadowed by his admirable virtues. The author would therefore probably not go so far as to say “the press of the world” was being “deeply foolish” (very stupid), “malicious” (hateful), or “disrespectful.” He also shows no indication that he finds the criticism of the press “whimsical” (silly and quirky). Most likely, then, he would view the criticism as “misguided but understandable.”

Example Question #2 : Analyzing Tone, Style, And Figurative Language In History Passages

Adapted from "The Treatment of Rattlesnake Bite by Permanganate of Potassium, Based on Nine Successful Cases" by Amos W. Barber, M.D. in Scientific American Supplement No. 841, Vol. XXXIII (February 13th 1892)

Poisoned wounds, inflicted by the fangs of the rattlesnake, are happily rarer each year, since, as the country is becoming more populated, the crotalus is rapidly being exterminated. Yet, considering the disregard that characterizes the cowboy in his treatment of this reptile, it is astonishing that this class of injury is not more common.

It is the invariable custom among the cattlemen to dismount and destroy these snakes whenever they are seen. This is readily accomplished, since a slight blow will break the back. This blow is, however, generally delivered by means of the quirt, a whip not over two and a half feet long, and hence a weapon which brings the one who wields it in unpleasant proximity to the fangs of the reptile. A still more dangerous practice, and one which I have frequently seen, is a method of playing with the rattlesnake for the humor of the cowboy at the expense of a "tenderfoot." It is well known that unless a snake is coiled or in other specific positions, it cannot strike. On this theory, a mounted cowboy first puts a rattler to flight, then seizes it by the tail, and, swinging it so rapidly around his head that it is impossible for it to strike, sets off in pursuit of whoever has exhibited the most terror at the sight of the reptile. When within fair distance, he hurls the snake at the unfortunate victim, in the full assurance that even should it hit him it cannot bury its fangs in his flesh, since it cannot coil until it reaches the ground. This is a jest of which I have frequently been the victim, nor have I yet learned to appreciate it with unalloyed mirth.

The first case of rattlesnake wound to which I was called occurred in 1885. A cowboy was bitten on the foot, the fang penetrating through the boot. I saw him about twenty-four hours after he was struck. There was enormous swelling, extending up to the knee. There was no special discoloration about the wound; in fact, the swelling disguised this to such an extent that it was impossible to determine exactly where the fangs had entered. The patient was suffering great pain. His mind was clear, but he was oppressed with a dreadful anxiety.

How does the author characterize the underlined “cowboy"?

Possible Answers:

Resolute and brave

Foolish and reckless

Disbelieving in God

Completely delirious

Terrified of dying

Correct answer:

Terrified of dying

Explanation:

We know the the underlined “cowboy” had been bitten by a rattlesnake, and from the author’s earlier descriptions, we can reasonably determine that in this time period a rattlesnake bite was close to a death sentence. The author goes on to say: “The patient was suffering great pain. His mind was clear, but he was oppressed with a dreadful anxiety." The fact that the cowboy was “oppressed with a dreadful anxiety” allows us to infer that that the cowboy believed he was going to die and was very scared.

Example Question #3 : Analyzing Tone, Style, And Figurative Language In History Passages

Adapted from "The Treatment of Rattlesnake Bite by Permanganate of Potassium, Based on Nine Successful Cases" by Amos W. Barber, M.D. in Scientific American Supplement No. 841, Vol. XXXIII (February 13th 1892)

Poisoned wounds, inflicted by the fangs of the rattlesnake, are happily rarer each year, since, as the country is becoming more populated, the crotalus is rapidly being exterminated. Yet, considering the disregard that characterizes the cowboy in his treatment of this reptile, it is astonishing that this class of injury is not more common.

It is the invariable custom among the cattlemen to dismount and destroy these snakes whenever they are seen. This is readily accomplished, since a slight blow will break the back. This blow is, however, generally delivered by means of the quirt, a whip not over two and a half feet long, and hence a weapon which brings the one who wields it in unpleasant proximity to the fangs of the reptile. A still more dangerous practice, and one which I have frequently seen, is a method of playing with the rattlesnake for the humor of the cowboy at the expense of a "tenderfoot." It is well known that unless a snake is coiled or in other specific positions, it cannot strike. On this theory, a mounted cowboy first puts a rattler to flight, then seizes it by the tail, and, swinging it so rapidly around his head that it is impossible for it to strike, sets off in pursuit of whoever has exhibited the most terror at the sight of the reptile. When within fair distance, he hurls the snake at the unfortunate victim, in the full assurance that even should it hit him it cannot bury its fangs in his flesh, since it cannot coil until it reaches the ground. This is a jest of which I have frequently been the victim, nor have I yet learned to appreciate it with unalloyed mirth.

The first case of rattlesnake wound to which I was called occurred in 1885. A cowboy was bitten on the foot, the fang penetrating through the boot. I saw him about twenty-four hours after he was struck. There was enormous swelling, extending up to the knee. There was no special discoloration about the wound; in fact, the swelling disguised this to such an extent that it was impossible to determine exactly where the fangs had entered. The patient was suffering great pain. His mind was clear, but he was oppressed with a dreadful anxiety.

The author primarily characterizes cowboys in general as __________.

Possible Answers:

fearful

reckless 

unashamed

brave 

cruel

Correct answer:

reckless 

Explanation:

The behavior of cowboys is described at length in the second paragraph. From the author’s tone throughout and his description of how a cowboy usually reacts upon finding a rattlesnake, it is clear that the author believes cowboys are extremely “reckless.” He says, “A slight blow will break a rattlesnake’s back, but this blow is generally delivered by means of the quirt, a whip not over two and a half feet long, and hence a weapon which brings its wielder in unpleasant proximity to the fangs of the reptile.” His description of the cowboy's joking at the expense of the "tenderfoot" by throwing a rattlesnake at the "tenderfoot" also characterizes cowboys as reckless.

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