ISEE Middle Level Reading : Comparing and Contrasting in Literature Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Comparing And Contrasting In Literature Passages

Adapted from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (1876)

Within two minutes, or even less, he had forgotten all his troubles. Not because his troubles were one whit less heavy and bitter to him than a man's are to a man, but because a new and powerful interest bore them down and drove them out of his mind for the time—just as men's misfortunes are forgotten in the excitement of new enterprises. This new interest was a valued novelty in whistling, which he had just acquired, and he was suffering to practice it undisturbed. It consisted in a peculiar bird-like turn, a sort of liquid warble, produced by touching the tongue to the roof of the mouth at short intervals in the midst of the music—the reader probably remembers how to do it, if he has ever been a boy. Diligence and attention soon gave him the knack of it, and he strode down the street with his mouth full of harmony and his soul full of gratitude. He felt much as an astronomer feels who has discovered a new planet—no doubt, as far as strong, deep, unalloyed pleasure is concerned, the advantage was with the boy, not the astronomer.

The summer evenings were long. It was not dark, yet. Presently Tom checked his whistle. A stranger was before him—a boy a shade larger than himself. A newcomer of any age or either sex was an impressive curiosity in the poor little shabby village of St. Petersburg. This boy was well-dressed, too—well-dressed on a weekday. This was simply astounding. His cap was a dainty thing, his close-buttoned blue cloth roundabout was new and natty, and so were his pantaloons. He had shoes on—and it was only Friday. He even wore a necktie, a bright bit of ribbon. He had a citified air about him that ate into Tom's vitals. The more Tom stared at the splendid marvel, the higher he turned up his nose at his finery and the shabbier and shabbier his own outfit seemed to him to grow. Neither boy spoke. If one moved, the other moved—but only sidewise, in a circle; they kept face to face and eye to eye all the time.

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

Possible Answers:

Able to swim vs. unable to swim

Older vs. younger

Dressed in fancy clothing vs. dressed in unremarkable clothing

American vs. European

Able to whistle vs. unable to whistle

Correct answer:

Dressed in fancy clothing vs. dressed in unremarkable clothing

Explanation:

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

Example Question #1 : Textual Relationships In Literature Passages

Adapted from Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (1871)

One thing was certain, that the white kitten had had nothing to do with it—it was the black kitten's fault entirely. For the white kitten had been having its face washed by the old cat for the last quarter of an hour (and bearing it pretty well, considering); so you see that it COULDN'T have had any hand in the mischief.

The way Dinah washed her children's faces was this: first she held the poor thing down by its ear with one paw, and then with the other paw she rubbed its face all over, the wrong way, beginning at the nose: and just now, as I said, she was hard at work on the white kitten, which was lying quite still and trying to purr—no doubt feeling that it was all meant for its good.

But the black kitten had been finished with earlier in the afternoon, and so, while Alice was sitting curled up in a corner of the great arm-chair, half talking to herself and half asleep, the kitten had been having a grand game of romps with the ball of worsted Alice had been trying to wind up, and had been rolling it up and down till it had all come undone again; and there it was, spread over the hearth-rug, all knots and tangles, with the kitten running after its own tail in the middle.

'Oh, you wicked little thing!' cried Alice, catching up the kitten, and giving it a little kiss to make it understand that it was in disgrace. 'Really, Dinah ought to have taught you better manners! You OUGHT, Dinah, you know you ought!' she added, looking reproachfully at the old cat, and speaking in as cross a voice as she could manage—and then she scrambled back into the arm-chair, taking the kitten and the worsted with her, and began winding up the ball again. But she didn't get on very fast, as she was talking all the time, sometimes to the kitten, and sometimes to herself. Kitty sat very demurely on her knee, pretending to watch the progress of the winding, and now and then putting out one paw and gently touching the ball, as if it would be glad to help, if it might.

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

Possible Answers:

frustrated . . . glum

cooperative . . . mischievous

unfriendly . . . feral

a troublemaker . . . playful

pitiful . . . angry

Correct answer:

cooperative . . . mischievous

Explanation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Example Question #2 : Textual Relationships In Literature Passages

Adapted from The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss (1879 Kingston ed.)

Thus talking, we pushed on until we came to a pleasant grove which stretched down to the water's edge. Here, we halted to rest, seating ourselves under a large tree, by a rivulet that murmured and splashed along its pebbly bed into the great ocean before us. A thousand gaily-plumaged birds flew twittering above us, and Fritz and I gazed up at them. 

My son suddenly started up.

"A monkey," he exclaimed. “I am nearly sure I saw a monkey." 

As he spoke, he sprang round to the other side of the tree, and in doing so, stumbled over a small round object. He handed it to me, remarking as he did so that it was a round bird's nest, of which he had often heard. "You may have done so," said I, laughing, "but this is a coconut."

We split open the nut, but, to our disgust, found the kernel dry and uneatable. 

"Hullo," cried Fritz, "I always thought a coconut was full of delicious sweet liquid, like almond milk."

"So it is," I replied, "when young and fresh, but as it ripens the milk becomes congealed, and in course of time is solidified into a kernel. This kernel then dries as you see here, but when the nut falls on favorable soil, the germ within the kernel swells until it bursts through the shell, and, taking root, springs up a new tree."

"I do not understand," said Fritz, "how the little germ manages to get through this great thick shell, which is not like an almond or hazelnut shell, which is divided down the middle already."

"Nature provides for all things," I answered, taking up the pieces. " Look here, do you see these three round holes near the stalk? It is through them that the germ obtains egress. Now let us find a good nut if we can." 

As coconuts must be overripe before they fall naturally from the tree, it was not without difficulty that we obtained one in which the kernel was not dried up. When we succeeded, however, we were so refreshed by the fruit that we could defer eating until later in the day, and so spare our stock of provisions.

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

Possible Answers:

They are both hard.

They are both inedible.

They are both very expensive.

They are both divided down the middle.

They are both used in recipes.

Correct answer:

They are both divided down the middle.

Explanation:

In the eighth paragraph, Fritz says, "I do not understand," said Fritz, "how the little germ manages to get through this great thick shell, which is not like an almond or hazelnut shell, which is divided down the middle already." From this, we can correctly answer this question in saying that Fritz says almond shells and hazelnut shells are "both divided down the middle." While almond shells, hazelnut shells, and coconut shells may all be "inedible" and "hard," we are looking for the feature which is common to almond and hazelnut shells but not applicable to coconut shells, so neither of these can be the correct answer.

Example Question #2 : Comparing And Contrasting In Literature Passages

Adapted from “The Little Mermaid” by Hans Christian Andersen in Hans Anderson’s Fairy Tales: A New Translation by Mrs. Paull (1867 ed.)

The Sea King had been a widower for many years, and his aged mother kept house for him. She was a very wise woman, and exceedingly proud of her high birth; on that account she wore twelve oysters on her tail, while others, also of high rank, were only allowed to wear six. She was, however, deserving of very great praise, especially for her care of the little sea princesses, her granddaughters. They were six beautiful children; but the youngest was the prettiest of them all. Like all the others, she had no feet, and her body ended in a fish's tail. 

All day long they played in the great halls of the castle, or among the living flowers that grew out of the walls. The large amber windows were open, and the fish swam in, just as the swallows fly into our houses when we open the windows, excepting that the fishes swam up to the princesses, ate out of their hands, and allowed themselves to be stroked. 

Outside the castle there was a beautiful garden, in which grew bright red and dark blue flowers, and blossoms like flames of fire; the fruit glittered like gold, and the leaves and stems waved to and fro continually. Each of the young princesses had a little plot of ground in the garden, where she might dig and plant as she pleased. One arranged her flower-bed into the form of a whale; another thought it better to make hers like the figure of a little mermaid; but that of the youngest was round like the sun, and contained flowers as red as its rays at sunset. 

She was a strange child, quiet and thoughtful; and while her sisters would be delighted with the wonderful things which they obtained from the wrecks of vessels, she cared for nothing but her pretty red flowers, like the sun, excepting a beautiful marble statue. It was the representation of a handsome boy, carved out of pure white stone, which had fallen to the bottom of the sea from a wreck. She planted by the statue a rose-colored weeping willow. It grew splendidly, and very soon hung its fresh branches over the statue, almost down to the blue sands. Nothing gave her so much pleasure as to hear about the world above the sea. She made her old grandmother tell her all she knew of the ships and of the towns, the people and the animals. To her it seemed most wonderful and beautiful to hear that the flowers of the land should have fragrance, and not those below the sea; that the trees of the forest should be green; and that the fishes among the trees could sing so sweetly, that it was quite a pleasure to hear them. Her grandmother called the little birds fishes, or she would not have understood her; for she had never seen birds.

Which of the following is NOT true about the Sea King’s youngest daughter in comparison to her sisters?

Possible Answers:

None of the other answer choices is a false statement.

She is much more boisterous, talkative, and outgoing than her sisters.

She has more of an interest in the sun than her sisters.

She is more curious than her sisters about hearing stories of the world above the sea.

She is less interested in the variety of things recovered from shipwrecks than her sisters are.

Correct answer:

She is much more boisterous, talkative, and outgoing than her sisters.

Explanation:

Let’s consider each of the answer choices individually to find the correct one.

She is more curious than her sisters about hearing stories of the world above the sea. - This is true, because at the end of the story, we are told that “Nothing gave [the Sea King’s youngest daughter] so much pleasure as to hear about the world above the sea. She made her old grandmother tell her all she knew of the ships and of the towns, the people and the animals.”

She has more of an interest in the sun than her sisters. - This is true, because we are told that “Each of the young princesses had a little plot of ground in the garden, where she might dig and plant as she pleased. One arranged her flower-bed into the form of a whale; another thought it better to make hers like the figure of a little mermaid; but that of the youngest was round like the sun, and contained flowers as red as its rays at sunset.”

She is less interested in the variety of things recovered from shipwrecks than her sisters are. - This is true, because we are told “She was a strange child, quiet and thoughtful; and while her sisters would be delighted with the wonderful things which they obtained from the wrecks of vessels, she cared for nothing but her pretty red flowers, like the sun, excepting a beautiful marble statue.”

This last quotation allows us to choose the correct answer—the one that is not true— which is “She is much more boisterous, talkative, and outgoing than her sisters.” The Sea King’s youngest daughter is described as “a strange child, quiet and thoughtful,” so we certainly cannot call her “boisterous,” and definitely not “more boisterous, talkative, and outgoing than her sisters.”

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