ISEE Middle Level Reading : Determining Context-Dependent Word Meanings in History Passages

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

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Example Question #311 : Sat Critical Reading

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 word “duty” is a reference to the need for __________.

Possible Answers:

responsibility 

inaction 

honor 

patience 

forcefulness

Correct answer:

responsibility 

Explanation:

The word “duty” is used almost as incitement to action. By saying that “it is their [women’s] duty to throw off such government” she is declaring that women must be responsible for their own advancement.

Example Question #1 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings 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 word “mendacity” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

encouragement

dishonesty 

consternation

truthfulness

vilification

Correct answer:

dishonesty 

Explanation:

The word “mendacity” refers to telling lies or deliberate untruthfulness. The correct answer is therefore “dishonesty.” If you were unsure of the definition of “mendacity” it would become necessary to read-in-context to determine the meaning of the word. The author states that “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.” You can therefore observe that “his mendacity” belongs to “the liar.” This means that mendacity must refer to a characteristic of a liar, such as dishonesty. Vilification refers to harsh criticism; consternation means dismay.

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

Adapted from "Crossing the Rubicon" in History of Julius Caesar by Jacob Abbott (1902)

There was a little stream in ancient times, in the north of Italy, which flowed eastward into the Adriatic Sea, called the Rubicon. This stream has been immortalized by the transactions which we are now about to describe.

The Rubicon was a very important boundary, and yet it was in itself so small and insignificant that it is now impossible to determine which of two or three little brooks here running into the sea is entitled to its name and renown. In history the Rubicon is a grand, permanent, and conspicuous stream, gazed upon with continued interest by all mankind for nearly twenty centuries; in nature it is an uncertain rivulet, for a long time doubtful and undetermined, and finally lost.

The Rubicon originally derived its importance from the fact that it was the boundary between all that part of the north of Italy which is formed by the valley of the Po, one of the richest and most magnificent countries of the world, and the more southern Roman territories. This country of the Po constituted what was in those days called the hither Gaul, and was a Roman province. It belonged now to Cæsar's jurisdiction, as the commander in Gaul. All south of the Rubicon was territory reserved for the immediate jurisdiction of the city. The Romans, in order to protect themselves from any danger which might threaten their own liberties from the immense armies which they raised for the conquest of foreign nations, had imposed on every side very strict limitations and restrictions in respect to the approach of these armies to the capital. The Rubicon was the limit on this northern side. Generals commanding in Gaul were never to pass it. To cross the Rubicon with an army on the way to Rome was rebellion and treason. Hence the Rubicon became, as it were, the visible sign and symbol of civil restriction to military power.

The underlined word “jurisdiction” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

mendacity 

brevity 

authority 

veracity 

subordination 

Correct answer:

authority 

Explanation:

In context, the author says, “It belonged now to Cæsar's jurisdiction, as the commander in Gaul.” Here it is clear that “jurisdiction” relates to being a commander or being in command, therefore the correct answer is “authority.” To provide further help, “mendacity” is deceit; “veracity” is honesty; “brevity” is briefness; and “subordination” means being made to seem of lesser importance

Example Question #9 : Evaluative Understanding In Nonfiction Passages

Adapted from Early European History (1917) by Hutton Webster

A medieval village usually contained several classes of laborers. There might be a number of freemen, who paid a fixed rent, either in money or produce, for the use of their land. Then there might also be a few slaves in the lord's household or at work on his domain. By this time, however, slavery had about died out in Western Europe. Most of the peasants were serfs.

Serfdom represented a stage between slavery and freedom. A slave belonged to his master; he was bought and sold like other belongings. A serf had a higher position, for he could not be sold apart from the land nor could his holding be taken from him. He was fixed to the soil. On the other hand, a serf ranked lower than a freeman, because he could not change his house, nor marry outside the manor, nor hand down his goods, without the permission of his lord.

What does the underlined word “fixed” most nearly mean?

Possible Answers:

Broken

Repaired

Rectified

Stuck

Alleviate

Correct answer:

Stuck

Explanation:

Usually the word “fixed” means repaired something that was broken. To "fix" means to mend or to repair; however, it can also mean rooted to or stuck in one place. The author says, “A serf had a higher position, for he could not be sold apart from the land nor could his holding be taken from him. He was fixed to the soil.” The author first tells you that a serf could not be taken from his land, then says that a serf was fixed to the soil. From this, you can infer that "fixed" means stuck to. To further help you, "soil" is being used here to mean land or ground.

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

Adapted from Early European History (1917) by Hutton Webster

A medieval village usually contained several classes of laborers. There might be a number of freemen, who paid a fixed rent, either in money or produce, for the use of their land. Then there might also be a few slaves in the lord's household or at work on his domain. By this time, however, slavery had about died out in Western Europe. Most of the peasants were serfs.

Serfdom represented a stage between slavery and freedom. A slave belonged to his master; he was bought and sold like other belongings. A serf had a higher position, for he could not be sold apart from the land nor could his holding be taken from him. He was fixed to the soil. On the other hand, a serf ranked lower than a freeman, because he could not change his house, nor marry outside the manor, nor hand down his goods, without the permission of his lord.

What does the underlined word “belongings” most nearly mean?

Possible Answers:

Work

Property 

Services

People

Food

Correct answer:

Property 

Explanation:

The sentence that contains the word “belongings” describes how a slave “belonged to" his master. We know that masters owned slaves, so "belonged to" means owned by. "Belongings," therefore, means property or things we own.

Example Question #3 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In History Passages

Adapted from The Man who Spoiled Napoleon’s Destiny by Rev. W. H. Fitchett, LL.D. (1899)

From March 18 to May 20, 1799—for more than sixty days and nights, that is—a little, half-forgotten, and more than half-ruined Syrian town was the scene of one of the fiercest and most dramatic sieges recorded in military history. And rarely has there been a struggle so apparently one-sided.

A handful of British sailors and Turkish irregulars were holding Acre, a town without regular defenses, against Napoleon, the most brilliant military genius of his generation, with an army of 10,000 war-hardened veterans, the "Army of Italy"—soldiers who had dared the snows of the Alps and conquered Italy, and to whom victory was a familiar experience. In their ranks military daring had reached, perhaps, its very highest point. And yet the sailors inside that ring of crumbling wall won! At Acre Napoleon experienced his first defeat; and, years after, at St. Helena, he said of Sir Sidney Smith, the gallant sailor who baffled him, "That man made me miss my destiny." It is a curious fact that one Englishman thwarted Napoleon's career in the East, and another ended his career in the West, and it may be doubted which of the two Napoleon hated most—Wellington, who finally overthrew him at Waterloo, or Sidney Smith, who, to use Napoleon's own words, made him "miss his destiny," and exchange the empire of the East for a lonely pinnacle of rock in the Atlantic.

What does the underlined word “recorded” most nearly mean?

Possible Answers:

Spoken to 

That happened

Listened to 

That ended

Written down 

Correct answer:

Written down 

Explanation:

In context the word “recorded” is used to mean written down, documented, or made notes about. Because the author talks about the siege as “recorded in military history,” the only other answer choice that could make sense is “that happened,” but this is not one of the various definitions of the word “recorded.” Recorded can mean taped and not performed live or written down, and in this context it means written down.

Example Question #15 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings 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.

The word “emancipation” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

bravery

freedom

regression

imprisonment

timidity

Correct answer:

freedom

Explanation:

The word emancipation generally refers to the act of freeing or being freed and so most nearly means freedom. Alternatively if you are not aware of this definition it becomes necessary to read-in-context to try to ascertain the most likely definition. The author surrounds the phrase “emancipation of thought” with references to the tendency towards “broader freedom” for women. As there are no modifying words like “however” or “although” you can infer that the correct answer must have a similar (or in this instance the exact same) meaning. Imprisonment has the opposite meaning. Timidity means shyness, and bravery means loosely the opposite; neither fits cleanly in the sentence. Regression means to take a step backwards and is opposite to the meaning of the phrase.

Example Question #4 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In History 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 word “levied” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

faded

introduced 

imposed 

dogged 

cloistered 

Correct answer:

imposed 

Explanation:

The word is used in the following context: “The satraps carried out the laws and collected the heavy tribute annually levied throughout the empire.” We are told that a heavy tribute is annually “levied,” which suggests that it is collected, raised, or imposed. “Imposed” means forced upon, and since people wouldn't likely pay their takes unless someone made them do so, the takes have to be “levied,” or “imposed.” To provide further help, “dogged” means determined; “faded” means dull or discolored; and “cloistered” means secluded.

Example Question #7 : Language In History 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 word “furnished” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

meandered 

supplied 

ensconced

commanded 

implied 

Correct answer:

supplied 

Explanation:

The word "furnished" is used in the following sentence: “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.” We are told that Persia’s subjects had to pay tribute and “furnish” troops to the royal army in order to live outside the king’s interference. As we are told that the army is “royal,” and that the subjects are trying to please the “king," so we can assume that “furnished” means gave to or supplied. To provide further help, “commanded” means led; “ensconced” means settled in; “meandered” means traveled towards a destination indirectly, in a side-to-side fashion, like a river; and “implied” means suggested subtly without directly stating.

Example Question #5 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In History Passages

Adapted from "Crossing the Rubicon" in History of Julius Caesar by Jacob Abbott (1902)

There was a little stream in ancient times, in the north of Italy, which flowed eastward into the Adriatic Sea, called the Rubicon. This stream has been immortalized by the transactions which we are now about to describe.

The Rubicon was a very important boundary, and yet it was in itself so small and insignificant that it is now impossible to determine which of two or three little brooks here running into the sea is entitled to its name and renown. In history the Rubicon is a grand, permanent, and conspicuous stream, gazed upon with continued interest by all mankind for nearly twenty centuries; in nature it is an uncertain rivulet, for a long time doubtful and undetermined, and finally lost.

The Rubicon originally derived its importance from the fact that it was the boundary between all that part of the north of Italy which is formed by the valley of the Po, one of the richest and most magnificent countries of the world, and the more southern Roman territories. This country of the Po constituted what was in those days called the hither Gaul, and was a Roman province. It belonged now to Cæsar's jurisdiction, as the commander in Gaul. All south of the Rubicon was territory reserved for the immediate jurisdiction of the city. The Romans, in order to protect themselves from any danger which might threaten their own liberties from the immense armies which they raised for the conquest of foreign nations, had imposed on every side very strict limitations and restrictions in respect to the approach of these armies to the capital. The Rubicon was the limit on this northern side. Generals commanding in Gaul were never to pass it. To cross the Rubicon with an army on the way to Rome was rebellion and treason. Hence the Rubicon became, as it were, the visible sign and symbol of civil restriction to military power.

The underlined word “immortalized” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

made safe

made ceremonial 

made eternal 

deified 

sanctified 

Correct answer:

made eternal 

Explanation:

The word “mortal” means able to die or not a god, whereas “immortal” means eternal, unable to die, or living forever. So to be “immortalized” means to be made eternal. In context, the author says, “This stream has been immortalized by the transactions which we are now about to describe.” As he is telling the story of an important geographical feature, it would make most sense that it had been made eternal, or made worth remembering

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