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

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

varsity tutors app store varsity tutors android store

Example Questions

← Previous 1 3

Example Question #15 : Analyzing Main Idea, Theme, And Purpose In Humanities Passages

Adapted from The Spoiled Children of Civilization (1912) by Samuel McChord Crothers

To spoil a child is no easy task, for Nature is all the time working on behalf of the childish virtues and veracities, and is gently correcting the abnormalities of education. Still it can be done. The secret of it is never to let the child alone, and to insist on doing for him all that he would otherwise do for himself—and more.

In that "more" is the spoiling power. The child must be early made acquainted with the feeling of satiety. There must be too much of everything. If he were left to himself to any extent, this would be an unknown experience. For he is a hungry little creature, with a growing appetite, and naturally is busy ministering to his own needs. He is always doing something for himself, and enjoys the exercise. The little egoist, even when he has "no language but a cry," uses that language to make known to the world that he wants something and wants it very much. As his wants increase, his exertions increase also. Arms and legs, fingers and toes, muscles and nerves and busy brain are all at work to get something which he desires. He is a mechanic fashioning his little world to his own uses. He is a despot who insists on his divine right to rule the subservient creatures around him. He is an inventor devising ways and means to secure all the ends which he has the wit to see. That these great works on which he has set his heart end in self is obvious enough, but we forgive him. Altruism will come in its own time if we can train ourselves.

In this passage the author emphasizes which aspect of the child?

Possible Answers:

Wants and needs

Growth

Intelligence

Aversions

Health

Correct answer:

Wants and needs

Explanation:

The entirety of the second paragraph focuses on developing the argument that children are initially driven by the fulfillment of their wants and needs. The author describes, for example, how a child is “always naturally busy ministering to his own needs. He is always doing something for himself, and enjoys the exercise.” The author makes brief mention of the child’s growth, but no mention of intelligence, health or aversions.

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

Adapted from The Spoiled Children of Civilization (1912) by Samuel McChord Crothers

To spoil a child is no easy task, for Nature is all the time working on behalf of the childish virtues and veracities, and is gently correcting the abnormalities of education. Still it can be done. The secret of it is never to let the child alone, and to insist on doing for him all that he would otherwise do for himself—and more.

In that "more" is the spoiling power. The child must be early made acquainted with the feeling of satiety. There must be too much of everything. If he were left to himself to any extent, this would be an unknown experience. For he is a hungry little creature, with a growing appetite, and naturally is busy ministering to his own needs. He is always doing something for himself, and enjoys the exercise. The little egoist, even when he has "no language but a cry," uses that language to make known to the world that he wants something and wants it very much. As his wants increase, his exertions increase also. Arms and legs, fingers and toes, muscles and nerves and busy brain are all at work to get something which he desires. He is a mechanic fashioning his little world to his own uses. He is a despot who insists on his divine right to rule the subservient creatures around him. He is an inventor devising ways and means to secure all the ends which he has the wit to see. That these great works on which he has set his heart end in self is obvious enough, but we forgive him. Altruism will come in its own time if we can train ourselves.

According to this passage, what is most responsible for spoiling a child?

Possible Answers:

Self-reliance

Nature

Human indulgence

Language

The school system 

Correct answer:

Human indulgence

Explanation:

The author states that the spoiling quality is giving a child “more” than he or she needs. The author states: “The child must be early made acquainted with the feeling of satiety. There must be too much of everything. If he were left to himself to any extent, this would be an unknown experience.” If you do not know satiety means feeling satisfied or overly satisfied. Reading the whole of the passage will reveal that the author feels providing a child with too great a level of comfort and needs-fulfillment will cause the child to be spoiled. It is human indulgence that causes the child to be spoiled. The author does make some mention of the spoiling properties of education, but here the author does not mean the literal education enforced in the school system. Rather the author means the impact of social education given to children by humans who minister to their needs.

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

"Preparing for Standardized Tests: Two Approaches" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Generally speaking, there are two major camps regarding the appropriate manner by which one should approach a standardized test. On the one hand, there are those people and businesses that believe that you should learn the “tricks of the test.” This approach encourages the idea that the given exam relies on a set of “inside tricks” that will fool students who are not well-informed about the way such tricks are designed. It likewise focuses less on content then on strategies for answering questions. On the other hand, there is the camp that believes that the best way to approach an exam is to be a complete expert on the content that will be examined. While this approach focuses on teaching the subject matter that will be tested, it often focuses very little on the test-taking strategies that can aid students who are taking a given exam. Although there are numerous strong partisans regarding each approach, it must be admitted that both have their strengths and their weaknesses.

What is the main idea that this paragraph wishes to convey?

Possible Answers:

Test preparation is a great idea; no matter how you do it, you will make great improvement.

Test-taking strategies are a key component to success in preparing for a standardized test.

The "tricks of the test" approach is a foolish lie that has made a lot of money for those who support it.

There are two major approaches to preparing for standardized tests, one based on test strategies and another based on test content; ultimately, they both have relative strengths and weaknesses.

It is foolish to think that someone can become an expert in examination content before taking the standardized test.

Correct answer:

There are two major approaches to preparing for standardized tests, one based on test strategies and another based on test content; ultimately, they both have relative strengths and weaknesses.

Explanation:

Primarily, the passage outlines the differences found in two approaches to preparing for standardized tests.  However, note that at the end, it likewise does make a statement acknowledging that there are strengths and weaknesses to each approach.  Both of these aspects are necessary in forming a general statement of the main idea of this passage.

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

"The Difficulties of Writing One's First Research Paper" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

When a high school student writes his or her first research paper, he or she likely will face a number of difficulties in finding and using sources for the essay. The single most significant of these difficulties is the finding of sources for the paper. The student will likely only know about his or her topic from the discussion that has occurred in class, based on the textbook that is being used. For a research paper, however, it will be necessary to find appropriate texts in the library to support the topic about which he or she is writing. This can be quite overwhelming, for there are often so many books on a given topic that it is difficult to know where to begin if your starting point is only a high school textbook. Many students will be tempted to use every book that they find, not focusing on the most appropriate texts for the topic. On the other hand, some students will rely heavily on a single book on the topic. In this case, many things are overlooked because of the student’s narrow research. Of course, there are a number of other difficulties involved in the writing of such a paper, but the use of sources likely remains the most troublesome by far.

What is the main idea of this selection?

Possible Answers:

There are so many problems with high school research papers that it would be better just to eliminate them from the curriculum entirely.

High school students sometimes attempt to write research papers when they really are unable to do so.

Although the first research paper written by most high school students is not very focused, this improves with time.

Two dangers face the high school student writing his or her first research paper, namely, extreme overuse or extreme underuse of resources.

The first research paper written by a high school student is generally of rather poor quality.

Correct answer:

Two dangers face the high school student writing his or her first research paper, namely, extreme overuse or extreme underuse of resources.

Explanation:

The first sentence to pay attention to is the opening one: "When a high school student writes his or her first research paper, he or she likely will face a number of difficulties in finding and using sources for the essay." Clearly, this problem of sources will be the main focus of the selection. This is followed by a reaffirmation that finding sources is the "single most significant" difficulty. After explaining the problem a bit, the author gives the two possible outcomes: (1) students will use far too many books, or (2) students will rely too much on one book.

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

"The Aging of Public Transportation Systems" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

As cities develop, their public transportation systems often show signs of aging that are mixed with aspects that are quite up-to-date. An example of such a situation can be found in the transportation system in Washington DC. This system is made up of a mixture of buses and trains that connect people to locations in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. While the system has been well maintained and updated over the years, it still shows evidence that certain sections are older than others.

This is particularly noticeable when one considers the multiple lines that connect in Washington DC itself. Within the city, there are five different sets of tracks that run in various directions and to sundry places. A number of the newer lines are in excellent condition and rarely break down; however, the case of the red line is somewhat different. This oldest line of the metro train system often has issues because of its age, experiencing a number of track and signal issues even at rush hour when the overall system is its most efficient. Admittedly, the transportation authority is working to update this line and make it less problematic. Still, until this work is completed, it is obvious to all who are familiar with the metro train system that the red line is the oldest and most out of date.

What is the main idea that this passage seeks to express?

Possible Answers:

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

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

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

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

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

Correct answer:

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

Explanation:

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

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

"Conservatism" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

In American politics, there is perhaps no word that is more over-simplified than “conservative.” Many people use this term as though it has a single meaning and expresses a single historical-political outlook. Nothing could be further from the truth. The development of American conservatism must be understood as a combination of a number of strands of ideology that often coexist with great tension and difficulty. Although there are many groups that are combined in this larger assortment, two examples will suffice to show the great diversity present in this seemingly simple group.

For instance, there are the “traditionalist conservatives,” who generally are concerned with preserving Western culture and tradition against the developments of modern thought and culture. In many ways, this type of conservatism is the most “conserving”; that is, traditionalists are primarily concerned with maintaining the “old order” of Western civilization and learning. Because of these concerns, the traditionalist conservatives are very wary of any kind of major governmental program that promises to bring a “new order” into existence. While not disagreeing with the idea of progress, these conservatives believe that any such changes should occur organically, in a natural manner over a period of years. 

On the other hand, there are also the “libertarians," who are often classed as “conservatives” as well. They are surprisingly different from the traditionalist conservatives. The libertarians are primarily concerned with maximizing freedom and limiting the role of government in individual lives. In many ways, they represent the kind of modern individualism disagreed with by the traditionalists.

These two opposed groups are able to come together in the general notion of “conservatism” because of their shared attitudes toward the government, particularly the federal government. The traditionalists wish to limit the role of the federal government out of a fear that it will ruin traditional culture through radically new plans and agendas. The libertarians seek to limit it out of a desire to give individual citizens maximum freedom of choice and action. While these two branches of “conservatism” are in many ways opposed to each other, they somehow manage to coexist along with many other positions that are all called “conservative” in spite of similarly striking differences.

Based on the author’s presentation, what is the attitude of traditionalist conservatives toward social progress?

Possible Answers:

They ignore it as a modern aberration.

They despise it because of their old-fashioned outlook.

They believe that it should happen gradually, not through revolutions or quick changes.

They always oppose it, particularly when presented with modern arguments.

They forge alliances with libertarians to prevent it.

Correct answer:

They believe that it should happen gradually, not through revolutions or quick changes.

Explanation:

The passage does not say that the traditionalist conservatives oppose progress and change. It only states that they believe that it should occur in an organic manner, gradually over time. The key sentence for this is, "While not disagreeing with the idea of progress, these conservatives believe that any such changes should occur organically, in a natural manner over a period of years."

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

"Conservatism" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

In American politics, there is perhaps no word that is more over-simplified than “conservative.” Many people use this term as though it has a single meaning and expresses a single historical-political outlook. Nothing could be further from the truth. The development of American conservatism must be understood as a combination of a number of strands of ideology that often coexist with great tension and difficulty. Although there are many groups that are combined in this larger assortment, two examples will suffice to show the great diversity present in this seemingly simple group.

For instance, there are the “traditionalist conservatives,” who generally are concerned with preserving Western culture and tradition against the developments of modern thought and culture. In many ways, this type of conservatism is the most “conserving”; that is, traditionalists are primarily concerned with maintaining the “old order” of Western civilization and learning. Because of these concerns, the traditionalist conservatives are very wary of any kind of major governmental program that promises to bring a “new order” into existence. While not disagreeing with the idea of progress, these conservatives believe that any such changes should occur organically, in a natural manner over a period of years. 

On the other hand, there are also the “libertarians," who are often classed as “conservatives” as well. They are surprisingly different from the traditionalist conservatives. The libertarians are primarily concerned with maximizing freedom and limiting the role of government in individual lives. In many ways, they represent the kind of modern individualism disagreed with by the traditionalists.

These two opposed groups are able to come together in the general notion of “conservatism” because of their shared attitudes toward the government, particularly the federal government. The traditionalists wish to limit the role of the federal government out of a fear that it will ruin traditional culture through radically new plans and agendas. The libertarians seek to limit it out of a desire to give individual citizens maximum freedom of choice and action. While these two branches of “conservatism” are in many ways opposed to each other, they somehow manage to coexist along with many other positions that are all called “conservative” in spite of similarly striking differences.

What is the main point of this selection?

Possible Answers:

The term "conservative" should be dropped from American English usage because it is, at best, a vague term.

Conservatives are always at war internally because of their inconsistent ideals.

The word "conservative" is really senseless, for their politics are not concerned with conserving anything but with ruling.

The word "conservative," as used in American politics, describes a reality that is far more complex than many realize.

Those who use the name "conservative" can be separated into two distinct groups, namely, the traditionalist conservatives and the libertarians.

Correct answer:

The word "conservative," as used in American politics, describes a reality that is far more complex than many realize.

Explanation:

This passage does not aim to give an exhaustive description of conservatism. Likewise, it does not intend to critique the term "conservative." Instead, it aims to show that this group is very diverse, using two examples and explaining how they can come together in spite of their significant differences. The correct answer expresses this by noting that the word is more complex than many realize. The passage aims to show how this is the case.

Example Question #4 : Drawing Conclusions In Contemporary Life Passages

"Online Shopping Options" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Often, online retailers provide special “favored customer” options that allow customers to spend a small subscription fee in order to receive special pricing and shipping options. Often, these customers believe that they are receiving a great deal of savings, particularly if this option greatly reduces the costs of having items shipped. While such an arrangement can allow someone to make previously planned purchases at a great discount, it likewise can become a great temptation to spend much more money than they would ever have spent had they not had the “favored customer” status.

Which of the following sentences would best conclude the paragraph in a way that follows from the main idea of the paragraph?

Possible Answers:

The extraordinary greed of such companies is beyond belief and should be prosecuted in court.

Such customers almost always spend all of their money because of these dishonest ploys.

These plans are extremely new and will only prove their profitability with the test of time.

Therefore, customers should be aware that "favored customer" statuses ultimately aim to generate outcomes in favor of the seller as well as the customer.

This dishonest practice has grown in recent years with the increase in logistics systems and improvement in delivery methods.

Correct answer:

Therefore, customers should be aware that "favored customer" statuses ultimately aim to generate outcomes in favor of the seller as well as the customer.

Explanation:

The paragraph discusses both positive and negative aspects that result from "favored customer" status: while customers may "receive special pricing and shipping options," they also might be "[tempted] to spend much more money than they would ever have spent had they not had the "favored customer" status." "Therefore, customers should be aware that "favored customer" statuses ultimately aim to generate outcomes in favor of the seller as well as the customer" is an appropriate closing sentence for the paragraph because it recognizes that such practices benefit not only consumers, but also online retailers, as the paragraph has considered in its main body.

Example Question #1 : Authorial Purpose In Contemporary Life Passages

"Why Learning Multiple Languages in Graduate School is Important" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

In graduate school, students are often required to learn a number of foreign languages in addition to their regular coursework. This can be quite frustrating and difficult, for the normal courses in graduate school require significantly more reading and writing than do undergraduate courses. It is not unusual for graduate students to have regular reading assignments of several hundred pages for each course that they take. Likewise, they often write papers of much greater length than those that they wrote as undergraduate students. When language examinations are added to this difficult course load, it can be very frustrating for graduate students to try to find the time to prepare for these additional examinations.

Although these frustrations are understandable, this system has not been created solely to cause woe for graduate students. Much of the work for which these students are being prepared will focus on research. While much has been written in English about many topics, adequate research can only be done if one is able to read what people have written in other languages. For instance, there are many important articles and books written about almost every topic by European scholars. If a graduate student does not know any foreign languages, all of these article and books will be impossible to read, and hence useless to their research endeavors. This would be a great loss for a student's research. Therefore, in spite of its frustrating aspects, the language examination process is an important component of graduate school education.

What is the overall purpose of the passage?

Possible Answers:

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

To defend the language examination system found in graduate schools

To summarize the state of language exams in graduate schools

To consider the antiquated methods of graduate school education

None of the other answers

Correct answer:

To defend the language examination system found in graduate schools

Explanation:

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

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

"Addictions" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Addictions come in many forms, often quite hidden from those who should be aware of them. It is helpful to be aware of how hidden these obsessive behaviors can be. Often, they appear to be harmless, but this appearance is deceptive. Perhaps several examples can assist in increasing the reader’s awareness of these potentially problematic habits. 

A very simple example of such an apparently innocuous addiction is the addiction that many people have to a beverage like coffee. While not as destructive as an addiction to alcohol, an extreme need for caffeine often covers a need for more sleep or an overzealous desire to be completely energetic at every waking moment. Also, a great deal of caffeine can potentially do damage to one’s heart due to the stress caused by its stimulating effects. 

Another example of a seemingly harmless addiction can be found in the case of people who are addicted to work. It is very tempting to praise such obsessive behavior, as it provides many benefits for others and even for the one doing the work. The advancement of a career certainly seems beneficial and often allows for great personal and financial fulfillment. Nevertheless, constant work often hides some sadness, insecurity, or fear that should be confronted by the person who slaves away without cessation. Likewise, over time, such continuous work often can be greatly destructive of important personal relationships.

Of course, many more examples could be brought forth, for one can obsess over almost anything. Still, even these two simple examples should make clear to the reader that it is possible for there to be apparently harmless—indeed, seemingly helpful—life practices that in reality can pose a potential harm to one’s physical or mental well-being.

What is the intention of the author of this passage?

Possible Answers:

To overcome social stereotypes regarding addiction

To raise awareness regarding potentially hidden but dangerous behaviors

To condemn certain types of behaviors

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

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

Correct answer:

To raise awareness regarding potentially hidden but dangerous behaviors

Explanation:

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

← Previous 1 3
Learning Tools by Varsity Tutors

Incompatible Browser

Please upgrade or download one of the following browsers to use Instant Tutoring: