ISEE Upper Level Reading : Analyzing Passage Logic, Genre, and Organization in Contemporary Life Passages

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

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Analyzing Passage Logic, Genre, And Organization 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.

Why does the author choose the two examples used in the selection?

Possible Answers:

In order to provide a striking set of examples to support the passage's thesis

In order to provide an exhaustive example of the divisions in conservatism

In order to present the stages of a progressive argument for the passage's thesis

In order to present a fact, followed by a counter-fact

In order to show the incoherence of the word "conservatism"

Correct answer:

In order to provide a striking set of examples to support the passage's thesis

Explanation:

The thesis of this passage is that the word "conservative" is used to describe a set of groups that are very different from each other. At the end of the first paragraph, the author states, "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." This is a clear statement of the reasoning behind the second and third paragraphs. They provide two very striking examples of the wide divergences in ideas accepted by people who call themselves "conservatives."

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

"The Meaning of 'Liberal Arts Education'" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Many people use the expression “liberal arts education” but do not know much at all about the original meaning of such an education. It is often thought that a “true liberal education” is one that gives the student knowledge that is not pursued for “utilitarian values”—that is, knowledge that is not merely “for the sake of getting a job.” Sometimes, the expression “liberal education” is used to describe an education that is not a mere repetition of old beliefs, but is open-minded and “liberal” in this way.

To understand the original meaning of the expression “liberal arts” it is necessary to consider each part of the expression as it was used in its ancient and medieval senses. The word “liberal” was used to describe these “arts” insofar as they were not the “servile arts,” that is, “arts” in the sense of “artisan work.” In this regard, “liberal arts” were not a matter of “getting a job.” The word “art” still had a meaning that was related to “artisanship.” However, these “arts” were “liberal” because they were the “arts of reasoning,” that is, “the arts of the mind.” They were meant to be tools that prepared someone for more in-depth studies. Thus, they were not envisioned as “knowledge for the sake of knowledge.” Instead, they were the initial tools that enabled the young student to reason properly.  This more ancient sense of the “liberal arts” is often missed or, at least, partially overlooked in contemporary discussions about them.

What is the purpose of the underlined sentence starting with “Sometimes, the expression . . .”?

Possible Answers:

To state the thesis of this selection

To provide a second example of what some people think is meant by the expression "liberal arts education"

To contrast the contemporary understanding of "liberal education" with the ancient understanding

To expand on the topic discussed in the sentence before

To provide a contrast for the first example provided in this paragraph

Correct answer:

To provide a second example of what some people think is meant by the expression "liberal arts education"

Explanation:

The first paragraph generally aims to state that many people do not know the original meaning of "liberal arts education." The second sentence provides a first example, stating what is "often" thought by people. The third sentence (the sentence in question) provides an example of what is "sometimes" thought about liberal arts education as well. This sentence does not object to anything coming before it. It merely states another example, implying that it is one of the cases to which the author had referred in the opening sentence.

Example Question #285 : Hspt Reading

"The Meaning of 'Liberal Arts Education'" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Many people use the expression “liberal arts education” but do not know much at all about the original meaning of such an education. It is often thought that a “true liberal education” is one that gives the student knowledge that is not pursued for “utilitarian values”—that is, knowledge that is not merely “for the sake of getting a job.” Sometimes, the expression “liberal education” is used to describe an education that is not a mere repetition of old beliefs, but is open-minded and “liberal” in this way.

To understand the original meaning of the expression “liberal arts” it is necessary to consider each part of the expression as it was used in its ancient and medieval senses. The word “liberal” was used to describe these “arts” insofar as they were not the “servile arts,” that is, “arts” in the sense of “artisan work.” In this regard, “liberal arts” were not a matter of “getting a job.” The word “art” still had a meaning that was related to “artisanship.” However, these “arts” were “liberal” because they were the “arts of reasoning,” that is, “the arts of the mind.” They were meant to be tools that prepared someone for more in-depth studies. Thus, they were not envisioned as “knowledge for the sake of knowledge.” Instead, they were the initial tools that enabled the young student to reason properly.  This more ancient sense of the “liberal arts” is often missed or, at least, partially overlooked in contemporary discussions about them.

What is the purpose of the second paragraph?

Possible Answers:

To discuss the history of medieval universities

To condemn the modern use of the expression "liberal arts education"

To explain the meaning of "liberal arts" in its original sense 

To defend the existence of liberal arts colleges in the modern world

To provide examples of servile arts

Correct answer:

To explain the meaning of "liberal arts" in its original sense 

Explanation:

The purpose of the second paragraph is relatively clearly expressed in the first sentence of the paragraph. The author begins by stating that it is necessary to consider both parts of the expression in its older use. The remainder of the paragraph provides some basic information about these uses of the words "arts" and "liberal" in order to explain the original meaning of the expression "liberal arts."

Example Question #146 : Act Reading

Adapted from “Advice to Youth” by Mark Twain (1882)

Being told I would be expected to talk here, I inquired what sort of talk I ought to make. They said it should be something suitable to youth--something didactic, instructive, or something in the nature of good advice. Very well. I have a few things in my mind which I have often longed to say for the instruction of the young; for it is in one’s tender early years that such things will best take root and be most enduring and most valuable. First, then I will say to you my young friends--and I say it beseechingly, urgently-- Always obey your parents, when they are present. This is the best policy in the long run, because if you don’t, they will make you. Most parents think they know better than you do, and you can generally make more by humoring that superstition than you can by acting on your own better judgment.

Be respectful to your superiors, if you have any, also to strangers, and sometimes to others. If a person offends you and you are in doubt as to whether it was intentional or not, do not resort to extreme measures; simply watch your chance and hit him with a brick. That will be sufficient. If you shall find that he had not intended any offense, come out frankly and confess yourself in the wrong when you struck him; acknowledge it like a man and say you didn’t mean to. 

Go to bed early, get up early--this is wise. Some authorities say get up with the sun; some say get up with one thing, others with another. But a lark is really the best thing to get up with. It gives you a splendid reputation with everybody to know that you get up with the lark; and if you get the right kind of lark, and work at him right, you can easily train him to get up at half past nine, every time--it’s no trick at all.

Now as to the matter of lying. You want to be very careful about lying; otherwise you are nearly sure to get caught. Once caught, you can never again be in the eyes to the good and the pure, what you were before. Many a young person has injured himself permanently through a single clumsy and ill finished lie, the result of carelessness born of incomplete training. Some authorities hold that the young ought not to lie at all. That of course, is putting it rather stronger than necessary; still while I cannot go quite so far as that, I do maintain, and I believe I am right, that the young ought to be temperate in the use of this great art until practice and experience shall give them that confidence, elegance, and precision which alone can make the accomplishment graceful and profitable. Patience, diligence, painstaking attention to detail--these are requirements; these in time, will make the student perfect; upon these only, may he rely as the sure foundation for future eminence. 

But I have said enough. I hope you will treasure up the instructions which I have given you, and make them a guide to your feet and a light to your understanding. Build your character thoughtfully and painstakingly upon these precepts, and by and by, when you have got it built, you will be surprised and gratified to see how nicely and sharply it resembles everybody else’s.

The third paragraph best captures the author’s __________.

Possible Answers:

emphasis on humor

opinion on animals

misgivings

point of view

frustrations

Correct answer:

emphasis on humor

Explanation:

The third paragraph appears right in the middle of the passage and compared to the other paragraphs offers relatively little practical or serious advice. Because it offers comparably little it is unlikely that the third paragraph is being used to capture the author’s point of view. Although an animal is mentioned, the author makes no reference to his opinions on animals so that answer choice can be eliminated. Likewise, the author expresses neither his frustrations nor his misgivings. This leaves only the answer choice “emphasis on humor” which is the correct answer. The author uses the description of how to train a lark to wake up late in order that its trainer can sleep in late to humor the audience and solidify the comedic tone of the passage.

Example Question #1 : Humanities

Adapted from “How I Conquered Stage Fright” by Mark Twain (1906)

My heart goes out in sympathy to anyone who is making his first appearance before an audience of human beings. I recall the occasion of my first appearance. San Francisco knew me then only as a reporter, and I was to make my bow to San Francisco as a lecturer. I knew that nothing short of compulsion would get me to the theater. So I bound myself by a hard-and-fast contract so that I could not escape. I got to the theater forty-five minutes before the hour set for the lecture. My knees were shaking so that I didn't know whether I could stand up. If there is an awful, horrible malady in the world, it is stage-fright--and seasickness. They are a pair. I had stage-fright then for the first and last time. I was only seasick once, too. It was on a little ship on which there were two hundred other passengers. I--was--sick. I was so sick that there wasn't any left for those other two hundred passengers.

It was dark and lonely behind the scenes in that theater, and I peeked through the little peek holes they have in theater curtains and looked into the big auditorium. That was dark and empty, too. By and by it lighted up, and the audience began to arrive. I had got a number of friends of mine, stalwart men, to sprinkle themselves through the audience armed with big clubs. Every time I said anything they could possibly guess I intended to be funny, they were to pound those clubs on the floor. Then there was a kind lady in a box up there, also a good friend of mine, the wife of the governor. She was to watch me intently, and whenever I glanced toward her she was going to deliver a gubernatorial laugh that would lead the whole audience into applause.

At last I began. I had the manuscript tucked under a United States flag in front of me where I could get at it in case of need. But I managed to get started without it. I walked up and down--I was young in those days and needed the exercise--and talked and talked. Right in the middle of the speech I had placed a gem. I had put in a moving, pathetic part which was to get at the hearts and souls of my hearers. When I delivered it they did just what I hoped and expected. They sat silent and awed. I had touched them. Then I happened to glance up at the box where the Governor's wife was--you know what happened.

Well, after the first agonizing five minutes, my stage fright left me, never to return. I know if I was going to be hanged I could get up and make a good showing, and I intend to. But I shall never forget my feelings before the agony left me, and I got up here to thank you for her for helping my daughter, by your kindness, to live through her first appearance. And I want to thank you for your appreciation of her singing, which is, by the way, hereditary.

The anecdote about the governor’s wife is meant to __________.

Possible Answers:

reference a figure of authority

demonstrate the author’s capabilities

manage the audience’s expectations

inject some humor

refute an earlier claim

Correct answer:

inject some humor

Explanation:

The overall tone of this passage is meant to be humorous and appreciative. The author tells the anecdote about the governor’s wife to keep the audience amused and entertained.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Passage Logic, Genre, And Organization 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.

In addition to introducing the topic, what is the purpose of the first paragraph in this passage?

Possible Answers:

To explain the the justifications for delaying graduate school language exams for several years

To advocate on behalf of an elimination of graduate school language exams

To make a concession and present reasons why people dislike language exams in graduate school

To discuss the various means of language examinations used in graduate schools

To describe the dire plight of students who cannot learn languages well

Correct answer:

To make a concession and present reasons why people dislike language exams in graduate school

Explanation:

The first paragraph presents a view that is then (indirectly) opposed in the second paragraph. This is signaled by the second paragraph's opening sentence, "Although these frustrations are understandable, . . ."  The second paragraph then continues by providing justifications for the language examinations given in graduate schools. It then closes with the key sentence, "Therefore, in spite of its frustrating aspects, the language examination process is an important component of graduate school education." The first paragraph did concede that these exams are frustrating, providing some reasons for that frustration.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Passage Logic, Genre, And Organization 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 purpose of the second paragraph in this passage?

Possible Answers:

To remark on the marvels of language and the enlightenment that it affords

To disagree with the methods of examining often proposed by students

To argue on behalf of an increase in the number of language exams from their current number

To present the author's argument that the language exams in question are, in fact, reasonable

To condemn the laziness of those students who dislike graduate school language examinations

Correct answer:

To present the author's argument that the language exams in question are, in fact, reasonable

Explanation:

The second paragraph opens by stating that the system of language exams was not created to cause distress for graduate students. It argues that there are indeed justifications for these exams, particularly in view of the research that students will be undertaking. The remainder of the paragraph provides supporting reasons for the importance of languages in preparing graduate students to undertake research. All of this aims to show the reasonableness of this system, in spite of the remarks that were noted in the first paragraph.

Example Question #91 : Literature Passages

Adapted from Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads by John A. Lomax (1910)

The big ranches of the West are now being cut up into small farms. The nester has come, and come to stay. Gone is the buffalo and the free grass of the open plain—even the stinging lizard, the horned frog, the centipede, the prairie dog, the rattlesnake, are fast disappearing. Save in some of the secluded valleys of southern New Mexico, the old-time round-up is no more; the trails to Kansas and to Montana have become grass-grown or lost in fields of waving grain; the maverick steer, the regal longhorn, has been supplanted by his unpoetic but more beefy and profitable Polled Angus, Durham, and Hereford cousins from across the seas. The changing and romantic West of the early days lives mainly in story and in song. The last figure to vanish is the cowboy, the animating spirit of the vanishing era. He sits his horse easily as he rides through a wide valley, enclosed by mountains, clad in the hazy purple of coming night,—with his face turned steadily down the long, long road, "the road that the sun goes down." Dauntless, reckless, without the unearthly purity of Sir Galahad though as gentle to a woman as King Arthur, he is truly a knight of the twentieth century. A vagrant puff of wind shakes a corner of the crimson handkerchief knotted loosely at his throat; the thud of his pony's feet mingling with the jingle of his spurs is borne back; and as the careless, gracious, lovable figure disappears over the divide, the breeze brings to the ears, faint and far yet cheery still, the refrain of a cowboy song.

Why does the author start the passage by listing disappearing species of the plains?

Possible Answers:

To compare the cowboy to other disappearing figures of the American West

To describe the sparse economic resources that cowboys had available to them

To highlight the bravery of the cowboys

To give the reader important context about the ecosystem of the American West

To draw attention to the problem of endangered species

Correct answer:

To compare the cowboy to other disappearing figures of the American West

Explanation:

The author starts the paragraph by describing how the entire western landscape, including the variety of animals that live there, is changing. He then shifts to talking about cowboys with this transition: “The last figure to vanish is the cowboy, the animating spirit of the vanishing era.” In this way, the author puts the cowboy into context by comparing him to other classic—and disappearing—figures of the American West.

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

Adapted from "The Eulogy of the Dog" by George Graham Vest (1870)

The best friend a man has in this world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter whom he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name, may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has, he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it the most. A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.

Gentlemen of the jury, a man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he can be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince.

When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens. If fortune drives the master forth an outcast into the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him, to guard him against danger, to fight against his enemies. And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes his master in its embrace and his body is laid in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open, in alert watchfulness, faithful and true, even unto death.

The description of the duplicity of man in the first paragraph is meant to highlight __________.

Possible Answers:

the difficulty of owning pets

the impudence of some dog owners

the loyalty of dogs

the immorality of humans as opposed to animals

the brevity of a man’s reputation

Correct answer:

the loyalty of dogs

Explanation:

The author highlights the common foibles, vices, and selfish actions of man to create a contrast with the loyalty and inherent goodness of dogs. You can infer this most obviously from the author’s conclusion to the first paragraph, “The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.” The immorality of humans as opposed to animals seems partly right, but the author is expressly talking about just dogs, so there is a better answer choice.

Example Question #3 : Analyzing Passage Logic, Genre, And Organization 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.

Which sentence explains why students experience difficulties choosing the appropriate kinds and quantities of texts for their first research papers?

Possible Answers:

On the other hand, some students will rely heavily on a single book on the topic.

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.

The single most significant of these difficulties is the finding of sources for the paper.

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.

Many students will be tempted to use every book that they find, not focusing on the most appropriate texts for the topic.

Correct answer:

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.

Explanation:

The question is asking why students in general experience the problem of finding sources. It does not distinguish between those students who choose too many texts and those who choose too few; therefore, the best sentence is the one that explains that they experience these problems because they only have their school textbook as a guide. The implication is that this is a limited resource for deciding which books are good for a research project and which are not.

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