ISEE Upper Level Reading : Analyzing the Text in Contemporary Life Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #521 : Isee Middle Level (Grades 7 8) Reading Comprehension

"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 does the underlined expression “strands of ideology” mean in its context?

Possible Answers:

Long discussions on matters that are very complicated

Opposed, warring factions

Rope-like thinking that is different and inconsistent

Distinct groups with different beliefs

Opposed groups who have no desire to be in communication

Correct answer:

Distinct groups with different beliefs

Explanation:

The word "strands" is taken from the literal usage meaning "fiber" or "string." The metaphorical sense of the word is "a particular, independent group within a larger group." The strands of a rope are brought together to make one rope out of many fibers. An "ideology" is a system of ideas. Sometimes the word is used negatively to indicate that the "ideology" is detached from reality or closed-minded. However, it can have the general sense of being a system of ideas. Thus, among the options provided, the best is, "distinct groups with different beliefs."

Example Question #1 : Details

"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.

According to the reasoning of the passage, which sentence directly explains the older meaning of “art” in the expression “liberal arts”?

Possible Answers:

The word “art” still had a meaning that was related to “artisanship.”  

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.”

Instead, they were the initial tools that enabled the young student to reason properly.

In this regard, “liberal arts” were not a matter of “getting a job.”

This more ancient sense of the “liberal arts” is often missed or, at least, partially overlooked in contemporary discussions about them.

Correct answer:

Instead, they were the initial tools that enabled the young student to reason properly.

Explanation:

Although this paragraph speaks about what the liberal arts were not, only a few of the sentences provide some description of what actually defined them. They were arts in the sense of being tools for helping students to reason properly.

Example Question #21 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Phrases In Argumentative Humanities Passages

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.

What does the author mean in the conclusion when he says “Build your character thoughtfully . . . you will be surprised and gratified to see how nicely and sharply it resembles everybody else’s?”

Possible Answers:

The author does not actually wish his advice to be taken seriously.

Most people have lived their lives as if they were following the advice of the author.

It is surprising how frequently individuals are deceitful.

Most parents are beacons of immorality.

If the reader follows the author’s advice he/she will grow up to be a virtuous and hardworking member of society.

Correct answer:

Most people have lived their lives as if they were following the advice of the author.

Explanation:

The author concludes this passage in a somewhat whimsical and mocking tone. The author intimates that most people live their lives by the precepts laid out throughout the passage. Two of the incorrect answer choices might seem correct, but are flawed in one obvious manner. Firstly, the author does not indicate that he believes following his advice will cause individuals to grow up to be virtuous and hardworking. And, secondly, the author, although employing a slightly mocking and ironic tone throughout does seem genuine in his insistence that young people should take his ideas seriously. You can therefore rule out both these answer choices: Remember it is very important to accept only the best answer choice, not one that seems partially or slightly correct.

Example Question #1 : Purpose And Effect Of Phrases Or Sentences In Humanities Passages

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 statement “San Francisco knew me then only as a reporter, and I was to make my bow to San Francisco as a lecturer” serves to emphasize the author’s __________.

Possible Answers:

impression of the audience

feelings of terror

feelings about San Francisco

lack of experience

background in journalism

Correct answer:

lack of experience

Explanation:

The first few sentences serve the purpose of bringing the audience back in time to the speaker’s first experience with public speaking and introduce an anecdote. The sentence described in the question emphasizes the author’s lack of experience at the time of the anecdote.

Example Question #2 : Authorial Purpose In Contemporary Life Passages

"The Pets of the Elderly" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Many younger people think that it is a bit strange to see elderly widows and widowers fussing greatly over their pet dogs and cats. While it is perhaps amusing to see a mature adult babying an animal, this aspect of life often is of crucial importance for the health and happiness of these aging persons. Although they have lost their spouses and often have a dwindling number of friends, these people often have a social network outside of the house that can be deceptively large and active. All of this activity can hide the great loneliness that these people experience when they return home. Often having been the shared refuge with the loving presence of a spouse, the widow’s house or apartment can become a lonely isolation cell, no matter how active he or she might be. Pets often are a solution to this loneliness, becoming dear companions in a life that would otherwise be very devoid of personal contact every morning and night. They offer great joy and consolation to these elderly people. It is therefore understandable that their owners often give them such large amounts of attention.

What is the purpose of the two underlined sentences?

Possible Answers:

To show the regular awareness of mortality experienced by elderly widows and widowers

To indicate the specific kind of loneliness potentially experienced by elderly widows and widowers

To show the absolute dejection of elderly widows and widowers

To show the limitations of our presumptions regarding the social lives of elderly widows and widowers

To show that it is a lie to say that elderly widows and widowers have no friends

Correct answer:

To indicate the specific kind of loneliness potentially experienced by elderly widows and widowers

Explanation:

The first of the two bold sentences states that the elderly do have a somewhat active and large social network outside the house—and this in spite of the dwindling number of friends that they have. The key word in this first sentence is "deceptively;" however, we must look at the second sentence to understand the manner in which it is "deceptive." It is not a matter of the elderly people deceiving others about their social lives. Instead, it is such insofar as it might convince others that these people are not lonely; however, the second sentence states that this activity can hide the loneliness that these people experience at home. The purpose of this statement is to indicate the specific kind of loneliness potentially experienced by elderly widows and widowers. This distinction helps us to understand what kind of loneliness pets help to cure.

Example Question #522 : Isee Middle Level (Grades 7 8) Reading Comprehension

"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 meaning of the underlined expression, “slaves away without cessation”?

Possible Answers:

is overcome by the corporate overlords

works without stopping

is reluctantly working on a project

is extremely hard working

has become an indentured servant

Correct answer:

works without stopping

Explanation:

The word "slaving" is a form of the verb "to slave," which means "to work very hard." This does not necessarily mean that the person who is "slaving" is a servant or a slave—though the words certainly are related. The word "cessation" means "stopping."  It is related to the English word "cease." Thus, to "slave away without cessation" is to work very hard without stopping.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing The Text In Contemporary Life Passages

"American Students and Foreign Languages" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

American students often find it difficult to understand the need for learning a foreign language. In part, this lack of understanding seems to occur because of the insulated nature of American geography. Unlike Europe, America is a massive country, comprised of states that all speak the same language. When an American travels from state to state, he or she is not confronted with a completely different language group as is the case when, for example, a Frenchman travels from his native land to the neighboring country of Italy or to England. Although America does have Canada to its north and Mexico to its south, it still does not have the great internal variety of languages as one finds in the small European continent. Therefore, students often do not experience the practical importance of knowing other languages.

Of course, America has always been called the “melting pot,” for many peoples have arrived on its shores, bringing their own distinctive cultures and languages with them. Still, this very expression—“melting pot”—shows that these immigrant cultures do not forever retain their own particular manners and languages. With time, these varied cultures become part of the American culture as a whole. While they do influence and change the culture, they likewise become assimilated into it. Their spoken language often becomes English. Even if they retain their mother tongue, they generally speak it privately. This is done as a matter of personal heritage, not as part of the day-to-day life in the culture. 

Additionally, America’s global dominance likewise allows Americans to avoid learning other languages. Since America has such influence over the rest of the world, it is generally in the interests of other peoples to learn English in order to be part of the economic, political, and military world in which America operates. Therefore, even at international meetings that are filled with people from many nationalities and language groups, English-speakers are at an advantage because they can talk with the many individuals who speak English. The work and learning of other peoples thus allows the Americans to convince themselves that there is no need to learn another language. 

Lastly, American education has come to emphasize mathematics and science to such a great degree that things such as language can often seem unimportant. The main goals of education are said to be the training of students for the technology workforce. If this is presented as the main goal of school, few children will understand why any of the non-scientific subjects are included in the curriculum. If a subject does not help in learning math and science, it will appear to be irrelevant. In particular, foreign languages do not seem to add to the teaching of math and science, which can be done very easily and effectively in English alone. 

Of course, many other reasons could be considered, and a more detailed discussion would undertake such a lengthy investigation. Still, the factors discussed above do provide some sense as to why American students find it difficult to understand the importance of learning a foreign language.

In the second paragraph, what is the intent of the sentence beginning, “Still, the very expression . . .”?

Possible Answers:

To defend the word "melting pot" against those who disagree with its continued usage

To show the centrality of the idea of a "melting pot" to understanding the whole of American culture and immigration

To show the centrality of the idea of a "melting pot" to understanding the whole of American culture and immigration

To present another view on the word "melting pot," which is almost always ignored in academic discussions concerning the problems surrounding the use of language in America

To defend the word "melting pot" against those who disagree with its continued usage

To present another view on the word "melting pot," which is almost always ignored in academic discussions concerning the problems surrounding the use of language in America

To draw attention to the fact that the expression "melting pot" implies that cultures "melt together" into American culture and ultimately give up their languages, at least in public use

To critique the simplistic expression "melting pot," which is limited in its usage because of its physical imagery

Correct answer:

To draw attention to the fact that the expression "melting pot" implies that cultures "melt together" into American culture and ultimately give up their languages, at least in public use

Explanation:

The opening of this sentence indicates that the expression "melting pot" "shows," that is, indicates "that these immigrant cultures do not forever retain their own particular manners and languages." In the first sentence of this paragraph, the expression "melting pot" was used to express the many cultures that come together in America. This first sentence emphasizes the fact that "many things are melted together," so to speak. The second sentence (with which we are concerned) shows that the idea of "melting" implies that the individual things "come together into one." In particular, this paragraph is concerned with the "melting together" of people who have immigrated to America into a single language group.

Example Question #2 : Analyzing The Text In Contemporary Life Passages

"American Students and Foreign Languages" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

American students often find it difficult to understand the need for learning a foreign language. In part, this lack of understanding seems to occur because of the insulated nature of American geography. Unlike Europe, America is a massive country, comprised of states that all speak the same language. When an American travels from state to state, he or she is not confronted with a completely different language group as is the case when, for example, a Frenchman travels from his native land to the neighboring country of Italy or to England. Although America does have Canada to its north and Mexico to its south, it still does not have the great internal variety of languages as one finds in the small European continent. Therefore, students often do not experience the practical importance of knowing other languages.

Of course, America has always been called the “melting pot,” for many peoples have arrived on its shores, bringing their own distinctive cultures and languages with them. Still, this very expression—“melting pot”—shows that these immigrant cultures do not forever retain their own particular manners and languages. With time, these varied cultures become part of the American culture as a whole. While they do influence and change the culture, they likewise become assimilated into it. Their spoken language often becomes English. Even if they retain their mother tongue, they generally speak it privately. This is done as a matter of personal heritage, not as part of the day-to-day life in the culture. 

Additionally, America’s global dominance likewise allows Americans to avoid learning other languages. Since America has such influence over the rest of the world, it is generally in the interests of other peoples to learn English in order to be part of the economic, political, and military world in which America operates. Therefore, even at international meetings that are filled with people from many nationalities and language groups, English-speakers are at an advantage because they can talk with the many individuals who speak English. The work and learning of other peoples thus allows the Americans to convince themselves that there is no need to learn another language. 

Lastly, American education has come to emphasize mathematics and science to such a great degree that things such as language can often seem unimportant. The main goals of education are said to be the training of students for the technology workforce. If this is presented as the main goal of school, few children will understand why any of the non-scientific subjects are included in the curriculum. If a subject does not help in learning math and science, it will appear to be irrelevant. In particular, foreign languages do not seem to add to the teaching of math and science, which can be done very easily and effectively in English alone. 

Of course, many other reasons could be considered, and a more detailed discussion would undertake such a lengthy investigation. Still, the factors discussed above do provide some sense as to why American students find it difficult to understand the importance of learning a foreign language.

In the second paragraph, what does the underlined expression “mother tongue” mean?

Possible Answers:

The kinds of words spoken by parents to their children

The type of baby-talk used by mothers when taking to their infants

Native language

Inherited characteristics found in the mouth

The guidance and wisdom of a former country

Correct answer:

Native language

Explanation:

The expression "mother tongue" means the language that one learns while growing up. Often, this expression is also used in a sense like "mother country," as in the country in which one was born and, likely, raised. The idea of this whole paragraph is that while immigrants bring their native languages, they do learn English, often retaining their original language only privately for reasons of personal heritage. This original language is called the "mother tongue" of these people.

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