ISEE Upper Level Reading : Analyzing the Text in History Passages

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

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Example Questions

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Example Question #8 : Analyzing Authorial Tone And Method In Social Science Or History Passages

Adapted from Emancipation of the Working Class by Eugene Debs (1918)

You remember that, at the close of Theodore Roosevelt's second term as President, he went over to Africa to make war on some of his ancestors. You remember that, at the close of his expedition, he visited the capitals of Europe, and that he was wined and dined, dignified and glorified by all the Kaisers and Czars and Emperors of the Old World. He visited Potsdam while the Kaiser was there, and, according to the accounts published in the American newspapers, he and the Kaiser were soon on the most familiar terms. They were hilariously intimate with each other, and slapped each other on the back. After Roosevelt had reviewed the Kaiser's troops, according to the same accounts, he became enthusiastic over the Kaiser's legions and said: "If I had that kind of an army, I could conquer the world." He knew the Kaiser then just as well as he knows him now. He knew that he was the Kaiser, the Beast of Berlin. And yet, he permitted himself to be entertained by that Beast of Berlin; had his feet under the mahogany of the Beast of Berlin; was cheek by jowl with the Beast of Berlin. And, while Roosevelt was being entertained royally by the German Kaiser, that same Kaiser was putting the leaders of the Socialist Party in jail for fighting the Kaiser and the Junkers of Germany. Roosevelt was the guest of honor in the White House of the Kaiser, while the Socialists were in the jails of the Kaiser for fighting the Kaiser. Who then was fighting for democracy? Roosevelt? Roosevelt, who was honored by the Kaiser, or the Socialists who were in jail by order of the Kaiser? "Birds of a feather flock together."

When the newspapers reported that Kaiser Wilhelm and ex-President Theodore Roosevelt recognized each other at sight, were perfectly intimate with each other at the first touch, they made the admission that is fatal to the claim of Theodore Roosevelt, that he is the friend of the common people and the champion of democracy; they admitted that they were kith and kin; that they were very much alike; that their ideas and ideals were about the same. If Theodore Roosevelt is the great champion of democracy—the arch foe of autocracy—what business had he as the guest of honor of the Prussian Kaiser? And when he met the Kaiser, and did honor to the Kaiser, under the terms imputed to him, wasn't it pretty strong proof that he himself was a Kaiser at heart? Now, after being the guest of Emperor Wilhelm, the Beast of Berlin, he comes back to this country, and wants you to send ten million men over there to kill the Kaiser, to murder his former friend and pal. Rather queer, isn't it? And yet, he is the patriot, and we are the traitors. I challenge you to find a Socialist anywhere on the face of the earth who was ever the guest of the Beast of Berlin, except as an inmate of his prison.

The expression “birds of a feather flock together” is intended to highlight __________.

Possible Answers:

the lack of accord between Theodore Roosevelt and the Kaiser

the hatred of Socialists expressed by Theodore Roosevelt

the imprisonment of the Socialists in Germany

the relationship between Theodore Roosevelt and the Kaiser

the fight for democracy being undertaken by the Socialist movement

Correct answer:

the relationship between Theodore Roosevelt and the Kaiser

Explanation:

The expression “birds of a feather flock together” refers to how like-minded people tend to congregate and become friendly with one another. In this instance the author is using it to describe how Theodore Roosevelt and Kaiser Wilhelm have similar ideas and therefore quickly developed a close relationship. Further evidence to support this conclusion can be found throughout the first paragraph, particularly where the author claims: “They were hilariously intimate with each other, and slapped each other on the back.”

Example Question #82 : Identifying And Analyzing Important Details In Social Science Or History Passages

Adapted from "Margaret Fuller and Mary Wollstonecraft" by George Eliot (1855)

There is a notion commonly entertained among men that an instructed woman, capable of having opinions, is likely to prove an unpractical yoke-fellow, always pulling one way when her husband wants to go the other, oracular in tone, and prone to give lectures. But surely, so far as obstinacy is concerned, your unreasoning animal is the most difficult of your creatures. For our own parts, we see no reason why women should be better kept under control rather than educated to be mans rational equal.  

If you ask me what offices women may fill, I reply—any. I do not care what case you put; let them be sea-captains, if you will. I do not doubt there are women well fitted for such an office, and, if so, I should be glad to welcome the Maid of Saragossa. I think women need, especially at this juncture, a much greater range of occupation than they have, to rouse their latent powers. In families that I know, some little girls like to saw wood, and others to use carpenters' tools. Where these tastes are indulged, cheerfulness and good-humor are promoted. Where they are forbidden, because "such things are not proper for girls," they grow sullen and mischievous.

Men pay a heavy price for their reluctance to encourage self-help and independent resources in women. The precious meridian years of many a man of genius have to be spent in the toil of routine, that an "establishment" may be kept up for a woman who can understand none of his secret yearnings, who is fit for nothing but to sit in her drawing-room like a doll-Madonna in her shrine. No matter. Anything is more endurable than to change our established formulae about women, or to run the risk of looking up to our wives instead of looking down on them. So men say of women, let them be idols, useless absorbents of previous things, provided we are not obliged to admit them to be strictly fellow-beings, to be treated, one and all, with justice and sober reverence.

Which of these arguments is reinforced by the author’s use of the stylistic device comparing women to a “doll-Madonna”?

Possible Answers:

Women’s natural talents are neglected when men make them into images and idols.

Men have imagined women as powerful goddesses.

Female stubbornness prevents a gendered revolution of our patriarchal society.

Female identity is strengthened and reinforced by gendered stereotypes.

Men and women are brought closer together by the enforcement of gendered identity.

Correct answer:

Women’s natural talents are neglected when men make them into images and idols.

Explanation:

To answer this question, it is first necessary to identify which of the arguments offered as answer choices have been made in the essay. The idea that female identity has been strengthened by gendered stereotypes sounds like an argument opposite of the one made by the author. Similarly, the author believes that men and women are made more distant, not brought together, by the enforcement of gendered stereotypes, which is made apparent in the sentence that begins, “Men pay a heavy price . . .” So, you can rule out those two answer choices. The author makes no mention of female stubbornness as an obstacle to change, so that answer choice must be incorrect. The author makes some mention of the male imaginings of women, but never references an image to do with power or godliness. That leaves only “Women’s natural talents are neglected when men make them into images and idols.” If you read the context surrounding the reference to woman as a “doll-Madonna,” the author expresses how such an affectation is wasteful for men and women. The comparison to a “doll-Madonna” reflects male imaginings of women that the author is trying to convey. Firstly, the doll aspect refers to making women idle and objectifying them. The Madonna aspect refers to making women into a figure of beauty and perfection. The author uses the comparison in the context of an argument meant to disparage male constructions.

Example Question #1 : Language In History Passages

Adapted from "Margaret Fuller and Mary Wollstonecraft" by George Eliot (1855)

There is a notion commonly entertained among men that an instructed woman, capable of having opinions, is likely to prove an unpractical yoke-fellow, always pulling one way when her husband wants to go the other, oracular in tone, and prone to give lectures. But surely, so far as obstinacy is concerned, your unreasoning animal is the most difficult of your creatures. For our own parts, we see no reason why women should be better kept under control rather than educated to be mans rational equal.  

If you ask me what offices women may fill, I reply—any. I do not care what case you put; let them be sea-captains, if you will. I do not doubt there are women well fitted for such an office, and, if so, I should be glad to welcome the Maid of Saragossa. I think women need, especially at this juncture, a much greater range of occupation than they have, to rouse their latent powers. In families that I know, some little girls like to saw wood, and others to use carpenters' tools. Where these tastes are indulged, cheerfulness and good-humor are promoted. Where they are forbidden, because "such things are not proper for girls," they grow sullen and mischievous.

Men pay a heavy price for their reluctance to encourage self-help and independent resources in women. The precious meridian years of many a man of genius have to be spent in the toil of routine, that an "establishment" may be kept up for a woman who can understand none of his secret yearnings, who is fit for nothing but to sit in her drawing-room like a doll-Madonna in her shrine. No matter. Anything is more endurable than to change our established formulae about women, or to run the risk of looking up to our wives instead of looking down on them. So men say of women, let them be idols, useless absorbents of previous things, provided we are not obliged to admit them to be strictly fellow-beings, to be treated, one and all, with justice and sober reverence.

What is the "notion commonly entertained among men"?

Possible Answers:

Educated women will prove too defiant.

Women are meant to serve the interests of men.

Educating women would require a complete social rethink of gendered identity.

Women are better suited to motherhood than they are to intellectual pursuit.

Women are inherently less intelligent than men.

Correct answer:

Educated women will prove too defiant.

Explanation:

The notion commonly entertained by men is revealed in the succeeding sentences where the author states that men believe educated women will “always pull one way when her husband wants to go the other”, and be “prone to give lectures.” The author is not stating that men believe women are meant to serve male interests, nor is she stating that men believe women to be less intelligent or better suited to motherhood. The author might believe men perceive women in this manner, but she focuses her argument on convincing men that they need not fear that educated women will be defiant and difficult. The notion commonly entertained by men is that education women will cause them to defy their husbands and therefore keeping women dependent requires keeping them ill-educated.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing The Text In History Passages

Adapted from Seven Discourses Delivered in the Royal Academy By the President by Joshua Reynolds (1778)

All the objects which are exhibited to our view by nature, upon close examination will be found to have their blemishes and defects. The most beautiful forms have something about them like weakness, minuteness, or imperfection. But it is not every eye that perceives these blemishes. It must be an eye long used to the contemplation and comparison of these forms—and which, by a long habit of observing what any set of objects of the same kind have in common, that alone can acquire the power of discerning what each wants in particular. This long laborious comparison should be the first study of the painter who aims at the greatest style. By this means, he acquires a just idea of beautiful forms; he corrects nature by herself, her imperfect state by her more perfect. His eye being enabled to distinguish the accidental deficiencies, excrescences, and deformities of things from their general figures, he makes out an abstract idea of their forms more perfect than any one original—and what may seem a paradox, he learns to design naturally by drawing his figures unlike to any one object. This idea of the perfect state of nature, which the artist calls the ideal beauty, is the great leading principle by which works of genius are conducted. By this, Phidias acquired his fame. He wrought upon a sober principle what has so much excited the enthusiasm of the world—and by this method you, who have courage to tread the same path, may acquire equal reputation.

The phrase "the great leading principle" refers to __________.

Possible Answers:

"accidental deficiencies, excrescences, and deformities of things"

"ideal beauty"

"a just idea of beautiful forms"

"the perfect state of nature"

"works of genius"

Correct answer:

"the perfect state of nature"

Explanation:

The context of the sentence will help find the answer to the question. Two clauses precede the phrase in question: "This idea of the perfect state of nature" and "which the artist calls the ideal beauty." As the second clause describes the first, "the great leading principle" is "the perfect state of nature."

Example Question #2 : Language In History Passages

Adapted from "Federalist No. 46. The Influence of the State and Federal Governments Compared" by James Madison in The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay (1788)

Many considerations, besides those suggested on a former occasion, seem to place it beyond doubt that the first and most natural attachment of the people will be to the governments of their respective states. Into the administration of these a greater number of individuals will expect to rise. From the gift of these a greater number of offices and emoluments will flow. By the superintending care of these, all the more domestic and personal interests of the people will be regulated and provided for. With the affairs of these, the people will be more familiarly and minutely conversant. And with the members of these, will a greater proportion of the people have the ties of personal acquaintance and friendship, and of family and party attachments; on the side of these, therefore, the popular bias may well be expected most strongly to incline.

Experience speaks the same language in this case. The federal administration, though hitherto very defective in comparison with what may be hoped under a better system, had, during the war, and particularly whilst the independent fund of paper emissions was in credit, an activity and importance as great as it can well have in any future circumstances whatever. It was engaged, too, in a course of measures which had for their object the protection of everything that was dear and the acquisition of everything that could be desirable to the people at large. It was, nevertheless, invariably found, after the transient enthusiasm for the early Congresses was over, that the attention and attachment of the people were turned anew to their own particular governments; that the federal council was at no time the idol of popular favor; and that opposition to proposed enlargements of its powers and importance was the side usually taken by the men who wished to build their political consequence on the prepossessions of their fellow-citizens.

What does the author mean when he states in the underlined sentence, “Experience speaks the same language in this case”?

Possible Answers:

While the author's predictions may seem sound, experience will be likely to disprove them.

Experiential evidence supports the author's theoretical predictions.

People that the author has asked about his argument have all supported it.

The author has heard people talking about these issues and coming to the same conclusions as he has.

The author thinks that experience will prove his ideas correct.

Correct answer:

Experiential evidence supports the author's theoretical predictions.

Explanation:

This sentence is an important one because it functions as the transition between the passage's first and second paragraphs. While both "The author thinks that experience will prove his ideas correct" and "Experiential evidence supports the author's theoretical predictions" may look correct, the latter is the better answer because it references the author's "theoretical predictions," the subject of the first paragraph. It's important to recognize this subtle difference, as referring back to the ideas discussed in the previous paragraph is a large part of what makes the sentence a good transition.

Example Question #3 : Language In History Passages

Adapted from "Federalist No. 46. The Influence of the State and Federal Governments Compared" by James Madison in The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay (1788)

Many considerations, besides those suggested on a former occasion, seem to place it beyond doubt that the first and most natural attachment of the people will be to the governments of their respective states. Into the administration of these a greater number of individuals will expect to rise. From the gift of these a greater number of offices and emoluments will flow. By the superintending care of these, all the more domestic and personal interests of the people will be regulated and provided for. With the affairs of these, the people will be more familiarly and minutely conversant. And with the members of these, will a greater proportion of the people have the ties of personal acquaintance and friendship, and of family and party attachments; on the side of these, therefore, the popular bias may well be expected most strongly to incline.

Experience speaks the same language in this case. The federal administration, though hitherto very defective in comparison with what may be hoped under a better system, had, during the war, and particularly whilst the independent fund of paper emissions was in credit, an activity and importance as great as it can well have in any future circumstances whatever. It was engaged, too, in a course of measures which had for their object the protection of everything that was dear and the acquisition of everything that could be desirable to the people at large. It was, nevertheless, invariably found, after the transient enthusiasm for the early Congresses was over, that the attention and attachment of the people were turned anew to their own particular governments; that the federal council was at no time the idol of popular favor; and that opposition to proposed enlargements of its powers and importance was the side usually taken by the men who wished to build their political consequence on the prepossessions of their fellow-citizens.

Which of the following best paraphrases the underlined clause, "opposition to proposed enlargements of its powers and importance was the side usually taken by the men who wished to build their political consequence on the prepossessions of their fellow-citizens"?

Possible Answers:

Politicians favored increasing the power and importance of the federal government, but their constituents did not.

The federal government was increasing in scale and power despite what being opposed by most politicians and their constituents.

Anyone wanting political power had to support the federal government's growth, or they would not be popular with their constituents.

Citizens did not favor the growth of the federal government.

Men seeking political power based on the preferences of their constituents tended to oppose expansion of the federal government.

Correct answer:

Men seeking political power based on the preferences of their constituents tended to oppose expansion of the federal government.

Explanation:

The clause in question is "opposition to proposed enlargements of its powers and importance was the side usually taken by the men who wished to build their political consequence on the prepossessions of their fellow-citizens." This is a long and complex clause with confusing syntax, so let's break it down a bit: "oppositions to proposed enlargements of its powers"—what does the "its" stand for? In context, we can tell that "its" means "the federal government's." So this first part of the clause means "proposed enlargements of the federal government." The clause continues with "was the side usually taken by the men." This is confusing syntax; let's straighten it out. So, these men, which will be described by the rest of the clause, took the side of opposing the growth of the federal government. What else do we learn about these men? They "wished to build their political consequence"—or gain political importance—"on the prepossessions of their fellow-citizens," or on the biases of their constituents. So let's put all that together in an order that makes more sense. "Men seeking political power based on the preferences of their constituents tended to oppose expansion of the federal government"—that's the correct answer.

Example Question #3 : How To Find Word Meaning From Context

"The Founding Fathers' Beliefs" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Frequently, people make egregiously mistaken remarks about the religious convictions of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Such errors could be said to “cut in both directions.” On the one hand, there is a school of thought that wishes to make this important founding generation into nothing more than group of Christian legislators who founded a Christian nation. This image is far too simple. It clearly distorts the religious convictions of these men, whose idea of Christianity was often far worldlier than some Christians would be comfortable with. In addition, it distorts the meaning of the American Constitution, which is not a document of Christian legislation but a very modern, secular political document. On the other hand, it is important to note that those who believe that the Founders were agnostics or even hidden atheists also overstate their opinion. The culture of these eighteenth-century men was still one that deeply imbued with Christian sensitivities, and while their religious convictions were much more varied than some imagine, they were far from being without any religious beliefs whatsoever. These beliefs certainly had an influence on their political lives, though this influence was often subtle and indirect.

What does the underlined expression “cut in two directions” mean?

Possible Answers:

These errors are wrong in two different and opposed ways.

Such errors are unknown by two different groups of people.

These errors cause much damage, often causing people to slice many things up.

Such errors are so wrong as to be laughable.

These errors are dangerous in multiple manners.

Correct answer:

These errors are wrong in two different and opposed ways.

Explanation:

The main idea of the selection gives some context to this metaphorical expression. What it intends to communicate is that the errors in question often happen in two very different ways. On the one hand, some overestimate the role of Christianity among the American Founders.  On the other hand, others under estimate this role. The idea is that the two positions "cut into" the truth in two different ways.

Example Question #4 : Language In History Passages

Adapted from The Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln (1863)

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow, this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

“It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this” most nearly reflects the author's __________.

Possible Answers:

counterpoint 

ambivalence 

frustration 

point of view

confidence 

Correct answer:

point of view

Explanation:

The author of this passage states that “We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.” These two sentences most neatly summarize the author’s point of view. There is no frustration, confidence or ambivalence (uncertainty) introduced. Indeed these two sentences are almost without tone. The use of the words “fitting” (appropriate) and “should” help to clue you in that the author is describing related to his opinion or point of view.

Example Question #6 : Language 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.

In the context of the first paragraph, what does the author believe is the “tendency of the present age”?

Possible Answers:

Male subservience

Recognition of universal equality

Political stability

Female empowerment

Religious accord

Correct answer:

Recognition of universal equality

Explanation:

The author states that the tendency of the present age is “toward broader freedom” and “recognition of the brotherhood of man.” The idea of the importance of female empowerment is mentioned often throughout the passage and is a central point; however, the author expressly states that the tendency of the present age is towards a universal acceptance, not simply an acceptance of women.

Example Question #5 : Language In History Passages

Adapted from "Address to the Court" by Eugene Debs (1918)

Your Honor, I have stated in this court that I am opposed to the form of our present government; that I am opposed to the social system in which we live; that I believed in the change of both—but by perfectly peaceable and orderly means.

Let me call your attention to the fact this morning that in this system five percent of our people own and control two-thirds of our wealth; sixty-five percent of the people, embracing the working class who produce all wealth, have but five percent to show for it.

Standing here this morning, I recall my boyhood. At fourteen I went to work in a railroad shop; at sixteen I was firing a freight engine on a railroad. I remember all the hardships and privations of that earlier day, and from that time until now my heart has been with the working class. I could have been in Congress long ago. I have preferred to go to prison. The choice has been deliberately made. I could not have done otherwise. I have no regret.

In the struggle, the unceasing struggle, between the toilers and producers and their exploiters, I have tried, as best I might, to serve those among whom I was born, with whom I expect to share my lot until the end of my days. I am thinking this morning of the men in the mills and factories; I am thinking of the men in the mines and on the railroads; I am thinking of the women who, for a paltry wage, are compelled to work out their lives; of the little children, who in this system, are robbed of their childhood, and in their early, tender years are seized in the remorseless grasp of Mammon, and forced into the industrial dungeons, there to feed the machines while they themselves are being starved body and soul. I see them dwarfed, diseased, stunted, their little lives broken, and their hopes blasted, because in this high noon of our twentieth-century civilization money is still so much more important than human life. Gold is god and rules in the affairs of men.

What does the author most nearly mean by the statement “Gold is God”?

Possible Answers:

Without money the world would be a godless, spiritual void.

Religion has been rendered obsolete by the allures of consumerism.

The American government has failed the American people.

Money, and the acquisition of it, is the primary ruling force in the world.

Gold blights the senses of men and brings out the worst in them.

Correct answer:

Money, and the acquisition of it, is the primary ruling force in the world.

Explanation:

When the author says that “Gold is God” in the last sentence of the concluding paragraph, he means that money, and the acquisition of it, is the primary motivating factor in the world. The key to understanding this phrasing can be found in the preceding sentence, where the author states this idea at greater length: “. . . because in this high noon of our twentieth-century civilization money is still so much more important than human life.”

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