ISEE Upper Level Reading : Analyzing Tone, Style, and Figurative Language in Contemporary Life Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #16 : Hspt Reading

My dear old friend Sebastian used to tell me that he had something of a sliding scale regarding the musicians to which he could listen. For him, Bach was the most celestial of musicians, and he could listen to him for an eternity without ever being wearied. Mozart was likewise favorably judged, though Sebastian said that he could only endure his music for approximately three to five hours at a time. When it came to Richard Wagner, however, my dear friend was quite unable to bear the intensity of the composer’s works. In stark contrast to his great patience and love for the music of Bach, he could spend little more than five minutes listening to compositions by Wagner.

Based on its context in the selection above, what does the expression "sliding scale" (underlined) mean?

Possible Answers:

A varying spectrum of preferences

An instrument for measuring weight

An ever-changing standard

A fickle sense of music

An instrument for measuring length

Correct answer:

A varying spectrum of preferences

Explanation:

The use of the expression "sliding scale" is metaphorical here. The idea being expressed is that Sebastian has a spectrum or range of preferences that he applies to musicians. The word "spectrum" is used to describe things that have positions between two extremes. For instance, the "visible spectrum" is the set of colors in the rainbow that span from the highest to the lowest visible wavelengths of colors. Since Sebastian has a spectrum of judgments regarding Bach, Mozart, and Wagner, this best describes the metaphorical use of "sliding scale."

Example Question #121 : 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.

The overall tone of this passage is __________.

Possible Answers:

histrionic

humorous

ecstatic

passionate

combative

Correct answer:

humorous

Explanation:

The author’s tone throughout this passage is sardonic and humorous. The author takes the notion of giving good, or prudent, advice and inverts it to humorous effect. This is made most obvious in the conclusion where the author notes: “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.”

Example Question #7 : Passage Wide Features Of 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 author’s description of the auditorium suggests that __________.

Possible Answers:

the author was troubled and anxious

the author was ready and confident

the author felt in good company

the author did not know what to expect

the author was alone in the theatre

Correct answer:

the author was troubled and anxious

Explanation:

The author describes the auditorium as seeming “dark and empty” to him. This is meant to emphasize the author’s feelings of fear and anxiety. You know from the rest of the passage that the author often emphasizes the uncertainty of the situation, but in this instance that is not the correct answer. Similarly, the author does mention his loneliness, but that only suggests that he feels lonely, not that he is actually alone. Remember to always choose the best answer, not simply an answer that seems to adequately fit.

Example Question #2 : Determining Authorial Tone In Narrative Humanities 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.

The mood of the passage is best described as __________.

Possible Answers:

ironic

solemn

nostalgic

desolate

reverent

Correct answer:

nostalgic

Explanation:

The best answer here is "nostalgic" because of the way the author poetically describes the early days of the West as a “vanishing era” and laments the fact that it is no more.

Example Question #3 : Fact / Fiction

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 expression “riches take wings” could be paraphrased as __________.

Possible Answers:

a person owns property 

a person loses money

a person makes a successful investment

a person misplaces gold

a person makes a great deal of profit

Correct answer:

a person loses money

Explanation:

The author uses “riches take wings” in the context of negative situations that a man can experience over the course of his lifetime; therefore, you can reasonably assume that the answer choice must describe a negative experience. This eliminates "a person makes a successful investment," "a person makes a great deal of profit," and "a person owns property" as possible answer choices. As gold is never explicitly mentioned, "a person misplaces gold" seems an unlikely answer choice. “Riches” suggests money and “take wings” suggests having something fly away or losing something. The correct answer is “a person loses money."

Example Question #142 : Author, Tone, And Intent

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 author’s attitude toward dogs could best be described as __________.

Possible Answers:

apathetic 

conditionally affectionate 

reverential 

disparaging 

disrespectful 

Correct answer:

reverential 

Explanation:

As you know, the author spends the first paragraph disparaging the foibles of man in contrast with the virtues of dogs, so it can be inferred that the author’s attitude toward dogs must be positive. Only "reverential" (respectful) and "conditionally affectionate" are positive answer choices. The author makes no indication that his affection is conditional upon anything; therefore, the best description of the author’s attitude is "reverential." This conclusion is best confirmed in the final paragraph, where the author describes the “noble” dog.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Tone, Style, And Figurative Language In Contemporary Life Passages

Adapted from What I Think and Feel at Twenty-Five (1922) by F. Scott Fitzgerald

As a man grows older it stands to reason that his vulnerability increases. Three years ago, for instance, I could be hurt in only one way—through myself. If my best friend’s wife had her hair torn off by an electric washing-machine, I was grieved, of course. I would make my friend a long speech full of “old mans,” and finish up with a paragraph from Washington’s Farewell Address; but when I’d finished I could go to a good restaurant and enjoy my dinner as usual. In fact I was pretty much invulnerable. I put up a conventional wail whenever a ship was sunk or a train got wrecked; but I don’t suppose, if the whole city of Chicago had been wiped out, I’d have lost a night’s sleep over it—unless something led me to believe that St. Paul was the next city on the list. Even then I could have moved my luggage over to Minneapolis and rested pretty comfortably all night.

But that was three years ago when I was still a young man. I was only twenty-two. Now, I’m vulnerable. I’m vulnerable in every way. I used to have about ten square feet of skin vulnerable to chills and fevers. Now I have about twenty. I have not personally enlarged, the twenty feet includes the skin of my family, but I might as well have, because if a chill or fever strikes any bit of that twenty feet of skin I begin to shiver. And so I ooze gently into middle-age; for the true middle-age is not the acquirement of years, but the acquirement of a family. The incomes of the childless have wonderful elasticity. Two people require a room and a bath; a couple with child requires the millionaire’s suite on the sunny side of the hotel. And yet I think that marriage is the most satisfactory institution we have. I’m simply stating my belief that when Life has used us for its purposes it takes away all our attractive qualities and gives us, instead, ponderous but shallow convictions of our own wisdom and “experience.” The older I grow the more I get so I don’t know anything. If I had been asked to do this article about five years ago it might have been worth reading.

What is the overall tone of this passage?

Possible Answers:

Despairing 

Motivational

Derisive 

Humorous 

Argumentative

Correct answer:

Humorous 

Explanation:

The author’s tone in this passage is primarily humorous. Evidence for this can be found in lines 2–4, where the author states: “If my best friend’s wife had her hair torn off by an electric washing-machine, I was grieved, of course. I would make my friend a long speech full of “old mans,” and finish up with a paragraph from Washington’s Farewell Address.” This is clearly meant as a tongue and cheek comment. Additional evidence can be found in the self-deprecating manner in which the author chooses to conclude the essay with: “If I had been asked to do this article about five years ago it might have been worth reading.” The author is employing a humorous tone to contrast the serious nature of the author’s message about growing older.

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