ISEE Upper Level Reading : Identifying and Analyzing Main Idea and Theme in History Passages

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

varsity tutors app store varsity tutors android store

Example Questions

← Previous 1 3

Example Question #1 : Ideas In 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 primary purpose of this passage is to __________.

Possible Answers:

express doubt about the direction of the Socialist movement

criticize Kaiser Wilhelm

impugn Theodore Roosevelt and praise Socialists

laud the patriotism of Theodore Roosevelt

compare Socialists in Europe and America

Correct answer:

impugn Theodore Roosevelt and praise Socialists

Explanation:

The primary purpose of this passage is to condemn the actions of Theodore Roosevelt, while simultaneously praising the members of the Socialist movement. "Impugn" means criticize or condemn.

Example Question #1 : Understanding The Content Of Social Science / 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.

This passage is primarily concerned with __________.

Possible Answers:

the effects of patriarchal society on young children

the changing relationship between men and women

the effect of the changing economic situation on female independence

the advancement of women’s rights

the historical root of contemporary gendered attitudes

Correct answer:

the advancement of women’s rights

Explanation:

When you are asked what a passage is primarily concerned with it is necessary to consider what you have just read as a whole. There is no evidence in the passage to suggest that the author is concerned with the effects of patriarchal society on young children. Likewise the changing economic situation and historical roots of contemporary attitudes are never discussed. There is a discussion of the relationship between men and women, but little evidence provided to suggest it is changing. The primary concern of the passage is the advancement of women’s rights as evidenced, for example, “If you ask me what offices they [women] may fill, I reply—any."

Example Question #42 : Argumentative Social Science 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)

I proceed to inquire whether the federal government or the state governments will have the advantage with regard to the predilection and support of the people. Notwithstanding the different modes in which they are appointed, we must consider both of them as substantially dependent on the great body of the citizens of the United States. I assume this position here as it respects the first, reserving the proofs for another place. The federal and state governments are in fact but different agents and trustees of the people, constituted with different powers, and designed for different purposes. The adversaries of the Constitution seem to have lost sight of the people altogether in their reasonings on this subject, and to have viewed these different establishments not only as mutual rivals and enemies, but as uncontrolled by any common superior in their efforts to usurp the authorities of each other. These gentlemen must here be reminded of their error. They must be told that the ultimate authority, wherever the derivative may be found, resides in the people alone, and that it will not depend merely on the comparative ambition or address of the different governments, whether either, or which of them, will be able to enlarge its sphere of jurisdiction at the expense of the other. Truth, no less than decency, requires that the event in every case should be supposed to depend on the sentiments and sanction of their common constituents. 

Which of the following is true regarding the author’s perspective on the differences between federal and state governments?

Possible Answers:

The author thinks that only state governments have their power checked by the citizens of the United States.

The author thinks that the state and federal governments have been granted different powers in order to accomplish different goals.

The author thinks that the state and federal governments were designed to do the same things.

The author views the state and federal government as being rivals and enemies. 

The author thinks that only the federal government wants to enlarge its sphere of jurisdiction.

Correct answer:

The author thinks that the state and federal governments have been granted different powers in order to accomplish different goals.

Explanation:

In the fourth sentence, the author states, "The federal and state governments are in fact but different agents and trustees of the people, constituted with different powers, and designed for different purposes." This supports the answer choice "The author thinks that the state and federal governments have been granted different powers in order to accomplish different goals." 

The preceding quotation contradicts the answer choice "The author thinks that the state and federal governments were designed to do the same things." "The author thinks that only state governments have their power checked by the American people" is incorrect because the passage later states, "the ultimate authority, wherever the derivative may be found, resides in the people alone, and that it will not depend merely on the comparative ambition or address of the different governments, whether either, or which of them, will be able to enlarge its sphere of jurisdiction at the expense of the other"; both state and federal governments thus have their power checked by the people. The answer "The author views the state and federal government as being rivals and enemies" is incorrect because the author is opposing those who "have viewed these different establishments not only as mutual rivals and enemies"; these are the people he is referring to in the line, "These gentlemen must here be reminded of their error." Finally, "The author thinks that only the federal government wants to enlarge its sphere of jurisdiction" is incorrect because while he discusses the possibility of both state and federal governments trying "to enlarge [their] sphere[s] of jurisdiction at the expense of the other"

Example Question #2 : Understanding Main Ideas In Social Science 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)

I proceed to inquire whether the federal government or the state governments will have the advantage with regard to the predilection and support of the people. Notwithstanding the different modes in which they are appointed, we must consider both of them as substantially dependent on the great body of the citizens of the United States. I assume this position here as it respects the first, reserving the proofs for another place. The federal and state governments are in fact but different agents and trustees of the people, constituted with different powers, and designed for different purposes. The adversaries of the Constitution seem to have lost sight of the people altogether in their reasonings on this subject, and to have viewed these different establishments not only as mutual rivals and enemies, but as uncontrolled by any common superior in their efforts to usurp the authorities of each other. These gentlemen must here be reminded of their error. They must be told that the ultimate authority, wherever the derivative may be found, resides in the people alone, and that it will not depend merely on the comparative ambition or address of the different governments, whether either, or which of them, will be able to enlarge its sphere of jurisdiction at the expense of the other. Truth, no less than decency, requires that the event in every case should be supposed to depend on the sentiments and sanction of their common constituents.

What is the main idea of the passage?

Possible Answers:

The author describes the features of the Constitution and the effects they may have on federal- and state-level government.

The author points out flaws in his opponents' arguments in order to oppose the Constitution.

The author compares the federal and state governments, and in doing so, argues that the ultimate source of a government's authority is the people it governs.

The author discusses the relative unimportance of constituents in his country's current governmental system.

The author compares features of the federal and state governments and concludes that they are very different from one another.

Correct answer:

The author compares the federal and state governments, and in doing so, argues that the ultimate source of a government's authority is the people it governs.

Explanation:

While the passage begins with the author declaring his intention to "inquire whether the federal government or the state governments will have the advantage with regard to the predilection and support of the people," this is not the only idea that the selection focuses on. The author spends the rest of the passage discussing how governmental authority derives from the people, and how those who oppose the Constitution have forgotten about this in their arguments. The correct answer is thus, "The author compares the federal and state governments, and in doing so, argues that the ultimate source of a government's authority is with the people it governs."

Example Question #1 : Determining Authorial Purpose In Argumentative Social Science Passages

Adapted from the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America by Thomas Jefferson (1776)

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,—That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.—Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

What is the purpose of the first sentence in the text?

Possible Answers:

To complain of injustice and slavery

To address the ministers of England in a direct dialogue about the colonies' issues

To flourish rhetorically with little meaning at all

To announce the reason for the complaints that will follow

None of the other answer choices

Correct answer:

To announce the reason for the complaints that will follow

Explanation:

The very end of the sentence helps to transition into the next paragraph by stating, "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation." This means that in what follows the separation discussed in the first sentence will have its causes listed. Some of this is found in this selection, though it continues with a long list of accusations not included here.

Example Question #2 : Ideas In History Passages

"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 is the main idea of this selection?

Possible Answers:

Often, people are mistaken regarding the role of Christianity in the American founding, some underestimating its role and others overestimating it.

People always make mistakes regarding the Founding Fathers of America.

Religious zealots have co-opted the meaning of the American founding.

Atheists utterly distort the history of America's founding.

History is extremely complex, having many subtleties that need to be considered adequately.

Correct answer:

Often, people are mistaken regarding the role of Christianity in the American founding, some underestimating its role and others overestimating it.

Explanation:

The overall purpose of this passage is to express two different views of the American founding, each of which is wrong, though in different ways. The passage is not meant to issue a massive judgment against either party but instead shows the partial nature of their outlooks.

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

"The Holy Roman Empire" by Daniel Morrison (2014)

The Holy Roman Empire was somewhat unique among the various organized states of Middle and Early Modern Europe in that the Emperor was chosen by a group of electors. This is in stark contrast to the strict hereditary nature of English or French succession, where the position of monarch was handed down from the outgoing ruler to his closest legitimate heir, usually a son. In the Holy Roman Empire, the Emperor was chosen by seven electors, which in theory might seem to give the Empire a sort of early democratic flavor. However, in practice, only two or three families were ever able to draw on sufficient personal wealth to stand for election. Of these, the Luxembourgs and the Hapsburgs are most well known. The Hapsburgs were so successful that they were able to maintain their “elected” position for almost four centuries, and the Luxembourgs somehow still have a small country named after their family almost seven hundred years after their fall from dominance.

What is the main idea of this passage?

Possible Answers:

That the Hapsburg family is the most powerful in European history.

That the English and French monarchies suffered from their direct form of inheritance.

That the Luxembourg family is lucky to still have a country named after it.

That the Holy Roman Empire was unusual in European history because it was not based on inheritance.

That the Holy Roman Empire was neither, strictly speaking, Holy, Roman, nor an Empire.

Correct answer:

That the Holy Roman Empire was unusual in European history because it was not based on inheritance.

Explanation:

The main idea or argument of this article is that the Holy Roman Empire was unusual in European history. The title of the article suggests this, and the author highlights this at the beginning of the passage when he says, “The Holy Roman Empire was somewhat unique among the various organized states of Middle and Early Modern Europe in that the Emperor was chosen by a group of electors. This is in stark contrast to the strict hereditary nature of English or French succession." The other answer choices are either not mentioned in the text, or else are part of the author’s less significant arguments.

Example Question #62 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Ideas In Social Science Or 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.

In this passage, the author describes the battlefield as being __________.

Possible Answers:

insignificant

sacred

haunted 

mythical 

miserable

Correct answer:

sacred

Explanation:

The author of this passage is Abraham Lincoln. This passage is adapted from Lincoln’s famous 1863 Gettysburg Address. Lincoln emphasizes the sacred nature of the battlefield; its importance to the Civil War effort. He describes how the men who fought and died on the battlefield, in the name of preserving the union, consecrated (to make sacred or holy) the ground. Lincoln makes no reference to the misery suffered in war, nor would he likely imply that the battle fought at Gettysburg was insignificant. Similarly, there is no mention in the passage of the battlefield being haunted or that its status is mythical (legendary).

Example Question #3 : Ideas In History Passages

Adapted from Citizenship in a Republic (1910) by Theodore Roosevelt

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Which of the following best captures the attitude of the author towards “critics”?

Possible Answers:

The author feels critics should not be praised over those who actually strive to achieve something.

The author lauds critical analysis as the most accurate measure of the greatness of an individual.

The author finds critics to be worthless and immoral.

The author has no strong opinion on critics.

The author feels that all critics are significant measures of social understanding.

Correct answer:

The author feels critics should not be praised over those who actually strive to achieve something.

Explanation:

The author of this passage describes, in the introduction, how critics should not receive credit for pointing out the flaws in the actions of those who “do” things. To the author the critic is merely a biased observer, intent on pointing out the mistakes of others and little inclined towards doing anything productive themselves. The correct answer is that “The author feels critics should not be praised over those who actually strive to achieve something.” Many students might have answered that “The author finds critics to be worthless and immoral,” but the words “worthless” and “immoral” are not explicitly used by the author and the tone is slightly less harsh than those words might imply.

Example Question #3 : Isee Upper Level (Grades 9 12) Reading Comprehension

Adapted from The Man with the Muck-Rake by Theodore Roosevelt (1906)

There are in the body politic, economic and social, many and grave evils, and there is urgent necessity for the sternest war upon them. There should be relentless exposure of and attack upon every evil man, whether politician or business man, every evil practice, whether in politics, business, or social life. I hail as a benefactor every writer or speaker, every man who, on the platform or in a book, magazine, or newspaper, with merciless severity makes such attack, provided always that he in his turn remembers that the attack is of use only if it is absolutely truthful.

The liar is no whit better than the thief, and if his mendacity takes the form of slander he may be worse than most thieves. It puts a premium upon knavery untruthfully to attack an honest man, or even with hysterical exaggeration to assail a bad man with untruth. An epidemic of indiscriminate assault upon character does no good, but very great harm. The soul of every scoundrel is gladdened whenever an honest man is assailed, or even when a scoundrel is untruthfully assailed.

The primary purpose of this passage is to __________.

Possible Answers:

encourage the use of slander to bring about political change

discourage the common man from political participation

urge truthful criticism of political immorality

discuss the art of lying

highlight the corruption in contemporary political practice

Correct answer:

urge truthful criticism of political immorality

Explanation:

The second paragraph focuses on emphasizing the importance of truthful criticism, as opposite to slanderous assailment. The first paragraph discusses the need to regulate and relentless expose the immorality of political and economic society. The correct answer then is that the primary purpose of this passage is to urge truthful criticism of political immorality. Of the four incorrect answer choices the only other possible answer could be: “to highlight the corruption in contemporary political practice.” But, this answer choice is too limited in scope and only references one aspect of the passage. Always choose the most comprehensive answer choice.

← Previous 1 3
Learning Tools by Varsity Tutors

Incompatible Browser

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