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

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

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Example Question #1 : Literature Passages

Adapted from Once on a Time by A. A. Milne (1922)

The Princess was still puzzled. "But I'm grown up," she said. "I don't want a mother so much now."

The King turned his flagon round and studied the other side of it.

"A mother's—er—tender hand," he said, "is—er—never——" and then the outrageous thing happened.

It was all because of a birthday present to the King of Barodia, and the present was nothing less than a pair of seven-league boots. The King being a busy man, it was a week or more before he had an opportunity of trying those boots. Meanwhile he used to talk about them at meals, and he would polish them up every night before he went to bed. When the great day came for the first trial of them to be made, he took a patronizing farewell of his wife and family, ignored the many eager noses pressed against the upper windows of the palace, and sailed off. The motion, as perhaps you know, is a little disquieting at first, but one soon gets used to it. After that it is fascinating. He had gone some two thousand miles before he realized that there might be a difficulty about finding his way back. The difficulty proved at least as great as he had anticipated. For the rest of that day he toured backwards and forwards across the country, and it was by the merest accident that a very angry King shot in through an open pantry window in the early hours of the morning. He removed his boots and went softly to bed.

It was, of course, a lesson to him. He decided that in the future he must proceed by a recognized route, sailing lightly from landmark to landmark. Such a route his geographers prepared for him—an early morning constitutional, of three hundred miles or so, to be taken ten times before breakfast. He gave himself a week in which to recover his nerve and then started out on the first of them.

What is the main idea of the first five lines?

Possible Answers:

Just as something outrageous happens, the King announces his remarriage.

The King is struggling to tell his daughter something when he is abruptly stopped. 

The Princess wants her father to remarry.

The King is having difficulty in expressing himself, so he ends the conversation.

The Princess does not feel the need for another mother, so she causes a diversion to stop the conversation.

Correct answer:

The King is struggling to tell his daughter something when he is abruptly stopped. 

Explanation:

We can tell that the King is trying to tell his daughter something but is uncertain of how to do it due to his daughter's opinions. He is struggling to change her mind when something unrelated to the conversation stops the conversation. So, the only points you need in a possible answer are a combination of any of the following: that the Princess does not want a mother; that the King is struggling to express himself; that the King wants his daughter to be open to the idea of having a mother; and that the King is stopped in his speech by an unrelated, outrageous occurrence or event. Any other points are incorrect.

Example Question #1 : Recognizing The Main Idea In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain (1880)

One day it occurred to me that it had been many years since the world had been afforded the spectacle of a man adventurous enough to undertake a journey through Europe on foot. After much thought, I decided that I was a person fitted to furnish to mankind this spectacle. So I determined to do it. This was in March, 1878.

I looked about me for the right sort of person to accompany me in the capacity of agent, and finally hired a Mr. Harris for this service.

It was also my purpose to study art while in Europe. Mr. Harris was in sympathy with me in this. He was as much of an enthusiast in art as I was, and not less anxious to learn to paint. I desired to learn the German language; so did Harris.

Toward the middle of April we sailed in the Holsatia, Captain Brandt, and had a very pleasant trip, indeed.

After a brief rest at Hamburg, we made preparations for a long pedestrian trip southward in the soft spring weather, but at the last moment we changed the program, for private reasons, and took the express-train.

We made a short halt at Frankfort-on-the-Main, and found it an interesting city. I would have liked to visit the birthplace of Gutenburg, but it could not be done, as no memorandum of the site of the house has been kept. So we spent an hour in the Goethe mansion instead. The city permits this house to belong to private parties, instead of gracing and dignifying herself with the honor of possessing and protecting it.

Frankfort is one of the sixteen cities which have the distinction of being the place where the following incident occurred. Charlemagne, while chasing the Saxons (as he said), or being chased by them (as they said), arrived at the bank of the river at dawn, in a fog. The enemy were either before him or behind him; but in any case he wanted to get across, very badly. He would have given anything for a guide, but none was to be had. Presently he saw a deer, followed by her young, approach the water. He watched her, judging that she would seek a ford, and he was right. She waded over, and the army followed. So a great Frankish victory or defeat was gained or avoided; and in order to commemorate the episode, Charlemagne commanded a city to be built there, which he named Frankfort—the ford of the Franks. None of the other cities where this event happened were named for it. This is good evidence that Frankfort was the first place it occurred at.

Which of the following sentences best summarizes the first paragraph?

Possible Answers:

The author decided that enough time had passed for it to be acceptable to walk throughout Europe.

The narrator decided to walk through Europe as it had been a long time since anyone had done so. 

A man decides he will journey by any means throughout Europe.

The main character is displaying his showmanship in boasting about his exploits.

Bored with the lack of spectacle in the world, a man decides to seek the spectacular in Europe.

Correct answer:

The narrator decided to walk through Europe as it had been a long time since anyone had done so. 

Explanation:

 We learn in the first paragraph that it has apparently been a long time since anyone has traveled through Europe by foot and that the narrator has decided to do so. The narrator is under the belief that he is such a person as to give people the spectacle of a walker in Europe.

Example Question #2 : Literature Passages

Adapted from Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (1895)

He sounded the clacker till his arm ached, and at length his heart grew sympathetic with the birds' thwarted desires. They seemed, like himself, to be living in a world which did not want them. Why should he frighten them away? They took upon more and more the aspect of gentle friends and pensioners—the only friends he could claim as being in the least degree interested in him, for his aunt had often told him that she was not. He ceased his rattling, and they alighted anew.

"Poor little dears!" said Jude, aloud. "You shall have some dinner—you shall. There is enough for us all. Farmer Troutham can afford to let you have some. Eat, then my dear little birdies, and make a good meal!"

They stayed and ate, inky spots on the nut-brown soil, and Jude enjoyed their appetite. A magic thread of fellow-feeling united his own life with theirs. Puny and sorry as those lives were, they much resembled his own.

His clacker he had by this time thrown away from him, as being a mean and sordid instrument, offensive both to the birds and to himself as their friend. All at once he became conscious of a smart blow upon his buttocks, followed by a loud clack, which announced to his surprised senses that the clacker had been the instrument of offense used. The birds and Jude started up simultaneously, and the dazed eyes of the latter beheld the farmer in person, the great Troutham himself, his red face glaring down upon Jude's cowering frame, the clacker swinging in his hand.

"So it's 'Eat my dear birdies,' is it, young man? 'Eat, dear birdies,' indeed! I'll tickle your breeches, and see if you say, 'Eat, dear birdies' again in a hurry! And you've been idling at the schoolmaster's too, instead of coming here, ha'n't ye, hey? That's how you earn your sixpence a day for keeping the rooks off my corn!"

What is the main idea of the first paragraph?

Possible Answers:

Jude has no friends.

Jude empathizes with the birds over time and lets them land.

When Jude stops his task, the birds give up and fly away.

Jude sees old people as birds in a field.

Jude is engaged in a job of scaring birds and relishes the task.

Correct answer:

Jude empathizes with the birds over time and lets them land.

Explanation:

We know that Jude becomes sympathetic with the birds from the line, “ his heart grew sympathetic with the birds' thwarted desires.” He feels empathy, or what he perceives to be similar feelings, for the birds, and lets them land in the field from which he is supposed to be scaring them away.

Example Question #1 : Drawing Generalizations About Prose Fiction Passages

Adapted from Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (1895)

He sounded the clacker till his arm ached, and at length his heart grew sympathetic with the birds' thwarted desires. They seemed, like himself, to be living in a world which did not want them. Why should he frighten them away? They took upon more and more the aspect of gentle friends and pensioners—the only friends he could claim as being in the least degree interested in him, for his aunt had often told him that she was not. He ceased his rattling, and they alighted anew.

"Poor little dears!" said Jude, aloud. "You shall have some dinner—you shall. There is enough for us all. Farmer Troutham can afford to let you have some. Eat, then my dear little birdies, and make a good meal!"

They stayed and ate, inky spots on the nut-brown soil, and Jude enjoyed their appetite. A magic thread of fellow-feeling united his own life with theirs. Puny and sorry as those lives were, they much resembled his own.

His clacker he had by this time thrown away from him, as being a mean and sordid instrument, offensive both to the birds and to himself as their friend. All at once he became conscious of a smart blow upon his buttocks, followed by a loud clack, which announced to his surprised senses that the clacker had been the instrument of offense used. The birds and Jude started up simultaneously, and the dazed eyes of the latter beheld the farmer in person, the great Troutham himself, his red face glaring down upon Jude's cowering frame, the clacker swinging in his hand.

"So it's 'Eat my dear birdies,' is it, young man? 'Eat, dear birdies,' indeed! I'll tickle your breeches, and see if you say, 'Eat, dear birdies' again in a hurry! And you've been idling at the schoolmaster's too, instead of coming here, ha'n't ye, hey? That's how you earn your sixpence a day for keeping the rooks off my corn!"

Which of the following sentences best summarizes the third paragraph?

Possible Answers:

The birds feared Jude but ate regardless of his watchful gaze.

Jude watched the birds and felt linked to them by the similarities between his and their existence. 

Jude watched the birds enviously wishing he had the ability to escape as quickly as they could.

Jude observed a link between himself and the birds which was founded on their greed.

Jude resented the birds despite the similarities between him and them.

Correct answer:

Jude watched the birds and felt linked to them by the similarities between his and their existence. 

Explanation:

The third paragraph specifically states that Jude watches the birds and that there is a link between them in their circumstances. The best possible answer should incorporate the fact that Jude is watching the birds and the comparison made between them.

Example Question #111 : Content Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from a letter of Thomas Jefferson popularly known as “A Dialogue Between the Head and Heart” (October 12th, 1786) in Volume II of Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies, from the Papers of Thomas Jefferson (1830)

(Note: This work is presented like a play having two characters, the “Head” and the “Heart.” In the following passage, we are privy to the words of the “Head.”)

Every thing in this world is matter of calculation. Advance, then, with caution, the balance in your hand. Put into one scale the pleasures which any object may offer, but put fairly into the other the pains which are to follow, and see which preponderates. The making an acquaintance is not a matter of indifference. When a new one is proposed to you, view it all round. Consider what advantages it presents, and to what inconveniences it may expose you. Do not bite at the bait of pleasure, till you know there is no hook beneath it. The art of life is the art of avoiding pain, and he is the best pilot, who steers clearest of the rocks and shoals with which it is beset. Pleasure is always before us, but misfortune is at our side; while running after that, this arrests us.

The most effectual means of being secure against pain is to retire within ourselves and to suffice for our own happiness. Those which depend on ourselves are the only pleasures a wise man will count on, for nothing is ours, which another may deprive us of. Hence the inestimable value of intellectual pleasures. Ever in our power, always leading us to something new, never cloying, we ride serene and sublime above the concerns of this mortal world, contemplating truth and nature, matter and motion, the laws which bind up their existence, the laws which bind up their existence, and that Eternal Being, who made and bound them up by those laws.

Let this be our employ. Leave the bustle and tumult of society to those who have not talents to occupy themselves without them. Friendship is but another name for an alliance with the follies and the misfortunes of others. Our own share of miseries is sufficient: why enter then as volunteers into those of another? Is there so little gall poured into our cup, that we must heed help to drink that of our neighbor? A friend dies, or leaves us: we feel as if a limb was cut off. He is sick: we must watch over him, and participate of his pains. His fortune is shipwrecked: ours must be laid under contribution. He loses a child, a parent, or a partner: we must mourn the loss as if it were our own.

Which of the following most agrees with the view of life expressed in the first paragraph?

Possible Answers:

Life is like a stormy sea in which we must find the calmest waters possible.

None of the other answers

Life is like a marketplace, so we should procure as much as possible.

Life is an amazing adventure, though quite frightening.

Life is a great joy, though hemmed in with many troubles.

Correct answer:

Life is like a stormy sea in which we must find the calmest waters possible.

Explanation:

Throughout this passage, the idea of life's many "ups and downs" is in the forefront. The author clearly wants to propose a way of life that helps to avoid the problems of pains and ensures that someone can have as calm of a life as possible. Indeed, even using words like "rocks and shoals," he wishes to evoke images of the sea. Therefore, life is like the sea, in which we must find the safest path by avoiding pain—at least for the narrator.

Example Question #2 : Ideas In Literature Passages

Adapted from a letter of Thomas Jefferson popularly known as “A Dialogue Between the Head and Heart” (October 12th, 1786) in Volume II of Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies, from the Papers of Thomas Jefferson (1830)

(Note: This work is presented like a play having two characters, the “Head” and the “Heart.” In the following passage, we are privy to the words of the “Head.”)

Every thing in this world is matter of calculation. Advance, then, with caution, the balance in your hand. Put into one scale the pleasures which any object may offer, but put fairly into the other the pains which are to follow, and see which preponderates. The making an acquaintance is not a matter of indifference. When a new one is proposed to you, view it all round. Consider what advantages it presents, and to what inconveniences it may expose you. Do not bite at the bait of pleasure, till you know there is no hook beneath it. The art of life is the art of avoiding pain, and he is the best pilot, who steers clearest of the rocks and shoals with which it is beset. Pleasure is always before us, but misfortune is at our side; while running after that, this arrests us.

The most effectual means of being secure against pain is to retire within ourselves and to suffice for our own happiness. Those which depend on ourselves are the only pleasures a wise man will count on, for nothing is ours, which another may deprive us of. Hence the inestimable value of intellectual pleasures. Ever in our power, always leading us to something new, never cloying, we ride serene and sublime above the concerns of this mortal world, contemplating truth and nature, matter and motion, the laws which bind up their existence, the laws which bind up their existence, and that Eternal Being, who made and bound them up by those laws.

Let this be our employ. Leave the bustle and tumult of society to those who have not talents to occupy themselves without them. Friendship is but another name for an alliance with the follies and the misfortunes of others. Our own share of miseries is sufficient: why enter then as volunteers into those of another? Is there so little gall poured into our cup, that we must heed help to drink that of our neighbor? A friend dies, or leaves us: we feel as if a limb was cut off. He is sick: we must watch over him, and participate of his pains. His fortune is shipwrecked: ours must be laid under contribution. He loses a child, a parent, or a partner: we must mourn the loss as if it were our own.

For what is the underlined sentence an image?

Possible Answers:

The fact that we have enough troubles of our own without adding those of others to our concerns

The bitter pleasures of eating large feasts

None of the other answers

The condemnation that must occur at the hands of friends

The ways that friends will attempt to poison us if we wait long enough

Correct answer:

The fact that we have enough troubles of our own without adding those of others to our concerns

Explanation:

Throughout this paragraph, the "Head" is listing all sorts of reasons why it believes that having friends increases our woes. Above all, he is emphasizing the fact that our friends' pains become our pains. He therefore asks (in effect), "Why would we add such pains to our own instead of being self-sufficient?" These pains are the "gall" used in the sentence.

Example Question #105 : Identifying And Analyzing Important Details In Prose Fiction Passages

Adapted from Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (1895)

He sounded the clacker till his arm ached, and at length his heart grew sympathetic with the birds' thwarted desires. They seemed, like himself, to be living in a world which did not want them. Why should he frighten them away? They took upon more and more the aspect of gentle friends and pensioners—the only friends he could claim as being in the least degree interested in him, for his aunt had often told him that she was not. He ceased his rattling, and they alighted anew.

"Poor little dears!" said Jude, aloud. "You shall have some dinner—you shall. There is enough for us all. Farmer Troutham can afford to let you have some. Eat, then my dear little birdies, and make a good meal!"

They stayed and ate, inky spots on the nut-brown soil, and Jude enjoyed their appetite. A magic thread of fellow-feeling united his own life with theirs. Puny and sorry as those lives were, they much resembled his own.

His clacker he had by this time thrown away from him, as being a mean and sordid instrument, offensive both to the birds and to himself as their friend. All at once he became conscious of a smart blow upon his buttocks, followed by a loud clack, which announced to his surprised senses that the clacker had been the instrument of offense used. The birds and Jude started up simultaneously, and the dazed eyes of the latter beheld the farmer in person, the great Troutham himself, his red face glaring down upon Jude's cowering frame, the clacker swinging in his hand.

"So it's 'Eat my dear birdies,' is it, young man? 'Eat, dear birdies,' indeed! I'll tickle your breeches, and see if you say, 'Eat, dear birdies' again in a hurry! And you've been idling at the schoolmaster's too, instead of coming here, ha'n't ye, hey? That's how you earn your sixpence a day for keeping the rooks off my corn!"

One of the main points made in the last paragraph is that __________.

Possible Answers:

Jude is brave

Jude has been shirking his duties

Troutham is erudite

Troutham does not pay Jude regularly

Jude is insolent

Correct answer:

Jude has been shirking his duties

Explanation:

The last paragraph states that Troutham knows that Jude has been shirking his duties by staying late at the schoolhouse: “you've been idling at the schoolmaster's too, instead of coming here, ha'n't ye.” To help you, “shirking” means neglecting, “insolent” means rude and disrespectful, and “erudite” means knowledgeable and well-spoken.

Example Question #12 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from Emma by Jane Austen (1815)

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

She was the youngest of the two daughters of a most affectionate, indulgent father; and had, in consequence of her sister's marriage, been mistress of his house from a very early period. Her mother had died too long ago for her to have more than an indistinct remembrance of her caresses; and her place had been supplied by an excellent woman as governess, who had fallen little short of a mother in affection.

Sixteen years had Miss Taylor been in Mr. Woodhouse's family, less as a governess than a friend, very fond of both daughters, but particularly of Emma. Between them it was more the intimacy of sisters. Even before Miss Taylor had ceased to hold the nominal office of governess, the mildness of her temper had hardly allowed her to impose any restraint; and the shadow of authority being now long passed away, they had been living together as friend and friend very mutually attached, and Emma doing just what she liked; highly esteeming Miss Taylor's judgment, but directed chiefly by her own.

The real evils, indeed, of Emma's situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself; these were the disadvantages which threatened alloy to her many enjoyments. The danger, however, was at present so unperceived, that they did not by any means rank as misfortunes with her.

Sorrow came—a gentle sorrow—but not at all in the shape of any disagreeable consciousness. Miss Taylor married. It was Miss Taylor's loss which first brought grief. It was on the wedding-day of this beloved friend that Emma first sat in mournful thought of any continuance. The wedding over, and the bride-people gone, her father and herself were left to dine together, with no prospect of a third to cheer a long evening. Her father composed himself to sleep after dinner, as usual, and she had then only to sit and think of what she had lost.

The event had every promise of happiness for her friend. Mr. Weston was a man of unexceptionable character, easy fortune, suitable age, and pleasant manners; and there was some satisfaction in considering with what self-denying, generous friendship she had always wished and promoted the match; but it was a black morning's work for her. 

How was she to bear the change?—It was true that her friend was going only half a mile from them; but Emma was aware that great must be the difference between a Mrs. Weston, only half a mile from them, and a Miss Taylor in the house; and with all her advantages, natural and domestic, she was now in great danger of suffering from intellectual solitude. She dearly loved her father, but he was no companion for her. He could not meet her in conversation, rational or playful.

Miss Taylor was Emma’s __________.

Possible Answers:

governess

maid

sister-in-law

mother

older sister

Correct answer:

governess

Explanation:

This may be a tricky question considering how the paragraph describes Miss Taylor in terms of the other roles she unofficially filled. Miss Taylor is compared to Emma’s mother in the second paragraph when it states, “[Emma’s] mother had died too long ago for her to have more than an indistinct remembrance of her caresses; and her place had been supplied by an excellent woman as governess, who had fallen little short of a mother in affection.” However, Miss Taylor is not Emma’s mother. Similarly, she is compared to a sister at the beginning of paragraph three, which says, “Sixteen years had Miss Taylor been in Mr. Woodhouse's family, less as a governess than a friend, very fond of both daughters, but particularly of Emma. Between them it was more the intimacy of sisters”; this is just another comparison, however, and Miss Taylor is not Emma’s sister. Nothing in the passage suggests that Miss Taylor is Emma’s sister-in-law; talk of her marriage may make you suspect that answer, but for it to be correct, Emma would have to be related to the groom, Mr. Weston, and nothing in the passage suggests this is true. While Miss Taylor works in the Woodhouse household, she does so as governess, not maid. In this way, you could narrow down the answer choices to find the correct one, “governess.”

Example Question #13 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from Emma by Jane Austen (1815)

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

She was the youngest of the two daughters of a most affectionate, indulgent father; and had, in consequence of her sister's marriage, been mistress of his house from a very early period. Her mother had died too long ago for her to have more than an indistinct remembrance of her caresses; and her place had been supplied by an excellent woman as governess, who had fallen little short of a mother in affection.

Sixteen years had Miss Taylor been in Mr. Woodhouse's family, less as a governess than a friend, very fond of both daughters, but particularly of Emma. Between them it was more the intimacy of sisters. Even before Miss Taylor had ceased to hold the nominal office of governess, the mildness of her temper had hardly allowed her to impose any restraint; and the shadow of authority being now long passed away, they had been living together as friend and friend very mutually attached, and Emma doing just what she liked; highly esteeming Miss Taylor's judgment, but directed chiefly by her own.

The real evils, indeed, of Emma's situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself; these were the disadvantages which threatened alloy to her many enjoyments. The danger, however, was at present so unperceived, that they did not by any means rank as misfortunes with her.

Sorrow came—a gentle sorrow—but not at all in the shape of any disagreeable consciousness. Miss Taylor married. It was Miss Taylor's loss which first brought grief. It was on the wedding-day of this beloved friend that Emma first sat in mournful thought of any continuance. The wedding over, and the bride-people gone, her father and herself were left to dine together, with no prospect of a third to cheer a long evening. Her father composed himself to sleep after dinner, as usual, and she had then only to sit and think of what she had lost.

The event had every promise of happiness for her friend. Mr. Weston was a man of unexceptionable character, easy fortune, suitable age, and pleasant manners; and there was some satisfaction in considering with what self-denying, generous friendship she had always wished and promoted the match; but it was a black morning's work for her. 

How was she to bear the change?—It was true that her friend was going only half a mile from them; but Emma was aware that great must be the difference between a Mrs. Weston, only half a mile from them, and a Miss Taylor in the house; and with all her advantages, natural and domestic, she was now in great danger of suffering from intellectual solitude. She dearly loved her father, but he was no companion for her. He could not meet her in conversation, rational or playful.

Which of the following best summarizes this passage?

Possible Answers:

Emma Woodhouse experiences her first sorrow when her sister gets married, leaving her wanting for friends.

Emma Woodhouse helps arrange for Miss Taylor to marry Mr. Weston.

Mr. Weston marries Miss Taylor, but wishes he could marry Emma Woodhouse instead.

Emma Woodhouse leads a carefree life until her governess, Miss Taylor, gets married.

Emma leads a hard life until she is adopted by Mr. Woodhouse and begins working with Miss Taylor, a governess.

Correct answer:

Emma Woodhouse leads a carefree life until her governess, Miss Taylor, gets married.

Explanation:

When answering questions that ask you to summarize a passage, it’s important to select one that is narrow enough not to admit ideas that aren’t stated in the passage, but broad enough to relate to each paragraph. Some of the answer choices listed for this question aren’t true, so we can ignore those: “Emma leads a hard life until she is adopted by Mr. Woodhouse and begins working with Miss Taylor, a governess” is not true as nothing suggests that Emma is adopted; “Emma experiences her first sorrow when her sister gets married, leaving her wanting for friends” is not true because Miss Taylor is Emma’s governess, not her sister; and “Mr. Weston marries Miss Taylor, but wishes he could marry Emma instead” is not correct because nothing in the passage suggests that this is the case. This leaves us with “Emma helps arrange for Miss Taylor to marry Mr. Weston” and “Emma Woodhouse leads a carefree life until her governess, Miss Taylor, gets married” It is true that Emma helps arrange for Miss Taylor to marry Mr. Weston; we are told so in the sixth paragraph when it says, “there was some satisfaction in considering with what self-denying, generous friendship she had always wished and promoted the match.” However, this only relates to the sixth paragraph, whereas the other answer choice summarizes the events that take place in each paragraph. This means that the best answer choice is “Emma Woodhouse leads a carefree life until her governess, Miss Taylor, gets married.”

Example Question #3 : Literature Passages

Adapted from "The Three Musketeers" in Volume Sixteen of The Romances of Alexandre Dumas (1844; 1893 ed.)

As they rode along, the duke endeavored to draw from d'Artagnan not all that had happened, but what d'Artagnan himself knew. By adding all that he heard from the mouth of the young man to his own remembrances, he was enabled to form a pretty exact idea of a position of the seriousness of which, for the rest, the queen's letter, short but explicit, gave him the clue. But that which astonished him most was that the cardinal, so deeply interested in preventing this young man from setting his foot in England, had not succeeded in arresting him on the road. It was then, upon the manifestation of this astonishment, that d'Artagnan related to him the precaution taken, and how, thanks to the devotion of his three friends, whom he had left scattered and bleeding on the road, he had succeeded in coming off with a single sword thrust, which had pierced the queen's letter and for which he had repaid Monsieur de Wardes with such terrible coin. While he was listening to this recital, delivered with the greatest simplicity, the duke looked from time to time at the young man with astonishment, as if he could not comprehend how so much prudence, courage, and devotedness could be allied with a countenance which indicated not more than twenty years.

The horses went like the wind, and in a few minutes they were at the gates of London. D'Artagnan imagined that on arriving in town the duke would slacken his pace, but it was not so. He kept on his way at the same rate, heedless about upsetting those whom he met on the road. In fact, in crossing the city two or three accidents of this kind happened; but Buckingham did not even turn his head to see what became of those he had knocked down. D'Artagnan followed him amid cries which strongly resembled curses.

On entering the court of his hotel, Buckingham sprang from his horse, and without thinking what became of the animal, threw the bridle on his neck, and sprang toward the vestibule. D'Artagnan did the same, with a little more concern, however, for the noble creatures, whose merits he fully appreciated; but he had the satisfaction of seeing three or four grooms run from the kitchens and the stables, and busy themselves with the steeds.

Which of the following best summarizes the passage?

Possible Answers:

D'Artagnan and his friends get into a fight on the road.

By speaking with d'Artagnan, the duke learns more details about the situation described in the queen's letter.

The duke meets d'Artagnan. 

The duke speaks with d'Artagnan about previous events and his experiences on the road, and then the two of them rush to the duke's hotel in London.

D'Artagnan manages to travel to London despite the cardinal attempting to stop him.

Correct answer:

The duke speaks with d'Artagnan about previous events and his experiences on the road, and then the two of them rush to the duke's hotel in London.

Explanation:

Picking out the best summary of a passage requires you to have a sense for which ideas in the passage are most important and which are simply details, as well as an appropriate level of specificity in the summary. "The duke meets d'Artagnan" is far too general and only describes actions that take place in the first paragraph, so it cannot be the correct answer. "D'Artagnan and his friends get into a fight on the road" describes not events that occur in the passage, but events which are discussed in the passage, and it also only describes part of the passage's first paragraph; it can't be the correct answer either. "By speaking with d'Artagnan, the duke learns more details about the situation described in the queen's letter" is a good description of the first paragraph, but other significant events happen later in the passage which aren't mentioned in the summary sentence, so it can't be the correct answer. Two answer choices remain: "D'Artagnan manages to travel to London despite the cardinal attempting to stop him" and "The duke speaks with d'Artagnan about previous events and his experiences on the road, and then the two of them rush to the duke's hotel in London." The latter of these two is the better answer because Buckingham, the Duke, plays a major role in the passage, and the former answer choice doesn't mention Buckingham at all, while the latter does. So, the correct answer is "The duke speaks with d'Artagnan about previous events and his experiences on the road, and then the two of them rush to the duke's hotel in London." This answer choice describes events that take place in each of the passage's paragraphs at an appropriate level of detail.

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