SSAT Elementary Level Reading : How to Determine and Analyze Theme in Nonfiction Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SSAT Elementary Level Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #3 : Contemporary Life Passages

"Soccer" by Daniel Morrison (2014)

Soccer is considered by some Americans to be a European and Latin American sport. For numerous reasons, the sport has struggled to take hold professionally in the United States, but there is growing participation in the sport at the youth level. This can probably be attributed to the relative dangers faced by those playing soccer and those playing America’s traditional favorite youth sport—American football.

Young children who play American football are at high risk of several catastrophic injuries such as concussions, fractures and spinal damage. The universal concern among parents to protect the health of their children has lead many to encourage their child to take up soccer as opposed to American football. If this trend continues, which it almost certainly will as our society becomes more aware of the degree of damage done by repeated collisions in American football, it will not be long before the popularity of soccer spreads upwards to the professional level.

Which of these themes or ideas is not supported by the passage?

Possible Answers:

Some Americans view soccer as less traditionally American than American football.

It may be more expensive to play American football than to play soccer.

Most parents encourage their child to play a particular sport based on the health risks involved.

The popularity of a game at the professional level is related to its popularity at the youth level.

Parents are worried about the health and safety of their children.

Correct answer:

It may be more expensive to play American football than to play soccer.

Explanation:

The idea that “American football has greater youth investment than soccer” is unrelated to this passage because the author never mentions money or compares relative levels of investment. The other four answer choices are all very important ideas in the author’s main argument. The author says “Soccer is considered by many Americans to be a European and Latin American sport,” which suggests that “Some Americans view soccer as less traditionally American than American football.” He also says, “The universal concern among parents to protect the health of their children has lead many to encourage their child to take up soccer as opposed to American football,” which supports the answer choices “Parents are worried about the health and safety of their children” and “The primary reason most parents encourage their child to play a particular sport is the health risks involved.” Finally, the idea that “The popularity of a game at the professional level is related to its popularity at the youth level” is supported by the author’s statement that “If this trend continues, which it almost certainly will as our society becomes more aware of the degree of damage done by repeated collisions in American football, it will not be long before the popularity of soccer spreads upwards to the professional level.”

Example Question #51 : Narrative Social Science Passages

Adapted from The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Van Loon (1921)

The Phoenicians were a Semitic tribe that at a very early age had settled along the shores of the Mediterranean. They had built themselves two well-fortified towns, Tyre and Sidon, and within a short time they had gained a monopoly of the trade of the western seas. Their ships went regularly to Greece and Italy and Spain and they even ventured beyond the straits of Gibraltar to visit the Scilly islands where they could buy tin. Wherever they went, they built themselves small trading stations, which they called colonies. Many of these were the origin of modern cities, such as Cadiz and Marseilles.

They bought and sold whatever promised to bring them a good profit and regarded a well-filled treasure chest the highest ideal of all good citizens. Notably, they rendered future generations one service of the greatest possible value: they helped develop the alphabet used in modern English.

The Phoenicians had been familiar with the art of writing, invented by the Sumerians. But they regarded the Sumerian method as a clumsy waste of time. They were practical business men and could not spend hours engraving two or three letters. They set to work and invented a new system of writing which was greatly superior to the old one. They borrowed a few pictures from the Egyptians and they simplified a number of the wedge-shaped figures of the Sumerians. They sacrificed the pretty looks of the older system for the advantage of speed and they reduced the thousands of different images to a short and handy alphabet of twenty-two letters.

In due course of time, this alphabet travelled across the Aegean Sea and entered Greece. The Greeks added a few letters of their own and carried the improved system to Italy. The Romans modified the figures somewhat and in turn taught them to the barbarians of western Europe. That is the reason why this is written in characters that are of Phoenician origin and not in the hieroglyphics of the Egyptians or in the nail-script of the Sumerians.

The Phoenicians primarily faulted the Sumerian language for its __________.

Possible Answers:

lack of efficiency

difficulty to learn

ease of use

use only in writing poetry

lack of punctuation

Correct answer:

lack of efficiency

Explanation:

When discussing the Phoenicians breaking with the Sumerian language, the author says, “they regarded the Sumerian method as a clumsy waste of time. They were practical business men and could not spend hours engraving two or three letters.” This seems to be highlighting the Phoenician's belief that the Sumerian language “lacked efficiency.”

Example Question #2 : Social Studies

Adapted from The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Van Loon (1921)

The Phoenicians were a Semitic tribe that at a very early age had settled along the shores of the Mediterranean. They had built themselves two well-fortified towns, Tyre and Sidon, and within a short time they had gained a monopoly of the trade of the western seas. Their ships went regularly to Greece and Italy and Spain and they even ventured beyond the straits of Gibraltar to visit the Scilly islands where they could buy tin. Wherever they went, they built themselves small trading stations, which they called colonies. Many of these were the origin of modern cities, such as Cadiz and Marseilles.

They bought and sold whatever promised to bring them a good profit and regarded a well-filled treasure chest the highest ideal of all good citizens. Notably, they rendered future generations one service of the greatest possible value: they helped develop the alphabet used in modern English.

The Phoenicians had been familiar with the art of writing, invented by the Sumerians. But they regarded the Sumerian method as a clumsy waste of time. They were practical business men and could not spend hours engraving two or three letters. They set to work and invented a new system of writing which was greatly superior to the old one. They borrowed a few pictures from the Egyptians and they simplified a number of the wedge-shaped figures of the Sumerians. They sacrificed the pretty looks of the older system for the advantage of speed and they reduced the thousands of different images to a short and handy alphabet of twenty-two letters.

In due course of time, this alphabet travelled across the Aegean Sea and entered Greece. The Greeks added a few letters of their own and carried the improved system to Italy. The Romans modified the figures somewhat and in turn taught them to the barbarians of western Europe. That is the reason why this is written in characters that are of Phoenician origin and not in the hieroglyphics of the Egyptians or in the nail-script of the Sumerians.

The author primarily characterizes Phoenicians as __________.

Possible Answers:

adventurous seafarers

having many enemies

valuing honor

driven businesspeople

projecting integrity

Correct answer:

driven businesspeople

Explanation:

In this passage, the Phoenicians are primarily characterized as driven businesspeople. This can be seen in excerpts such as “They bought and sold whatever promised to bring them a good profit" and “They regarded a well-filled treasure chest the highest ideal of all good citizens.” Whilst the author does discuss how the Phoenicians sailed far and wide, this seems to be a result of their desire to make money, rather than an independent characteristic of its own.

Example Question #3 : How To Determine And Analyze Theme In Nonfiction Passages

"What Do We Remember About History?" by Daniel Morrison (2014)

Henry the Eighth is most commonly remembered for the unique fact that he took six different wives over the course of his lifetime. There is even a famous ditty uttered by English schoolchildren to help them remember the fate of his various wives: “Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.”

However, during Henry’s rule, England permanently ended its long-standing relationship with the Catholic church and became forever a Protestant kingdom. This break has had long-felt repercussions up to and including the present day. Yet, in spite of the deep importance of Henry’s decision to leave the family of Catholic nations, he is best known for taking six wives. This difference between importance of actions and nature of popular remembrance should tell us something about the collective understanding of history—it is often the trivial and merely interesting that survives, whilst the significant but less fascinating can fade from memory.

The primary purpose of this essay is to __________.

Possible Answers:

teach a lesson about the popular understanding of history

talk about Henry the Eighth's six wives

explain how England has changed since the rule of Henry the Eighth

describe how England ended up breaking with the Catholic church

explain the significance of Henry the Eighth

Correct answer:

teach a lesson about the popular understanding of history

Explanation:

Although much of this essay talks about the significance of Henry the Eighth, this is not the primary purpose of the essay. The experience of Henry the Eighth and his memory in our collective understanding is used as an example to teach a lesson about the popular understanding of history. The primary purpose is best shown in the conclusion: "it is often the trivial and merely interesting that survives, whilst the significant but less fascinating can fade from memory.”

Example Question #2 : Recognizing The Main Idea In Narrative Social Science Passages

Adapted from A Child’s History of England by Charles Darwin (1905)

Henry Plantagenet, when he was but twenty-one years old, quietly succeeded to the throne of England, according to his agreement made with the late king at Winchester. Six weeks after Stephen’s death, he and his queen, Eleanor, were crowned in that city, into which they rode on horseback in great state, side by side, amidst much shouting and rejoicing, and clashing of music, and strewing of flowers.

The reign of King Henry the Second began well. The king had great possessions, and (with his own property, and with that of his wife) was lord of one-third part of France. He was a young man of strength, ability, and determination, and immediately applied himself to remove some of the evils which had arisen in the last unhappy reign. He took away all the grants of land that had been hastily made, on either side, during the recent struggles; he forced numbers of disorderly soldiers to depart from England; he reclaimed all the castles belonging to the crown; and he forced the wicked nobles to pull down their own castles, to the number of eleven hundred, in which such dismal cruelties had been inflicted on the people.  

The king’s brother, Geoffrey, rose against him in France and forced Henry to wage a war in France. After he had subdued and made a friendly arrangement with his brother (who did not live long), his ambition to increase his possessions involved him in a war with the French king, Louis. He had been on such friendly terms with the French king just before, that to his infant daughter, then a baby in the cradle, he had promised one of his little sons in marriage, who was a child of five years old. However, the war came to nothing at last, and the Pope made the two kings friends again.

The theme of the second paragraph is that __________.

Possible Answers:

Stephen had left Henry a great deal of wealth to spend.

Henry had many difficulties to confront upon becoming king and was able to meet them due to his strong and talented nature.

War with France was inevitable once Henry became King.

The reign of the previous king had been much more successful than Henry’s was.

Henry was facing an impossible task in trying to keep England under control.

Correct answer:

Henry had many difficulties to confront upon becoming king and was able to meet them due to his strong and talented nature.

Explanation:

In the second paragraph, the author says, “[King Henry] was a young man of strength, ability, and determination, and immediately applied himself to remove some of the evils which had arisen in the last unhappy reign.” The author then goes on to list the many difficult tasks that Henry had to accomplish once he became king and suggests that he was able to do so because of his “strength, ability, and determination.” This tells you that theme of the second paragraph is that “Henry had many difficulties to confront upon becoming king and was able to meet them due to his strong and talented nature.”

Example Question #4 : Contemporary Life Passages

Adapted from "The Dartmoor Ponies, or the Wandering of the Horse Tribe" by Arabella B. Buckley in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

It was a calm misty morning one day last week, giving promise of a bright and sunny day, when I started off for a long walk across the moor to visit the famous stone-circles, many of which are to be found not far off the track called Abbot’s Way, leading from Buckfast Abbey to the Abbey of Tavistock.

My mind was full of the olden times as I pictured to myself how, seven hundred years or more ago, some Benedictine monk from Tavistock Abbey paced this narrow path on his way to his Cistercian brothers at Buckfast, meeting some of them on his road as they wandered over the desolate moor in search of stray sheep. For the Cistercians were shepherds and wool-weavers, while the Benedictines devoted themselves to learning, and the track of about twenty-five miles from one abbey to the other, which still remains, was worn by the members of the two communities, the only variety in whose lives consisted probably in these occasional visits to each other.

Yet even these monks belonged to modern times compared to the ancient Britons who raised the stone-circles over the moor; and my mind drifted back to the days when, long before that pathway was worn, men clad in the skins of beasts hunted wild animals over the ground on which I was treading, and lived in caves and holes of the ground.

I wondered, as I thought of them, whether the monks and the ancient Britons delighted as much in the rugged scenery of the moor as I did that morning. For many miles in front of me the moor stretched out wild and treeless, while the early mist was rising off the hill-tops. It was a pleasure, there on the open moor, with the lark soaring overhead, and the butterflies and bees hovering among the sweet-smelling furze blossoms, to see horses free and joyous, with no thought of bit or bridle, harness or saddle, whose hooves had never been handled by the shoeing-smith, nor their coats touched with the singeing iron. Those little colts, with their thick heads, shaggy coats, and flowing tails, will have at least two years more liberty before they know what it is to be driven. Only once a year are they gathered together, claimed by their owners and branded with an initial, and then left again to wander where they will.

Which of these themes is most relative to this text?

Possible Answers:

The joy of the wilderness

The love of religion

The passage of time

Hatred of horses

The cost of travel

Correct answer:

The joy of the wilderness

Explanation:

Throughout this passage, the author expresses a great deal of joy about her experience of walking through the wilderness. This can be seen in excerpts such as “I wondered, as I thought of them, whether the cultured monks and the ancient Britons delighted as much in the rugged scenery of the moor as I did that morning.” She also says, “It was a pleasure, there on the open moor, with the lark soaring overhead, and the butterflies and bees hovering among the sweet-smelling furze blossoms, to see horses free and joyous, with no thought of bit or bridle, harness or saddle." This suggests that the primary theme of this text is “the joy of the wilderness.” Although the author does discuss the passage of time, with relation to the various groups of people that have lived on the moor in centuries past, this is part of her general reflection on the joy of walking through the land.

Example Question #302 : Ssat Elementary Level Reading Comprehension

Adapted from "The Dartmoor Ponies, or the Wandering of the Horse Tribe" by Arabella B. Buckley in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

It was a calm misty morning one day last week, giving promise of a bright and sunny day, when I started off for a long walk across the moor to visit the famous stone-circles, many of which are to be found not far off the track called Abbot’s Way, leading from Buckfast Abbey to the Abbey of Tavistock.

My mind was full of the olden times as I pictured to myself how, seven hundred years or more ago, some Benedictine monk from Tavistock Abbey paced this narrow path on his way to his Cistercian brothers at Buckfast, meeting some of them on his road as they wandered over the desolate moor in search of stray sheep. For the Cistercians were shepherds and wool-weavers, while the Benedictines devoted themselves to learning, and the track of about twenty-five miles from one abbey to the other, which still remains, was worn by the members of the two communities, the only variety in whose lives consisted probably in these occasional visits to each other.

Yet even these monks belonged to modern times compared to the ancient Britons who raised the stone-circles over the moor; and my mind drifted back to the days when, long before that pathway was worn, men clad in the skins of beasts hunted wild animals over the ground on which I was treading, and lived in caves and holes of the ground.

I wondered, as I thought of them, whether the monks and the ancient Britons delighted as much in the rugged scenery of the moor as I did that morning. For many miles in front of me the moor stretched out wild and treeless, while the early mist was rising off the hill-tops. It was a pleasure, there on the open moor, with the lark soaring overhead, and the butterflies and bees hovering among the sweet-smelling furze blossoms, to see horses free and joyous, with no thought of bit or bridle, harness or saddle, whose hooves had never been handled by the shoeing-smith, nor their coats touched with the singeing iron. Those little colts, with their thick heads, shaggy coats, and flowing tails, will have at least two years more liberty before they know what it is to be driven. Only once a year are they gathered together, claimed by their owners and branded with an initial, and then left again to wander where they will.

The horses in the last paragraph are primarily characterized by their __________.

Possible Answers:

speed

fear of people

ancient lineage

freedom

aggression

Correct answer:

freedom

Explanation:

The passage in general is an expression of the author’s love of the wilderness and the freedom of nature. This, combined with the language in the final paragraph, tells you that the horses are primarily characterized by their “freedom.” This can be seen in excerpts such as "horses free and joyous, with no thought of bit or bridle, harness or saddle, whose hooves had never been handled by the shoeing-smith" and “Those little colts, with their thick heads, shaggy coats, and flowing tails, will have at least two years more liberty before they know what it is to be driven.”

Example Question #303 : Ssat Elementary Level Reading Comprehension

Adapted from A Child’s History of England by Charles Darwin (1905)

As great and good in peace as he was great and good in war, King Alfred never rested from his labors to improve his people. He loved to talk with clever men and travelers from foreign countries and to write down what they told him for his people to read. He had studied Latin after learning to read English, and now another of his labors was to translate Latin books into the English-Saxon tongue, that his people might be interested and improved by their contents. He made just laws, that they might live more happily and freely; he turned away all partial judges, that no wrong might be done them; he was so careful of their property, and punished robbers so severely that it was a common thing to say that under the great King Alfred, garlands of golden chains and jewels might have hung across the streets, and no man would have touched one. He founded schools, and he patiently heard causes himself in his Court of Justice. The great desires of his heart were, to do right to all his subjects, and to leave England better, wiser, and happier in all ways than he found it. His industry in these efforts was quite astonishing. Every day he divided into certain portions, and in each portion devoted himself to a certain pursuit. That he might divide his time exactly, he had wax torches or candles made, which were all of the same size, were notched across at regular distances, and were always kept burning. Thus, as the candles burnt down, he divided the day into notches, almost as accurately as we now divide it into hours upon the clock. But when the candles were first invented, it was found that the wind and draughts of air, blowing into the palace through the doors and windows and through the chinks in the walls, caused them to gutter and burn unequally. To prevent this, the King had them put into cases formed of wood and white horn. And these were the first lanterns ever made in England.

All this time, he was afflicted with a terrible unknown disease, which caused him violent and frequent pain that nothing could relieve. He bore it, as he had borne all the troubles of his life, like a brave good man, until he was fifty-three years old; and then, having reigned thirty years, he died. He died in the year nine hundred and one; but, long ago as that is, his fame, and the love and gratitude with which his subjects regarded him, are freshly remembered to the present hour.

The author’s statement that “garlands of golden chains and jewels might have hung across the streets, and no man would have touched one” is primarily meant __________.

Possible Answers:

exaggerate the wealth of the common man in England

demonstrate how lenient King Alfred was toward robbers

highlight how safe from crime people felt under King Alfred

show how wealthy the population grew under the wise rule of King Alfred

undermine claims by other historians that King Alfred was not rich

Correct answer:

highlight how safe from crime people felt under King Alfred

Explanation:

The author states that King Alfred "punished robbers so severely that it was a common thing to say that under the great King Alfred, garlands of golden chains and jewels might have hung across the streets, and no man would have touched one.” The fact that it is said people were able to hang jewels in the streets shows that the people felt safe that no one would try to steal them; so, this statement allows the author to demonstrate how Alfred changed the laws of the land to make people feel “safe from crime.”

Example Question #304 : Ssat Elementary Level Reading Comprehension

Adapted from A Child’s History of England by Charles Darwin (1905)

As great and good in peace as he was great and good in war, King Alfred never rested from his labors to improve his people. He loved to talk with clever men and travelers from foreign countries and to write down what they told him for his people to read. He had studied Latin after learning to read English, and now another of his labors was to translate Latin books into the English-Saxon tongue, that his people might be interested and improved by their contents. He made just laws, that they might live more happily and freely; he turned away all partial judges, that no wrong might be done them; he was so careful of their property, and punished robbers so severely that it was a common thing to say that under the great King Alfred, garlands of golden chains and jewels might have hung across the streets, and no man would have touched one. He founded schools, and he patiently heard causes himself in his Court of Justice. The great desires of his heart were, to do right to all his subjects, and to leave England better, wiser, and happier in all ways than he found it. His industry in these efforts was quite astonishing. Every day he divided into certain portions, and in each portion devoted himself to a certain pursuit. That he might divide his time exactly, he had wax torches or candles made, which were all of the same size, were notched across at regular distances, and were always kept burning. Thus, as the candles burnt down, he divided the day into notches, almost as accurately as we now divide it into hours upon the clock. But when the candles were first invented, it was found that the wind and draughts of air, blowing into the palace through the doors and windows and through the chinks in the walls, caused them to gutter and burn unequally. To prevent this, the King had them put into cases formed of wood and white horn. And these were the first lanterns ever made in England.

All this time, he was afflicted with a terrible unknown disease, which caused him violent and frequent pain that nothing could relieve. He bore it, as he had borne all the troubles of his life, like a brave good man, until he was fifty-three years old; and then, having reigned thirty years, he died. He died in the year nine hundred and one; but, long ago as that is, his fame, and the love and gratitude with which his subjects regarded him, are freshly remembered to the present hour.

Throughout this passage Alfred is primarily characterized as __________.

Possible Answers:

a well-respected, yet harsh king

a beloved and hard-working ruler

a boring and unexciting man

a pious and devout religious leader of England

a forgotten but hard-working King

Correct answer:

a beloved and hard-working ruler

Explanation:

Throughout this passage, King Alfred is primarily characterized by the author as “a beloved and hard-working ruler.” This can be seen in examples such as “As great and good in peace, as he was great and good in war, King Alfred never rested from his labors to improve his people" and “He bore it, as he had borne all the troubles of his life, like a brave good man," as well as "his fame, and the love and gratitude with which his subjects regarded him, are freshly remembered to the present hour.” Throughout the passage, the author talks about how hard Alfred worked to improve the life of his subjects, so he must have been “beloved” (widely loved) and “hard-working.”

Example Question #1 : How To Determine And Analyze Theme In Nonfiction Passages

It has often been asserted by modern historians that the Czech Republic ought to be known as the Republic of Bohemia and Moravia. These are the two regions of Europe that constitute the modern Czech country. The problem is that each of these names has a loose association with the short-lived reign of Hitler and the Nazis in what was then called Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia was also the name of the country in the Communist Era, until Slovakia voted to separate from the Czech Republic. So it has come to pass that the Czech people are left with a name that is to them, at least, somewhat unsatisfying. Perhaps several generations from now, as the horrors of World War Two fade further from European memory, these other names of the Czech region will once more emerge into prominence.

What does the author think needs to change in order for the Czech Republic to be named the Republic of Bohemia and Moravia?

Possible Answers:

The Nazis need to outwardly apologize for the atrocities committed in Bohemia and Moravia during World War Two.

None of these answers is correct.

The two states of Bohemia and Moravia need to break away from the Czech Republic and form their own nation.

The relationship between the names and the terrible things that happened in World War Two needs to fade from memory.

The Republic of Slovakia has to rejoin the Czech Republic.

Correct answer:

The relationship between the names and the terrible things that happened in World War Two needs to fade from memory.

Explanation:

When discussing his hopes and predictions about the future of the Czech Republic the author offers the following: "Perhaps several generations from now, as the horrors of World War Two fade further from European memory, these other names of the Czech region will once more emerge into prominence." It is clear that in order for the Czech Republic to be named the Republic of Bohemia and Moravia, the negative relationship between those places and the memories of World War Two need to fade from memory.

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