SSAT Elementary Level Reading : How to Determine the Meaning of a Phrase from Its Context in a Nonfiction Passage

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : How To Determine The Meaning Of A Phrase From Its Context In A Nonfiction Passage

Adapted from "Marvels of Men’s Making" in Chatterbox Periodical edited by J. Erskine Clark (1906)

When two large cities stand opposite to one another on the banks of a river, it is not likely they can do very well without a bridge to connect them. Yet the citizens of New York and Brooklyn were obliged to manage as best they could for a good many years before they had their bridge. There were many difficulties in the way. For one thing, the river is very broad; for another, the tall-masted ships ply up and down so frequently that it would never do to build anything which would obstruct their passage; and to overcome these difficulties would mean the expenditure of a vast sum of money. But the folk who earned their daily bread in New York and lived in Brooklyn grew thoroughly tired of spending chilly hours in foggy weather on the river-side piers, waiting for the ferry-boat to come and take them across, and at last they began an agitation which resulted in the Brooklyn Bridge.

The underlined phrase “earned their daily bread” most likely means __________.

Possible Answers:

ate

traveled

worked

selected

baked

Correct answer:

worked

Explanation:

“Daily bread” is an English idiom used to refer to the wages a person makes from their job. If you did not know this, you would be able to figure it out from the context in which the phrase is used. The author says that people “earned” their “daily bread.” The word “earn” means to work in order to receive something. So, if people "earned their daily bread," it means they worked for it.

Example Question #2 : How To Determine The Meaning Of A Phrase From Its Context In A Nonfiction Passage

"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.

When the author says there is “universal concern” among parents, he most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

all parents are worried about the safety of their children

soccer is much less worrying to parents than American football

it is foolish to be worried about the impact of sports on the health of a child

parents have only recently begun to worry about the safety of their children

most parents care what happens to their children on the field of sports

Correct answer:

all parents are worried about the safety of their children

Explanation:

The word “universal” means agreed upon or understood by everyone or applicable to everyone and “concern” means worry. So when the author says that there is “universal concern among parents to protect the health of their children,” he means that every parent is worried about the safety of his or her child. The other answer choices either only partially state the correct meaning, or else are related to different conclusions from the text (such as “soccer is much less worrying to parents than American football.”)

Example Question #3 : How To Determine The Meaning Of A Phrase From Its Context In A Nonfiction Passage

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

Early in the tenth century a Viking by the name of Rollo had repeatedly attacked the coast of France. The king of France, too weak to resist these northern robbers, tried to bribe them into "being good." He offered them the province of Normandy, if they would promise to stop bothering the rest of his domains. Rollo accepted this bargain and became Duke of Normandy.

But his children remained interested in conquest. Across the channel, only a few hours away from the European mainland, they could see the white cliffs and the green fields of England. Poor England had passed through difficult days. For two hundred years it had been a Roman colony. After the Romans left, it had been conquered by the Angles and the Saxons, two German tribes from Schleswig. Next the Danes had taken the greater part of the country and had established the kingdom of Cnut. The Danes had been driven away and now (it was early in the eleventh century) another Saxon king, Edward the Confessor, was on the throne. But Edward was not expected to live long and he had no children. The circumstances favored the ambitious dukes of Normandy.

In 1066 Edward died. Immediately William of Normandy crossed the channel, defeated and killed Harold of Wessex (who had taken the crown) at the battle of Hastings, and proclaimed himself king of England.

In another story I have told you how in the year 800 a German chieftain had become a Roman Emperor. Now in the year 1066 the grandson of a Norse pirate was recognized as King of England. Why should we ever read fairy stories, when the truth of history is so much more interesting and entertaining?

Which of the following best describes the way in which the second paragraph functions in the passage?

Possible Answers:

The second paragraph describes why Rollo was offered a dukedom.

The second paragraph describes what happened to England after the Romans left.

The second paragraph compares factual stories and fictional stories.

The second paragraph describes Rollo's descendants.

The second paragraph describes the situation which led to William of Normandy taking over England. 

Correct answer:

The second paragraph describes the situation which led to William of Normandy taking over England. 

Explanation:

"The second paragraph describes Rollo's descendants" and "The second paragraph describes what happened to England after the Romans left" may both look like good answers because each of these topics is discussed in the paragraph, but the best answer is "The second paragraph describes the situation which led to William of Normandy taking over England." The author discusses both Rollo's descendants and what happened to England after the Romans left in order to set up the situation that allowed William of Normandy to become king of England, which the author describes in the third paragraph. The answer choice "The second paragraph describes why Rollo was offered a dukedom" is incorrect because this information is presented in the first paragraph, and the answer choice "The second paragraph compares factual stories and fictional stories" is similarly incorrect because it describes information presented in the last paragraph.

Example Question #52 : Evaluative Understanding In Nonfiction Passages

Environmental Succession

Molly Kubik, 2016

Every environment changes.  When a natural environment changes over time, this is called succession.  We can see succession in all natural environments.  For example, when a forest burns down, very small plants are the first to come back to the area.  Next, larger plants and weeds begin to grow.  Then, woody tree like plants begin to grow.  Over time, the area that was once a burnt forest begins to look like a forest again.  Succession is an interesting phenomenon!    

As used in the passage, what does the word "succession" mean?

Possible Answers:

Rapid changes that take place quickly in an environment

Small changes in an environment that take place over time and occur randomly

Small changes in an environment that take place over time in a predictable way

Any changes that occur in an environment

Correct answer:

Small changes in an environment that take place over time in a predictable way

Explanation:

The passage states that succession is a small change that occurs in an environment over a period of time. The passage notes the types of changes that can occur, which are occurring in a predictable way. First small plants grow, followed by larger plants, followed by trees.

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