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

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

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Example Questions

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

Keeping Gusland Amusement Park clean is no small task. Workers use 900 brooms, 90 dust pans and 800 mops a year to keep the park looking its best. Workers collect approximately 12 tons of trash during a busy day—about 8.7 million pounds annually, but not all of the refuse collected in the park goes to the landfill. Every year, Gusland Park recycles approximately 3.1 million pounds of cardboard; 1.1 million pounds of green waste; 270,000 pounds of office paper; 331,260 pounds of glass bottles; 270,280 pounds of plastic bottles; and 14,240 pounds of aluminum cans. The streets of Gusland are washed and steam-cleaned after closing each day. Keeping Gusland looking clean takes teamwork and a lot of hard work!

What does the word refuse mean in this context?

Possible Answers:

trash

garbage cans

to clean

dirt

to say no

Correct answer:

trash

Explanation:

In this context, refuse means trash or garbage. You know this because the words around it give you clues:

"collect approximately 12 tons of trash during a busy day" and "Not all of the refuse collected in the park goes to the landfill." 

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

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

King Henry the Seventh did not turn out to be as fine a man as the nobility and people hoped, in the first joy of their parting from Richard the Third. He was very cold, crafty, and calculating, and would do almost anything for money. He possessed considerable ability, but his chief merit appears to have been that he was not cruel when there was nothing to be gained by being so.

The underlined word “chief" in line 3 is used to mean __________.

Possible Answers:

least important 

boss 

leader 

most important 

none of these answers 

Correct answer:

most important 

Explanation:

When used as a noun, a "chief" is a leader, but when used as an adjective (a descriptive word that describes a noun), “chief” means primary or most important. In the passage, the author is describing King Henry the Seventh’s “chief merit,” or his most notable good quality. "Merit" means positive characteristic. So, the correct answer is "most important," because "chief" is being used to mean "most important" in the passage.

Example Question #3 : Evaluative Understanding In Nonfiction Passages

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

King Henry the Seventh did not turn out to be as fine a man as the nobility and people hoped, in the first joy of their parting from Richard the Third. He was very cold, crafty, and calculating, and would do almost anything for money. He possessed considerable ability, but his chief merit appears to have been that he was not cruel when there was nothing to be gained by being so.

The underlined word “calculating” in line 2 most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

impatient 

cunning 

worldly 

diabolical 

selfish 

Correct answer:

cunning 

Explanation:

"Calculating" means clever and thoughtful in a way that takes advantage of others. This is closest in meaning to “cunning.” None of the other answer choices are close in meaning to "calculating": "diabolical" means evil; "impatient" means not patient or not willing to wait; and "worldly" means smart or knowledgeable.

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

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

France was a far richer country than Scotland, and the new King was eager to conquer it. So, he left Scotland alone, and pretended that he had a claim to the French throne. He had, in reality, no right at all; but that mattered little in those times. He brought over to his cause many little princes and rulers and with these forces Edward invaded France; but he achieved little by that, except running himself into debt. The next year he did better; gaining the harbor of Sluys. This success, however, was very short-lived, for the King’s allies took fright at the siege of Saint Omer and ran away, leaving their weapons and allegiance behind them. When Philip, the French King, arrived with his army some moments later, Edward proposed to settle the difference by single combat with him. The French King said, he thanked him; but seeing as how the English King was without allies the French King would take his chances.

The underlined word “allegiance” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

criminal 

hatred

supplies 

loyalty 

hostility 

Correct answer:

loyalty 

Explanation:

The word “allegiance” is derived from the same word as “ally.” If someone has your "allegiance," they have your loyalty

Example Question #4 : How To Determine The Meaning Of A Word From Its Context In A Nonfiction Passage

Adapted from The Great Round World and What Is Going On In It, Vol. 2., No. 24 (June, 1898)

There is a very interesting account of the origin of the Red Cross Society. About forty years ago, M. Henry Dimont, a native of Switzerland, having witnessed the unnecessary suffering of the wounded, from lack of care, at the battle of Solferino, published a book, pointing out the necessity of forming a group of nurses to work in the cause of humanity in time of war, regardless of nationality of the injured, and who should be permitted to aid the wounded on the battle-field, under the protection of a flag which should be recognized as neutral. So much interest was taken in the idea that the outcome was a convention held at Geneva in 1864, which was attended by representatives from sixteen of the great nations of the world, who signed an agreement that they would protect members of the association when caring for the wounded on the field of battle. It was decided that the work of the Red Cross Society should not be confined to times of war, but that in case of disasters and calamities the organization was to provide aid. During the past seventeen years the American Red Cross Society has served in fifteen disasters and famines, and Russians, Armenians, and Cubans have all received aid from this society.

The underlined word “unnecessary” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

desperately needed

excessive 

not needed 

horrific 

entertaining 

Correct answer:

not needed 

Explanation:

The word “necessary” means needed. The prefix "un-" negates the meaning and changes it to the opposite, so “unnecessary” means not needed. To help you, "entertaining" means fun, "excessive" means too much, and "horrific" means causing horror, or bad and unpleasant

Example Question #56 : History Passages

Adapted from The Great Round World and What Is Going On In It, Vol. 2., No. 24 (June, 1898)

There is a very interesting account of the origin of the Red Cross Society. About forty years ago, M. Henry Dimont, a native of Switzerland, having witnessed the unnecessary suffering of the wounded, from lack of care, at the battle of Solferino, published a book, pointing out the necessity of forming a group of nurses to work in the cause of humanity in time of war, regardless of nationality of the injured, and who should be permitted to aid the wounded on the battle-field, under the protection of a flag which should be recognized as neutral. So much interest was taken in the idea that the outcome was a convention held at Geneva in 1864, which was attended by representatives from sixteen of the great nations of the world, who signed an agreement that they would protect members of the association when caring for the wounded on the field of battle. It was decided that the work of the Red Cross Society should not be confined to times of war, but that in case of disasters and calamities the organization was to provide aid. During the past seventeen years the American Red Cross Society has served in fifteen disasters and famines, and Russians, Armenians, and Cubans have all received aid from this society.

The underlined word “permitted” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

allowed 

forbidden

denied 

suspended 

encouraged 

Correct answer:

allowed 

Explanation:

The word “permitted” means allowed. It is the opposite of "forbidden" and "denied." From the context of the sentence, you can assume that "permitted" could not mean "forbidden," "denied," or "suspended" because the article is discussing how the Red Cross was helping people. To help you, "encouraged" means supported, "suspended" means paused, "denied" means refused, and "forbidden" means not allowed

Example Question #5 : How To Determine The Meaning Of A Word 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 word “obliged” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

cautious

irate

reluctant

required

miserable

Correct answer:

required

Explanation:

The word “obliged” means required or forced to do. From the context of the sentence, you know that the people of New York and Brooklyn wanted a bridge, but had to make do without one. They were required to use the ferry. None of the other answer choices are close in meaning to "obliged": "reluctant" means not willing; "miserable" means very sad; "cautious" means careful; and "irate" means very angry.

Example Question #6 : How To Determine The Meaning Of A Word 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 word “frequently” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

slowly

confusedly

swiftly

often

brilliantly

Correct answer:

often

Explanation:

The word “frequently” means regularly or often. The sentence tells you that ships go up and down the river so “frequently” as to make building a bridge difficult. It would make sense that ships going up and down the river often would make building a bridge over that river a challenge. Of the other four answer choices, only “swiftly," which means quickly, could also make sense in this context, but it “often” is the better choice.

Example Question #7 : How To Determine The Meaning Of A Word 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 word “obstruct” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

Get in the way

Sail into the wind

Be careless

Speak out of line

Sink a ship

Correct answer:

Get in the way

Explanation:

The word “obstruct” is a verb that means means block or get in the way of. From the context of the sentence, you know that the author is describing how ships go up and down the river so often that a bridge could not be built because it would “obstruct” their passage. It makes sense that a bridge would get in the way of the ships going up and down the river.

Example Question #8 : How To Determine The Meaning Of A Word From Its Context In A Nonfiction Passage

Adapted from Early European History (1917) by Hutton Webster

A medieval village usually contained several classes of laborers. There might be a number of freemen, who paid a fixed rent, either in money or produce, for the use of their land. Then there might also be a few slaves in the lord's household or at work on his domain. By this time, however, slavery had about died out in Western Europe. Most of the peasants were serfs.

Serfdom represented a stage between slavery and freedom. A slave belonged to his master; he was bought and sold like other belongings. A serf had a higher position, for he could not be sold apart from the land nor could his holding be taken from him. He was fixed to the soil. On the other hand, a serf ranked lower than a freeman, because he could not change his house, nor marry outside the manor, nor hand down his goods, without the permission of his lord.

What does the underlined word “fixed” most nearly mean?

Possible Answers:

Repaired

Stuck

Alleviate

Rectified

Broken

Correct answer:

Stuck

Explanation:

Usually the word “fixed” means repaired something that was broken. To "fix" means to mend or to repair; however, it can also mean rooted to or stuck in one place. The author says, “A serf had a higher position, for he could not be sold apart from the land nor could his holding be taken from him. He was fixed to the soil.” The author first tells you that a serf could not be taken from his land, then says that a serf was fixed to the soil. From this, you can infer that "fixed" means stuck to. To further help you, "soil" is being used here to mean land or ground.

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