SSAT Elementary Level Reading : How to Determine the Meaning of a Word from Its Context in a Poetry 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 Word From Its Context In A Poetry Passage

Adapted from The Cat and the Fox by Jean de la Fontaine (1678)

The Cat and the Fox once took a walk together,
Sharpening their wits with talk about the weather
And as their walking sharpened appetite too,
They also took some things they had no right to.
Cream, that is so delicious when it thickens,
Pleased the Cat best. The Fox liked little chickens.

With stomachs filled, they presently grew prouder,
And each began to try to talk the louder,
Bragging about his skill, and strength, and cunning.
"Pooh!" said the Fox. "You ought to see me running.
Besides, I have a hundred tricks. You Cat, you!
What can you do when Mr. Dog comes at you?"
"To tell the truth," the Cat said, "though it grieve me
I've but one trick. Yet that's enough—believe me!"

There came a pack of fox-hounds, yelping, baying.
"Pardon me", said the Cat. "I can't be staying.
This is my trick." And up a tree he scurried,
Leaving the Fox below a trifle worried.

In vain, he tried his hundred tricks and ruses
(The sort of thing that Mr. Dog confuses),
Doubling, and seeking one hole, then another,
Smoked out of each until he thought he'd smother.
At last as he once more came out of cover,
Two nimble dogs pounced on him—all was over!

Which of the following is a synonym of the underlined word "scurried"?

Possible Answers:

Assembled

Lumbered

Hopped

Walked

Dashed

Correct answer:

Dashed

Explanation:

When the fox-hounds attempt to chase the Fox and the Cat, the Cat "scurries" up a tree, leaving the Fox behind. Based on the context of the sentence, we are looking for an answer choice that conveys the danger approaching the Fox and the Cat, which requires immediate and swift action to be taken. The best answer choice is "dashed," defined as to run or travel somewhere in a great hurry.

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

Adapted from "No Harm Meant" in Chatterbox Periodical edited by J. Erskine Clark (1906)

Two puppies with good-natured hearts, but clumsy little toes,
Were feeling rather sleepy, so they settled for a doze;
But underneath the very ledge on which they chanced to be,
A large and stately pussy cat was basking dreamily.

A short half-hour had hardly passed, when one pup made a stir,
And stretching out a lazy paw, just touched the tabby's fur;
'Twas nothing but an accident, yet, oh! the angry wail!
The flashing in the tabby's eye, the lashing of her tail!

"Who's that that dares to serve me so?" she cried with arching back.
"I'll teach you puppies how to make an unprovoked attack!"
One puppy started to his feet with terror in his eyes,
The other said, as soon as pluck had overcome surprise:

"I'm really very sorry, ma'am, but honestly declare
I hadn't any notion that a pussy cat was there."
But just like those who look for wrong in every one they see,
She left the spot, nor deigned to take the pup's apology.

The underlined word “stately” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

outgoing 

frank 

expressive 

modest 

dignified 

Correct answer:

dignified 

Explanation:

The word “stately” means impressive, grand, but also dignified and graceful. The answer choice closest in meaning to "stately" is “dignified,” which means noble, behaving like a King, or classy. None of the other answer choices are close in meaning to "stately": “expressive” means comfortable saying things and showing feelings; “outgoing” means friendly; “modest” means humble and not boastful of things done well; and “frank” means honest.

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

Adapted from "No Harm Meant" in Chatterbox Periodical edited by J. Erskine Clark (1906)

Two puppies with good-natured hearts, but clumsy little toes,
Were feeling rather sleepy, so they settled for a doze;
But underneath the very ledge on which they chanced to be,
A large and stately pussy cat was basking dreamily.

A short half-hour had hardly passed, when one pup made a stir,
And stretching out a lazy paw, just touched the tabby's fur;
'Twas nothing but an accident, yet, oh! the angry wail!
The flashing in the tabby's eye, the lashing of her tail!

"Who's that that dares to serve me so?" she cried with arching back.
"I'll teach you puppies how to make an unprovoked attack!"
One puppy started to his feet with terror in his eyes,
The other said, as soon as pluck had overcome surprise:

"I'm really very sorry, ma'am, but honestly declare
I hadn't any notion that a pussy cat was there."
But just like those who look for wrong in every one they see,
She left the spot, nor deigned to take the pup's apology.

The underlined word “pluck” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

courage 

terror 

trepidation 

astonishment 

jubilation

Correct answer:

courage 

Explanation:

In context, the author says “'Who's that that dares to serve me so?' she cried with arching back. 'I'll teach you puppies how to make an unprovoked attack!' One puppy started to his feet with terror in his eyes, The other said, as soon as pluck had overcome surprise . . .” By describing how the puppies are fearful of the cat, the author suggests that fear was what needed to be overcome with “pluck.” This suggests that “pluck” means courage or bravery. None of the other answer choices are close in meaning to "pluck": “terror” is great fear; “jubilation” is great happiness; “astonishment” is surprise; and “trepidation” is anxiety, carefulness, or worry.

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

Adapted from "No Harm Meant" in Chatterbox Periodical edited by J. Erskine Clark (1906)

Two puppies with good-natured hearts, but clumsy little toes,
Were feeling rather sleepy, so they settled for a doze;
But underneath the very ledge on which they chanced to be,
A large and stately pussy cat was basking dreamily.

A short half-hour had hardly passed, when one pup made a stir,
And stretching out a lazy paw, just touched the tabby's fur;
'Twas nothing but an accident, yet, oh! the angry wail!
The flashing in the tabby's eye, the lashing of her tail!

"Who's that that dares to serve me so?" she cried with arching back.
"I'll teach you puppies how to make an unprovoked attack!"
One puppy started to his feet with terror in his eyes,
The other said, as soon as pluck had overcome surprise:

"I'm really very sorry, ma'am, but honestly declare
I hadn't any notion that a pussy cat was there."
But just like those who look for wrong in every one they see,
She left the spot, nor deigned to take the pup's apology.

The underlined word “deigned” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

forgave 

condescended

comprehended 

ascended 

obtained 

Correct answer:

condescended

Explanation:

In context, the author says, “But just like those who look for wrong in every one they see, / She left the spot, nor deigned to take the pup's apology.” Here, “deigned” means condescended or talked down to. None of the other answer choices are close in meaning to "deigned": “ascended” means went up; “comprehended” means understood; “forgave” means accepted someone’s apology; and “obtained” means got.

Example Question #15 : Poetry Passages

Adapted from "No Harm Meant" in Chatterbox Periodical edited by J. Erskine Clark (1906)

Two puppies with good-natured hearts, but clumsy little toes,
Were feeling rather sleepy, so they settled for a doze;
But underneath the very ledge on which they chanced to be,
A large and stately pussy cat was basking dreamily.

A short half-hour had hardly passed, when one pup made a stir,
And stretching out a lazy paw, just touched the tabby's fur;
'Twas nothing but an accident, yet, oh! the angry wail!
The flashing in the tabby's eye, the lashing of her tail!

"Who's that that dares to serve me so?" she cried with arching back.
"I'll teach you puppies how to make an unprovoked attack!"
One puppy started to his feet with terror in his eyes,
The other said, as soon as pluck had overcome surprise:

"I'm really very sorry, ma'am, but honestly declare
I hadn't any notion that a pussy cat was there."
But just like those who look for wrong in every one they see,
She left the spot, nor deigned to take the pup's apology.

The underlined word “notion” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

Fear

Dread

Dream 

Danger

Idea 

Correct answer:

Idea 

Explanation:

In context, the author says “The other said, as soon as pluck had overcome surprise: / 'I'm really very sorry, ma'am, but honestly declare / I hadn't any notion that a pussy cat was there.'” Here, one of the puppies is making an excuse to the cat by saying that he can honestly say he had no idea a cat was there. So, the answer choice closest in meaning to "notion" is "idea." As for the other answer choices, “dread” is great worry and fear.

Example Question #6 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Poetry Passages

Adapted from “The Duel” by Eugene Field (1888)

The gingham dog and the calico cat
Side by side on the table sat;
'Twas half-past twelve, and (what do you think!)
Not one nor t'other had slept a wink!
The old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate
Appeared to know as sure as fate
There was going to be a terrible spat.
(I wasn't there; I simply state
What was told to me by the Chinese plate!)

The gingham dog went "bow-wow-wow!"
And the calico cat replied "mee-ow!"
The air was littered, an hour or so,
With bits of gingham and calico,
While the old Dutch clock in the chimney-place
Up with its hands before its face,
For it always dreaded a family row!
(Now mind: I'm only telling you
What the old Dutch clock declares is true!)

The Chinese plate looked very blue,
And wailed, "Oh, dear! What shall we do?"
But the gingham dog and the calico cat
Wallowed this way and tumbled that,
Employing every tooth and claw
In the awfullest way you ever saw--
And, oh! how the gingham and calico flew!
(Don't fancy I exaggerate!
I got my views from the Chinese plate!)

Next morning where the two had sat
They found no trace of the dog or cat;
And some folks think unto this day
That burglars stole the pair away!
But the truth about the cat and the pup
Is this: They ate each other up!
Now what do you really think of that!
(The old Dutch clock, it told me so,
And that is how I came to know.)

The underlined word “exaggerate” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

overstate

underwhelm

overwhelm

overthrow

understate

Correct answer:

overstate

Explanation:

The word “exaggerate” is used to describe a situation where someone has made something more noticeable or prominent or when someone overstates the situation, or adds details to a story that makes it more dramatic. In this context, the poem's narrator says “Don't fancy I exaggerate! I got my views from the Chinese plate.” In this context, the narrator means “Do not think I am adding details to make the story more dramatic, this is what actually happened according to the Chinese plate.” To help you, "understate" means make less of a point than is usual; "overwhelm" means heavily affect someone due to their having to deal with too many of a certain thing; "underwhelm" means be not as good as was expected or unimpressive; and "overthrow" means replace someone in a powerful position using force.

Example Question #16 : Poetry Passages

Adapted from "A Good Boy" by Robert Louis Stevenson (1913)

I woke before the morning, I was happy all the day, 
I never said an ugly word, but smiled and stuck to play. 

And now at last the sun is going down behind the wood, 
And I am very happy, for I know that I've been good. 

I know that, till to-morrow I shall see the sun arise, 
No ugly dream shall fright my mind, no ugly sight my eyes. 

But slumber hold me tightly till I waken in the dawn, 
And hear the thrushes singing in the lilacs round the lawn.

Which of the following is a synonym of "thrushes"?

Possible Answers:

Sunlight

Wind

Clothes

Trees

Songbirds

Correct answer:

Songbirds

Explanation:

A thrush is a small or medium-sized songbird, known for its inclination to sing. Thus, the best answer choice is "songbirds."

Even if you do not know what a thrush is, you can use the context of the sentence to make an educated guess at what answer choice would be most likely to "[sing] in the lilacs round the lawn." Songbirds are known for their songs, while wind, sunlight, trees, and clothes typically do not sing.

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