SSAT Elementary Level Reading : How to Recognize and Analyze Main Ideas in Fiction Passages

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

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Literal Understanding In Fiction Passages

Adapted from "The Dog and the Wolf" by Aesop (trans. Jacobs 1909)

A gaunt Wolf was almost dead with hunger when he happened to meet a House-dog who was passing by.

"Ah, Cousin," said the Dog. "I knew how it would be; your irregular life will soon be the ruin of you. Why do you not work steadily as I do, and get your food regularly given to you?"

"I would have no objection," said the Wolf, "if I could only acquire a place."

"I will easily arrange that for you," said the Dog; "come with me to my master and you shall share my work."

So the Wolf and the Dog went towards the town together. On the way there the Wolf noticed that the hair on a certain part of the Dog's neck was very much worn away, so he asked him how that had come about.

"Oh, it is nothing," said the Dog. "That is only the place where the collar is put on at night to keep me chained up; it chafes a bit, but one soon gets used to it."

"Is that all?" said the Wolf. "Then good-bye to you, Master Dog."

Moral: "Better starve free than be a fat slave."

Why does the wolf refuse the dog’s offer of help?

Possible Answers:

The wolf does not want to be enslaved 

None of these answers 

The dog is lying to the wolf

The wolf is not used to the wild 

The wolf does not think the dog can help him find food

Correct answer:

The wolf does not want to be enslaved 

Explanation:

The wolf initially accepts the dog’s help because he is hungry and needs food to eat. But, when the wolf finds out that the dog is chained up and kept from being free, the wolf changes his mind. He says: "Then good-bye to you, Master Dog," and the moral of the story is "Better starve free than be a fat slave.”

Example Question #1 : How To Recognize And Analyze Main Ideas In Fiction Passages

Addison is having a bad day. In the morning, she lost her lunch money on the way to school. Her mom told her to put it in the zipper pocket of her backpack, but she didn’t listen and put it in her pants pocket instead. In the afternoon, her class went to the library. When she went to her backpack to retrieve her library book, it was not there! She could not check out a new book this week. After school, she was talking to her friends on the playground and lost track of time. When she walked out to the front of the school, she realized that the bus had already left!! Her house is over 4 miles away and she is not allowed to walk home alone. 

 

What is the main idea of this story?

Possible Answers:

Addison had a bad day because she missed the bus. 

Addison had a bad day because her mom forgot to put her library book in her backpack. 

Addison had a bad day because she failed her math test. 

Addison had a bad day because she lost her lunch money.

Addison had a bad day because she is very irresponsible and needs to learn to be more responsible. 

Correct answer:

Addison had a bad day because she is very irresponsible and needs to learn to be more responsible. 

Explanation:

Since all the events in the story relate to Addison having a bad day because she was being careless, forgetful, or irresponsible, the best choice is 

"Addison had a bad day because she is very irresponsible and needs to learn to be more responsible." 

Example Question #2 : Fiction Passages

Adapted from "The Princess and the Pea" by Hans Christian Andersen (trans. Sommer 1897)

Once upon a time there was a prince who wanted to marry a princess; but she would have to be a real princess. He travelled all over the world to find one, but nowhere could he get what he wanted. There were princesses enough, but it was difficult to find out whether they were real ones. There was always something about them that was not as it should be. So he came home again and was sad, for he would have liked very much to have a real princess.

One evening a terrible storm came on; there was thunder and lightning, and the rain poured down. Suddenly a knocking was heard at the city gate, and the old king went to open it.

It was a princess standing out there in front of the gate. The water ran down from her hair and clothes; it ran down into the toes of her shoes and out again at the heels. She looked so destitute in the wind and the rain. And yet she said that she was a real princess.

“Well, we’ll soon find that out,” thought the old queen. But she said nothing, went into the bed-room, took all the bedding off the bedstead, and laid a pea on the bottom; then she took twenty mattresses and laid them on top of the pea.

On this the princess had to lie all night. In the morning she was asked how she had slept.

“Oh, very badly!” said she. “I have scarcely closed my eyes all night. Heaven only knows what was in the bed, but I was lying on something hard, so that I am black and blue all over my body. It’s horrible!”

Now they knew that she was a real princess because she had felt the pea right through the twenty mattresses and the twenty eider-down beds.

Nobody but a real princess could be as sensitive as that.

So the prince took her for his wife, for now he knew that he had a real princess; and the pea was put in the museum, where it may still be seen, if no one has stolen it.

There, that is a true story.

How did the queen know that the princess was a real princess?

Possible Answers:

The princess could feel the pea that was underneath twenty mattresses 

The princess was out at night in the wind and the rain

The princess had lots of money and beautiful clothes

None of these answers 

The princess wore a crown and a piece of royal jewelry 

Correct answer:

The princess could feel the pea that was underneath twenty mattresses 

Explanation:

The queen knew that the princess was a real princess after the princess was able to feel the pea beneath twenty mattresses. As the passage says, “Nobody but a real princess could be as sensitive as that.”

Example Question #2 : How To Recognize And Analyze Main Ideas In Fiction Passages

Adapted from "The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse" by Aesop (trans. Jacobs 1909)

Now you must know that a Town Mouse once upon a time went on a visit to his cousin in the country. He was rough and ready, this cousin, but he loved his town friend and made him heartily welcome. Beans and bacon, cheese and bread, were all he had to offer, but he offered them freely. The Town Mouse rather turned up his long nose at this country fare, and said: "I cannot understand, Cousin, how you can put up with such poor food as this, but of course you cannot expect anything better in the country; come with me and I will show you how to live. When you have been in town a week you will wonder how you could ever have stood a country life." No sooner said than done: the two mice set off for the town and arrived at the Town Mouse's residence late at night. "You will want some refreshment after our long journey," said the polite Town Mouse, and took his friend into the grand dining-room. There they found the remains of a fine feast, and soon the two mice were eating up jellies and cakes and all that was nice. Suddenly they heard growling and barking. "What is that?" said the Country Mouse. "It is only the dogs of the house," answered the other. "Only!" said the Country Mouse. "I do not like that music at my dinner." Just at that moment the door flew open, in came two huge mastiffs, and the two mice had to scamper down and run off. "Good-bye, Cousin," said the Country Mouse, "What! going so soon?" said the other. "Yes," he replied; "Better beans and bacon in peace than cakes and ale in fear."

Why does the Country Mouse feel his life is better than the life of the Town Mouse?

Possible Answers:

Because although he has so much more than the Town Mouse, he has learned to be giving

Because the Country Mouse thinks his food is more delicious

Because although he is poor, the Country Mouse is always safe 

Because the town is very safe and boring

All of these answers 

Correct answer:

Because although he is poor, the Country Mouse is always safe 

Explanation:

At the end of this story the author expresses the moral of the story. "Better beans and bacon in peace than cakes and ale in fear." This is the Country Mouse’s summary of the situation: it is better to eat poor food in safety than it is to eat rich food in fear. The Country Mouse prefers his life because it is safer and far away from the dangerous mastiffs. 

Example Question #4 : Literal Understanding In Fiction Passages

Adapted from "The Shepherd’s Boy" by Aesop (trans. Jacobs 1909)

There was once a young Shepherd Boy who tended his sheep at the foot of a mountain near a dark forest. It was rather lonely for him all day, so he came up with a plan by which he could get a little company and some excitement. He rushed down towards the village calling out "Wolf, Wolf," and the villagers came out to meet him, and some of them stopped with him for a considerable time. This pleased the boy so much that a few days afterwards he tried the same trick, and again the villagers came to his help. But shortly after this a Wolf actually did come out from the forest, and began to worry the sheep, and the boy of course cried out "Wolf, Wolf," still louder than before. But this time the villagers, who had been fooled twice before, thought the boy was again deceiving them, and nobody stirred to come to his help. So the Wolf made a good meal off the boy's flock, and when the boy complained, the wise man of the village said: "A liar will not be believed, even when he speaks the truth."

What is the main lesson of this story?

Possible Answers:

Lying will never help you make friends.

It is not easy to be a shepherd.

If you lie often people will soon stop trusting you.

Wolves are dangerous and deceptive animals.

If you are a shepherd boy and you lie, wolves eat your sheep.

Correct answer:

If you lie often people will soon stop trusting you.

Explanation:

This story is the famous fable about “the boy who cried wolf.” The lesson of the story is revealed in the last line, where the wise man of the village says, "A liar will not be believed, even when he speaks the truth."

Example Question #4 : Fiction Passages

Adapted from "The Lion’s Share" in The Fables of Aesop by Aesop (trans. Jacobs 1902)

The Lion once went hunting with the Fox, the Jackal, and the Wolf. They hunted and they hunted till at last they surprised a Stag, and soon took its life. Then came the question of how the spoil should be divided. "Quarter me this Stag," roared the Lion; so the other animals skinned it and cut it into four parts. Then the Lion took his stand in front of the carcass and pronounced judgment: "The first quarter is for me in my capacity as King of Beasts; the second is mine as arbiter; another share comes to me for my part in the chase; and as for the fourth quarter, well, as for that, I should like to see which of you will dare to lay a paw upon it." "Humph," grumbled the Fox as he walked away with his tail between his legs; but he spoke in a low growl. “You may share the labors of the great, but you will not share the spoil."

What does the Fox realize at the end of the story?

Possible Answers:

None of these answers; it is the Lion who learns a lesson at the end of the story.

Even if you share the workload with those who have power, you will not share the reward. 

No matter how much work you put into something you can never account for luck.

Wolves and jackals make loyal allies.

Lions cannot be trusted to share anything.

Correct answer:

Even if you share the workload with those who have power, you will not share the reward. 

Explanation:

This story tells of a lion, and several other animals, who hunt and kill a deer together, and after they have killed it the lion keeps the deer for himself and does not give anything to those who have helped him. At the end of the story, the Fox says, “You may share the labors of the great, but you will not share the spoil." This means that even if you help great people archive things, you will not necessarily share their rewards. 

Example Question #3 : How To Recognize And Analyze Main Ideas In Fiction Passages

Adapted from "The Buffoon and the Countryman" in The Fables of Aesop by Aesop (trans. Jacobs 1902)

At a country fair there was a Buffoon who made all the people laugh by imitating the cries of various animals. He finished off by squeaking so like a pig that the spectators thought that he had a porker concealed on him. But a Countryman who stood by said: "Call that a pig’s squeak! Nothing like it. You give me 'till tomorrow and I will show you what it's like." The audience laughed, but next day, sure enough, the Countryman appeared on the stage, and putting his head down squealed so hideously that the spectators complained and threw stones at him to make him stop. "You fools!" he cried, "see what you have been hissing," and held up a little pig whose ear he had been pinching to make him utter the squeals. Men often applaud a copy and boo the real thing.

Why does the Countryman object to the reaction of the audience?

Possible Answers:

It is mean to laugh at people.

They don’t understand the buffoon.

They cheered the copy and mocked the real thing. 

None of these answers

It is unkind to use pigs for entertainment.

Correct answer:

They cheered the copy and mocked the real thing. 

Explanation:

The countryman objects to the reaction of the audience because the audience applauded the copy and booed the real thing. "Applauded" means clapped for or cheered, and "mocked" means made fun of.

Example Question #7 : Fiction Passages

Adapted from "Belling the Cat" by Aesop (trans. Jacobs 1909)

Long ago, the mice had a general council to consider what measures they could take to outwit their common enemy, the Cat. Some said this and some said that; but at last a young mouse got up and said he had a proposal to make, which he thought would meet the case. "You will all agree," said he, "that our chief danger consists in the sly and treacherous manner in which the enemy approaches us. Now, if we could receive some signal of her approach, we could easily escape from her. I venture, therefore, to propose that a small bell be procured, and attached by a ribbon round the neck of the Cat. By this means we should always know when she was about, and could easily hide while she was in the neighborhood." This proposal met with general applause, until an old mouse got up and said: "That is all very well, but who is to bell the Cat?" The mice looked at one another and nobody spoke. Then the old mouse said: "It is easy to propose impossible remedies."

Which of these quotes is the moral or lesson taught by the story?

Possible Answers:

“Some said this and some said that.”

“Our chief danger consists in the sly and treacherous manner in which the enemy approaches us.”

"It is easy to propose impossible remedies."

“This proposal met with general applause.”

“Long ago, the mice had a general council to consider what measures they could take.”

Correct answer:

"It is easy to propose impossible remedies."

Explanation:

The lesson of this story is revealed by the old mouse at the end of the passage when he says: "That is all very well, but who is to bell the Cat?" After this, the passages says, "The mice looked at one another and nobody spoke. Then the old mouse said: 'It is easy to propose impossible remedies.'" The old mouse is revealing that the young mouse’s plan cannot work because it is impossible and suggesting that it is always easy to suggest an impossible solution.

Example Question #7 : Literal Understanding In Fiction Passages

Adapted from "The Ant and the Grasshopper" by Aesop (trans. Jacobs 1909)

In a field one summer's day a Grasshopper was hopping about, chirping and singing to its heart's content. An Ant passed by, carrying a very heavy ear of corn to the nest.

"Why not come and chat with me," said the Grasshopper, "instead of toiling and tiring in that way?"

"I am helping to lay up food for the winter," said the Ant, "and recommend you to do the same."

"Why bother about winter?" said the Grasshopper. "We have got plenty of food at present." But the Ant went on its way and continued its toil. When the winter came the Grasshopper had no food and found itself dying of hunger, while it saw the ants consuming every piece of corn and grain from the stores they had collected in the summer. Then the Grasshopper knew: it is best to prepare for the days of necessity.

What is the moral of this story?

Possible Answers:

Ants and grasshoppers do not make good friends

It is always smart to plan for the difficulties of the future 

It is not wise to offer help when one cannot look after oneself

Laziness is its own reward 

None of these answers 

Correct answer:

It is always smart to plan for the difficulties of the future 

Explanation:

The moral of this story is explained in the last sentence, “Then the Grasshopper knew: it is best to prepare for the days of necessity.” This story is taken from Aesop’s famous collection of fables. A fable is a short story with a specific moral lesson.

Example Question #8 : Literal Understanding In Fiction Passages

Adapted from "The Ant and the Grasshopper" by Aesop (trans. Jacobs 1909)

In a field one summer's day a Grasshopper was hopping about, chirping and singing to its heart's content. An Ant passed by, carrying a very heavy ear of corn to the nest.

"Why not come and chat with me," said the Grasshopper, "instead of toiling and tiring in that way?"

"I am helping to lay up food for the winter," said the Ant, "and recommend you to do the same."

"Why bother about winter?" said the Grasshopper. "We have got plenty of food at present." But the Ant went on its way and continued its toil. When the winter came the Grasshopper had no food and found itself dying of hunger, while it saw the ants consuming every piece of corn and grain from the stores they had collected in the summer. Then the Grasshopper knew: it is best to prepare for the days of necessity.

Why was the Grasshopper in trouble once winter came?

Possible Answers:

He had annoyed all of the ants 

He was too hardworking and not able to relax

He had not built a shelter 

He was not used to the snow 

He had not collected any food 

Correct answer:

He had not collected any food 

Explanation:

The grasshopper gets into trouble when winter comes because he has not saved any food for himself. The passage says, “When the winter came the Grasshopper had no food and found itself dying of hunger.” While the ants were busy gathering and storing food, the grasshopper was being lazy and living in the moment. 

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