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

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

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Nonfiction Passages

Baseball is a great game. It’s one of my favorite pastimes. It’s a great way to spend a lazy summer afternoon. I love going to watch the nine inning game played on a beautifully mowed lawn, listening to the Umpire yell “STRIKE,” singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch, and I especially love the sound of the bat going "crack!!" when it hits the ball. Baseball is definitely my favorite sport. 

What is the main idea of this passage?

Possible Answers:

Summertime is filled with lazy days.

Baseball is her favorite game to play at the park.

Baseball is her favorite game.

Baseball is a boring game.

She loves the song, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

Correct answer:

Baseball is her favorite game.

Explanation:

Since the passage is all about her love of baseball, this is the main idea.

Example Question #2 : Nonfiction Passages

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 is the main idea of this passage?

Possible Answers:

It takes a lot of hard work to keep Gusland Park clean.

Gusland Park guests make a lot of trash.

Workers use a lot of brooms each year.

Gusland Park recyles a lot of trash.

Gusland Park is a messy place.

Correct answer:

It takes a lot of hard work to keep Gusland Park clean.

Explanation:

Since all of the information in this passage relates to keeping Gusland clean, you can say that the main idea is that "It takes a lot of hard work to keep Gusland Park clean."

You can also look at the topic sentence (Keeping Gusland Park clean is no small task.) and the concluding sentence (Keeping Gusland looking clean takes teamwork and hard work!) of the passage to give you clues. They are very similar and both sentences describe the hard work it takes to keep Gusland clean.

Example Question #3 : 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.

Which of these is not a negative quality attributed to King Henry the Seventh?

Possible Answers:

All of these attributes are negative

He is cold and unfeeling 

He is crafty and calculating 

He is not unnecessarily cruel

He cares too much about money 

Correct answer:

He is not unnecessarily cruel

Explanation:

The author describes how King Henry is “cold, crafty and calculating, and would do almost anything for money.” The only negative quality not mentioned is his cruelty. Rather, the author says that his lack of cruelty is a positive quality. 

Example Question #3 : Nonfiction 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.

Why was the Red Cross Society created?

Possible Answers:

To put an end to war

To provide food and water for starving people

None of these answers 

To provide aid to injured soldiers of all nationalities 

To help educate poor students

Correct answer:

To provide aid to injured soldiers of all nationalities 

Explanation:

The purpose of the Red Cross Society was “of forming a group of nurses to work in the cause of humanity in time of war, regardless of nationality of the injured.” Although there is some mention of the Red Cross expanding to provide food and water, it is not the reason that the Society was created. 

Example Question #4 : Nonfiction Passages

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.

Why do the people of Brooklyn start demanding that a bridge be built?

Possible Answers:

So that people can more easily get to the shops in New York

Because they had to swim to get from New York to Brooklyn

To keep people safe and secure

To attract more people to move to Brooklyn

Because they have grown tired of repeatedly waiting around for hours for the ferry-boat

Correct answer:

Because they have grown tired of repeatedly waiting around for hours for the ferry-boat

Explanation:

The author tells us that the people of Brooklyn began to demand a bridge because they “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.” None of the other answer choices are either directly or indirectly mentioned.

Example Question #4 : Literal Understanding In Nonfiction Passages

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.

Which of these accurately states the hierarchy between serfs, slaves, and freemen in Medieval Europe?

Possible Answers:

Serfs are freer than slaves, but less free than freemen.

Slaves, serfs and freemen are all equally free to live however they please.

Serfs are less free than slaves, but more free than freemen.

Serfs are freer than slaves and freemen.

Serfs are less free than slaves and freemen.

Correct answer:

Serfs are freer than slaves, but less free than freemen.

Explanation:

The author discusses how freemen are former slaves who have been granted freedom. He goes on to list the various things that freemen can do that serfs cannot; this suggests that freemen have more independence than serfs. Likewise, serfs are not directly property in the way that slaves are, which suggests serfs have more independence than slaves. The correct answer is therefore “Serfs are freer than slaves, but less free than freemen.” This is confirmed by the author when he says, “Serfdom represented a stage between slavery and freedom.”

Example Question #5 : Nonfiction Passages

Adapted from The Boy Heroes of Crecy and Poitiers by Treadwell Walden (1879)

There was only one road to success or fame in those days, and that was the profession of fighting. The ambition of every high-born young fellow was to become a knight. Knighthood was something that both king and nobles regarded as higher in some respects than even the royalty or nobility to which they were born. No one could be admitted into an order of the great brotherhood of knights, which extended all over Europe and formed an independent society, unless he had gone through severe discipline, and had performed some distinguished deed of valor. Then he could wear the golden spurs; for knighthood had its earliest origin in the distinction of fighting on horseback, while ordinary soldiers fought on foot. Although knighthood changed afterward, the word "chivalry" always expressed it, from the French word cheval, a horse. And in addition to valor, which was the result of physical strength and courage, the knight was expected to be generous, courteous, faithful, devout, truthful, high-souled, high-principled. Hence the epithet, "chivalrous," which, even today, is so often heard applied to men of especially fine spirit. "Honor" was the great word which included all these qualities then, as it does in some measure now.

Why did some of the kings and nobles regard knighthood higher than royalty? 

Possible Answers:

Because you have to earn knighthood whereas royalty is just given by birth right

Because kings and queens are subject to the desires of the people

Because knights do not have to pay taxes

Because knights go out on the battlefield and fight

Because knights sacrifice themselves for the good of the kingdom

Correct answer:

Because you have to earn knighthood whereas royalty is just given by birth right

Explanation:

The author tells us that many nobles regarded knighthood as higher than royalty because “No one could be admitted into an order of the great brotherhood of knights, which extended all over Europe and formed an independent society, unless he had gone through severe discipline, and had performed some distinguished deed of valor.” Basically, if you wanted to be a knight, you had to earn it, whereas people were often born into royal families and didn't have to earn royal status.

Example Question #1 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Idea And Theme In History Passages

Adapted from A Man Who Coveted Washington’s Shoes by Frank E. Stockton (1896)

The person whose story we are now about to tell was not a Jerseyman, but, as most of the incidents which make him interesting to us occurred in this state, we will give him the benefit of a few years' residence here.

This was General Charles Lee, who might well have been called a soldier of fortune. He was born in England, but the British Isles were entirely too small to satisfy his wild ambitions and his bold spirit. There are few heroes of romance who have had such a wide and varied experience, and who have engaged in so many strange enterprises. He was a brave man and very able, but he had a fault which prevented him from being a high-class soldier: he could not bear authority and was always restive under command of another, and, while always ready to tell other people what they ought to do, was never willing to be told what he ought to do.

He joined the British army when he was a young man, and he first came to this country in 1757, when General Abercrombie brought over an army to fight the French. For three years, Lee was engaged in the wilds and forests, doing battle with the Native Americans and French, and no doubt he had all the adventures an ordinary person would desire, but this experience was far from satisfactory.

What is General Charles Lee’s primary fault, according to the author?

Possible Answers:

He abandoned his family in the British Isles. 

He is always showing up to things late.

He is not a hard worker. 

He refuses to fight when the battle gets too intense.

He does not respect authority.

Correct answer:

He does not respect authority.

Explanation:

The author states that Lee had many positive traits, but one serious negative one: “He was a brave man and very able, but he had a fault which prevented him from being a high-class soldier: he could not bear authority and was always restive under command of another, and, while always ready to tell other people what they ought to do, was never willing to be told what he ought to do.”  The author faults Lee for being disobedient and disrespectful towards authority.

Example Question #6 : Literal Understanding In Nonfiction Passages

Adapted from Early European History by Hutton Webster (1917)

History cannot easily go back beyond written records. These alone will preserve a full and accurate account of man's achievements. Manuscripts and books form one class of written records. The old Babylonians used tablets of soft clay, on which signs were impressed with a metal instrument. The tablets were then baked hard in an oven. The Egyptians made a kind of paper out of the papyrus, a plant native to the Nile valley. The Greeks and Romans at first used papyrus, but later they employed the more lasting parchment prepared from sheepskin. Paper seems to have been a Chinese invention. It was introduced into Europe by the Arabs during the twelfth century of our era.

History, based on written records, begins in different countries at varying dates. A few manuscripts and inscriptions found in Egypt date back three or four thousand years before Christ. The annals of Babylonia are scarcely less ancient. Trustworthy records in China and India do not extend beyond 1000 B.C. For the Greeks and Romans the commencement of the historic period must be placed about 750 B.C. The inhabitants of northern Europe did not come into the light of history until about the opening of the Christian era.

What does the author think “alone will preserve a full and accurate account of man’s achievements"?

Possible Answers:

Inventions

The Egyptians 

The Chinese 

Art and architecture 

Written records 

Correct answer:

Written records 

Explanation:

In context, the author states, “History cannot easily go back beyond written records. These alone will preserve a full and accurate account of man's achievements.” In this first sentence, he establishes that it is difficult to study a history without written records of what happened. In the second sentence, he says that as a result of this, written records will preserve the story of man’s achievements. To provide further help, “records” are stories or information about what has happened.

Example Question #7 : Literal Understanding In Nonfiction Passages

"Jupiter's Moons" by Brooke Petruzzelli (2013)

The planet Jupiter has many moons. The most well known moons are the four biggest moons. The Italian astronomer, Galileo Galilei, discovered these four moons in 1610. They are named Europa, Ganymede, Callisto, and lo. The biggest of these four moons is Ganymede with a diameter of 5,262.4 km. In fact, if Ganymede were not bound to Jupiter, it would be considered a planet in its own right. Callisto is almost an exact twin of the planet Mercury, Europa is very smooth, and lo is has many active volcanoes. Although there are 57 moons that have been discovered around Jupiter, these four are the most well known.

What is the main idea of this passage?

Possible Answers:

The Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei discovered Jupiter's four biggest moons in 1610.

Jupiter's biggest moon is Ganymede.

The planet Jupiter has 57 moons.

The most well known of Jupiter's moons are the four biggest moons.

The planet lo has active volcanoes. 

Correct answer:

The most well known of Jupiter's moons are the four biggest moons.

Explanation:

Since this passage is mostly about the four biggest moons of Jupiter, this is considered the main idea. There are many specific details about the moons, but they are all related to the main idea: Jupiter has four big moons.

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