SSAT Middle Level Reading : Determining Authorial Purpose in Literary Fiction Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #3 : Authorial Attitude, Tone, And Purpose In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (1876)

Within two minutes, or even less, he had forgotten all his troubles. Not because his troubles were one whit less heavy and bitter to him than a man's are to a man, but because a new and powerful interest bore them down and drove them out of his mind for the time—just as men's misfortunes are forgotten in the excitement of new enterprises. This new interest was a valued novelty in whistling, which he had just acquired, and he was suffering to practice it undisturbed. It consisted in a peculiar bird-like turn, a sort of liquid warble, produced by touching the tongue to the roof of the mouth at short intervals in the midst of the music—the reader probably remembers how to do it, if he has ever been a boy. Diligence and attention soon gave him the knack of it, and he strode down the street with his mouth full of harmony and his soul full of gratitude. He felt much as an astronomer feels who has discovered a new planet—no doubt, as far as strong, deep, unalloyed pleasure is concerned, the advantage was with the boy, not the astronomer.

The summer evenings were long. It was not dark, yet. Presently Tom checked his whistle. A stranger was before him—a boy a shade larger than himself. A newcomer of any age or either sex was an impressive curiosity in the poor little shabby village of St. Petersburg. This boy was well-dressed, too—well-dressed on a weekday. This was simply astounding. His cap was a dainty thing, his close-buttoned blue cloth roundabout was new and natty, and so were his pantaloons. He had shoes on—and it was only Friday. He even wore a necktie, a bright bit of ribbon. He had a citified air about him that ate into Tom's vitals. The more Tom stared at the splendid marvel, the higher he turned up his nose at his finery and the shabbier and shabbier his own outfit seemed to him to grow. Neither boy spoke. If one moved, the other moved—but only sidewise, in a circle; they kept face to face and eye to eye all the time.

The underlined part of the passage is most likely intended to __________.

Possible Answers:

distinguish the author from the narrator

foreshadow something exciting that will happen to Tom

encourage the reader to wonder about Tom's behavior

compare Tom to an astronomer

help the reader empathize with Tom and his experience

Correct answer:

help the reader empathize with Tom and his experience


The underlined part of the passage occurs when the passage is discussing the particular kind of whistling Tom is learning to do: "It consisted in a peculiar bird-like turn, a sort of liquid warble, produced by touching the tongue to the roof of the mouth at short intervals in the midst of the music—the reader probably remembers how to do it, if he has ever been a boy." The underlined part of the sentence assumes that the reader has likely learned how to whistle in this exact same way when "he" was "a boy." So, by pointing out an experience that the reader likely shares with Tom, the underlined part of the sentence is encouraging the reader to empathize with Tom, or understand his feelings.

Example Question #133 : Content Of Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from "The Three Musketeers" in Volume Sixteen of The Romances of Alexandre Dumas (1844; 1893 ed.)

As they rode along, the duke endeavored to draw from d'Artagnan not all that had happened, but what d'Artagnan himself knew. By adding all that he heard from the mouth of the young man to his own remembrances, he was enabled to form a pretty exact idea of a position of the seriousness of which, for the rest, the queen's letter, short but explicit, gave him the clue. But that which astonished him most was that the cardinal, so deeply interested in preventing this young man from setting his foot in England, had not succeeded in arresting him on the road. It was then, upon the manifestation of this astonishment, that d'Artagnan related to him the precaution taken, and how, thanks to the devotion of his three friends, whom he had left scattered and bleeding on the road, he had succeeded in coming off with a single sword thrust, which had pierced the queen's letter and for which he had repaid Monsieur de Wardes with such terrible coin. While he was listening to this recital, delivered with the greatest simplicity, the duke looked from time to time at the young man with astonishment, as if he could not comprehend how so much prudence, courage, and devotedness could be allied with a countenance which indicated not more than twenty years.

The horses went like the wind, and in a few minutes they were at the gates of London. D'Artagnan imagined that on arriving in town the duke would slacken his pace, but it was not so. He kept on his way at the same rate, heedless about upsetting those whom he met on the road. In fact, in crossing the city two or three accidents of this kind happened; but Buckingham did not even turn his head to see what became of those he had knocked down. D'Artagnan followed him amid cries which strongly resembled curses.

On entering the court of his hotel, Buckingham sprang from his horse, and without thinking what became of the animal, threw the bridle on his neck, and sprang toward the vestibule. D'Artagnan did the same, with a little more concern, however, for the noble creatures, whose merits he fully appreciated; but he had the satisfaction of seeing three or four grooms run from the kitchens and the stables, and busy themselves with the steeds.

What is the purpose of the passage's second paragraph?

Possible Answers:

It describes d'Artagnan's conversation with the duke about some previous events and a battle that occurred on the road.

It describes the journey of D'Artagnan and the duke to and through London.

It describes the duke dismounting his horse in a hurry and D'Artagnan following him inside the hotel.

It describes the scenery of London.

It describes the countryside in detail.

Correct answer:

It describes the journey of D'Artagnan and the duke to and through London.


The second paragraph begins with the sentence "The horses went like the wind, and in a few minutes they were at the gates of London," so it describes the progress of d'Artagnan and Buckingham traveling to London. The rest of the paragraph describes their progress through London; they do not slow down and as a result run into people, who shout at them. This makes the correct answer "It describes the journey of d'Artagnan and the duke to and through London." Some of the other answer choices refer to the passage's first and third paragraphs, so it is especially important to consider the correct paragraph.

Example Question #2 : Style Choices In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908)

The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters, then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash, 'till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said "Bother!" and "O blow!" and also "Hang spring cleaning!" and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat. Something up above was calling him imperiously, and he made for the steep little tunnel which answered in his case to the gaveled carriage-drive owned by animals whose residences are nearer to the sun and air. So he scraped and scratched and scrabbled and scrooged and then he scrooged again and scrabbled and scratched and scraped, working busily with his little paws and muttering to himself, "Up we go! Up we go!" 'till at last, pop! His snout came out into the sunlight, and he found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow.

"This is fine!" he said to himself. "This is better than whitewashing!" The sunshine struck hot on his fur, soft breezes caressed his heated brow, and after the seclusion of the cellarage he had lived in so long, the carol of happy birds fell on his dulled hearing almost like a shout. Jumping off all his four legs at once, in the joy of living and the delight of spring without its cleaning, he pursued his way across the meadow 'till he reached the hedge on the further side.

"Hold up!" said an elderly rabbit at the gap. "Sixpence for the privilege of passing by the private road!" He was bowled over in an instant by the impatient and contemptuous Mole, who trotted along the side of the hedge chaffing the other rabbits as they peeped hurriedly from their holes to see what the row was about. "Onion-sauce! Onion-sauce!" he remarked jeeringly, and was gone before they could think of a thoroughly satisfactory reply. Then they all started grumbling at each other. "How STUPID you are! Why didn't you tell him—" "Well, why didn't YOU say—" "You might have reminded him—" and so on, in the usual way; but, of course, it was then much too late, as is always the case.

What effect does the author's use of repetition have in the lines underlined in the passage?

Possible Answers:

The repetition suggests that the mole gets lost on his way from his home to the surface.

The repetition is meant to confuse the reader, just as the mole is confused on his way to the surface.

The repetition emphasizes how long and how much energy it takes the mole to burrow to the surface.

The repetition doesn't affect the reader's perception of the story at all; the author is just having fun with language.

The repetition emphasizes how busily the mole worked while spring cleaning his home.

Correct answer:

The repetition emphasizes how long and how much energy it takes the mole to burrow to the surface.


The author's repetition of the words "scraped," "scratched," "scrabbled," and "scrooged" emphasize the amount of work that the mole has to do to burrow to the surface. If the author only used one of these words, it would seem as if it didn't take the mole that much time or energy to burrow to the surface. Repetition draws out and highlights this moment in the text.

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