SSAT Middle Level Reading : Determining Authorial Purpose in Narrative Social Science Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Determining Authorial Purpose In Narrative Social Science Passages

Adapted from "The Great Red Dragon of Wales" in Welsh Fairy Tales (1921) by William Elliot Griffis.

Every old country that has won fame in history and built up a civilization of its own has a national flower. Besides this, some living creature, bird, or beast, or, it may be, a fish is on its flag. In places of honor, it stands as the emblem of the nation; that is, of the people, apart from the land they live on. Besides flag and symbol, it has a motto. That of Wales is: "Awake: It is light."

Now because the glorious stories of Wales, Scotland, and Ireland have been nearly lost in those of mighty England, men have at times, almost forgotten about the leek, the thistle, and the shamrock, which stand for the other three divisions of the British Isles.

Yet each of these peoples has a history as noble as that of which the rose and the lion are the emblems. Each has also its patron saint and civilizer. So we have Saint George, Saint David, Saint Andrew, and Saint Patrick, all of them white-souled heroes. On the union flag, or standard of the United Kingdom, we see their three crosses.

The lion of England, the harp of Ireland, the thistle of Scotland, and the Red Dragon of Wales represent the four peoples in the British Isles, each with its own speech, traditions, and emblems; yet all in unity and in loyalty.

Which of these statements best summarizes the purpose of this passage?

Possible Answers:

"The lion of England, the harp of Ireland, the thistle of Scotland, and the Red Dragon of Wales represent the four peoples in the British Isles."

"So we have Saint George, Saint David, Saint Andrew, and Saint Patrick . . ."

"Yet each of these peoples has a history as noble as that of which the rose and the lion are the emblems."

"In places of honor, it stands as the emblem of the nation."

"Every old country that has won fame in history and built up a civilization of its own has a national flower."

Correct answer:

"Yet each of these peoples has a history as noble as that of which the rose and the lion are the emblems."

Explanation:

The main purpose of this passage is to argue that the other nations of the British Isles, particularly Wales, have histories and traditions of equal greatness and importance as England. The author summarizes this notion at the end of the second paragraph and the beginnng of the third paragraph, most obviously with this excerpt: "Yet each of these peoples has a history as noble as that of which the rose and the lion are the emblems."

Example Question #2 : Narrative Social Science Passages

Adapted from Early European History Hutton Webster (1917)

It was the work of Darius to provide for his dominions a stable government which should preserve what the sword had won. The problem was difficult. The empire was a collection of many people widely different in race, language, customs, and religion. Darius did not attempt to weld the conquered nations into unity. As long as the subjects of Persia paid tribute and furnished troops for the royal army, they were allowed to conduct their own affairs with little interference from the Great King.

The entire empire, excluding Persia proper, was divided into twenty satrapies, or provinces, each one with its civil governor, or satrap. The satraps carried out the laws and collected the heavy tribute annually levied throughout the empire. In most of the provinces there were also military governors who commanded the army and reported directly to the king. This device of entrusting the civil and military functions to separate officials lessened the danger of revolts against the Persian authority. As an additional precaution Darius provided special agents whose business it was to travel from province to province and investigate the conduct of his officials. It became a proverb that "the king has many eyes and many ears."

Darius also established a system of military roads throughout the Persian dominions. The roads were provided at frequent intervals with inns, where postmen stood always in readiness to take up a letter and carry it to the next station. The Royal Road from Susa, the Persian capital, to Sardis in Lydia was over fifteen hundred miles long; but government couriers, using relays of fresh horses, could cover the distance within a week. An old Greek writer declares with admiration that "there is nothing mortal more swift than these messengers."

The underlined proverb “the king has many eyes and many ears” is intended to demonstrate what?

Possible Answers:

The extent of Darius’ control 

The belief that Darius was a divine being

The fear that Darius inspired in his people

The wisdom and benevolence of the king

The malevolence and diabolical nature of the king 

Correct answer:

The extent of Darius’ control 

Explanation:

The revelation that it became a proverb to say “the king has many eyes and many ears” is offered immediately after an account of the extent of Darius’ power and control in the Persian Empire. For example, the preceding sentence says, “As an additional precaution, Darius provided special agents whose business it was to travel from province to province and investigate the conduct of his officials.” Therefore, when the author reveals this proverb he is intending to add a little color to his portrayal of the extent of Darius’ control. 

Example Question #1 : Determining Authorial Purpose In Narrative Social Science Passages

Adapted from "Crossing the Rubicon" in History of Julius Caesar by Jacob Abbott (1902)

There was a little stream in ancient times, in the north of Italy, which flowed eastward into the Adriatic Sea, called the Rubicon. This stream has been immortalized by the transactions which we are now about to describe.

The Rubicon was a very important boundary, and yet it was in itself so small and insignificant that it is now impossible to determine which of two or three little brooks here running into the sea is entitled to its name and renown. In history the Rubicon is a grand, permanent, and conspicuous stream, gazed upon with continued interest by all mankind for nearly twenty centuries; in nature it is an uncertain rivulet, for a long time doubtful and undetermined, and finally lost.

The Rubicon originally derived its importance from the fact that it was the boundary between all that part of the north of Italy which is formed by the valley of the Po, one of the richest and most magnificent countries of the world, and the more southern Roman territories. This country of the Po constituted what was in those days called the hither Gaul, and was a Roman province. It belonged now to Cæsar's jurisdiction, as the commander in Gaul. All south of the Rubicon was territory reserved for the immediate jurisdiction of the city. The Romans, in order to protect themselves from any danger which might threaten their own liberties from the immense armies which they raised for the conquest of foreign nations, had imposed on every side very strict limitations and restrictions in respect to the approach of these armies to the capital. The Rubicon was the limit on this northern side. Generals commanding in Gaul were never to pass it. To cross the Rubicon with an army on the way to Rome was rebellion and treason. Hence the Rubicon became, as it were, the visible sign and symbol of civil restriction to military power.

Why does the author discuss the geographical nature of the Rubicon at the beginning of the second paragraph? 

Possible Answers:

To illustrate how close the river was to the city of Rome

To demonstrate how simple it would have been for Caesar to cross the river

To contrast the smallness of its actual size with the massive effect it has had on history

To discuss the logistical problems faced by Caesar’s army

To defend against allegations that Caesar was an abhorrent tyrant

Correct answer:

To contrast the smallness of its actual size with the massive effect it has had on history

Explanation:

The author discusses the geographic smallness of the river to contrast the river's size with its historical significance. Immediately after remarking on the smallness of the river, the author states, “In history the Rubicon is a grand, permanent, and conspicuous stream, gazed upon with continued interest by all mankind for nearly twenty centuries; in nature it is an uncertain rivulet, for a long time doubtful and undetermined, and finally lost.” To provide further help, “conspicuous” means striking or easily noticed, and “rivulet” means small river.

Example Question #2 : Authorial Attitude, Tone, And Purpose In Narrative Social Science Passages

"The Units of Ancient Warfare" by Daniel Morrison (2014)

The armies of the ancient world were generally composed of three distinct units who faced off against each other in a gigantic game of rock-paper-scissors. These were the infantry, cavalry, and slingers. The heavily armored but slow-moving infantry were able to fend off the cavalry with their long pikes, but were sitting ducks for the fast moving slingers who carried only a sling and a bag of small rocks. The slingers in turn were great at taking down infantry as they could out-maneuver them and never get bogged down in hand-to-hand combat, but were easily decimated by the rapidly advancing cavalry.

In this manner the history of warfare progressed for several thousand years. The slingers were replaced by archers, and then by heavily artillery; the cavalry constantly advanced in tactical awareness and arms; and the infantry progressed from swordsmen, to pikemen, to riflemen. Next time you are playing rock-paper-scissors to decide who gets the last slice of pizza, don’t forget that you are channeling your inner Scipio Africanus.  

The author’s underlined comment is most likely intended to add __________ to the passage.

Possible Answers:

impact

arrogance

presumption

gravity

humor

Correct answer:

humor

Explanation:

The passage as a whole is primarily academic and serious in tone; however, this comment contextualizes the lesson in a manner that the author probably considers relatable to the audience. Based on the contrast between the seriousness of the subject matter and the lightness of the battle over who gets the last slice of pizza, you can reasonably determine that the author is trying to inject “humor” into the lesson. “Gravity,” in this context, means significance or importance; “presumption” means assuming something to be true before you know the facts.

Example Question #44 : Evaluative Understanding In Nonfiction Passages

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

As great and good in peace as he was great and good in war, King Alfred never rested from his labors to improve his people. He loved to talk with clever men and travelers from foreign countries and to write down what they told him for his people to read. He had studied Latin after learning to read English, and now another of his labors was to translate Latin books into the English-Saxon tongue, that his people might be interested and improved by their contents. He made just laws, that they might live more happily and freely; he turned away all partial judges, that no wrong might be done them; he was so careful of their property, and punished robbers so severely that it was a common thing to say that under the great King Alfred, garlands of golden chains and jewels might have hung across the streets, and no man would have touched one. He founded schools, and he patiently heard causes himself in his Court of Justice. The great desires of his heart were, to do right to all his subjects, and to leave England better, wiser, and happier in all ways than he found it. His industry in these efforts was quite astonishing. Every day he divided into certain portions, and in each portion devoted himself to a certain pursuit. That he might divide his time exactly, he had wax torches or candles made, which were all of the same size, were notched across at regular distances, and were always kept burning. Thus, as the candles burnt down, he divided the day into notches, almost as accurately as we now divide it into hours upon the clock. But when the candles were first invented, it was found that the wind and draughts of air, blowing into the palace through the doors and windows and through the chinks in the walls, caused them to gutter and burn unequally. To prevent this, the King had them put into cases formed of wood and white horn. And these were the first lanterns ever made in England.

All this time, he was afflicted with a terrible unknown disease, which caused him violent and frequent pain that nothing could relieve. He bore it, as he had borne all the troubles of his life, like a brave good man, until he was fifty-three years old; and then, having reigned thirty years, he died. He died in the year nine hundred and one; but, long ago as that is, his fame, and the love and gratitude with which his subjects regarded him, are freshly remembered to the present hour.

The author’s statement that “garlands of golden chains and jewels might have hung across the streets, and no man would have touched one” is primarily meant __________.

Possible Answers:

exaggerate the wealth of the common man in England

undermine claims by other historians that King Alfred was not rich

demonstrate how lenient King Alfred was toward robbers

highlight how safe from crime people felt under King Alfred

show how wealthy the population grew under the wise rule of King Alfred

Correct answer:

highlight how safe from crime people felt under King Alfred

Explanation:

The author states that King Alfred "punished robbers so severely that it was a common thing to say that under the great King Alfred, garlands of golden chains and jewels might have hung across the streets, and no man would have touched one.” The fact that it is said people were able to hang jewels in the streets shows that the people felt safe that no one would try to steal them; so, this statement allows the author to demonstrate how Alfred changed the laws of the land to make people feel “safe from crime.”

Example Question #3 : Narrative Social Science Passages

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

As great and good in peace as he was great and good in war, King Alfred never rested from his labors to improve his people. He loved to talk with clever men and travelers from foreign countries and to write down what they told him for his people to read. He had studied Latin after learning to read English, and now another of his labors was to translate Latin books into the English-Saxon tongue, that his people might be interested and improved by their contents. He made just laws, that they might live more happily and freely; he turned away all partial judges, that no wrong might be done them; he was so careful of their property, and punished robbers so severely that it was a common thing to say that under the great King Alfred, garlands of golden chains and jewels might have hung across the streets, and no man would have touched one. He founded schools, and he patiently heard causes himself in his Court of Justice. The great desires of his heart were, to do right to all his subjects, and to leave England better, wiser, and happier in all ways than he found it. His industry in these efforts was quite astonishing. Every day he divided into certain portions, and in each portion devoted himself to a certain pursuit. That he might divide his time exactly, he had wax torches or candles made, which were all of the same size, were notched across at regular distances, and were always kept burning. Thus, as the candles burnt down, he divided the day into notches, almost as accurately as we now divide it into hours upon the clock. But when the candles were first invented, it was found that the wind and draughts of air, blowing into the palace through the doors and windows and through the chinks in the walls, caused them to gutter and burn unequally. To prevent this, the King had them put into cases formed of wood and white horn. And these were the first lanterns ever made in England.

All this time, he was afflicted with a terrible unknown disease, which caused him violent and frequent pain that nothing could relieve. He bore it, as he had borne all the troubles of his life, like a brave good man, until he was fifty-three years old; and then, having reigned thirty years, he died. He died in the year nine hundred and one; but, long ago as that is, his fame, and the love and gratitude with which his subjects regarded him, are freshly remembered to the present hour.

The information that King Alfred suffered from a “terrible unknown disease” is meant to highlight __________.

Possible Answers:

Alfred’s inability to focus on himself

Alfred’s resolve and virtue

the lack of medical knowledge in the time period being discussed

the abundance of disease in England during the medieval period

the lack of doctors in Alfred’s English kingdom

Correct answer:

Alfred’s resolve and virtue

Explanation:

Throughout the passage, the author highlights how hard-working, determined, and virtuous King Alfred was. When discussing Alfred's “terrible unknown disease,” the author says, “All this time, he was afflicted with a terrible unknown disease, which caused him violent and frequent pain that nothing could relieve. He bore it, as he had borne all the troubles of his life, like a brave good man, until he was fifty-three years old." So, you can infer that the author would is portraying Alfred as “resolute” (determined) and “virtuous” (good). The author says that he “bore” (suffered through) his disease “like a brave good man.” Taken altogether, this means that this part of the passage highlight's "Alfred's resolve and virtue."

Example Question #3 : Authorial Attitude, Tone, And Purpose In Narrative Social Science Passages

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

Henry Plantagenet, when he was but twenty-one years old, quietly succeeded to the throne of England, according to his agreement made with the late king at Winchester. Six weeks after Stephen’s death, he and his queen, Eleanor, were crowned in that city, into which they rode on horseback in great state, side by side, amidst much shouting and rejoicing, and clashing of music, and strewing of flowers.

The reign of King Henry the Second began well. The king had great possessions, and (with his own property, and with that of his wife) was lord of one-third part of France. He was a young man of strength, ability, and determination, and immediately applied himself to remove some of the evils which had arisen in the last unhappy reign. He took away all the grants of land that had been hastily made, on either side, during the recent struggles; he forced numbers of disorderly soldiers to depart from England; he reclaimed all the castles belonging to the crown; and he forced the wicked nobles to pull down their own castles, to the number of eleven hundred, in which such dismal cruelties had been inflicted on the people.  

The king’s brother, Geoffrey, rose against him in France and forced Henry to wage a war in France. After he had subdued and made a friendly arrangement with his brother (who did not live long), his ambition to increase his possessions involved him in a war with the French king, Louis. He had been on such friendly terms with the French king just before, that to his infant daughter, then a baby in the cradle, he had promised one of his little sons in marriage, who was a child of five years old. However, the war came to nothing at last, and the Pope made the two kings friends again.

Why does the author call the underlined nobles “wicked” near the end of the second paragraph?

Possible Answers:

Because they had turned against the king

Because they had abandoned their religion

Because they had tortured the common people

Because they had refused to fight against the French

Because they were unable to provide food and protection for the people

Correct answer:

Because they had tortured the common people

Explanation:

Answering this question requires you to read in context and to understand the meanings of a few challenging words. In context, the author says that Henry "forced the wicked nobles to pull down their own castles . . . in which such dismal cruelties had been inflicted on the people.” “Dismal” means gloomy and depressing and “been inflicted on” means done to. So, the author is saying that the nobles were “wicked” because they had done gloomy and horrible things to the people, or “they had tortured the common people.”

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