SSAT Middle Level Reading : Determining Authorial Tone in Argumentative Social Science Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Determining Authorial Tone In Argumentative Social Science Passages

Adapted from Young People’s History of the War with Spain by Prescott Holmes (1900)

On April 21st, 1898, a war began between the United States and Spain. All the other countries of the world felt an interest in it but did not take any part in it. They were what we call "neutral" and did not help either side. As soon as the war was declared, a great wave of excitement swept through the United States from shore to shore. Flags were hung out in every city and town; thousands of men offered to serve in the army—volunteers, they were called—and many persons offered to help in other ways. The people were dispirited that war had begun, but they soon felt that their country was doing right and that they ought to support the war effort.

And what was the cause of the war? Spain, a large country across the Atlantic Ocean in the southwestern part of Europe, owned some of the islands called "West Indies" near the United States. Spain had been unjust and cruel to the people living in one of these islands for many years. Several times, the unhappy islanders tried to drive the Spanish from the island and set up a government of their own, but Spain sent so many soldiers there that they could not get their freedom. They fought bravely, however, but matters kept getting worse and worse. Spain sent a very cruel general to take charge of affairs on the island. His name was Weyler and he was determined to conquer the islanders. After a while, he found he could not do it by fighting them, so he sent his soldiers to drive those who were not fighting away from their homes and farms and make them live in or near the large cities. After he did this, the people had no way to earn money for food and soon began to get sick and die of starvation. The cruel Weyler would not give them anything to eat and so they died by the thousands. Americans were faced with the choice of standing idly by whilst thousands perished or risking American lives in a difficult war.

Which of these best summarizes the tone of this passage?

Possible Answers:

Fearful

Subjective

Gregarious

Objective

Dismayed

Correct answer:

Subjective

Explanation:

This passage was written in America only two years after war had broken out between American and Spain. This suggests that too little time could have passed for the author to reach an unbiased, impartial verdict. The passage confirms this throughout, such as in the first paragraph where the author states, “but they soon felt that their country was doing right and that they ought to support the war effort” or in the second paragraph when the author states, “Americans were faced with the choice of standing idly by whilst thousands perished or risking American lives in a difficult war." These two statements are very supportive of the American cause, which suggests that the author was “subjective,” meaning biased. To provide further help, "objective" means unbiased, it is the opposite of "subjective;" "gregarious" means sociable; "dismayed" means saddened, hopeless.

Example Question #2 : Determining Authorial Tone In Argumentative Social Science Passages

"The Modern Day vs. the 'Good 'Ol Days'" by Daniel Morrison (2014)

You may have, at one time or another, in your life, heard an elderly person bemoan the violence of our times and express a yearning for the “good ol’ days” of his or her youth. We might reasonably wonder what bygone era would be better than these days we live in. The days when children were considered lucky to make it past their fifth birthday? The days when the entire planet convulsed to the imperial and militaristic urges of the European powers? The days when the specter of nuclear war hung over every man, woman, and child?

The truth of the matter is we live in the most relatively peaceful time period in human history. Death by infectious disease is no longer the norm for everyone; the survival rate for children continues to grow around the world; and conflict, the type which involves and threatens the civilian population, is now the exception rather than the rule. Of course, none of these things have been eradicated from our society. Such a complete elimination of disease, violence, and death may never be possible. But, statistics from human history track one almost entirely uninterrupted progression—from almost everyone dying a violent or disease-ridden death to a small and unfortunate minority. Next time you hear someone claim a desire to return to the exalted days of their youth, kindly advise them to stop their misguided nostalgia and start contributing to the onward march of humanity.

The primary tone of this passage is __________.

Possible Answers:

soothing and calming

whimsical and apathetic

remorseful and lamenting

optimistic and humorous

disparaging and urging

Correct answer:

disparaging and urging

Explanation:

The primary tone of this essay is a combination of “disparaging” towards those who long for the days of the past and who prevent "the onward march of humanity" and “urging.” The “disparaging” (mocking) tone can most clearly be seen in the author’s comments and questions directed at his opposition. The “urging” tone can be seen most clearly in the concluding lines where the author says “Next time you hear someone claim a desire to return to the exalted days of their youth, kindly advise them to stop their misguided reminiscence and start contributing to the onward march of humanity.” To provide further help, “urging” means forcefully encouraging; “whimsical” means silly and quirky; “soothing” means calming; “remorseful” means expressing sorrow about some past wrong; “humorous” means very funny; “optimistic” means hopeful about the future; and “lamenting” means mourning or expressing sorrow about.

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