SSAT Middle Level Reading : Finding Context-Dependent Meanings of Phrases in Narrative Humanities Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #64 : Humanities Passages

Passage adapted from "Of One Defect in Our Government" in Essays of Michael, Seigneur de Montaigne in The Complete Works of Michael de Montaigne (1580, trans. C. Cotton, ed. W. Hazlitt 1842)

My late father, a man that had no other advantages than experience and his own natural parts, was nevertheless of a very clear judgment, formerly told me that he once had thoughts of endeavoring to introduce this practice; that there might be in every city a certain place assigned to which such as stood in need of anything might repair, and have their business entered by an officer appointed for that purpose. As for example: I want a chapman to buy my pearls; I want one that has pearls to sell; such a one wants company to go to Paris; such a one seeks a servant of such a quality; such a one a master; such a one such an artificer; some inquiring for one thing, some for another, every one according to what he wants. And doubtless, these mutual advertisements would be of no contemptible advantage to the public correspondence and intelligence: for there are evermore conditions that hunt after one another, and for want of knowing one another's occasions leave men in very great necessity.

I have heard, to the great shame of the age we live in, that in our very sight two most excellent men for learning died so poor that they had scarce bread to put in their mouths: Lilius Gregorius Giraldus in Italy and Sebastianus Castalio in Germany: and I believe there are a thousand men would have invited them into their families, with very advantageous conditions, or have relieved them where they were, had they known their wants. The world is not so generally corrupted, but that I know a man that would heartily wish the estate his ancestors have left him might be employed, so long as it shall please fortune to give him leave to enjoy it, to secure rare and remarkable persons of any kind, whom misfortune sometimes persecutes to the last degree, from the dangers of necessity; and at least place them in such a condition that they must be very hard to please, if they are not contented.

My father in his domestic economy had this rule (which I know how to commend, but by no means to imitate), namely, that besides the day-book or memorial of household affairs, where the small accounts, payments, and disbursements, which do not require a secretary's hand, were entered, and which a steward always had in custody, he ordered him whom he employed to write for him, to keep a journal, and in it to set down all the remarkable occurrences, and daily memorials of the history of his house: very pleasant to look over, when time begins to wear things out of memory, and very useful sometimes to put us out of doubt when such a thing was begun, when ended; what visitors came, and when they went; our travels, absences, marriages, and deaths; the reception of good or ill news; the change of principal servants, and the like. An ancient custom, which I think it would not be amiss for every one to revive in his own house; and I find I did very foolishly in neglecting it.

Based on context, what is the meaning of the underlined clause “he ordered him whom he employed to write for him”?

Possible Answers:

the narrator's father ordered one of his servants to write for himself

the narrator's father's servant ordered the narrator's father to write for the narrator

the narrator's father's servant ordered the narrator's father to write for the narrator's father's servant

the narrator's father ordered one of his servants to write for the narrator's father

the narrator ordered one of the narrator's father's servants to write for the narrator's father

Correct answer:

the narrator's father ordered one of his servants to write for the narrator's father

Explanation:

Answering this question correctly requires you to read in context very carefully in order to determine the antecedents of each of the pronouns involved in the specified clause. Let's figure out each one in turn. The first "he" refers to "My father," as it is part of the sentence that begins with "My father," so he is still the subject of the sentence. Don't be confused by phrase "and which a steward always had in custody" that immediately precedes the selection!

So, so far we have "[the narrator's father] ordered him whom he employed to write for him." The "him whom he employed" is signifying employees of the narrator's father, and since we know that the narrator's father employs servants, we can replace "him whom he employed" with "one of the narrator's father's servants" and be accurate. So, we now have "[the narrator's father] ordered [one of his servants] to write for him."

This reduces the potentially correct answer choices to "the narrator's father ordered one of his servants to write for the narrator's father" and "the narrator's father ordered one of his servants to write for himself." Well, if it were the latter answer, the sentence would need to say "himself," in order to refer reflexively to the servant. That means that "the narrator's father ordered one of his servants to write for the narrator's father" is the correct answer.

Example Question #71 : Ssat Middle Level Reading Comprehension

Passage adapted from the Preface to The Woman in White (1859) by Wilkie Collins

One word more, before I conclude, in acknowledgment of the heavy debt of gratitude which I owe to the reading public. It is no affectation on my part to say that the success of this book has been especially welcome to me, because it implied the recognition of a literary principle which has guided me since I first addressed my readers in the character of a novelist.

I have always held the old-fashioned opinion that the primary object of a work of fiction should be to tell a story; and I have never believed that the novelist who properly performed this first condition of his art, was in danger, on that account, of neglecting the delineation of character — for this plain reason, that the effect produced by any narrative of events is essentially dependent, not on the events themselves, but on the human interest which is directly connected with them. It may be possible, in novel-writing, to present characters successfully without telling a story; but it is not possible to tell a story successfully without presenting characters; their existence, as recognisable realities, being the sole condition on which the story can be effectively told. The only narrative which can hope to lay a strong hold on the attention of readers, is a narrative which interests them about men and women — for the perfectly obvious reason that they are men and women themselves.

The phrase "primary object" is closest in meaning to __________.

Possible Answers:

essential purpose

main character

central theme

first printing

Correct answer:

essential purpose

Explanation:

"Primary" is an adjective that means of chief importance. "Object" is a noun with many possible meanings, one of which is a goal or purpose. This is useful information, but we don't necessarily have to know that in order to find the best answer. 

We're looking for a phrase that explains the relationship between fiction and telling stories. Try inserting each phrase into the blank of the following sentence: the [blank] of fiction is to tell a story. Which answer makes the most sense? We can eliminate "central theme" and "main character" because these are components of stories themselves, not explanations of the relationship between fiction and telling stories. We can also eliminate "first printing"; this could refer to an event, the first time the book was printed, or it could refer to a physical book produced during that event, but again it doesn't explain the relationship between fiction and telling stories. "Essential purpose" has the closest meaning.

Example Question #72 : Ssat Middle Level Reading Comprehension

Passage adapted from the Preface to The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1902) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Some few words on the chronology of these stories may not be out of place. The first of them, "A Study in Scarlet," published in '87, was the very first separate booklet of mine that ever appeared. "The Sign of Four" followed two years later. Then, in ‘91, the “Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” began to appear in the “Strand Magazine.” The public having shown them some favour I was persuaded to continue them into another series, “The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes,” which came to an end in 1893. That it was an end, and that I had no intention of abusing the patience of the public, was shown by the last story in which, wisely or unwisely, I brought my hero as well as my stories to an end. The subject had begun to weary me, and it seemed to me that, while there was no reason to be ashamed of doing detective stories, it was unjustifiable that I should allow myself to be tempted into doing nothing else. “The Hounds of Baskerville” represents the inevitable relapse after repentance.

In the context of this passage, the phrase "my hero" most likely refers to _____________.

Possible Answers:

the main character from the author's favorite book

a person the author admires

a person who once helped the author

the main character in the author's stories

Correct answer:

the main character in the author's stories

Explanation:

When people say "my hero," they often refer to a person they admire. However, since we're reading a passage about writing stories, we should be aware of the possibility that the author is talking about a character in a story. This possibility is likely, since the author uses the phrase in the sentence, "I bought my hero as well as my stories to an end." Of the answer choices, only one of them is within the author's control to "end": "The main character in the author's stories" is the best answer.

Example Question #73 : Ssat Middle Level Reading Comprehension

Passage adapted from the Preface to The Woman in White (1859) by Wilkie Collins

One word more, before I conclude, in acknowledgment of the heavy debt of gratitude which I owe to the reading public. It is no affectation on my part to say that the success of this book has been especially welcome to me, because it implied the recognition of a literary principle which has guided me since I first addressed my readers in the character of a novelist.

I have always held the old-fashioned opinion that the primary object of a work of fiction should be to tell a story; and I have never believed that the novelist who properly performed this first condition of his art, was in danger, on that account, of neglecting the delineation of character — for this plain reason, that the effect produced by any narrative of events is essentially dependent, not on the events themselves, but on the human interest which is directly connected with them. It may be possible, in novel-writing, to present characters successfully without telling a story; but it is not possible to tell a story successfully without presenting characters; their existence, as recognisable realities, being the sole condition on which the story can be effectively told. The only narrative which can hope to lay a strong hold on the attention of readers, is a narrative which interests them about men and women — for the perfectly obvious reason that they are men and women themselves.

In this passage, the phrase "men and women" refers to _____________.

Possible Answers:

First readers, then characters.

First characters, then readers. 

First readers, then writers.

First authors, then readers.

Correct answer:

First characters, then readers. 

Explanation:

If we follow the subject of the sentence: "The only narrative which can hope to lay a strong hold on the attention of readers, is a narrative which interests them about men and women — for the perfectly obvious reason that they are men and women themselves."

We can see that "them" refers to readers, and therefore "they are men and women" also refers to the readers. So we know that the second instance of the phrase "men and women" refers to readers. Now all we have to do is figure out whether the first instance of the phrase "men and women" refers to authors or characters. Since the previous sentences in the passage discuss the role of characters in telling stories and interest in readers, "Characters, then readers" is the correct answer.

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