SSAT Middle Level Reading : Making Inferences in Narrative Social Science Passages

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

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Making Inferences In Narrative Social Science Passages

Adapted from The Man who Spoiled Napoleon’s Destiny by Rev. W. H. Fitchett, LL.D. (1899)

From March 18 to May 20, 1799—for more than sixty days and nights, that is—a little, half-forgotten, and more than half-ruined Syrian town was the scene of one of the fiercest and most dramatic sieges recorded in military history. And rarely has there been a struggle so apparently one-sided.

A handful of British sailors and Turkish irregulars were holding Acre, a town without regular defenses, against Napoleon, the most brilliant military genius of his generation, with an army of 10,000 war-hardened veterans, the "Army of Italy"—soldiers who had dared the snows of the Alps and conquered Italy, and to whom victory was a familiar experience. In their ranks military daring had reached, perhaps, its very highest point. And yet the sailors inside that ring of crumbling wall won! At Acre Napoleon experienced his first defeat; and, years after, at St. Helena, he said of Sir Sidney Smith, the gallant sailor who baffled him, "That man made me miss my destiny." It is a curious fact that one Englishman thwarted Napoleon's career in the East, and another ended his career in the West, and it may be doubted which of the two Napoleon hated most—Wellington, who finally overthrew him at Waterloo, or Sidney Smith, who, to use Napoleon's own words, made him "miss his destiny," and exchange the empire of the East for a lonely pinnacle of rock in the Atlantic.

What is the "destiny” that Napoleon misses out on?

Possible Answers:

To be named protector of France

To die in Syria

To live on a rock in the Atlantic

To be Emperor of the East

To be General of the Army of Italy

Correct answer:

To be Emperor of the East

Explanation:

The author says that Napoleon felt he had missed out on his destiny when Sir Sidney Smith defeats him at Acre. The author says: “. . . to use Napoleon's own words, made him "miss his destiny," and exchange the empire of the East for a lonely pinnacle of rock in the Atlantic.” Here “his destiny” is equated with “the empire of the East,” so you can infer that Napoleon’s destiny is “to be Emperor of the East.”

Example Question #2 : Making Inferences In Narrative Social Science Passages

Adapted from The Man who Spoiled Napoleon’s Destiny by Rev. W. H. Fitchett, LL.D. (1899)

From March 18 to May 20, 1799—for more than sixty days and nights, that is—a little, half-forgotten, and more than half-ruined Syrian town was the scene of one of the fiercest and most dramatic sieges recorded in military history. And rarely has there been a struggle so apparently one-sided.

A handful of British sailors and Turkish irregulars were holding Acre, a town without regular defenses, against Napoleon, the most brilliant military genius of his generation, with an army of 10,000 war-hardened veterans, the "Army of Italy"—soldiers who had dared the snows of the Alps and conquered Italy, and to whom victory was a familiar experience. In their ranks military daring had reached, perhaps, its very highest point. And yet the sailors inside that ring of crumbling wall won! At Acre Napoleon experienced his first defeat; and, years after, at St. Helena, he said of Sir Sidney Smith, the gallant sailor who baffled him, "That man made me miss my destiny." It is a curious fact that one Englishman thwarted Napoleon's career in the East, and another ended his career in the West, and it may be doubted which of the two Napoleon hated most—Wellington, who finally overthrew him at Waterloo, or Sidney Smith, who, to use Napoleon's own words, made him "miss his destiny," and exchange the empire of the East for a lonely pinnacle of rock in the Atlantic.

What can you infer about Sir Sidney Smith?

Possible Answers:

He is an ally of Napoleon.

He has never been on a boat.

He is Emperor of the East. 

He is an Englishman. 

He is a native of Acre.

Correct answer:

He is an Englishman. 

Explanation:

We know that Sir Sidney Smith has been on a boat because he is a sailor, and likewise, we know he is not an ally of Napoleon because he fights him in a battle. There is no evidence to suggest that he is from Acre or Emperor of the East. The only verifiable answer is that Sir Sidney Smith is an Englishman. The author says, “It is a curious fact that one Englishman thwarted Napoleon's career in the East, and another ended his career in the West." The Englishman that he is referring to as thwarting Napoleon in the the East is Sir Sydney Smith.

Example Question #2 : Making Inferences 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 country can you infer has a rose and a lion for its emblem?

Possible Answers:

United States of America

England

Wales

Scotland

Ireland

Correct answer:

England

Explanation:

In the second and third paragraphs the author says: “Now because the glorious stories of Wales, Scotland, and Ireland have been nearly lost in that 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.”

Here the list of Wales, Scotland, and Ireland is matched with the list of their respective emblems the leek, the thistle, and the shamrock. The only country mentioned that is not directly paired is England. Instead the author implies by default that the emblems of England are the lion and the rose.

Example Question #3 : Making Inferences In Narrative Social Science Passages

Adapted from Early European History by Hutton Webster (1917)

Henry II, who ascended the English throne in 1154 C.E., was a grandson of William the Conqueror and the first of the famous Plantagenet family, Henry spent more than half of his reign abroad, looking after his extensive possessions in France, but this fact did not prevent him from giving England good government. Three things in which all Englishmen take special pride—the courts, the jury system, and the Common law—began to take shape during Henry's reign.

Henry, first of all, developed the royal court of justice. This had been, at first, simply the court of the king's chief vassals, corresponding to the local feudal courts. Henry transformed it from an occasional assembly of warlike nobles into a regular body of trained lawyers, and at the same time opened its doors to all except serfs. In the king's court any freeman could find a justice that was cheaper and speedier than that dispensed by the feudal lords. The higher courts of England have sprung from this institution.

Henry also took measures to bring the king's justice directly to the people. He sent members of the royal court on circuit throughout the kingdom. At least once a year a judge was to hold an assembly in each county and try such cases as were brought before him. This system of circuit judges helped to make the law uniform in all parts of England.

The king's court owed much of its popularity to the fact that it employed a better form of trying cases than the old ordeal, oath-swearing, or judicial duel. Henry introduced a method of jury trial which had long been in use in Normandy. When a case came before the king's judges on circuit, they were to select twelve knights, usually neighbors of the parties engaged in the dispute, to make an investigation and give a "verdict" as to which side was in the right. These selected men bore the name of "jurors," because they swore to tell the truth. In Henry's time this method of securing justice applied only to civil cases, that is, to cases affecting land and other forms of property, but later it was extended to persons charged with criminal offenses. Thus arose the "petty jury," an institution which nearly all European peoples have borrowed from England.

Another of Henry's innovations developed into the "grand jury." Before his time, many offenders went unpunished, especially if they were so powerful that no private individual dared accuse them. Henry provided that when the king's justices came to a county court, a number of selected men should be put upon their oath and required to give the names of any persons whom they knew or believed to be guilty of crimes. Such persons were then to be arrested and tried. This "grand jury," as it came to be called, thus had the public duty of making accusations, whether its members felt any personal interest in the matter or not.

The decisions handed down by the legal experts who composed the royal court formed the basis of the English system of jurisprudence. It received the name “Common law” because it grew out of such customs as were common to the realm, as distinguished from those which were merely local. This law, from Henry's II's time, became so widespread and so firmly established that it could not be supplanted by the Roman law followed on the Continent. Carried by English colonists across the seas, it has now come to prevail throughout a great part of the world.

Which of these statements is not true?

Possible Answers:

The English legal system had little success expanding beyond English borders.

Henry II was the first member of the Plantagenet dynasty.

Henry II had possessions in France and England.

English legal practices were codified in Twelfth Century.

English Common Law is derived from the customs once shared by the whole country.

Correct answer:

The English legal system had little success expanding beyond English borders.

Explanation:

The author makes the following statement about the English legal system: “This law, from Henry's II's time, became so widespread and so firmly established that it could not be supplanted by the Roman law followed on the Continent. Carried by English colonists across the seas, it has now come to prevail throughout a great part of the world.” As it was carried across the seas and established in many other locations, it can hardly be said to have had little success expanding beyond English borders. 

Example Question #4 : Making Inferences In Narrative Social Science Passages

Adapted from Early European History by Hutton Webster (1917) 

The prehistoric period is commonly divided, according to the character of the materials used for tools and weapons, into the Age of Stone and the Age of Metals. The one is the age of savagery; the other is the age of barbarism or semi-civilization.

Man's earliest implements were those that lay ready to his hand. A branch from a tree served as a spear; a thick stick in his strong arms became a powerful club. Later, perhaps, came the use of a hard stone such as flint, which could be chipped into the forms of arrowheads, axes, and spear tips. The first stone implements were so rude in shape that it is difficult to believe them of human workmanship. They may have been made several hundred thousand years ago. After countless centuries of slow advance, early people learned to fasten wooden handles to their stone tools and weapons and also to use such materials as jade and granite, which could be ground and polished into a variety of forms. Stone implements continued to be made during the greater part of the prehistoric period. Every region of the world has had a Stone Age.  Its length is reckoned, not by centuries, but by millennia.

The Age of Metals, compared with its predecessor, covers a brief expanse of time. The use of metals came in not much before the dawn of history. The earliest civilized peoples, the Babylonians and Egyptians, when we first become acquainted with them, appear to be passing from the use of stone implements to those of metal. Copper was the first metal in common use. The credit for the invention of copper tools seems to belong to the Egyptians. At a very early date they were working the copper mines on the peninsula of Sinai. The Babylonians probably obtained their copper from the same region. Another source of this metal was the island of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean. The Greek name of the island means "copper." But copper tools were soft and would not keep an edge. Some ancient smith, more ingenious than his fellows, discovered that the addition of a small part of tin to the copper produced a new metal—bronze—harder than the old, yet capable of being molded into a variety of forms. At least as early as 3000 BCE we find bronze taking the place of copper in both Egypt and Babylonia. Somewhat later bronze was introduced into the island of Crete, then along the eastern coast of Greece, and afterwards into other European countries.

The introduction of iron occurred in comparatively recent times. At first it was a scarce, and therefore a very precious, metal. The Egyptians seem to have made little use of iron before 1500 BCE They called it "the metal of heaven," as if they obtained it from meteorites. In the Greek Homeric poems, composed about 900 BCE or later, we find iron considered so valuable that a lump of it is one of the chief prizes at athletic games. In the first five books of the Bible iron is mentioned only thirteen times, though copper and bronze are referred to forty-four times. Iron is more difficult to work than either copper or bronze, but it is vastly superior to those metals in hardness and durability. Hence it gradually displaced them throughout the greater part of the Old World.

What can you infer about iron, as opposed to bronze and copper, based on the number of times each is mentioned in the Old Testament?

Possible Answers:

Iron was more readily available than copper or bronze.

Iron was scarcer than copper or bronze.

The authors of the Bible thought that iron was less favored by God than was copper or bronze.

Iron was weaker than copper of bronze.

Iron was stronger than copper or bronze.

Correct answer:

Iron was scarcer than copper or bronze.

Explanation:

The author says, “In the first five books of the Bible iron is mentioned only thirteen times, though copper and bronze are referred to forty-four times.” From this, you could infer that copper and bronze were more common than iron during the era in which the Bible was written. In addition, earlier in the passage, the author remarks, “The introduction of iron occurred in comparatively recent times. At first it was a scarce, and therefore a very precious, metal.” To help you, “scarce” means rare.

Example Question #2 : How To Make Inferences Based On Nonfiction 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.

Based on the first paragraph, who can you infer was the intended audience for this passage?

Possible Answers:

People from France

People from Australia

People from New York

People from New Jersey

People from the British Isles

Correct answer:

People from New Jersey

Explanation:

In the first paragraph the author says, “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 suggests that this passage was taken from a larger piece about famous people from New Jersey and because the author refers to the audience in a personal and collective way, as in “make him interesting to us,” we know that the intended audience is people from the state of New Jersey.

Example Question #5 : Making Inferences In Narrative Social Science 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.

Which of these cannot be inferred from the passage?

Possible Answers:

Charles Lee was from the British Isles.

Charles Lee lived for some time in New Jersey.

Charles Lee was wounded in battle. 

Charles Lee served in the army.

During Lee’s life there was a war with the French and the Native Americans.

Correct answer:

Charles Lee was wounded in battle. 

Explanation:

We know that Lee was from the British Isles and lived in New Jersey for some time because the author tells us so. Likewise, we know that Lee served in the army and that there was a war with the French and the Native Americans because the author says, “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.” The only piece of information not directly stated by the passage is that Charles Lee was wounded in battle; there is no evidence to support this inference. 

Example Question #42 : 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.

Scipio Africanus was most likely __________.

Possible Answers:

an infantryman in Early Modern England

a technological innovator in warfare

a leader of cavalry in ancient times

a slinger

a historical general

Correct answer:

a historical general

Explanation:

This question requires you to make an inference based on the whole body of the text. The author tells you that ancient and historical warfare was akin to a “gigantic game of rock-paper-scissors.” He then tells you that “the next time you are playing rock-paper-scissors . . . you are channeling your inner Scipio Africanus.” Seeing as when you play rock-paper-scissors you have the use of all three options available to you, this is sort of like being a general with slingers, infantry, and cavalry available to you. Therefore, Scipio Africanus is unlikely to be just a member of any one of those three branches; instead, he is likely to be a leader who can employ whichever one of those three he chooses based on circumstance. Although this analogy does appear reasonably close in the text to where the author discusses technological improvements in the armed forces throughout history, there is no evidence to support that Scipio Africanus might be a “technological innovator.”

Example Question #2 : Drawing Conclusions In Social Science Passages

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

On Christmas Day, William was crowned in Westminster Abbey under the title of William the First, but he is best known as William the Conqueror. It was a strange coronation. One of the bishops who performed the ceremony asked the Normans, in French, if they would have William the Conqueror for their king. They answered "Yes." Another of the bishops put the same question to the Saxons, in English. They too answered "Yes," with a loud shout. The noise was heard by a guard of Norman horse-soldiers outside, and was mistaken for resistance on the part of the English. The guard instantly set fire to the neighboring houses, and chaos ensued, in the midst of which the king, being left alone in the abbey with a few priests (and they all being in a terrible fright together) was hurriedly crowned. When the crown was placed upon his head, he swore to govern the English as well as the best of their own monarchs. I dare say you think, as I do, that if we except the great Alfred, he might pretty easily have done that.

“Alfred” was most probably __________.

Possible Answers:

a former king of England

an attending noble at the coronation

a former Norman warrior

a former English bishop

the bishop who crowned William

Correct answer:

a former king of England

Explanation:

The author says, “When the crown was placed upon his head, he swore to govern the English as well as the best of their own monarchs. I dare say you think, as I do, that if we except the great Alfred, he might pretty easily have done that.” In context, the author is talking about how William governed the English about as well as any of their "own kings,” with the possible exception of “the great Alfred.” So, it stands to reason that “Alfred” was “a former king of England.”

Example Question #5 : Making Inferences 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.

Stephen was most likely __________.

Possible Answers:

A religious leader in England

A French soldier fighting the British

Eleanor’s previous husband

The king of England before Henry

A French king

Correct answer:

The king of England before Henry

Explanation:

In context, the author says “Henry Plantagenet . . . quietly succeeded to the throne of England, according to his agreement made with the late King at Winchester. Six weeks after Stephen’s death . . . “ The word “late” in this context means recently deceased or dead. So, you can see that the author is discussing how Henry became king after an agreement was made with the previous king who had just died. The next sentence begins by saying “after Stephen’s death,” so you can infer that Stephen was most likely the “King of England before Henry.”

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