SSAT Middle Level Reading : Understanding and Evaluating Opinions and Arguments in Literary Fiction Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #92 : Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from Daisy Miller by Henry James (1879)

The young lady inspected her flounces and smoothed her ribbons again; and Winterbourne presently risked an observation upon the beauty of the view. He was ceasing to be embarrassed, for he had begun to perceive that she was not in the least embarrassed herself. There had not been the slightest alteration in her charming complexion; she was evidently neither offended nor flattered. If she looked another way when he spoke to her, and seemed not particularly to hear him, this was simply her habit, her manner. Yet, as he talked a little more and pointed out some of the objects of interest in the view, with which she appeared quite unacquainted, she gradually gave him more of the benefit of her glance; and then he saw that this glance was perfectly direct and unshrinking. It was not, however, what would have been called an immodest glance, for the young girl's eyes were singularly honest and fresh. They were wonderfully pretty eyes; and, indeed, Winterbourne had not seen for a long time anything prettier than his fair countrywoman's various features—her complexion, her nose, her ears, her teeth. He had a great relish for feminine beauty; he was addicted to observing and analyzing it; and as regards this young lady's face he made several observations. It was not at all insipid, but it was not exactly expressive; and though it was eminently delicate, Winterbourne mentally accused it—very forgivingly—of a want of finish. He thought it very possible that Master Randolph's sister was a coquette; he was sure she had a spirit of her own; but in her bright, sweet, superficial little visage there was no mockery, no irony. Before long it became obvious that she was much disposed toward conversation. She told him that they were going to Rome for the winter—she and her mother and Randolph. She asked him if he was a "real American"; she shouldn't have taken him for one; he seemed more like a German—this was said after a little hesitation—especially when he spoke. Winterbourne, laughing, answered that he had met Germans who spoke like Americans, but that he had not, so far as he remembered, met an American who spoke like a German. Then he asked her if she should not be more comfortable in sitting upon the bench which he had just quitted. She answered that she liked standing up and walking about; but she presently sat down. She told him she was from New York State—"if you know where that is." Winterbourne learned more about her by catching hold of her small, slippery brother and making him stand a few minutes by his side.

The woman in this passage can best be described as _________.

Possible Answers:

None of the other answers

rude

antisocial

quiet

sullen

Correct answer:

None of the other answers

Explanation:

The author describes the woman at relative length. He nowhere suggests that she is "sullen," "rude," or "antisocial," especially as these are all terms with negative connotations and she is portrayed positively, or at least neutrally. As for the suggestion that she is "quiet," the passage describes her as being "much disposed toward conversation," so this cannot be the correct answer. So, "None of the other answers" is the correct answer.

Example Question #51 : Context Dependent Meanings Of Words And Phrases 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.

Which of the following does the last sentence of the passage's first paragraph suggest?

Possible Answers:

Tom is upset for the same reasons as an astronomer might be.

Astronomers often learn to whistle.

Tom is likely not quite as happy as an astronomer who has discovered a new planet.

Tom has just discovered a new planet.

Tom is likely happier than an astronomer who has discovered a new planet.

Correct answer:

Tom is likely happier than an astronomer who has discovered a new planet.

Explanation:

The last line of the passage's first paragraph is, "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." Let's analyze this line in detail. The first part of the line, "He felt much as an astronomer feels who has discovered a new planet," tells us that Tom feels as happy as an astronomer who has discovered a new planet. The rest of the line develops this comparison further, by telling us that "as far as strong, deep, unalloyed pleasure is concerned, the advantage was with the boy, not the astronomer." In other words, this latter part of the line is saying that Tom was not only as happy as the hypothetical astronomer, but likely actually happier, as he has "the advantage" "as far as strong, deep, unalloyed pleasure is concerned." So, the correct answer is "Tom is likely happier than an astronomer who has discovered a new planet."

Example Question #1 : Understanding And Evaluating Opinions And Arguments 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.

Which of the following is a comparison that the passage makes between Tom and the new boy?

Possible Answers:

Able to swim vs. unable to swim

Older vs. younger

Able to whistle vs. unable to whistle

American vs. European

Dressed in fancy clothing vs. dressed in unremarkable clothing

Correct answer:

Dressed in fancy clothing vs. dressed in unremarkable clothing

Explanation:

Nothing in the passage tells us whether Tom and/or the new boy are American or European. While we know that Tom can whistle, we don't know whether or not the new boy can whistle. While the new boy is said to be "a shade larger than" Tom, we don't know if he is any older than Tom. Nothing is mentioned about either boy knowing or not knowing how to swim. The passage's second paragraph focuses instead on how each boy is dressed—specifically, how the new boy is dressed in clothes that are fancier than Tom's.

Example Question #91 : Literary Fiction

Adapted from The Fight at the Pass of Thermopylæ by Charlotte M. Yonge (1876)

The troops sent for this purpose were from different cities, and amounted to about 4,000 who were to keep the pass against two millions. The leader of them was Leonidas, who had newly become one of the two kings of Sparta, the city that above all in Greece trained its sons to be hardy soldiers, dreading death infinitely less than shame. Leonidas had already made up his mind that the expedition would probably be his death, perhaps because a prophecy had been given at the Temple at Delphi that Sparta should be saved by the death of one of her kings of the race of Hercules. He was allowed by law to take with him 300 men, and these he chose most carefully, not merely for their strength and valor, but selecting those who had sons, so that no family might be altogether destroyed. These Spartans, with their helots or slaves, made up his own share of the numbers, but all the army was under his generalship. It is even said that the 300 celebrated their own funeral rites before they set out lest they should be deprived of them by the enemy, since, as we have already seen, it was the Greek belief that the spirits of the dead found no rest till their obsequies had been performed. Such preparations did not daunt the spirits of Leonidas and his men, and his wife, Gorgo, not a woman to be faint-hearted or hold him back. Long before, when she was a very little girl, a word of hers had saved her father from listening to a traitorous message from the King of Persia; and every Spartan lady was bred up to be able to say to those she best loved that they must come home from battle "with the shield or carried upon it."

Which of these sentences best restates the underlined portion of text, "Sparta, the city that above all in Greece trained its sons to be hardy soldiers, dreading death infinitely less than shame"?

Possible Answers:

Spartan boys were told that dying in battle was deeply shameful.

Spartan soldiers were taught to fear death above everything else.

None of these answers

Spartan soldiers were trained to fear embarrassment more than death.

Spartan soldiers were educated in the ways of philosophy and warfare.

Correct answer:

Spartan soldiers were trained to fear embarrassment more than death.

Explanation:

“Dreading” means greatly fearing, “infinitely” informally means a great deal, and “shame” means embarrassment, so Spartan soldiers were trained to dread embarrassment much less than death. 

Example Question #93 : Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from The Fight at the Pass of Thermopylæ by Charlotte M. Yonge (1876)

The troops sent for this purpose were from different cities, and amounted to about 4,000 who were to keep the pass against two millions. The leader of them was Leonidas, who had newly become one of the two kings of Sparta, the city that above all in Greece trained its sons to be hardy soldiers, dreading death infinitely less than shame. Leonidas had already made up his mind that the expedition would probably be his death, perhaps because a prophecy had been given at the Temple at Delphi that Sparta should be saved by the death of one of her kings of the race of Hercules. He was allowed by law to take with him 300 men, and these he chose most carefully, not merely for their strength and valor, but selecting those who had sons, so that no family might be altogether destroyed. These Spartans, with their helots or slaves, made up his own share of the numbers, but all the army was under his generalship. It is even said that the 300 celebrated their own funeral rites before they set out lest they should be deprived of them by the enemy, since, as we have already seen, it was the Greek belief that the spirits of the dead found no rest till their obsequies had been performed. Such preparations did not daunt the spirits of Leonidas and his men, and his wife, Gorgo, not a woman to be faint-hearted or hold him back. Long before, when she was a very little girl, a word of hers had saved her father from listening to a traitorous message from the King of Persia; and every Spartan lady was bred up to be able to say to those she best loved that they must come home from battle "with the shield or carried upon it."

Which of these best restates the message of the line "come home from battle 'with the shield or carried upon it'"?

Possible Answers:

If your life is danger, flee; do not desert your family.

Believe in the gods and they shall guide your shield in battle.

Do not come back until the battle is won.

Come back victorious or having sacrificed your life.

Come back with your shield or don’t bother.

Correct answer:

Come back victorious or having sacrificed your life.

Explanation:

We are told earlier in the passage that Spartan society instilled in every individual the importance of fearing shame more than death, so it can be inferred that when the author discusses how “every Spartan lady was bred up to be able to say to those she best loved that they must come home from battle 'with the shield or carried upon it'," he is highlighting the importance of self-sacrafice over individual preservation and that the line in question means come back victorious or else having sacrificed your life. 

Example Question #3 : Understanding And Evaluating Opinions And Arguments In 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.

Which of the following words would the duke NOT use to describe d’Artagnan?

Possible Answers:

Mature

Brave

Excitable

Cautious

Loyal

Correct answer:

Excitable

Explanation:

At the end of the first paragraph, the passage describes the duke's reaction to d'Artagnan's story: "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." From this statement, we can infer that the duke would describe d'Artagnan as "brave," "loyal," and "cautious," as d'Artagnan's "prudence" (cautiousness), "courage" (bravery), and "devotedness" (loyalty) are directly mentioned. Because the duke is surprised that all of these qualities "could be allied with a countenance which indicated not more than twenty years," we can also infer that the duke would describe d'Artagnan as "mature." This leaves us with one remaining answer choice, "excitable." Nothing about the passage suggests that the duke would describe d'Artagnan as "excitable"; in fact, the fact that d'Artagnan tells his story "with the greatest simplicity" suggests the opposite. "Excitable" is thus the correct answer.

Example Question #2 : Understanding And Evaluating Opinions And Arguments In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (1883)

He was a very silent man by custom. All day he hung round the cove or upon the cliffs with a brass telescope; all evening he sat in a corner of the parlor next the fire and drank rum and water very strong. Mostly he would not speak when spoken to, only look up sudden and fierce and blow through his nose like a fog-horn; and we and the people who came about our house soon learned to let him be. Every day when he came back from his stroll he would ask if any seafaring men had gone by along the road. At first we thought it was the want of company of his own kind that made him ask this question, but at last we began to see he was desirous to avoid them. When a seaman did put up at the Admiral Benbow (as now and then some did, making by the coast road for Bristol) he would look in at him through the curtained door before he entered the parlor; and he was always sure to be as silent as a mouse when any such was present. For me, at least, there was no secret about the matter, for I was, in a way, a sharer in his alarms. He had taken me aside one day and promised me a silver fourpenny on the first of every month if I would only keep my "weather-eye open for a seafaring man with one leg" and let him know the moment he appeared. Often enough when the first of the month came round and I applied to him for my wage, he would only blow through his nose at me and stare me down, but before the week was out he was sure to think better of it, bring me my four-penny piece, and repeat his orders to look out for "the seafaring man with one leg.”

How that personage haunted my dreams, I need scarcely tell you. I would see him in a thousand forms, and with a thousand diabolical expressions. Now the leg would be cut off at the knee, now at the hip; now he was a monstrous kind of a creature who had never had but the one leg, and that in the middle of his body. To see him leap and run and pursue me over hedge and ditch was the worst of nightmares. And altogether I paid pretty dear for my monthly fourpenny piece, in the shape of these abominable fancies.

The man described in the passage asks every day if any seafaring men have passed by because __________.

Possible Answers:

he wants to avoid any seafaring men

he wants very badly to become a sailor

he is a fisherman and wants to buy a new boat

he is lonely and wants to make some friends who are also seafarers

he needs to learn how to avoid being seasick before his big trip

Correct answer:

he wants to avoid any seafaring men

Explanation:

This is a somewhat tricky question because the narrator first gives one interpretation of the man’s behavior before saying that he discovered a more accurate interpretation: “Every day when he came back from his stroll he would ask if any seafaring men had gone by along the road. At first we thought it was the want of company of his own kind that made him ask this question, but at last we began to see he was desirous to avoid them.” So, the correct answer is “he wants to avoid any seafaring men,” not “he is lonely and wants to make some friends who are also seafarers.”

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