SSAT Middle Level Reading : Understanding and Evaluating Opinions and Arguments in Narrative Social Science Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Understanding And Evaluating Opinions And Arguments In Narrative Social Science Passages

Adapted from Early European History by Hutton Webster (1917)

Perhaps the most striking feature of a medieval village was its self-sufficiency. The inhabitants tried to produce at home everything they required, in order to avoid the uncertainty and expense of trade. The land gave them their food; the forest provided them with wood for houses and furniture. They made their own clothes of flax, wool, and leather. Their meal and flour were ground at the village mill, and at the village smithy their farm implements were manufactured. The chief articles which needed to be brought from some distant market were salt, used to salt down farm animals killed in autumn, iron for various tools, and millstones. Cattle, horses, and surplus grain also formed common objects of exchange between manors.

Life in a medieval village was rude and rough. The peasants labored from sunrise to sunset, ate coarse fare, lived in huts, and suffered from frequent diseases. They were often the helpless prey of the feudal nobles. If their lord happened to be a quarrelsome man, given to fighting with his neighbors, they might see their lands ravaged, their cattle driven off, their village burned, and might themselves be slain. Even under peaceful conditions the narrow, shut-in life of the manor could not be otherwise than degrading.

Yet there is another side to the picture. If the peasants had a just and generous lord, they probably led a fairly comfortable existence. Except when crops failed, they had an abundance of food, and possibly wine or cider drink. They shared a common life in the work of the fields, in the sports of the village green, and in the services of the parish church. They enjoyed many holidays; it has been estimated that, besides Sundays, about eight weeks in every year were free from work. Festivities at Christmas, Easter, and May Day, at the end of ploughing and the completion of harvest, relieved the monotony of the daily round of labor. Perhaps these medieval peasants were not much worse off than the agricultural laborers in most countries of modern Europe. 

Which of these is not listed as a reason why peasants in Medieval Europe may have enjoyed a happy life?

Possible Answers:

They were free from disease and plague. 

They shared a group purpose.

They had an abundance of food, wine, and cider. 

They had many holidays and festivals.

All of these answers are mentioned. 

Correct answer:

They were free from disease and plague. 

Explanation:

In the passage's third paragraph, the author says, “If the peasants had a just and generous lord, they probably led a fairly comfortable existence. Except when crops failed, they had an abundance of food, and possibly wine or cider drink. They shared a common life in the work of the fields, in the sports of the village green, and in the services of the parish church. They enjoyed many holidays.” The author describes all the various ways in which peasants' lives were more comfortable than we might otherwise imagine, but he makes no mention of disease or plague in this section. Diseases are mentioned earlier in the passage when the author discusses the difficulties faced by peasants: “Life in a medieval village was rude and rough. The peasants labored from sunrise to sunset, ate coarse fare, lived in huts, and suffered from frequent diseases.”

Example Question #61 : Inferential Comprehension

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.

Why does the author think it is “difficult to believe [the first stone tools were] of human workmanship"?

Possible Answers:

Because their origin is likely from outer space

Because the sheer number of them suggests at some sort of natural phenomenon 

Because their preservation seems divinely ordained

Because their function is mysterious and not logical

Because their design is so crude and simple 

Correct answer:

Because their design is so crude and simple 

Explanation:

The author states “The first stone implements were so rude in shape that it is difficult to believe them of human workmanship.” The first half of the sentence explains why it was difficult to believe the implements were of human design. To help you at this stage, “implements” means tools and “rude, in this context means crude, simple, or primitive. So we know that the author is remarking that it was difficult to believe the earliest human tools were designed by man because they were so crude and simple as to look unlike something a human has created.

Example Question #2 : Understanding And Evaluating Opinions And Arguments In Narrative 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 words best describes the personality of the Spanish general Weyler? 

Possible Answers:

Whimsical 

Mercurial

Benevolent

Malicious

Sagacious

Correct answer:

Malicious

Explanation:

The Spanish general Weyler is described by the author as “cruel." A synonym of cruel is “malicious.” To provide further help, "benevolent" means good-natured; "sagacious" means wise; "mercurial" means unpredictable; "whimsical" means silly and quirky.

Example Question #62 : History 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.

Which of these assumptions does the author most notably make in this text?

Possible Answers:

His audience is already familiar with aspects of English history

His audience does not care where William was crowned

His audience does not want to read a disagreeable story

His audience understands the similarities between the English and the French

His audience understands the significance of where William comes from

Correct answer:

His audience is already familiar with aspects of English history

Explanation:

When the author says, “I dare say you think, as I do, that if we except the great Alfred, he might pretty easily have done that,” he is guilty of assuming that his audience is well-read in English history. He does not explain who Alfred is and says something along the lines of “I expect you agree with me that William ruled England almost as well as Alfred did.” The fact of where William comes from is mentioned—he is a Norman—but there is no assumption made on the part of the author that the audience understands the significance of that. Likewise, the author goes to great lengths to say exactly where William was crowned, so he would hardly assume his audience does not care. The story is disagreeable, resulting in a fire and chaos, so this answer choice is also incorrect. Finally, the similarities between the English and French are both unmentioned and unimportant.

Example Question #301 : Prose 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.

Throughout this passage Alfred is primarily characterized as __________.

Possible Answers:

a beloved and hard-working ruler

a boring and unexciting man

a well-respected, yet harsh king

a forgotten but hard-working King

a pious and devout religious leader of England

Correct answer:

a beloved and hard-working ruler

Explanation:

Throughout this passage, King Alfred is primarily characterized by the author as “a beloved and hard-working ruler.” This can be seen in examples such as “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" and “He bore it, as he had borne all the troubles of his life, like a brave good man," as well as "his fame, and the love and gratitude with which his subjects regarded him, are freshly remembered to the present hour.” Throughout the passage, the author talks about how hard Alfred worked to improve the life of his subjects, so he must have been “beloved” (widely loved) and “hard-working.”

Example Question #3 : Understanding And Evaluating Opinions And Arguments In Narrative Social Science Passages

Adapted from A Modern History from the Time of Luther to the Fall of Napoleon by John Lord (1874)

The period at which this history commences—the beginning of the sixteenth century—when compared with the ages which had preceded it, since the fall of the Roman empire, was one of unprecedented brilliancy and activity. It was a period very fruitful in great people and great events, and, though stormy and turbulent, was favorable to experiments and reforms. The nations of Europe seem to have been suddenly aroused from a state of torpor and rest, and to have put forth new energies in every department of life. The material and the political, the moral and the social condition of society was subject to powerful agitations, and passed through important changes.

Great discoveries and inventions had been made. The use of movable types, first ascribed to Gutenberg in 1441 and to Peter Schœffer in 1444, changed the whole system of book-making, and vastly increased the circulation of the scriptures, the Greek and Latin classics, and all other valuable works, which, by the industry of the monkish copyist, had been preserved from the ravages of time and barbarism. Gunpowder, whose explosive power had been perceived by Roger Bacon as early as 1280, though it was not used on the field of battle until 1346, had changed the art of war, which had greatly contributed to undermining the feudal system. The polarity of the magnet, also discovered in the middle ages, and not practically applied to the mariner's compass until 1403, had led to the greatest event of the fifteenth century—the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus, in 1492. The impulse given to commerce by this and other discoveries of unknown continents and oceans, by the Portuguese, the Spaniards, the Dutch, the English, and the French, cannot be here enlarged on. America revealed to the astonished European its riches in gold and silver; and Indian spices, and silks, and drugs, were imported through new channels. Mercantile wealth, with all its refinements, acquired new importance in the eyes of the nations. The world opened towards the east and the west. The horizon of knowledge extended. Popular delusions were dispelled. Liberality of mind was acquired. The material prosperity of the western nations was increased. Tastes became more refined, and social intercourse more cheerful.

According to the passage, how did gunpowder contribute most significantly to the changes of the sixteenth century?

Possible Answers:

It undermined the power of kings.

It changed the way warfare was fought.

It eroded the influence of the feudal system.

It allowed rebellions to be more easily quashed.

All of these answers are equally true.

Correct answer:

It eroded the influence of the feudal system.

Explanation:

Answering this question requires you to both read carefully and to be able to make inferences and think laterally. The author says near the beginning of the second paragraph that “gunpowder . . . had changed the art of war, which had greatly contributed to undermining the feudal system." From here, then, you could perhaps reasonably answer one of two things: gunpowder changed the way war was fought, or it reduced the influence of the feudal system. However, see how the changing of the way warfare was fought is what causes, or greatly contributes to, the undermining of the feudal system. The change in war is not the most significant effect of gunpowder, but rather what the change in war caused by gunpowder changes about society.

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