SSAT Upper Level Reading : Determining Authorial Purpose in Argumentative Social Science Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #22 : Authorial Purpose

Adapted from "Address to the Court" by Eugene Debs (1918)

Your Honor, I have stated in this court that I am opposed to the form of our present government; that I am opposed to the social system in which we live; that I believed in the change of both—but by perfectly peaceable and orderly means.

Let me call your attention to the fact this morning that in this system five percent of our people own and control two-thirds of our wealth; sixty-five percent of the people, embracing the working class who produce all wealth, have but five percent to show for it.

Standing here this morning, I recall my boyhood. At fourteen I went to work in a railroad shop; at sixteen I was firing a freight engine on a railroad. I remember all the hardships and privations of that earlier day, and from that time until now my heart has been with the working class. I could have been in Congress long ago. I have preferred to go to prison. The choice has been deliberately made. I could not have done otherwise. I have no regret.

In the struggle, the unceasing struggle, between the toilers and producers and their exploiters, I have tried, as best I might, to serve those among whom I was born, with whom I expect to share my lot until the end of my days. I am thinking this morning of the men in the mills and factories; I am thinking of the men in the mines and on the railroads; I am thinking of the women who, for a paltry wage, are compelled to work out their lives; of the little children, who in this system, are robbed of their childhood, and in their early, tender years are seized in the remorseless grasp of Mammon, and forced into the industrial dungeons, there to feed the machines while they themselves are being starved body and soul. I see them dwarfed, diseased, stunted, their little lives broken, and their hopes blasted, because in this high noon of our twentieth-century civilization money is still so much more important than human life. Gold is god and rules in the affairs of men.

What is the primary purpose of this passage?

Possible Answers:

To outline the ways in which American society has proven successful

To explain the historical development of the American class system

To disparage and condemn the American economic system

To downplay the importance of a Communist revolution

To minimize the suffering of the American people

Correct answer:

To disparage and condemn the American economic system

Explanation:

The primary purpose of this passage is to highlight the manifest inequality that the author feels is present in the American economic system. The history of the American class system is never mentioned, nor is the Communist revolution specifically discussed. Similarly the author could not be said to be lauding the success of American society when he uses such critical and condemning language. Likewise, the suffering of the American people is emphasized rather than minimized. This means the only possible correct answer is that the primary purpose of this passage is to disparage and condemn the American economic system. The most apparent evidence for this can be found in the concluding sentences where the author turns his focus away from the criticism of specific individuals within the American economic system and focuses instead on lamenting the ruling power of money in the contemporary affairs of men.

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

Adapted from the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America by Thomas Jefferson (1776)

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,—That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.—Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

What is the purpose of the first sentence in the text?

Possible Answers:

To announce the reason for the complaints that will follow

To flourish rhetorically with little meaning at all

To complain of injustice and slavery

To address the ministers of England in a direct dialogue about the colonies' issues

None of the other answer choices

Correct answer:

To announce the reason for the complaints that will follow

Explanation:

The very end of the sentence helps to transition into the next paragraph by stating, "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation." This means that in what follows the separation discussed in the first sentence will have its causes listed. Some of this is found in this selection, though it continues with a long list of accusations not included here.

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

Adapted from the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America by Thomas Jefferson (1776)

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,—That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.—Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

What is the purpose of the underlined selection, "That whenever any Form . . ."?

Possible Answers:

To incite rebellion in the colonies

None of the other answer choices

To incite global rebellion

To declare a self-evident truth that justifies the cause for independence

To directly accuse King George III of his tyrannical actions

Correct answer:

To declare a self-evident truth that justifies the cause for independence

Explanation:

Notice that the sentence is of this form: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, [that] all men . . ., that they are . . ., that to secure [etc]."  Although the punctuation is odd, the general idea is that this is a long list of self-evident truths. The one in question states that when a government becomes destructive of the ends for which it is instituted, it may be altered or abolished. This is not inciting complete rebellion. Likewise, it is not a direct accusation of George III. It is merely setting the stage for justifying the revolution by appealing to what Mr. Jefferson was declaring to be a self-evident truth. 

 

Example Question #3 : How To Determine And Analyze Theme In Nonfiction Passages

"What Do We Remember About History?" by Daniel Morrison (2014)

Henry the Eighth is most commonly remembered for the unique fact that he took six different wives over the course of his lifetime. There is even a famous ditty uttered by English schoolchildren to help them remember the fate of his various wives: “Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.”

However, during Henry’s rule, England permanently ended its long-standing relationship with the Catholic church and became forever a Protestant kingdom. This break has had long-felt repercussions up to and including the present day. Yet, in spite of the deep importance of Henry’s decision to leave the family of Catholic nations, he is best known for taking six wives. This difference between importance of actions and nature of popular remembrance should tell us something about the collective understanding of history—it is often the trivial and merely interesting that survives, whilst the significant but less fascinating can fade from memory.

The primary purpose of this essay is to __________.

Possible Answers:

teach a lesson about the popular understanding of history

talk about Henry the Eighth's six wives

explain how England has changed since the rule of Henry the Eighth

describe how England ended up breaking with the Catholic church

explain the significance of Henry the Eighth

Correct answer:

teach a lesson about the popular understanding of history

Explanation:

Although much of this essay talks about the significance of Henry the Eighth, this is not the primary purpose of the essay. The experience of Henry the Eighth and his memory in our collective understanding is used as an example to teach a lesson about the popular understanding of history. The primary purpose is best shown in the conclusion: "it is often the trivial and merely interesting that survives, whilst the significant but less fascinating can fade from memory.”

Example Question #2 : Analyzing Passage Logic, Genre, And Organization In History Passages

Adapted from Women’s Political Future by Frances E. W. Harper (1893)

The world has need of all the spiritual aid that woman can give for the social advancement and moral development of the human race. The tendency of the present age, with its restlessness, religious upheavals, failures, blunders, and crimes, is toward broader freedom, an increase of knowledge, the emancipation of thought, and recognition of the brotherhood of man; in this movement woman, as the companion of man, must be an equal. So close is the bond between man and woman that you cannot raise one without lifting the other. The world cannot move without woman's sharing in the movement, and to help give a right impetus to that movement is woman's highest privilege.

If the fifteenth century discovered America to the Old World, the nineteenth is discovering woman to herself. Not the opportunity of discovering new worlds, but that of filling this old world with fairer and higher aims than the greed of gold and the lust of power, is hers. Through weary, wasting years men have destroyed, dashed in pieces, and overthrown, but today we stand on the threshold of woman's era, and woman's work is grandly constructive. In her hand are possibilities whose use or abuse must tell upon the political life of the nation, and send their influence for good or evil across the track of unborn ages.

In context, the reference to the discovery of America is meant to underline what aspect of women’s life in the nineteenth century?

Possible Answers:

The removal of obstacles to sexual equality

The growing opportunities for self-realization

The education of women in private schools

The ability of women to vote

The closeness of men and women

Correct answer:

The growing opportunities for self-realization

Explanation:

The author makes reference to the discovery of America in the fifteenth century in comparison to women’s discovery of their own identity in the nineteenth century. The author states that “the nineteenth is discovering woman to herself” and that “today we stand on the threshold of woman's era.”

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