SSAT Upper Level Reading : Finding Context-Dependent Meanings of Phrases in Argumentative Social Science Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #22 : How To Find Word Meaning From Context

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 does the author most nearly mean by the statement “Gold is God”?

Possible Answers:

Religion has been rendered obsolete by the allures of consumerism.

Without money the world would be a godless, spiritual void.

Money, and the acquisition of it, is the primary ruling force in the world.

Gold blights the senses of men and brings out the worst in them.

The American government has failed the American people.

Correct answer:

Money, and the acquisition of it, is the primary ruling force in the world.

Explanation:

When the author says that “Gold is God” in the last sentence of the concluding paragraph, he means that money, and the acquisition of it, is the primary motivating factor in the world. The key to understanding this phrasing can be found in the preceding sentence, where the author states this idea at greater length: “. . . because in this high noon of our twentieth-century civilization money is still so much more important than human life.”

Example Question #812 : Ssat Upper Level Reading Comprehension

Adapted from "Federalist No. 46. The Influence of the State and Federal Governments Compared" by James Madison in The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay (1788)

I proceed to inquire whether the federal government or the state governments will have the advantage with regard to the predilection and support of the people. Notwithstanding the different modes in which they are appointed, we must consider both of them as substantially dependent on the great body of the citizens of the United States. I assume this position here as it respects the first, reserving the proofs for another place. The federal and state governments are in fact but different agents and trustees of the people, constituted with different powers, and designed for different purposes. The adversaries of the Constitution seem to have lost sight of the people altogether in their reasonings on this subject, and to have viewed these different establishments not only as mutual rivals and enemies, but as uncontrolled by any common superior in their efforts to usurp the authorities of each other. These gentlemen must here be reminded of their error. They must be told that the ultimate authority, wherever the derivative may be found, resides in the people alone, and that it will not depend merely on the comparative ambition or address of the different governments, whether either, or which of them, will be able to enlarge its sphere of jurisdiction at the expense of the other. Truth, no less than decency, requires that the event in every case should be supposed to depend on the sentiments and sanction of their common constituents.

To which group of people does the underlined phrase "these gentlemen" refer?

Possible Answers:

"common constituents"

"mutual rivals and enemies"

"trustees of the people"

"The adversaries of the Constitution"

"the people"

Correct answer:

"The adversaries of the Constitution"

Explanation:

It's not possible to tell what is meant by "These gentlemen" based solely on a consideration of the sentence in which the phrase appears. Considering the context surrounding the phrase is necessary: "The adversaries of the Constitution seem to have lost sight of the people altogether in their reasonings on this subject, and to have viewed these different establishments not only as mutual rivals and enemies, but as uncontrolled by any common superior in their efforts to usurp the authorities of each other. These gentlemen must here be reminded of their error." When we consider the sentence that precedes the one with the specified phrase in it, we can see that "These gentlemen" refers to "The adversaries of the Constitution." It's important to consider the meaning of the whole sentence, and not just pick out the last noun that could potentially be the antecedent.

Example Question #3 : Specific Phrases And Sentences In Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from "Federalist No. 46. The Influence of the State and Federal Governments Compared" by James Madison in The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay (1788)

Many considerations, besides those suggested on a former occasion, seem to place it beyond doubt that the first and most natural attachment of the people will be to the governments of their respective states. Into the administration of these a greater number of individuals will expect to rise. From the gift of these a greater number of offices and emoluments will flow. By the superintending care of these, all the more domestic and personal interests of the people will be regulated and provided for. With the affairs of these, the people will be more familiarly and minutely conversant. And with the members of these, will a greater proportion of the people have the ties of personal acquaintance and friendship, and of family and party attachments; on the side of these, therefore, the popular bias may well be expected most strongly to incline.

Experience speaks the same language in this case. The federal administration, though hitherto very defective in comparison with what may be hoped under a better system, had, during the war, and particularly whilst the independent fund of paper emissions was in credit, an activity and importance as great as it can well have in any future circumstances whatever. It was engaged, too, in a course of measures which had for their object the protection of everything that was dear and the acquisition of everything that could be desirable to the people at large. It was, nevertheless, invariably found, after the transient enthusiasm for the early Congresses was over, that the attention and attachment of the people were turned anew to their own particular governments; that the federal council was at no time the idol of popular favor; and that opposition to proposed enlargements of its powers and importance was the side usually taken by the men who wished to build their political consequence on the prepossessions of their fellow-citizens.

What does the author mean when he states in the underlined sentence, “Experience speaks the same language in this case”?

Possible Answers:

While the author's predictions may seem sound, experience will be likely to disprove them.

Experiential evidence supports the author's theoretical predictions.

The author thinks that experience will prove his ideas correct.

The author has heard people talking about these issues and coming to the same conclusions as he has.

People that the author has asked about his argument have all supported it.

Correct answer:

Experiential evidence supports the author's theoretical predictions.

Explanation:

This sentence is an important one because it functions as the transition between the passage's first and second paragraphs. While both "The author thinks that experience will prove his ideas correct" and "Experiential evidence supports the author's theoretical predictions" may look correct, the latter is the better answer because it references the author's "theoretical predictions," the subject of the first paragraph. It's important to recognize this subtle difference, as referring back to the ideas discussed in the previous paragraph is a large part of what makes the sentence a good transition.

Example Question #2 : Language In History Passages

Adapted from "Federalist No. 46. The Influence of the State and Federal Governments Compared" by James Madison in The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay (1788)

Many considerations, besides those suggested on a former occasion, seem to place it beyond doubt that the first and most natural attachment of the people will be to the governments of their respective states. Into the administration of these a greater number of individuals will expect to rise. From the gift of these a greater number of offices and emoluments will flow. By the superintending care of these, all the more domestic and personal interests of the people will be regulated and provided for. With the affairs of these, the people will be more familiarly and minutely conversant. And with the members of these, will a greater proportion of the people have the ties of personal acquaintance and friendship, and of family and party attachments; on the side of these, therefore, the popular bias may well be expected most strongly to incline.

Experience speaks the same language in this case. The federal administration, though hitherto very defective in comparison with what may be hoped under a better system, had, during the war, and particularly whilst the independent fund of paper emissions was in credit, an activity and importance as great as it can well have in any future circumstances whatever. It was engaged, too, in a course of measures which had for their object the protection of everything that was dear and the acquisition of everything that could be desirable to the people at large. It was, nevertheless, invariably found, after the transient enthusiasm for the early Congresses was over, that the attention and attachment of the people were turned anew to their own particular governments; that the federal council was at no time the idol of popular favor; and that opposition to proposed enlargements of its powers and importance was the side usually taken by the men who wished to build their political consequence on the prepossessions of their fellow-citizens.

Which of the following best paraphrases the underlined clause, "opposition to proposed enlargements of its powers and importance was the side usually taken by the men who wished to build their political consequence on the prepossessions of their fellow-citizens"?

Possible Answers:

Politicians favored increasing the power and importance of the federal government, but their constituents did not.

Citizens did not favor the growth of the federal government.

Anyone wanting political power had to support the federal government's growth, or they would not be popular with their constituents.

The federal government was increasing in scale and power despite what being opposed by most politicians and their constituents.

Men seeking political power based on the preferences of their constituents tended to oppose expansion of the federal government.

Correct answer:

Men seeking political power based on the preferences of their constituents tended to oppose expansion of the federal government.

Explanation:

The clause in question is "opposition to proposed enlargements of its powers and importance was the side usually taken by the men who wished to build their political consequence on the prepossessions of their fellow-citizens." This is a long and complex clause with confusing syntax, so let's break it down a bit: "oppositions to proposed enlargements of its powers"—what does the "its" stand for? In context, we can tell that "its" means "the federal government's." So this first part of the clause means "proposed enlargements of the federal government." The clause continues with "was the side usually taken by the men." This is confusing syntax; let's straighten it out. So, these men, which will be described by the rest of the clause, took the side of opposing the growth of the federal government. What else do we learn about these men? They "wished to build their political consequence"—or gain political importance—"on the prepossessions of their fellow-citizens," or on the biases of their constituents. So let's put all that together in an order that makes more sense. "Men seeking political power based on the preferences of their constituents tended to oppose expansion of the federal government"—that's the correct answer.

Example Question #32 : Isee Upper Level (Grades 9 12) Reading Comprehension

"The Founding Fathers' Beliefs" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Frequently, people make egregiously mistaken remarks about the religious convictions of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Such errors could be said to “cut in both directions.” On the one hand, there is a school of thought that wishes to make this important founding generation into nothing more than group of Christian legislators who founded a Christian nation. This image is far too simple. It clearly distorts the religious convictions of these men, whose idea of Christianity was often far worldlier than some Christians would be comfortable with. In addition, it distorts the meaning of the American Constitution, which is not a document of Christian legislation but a very modern, secular political document. On the other hand, it is important to note that those who believe that the Founders were agnostics or even hidden atheists also overstate their opinion. The culture of these eighteenth-century men was still one that deeply imbued with Christian sensitivities, and while their religious convictions were much more varied than some imagine, they were far from being without any religious beliefs whatsoever. These beliefs certainly had an influence on their political lives, though this influence was often subtle and indirect.

What does the underlined expression “cut in two directions” mean?

Possible Answers:

Such errors are unknown by two different groups of people.

Such errors are so wrong as to be laughable.

These errors are wrong in two different and opposed ways.

These errors are dangerous in multiple manners.

These errors cause much damage, often causing people to slice many things up.

Correct answer:

These errors are wrong in two different and opposed ways.

Explanation:

The main idea of the selection gives some context to this metaphorical expression. What it intends to communicate is that the errors in question often happen in two very different ways. On the one hand, some overestimate the role of Christianity among the American Founders.  On the other hand, others under estimate this role. The idea is that the two positions "cut into" the truth in two different ways.

Example Question #6 : Language 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 the context of the first paragraph, what does the author believe is the “tendency of the present age”?

Possible Answers:

Male subservience

Recognition of universal equality

Political stability

Female empowerment

Religious accord

Correct answer:

Recognition of universal equality

Explanation:

The author states that the tendency of the present age is “toward broader freedom” and “recognition of the brotherhood of man.” The idea of the importance of female empowerment is mentioned often throughout the passage and is a central point; however, the author expressly states that the tendency of the present age is towards a universal acceptance, not simply an acceptance of women.

Example Question #1 : How To Find Word Meaning From Context

While the Gutenberg press was perhaps one of the greatest inventions of all time, we should not let its importance blind us to other very important events in the history of linguistic development. Granted, the efficiency of printing allowed for the dissemination of much learning in Europe. Still, such printing was not unique to Europe, and even in the scope of world history, there are several events that are equally as miraculous regarding the transmission of knowledge.

For instance, most people overlook the amazing nature of the first time that human beings communicated with spoken language. Perhaps there were simple signs by which these early humans could indicate their needs to each other. However, when the first event of person-to-person speech occurred, it was far more marvelous than simple practical communication. Such speech was like a sharing of ideas. When true speech happened, people were able to communicate knowledge to each other, freeing it from its isolation in one lonely person. By means of such speech, knowledge could be orally transmitted from generation to generation, thus preserving wisdom in a way that is completely impossible without speech.

Of course, such spoken tradition is very fragile, relying on memories and stories that are passed down from generation to generation. For this reason, the invention of writing is extremely important. In contrast to the spoken word, the written word can continue to exist and be useful so long as it can be read intelligently. Likewise, much more can be recorded than ever could be remembered by someone with the best of memories. Indeed, once these records are written, copies can be sent to anyone who is able to read the language in question. Likewise, it can be translated into written copies to be read by others. For these (as well as many other reasons) the invention of writing was a very significant event in history, greatly expanding the possibilities for the exchange of knowledge.

Thus, the printing press is quite important, but it is part of a larger story. Like both spoken and written communication, it allows human beings to communicate knowledge not only to each other but also across multiple generations. Often, we think of the press merely in its ability to provide a great number of books in a short period of time. However, when considered as a chapter in this longer tale, it likewise appears as the means by which humanity is able to conquer time by allowing the knowledge of today to live for multiple generations.

What is meant by the boldfaced clause, “Of course, such spoken tradition is very fragile”?

Possible Answers:

Such a spoken tradition is easily interrupted or destroyed.

The spoken word is fracturable like glass.

The spoken word is a pitiful thing, not very impressive to modern man.

The spoken word can convey meanings only in a weak manner.

The spoken word is a very weak thing, flimsy at best.

Correct answer:

Such a spoken tradition is easily interrupted or destroyed.

Explanation:

Although this metaphor can likely be discerned by its immediate context, the next several sentences should help you to understand its meaning more clearly. The paragraph goes on to discuss how the written word can continue to exist, implying that when it is merely spoken it is less likely to have such continuance. Because it relies on memories and stories, the spoken word is much more easily interrupted in its passing on. If a local "story teller" dies, it is possible that the spoken history—important though it might be—will suddenly be gone forever. This makes it very "fragile," that is, very vulnerable and easily destroyed.

Example Question #2 : How To Find Word Meaning From Context

While the Gutenberg press was perhaps one of the greatest inventions of all time, we should not let its importance blind us to other very important events in the history of linguistic development. Granted, the efficiency of printing allowed for the dissemination of much learning in Europe. Still, such printing was not unique to Europe, and even in the scope of world history, there are several events that are equally as miraculous regarding the transmission of knowledge.

For instance, most people overlook the amazing nature of the first time that human beings communicated with spoken language. Perhaps there were simple signs by which these early humans could indicate their needs to each other. However, when the first event of person-to-person speech occurred, it was far more marvelous than simple practical communication. Such speech was like a sharing of ideas. When true speech happened, people were able to communicate knowledge to each other, freeing it from its isolation in one lonely person. By means of such speech, knowledge could be orally transmitted from generation to generation, thus preserving wisdom in a way that is completely impossible without speech.

Of course, such spoken tradition is very fragile, relying on memories and stories that are passed down from generation to generation. For this reason, the invention of writing is extremely important. In contrast to the spoken word, the written word can continue to exist and be useful so long as it can be read intelligently. Likewise, much more can be recorded than ever could be remembered by someone with the best of memories. Indeed, once these records are written, copies can be sent to anyone who is able to read the language in question. Likewise, it can be translated into written copies to be read by others. For these (as well as many other reasons) the invention of writing was a very significant event in history, greatly expanding the possibilities for the exchange of knowledge.

Thus, the printing press is quite important, but it is part of a larger story. Like both spoken and written communication, it allows human beings to communicate knowledge not only to each other but also across multiple generations. Often, we think of the press merely in its ability to provide a great number of books in a short period of time. However, when considered as a chapter in this longer tale, it likewise appears as the means by which humanity is able to conquer time by allowing the knowledge of today to live for multiple generations.

What is meant by the boldfaced expression “a chapter in this longer tale”?

Possible Answers:

A part of a larger context

A leaf of paper within a large tome

A printed version of a former handwritten book

An interesting subspecies of history

A selection from a history book

Correct answer:

A part of a larger context

Explanation:

This paragraph opens by stating that the printing press is "part of a larger story." This metaphor is then explained when the passage states that the printing press is like spoken and written communication in that it permits information to be shared from generation to generation. This is contrasted with the common idea of the importance of the printing press, namely that it allows for the printing of many books in a short period of time. Then, in the sentence in question, it is reconsidered "in the broader context" of speech and writing.

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