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

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

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Example Questions

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Example Question #12 : Language 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)

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.

What is the meaning of the underlined word “predilection” in its context?

Possible Answers:

Assistance

Ignorance

Opposition

Preference

Election

Correct answer:

Preference

Explanation:

"Propensity" is used in the first sentence of the passage, in which the author states, "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." Now, we can tell from the structure of the sentence that "predilection" must mean something like "support"; knowing this, we can eliminate a few answer choices: "opposition," which wouldn't make sense because it's the opposite of "support," while the word we're looking for must be somewhat similar in meaning; "ignorance," which is not close in meaning to "support" and wouldn't make sense in the sentence's context; and "election," which while it sounds similar to "predilection," again doesn't make sense in context. This leaves us with "preference" and "assistance." While "assistance" is very close in meaning to "support," it wouldn't make sense for the writer to use the two exact synonyms alongside each other like in the sentence; it would be redundant, like saying "The homework assignment was simple and easy." So, by narrowing down our answer choices carefully, we can conclude that "predilection" is most similar in meaning to "preference." This is absolutely true; "predilection" means bias toward or propensity for. If I have a predilection for breakfast foods and you offer me breakfast, lunch, or dinner, I'll choose breakfast.

Example Question #11 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings 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.

Based on the context in which it is used, what is the meaning of the underlined word “hitherto”?

Possible Answers:

unsurprisingly

so far

potentially

quickly

favorably

Correct answer:

so far

Explanation:

"Hitherto" appears in the second sentence of the second paragraph, "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." In order to figure out what "hitherto" means, we need only concern ourselves with the beginning of this sentence, ""The federal administration, though hitherto very defective in comparison with what may be hoped under a better system, had . . ." A comparison is being made using "hitherto" in the interrupting phrase, and the thing that "hitherto very defective" is being compared to is "what may be hoped under a better system." So, the potentially better future system is being compared with a system that has been "hitherto" very defective. This suggests that "hitherto" has to do with time, narrowing our answer choices to "so far," "potentially," and "quickly," and more specifically, that the past in comparison with future possibilities. Thus, "so far" is the best answer.

Example Question #1 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Argumentative Social Science Passages

Adapted from Citizenship in a Republic (1910) by Theodore Roosevelt

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

The word “spends” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

fails 

exhausts 

considers 

buys 

neglects 

Correct answer:

exhausts 

Explanation:

The author favorably describes how some people “spend” themselves in a difficult cause. In this context the word “spends” means to exhaust. You might be more familiar with hearing the phrase “I’m spent” used by someone who has put a great deal of effort into something and no longer has the energy to continue.

Example Question #74 : History Passages

Adapted from Citizenship in a Republic (1910) by Theodore Roosevelt

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

The word “errs” is a reference to the importance of __________.

Possible Answers:

historical context 

government 

celebration 

mistakes 

challenges

Correct answer:

mistakes 

Explanation:

To err means to make a mistake. The author describes how it is important to take chances, to make mistakes and errors, and to learn from those errors. According to the author striving and failing is much better than not striving at all. Indeed, the author implies that making mistakes is a necessary part of the process.

Example Question #64 : History 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 meaning of the word “dissolve” in context?

Possible Answers:

To fix

To fulminate

To end

To put into solution

To question

Correct answer:

To end

Explanation:

In general, we use the word "dissolve" to describe the process of putting a solid into solution, as when we dissolve sugar or salt into water. This process "breaks up" the molecules (in different ways, not always completely traumatically). From this usage, we also can utilize the term to describe any process that brings something to an end. A business can be dissolved when its parts are broken up, and the relationship of the colonies to England can be dissolved. This is the sense it which the word is used in the passage.

Example Question #72 : History Passages

Adapted from The Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln (1863)

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow, this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The word “proposition” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

estimation 

notion

fallacy 

legend

challenge 

Correct answer:

notion

Explanation:

The word “proposition” can mean a proposal; a statement; an idea; an obstacle to be met. In this context the word is being used to describe an idea, or a notion, specifically the “notion” that all men are created equal. Estimation would imply guesswork and is therefore incorrect. Fallacy refers to a misleading notion or an erroneous belief, and is also incorrect.

Example Question #2 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Argumentative Social Science 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 underlined word “trivial” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

compulsive

insignificant

coherent

implausible

inherent

Correct answer:

insignificant

Explanation:

In context, the author says, “it is often the trivial and merely interesting that survives, whilst the significant but less fascinating can fade from memory.” Here, the “trivial and merely interesting” is contrasted against the “significant but less fascinating.” So, if “fascinating” and “interesting” are two matching terms, than “trivial” and “significant” must be opposite to one another. You can therefore determine that “trivial” must mean insignificant or not important. To provide further help, “coherent” means able to be understood; “compulsive” means forced to do; “implausible” means hard to believe or unlikely; and “inherent” means natural.

Example Question #2 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Argumentative Social Science 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 underlined word “repercussions” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

revolutions

elevations

corporations

celebrations

consequences 

Correct answer:

consequences 

Explanation:

In context, the author says, “This break has had long felt repercussions up to and including the present day. Yet, in spite of the deep importance . . ." Because what happened was of “deep importance” “up to and including the present day,” it is reasonable to determine that the break had long felt consequences. To provide further help, “consequences” are results of an action; “revolutions” are rebellions against someone’s control; “corporations” are large businesses owned by many people; and “elevations” are high places.  

Example Question #1 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Argumentative Social Science Passages

"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 word “egregiously” mean?

Possible Answers:

in an extremely bad manner

in an idiotic manner

in a very differing manner

in a biased manner

in an unfriendly manner

Correct answer:

in an extremely bad manner

Explanation:

The word "egregious" means "extremely bad." It literally means "standing out from the flock (e.g. of sheep)." This is surprising, but the word "gregarious," meaning, "friendly" likewise comes from the Latin for "flock." (A gregarious person "fits in with the flock"). The people here make very wrong remarks about the Founding Fathers of America.

Example Question #3 : Context Dependent Meanings Of Words And Phrases In Argumentative Social Science 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.

The word “emancipation” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

bravery

timidity

regression

freedom

imprisonment

Correct answer:

freedom

Explanation:

The word emancipation generally refers to the act of freeing or being freed and so most nearly means freedom. Alternatively if you are not aware of this definition it becomes necessary to read-in-context to try to ascertain the most likely definition. The author surrounds the phrase “emancipation of thought” with references to the tendency towards “broader freedom” for women. As there are no modifying words like “however” or “although” you can infer that the correct answer must have a similar (or in this instance the exact same) meaning. Imprisonment has the opposite meaning. Timidity means shyness, and bravery means loosely the opposite; neither fits cleanly in the sentence. Regression means to take a step backwards and is opposite to the meaning of the phrase.

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