SSAT Upper Level Reading : Finding Context-Dependent Meanings of Words in Literary Fiction Passages

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

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Literary Fiction Passages

This is an excerpt from Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street by Herman Melville (1853)

I am a rather elderly man. The nature of my avocations for the last thirty years has brought me into more than ordinary contact with what would seem an interesting and somewhat singular set of men, of whom as yet nothing that I know of has ever been written—I mean the law-copyists or scriveners. I have known very many of them, professionally and privately, and if I pleased, could relate divers histories, at which good-natured gentlemen might smile, and sentimental souls might weep. But I waive the biographies of all other scriveners for a few passages in the life of Bartleby, who was a scrivener of the strangest I ever saw or heard of. While of other law-copyists I might write the complete life, of Bartleby nothing of that sort can be done. I believe that no materials exist for a full and satisfactory biography of this man. It is an irreparable loss to literature. Bartleby was one of those beings of whom nothing is ascertainable, except from the original sources, and in his case those are very small. What my own astonished eyes saw of Bartleby, that is all I know of him, except, indeed, one vague report which will appear in the sequel.

Ere introducing the scrivener, as he first appeared to me, it is fit I make some mention of myself, my employees, my business, my chambers, and general surroundings; because some such description is indispensable to an adequate understanding of the chief character about to be presented. 

Imprimis: I am a man who, from his youth upwards, has been filled with a profound conviction that the easiest way of life is the best. Hence, though I belong to a profession proverbially energetic and nervous, even to turbulence, at times, yet nothing of that sort have I ever suffered to invade my peace. I am one of those unambitious lawyers who never addresses a jury, or in any way draws down public applause; but in the cool tranquility of a snug retreat, do a snug business among rich men's bonds and mortgages and title-deeds. All who know me, consider me an eminently safe man. The late John Jacob Astor, a personage little given to poetic enthusiasm, had no hesitation in pronouncing my first grand point to be prudence; my next, method. I do not speak it in vanity, but simply record the fact, that I was not unemployed in my profession by the late John Jacob Astor; a name which, I admit, I love to repeat, for it hath a rounded and orbicular sound to it, and rings like unto bullion. I will freely add, that I was not insensible to the late John Jacob Astor's good opinion.

As used in the second paragraph “ere” can be most closely defined as __________.

Possible Answers:

"before"

None of the other answers

"when"

"now that"

"after"

Correct answer:

"before"

Explanation:

"Ere" is used to denote time before. The narrator goes on to introduce himself in the following lines, implying that he is putting Bartleby’s narrative on hold for his own.

Example Question #2 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Literary Fiction Passages

This is an excerpt from Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street by Herman Melville (1853)

I am a rather elderly man. The nature of my avocations for the last thirty years has brought me into more than ordinary contact with what would seem an interesting and somewhat singular set of men, of whom as yet nothing that I know of has ever been written—I mean the law-copyists or scriveners. I have known very many of them, professionally and privately, and if I pleased, could relate divers histories, at which good-natured gentlemen might smile, and sentimental souls might weep. But I waive the biographies of all other scriveners for a few passages in the life of Bartleby, who was a scrivener of the strangest I ever saw or heard of. While of other law-copyists I might write the complete life, of Bartleby nothing of that sort can be done. I believe that no materials exist for a full and satisfactory biography of this man. It is an irreparable loss to literature. Bartleby was one of those beings of whom nothing is ascertainable, except from the original sources, and in his case those are very small. What my own astonished eyes saw of Bartleby, that is all I know of him, except, indeed, one vague report which will appear in the sequel.

Ere introducing the scrivener, as he first appeared to me, it is fit I make some mention of myself, my employees, my business, my chambers, and general surroundings; because some such description is indispensable to an adequate understanding of the chief character about to be presented. 

Imprimis: I am a man who, from his youth upwards, has been filled with a profound conviction that the easiest way of life is the best. Hence, though I belong to a profession proverbially energetic and nervous, even to turbulence, at times, yet nothing of that sort have I ever suffered to invade my peace. I am one of those unambitious lawyers who never addresses a jury, or in any way draws down public applause; but in the cool tranquility of a snug retreat, do a snug business among rich men's bonds and mortgages and title-deeds. All who know me, consider me an eminently safe man. The late John Jacob Astor, a personage little given to poetic enthusiasm, had no hesitation in pronouncing my first grand point to be prudence; my next, method. I do not speak it in vanity, but simply record the fact, that I was not unemployed in my profession by the late John Jacob Astor; a name which, I admit, I love to repeat, for it hath a rounded and orbicular sound to it, and rings like unto bullion. I will freely add, that I was not insensible to the late John Jacob Astor's good opinion.

Given the invocation of John Jacob Astor in the third paragraph, it can be inferred that the narrator is __________.

Possible Answers:

pompous

humble

kindly

strange

wealthy

Correct answer:

pompous

Explanation:

The narrator asserts that he enjoys his relationship with Mr. Astor. When he states that it is “a name which, I admit, I love to repeat,” he implies that he enjoys the affiliation with Astor for his title and wealth.

Example Question #3 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from "May Day" in Tales of the Jazz Age by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1922)

At nine o'clock on the morning of the first of May, 1919, a young man spoke to the room clerk at the Biltmore Hotel, asking if Mr. Philip Dean were registered there, and if so, could he be connected with Mr. Dean's rooms. The inquirer was dressed in a well-cut, shabby suit. He was small, slender, and darkly handsome; his eyes were framed above with unusually long eyelashes and below with the blue semicircle of ill health, this latter effect heightened by an unnatural glow which colored his face like a low, incessant fever.

Mr. Dean was staying there. The young man was directed to a telephone at the side.

After a second his connection was made; a sleepy voice hello'd from somewhere above.

"Mr. Dean?"—this very eagerly—"it's Gordon, Phil. It's Gordon Sterrett. I'm down-stairs. I heard you were in New York and I had a hunch you'd be here."

The sleepy voice became gradually enthusiastic. Well, how was Gordy, old boy! Well, he certainly was surprised and tickled! Would Gordy come right up, for Pete's sake!

A few minutes later Philip Dean, dressed in blue silk pajamas, opened his door and the two young men greeted each other with a half-embarrassed exuberance. They were both about twenty-four, Yale graduates of the year before the war; but there the resemblance stopped abruptly. Dean was blond, ruddy, and rugged under his thin pajamas. Everything about him radiated fitness and bodily comfort. He smiled frequently, showing large and prominent teeth.

"I was going to look you up," he cried enthusiastically. "I'm taking a couple of weeks off. If you'll sit down a sec I'll be right with you. Going to take a shower."

As he vanished into the bathroom his visitor's dark eyes roved nervously around the room, resting for a moment on a great English travelling bag in the corner and on a family of thick silk shirts littered on the chairs amid impressive neckties and soft woollen socks.

Gordon rose and, picking up one of the shirts, gave it a minute examination. It was of very heavy silk, yellow, with a pale blue stripe—and there were nearly a dozen of them. He stared involuntarily at his own shirt-cuffs—they were ragged and linty at the edges and soiled to a faint gray. Dropping the silk shirt, he held his coat-sleeves down and worked the frayed shirt-cuffs up till they were out of sight. Then he went to the mirror and looked at himself with listless, unhappy interest. His tie, of former glory, was faded and thumb-creased—it served no longer to hide the jagged buttonholes of his collar. He thought, quite without amusement, that only three years before he had received a scattering vote in the senior elections at college for being the best-dressed man in his class.

As it is used in the sixth paragraph, the underlined word “prominent” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

loose

sentient

inconspicuous

vibrant

pronounced

Correct answer:

pronounced

Explanation:

“Large and prominent teeth” means large and showy, or conspicuous, teeth. The closest synonym to these would be “pronounced." To help you, "sentient" means able to think, "inconspicuous" means hidden, not obvious, or not showy, and "vibrant" means colorful or lively.

Example Question #4 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from "May Day" in Tales of the Jazz Age by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1922)

At nine o'clock on the morning of the first of May, 1919, a young man spoke to the room clerk at the Biltmore Hotel, asking if Mr. Philip Dean were registered there, and if so, could he be connected with Mr. Dean's rooms. The inquirer was dressed in a well-cut, shabby suit. He was small, slender, and darkly handsome; his eyes were framed above with unusually long eyelashes and below with the blue semicircle of ill health, this latter effect heightened by an unnatural glow which colored his face like a low, incessant fever.

Mr. Dean was staying there. The young man was directed to a telephone at the side.

After a second his connection was made; a sleepy voice hello'd from somewhere above.

"Mr. Dean?"—this very eagerly—"it's Gordon, Phil. It's Gordon Sterrett. I'm down-stairs. I heard you were in New York and I had a hunch you'd be here."

The sleepy voice became gradually enthusiastic. Well, how was Gordy, old boy! Well, he certainly was surprised and tickled! Would Gordy come right up, for Pete's sake!

A few minutes later Philip Dean, dressed in blue silk pajamas, opened his door and the two young men greeted each other with a half-embarrassed exuberance. They were both about twenty-four, Yale graduates of the year before the war; but there the resemblance stopped abruptly. Dean was blond, ruddy, and rugged under his thin pajamas. Everything about him radiated fitness and bodily comfort. He smiled frequently, showing large and prominent teeth.

"I was going to look you up," he cried enthusiastically. "I'm taking a couple of weeks off. If you'll sit down a sec I'll be right with you. Going to take a shower."

As he vanished into the bathroom his visitor's dark eyes roved nervously around the room, resting for a moment on a great English travelling bag in the corner and on a family of thick silk shirts littered on the chairs amid impressive neckties and soft woollen socks.

Gordon rose and, picking up one of the shirts, gave it a minute examination. It was of very heavy silk, yellow, with a pale blue stripe—and there were nearly a dozen of them. He stared involuntarily at his own shirt-cuffs—they were ragged and linty at the edges and soiled to a faint gray. Dropping the silk shirt, he held his coat-sleeves down and worked the frayed shirt-cuffs up till they were out of sight. Then he went to the mirror and looked at himself with listless, unhappy interest. His tie, of former glory, was faded and thumb-creased—it served no longer to hide the jagged buttonholes of his collar. He thought, quite without amusement, that only three years before he had received a scattering vote in the senior elections at college for being the best-dressed man in his class.

Which of these most accurately restates the meaning of “I heard you were in New York and I had a hunch you'd be here," a line that appears in the fourth paragraph?

Possible Answers:

Everyone said you were out of town so I came here in search of you.

I had no idea you were in New York but happened to sense you were here.

I detected your presence in New York and thought I would call on you.

I was informed you were in the city and guessed you would stay here. 

I've been waiting for you to come to New York so I could visit you here.

Correct answer:

I was informed you were in the city and guessed you would stay here. 

Explanation:

A “hunch” is a guess, so the correct answer should suggest a guess and the fact that someone has informed or told Gordon that Philip is in the city.

Example Question #5 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from "After the Race" from Dubliners by James Joyce (1914)

Their sympathy, however, was for the blue cars—the cars of their friends, the French. The French, moreover were natural victors. Their team had finished solidly: they had been placed second and third and the driver of the winning German car was reported a Belgian. Each blue car, therefore, received a double measure of welcome as it topped the crest of the hill and each cheer of welcome was acknowledged with smiles and nods by those in the car.

What does the word "sympathy" mean in the sentence above?

Possible Answers:

They hated the French.

They empathized with the French.

They felt pity for the French.

They enjoyed classical French music.

They were rooting for the French.

Correct answer:

They were rooting for the French.

Explanation:

The word "sympathy" usually refers to compassion. In this context it means that they felt akin to the French and were rooting for them to win. 

Example Question #6 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from "A Little Cloud" from Dubliners by James Joyce (1914)

He remembered the books of poetry upon his shelves at home. He had bought them in his bachelor days and many an evening, as he sat in the little room off the hall, he had been tempted to take one down from the bookshelf and read something to his wife. But shyness had always held him back; and so the books had remained on their shelves. At times he repeated lines to himself and this consoled him.

What does the underlined word "bachelor" mean?

Possible Answers:

A man who sells meat

A married man

An unmarried man

A soldier

An unhappy man

Correct answer:

An unmarried man

Explanation:

A "bachelor" is a man of the age where he could get married but who is not married. From the passage, we learn that he bought books of poems before he married his wife.

Example Question #7 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from "After the Race" from Dubliners by James Joyce (1914)

Their sympathy, however, was for the blue cars—the cars of their friends, the French. The French, moreover were natural victors. Their team had finished solidly: they had been placed second and third and the driver of the winning German car was reported a Belgian. Each blue car, therefore, received a double measure of welcome as it topped the crest of the hill and each cheer of welcome was acknowledged with smiles and nods by those in the car.

What does the underlined word "victors" mean in the passage above?

Possible Answers:

People who will do anything to win

People who often win contests

People who naturally brag a lot

People who are vicious

Men named Victor

Correct answer:

People who often win contests

Explanation:

The word "victor" means winner, so the correct answer is "people who often win contests."

Example Question #8 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from "After the Race" from Dubliners by James Joyce (1914)

They were not much more than acquaintances as yet but Jimmy found great pleasure in the society of one who had seen so much of the world and was reputed to own some of the biggest hotels in France. Such a person (as his father agreed) was well worth knowing, even if he had not been the charming companion he was. Villona was entertaining also—a brilliant pianist—but, unfortunately, very poor.

How well does Jimmy know the man who is reputed to own some of the biggest hotels in France?

Possible Answers:

Jimmy has known him since birth.

Jimmy wishes he didn't know this man at all. 

Jimmy has likely met him once or twice before, but does not know him well.

Jimmy has never met him, but has heard a lot about him. 

Jimmy knows his friends well, and they are other high-society people.

Correct answer:

Jimmy has likely met him once or twice before, but does not know him well.

Explanation:

The passage says they were "not much more than acquaintances." If two people are acquainted, it means they have met, and since they are "not much more than acquaintances," the meaning is that they have met but have not yet become close friends.

Example Question #9 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from "A Little Cloud" from Dubliners by James Joyce (1914)

He remembered the books of poetry upon his shelves at home. He had bought them in his bachelor days and many an evening, as he sat in the little room off the hall, he had been tempted to take one down from the bookshelf and read something to his wife. But shyness had always held him back; and so the books had remained on their shelves. At times he repeated lines to himself and this consoled him.

What does the underlined word "consoled" mean in the passage above?

Possible Answers:

Energized him

Made him feel lonely

Made him feel sad

Made him sleepy

Made him feel better

Correct answer:

Made him feel better

Explanation:

The man is sad that he is too shy to read the poems to his wife, but it makes him feel better to read the poems to himself. 

Example Question #10 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851)

The fact is, that among his hunters at least, the whale would, by all hands, be considered a noble dish were there not so much of him; but when you come to sit down before a meat-pie nearly one hundred feet long, it takes away your appetite. Only the most unprejudiced of men, like Stubb, nowadays partake of cooked whales; but the Esquimaux are not so fastidious. We all know how they live upon whales and have rare old vintages of prime old train oil. Zogranda, one of their most famous doctors, recommends strips of blubber for infants as being exceedingly juicy and nourishing. And this reminds me that certain Englishmen, who long ago were accidentally left in Greenland by a whaling vessel—that these men actually lived for several months on the moldy scraps of whales which had been left ashore after trying out the blubber. Among the Dutch whalemen, these scraps are called “fritters,” which, indeed, they greatly resemble, being brown and crisp, and smelling something like old Amsterdam housewives’ dough-nuts or oly-cooks when fresh. They have such an eatable look that the most self-denying stranger can hardly keep his hands off.

But what further depreciates the whale as a civilized dish is his exceeding richness. He is the great prize ox of the sea, too fat to be delicately good. Look at his hump, which would be as fine eating as the buffalo’s (which is esteemed a rare dish), were it not such a solid pyramid of fat. But the spermaceti itself, how bland and creamy that is, like the transparent, half-jellied, white meat of a coconut in the third month of its growth, yet far too rich to supply a substitute for butter. Nevertheless, many whale men have a method of absorbing it into some other substance and then partaking of it. In the long try watches of the night, it is a common thing for the seamen to dip their ship-biscuit into the huge oil-pots and let them fry there awhile. Many a good supper have I thus made.

In the context of the passage, what does the underlined word "depreciates" mean?

Possible Answers:

Lessens the worth of an item

Causes the material to decay faster

Lowers the cost or price of an item significantly

Causes the value to increase

Correct answer:

Lessens the worth of an item

Explanation:

"Depreciate" means to lessen the price or value of or to think or speak of as being of little worth. In the context of the passage, it refers to the overall worth of an item, not its monetary value.

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