SSAT Upper Level Reading : Finding Context-Dependent Meanings of Words in Narrative Humanities 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 Narrative Humanities Passages

"Poetry and Philosophy" by Justin Bailey

As the logical positivism rose to ascendancy, poetic language was increasingly seen as merely emotive. Wittgenstein’s influential Tractatus argued that only language corresponding to observable states of affairs in the world was meaningful, thus ruling out the value of imaginative language in saying anything about the world. Poetry’s contribution was rather that it showed what could not be said, a layer of reality which Wittgenstein called the “mystical.” Despite Wittgenstein’s interest in the mystical value of poetry, his successors abandoned the mystical as a meaningful category, exiling poetry in a sort of no man’s land where its only power to move came through the empathy of shared feeling.

Yet some thinkers, like Martin Heidegger, reacted strongly to the pretensions of an instrumental theory of knowledge to make sense of the world. Heidegger, Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur all gave central value to poetry in their philosophical method; signifying a growing sense among continental thinkers that poetic knowing was an important key to recovering some vital way of talking about and experiencing the world that had been lost.

The word "ascendancy" used in the first sentence most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

lassitude

meaningfulness

hegemony

marginalization

optimism

Correct answer:

hegemony

Explanation:

"Hegemony" is defined as when one group's views exert controlling influence over a group of people. The clues here are "rising" and the word "ascent" hidden in "ascendancy." The idea here is that logical positivism is becoming the dominant way of thinking. You do not need to know what positivism is to answer this correctly, since the point is that this way of thinking is raised "above" other ways of thinking.

Example Question #2 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Narrative Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Nature" by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1836)

Whoever considers the final cause of the world, will discern a multitude of uses that result. They all admit of being thrown into one of the following classes: Commodity; Beauty; Language; and Discipline.

Under the general name of Commodity, I rank all those advantages which our senses owe to nature. This, of course, is a benefit which is temporary and mediate, not ultimate, like its service to the soul. Yet although low, it is perfect in its kind, and is the only use of nature which all men apprehend. The misery of man appears like childish petulance, when we explore the steady and prodigal provision that has been made for his support and delight on this green ball which floats him through the heavens. What angels invented these splendid ornaments, these rich conveniences, this ocean of air above, this ocean of water beneath, this firmament of earth between? This zodiac of lights, this tent of dropping clouds, this striped coat of climates, this fourfold year? Beasts, fire, water, stones, and corn serve him. The field is at once his floor, his work-yard, his play-ground, his garden, and his bed.

Nature, in its ministry to man, is not only the material, but is also the process and the result. All the parts incessantly work into each other's hands for the profit of man. The wind sows the seed; the sun evaporates the sea; the wind blows the vapor to the field; the ice, on the other side of the planet, condenses rain on this; the rain feeds the plant; the plant feeds the animal; and thus the endless circulations of the divine charity nourish man.

In this context, the word "apprehend" in the second paragraph most likely means __________.

Possible Answers:

worry about

capture

fear

understand

Correct answer:

understand

Explanation:

The word "apprehend" in this context is a near synonym of "comprehend," so "understand" is the correct answer.

Example Question #3 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Narrative Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Nature" by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1836)

Whoever considers the final cause of the world, will discern a multitude of uses that result. They all admit of being thrown into one of the following classes: Commodity; Beauty; Language; and Discipline.

Under the general name of Commodity, I rank all those advantages which our senses owe to nature. This, of course, is a benefit which is temporary and mediate, not ultimate, like its service to the soul. Yet although low, it is perfect in its kind, and is the only use of nature which all men apprehend. The misery of man appears like childish petulance, when we explore the steady and prodigal provision that has been made for his support and delight on this green ball which floats him through the heavens. What angels invented these splendid ornaments, these rich conveniences, this ocean of air above, this ocean of water beneath, this firmament of earth between? This zodiac of lights, this tent of dropping clouds, this striped coat of climates, this fourfold year? Beasts, fire, water, stones, and corn serve him. The field is at once his floor, his work-yard, his play-ground, his garden, and his bed.

Nature, in its ministry to man, is not only the material, but is also the process and the result. All the parts incessantly work into each other's hands for the profit of man. The wind sows the seed; the sun evaporates the sea; the wind blows the vapor to the field; the ice, on the other side of the planet, condenses rain on this; the rain feeds the plant; the plant feeds the animal; and thus the endless circulations of the divine charity nourish man.

The word "prodigal" underlined in the second paragraph most likely means __________.

Possible Answers:

reckless

spendthrift

lavish

extravagant

Correct answer:

lavish

Explanation:

The word "prodigal" here is being used in a positive sense, so the word "lavish" is the synonym that best fits the context.

Example Question #4 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Narrative Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Nature" by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1836)

Whoever considers the final cause of the world, will discern a multitude of uses that result. They all admit of being thrown into one of the following classes: Commodity; Beauty; Language; and Discipline.

Under the general name of Commodity, I rank all those advantages which our senses owe to nature. This, of course, is a benefit which is temporary and mediate, not ultimate, like its service to the soul. Yet although low, it is perfect in its kind, and is the only use of nature which all men apprehend. The misery of man appears like childish petulance, when we explore the steady and prodigal provision that has been made for his support and delight on this green ball which floats him through the heavens. What angels invented these splendid ornaments, these rich conveniences, this ocean of air above, this ocean of water beneath, this firmament of earth between? This zodiac of lights, this tent of dropping clouds, this striped coat of climates, this fourfold year? Beasts, fire, water, stones, and corn serve him. The field is at once his floor, his work-yard, his play-ground, his garden, and his bed.

Nature, in its ministry to man, is not only the material, but is also the process and the result. All the parts incessantly work into each other's hands for the profit of man. The wind sows the seed; the sun evaporates the sea; the wind blows the vapor to the field; the ice, on the other side of the planet, condenses rain on this; the rain feeds the plant; the plant feeds the animal; and thus the endless circulations of the divine charity nourish man.

In the context of the passage, the word "ministry" in the first line of the final paragraph most likely means __________.

Possible Answers:

the work of a minister

the act of preaching to someone

the act of providing for someone

the act of governing someone

Correct answer:

the act of providing for someone

Explanation:

In this context, the word "minister" means the tendency of nature to provide everything that man requires.

Example Question #5 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Narrative Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Nature" by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1836)

Whoever considers the final cause of the world, will discern a multitude of uses that result. They all admit of being thrown into one of the following classes: Commodity; Beauty; Language; and Discipline.

Under the general name of Commodity, I rank all those advantages which our senses owe to nature. This, of course, is a benefit which is temporary and mediate, not ultimate, like its service to the soul. Yet although low, it is perfect in its kind, and is the only use of nature which all men apprehend. The misery of man appears like childish petulance, when we explore the steady and prodigal provision that has been made for his support and delight on this green ball which floats him through the heavens. What angels invented these splendid ornaments, these rich conveniences, this ocean of air above, this ocean of water beneath, this firmament of earth between? This zodiac of lights, this tent of dropping clouds, this striped coat of climates, this fourfold year? Beasts, fire, water, stones, and corn serve him. The field is at once his floor, his work-yard, his play-ground, his garden, and his bed.

Nature, in its ministry to man, is not only the material, but is also the process and the result. All the parts incessantly work into each other's hands for the profit of man. The wind sows the seed; the sun evaporates the sea; the wind blows the vapor to the field; the ice, on the other side of the planet, condenses rain on this; the rain feeds the plant; the plant feeds the animal; and thus the endless circulations of the divine charity nourish man.

In this passage, Emerson is defining "Commodity" as __________.

Possible Answers:

the things that work together to produce nature

the ability to produce things that support our existence

the features of nature that please and delight us

physical necessities that support our existence

Correct answer:

physical necessities that support our existence

Explanation:

Emerson is referring in this passage to the physical necessities provided by nature that support our existence on this planet.

Example Question #6 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Narrative Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Nature" by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1836)

Whoever considers the final cause of the world, will discern a multitude of uses that result. They all admit of being thrown into one of the following classes; Commodity; Beauty; Language; and Discipline.

Under the general name of Commodity, I rank all those advantages which our senses owe to nature. This, of course, is a benefit which is temporary and mediate, not ultimate, like its service to the soul. Yet although low, it is perfect in its kind, and is the only use of nature which all men apprehend. The misery of man appears like childish petulance, when we explore the steady and prodigal provision that has been made for his support and delight on this green ball which floats him through the heavens. What angels invented these splendid ornaments, these rich conveniences, this ocean of air above, this ocean of water beneath, this firmament of earth between? this zodiac of lights, this tent of dropping clouds, this striped coat of climates, this fourfold year? Beasts, fire, water, stones, and corn serve him. The field is at once his floor, his work-yard, his play-ground, his garden, and his bed.

Nature, in its ministry to man, is not only the material, but is also the process and the result. All the parts incessantly work into each other's hands for the profit of man. The wind sows the seed; the sun evaporates the sea; the wind blows the vapor to the field; the ice, on the other side of the planet, condenses rain on this; the rain feeds the plant; the plant feeds the animal; and thus the endless circulations of the divine charity nourish man.

Given the context, the word "divine" underlined in the passage's final sentence could be reasonably understood to mean each of the following EXCEPT __________.

Possible Answers:

blessed

excellent

holy

a theologian

Correct answer:

a theologian

Explanation:

Since Emerson includes religious imagery of angels in the second paragraph, one could infer that his use of "divine" here is meant to mean blessed or holy, words with religious connotations and meanings. However, "divine" could also be used in the sense of the outdated meaning excellent. We can tell that because "divine" is being used as an adjective, and not a noun, that it is not being used in another outdated sense to mean "a theologian." Even if the word were in a grammatically correct form, nothing about theologians has been mentioned in the passage, so it wouldn't make much sense in the passage's context.

Example Question #7 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Narrative Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Nature" by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1849)

Words are signs of natural facts. The use of natural history is to give us aid in supernatural history: the use of the outer creation, to give us language for the beings and changes of the inward creation. Every word which is used to express a moral or intellectual fact, if traced to its root, is found to be borrowed from some material appearance. "Right" means straight; "wrong" means twisted. "Spirit" primarily means wind; "transgression," the crossing of a line; "supercilious," the raising of the eyebrow. We say "the heart" to express emotion, "the head" to denote thought; and "thought" and "emotion" are words borrowed from sensible things, and now appropriated to spiritual nature. Most of the process by which this transformation is made, is hidden from us in the remote time when language was framed; but the same tendency may be daily observed in children. Children and savages use only nouns or names of things, which they convert into verbs, and apply to analogous mental acts.

But this origin of all words that convey a spiritual import—so conspicuous a fact in the history of language—is our least debt to nature. It is not words only that are emblematic; it is things which are emblematic. Every natural fact is a symbol of some spiritual fact. Every appearance in nature corresponds to some state of the mind, and that state of the mind can only be described by presenting that natural appearance as its picture. An enraged man is a lion, a cunning man is a fox, a firm man is a rock, a learned man is a torch. A lamb is innocence; a snake is subtle spite; flowers express to us the delicate affections. Light and darkness are our familiar expression for knowledge and ignorance; and heat for love. Visible distance behind and before us, is respectively our image of memory and hope.

In the context of the passage, the underlined word "sensible" means __________.

Possible Answers:

reasonable

tangible

logical

rational

Correct answer:

tangible

Explanation:

Emerson refers to "sensible things" giving us the words for more abstract concepts, so the word "sensible" in this sense means something concrete and therefore tangible, as in able to be perceived by the senses.

Example Question #8 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Narrative Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Nature" by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1836)

Whoever considers the final cause of the world, will discern a multitude of uses that result. They all admit of being thrown into one of the following classes: Commodity; Beauty; Language; and Discipline.

Under the general name of Commodity, I rank all those advantages which our senses owe to nature. This, of course, is a benefit which is temporary and mediate, not ultimate, like its service to the soul. Yet although low, it is perfect in its kind, and is the only use of nature which all men apprehend. The misery of man appears like childish petulance, when we explore the steady and prodigal provision that has been made for his support and delight on this green ball which floats him through the heavens. What angels invented these splendid ornaments, these rich conveniences, this ocean of air above, this ocean of water beneath, this firmament of earth between? This zodiac of lights, this tent of dropping clouds, this striped coat of climates, this fourfold year? Beasts, fire, water, stones, and corn serve him. The field is at once his floor, his work-yard, his play-ground, his garden, and his bed.

Nature, in its ministry to man, is not only the material, but is also the process and the result. All the parts incessantly work into each other's hands for the profit of man. The wind sows the seed; the sun evaporates the sea; the wind blows the vapor to the field; the ice, on the other side of the planet, condenses rain on this; the rain feeds the plant; the plant feeds the animal; and thus the endless circulations of the divine charity nourish man.

In the second line of the first paragraph, the underlined word "they" refers to which of the following?

Possible Answers:

the final cause of the world

the narrator's readers

the multitude of uses

whoever is considering the final cause of the world

Correct answer:

the multitude of uses

Explanation:

The pronoun "they" in the second line refers to the "multitude of uses" Emerson is talking about in the first line.

Example Question #14 : Language In Humanities Passages

Adapted from “A Definition of a Gentleman” by John Henry Newman (1852)

It is almost a definition of a gentleman to say he is one who never inflicts pain. This description is both refined and, as far as it goes, accurate. He is mainly occupied in merely removing the obstacles which hinder the free and unembarrassed action of those about him; and he concurs with their movements rather than takes the initiative himself. His benefits may be considered as parallel to what are called comforts or conveniences in arrangements of a personal nature: like an easy chair or a good fire, which do their part in dispelling cold and fatigue, though nature provides both means of rest and animal heat without them. The true gentleman in like manner carefully avoids whatever may cause a jar or a jolt in the minds of those with whom he is cast;--all clashing of opinion, or collision of feeling, all restraint, or suspicion, or gloom, or resentment; his great concern being to make everyone at their ease and at home. He has his eyes on all his company; he is tender towards the bashful, gentle towards the distant, and merciful towards the absurd; he can recollect to whom he is speaking; he guards against unseasonable allusions, or topics which may irritate; he is seldom prominent in conversation, and never wearisome. He makes light of favors while he does them, and seems to be receiving when he is conferring. He never speaks of himself except when compelled, never defends himself by a mere retort, he has no ears for slander or gossip, is scrupulous in imputing motives to those who interfere with him, and interprets everything for the best.

The word “hinder” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

facilitate

advance

obstruct 

condemn 

imagine

Correct answer:

obstruct 

Explanation:

To hinder something is to obstruct or prevent. In order to solve this problem without knowing the meaning of the word “hinder” you would need to look at the preceding and succeeding clauses to identify the context. In this instance the author is saying that it is “obstacles” that are hindering something. Well obstacles generally get in the way more than anything else, so obstruct should stand out as the most likely answer.

Example Question #41 : Contemporary Life Passages

Adapted from Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads by John A. Lomax (1910)

The big ranches of the West are now being cut up into small farms. The nester has come, and come to stay. Gone is the buffalo and the free grass of the open plain—even the stinging lizard, the horned frog, the centipede, the prairie dog, the rattlesnake, are fast disappearing. Save in some of the secluded valleys of southern New Mexico, the old-time round-up is no more; the trails to Kansas and to Montana have become grass-grown or lost in fields of waving grain; the maverick steer, the regal longhorn, has been supplanted by his unpoetic but more beefy and profitable Polled Angus, Durham, and Hereford cousins from across the seas. The changing and romantic West of the early days lives mainly in story and in song. The last figure to vanish is the cowboy, the animating spirit of the vanishing era. He sits his horse easily as he rides through a wide valley, enclosed by mountains, clad in the hazy purple of coming night,—with his face turned steadily down the long, long road, "the road that the sun goes down." Dauntless, reckless, without the unearthly purity of Sir Galahad though as gentle to a woman as King Arthur, he is truly a knight of the twentieth century. A vagrant puff of wind shakes a corner of the crimson handkerchief knotted loosely at his throat; the thud of his pony's feet mingling with the jingle of his spurs is borne back; and as the careless, gracious, lovable figure disappears over the divide, the breeze brings to the ears, faint and far yet cheery still, the refrain of a cowboy song.

As used in the passage, the underlined word “vagrant” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

unpredictable

beggar

wandering

accidental

traveler

Correct answer:

wandering

Explanation:

First off, we can eliminate “beggar” and “traveler” because they are nouns, and the context calls for an adjective. “Accidental” does not make sense for a puff of air, and it doesn’t seem relevant whether or not it’s "unpredictable." “Wandering” is the best answer; not only is it a standard definition of “vagrant,” but it also makes the most sense in the context of the sentence.

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