SSAT Upper Level Reading : Making Inferences in Argumentative Social Science Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #102 : Social Studies

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 can we infer about the author's feelings about the Constitution based on the passage?

Possible Answers:

The author opposes the Constitution because he believes that it will create a federal government that is too weak to govern effectively.

The author likely has mixed feelings about the potential of the Constitution to create an effective federal government.

The author likely opposes the Constitution because he believes that it will create too strong of a federal government.

The author is neutral about the Constitution but feels that its detractors have been overly zealous.

The author is likely a supporter of the Constitution.

Correct answer:

The author is likely a supporter of the Constitution.

Explanation:

We can infer that the author of this passage supports the Constitution for a number of reasons. On one hand, he refers to "The adversaries of the Constitution" as "These gentleman" in the sentence "These gentlemen must here be reminded of their error." Since the author is not including himself with "these gentlemen," he is not including himself with the Constitutions' adversaries, so he does not oppose it. In saying that they need to be "reminded of their error," he is suggesting that the adversaries of the Constitution are wrong in some respect, providing evidence that he probably supports the constitution and opposes its adversaries. 

Example Question #6 : Textual Relationships 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.

The author would most likely agree with which of the following statements?

Possible Answers:

It is not surprising that the U.S. federal government's popularity exceeded that of its states' governments after the war.

It is unlikely that the federal government will ever exceed the previous importance it attained during the war.

During the previous war, the federal government focused its attention on relatively unimportant things.

Fewer people will likely participate in state governments in the author's near future.

Family ties and party affiliations have nothing to do with the relative popularity of federal or state governments.

Correct answer:

It is unlikely that the federal government will ever exceed the previous importance it attained during the war.

Explanation:

In the second sentence of the second paragraph, the author states, "The federal administration . . . had, during the war, . . . an activity and importance as great as it can well have in any future circumstances whatever." This directly supports the answer choice "It is unlikely that the federal government will ever exceed the previous importance it attained during the war." The other answer choices are all contradicted by information elsewhere in the passage.

Example Question #96 : Social Science Passages

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

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

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

What can be inferred to follow this passage?

Possible Answers:

A longer philosophical treatise on the rights of man

A list of the acts committed by England against the colonies 

A summary of the contents found in the passage

A list of demands to be met by England

The format of the new government for the colonies

Correct answer:

A list of the acts committed by England against the colonies 

Explanation:

The last two sentences of this selection are key for answering this question. Consider them directly: "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." The first of these sentences states that the current king of Great Britain had repeatedly and continually acted against the colonies. Then, the author states that "facts" are to be "submitted" to the world. That is, the facts proving the claim about the king will then be listed at length. Hence, we can suppose that there will be a list of acts committed against the colonies by England. (Indeed, this is what follows in the actual document.)

Example Question #4 : Textual Relationships In Contemporary Life 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.

What can you infer about Henry’s sixth wife?

Possible Answers:

She was divorced shortly before Henry died.

She gave him a son.

She wrote many books.

She was killed along with Henry.

She outlived him.

Correct answer:

She outlived him.

Explanation:

The famous English ditty goes “Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.” If we are to take it that, as the author says, this saying is used to remember the fates of the various wives, it seems reasonable to infer that the sixth wife was neither “divorced,” “beheaded,” nor did she “die.” But, rather she “survived,” so “she outlived him.” There is no evidence to suggest she gave Henry a son, was killed along with Henry, wrote many books, or was divorced.

Example Question #25 : Making Inferences About The Author Or Social Science / History Passage Content

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 in ideas. When true speech happened, persons 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. Just so, 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 does the author imply about the audience reading this passage?

Possible Answers:

That they are wholly ignorant of factual history and misunderstand the meaning of communication

That they need more information about the nature of speech and its physiological development

That they tend to focus too much on one event in linguistic development, accidentally ignoring others

That they overestimate the power of the spoken word, forgetting how fragile it is in reality

That they have long given into stereotypes about history and have thus misjudged much of the past

Correct answer:

That they tend to focus too much on one event in linguistic development, accidentally ignoring others

Explanation:

The best thing to do in answering this question is to pay attention to the author's tone.  In particular, note the uses of the word "us" and the word "we."

(1) We should not let its importance blind us to other very important events in the history of linguistic development.

(2) 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.

Clearly the author wishes to fix an historical misunderstanding, but it does not appear that the audience is judged to be completely ignorant. The author wishes to show that there are other important events in linguistic development. Likewise, knowledge of this history helps us to understand the meaning of the printing press in a fuller manner.

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