SSAT Upper Level Reading : Making Predictions Based on Argumentative Humanities Passages

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

varsity tutors app store varsity tutors android store

Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Making Predictions Based On Argumentative Humanities Passages

Adapted from "The Philosophy of Composition" by Edgar Allan Poe (1846)

Nothing is more clear than that every plot, worth the name, must be elaborated to its dénouement before any thing be attempted with the pen. It is only with the dénouement constantly in view that we can give a plot its indispensable air of consequence, or causation, by making the incidents, and especially the tone at all points, tend to the development of the intention.

There is a radical error, I think, in the usual mode of constructing a story. Either history affords a thesis—or one is suggested by an incident of the day—or, at best, the author sets himself to work in the combination of striking events to form merely the basis of his narrative—designing, generally, to fill in with description, dialogue, or autorial comment, whatever crevices of fact, or action, may, from page to page, render themselves apparent.

I prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect. Keeping originality always in view—for he is false to himself who ventures to dispense with so obvious and so easily attainable a source of interest—I say to myself, in the first place, “Of the innumerable effects, or impressions, of which the heart, the intellect, or (more generally) the soul is susceptible, what one shall I, on the present occasion, select?” Having chosen a novel, first, and secondly a vivid effect, I consider whether it can best be wrought by incident or tone—whether by ordinary incidents and peculiar tone, or the converse, or by peculiarity both of incident and tone—afterward looking about me (or rather within) for such combinations of event, or tone, as shall best aid me in the construction of the effect.

Based on Poe's claims in the passage's last paragraph, which of the following claims would he be most likely to agree with?

Possible Answers:

It is rarely worth a writer's time to plan out a story in advance.

Plot is the most important element of a work of literature.

The effect of a novel depends upon incident and tone.

Whatever is original is always interesting.

Correct answer:

Whatever is original is always interesting.


In the passage's final paragraph, Poe describes "originality" as "a source of interest" that is "easily attainable," which suggests that he believes that anything original is bound to be interesting.

Example Question #2 : Making Predictions Based On Argumentative Humanities Passages

Adapted from Queen Elizabeth by Jacob Abbott (1876; 1904 ed.)

As to the question whether Mary or Elizabeth had the rightful title to the English crown, it has not only never been settled, but from its very nature it cannot be settled. It is one of those cases in which a peculiar contingency occurs which runs beyond the scope and reach of all the ordinary principles by which analogous cases are tried, and leads to questions which cannot be decided. As long as a hereditary succession goes smoothly on, like a river keeping within its banks, we can decide subordinate and incidental questions which may arise; but when a case occurs in which we have the omnipotence of Parliament to set off against the infallibility of the pope—the sacred obligations of a will against the equally sacred principles of hereditary succession—and when we have, at last, two contradictory actions of the same ultimate umpire, we find all technical grounds of coming to a conclusion gone. We then, abandoning these, seek for some higher and more universal principles—essential in the nature of things, and thus independent of the will and action of man—to see if they will throw any light on the subject. But we soon find ourselves as much perplexed and confounded in this inquiry as we were before. We ask, in beginning the investigation, What is the ground and nature of the right by which any king or queen succeeds to the power possessed by his ancestors? And we give up in despair, not being able to answer even this first preliminary inquiry.

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

Possible Answers:

When the Pope and Parliament disagree, Parliament will always get its way.

Mary would have been a better queen than Elizabeth had she ruled for as many years.

We cannot truly understand Elizabeth's reign because we cannot even determine whether she was the rightful ruler.

Only when hereditary succession goes smoothly does a king or queen have a natural right to the throne.

Royal families maintain their power more through human will than by natural right.

Correct answer:

Royal families maintain their power more through human will than by natural right.


There being no natural and universal principle regarding who has the right to rule a country, hereditary succession must be a human invention. There is no suggestion that we cannot assess how well Elizabeth ruled; only that we cannot determine whether she had a clear "right" to rule.

Learning Tools by Varsity Tutors