SSAT Upper Level Reading : Recognizing the Main Idea in Argumentative Social Science Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Sequence, Organization, And Structure In Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from "Address to the Court" by Eugene Debs (1918)

Your Honor, I have stated in this court that I am opposed to the form of our present government; that I am opposed to the social system in which we live; that I believed in the change of both—but by perfectly peaceable and orderly means.

Let me call your attention to the fact this morning that in this system five percent of our people own and control two-thirds of our wealth; sixty-five percent of the people, embracing the working class who produce all wealth, have but five percent to show for it.

Standing here this morning, I recall my boyhood. At fourteen I went to work in a railroad shop; at sixteen I was firing a freight engine on a railroad. I remember all the hardships and privations of that earlier day, and from that time until now my heart has been with the working class. I could have been in Congress long ago. I have preferred to go to prison. The choice has been deliberately made. I could not have done otherwise. I have no regret.

In the struggle, the unceasing struggle, between the toilers and producers and their exploiters, I have tried, as best I might, to serve those among whom I was born, with whom I expect to share my lot until the end of my days. I am thinking this morning of the men in the mills and factories; I am thinking of the men in the mines and on the railroads; I am thinking of the women who, for a paltry wage, are compelled to work out their lives; of the little children, who in this system, are robbed of their childhood, and in their early, tender years are seized in the remorseless grasp of Mammon, and forced into the industrial dungeons, there to feed the machines while they themselves are being starved body and soul. I see them dwarfed, diseased, stunted, their little lives broken, and their hopes blasted, because in this high noon of our twentieth-century civilization money is still so much more important than human life. Gold is god and rules in the affairs of men.

The second paragraph is intended to highlight __________.

Possible Answers:

the disparity of wealth in America

the need to raise the minimum wage

the hard working attitude of the American working class

the evils of American government

the generosity of wealthy Americans

Correct answer:

the disparity of wealth in America

Explanation:

The second paragraph discusses how a small percentage of the American population owns a large proportion of the wealth; therefore, the correct answer is that the second paragraph is highlighting the disparity of wealthy in America.

Example Question #12 : Understanding The Content Of 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 main idea of the passage?

Possible Answers:

The author points out flaws in his opponents' arguments in order to oppose the Constitution.

The author compares features of the federal and state governments and concludes that they are very different from one another.

The author compares the federal and state governments, and in doing so, argues that the ultimate source of a government's authority is the people it governs.

The author describes the features of the Constitution and the effects they may have on federal- and state-level government.

The author discusses the relative unimportance of constituents in his country's current governmental system.

Correct answer:

The author compares the federal and state governments, and in doing so, argues that the ultimate source of a government's authority is the people it governs.

Explanation:

While the passage begins with the author declaring his intention to "inquire whether the federal government or the state governments will have the advantage with regard to the predilection and support of the people," this is not the only idea that the selection focuses on. The author spends the rest of the passage discussing how governmental authority derives from the people, and how those who oppose the Constitution have forgotten about this in their arguments. The correct answer is thus, "The author compares the federal and state governments, and in doing so, argues that the ultimate source of a government's authority is with the people it governs."

Example Question #1 : 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.

Which of the following best captures the attitude of the author towards “critics”?

Possible Answers:

The author has no strong opinion on critics.

The author feels critics should not be praised over those who actually strive to achieve something.

The author feels that all critics are significant measures of social understanding.

The author finds critics to be worthless and immoral.

The author lauds critical analysis as the most accurate measure of the greatness of an individual.

Correct answer:

The author feels critics should not be praised over those who actually strive to achieve something.

Explanation:

The author of this passage describes, in the introduction, how critics should not receive credit for pointing out the flaws in the actions of those who “do” things. To the author the critic is merely a biased observer, intent on pointing out the mistakes of others and little inclined towards doing anything productive themselves. The correct answer is that “The author feels critics should not be praised over those who actually strive to achieve something.” Many students might have answered that “The author finds critics to be worthless and immoral,” but the words “worthless” and “immoral” are not explicitly used by the author and the tone is slightly less harsh than those words might imply.

Example Question #1432 : Act Reading

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.

In this passage, the author describes the battlefield as being __________.

Possible Answers:

miserable

mythical 

sacred

haunted 

insignificant

Correct answer:

sacred

Explanation:

The author of this passage is Abraham Lincoln. This passage is adapted from Lincoln’s famous 1863 Gettysburg Address. Lincoln emphasizes the sacred nature of the battlefield; its importance to the Civil War effort. He describes how the men who fought and died on the battlefield, in the name of preserving the union, consecrated (to make sacred or holy) the ground. Lincoln makes no reference to the misery suffered in war, nor would he likely imply that the battle fought at Gettysburg was insignificant. Similarly, there is no mention in the passage of the battlefield being haunted or that its status is mythical (legendary).

Example Question #2 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Idea And Theme In History 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 is the main idea of this selection?

Possible Answers:

Often, people are mistaken regarding the role of Christianity in the American founding, some underestimating its role and others overestimating it.

People always make mistakes regarding the Founding Fathers of America.

Religious zealots have co-opted the meaning of the American founding.

Atheists utterly distort the history of America's founding.

History is extremely complex, having many subtleties that need to be considered adequately.

Correct answer:

Often, people are mistaken regarding the role of Christianity in the American founding, some underestimating its role and others overestimating it.

Explanation:

The overall purpose of this passage is to express two different views of the American founding, each of which is wrong, though in different ways. The passage is not meant to issue a massive judgment against either party but instead shows the partial nature of their outlooks.

Example Question #4 : Making Inferences And Predictions In History 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.

From the whole of this passage, what does the author likely believe will be the product of women’s increased political participation?

Possible Answers:

Moderation of human ambitions

Reassertion of male dominance

Social unrest

Political discord

Constructive good

Correct answer:

Constructive good

Explanation:

The author makes direct reference to her belief in the ability of women to have a positive effect on the growth of human society when she says: “Today we stand on the threshold of woman's era, and woman's work is grandly constructive.” This evidence, combined with the overall tone of the passage, should give enough information to answer that the author believes increased female participation will lead to constructive good.

Example Question #111 : Social Studies

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 is the main idea of this selection?

Possible Answers:

The Gutenberg press was in fact a rather unimportant invention compared to a number of others.

The Gutenberg press is the single greatest achievement of human history.

The Gutenberg press should be ignored by historians after many years of over-emphasis.

The Gutenberg press is a fascinating case study but really nothing more.

The Gutenberg press should be understood as part of a longer history of the development of human communication.

Correct answer:

The Gutenberg press should be understood as part of a longer history of the development of human communication.

Explanation:

This whole selection aims to show that the significance of the Gutenberg press should be understood in light of the importance of speech and writing. From the beginning, it acknowledges that it was an important invention; however, it follows by providing a short explanation of how speech and writing are likewise very important means of human communication. The closing paragraph repeats the main point, namely that the press was important but is really part of a larger history.

Example Question #1434 : Act Reading

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 is the main idea of the third paragraph?

Possible Answers:

To explain the first historical event of writing

To transition back from discussion of speech to discussion of the Gutenberg press

To introduce and explain the benefits of the written word

To give an example of the inventiveness of human authors

To show the worthlessness of speech

Correct answer:

To introduce and explain the benefits of the written word

Explanation:

The third paragraph opens with a transition sentence that intends to show that the spoken tradition discussed in the second paragraph is "fragile," that is weak and likely to fail over time. From this transition, it discusses the importance of writing (without judging speech in a completly negative fashion). The remainder of the paragraph explains how writing is able to last for a much longer time than speech. Likewise, it observes how it expands the possibilities for the exchange of knowledge.

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