SSAT Upper Level Reading : Understanding and Evaluating Opinions and Arguments in Argumentative Social Science Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Identifying And Analyzing Supporting Ideas In 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 author references his childhood experiences to emphasize __________.

Possible Answers:

the terrible job conditions in working class America

the growth of the Communist movement

the importance of his time in prison

his belief that the Federal government has failed the American people

his association with the working classes

Correct answer:

his association with the working classes

Explanation:

Throughout this passage, the author seeks to make clear the close association he feels with the working classes of America. This rhetoric can be seen at the beginning of the fourth paragraph, when the author says, “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.” The author’s description of his early adolescent work experiences is put in this passage to demonstrate the author’s close association with the working classes.

Example Question #121 : Social Studies

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 author’s description of working-class children (“I see them . . . hopes blasted.”) highlights __________.

Possible Answers:

the abuses committed by the industrialists

the immorality of the American government

the manageable conditions of the factories and mines

the workability of the American economic system

the lack of accessible healthcare for working class children

Correct answer:

the abuses committed by the industrialists

Explanation:

The author describes the experience of working class children in the following manner: “The little children, who in this system, are robbed of their childhood . . . 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.” The intent here is to highlight the abuses committed on the children by the industrial class in order to reap large profits. You will notice that the children's suffering is the main focus of the quotation. The author employs evocative language to condemn the individuals responsible for causing the suffering.

Example Question #42 : Argumentative Social Science 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. 

Which of the following is true regarding the author’s perspective on the differences between federal and state governments?

Possible Answers:

The author thinks that only state governments have their power checked by the citizens of the United States.

The author thinks that the state and federal governments have been granted different powers in order to accomplish different goals.

The author thinks that the state and federal governments were designed to do the same things.

The author views the state and federal government as being rivals and enemies. 

The author thinks that only the federal government wants to enlarge its sphere of jurisdiction.

Correct answer:

The author thinks that the state and federal governments have been granted different powers in order to accomplish different goals.

Explanation:

In the fourth sentence, the author states, "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." This supports the answer choice "The author thinks that the state and federal governments have been granted different powers in order to accomplish different goals." 

The preceding quotation contradicts the answer choice "The author thinks that the state and federal governments were designed to do the same things." "The author thinks that only state governments have their power checked by the American people" is incorrect because the passage later states, "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"; both state and federal governments thus have their power checked by the people. The answer "The author views the state and federal government as being rivals and enemies" is incorrect because the author is opposing those who "have viewed these different establishments not only as mutual rivals and enemies"; these are the people he is referring to in the line, "These gentlemen must here be reminded of their error." Finally, "The author thinks that only the federal government wants to enlarge its sphere of jurisdiction" is incorrect because while he discusses the possibility of both state and federal governments trying "to enlarge [their] sphere[s] of jurisdiction at the expense of the other"

Example Question #6 : Understanding Style, Argument, And Organization In Social Science 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.

Which difference between federal and state governments is the author purposely not addressing in his argument?

Possible Answers:

Their different powers and purposes

The fact that both derive their authority from constituents

Their different constituents

The different ways in which officials are elected

The different sizes of their spheres of jurisdiction

Correct answer:

The different ways in which officials are elected

Explanation:

In the paragraph's second sentence, the author states, "Notwithstanding the different modes in which [the federal and state governments] are appointed, we must consider both of them as substantially dependent on the great body of the citizens of the United States." The introductory phrase that begins this sentence with "Notwithstanding" tells us that the author is ignoring the fact that the two different forms of government are appointed in different ways, so "The different ways in which officials are elected" is the correct answer.

Example Question #1 : Determining Authorial Attitude In 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.

The author’s description of those “who neither know victory nor defeat” is __________.

Possible Answers:

derisive 

ambivalent 

incomprehensible

friendly 

respectful 

Correct answer:

derisive 

Explanation:

The author contrasts those who do not even try to compete (those that do not know victory or defeat) with those “worthy” men who are not afraid to throw themselves into any challenge or competition. It is clear from the author’s tone in this passage that he believes in the greatness of men who boldly meet competition and therefore that he would feel the opposite about those who shrink away. The author even describes those “who neither know victory nor defeat” as “cold and timid.”

Example Question #42 : Argumentative 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 is the best description of the offenses committed by England according to the colonists according to the passage?

Possible Answers:

They have fought with the colonies in open battles on the content.

They have committed many, various acts against the colonies for some time.

None of the other answer choices

They have taxed the colonies beyond possibility of payment.

They have revoked the right of representation from the colonies.

Correct answer:

They have committed many, various acts against the colonies for some time.

Explanation:

Throughout the last few sentences, the passage speaks of "trains of injuries" and "repeated injuries." These are called upon as justifying action by the colonists. The implication is, whatever the particular offenses of England, they have been long-lasting and continuous. This is the primary accusation leveled in this selection—not any of the particular ones that are offered as other potential answers.

Example Question #2 : Ideas In History Passages

"What Do We Remember About History?" by Daniel Morrison (2014)

Henry the Eighth is most commonly remembered for the amusing and 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.

Which of these is the main argument of this essay?

Possible Answers:

Henry the Eighth was a terrible king and an even worse man who treated women with disdain and carelessness.

Our understanding of history has been impacted by the manner in which certain details are passed down through the generations.

The English decision to break with the Catholic church has been of great significance throughout English history.

Henry the Eighth is often misremembered in his own country.

Our collective understanding of history is too often focused on the entertaining rather than the significant.

Correct answer:

Our collective understanding of history is too often focused on the entertaining rather than the significant.

Explanation:

The main argument of this passage is best captured in the conclusion, where the author says, “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.” It is clear that the author believes “our collective understanding of history is too often focused on the entertaining rather than the significant.” Although the author does talk about Henry the Eighth for a long portion of the passage, Henry the Eighth is merely an example around which the author constructs his argument about history.

Example Question #11 : History 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.

According to the author, what should Henry the Eighth be most remembered for?

Possible Answers:

Dying too young

Declaring war on France

Marrying six different wives

Permanently establishing Protestantism in England

Misunderstanding history

Correct answer:

Permanently establishing Protestantism in England

Explanation:

According to the author, Henry the Eighth should be most remembered for “permanently establishing Protestantism in England.” The author says “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.” You might have been tempted to say that Henry the Eighth should be remembered as “misunderstanding history," but the author is concerned that his readers and other modern-day people misunderstand history, not that Henry the Eighth did specifically.

Example Question #1 : Passage Reasoning

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.

How does the author’s main idea become developed in a new way in the last paragraph?

Possible Answers:

He shows that, in fact, the creation of the printing press was an insignificant event.

He shows that the printing press is, in fact, one of the greatest human inventions.

He shows that the printing press is merely the last stage in the development of human expression and that it will likely be replaced by new forms of technology.

He shows a new way to understand the nature of the achievements made possible by the printing press.

He shows that the printing press is an excellent supplement to oral speech, but it can never replace it.

Correct answer:

He shows a new way to understand the nature of the achievements made possible by the printing press.

Explanation:

First, note that in the first paragraph, the author states that "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." The next two paragraphs help to develop that idea, showing how speech and writing are equally amazing events in the history of human communication. The final paragraph closes, however, with a new assertion: "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." This develops the author's theme, giving more information about the very nature of the printing press.

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