HSPT Reading : Literal Comprehension

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for HSPT Reading

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Analyzing Cause And Effect In Contemporary Life Passages

"American Students and Foreign Languages" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

American students often find it difficult to understand the need for learning a foreign language. In part, this lack of understanding seems to occur because of the insulated nature of American geography. Unlike Europe, America is a massive country, comprised of states that all speak the same language. When an American travels from state to state, he or she is not confronted with a completely different language group as is the case when, for example, a Frenchman travels from his native land to the neighboring country of Italy or to England. Although America does have Canada to its north and Mexico to its south, still it does not have the great internal variety of languages as one finds in the small European continent; therefore, students often do not have the experience of the practical importance of knowing other languages.

Of course, America has always been called the “melting pot,” for many peoples have arrived on these shores bringing their own distinctive cultures and languages. Still, this very expression—“melting pot”—shows that these immigrant cultures do not forever retain their own particular manners and languages. With time, these varied cultures become part of the American culture as a whole. While they do influence and change the culture, they likewise become assimilated into it. Their spoken language becomes English. Even if they retain their mother tongue, they generally speak it privately. This is done as a matter of personal heritage, not as part of the day-to-day life in the culture.

Additionally, America’s global dominance likewise allows Americans to avoid learning other languages. Since America has such influence over the rest of the world, it is generally in the interests of other peoples to learn English in order to be part of the economic, political, and military world in which America operates; therefore, even at international meetings that are filled with people from many nationalities and language groups, English-speakers are at an advantage because they can talk with almost anyone. The work and learning of other peoples thus allows the Americans to convince themselves that there is no need to learn another language.

Lastly, American education has come to emphasize mathematics and science to such a great degree that things such as language can often seem unimportant. The main goals of education are said to be the training of students for the technology workforce. If this is presented as the main goal of school, few children will understand why any of the non-science subjects are included in the curriculum. If a subject does not help in learning math and science, it will appear to be irrelevant. In particular, foreign languages do not seem to add to the teaching of math and science, which can be done very easily and effectively in English alone.

Of course, many other reasons could be considered, and a more detailed discussion would undertake such a lengthy investigation. Still, the factors discussed above do provide some sense as to why American students find it difficult to understand the importance of learning a foreign language.

Based on what is said in the third paragraph, why are other countries encouraged to learn English?

Possible Answers:

American dominance has rotted the cultures of other nations, making them subservient to American mores and language.

America's global dominance creates an environment that greatly encourages the use of English by citizens of other countries.

Other nations naturally enjoy the use of English at international meetings, for it is the most expressive of modern languages.

American imperialism forces English on other countries by refusing to trade with non-English-speaking nations.

America has enforced its language by military pressure on other nations.

Correct answer:

America's global dominance creates an environment that greatly encourages the use of English by citizens of other countries.


The most related sentence to this question is, "Since America has such influence over the rest of the world, it is generally in the interests of other peoples to learn English in order to be part of the economic, political, and military world in which America operates." Other nations have an interest in learning English in order to function with ease in the broad area in which America operates with dominance. While this paragraph speaks of American "dominance," this merely means power or influence; it does not necessarily mean that such dominance is despotic or militaristic.

Example Question #1 : Making Inferences And Predictions In Contemporary Life Passages

Adapted from Scientific American Supplement No. 1082 Vol. XLII (September 26th, 1896)

The rowboat Fox, of the port of New York, manned by George Harbo, thirty-one years of age, captain of a merchantman, and Frank Samuelson, twenty-six years of age, left New York for Havre on the sixth of June. Ten days later the boat was met by the German transatlantic steamer Fürst Bismarck proceeding from Cherbourg to New York. On the eighth, ninth and tenth of July, the Fox was cast by a tempest upon the reefs of Newfoundland. The two men jumped into the sea, and thanks to the watertight compartments provided with air chambers fore and aft, it was possible for them to right the boat; but the unfortunates lost their provisions and their supply of drinking water. On the fifteenth they met the Norwegian three-masted vessel Cito, which supplied them with food and water. The captains of the vessels met with signed the log book and testified that the boat had neither sail nor rudder. The Fox reached the Scilly Islands on the first of August, having at this date been on the ocean fifty-five days. It arrived at Havre on the seventh of August.

Cost what it might, the men were bent upon reaching this port in order to gain the reward promised by Mr. Fox, of the Police Gazette. Thanks to the wind and a favorable current, they made one hundred and twenty-five miles in twenty-four hours. One slept three hours while the other rowed. Their skins and faces were tumefied by the wind, salt water, and sun; the skin of their hands was renewed three times; their legs were weakened; and they were worn out.

How did the Norwegian vessel that the two men met most significantly help them?

Possible Answers:

It gave them additional fuel for their ship.

It rescued them from the open ocean.

It verified that they were operating without sail or rudder.

It provided them with food and water.

It towed them to Havre.

Correct answer:

It provided them with food and water.


Answering this question requires you to read in detail, but also to be able to think critically and make an inference. The author tells you that the two men lost their supplies of food and water when they were tossed into the ocean on the tenth of July. He then notes, “On the fifteenth they met the Norwegian three-masted vessel Cito, which supplied them with food and water. The captains of the vessels met with signed the log book and testified that the boat had neither sail nor rudder.” So the Norwegian vessel gave the two men food and water and also verified that they were operating without sail or rudder. But, it is quite certain that as the two men were without food or water for five days on the open ocean, this gift would have been of a great deal more help to them than the verification offered by the captain. This is where you needed to think critically.

Example Question #261 : Gre Verbal Reasoning

A Short History of Recent Zoos, by Will Floyd

Throughout the twentieth century, zoos underwent large-scale transformations. Before World War I, zoos were small parts of larger municipal parks, and featured sparse cages with little room for their inhabitants. This model held sway until mid-century, with many zoos struggling to remain open during the Great Depression and World War II. The successful zoos survived through making themselves cheap family entertainment. In the 1960s, zoos began to change in drastic ways. With the growing strength of environmental- and animal-rights movements, the public clamored for more naturalistic and spacious environments in which the animals could live.

The most emblematic of these transformations was the development of the Los Angeles Zoo. In 1966, the cramped and antiquated zoo used grants from the city government to move to a brand-new facility. Although the zoo moved just two miles away, the new location was exponentially bigger, and it featured fresh landscapes that resembled the animals’ natural habitats, instead of dilapidated cages. As the Los Angeles Zoo developed, it was able to work on preservation and conservation efforts for endangered species. New educational programs also became key elements of the Zoo’s mission. Now the old Zoo’s cages stand as ruins and reminders of what past generations saw when they visited years ago.

The phrase "this model" in the passage refers to __________.

Possible Answers:

zoos being cheap family entertainment

zoos changing dramatically throughout the twentieth century

zoos failing during the Great Depression

zoos featuring sparse cages with little room

the method of operation of the Los Angeles Zoo

Correct answer:

zoos featuring sparse cages with little room


The sentence immediately before "this model" notes that zoos used to feature "sparse cages with little room for their inhabitants." "This model" is then used as a pivot point to discuss zoos' subsequent struggles and transformations.

Example Question #1 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Phrases In Argumentative Humanities Passages

Adapted from "The Writing of Essays" in Certain Personal Matters by H.G. Wells (1901)

The art of the essayist is so simple, so entirely free from canons of criticism, and withal so delightful, that one must needs wonder why all men are not essayists. Perhaps people do not know how easy it is. Or perhaps beginners are misled. Rightly taught it may be learnt in a brief ten minutes or so, what art there is in it. And all the rest is as easy as wandering among woodlands on a bright morning in the spring.

Then sit you down if you would join us, taking paper, pens, and ink; and mark this, your pen is a matter of vital moment. For every pen writes its own sort of essay, and pencils also after their kind. The ink perhaps may have its influence too, and the paper; but paramount is the pen. This, indeed, is the fundamental secret of essay-writing. Wed any man to his proper pen, and the delights of composition and the birth of an essay are assured. Only many of us wander through the earth and never meet with her—futile and lonely men.

And, of all pens, your quill for essays that are literature. There is a subtle informality, a delightful easiness, perhaps even a faint immorality essentially literary, about the quill. The quill is rich in suggestion and quotation. There are quills that would quote you Montaigne and Horace in the hands of a trades-union delegate. And those quirky, idle noises this pen makes are delightful, and would break your easy fluency with wit. All the classical essayists wrote with a quill, and Addison used the most expensive kind the Government purchased. And the beginning of the inferior essay was the dawn of the cheap steel pen.

The phrase "mark this" as Wells uses it in the first sentence of the second paragraph most likely means __________.

Possible Answers:

make sure to do this

make a note of this

write notes on this

place a mark on this

Correct answer:

make a note of this


The phrase "mark this" means remark this or make a note of this, which is what Wells intends his reader to do here. (This meaning of "mark" has also led to the phrase "mark my words.")

Example Question #41 : Natural Science Passages

Adapted from “Birds in Retreat” in “Animal Defences—Active Defence” in Volume Four of The Natural History of Animals: The Animal Life of the World in Its Various Aspects and Relations by James Richard Ainsworth Davis (1903)

Among the large running birds are forms, like the African ostrich, in which the absence of powers of flight is largely compensated by the specialization of the legs for the purpose of rapid movement on the ground. For straightforward retreat in open country nothing could be more effective; but another kind of adaptation is required in birds like rails, which are deficient in powers of flight, and yet are able to run through thickly-growing vegetation with such rapidity as to commonly elude their enemies. This is rendered possible by the shape of their bodies, which are relatively narrow and flattened from side to side, so as to easily slip between the stems of grasses, rushes, and similar plants. Anyone who has pursued our native land-rail or corn-crake with intent to capture will have noted how extremely difficult it is even to get within sight of a bird of this sort. 

Certain birds, unfortunately for themselves, have lost the power of flight without correspondingly increased powers of running, and have paid the penalty of extinction. Such an arrangement, as might be anticipated, was the result of evolution in islands devoid of any predatory ground-animals, and a classic example of it is afforded by the dodo and its allies, birds related to the pigeons. The dodo itself was a large and clumsy-looking species that at one time abounded in the island of Mauritius, which, like oceanic islands generally, possessed no native mammals, while its indigenous reptiles were only represented by lizards. The ubiquitous sailor, however, and the animals (especially swine) which he introduced, brought about the extinction of this helpless bird in less than a century after its first discovery in 1598. Its memory is now only kept green by a few contemporary drawings and descriptions, certain museum remains, and the proverb "as extinct as a dodo.” A similar fate must overtake any organism suddenly exposed to new and unfavorable conditions, if devoid of sufficient plasticity to rapidly accommodate itself to the altered environment.

What does the author mean in using the underlined phrase “kept green”?

Possible Answers:

kept literally alive

kept obscure

kept envious

kept fresh and current

kept feeling ill or worried

Correct answer:

kept fresh and current


 The phrase “keep green” appears in the following sentence in the passage’s second paragraph:

“[The dodo’s] memory is now only kept green by a few contemporary drawings and descriptions, certain museum remains, and the proverb "as extinct as a dodo.” 

From this context, we can tell that “kept green” is not being used to refer to the dodo itself, as at this point, the passage is discussing the “memory” that remains of the dodo as an extinct species. This means that “kept literally alive” cannot be correct. Nothing in the sentence suggests that the phrase means “kept envious, “”kept feeling ill or worried,” or “kept obscure.” However, the drawings, descriptions, remains, and proverb all keep the dodo’s memory fresh and current, so “kept fresh and current” is the correct answer.

Example Question #141 : Comprehension

"Cacti" by Ami Dave (2013)

Cacti are plants suited to the desert and we must keep this factor in mind always when growing ornamental cacti in our gardens, for it helps in the survival of the plant. For example, a cactus should never be watered over its body as it will start to rot. This is because it is covered with a waxy coating which prevents water loss through evaporation. When one waters the cactus over its body, the waxy coating is washed away and the plant begins to rot. The amount of water that you must supply to the cactus is very much dependent upon the season and upon the climate of the place. During the summer season one should water cacti every four days whereas in the rainy season once every fifteen days is quite enough.

Cacti need a minimum of two and a half hours of sunlight per day. However they should not be kept all day in the sun because they may wrinkle in too much of bright sunlight. Unlike other plants cacti produce carbon dioxide during the day and oxygen during the night. Hence, they are ideal plants to be kept in bedrooms to freshen up the air at night.

If the cactus plant is to thrive and prosper, the size of the pot in which it is grown has to be carefully monitored. The pot should always be a little smaller than the plant itself because it is only when the plant has to struggle to survive that it will thrive. If the pot is too spacious the struggle element is removed and the chances are that the cactus will die. Cacti are like human beings. When they suffer they will grow. Similarly if a cactus shows no signs of growth, stop the watering. It should be resumed only when the plant resumes growth.

The substrata of a cactus pot is ideally composed of pieces of broken bricks at the bottom, charcoal above it, then coarse sand and pebbles above it. Leaf mould is the best manure.

Grafting of cacti is very simple. A very small piece of the cactus plant should be stuck with cellotape to the plant that needs grafting. The smaller the piece the easier it is to graft. To reproduce cacti, one has to simply cut off a piece of the cactus, allow it to dry for a few days and then just place it over the cacti substrate. It will automatically develop roots.

To differentiate between cacti and other plants that look like cacti is very easy. All cacti have fine hair at the base of each thorn. The so-called thorns are in fact highly modified leaves which prevent loss of water through transpiration. If one ever gets pricked by cacti thorns, one should take cellotape, place it over the area where the thorns have penetrated the skin and then peel it off. All the thorns will get stuck to the cellotape and will be removed.

If the author were to add the underlined sentences, "Cacti are like human beings. When they suffer they will grow," to the third paragraph, what would these lines mean in context?

Possible Answers:

A suffering cactus will grow more quickly.

Cacti and humans have no traits in common.

Cacti and humans endure similar levels of suffering.

By providing oxygen, cacti help sustain human life.

Overcoming the obstacles of life is the most significant factor that influences the maturity of an individual.

Correct answer:

Overcoming the obstacles of life is the most significant factor that influences the maturity of an individual.


By making this statement, the author is suggesting that struggles and suffering result in individual growth. Thus, the most reasonable implication is that overcoming obstacles leads to maturity. The passage does not mention anything about the levels of suffering that human and cacti go through, nor does it say that they are similar.

Example Question #1 : Distinguishing Between Fact And Fiction In Natural Science Passages

"Interpreting the Copernican Revolution" by Matthew Minerd (2014)

The expressions of one discipline can often alter the way that other subjects understand themselves. Among such cases are numbered the investigations of Nicolaus Copernicus. Copernicus is best known for his views concerning heliocentrism, a view which eventually obliterated many aspects of the ancient/medieval worldview, at least from the standpoint of physical science. It had always been the natural view of mankind that the earth stood at the center of the universe, a fixed point in reference to the rest of the visible bodies. The sun, stars, and planets all rotated around the earth.

With time, this viewpoint became one of the major reference points for modern life. It provided a provocative image that was used—and often abused—by many people for various purposes. For those who wished to weaken the control of religion on mankind, it was said that the heliocentric outlook proved man’s insignificance. In contrast with earlier geocentrism, heliocentrism was said to show that man is not the center of the universe. He is merely one small being in the midst of a large cosmos. However, others wished to use the “Copernican Revolution” in a very different manner. These thinkers wanted to show that there was another “recentering” that had to happen. Once upon a time, we talked about the world. Now, however, it was necessary to talk of man as the central reference point. Just as the solar system was “centered” on the sun, so too should the sciences be centered on the human person.

However, both of these approaches are fraught with problems. Those who wished to undermine the religious mindset rather misunderstood the former outlook on the solar system. The earlier geocentric mindset did not believe that the earth was the most important body in the heavens. Instead, many ancient and medieval thinkers believed that the highest “sphere” above the earth was the most important being in the physical universe. Likewise, the so-called “Copernican Revolution” in physics was different from the one applied to the human person. Copernicus’ revolution showed that the human point of view was not the center, whereas the later forms of “Copernican revolution” wished to show just the opposite.

Of course, there are many complexities in the history of such important changes in scientific outlook. Nevertheless, it is fascinating to see the wide-reaching effects of such discoveries, even when they have numerous, ambiguous effects.

How was the underlined view about geocentrism incorrect?

Possible Answers:

The view is actually reflective of the history of thought and does not contradict it.

None of the other answers

Religion had always despised human existence anyway, so this is not much of a change.

Religions gladly accepted the point and moved on.

Many earlier thinkers actually thought the earth was rather insignificant compared with the other celestial bodies.

Correct answer:

Many earlier thinkers actually thought the earth was rather insignificant compared with the other celestial bodies.


For this question, the key two sentences are: "The earlier geocentric mindset did not believe that the earth was the most important body in the heavens. Instead, many ancient and medieval thinkers believed that the highest 'sphere' above the earth was the most important being in the physical universe." These state that geocentric thinkers in the ancient and medieval period actually believed that the higher "spheres" of heaven were more important than earth.

Example Question #11 : Specific Phrases And Sentences In Humanities Passages

Adapted from a letter by T. Thatcher published in The Publishers Circular on September 27th, 1902


Sir—In these days of increasing rapid artificial locomotion, may I be permitted to say a word in favor of a very worthy and valuable old friend of mine, Mr. Long-Walk?

I am afraid that this good gentleman is in danger of getting neglected, if not forgotten. We live in days of water trips and land trips, excursions by sea, road, and rail—bicycles and tricycles, tram cars and motor cars, hansom cabs and ugly cabs; but in my humble opinion good honest walking exercise for health beats all other kinds of locomotion into a cocked hat. In rapid traveling all the finer nerves, senses, and vessels are "rush" and unduly excited, but in walking every particle of the human frame, and even the moral faculties, are evenly and naturally brought into exercise. It is the best discipline and physical mental tonic in the world. Limbs, body, muscles, lungs, chest, heart, digestion, breathing, are healthily brought into normal operation, while. especially in the long distance walk, the exercise of patience, perseverance, industry, energy, perception, and reflection—and, indeed, all the senses and moral faculties—are elevated and cultivated healthfully and naturally. Many never know the beauty of it because they never go far enough: exercise and hard work should never be relinquished at any age or by either sex. Heart disease, faintness, and sudden death, and even crime, are far more due to the absence of wholesome normal exercise and taste than to anything else, to enervating luxuries rather than to hill climbing.

I usually give myself a holiday on a birthday, and as I lately reached my 63rd I determined to give myself a day with my old friend Mr. Long-Walk, and decided to tramp to the city of Wells and back for my birthday holiday—a distance of about forty-two miles. Fortune favors the brave, and, thanks to a mosquito that pitched on my nose and was just commencing operations, I woke very early in the morning. It is an ill wind that blows no one any good. Mosquitoes are early birds, but I stole a march on them. But to my journey.

I started at about 5 A.M., and proceeding via Dundry and Chow Stoke, reached Wells soon after 10 A.M. After attending the cathedral, I pursued my walk homeward by a different route, via Chewton Mendip, Farrington, Temple Cloud, Clutton, and Pensford.

To make a walk successful, mind and body should be free of burden. I never carry a stick on a long walk, but prefer to be perfectly free, giving Nature’s balancing poles—the pendulum arms—complete swing and absolute liberty. Walking exercises, together with a well-educated palate, are the greatest physicians in the world: no disease can withstand them. I returned from my forty-two miles tramp with birthday honors and reward. I had no headache on the following morning, but was up early in good form, fresh and ready for work. Forty-two miles may be too strong a dose for many, but I cannot too strongly recommend for a day’s companionship the society of my old and well-tried friend, Mr. Long-Walk.

Faithfully yours,

T. Thatcher

44 College Green, Bristol.

When the author says, “I returned from my forty-two miles tramp with birthday honors and reward" in the last paragraph, to what reward is he referring?

Possible Answers:

The admiration of his friends

A sense of personal satisfaction

Birthday gifts from his friends

An itchy mosquito bite

A luxurious bath

Correct answer:

A sense of personal satisfaction


By the author's strong claims that long walks are good for one's health and well-being, it can be inferred that it gives him a sense of personal satisfaction. He scorns luxuries, the mosquito is not relevant in this section, and he does not mention his friends.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Tone, Style, And Figurative Language In Contemporary Life Passages

Adapted from "The Eulogy of the Dog" by George Graham Vest (1870)

The best friend a man has in this world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter whom he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name, may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has, he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it the most. A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.

Gentlemen of the jury, a man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he can be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince.

When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens. If fortune drives the master forth an outcast into the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him, to guard him against danger, to fight against his enemies. And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes his master in its embrace and his body is laid in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open, in alert watchfulness, faithful and true, even unto death.

The expression “riches take wings” could be paraphrased as __________.

Possible Answers:

a person makes a great deal of profit

a person owns property 

a person makes a successful investment

a person loses money

a person misplaces gold

Correct answer:

a person loses money


The author uses “riches take wings” in the context of negative situations that a man can experience over the course of his lifetime; therefore, you can reasonably assume that the answer choice must describe a negative experience. This eliminates "a person makes a successful investment," "a person makes a great deal of profit," and "a person owns property" as possible answer choices. As gold is never explicitly mentioned, "a person misplaces gold" seems an unlikely answer choice. “Riches” suggests money and “take wings” suggests having something fly away or losing something. The correct answer is “a person loses money."

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