ISEE Lower Level Reading : Language in Contemporary Life Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ISEE Lower Level Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #31 : How To Determine The Meaning Of A Word From Its Context In A Nonfiction Passage

"Soccer" by Daniel Morrison (2014)

Soccer is considered by some Americans to be a European and Latin American sport. For numerous reasons, the sport has struggled to take hold professionally in the United States, but there is growing participation in the sport at the youth level. This can probably be attributed to the relative dangers faced by those playing soccer and those playing America’s traditional favorite youth sport—American football.

Young children who play American football are at high risk of several catastrophic injuries such as concussions, fractures and spinal damage. The universal concern among parents to protect the health of their children has lead many to encourage their child to take up soccer as opposed to American football. If this trend continues, which it almost certainly will as our society becomes more aware of the degree of damage done by repeated collisions in American football, it will not be long before the popularity of soccer spreads upwards to the professional level.

The underlined word “catastrophic” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

simply tragic

highly contagious

very unforgiving

unfairly dismissive

extremely damaging

Correct answer:

extremely damaging

Explanation:

The author mentions the fear of “catastrophic injuries” as something that encourages parents to push their children towards playing soccer over American football. The author also lists what these injuries are: “concussions, fractures, and spinal damage.” We may therefore conclude that “catastrophic” means extremely damaging.

Example Question #31 : Hspt Reading

"Addictions" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Addictions come in many forms, often quite hidden from those who should be aware of them. It is helpful to be aware of how hidden these obsessive behaviors can be. Often, they appear to be harmless, but this appearance is deceptive.  Perhaps several examples can assist in increasing the reader’s awareness of these potentially problematic habits. 

A very simple example of such an apparently innocuous addiction is the addiction that many people have to a beverage like coffee. While not as destructive as an addiction to alcohol, an extreme need for caffeine often covers a need for more sleep or an overzealous desire to be completely energetic at every waking moment. Also, a great deal of caffeine can potentially do damage to one’s heart due to the stress caused by its stimulating effects. 

Another example of a seemingly harmless addiction can be found in the case of people who are addicted to work. It is very tempting to praise such obsessive behavior, as it provides many benefits for others and even for the one doing the work. The advancement of a career certainly seems beneficial and often allows for great personal and financial fulfillment. Nevertheless, constant work often hides some sadness, insecurity, or fear that should be confronted by the person who slaves away without cessation. Likewise, over time, such continuous work often can be greatly destructive of important personal relationships.

Of course, many more examples could be brought forth, for one can obsess over almost anything. Still, even these two simple examples should make clear to the reader that it is possible for there to be apparently harmless—indeed, seemingly helpful—life practices that in reality can pose a potential harm to one’s physical or mental well-being.

What is the meaning of the underlined word, “innocuous,” in its context?

Possible Answers:

harmless

vigorous

lacking disease

healthy

sanitary

Correct answer:

harmless

Explanation:

Do not be confused by the relationship of "innocuous" to "inoculate." To be "inoculated" is to be provided with immunity so that exposure to a given disease is made to be harmless for the inoculated person. When something is "innocuous" it is harmless. This is the sense used here. This could be gleaned from the first paragraph, which states that these behaviors can "appear to be harmless."

Example Question #1 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings 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.

The underlined word “tempest” most probably means __________.

Possible Answers:

blessing

joke

ship

fish

storm

Correct answer:

storm

Explanation:

In the context that the word "tempest" is used, the author says, “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.” So, a “tempest” is something that causes a boat to be thrown off of its usual course and passengers to be forced into the open water. From this clue, you can reasonably infer that a “tempest” is a storm.

Example Question #11 : Language In Contemporary Life Passages

Adapted from "A Very Narrow Shave" by John Lang in Adventures in Many Lands (1912)

It was a cold, clear, frosty morning when we started, the stars throbbing and winking as they seem to do only during frost, and we toiled, not particularly gaily, up the bed of a creek, stumbling in the darkness and barking our shins over more boulders and big stones than one would have believed existed in all creation. Just before dawn, when the grey light was beginning to show us more clearly where we were going, we saw in the sand of the creek fresh tracks of a large bear, the water only then beginning to ooze into the prints left by his great feet, and I can hardly say that I gazed on them with the amount of enthusiasm that Halley professed to feel.

The underlined word “toiled” most likely means __________.

Possible Answers:

enamored

deplored

leapt

embraced

struggled

Correct answer:

struggled

Explanation:

In context, the author says, “we toiled, not particularly gaily, up the bed of a creek, stumbling in the darkness and barking our shins over more boulders and big stones than one would have believed existed in all creation.” From this description you can reasonably see that the author and his party were “struggling” to carry out their expedition. It was dark, they were falling over, and there were more obstacles than “one would have believed existed in all creation.” Even if you don’t know that “toil” means work and “toiled” means worked hard or struggled, you can infer this meaning from the manner in which the author talks about the expedition. To provide further help, “leapt” means jumped high; “embraced” means enthusiastically adopted or hugged; “enamored” means in love with; and “deplored” means hated.

Example Question #151 : Science Passages

Adapted from The Principles of Breeding by S. L. Goodale (1861)

The Jersey cow, formerly known as the Alderney, is almost exclusively employed for dairy purposes, and may not be expected to give satisfaction for other uses. Their milk is richer than that of any other cows, and the butter made from it possesses a superior flavor and a deep rich color, and consequently commands an extraordinary price in all markets where good butter is appreciated.

Jersey cattle are of Norman origin, and are noted for their milking properties. The cows are generally very docile and gentle, but the males when past two or three years of age often become vicious and unmanageable. It is said that the cows fatten readily when dry.

There is no branch of cattle husbandry which promises better returns than the breeding and rearing of milch cows. In the vicinity of large towns and cities are many cows which having been culled from many miles around, on account of dairy properties, are considerably above the average, but taking the cows of the country together they do not compare favorably with the oxen. Farmers generally take more pride in their oxen, and strive to have as good or better than any of their neighbors, while if a cow will give milk enough to rear a large steer calf and a little besides, it is often deemed satisfactory.

The underlined word “docile” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

obedient

unnatural

disobedient

morose

natural

Correct answer:

obedient

Explanation:

In context, the author says, “The cows are generally very docile and gentle, but the males, when past two or three years of age, often become vicious and unmanageable.” The use of the word “but” suggests that the cows mentioned in the first clause are the opposite of “vicious and unmanageable.” Also, the use of the word “gentle” suggests “docile” must mean something that is complementary to “gentle.” The combination of these clues should lead you to select the correct answer “obedient.” To provide further help, “docile” means able to be easily controlled and calm; “disobedient” means not obeying rules; and “morose” means sad and miserable.

Example Question #51 : Contemporary Life Passages

Adapted from Scientific American Supplement No. 1157 Vol. XLV (March 5th, 1898).

Eleven submarine cables traverse the Atlantic between 60 and 40 degrees north latitude. Nine of these connect the Canadian provinces and the United States with the territory of Great Britain; two (one American, the other Anglo-American) connect France. Of these, seven are largely owned, operated or controlled by American capital, while all the others are under English control and management. There is but one direct submarine cable connecting the territory of the United States with the continent of Europe, and that is the cable owned and operated by the Compagnie Francais Cables Telegraphiques, whose termini are Brest, France, and Cape Cod, on the coast of Massachusetts.

All these cables between 60 and 40 degrees north latitude, which unite the United States with Europe, except the French cable, are under American or English control, and have their termini in the territory of Great Britain or the United States. In the event of war between these countries, unless restrained by conventional act, all these cables might be cut or subjected to exclusive censorship on the part of each of the belligerent states. Across the South Atlantic there are three cables, one American and two English, whose termini are Pernambuco, Brazil, and St. Louis, Africa, and near Lisbon, Portugal, with connecting English lines to England, one directly traversing the high seas between Lisbon and English territory and one touching at Vigo, Spain, at which point a German cable company has recently made a connection. The multiplication under English control of submarine cables has been the consistent policy of Great Britain, and today her cable communications connect the home government with all her colonies and with every strategic point, thus giving her exceptional advantages for commercial as well as for political purposes.

The underlined word “belligerent” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

uncaring

competing

peaceable

strong

remorseful

Correct answer:

competing

Explanation:

The world “belligerent” usually means hostile or aggressive; however, this is usually when the word is used to describe the personality of someone or something. In the passage, the word is being used to describe the relationship between two countries—the United States and Great Britain. Specifically, the word is being used to describe them if they were to enter into a state of war. Consider the word in context: “In the event of war between these countries, unless restrained by conventional act, all these cables might be cut or subjected to exclusive censorship on the part of each of the belligerent states.” You are told that the two “belligerent states" are in a state of war with one another, and thus "belligerent" may be most closely seen as meaning “competing” in the war. To provide further help, “peaceable” is an antonym of “belligerent”; it means not hostile, or peaceful. “Remorseful” means feeling bad about something one has done.

Example Question #51 : Humanities Passages

Adapted from The Story of My Life by Helen Keller (1903)

 I am told that while I was still in long dresses I showed many signs of an eager, self-asserting disposition. Everything that I saw other people do I insisted upon imitating. At six months I could pipe out "How d'ye," and one day I attracted every one's attention by saying "Tea, tea, tea" quite plainly. Even after my illness I remembered one of the words I had learned in these early months. It was the word "water," and I continued to make some sound for that word after all other speech was lost. I ceased making the sound "wah-wah" only when I learned to spell the word.

They tell me I walked the day I was a year old. My mother had just taken me out of the bathtub and was holding me in her lap, when I was suddenly attracted by the flickering shadows of leaves that danced in the sunlight on the smooth floor. I slipped from my mother's lap and almost ran toward them. The impulse gone, I fell down and cried for her to take me up in her arms.

These happy days did not last long. One brief spring, musical with the song of robin and mockingbird, one summer rich in fruit and roses, one autumn of gold and crimson sped by and left their gifts at the feet of an eager, delighted child. Then, in the dreary month of February, came the illness that closed my eyes and ears and plunged me into the unconsciousness of a newborn baby. They called it acute congestion of the stomach and brain. The doctor thought I could not live. Early one morning, however, the fever left me as suddenly and mysteriously as it had come. There was great rejoicing in the family that morning, but no one, not even the doctor, knew that I should never see or hear again.

I fancy I still have confused recollections of that illness. I especially remember the tenderness with which my mother tried to soothe me in my wailing hours of fret and pain, and the agony and bewilderment with which I awoke after a tossing half sleep, and turned my eyes, so dry and hot, to the wall away from the once-loved light, which came to me dim and yet more dim each day. But, except for these fleeting memories, if, indeed, they be memories, it all seems very unreal, like a nightmare. Gradually I got used to the silence and darkness that surrounded me and forgot that it had ever been different, until she came—my teacher—who was to set my spirit free. But during the first nineteen months of my life I had caught glimpses of broad, green fields, a luminous sky, trees and flowers which the darkness that followed could not wholly blot out. If we have once seen, “the day is ours, and what the day has shown."

What does the author most closely mean by the underlined word "fret" in context?

Possible Answers:

Veracity

Laziness

Joy

Anxiety

Exuberance 

Correct answer:

Anxiety

Explanation:

The author writes, "I fancy I still have confused recollections of that illness. I especially remember the tenderness with which my mother tried to soothe me in my wailing hours of fret and pain." Here, "fret" is paired with "pain," suggesting that it will have a negative connotation like "pain" does. "Joy" (happiness) and "exuberance" (eagerness) are both words with positive connotations, so they would not make sense in the sentence's context. Nothing in the passage suggests that "fret" means "veracity" (truthfulness) or "laziness." This leaves us with "anxiety," which does have a negative connotation like "pain" and is the correct answer.

Example Question #43 : Hspt Reading

"The Pets of the Elderly" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Many younger people think that it is a bit strange to see elderly widows and widowers fussing greatly over their pet dogs and cats. While it is perhaps amusing to see a mature adult babying an animal, this aspect of life often is of crucial importance for the health and happiness of these aging persons. Although they have lost their spouses and often have a dwindling number of friends, these people often have a social network outside of the house that can be deceptively large and active. All of this activity can hide the great loneliness that these people experience when they return home. Often having been the shared refuge with the loving presence of a spouse, the widow’s house or apartment can become a lonely isolation cell, no matter how active he or she might be. Pets often are a solution to this loneliness, becoming dear companions in a life that would otherwise be very devoid of personal contact every morning and night. They offer great joy and consolation to these elderly people. It is therefore understandable that their owners often give them such large amounts of attention.

What is the meaning of the underlined word “dwindling?”

Possible Answers:

dying

passing

abandoning

mortifying

diminishing

Correct answer:

diminishing

Explanation:

The word "dwindle" in general means reducing in number and size. The sentence itself implies that the aging person has lost his or her spouse and likewise a number of friends; however, it also indicates that they do have a social network that is larger than expected. (The fact that this network is larger than expected shows that it is also a fact that their number of friends has nevertheless been dwindling. That is what makes the large network surprising).

Example Question #51 : Contemporary Life Passages

My dear old friend Sebastian used to tell me that he had something of a sliding scale regarding the musicians to which he could listen. For him, Bach was the most celestial of musicians, and he could listen to him for an eternity without ever being wearied. Mozart was likewise favorably judged, though Sebastian said that he could only endure his music for approximately three to five hours at a time. When it came to Richard Wagner, however, my dear friend was quite unable to bear the intensity of the composer’s works. In stark contrast to his great patience and love for the music of Bach, he could spend little more than five minutes listening to compositions by Wagner.

Based on its context in the selection above, what does the expression "sliding scale" (underlined) mean?

Possible Answers:

An ever-changing standard

An instrument for measuring weight

An instrument for measuring length

A varying spectrum of preferences

A fickle sense of music

Correct answer:

A varying spectrum of preferences

Explanation:

The use of the expression "sliding scale" is metaphorical here. The idea being expressed is that Sebastian has a spectrum or range of preferences that he applies to musicians. The word "spectrum" is used to describe things that have positions between two extremes. For instance, the "visible spectrum" is the set of colors in the rainbow that span from the highest to the lowest visible wavelengths of colors. Since Sebastian has a spectrum of judgments regarding Bach, Mozart, and Wagner, this best describes the metaphorical use of "sliding scale."

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

Adapted from Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads by John A. Lomax (1910)

The big ranches of the West are now being cut up into small farms. The nester has come, and come to stay. Gone is the buffalo and the free grass of the open plain—even the stinging lizard, the horned frog, the centipede, the prairie dog, the rattlesnake, are fast disappearing. Save in some of the secluded valleys of southern New Mexico, the old-time round-up is no more; the trails to Kansas and to Montana have become grass-grown or lost in fields of waving grain; the maverick steer, the regal longhorn, has been supplanted by his unpoetic but more beefy and profitable Polled Angus, Durham, and Hereford cousins from across the seas. The changing and romantic West of the early days lives mainly in story and in song. The last figure to vanish is the cowboy, the animating spirit of the vanishing era. He sits his horse easily as he rides through a wide valley, enclosed by mountains, clad in the hazy purple of coming night,—with his face turned steadily down the long, long road, "the road that the sun goes down." Dauntless, reckless, without the unearthly purity of Sir Galahad though as gentle to a woman as King Arthur, he is truly a knight of the twentieth century. A vagrant puff of wind shakes a corner of the crimson handkerchief knotted loosely at his throat; the thud of his pony's feet mingling with the jingle of his spurs is borne back; and as the careless, gracious, lovable figure disappears over the divide, the breeze brings to the ears, faint and far yet cheery still, the refrain of a cowboy song.

The mood of the passage is best described as __________.

Possible Answers:

reverent

ironic

desolate

solemn

nostalgic

Correct answer:

nostalgic

Explanation:

The best answer here is "nostalgic" because of the way the author poetically describes the early days of the West as a “vanishing era” and laments the fact that it is no more.

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