ISEE Lower Level Reading : Determining Context-Dependent Word Meanings in History Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #11 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In History Passages

"The Holy Roman Empire" by Daniel Morrison (2014)

The Holy Roman Empire was somewhat unique among the various organized states of Middle and Early Modern Europe in that the Emperor was chosen by a group of electors. This is in stark contrast to the strict hereditary nature of English or French succession, where the position of monarch was handed down from the outgoing ruler to his closest legitimate heir, usually a son. In the Holy Roman Empire, the Emperor was chosen by seven electors, which in theory might seem to give the Empire a sort of early democratic flavor. However, in practice, only two or three families were ever able to draw on sufficient personal wealth to stand for election. Of these, the Luxembourgs and the Hapsburgs are most well known. The Hapsburgs were so successful that they were able to maintain their “elected” position for almost four centuries, and the Luxembourgs somehow still have a small country named after their family almost seven hundred years after their fall from dominance.

The underlined word “hereditary” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

Passed down through the family

Requiring great personal wealth

Given to one’s parents

Elected by the people

Chosen by a religious figure

Correct answer:

Passed down through the family

Explanation:

In context, the author is talking about the nature of the English and French monarchies, where the position of King or Queen was passed down to the ruler’s closest “heir” (descendant, son or daughter, next in line), in comparison to the Holy Roman Empire. The author describes, “the strict hereditary nature of English or French succession, where the position of monarch was handed down from the outgoing ruler to his closest legitimate heir, usually a son. The key phrase is “usually a son,” which tells you that “hereditary” means passed down through the family or handed down.

Example Question #11 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In History Passages

Adapted from Early European History by Hutton Webster (1917)

Perhaps the most striking feature of a medieval village was its self-sufficiency. The inhabitants tried to produce at home everything they required, in order to avoid the uncertainty and expense of trade. The land gave them their food; the forest provided them with wood for houses and furniture. They made their own clothes of flax, wool, and leather. Their meal and flour were ground at the village mill, and at the village smithy their farm implements were manufactured. The chief articles which needed to be brought from some distant market were salt, used to salt down farm animals killed in autumn, iron for various tools, and millstones. Cattle, horses, and surplus grain also formed common objects of exchange between manors.

Life in a medieval village was rude and rough. The peasants labored from sunrise to sunset, ate coarse fare, lived in huts, and suffered from frequent diseases. They were often the helpless prey of the feudal nobles. If their lord happened to be a quarrelsome man, given to fighting with his neighbors, they might see their lands ravaged, their cattle driven off, their village burned, and might themselves be slain. Even under peaceful conditions the narrow, shut-in life of the manor could not be otherwise than degrading.

Yet there is another side to the picture. If the peasants had a just and generous lord, they probably led a fairly comfortable existence. Except when crops failed, they had an abundance of food, and possibly wine or cider drink. They shared a common life in the work of the fields, in the sports of the village green, and in the services of the parish church. They enjoyed many holidays; it has been estimated that, besides Sundays, about eight weeks in every year were free from work. Festivities at Christmas, Easter, and May Day, at the end of ploughing and the completion of harvest, relieved the monotony of the daily round of labor. Perhaps these medieval peasants were not much worse off than the agricultural laborers in most countries of modern Europe. 

The underlined word “surplus” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

meager

loathsome

extra

scant

hungry 

Correct answer:

extra

Explanation:

A “surplus” is an excess amount of something. If I have surplus food, it means I have more food than I need. In context, the author says, “Cattle, horses, and surplus grain also formed common objects of exchange between manors.” Here the author is telling us that the extra grain that the peasants did not need was traded with other manors. To help you, "meager" and "scant" mean too little in quantity, and "loathsome" means deserving of hatred.

Example Question #11 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In History Passages

Adapted from "Crossing the Rubicon" in History of Julius Caesar by Jacob Abbott (1902)

There was a little stream in ancient times, in the north of Italy, which flowed eastward into the Adriatic Sea, called the Rubicon. This stream has been immortalized by the transactions which we are now about to describe.

The Rubicon was a very important boundary, and yet it was in itself so small and insignificant that it is now impossible to determine which of two or three little brooks here running into the sea is entitled to its name and renown. In history the Rubicon is a grand, permanent, and conspicuous stream, gazed upon with continued interest by all mankind for nearly twenty centuries; in nature it is an uncertain rivulet, for a long time doubtful and undetermined, and finally lost.

The Rubicon originally derived its importance from the fact that it was the boundary between all that part of the north of Italy which is formed by the valley of the Po, one of the richest and most magnificent countries of the world, and the more southern Roman territories. This country of the Po constituted what was in those days called the hither Gaul, and was a Roman province. It belonged now to Cæsar's jurisdiction, as the commander in Gaul. All south of the Rubicon was territory reserved for the immediate jurisdiction of the city. The Romans, in order to protect themselves from any danger which might threaten their own liberties from the immense armies which they raised for the conquest of foreign nations, had imposed on every side very strict limitations and restrictions in respect to the approach of these armies to the capital. The Rubicon was the limit on this northern side. Generals commanding in Gaul were never to pass it. To cross the Rubicon with an army on the way to Rome was rebellion and treason. Hence the Rubicon became, as it were, the visible sign and symbol of civil restriction to military power.

The underlined word “renown” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

kingdom 

orthodox 

fame 

infamy 

disgrace

Correct answer:

fame 

Explanation:

In context, the author says “The Rubicon was a very important boundary, and yet it was in itself so small and insignificant that it is now impossible to determine which of two or three little brooks here running into the sea is entitled to its name and renown.” In the opening of the first paragraph, the author is discussing the disparate smallness and famousness of the Rubicon, so it makes sense that in the context of the Rubicon as “a very important boundary” the “name and renown” it is entitled to is notoriety and fame. To provide further help, “infamy” is fame derived from having done bad deeds; “disgrace” is shame; and “orthodox” means thinking conventionally or strictly following tradition.

Example Question #11 : Language In History Passages

Adapted from The Man who Spoiled Napoleon’s Destiny by Rev. W. H. Fitchett, LL.D. (1899)

From March 18 to May 20, 1799—for more than sixty days and nights, that is—a little, half-forgotten, and more than half-ruined Syrian town was the scene of one of the fiercest and most dramatic sieges recorded in military history. And rarely has there been a struggle so apparently one-sided.

A handful of British sailors and Turkish irregulars were holding Acre, a town without regular defenses, against Napoleon, the most brilliant military genius of his generation, with an army of 10,000 war-hardened veterans, the "Army of Italy"—soldiers who had dared the snows of the Alps and conquered Italy, and to whom victory was a familiar experience. In their ranks military daring had reached, perhaps, its very highest point. And yet the sailors inside that ring of crumbling wall won! At Acre Napoleon experienced his first defeat; and, years after, at St. Helena, he said of Sir Sidney Smith, the gallant sailor who baffled him, "That man made me miss my destiny." It is a curious fact that one Englishman thwarted Napoleon's career in the East, and another ended his career in the West, and it may be doubted which of the two Napoleon hated most—Wellington, who finally overthrew him at Waterloo, or Sidney Smith, who, to use Napoleon's own words, made him "miss his destiny," and exchange the empire of the East for a lonely pinnacle of rock in the Atlantic.

What does the underlined word “recorded” most nearly mean?

Possible Answers:

That happened

Spoken to 

Written down 

That ended

Listened to 

Correct answer:

Written down 

Explanation:

In context the word “recorded” is used to mean written down, documented, or made notes about. Because the author talks about the siege as “recorded in military history,” the only other answer choice that could make sense is “that happened,” but this is not one of the various definitions of the word “recorded.” Recorded can mean taped and not performed live or written down, and in this context it means written down.

Example Question #13 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In History Passages

Adapted from A Man Who Coveted Washington’s Shoes by Frank E. Stockton (1896)

The person whose story we are now about to tell was not a Jerseyman, but, as most of the incidents which make him interesting to us occurred in this state, we will give him the benefit of a few years' residence here.

This was General Charles Lee, who might well have been called a soldier of fortune. He was born in England, but the British Isles were entirely too small to satisfy his wild ambitions and his bold spirit. There are few heroes of romance who have had such a wide and varied experience, and who have engaged in so many strange enterprises. He was a brave man and very able, but he had a fault which prevented him from being a high-class soldier: he could not bear authority and was always restive under command of another, and, while always ready to tell other people what they ought to do, was never willing to be told what he ought to do.

He joined the British army when he was a young man, and he first came to this country in 1757, when General Abercrombie brought over an army to fight the French. For three years, Lee was engaged in the wilds and forests, doing battle with the Native Americans and French, and no doubt he had all the adventures an ordinary person would desire, but this experience was far from satisfactory.

The underlined word “able” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

excitable

miserly

apprehensive

generous

talented

Correct answer:

talented

Explanation:

The author says that Lee was “a brave man and very able,” and goes on to talk about how despite being brave and able he had a serious flaw. Based on the construction of the sentence, you can assume that "able" must mean something positive, as it is being contrasted against something negative. That means the answer choice cannot be "miserly" (as that means not generous) and cannot be "apprehensive" (because that means worried). "Excitable" is neither a positive nor a negative word (it means easily excited), so you are left with only "generous" (giving) and "talented" (skilled). “Able” means capable, having the ability to do many things, or talented, so "talented" is the correct answer.

Example Question #272 : Prose Passages

Adapted from A Man Who Coveted Washington’s Shoes by Frank E. Stockton (1896)

The person whose story we are now about to tell was not a Jerseyman, but, as most of the incidents which make him interesting to us occurred in this state, we will give him the benefit of a few years' residence here.

This was General Charles Lee, who might well have been called a soldier of fortune. He was born in England, but the British Isles were entirely too small to satisfy his wild ambitions and his bold spirit. There are few heroes of romance who have had such a wide and varied experience, and who have engaged in so many strange enterprises. He was a brave man and very able, but he had a fault which prevented him from being a high-class soldier: he could not bear authority and was always restive under command of another, and, while always ready to tell other people what they ought to do, was never willing to be told what he ought to do.

He joined the British army when he was a young man, and he first came to this country in 1757, when General Abercrombie brought over an army to fight the French. For three years, Lee was engaged in the wilds and forests, doing battle with the Native Americans and French, and no doubt he had all the adventures an ordinary person would desire, but this experience was far from satisfactory.

The underlined word “satisfactory” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

over-the-top 

unacceptable

under control

boring

good enough

Correct answer:

good enough

Explanation:

The word “satisfactory” means acceptable or good enough. In the context of the passage, it is used to describe how the adventures Lee had while fighting the French and the Native Americans were not satisfactory for him. Given that we are told earlier in the story that Lee has a wild spirit and had an adventurous nature, we can assume that he would want greater and wilder adventures and that those adventures he had while fighting the French and the Native Americans might not have been good enough for him.

Example Question #273 : Prose Passages

Adapted from A Man Who Coveted Washington’s Shoes by Frank E. Stockton (1896)

The person whose story we are now about to tell was not a Jerseyman, but, as most of the incidents which make him interesting to us occurred in this state, we will give him the benefit of a few years' residence here.

This was General Charles Lee, who might well have been called a soldier of fortune. He was born in England, but the British Isles were entirely too small to satisfy his wild ambitions and his bold spirit. There are few heroes of romance who have had such a wide and varied experience, and who have engaged in so many strange enterprises. He was a brave man and very able, but he had a fault which prevented him from being a high-class soldier: he could not bear authority and was always restive under command of another, and, while always ready to tell other people what they ought to do, was never willing to be told what he ought to do.

He joined the British army when he was a young man, and he first came to this country in 1757, when General Abercrombie brought over an army to fight the French. For three years, Lee was engaged in the wilds and forests, doing battle with the Native Americans and French, and no doubt he had all the adventures an ordinary person would desire, but this experience was far from satisfactory.

The underlined word "residence" most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

traveling

farming

fighting

living

working

Correct answer:

living

Explanation:

Your "residence" is the place or the building where you live. In the context of the passage, the author says "but, as most of the incidents which make him interesting to us occurred in this State, we will give him the benefit of a few years' residence here." Here, "residence" means living or residing.

Example Question #282 : Prose Passages

Adapted from The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Van Loon (1921)

I am going to take you to the top of the highest pyramid and I am going to ask that you imagine yourself possessed of the eyes of a hawk. Way, way off, in the distance, far beyond the yellow sands of the desert, you will see something green and shimmering. It is a valley situated between two rivers. It is the land of mystery and wonder which the Greeks called Mesopotamia—the "country between the rivers."

The names of the two rivers are the Euphrates and the Tigris. They begin their course amidst the snows of the mountains of Armenia and slowly they flow through the southern plain until they reach the muddy banks of the Persian gulf. They perform a very useful service. They turn the arid regions of Western Asia into a fertile garden.

The valley of the Nile had attracted people because it had offered them food upon fairly easy terms. The "land between the rivers" was popular for the same reason. It was a country full of promise and both the inhabitants of the northern mountains and the tribes which roamed through the southern deserts tried to claim this territory as their own and most exclusive possession. The constant rivalry between the mountaineers and the desert-nomads led to endless warfare. Only the strongest and the bravest could hope to survive, and that will explain why Mesopotamia became the home of very strong people.

The underlined word “arid” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

frosty 

wet

stifling

dry

plentiful

Correct answer:

dry

Explanation:

The word “arid” means dry and not receiving much rain. Assuming you did not know this, you would have to try to figure out the meaning from context. The author says, that the Tigris and Euphrates rivers "turn the arid regions of Western Asia into a fertile garden.” If the regions were previously “arid” and have been turned by water into a “fertile garden,” then the word “arid” must mean the opposite of “wet” and “fertile,” so “dry” is the best possible answer choice. To provide further help, “fertile” means able to produce a lot of food or life; “plentiful” means having a lot or more than enough of something; “frosty” means cold; and “stifling” means uncomfortably hot.

Example Question #51 : Isee Lower Level (Grades 5 6) Reading Comprehension

Adapted from Early European History by Hutton Webster (1917)

History cannot easily go back beyond written records. These alone will preserve a full and accurate account of man's achievements. Manuscripts and books form one class of written records. The old Babylonians used tablets of soft clay, on which signs were impressed with a metal instrument. The tablets were then baked hard in an oven. The Egyptians made a kind of paper out of the papyrus, a plant native to the Nile valley. The Greeks and Romans at first used papyrus, but later they employed the more lasting parchment prepared from sheepskin. Paper seems to have been a Chinese invention. It was introduced into Europe by the Arabs during the twelfth century of our era.

History, based on written records, begins in different countries at varying dates. A few manuscripts and inscriptions found in Egypt date back three or four thousand years before Christ. The annals of Babylonia are scarcely less ancient. Trustworthy records in China and India do not extend beyond 1000 B.C. For the Greeks and Romans the commencement of the historic period must be placed about 750 B.C. The inhabitants of northern Europe did not come into the light of history until about the opening of the Christian era.

The underlined word “employed” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

fired 

used 

worked 

hired 

served 

Correct answer:

used 

Explanation:

In context, the author is discussing the different ways in which different groups of people used materials to keep written records. The author says “The Greeks and Romans at first used papyrus, but later they employed the more lasting parchment prepared from sheepskin.” From this sentence, you learn that the Greeks and Romans first “used” one thing, and then they “employed” another, so “employed” means "used."

Example Question #1 : Evaluative Understanding In Nonfiction Passages

Adapted from The Great Round World and What Is Going On In It, Vol. 2., No. 24 (June, 1898)

There is a very interesting account of the origin of the Red Cross Society. About forty years ago, M. Henry Dimont, a native of Switzerland, having witnessed the unnecessary suffering of the wounded, from lack of care, at the battle of Solferino, published a book, pointing out the necessity of forming a group of nurses to work in the cause of humanity in time of war, regardless of nationality of the injured, and who should be permitted to aid the wounded on the battle-field, under the protection of a flag which should be recognized as neutral. So much interest was taken in the idea that the outcome was a convention held at Geneva in 1864, which was attended by representatives from sixteen of the great nations of the world, who signed an agreement that they would protect members of the association when caring for the wounded on the field of battle. It was decided that the work of the Red Cross Society should not be confined to times of war, but that in case of disasters and calamities the organization was to provide aid. During the past seventeen years the American Red Cross Society has served in fifteen disasters and famines, and Russians, Armenians, and Cubans have all received aid from this society.

The underlined word “permitted” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

suspended 

allowed 

forbidden

denied 

encouraged 

Correct answer:

allowed 

Explanation:

The word “permitted” means allowed. It is the opposite of "forbidden" and "denied." From the context of the sentence, you can assume that "permitted" could not mean "forbidden," "denied," or "suspended" because the article is discussing how the Red Cross was helping people. To help you, "encouraged" means supported, "suspended" means paused, "denied" means refused, and "forbidden" means not allowed

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