ISEE Lower Level Reading : Language in History Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #3 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In History Passages

Adapted from Early European History Hutton Webster (1917)

It was the work of Darius to provide for his dominions a stable government which should preserve what the sword had won. The problem was difficult. The empire was a collection of many people widely different in race, language, customs, and religion. Darius did not attempt to weld the conquered nations into unity. As long as the subjects of Persia paid tribute and furnished troops for the royal army, they were allowed to conduct their own affairs with little interference from the Great King.

The entire empire, excluding Persia proper, was divided into twenty satrapies, or provinces, each one with its civil governor, or satrap. The satraps carried out the laws and collected the heavy tribute annually levied throughout the empire. In most of the provinces there were also military governors who commanded the army and reported directly to the king. This device of entrusting the civil and military functions to separate officials lessened the danger of revolts against the Persian authority. As an additional precaution Darius provided special agents whose business it was to travel from province to province and investigate the conduct of his officials. It became a proverb that "the king has many eyes and many ears."

Darius also established a system of military roads throughout the Persian dominions. The roads were provided at frequent intervals with inns, where postmen stood always in readiness to take up a letter and carry it to the next station. The Royal Road from Susa, the Persian capital, to Sardis in Lydia was over fifteen hundred miles long; but government couriers, using relays of fresh horses, could cover the distance within a week. An old Greek writer declares with admiration that "there is nothing mortal more swift than these messengers."

The underlined word “levied” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

introduced 

faded

dogged 

imposed 

cloistered 

Correct answer:

imposed 

Explanation:

The word is used in the following context: “The satraps carried out the laws and collected the heavy tribute annually levied throughout the empire.” We are told that a heavy tribute is annually “levied,” which suggests that it is collected, raised, or imposed. “Imposed” means forced upon, and since people wouldn't likely pay their takes unless someone made them do so, the takes have to be “levied,” or “imposed.” To provide further help, “dogged” means determined; “faded” means dull or discolored; and “cloistered” means secluded.

Example Question #4 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In History Passages

Adapted from Early European History by Hutton Webster (1917)

The Phoenicians were a Syrian people whose country was a narrow stretch of coast, about one hundred and twenty miles in length, seldom more than twelve miles in width, between the Lebanon Mountains and the sea. This tiny land could not support a large population. As the Phoenicians increased in numbers, they were obliged to betake themselves to the sea. The Lebanon cedars furnished soft, white wood for shipbuilding, and the deeply indented coast offered excellent harbors. Thus, the Phoenicians became preeminent sailors. Their great cities, Sidon and Tyre, established colonies throughout the Mediterranean and had an extensive commerce with every region of the known world.

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

Possible Answers:

Often

Rarely

Menacingly

Frequently

Much

Correct answer:

Rarely

Explanation:

The author describes how the Phoenicians lived in a very small land and then goes on to describe the exact measurements of their territory. "Their country was a narrow stretch of coast, about one hundred and twenty miles in length, seldom more than twelve miles in width. . .” If we know that the author wants to show us how small the land is, it makes the most sense that "seldom" means rarely. To further help you, "frequently" and "often" both mean happening all the time; "menacingly" means dangerously or scarily.

Example Question #2 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In History Passages

Adapted from Early European History by Hutton Webster (1917)

The Phoenicians were a Syrian people whose country was a narrow stretch of coast, about one hundred and twenty miles in length, seldom more than twelve miles in width, between the Lebanon Mountains and the sea. This tiny land could not support a large population. As the Phoenicians increased in numbers, they were obliged to betake themselves to the sea. The Lebanon cedars furnished soft, white wood for shipbuilding, and the deeply indented coast offered excellent harbors. Thus, the Phoenicians became preeminent sailors. Their great cities, Sidon and Tyre, established colonies throughout the Mediterranean and had an extensive commerce with every region of the known world.

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

Possible Answers:

Destroyed

Encouraged

Ruined

Urged

Set up

Correct answer:

Set up

Explanation:

The word “established” means set up. If you were not aware of this you would have to read in-context to figure out the meaning. The author tells us that the great cities of Sidon and Tyre “established” colonies in the Mediterranean and traded throughout the world. A "colony" is a group of people who go and live in a new place, but stay ruled by their home country. America used to be a colony of Britain. Since the people of Sidon and Tyre were traveling throughout the Mediterranean and trading with various people, it makes sense that they would set up, or "establish," colonies rather than destroy them. To further help you, "ruined" means made much worse; "encouraged" and "urged" both mean to try very hard to make someone do something.

Example Question #6 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In History Passages

Adapted from Early European History by Hutton Webster (1917)

The Phoenicians were a Syrian people whose country was a narrow stretch of coast, about one hundred and twenty miles in length, seldom more than twelve miles in width, between the Lebanon Mountains and the sea. This tiny land could not support a large population. As the Phoenicians increased in numbers, they were obliged to betake themselves to the sea. The Lebanon cedars furnished soft, white wood for shipbuilding, and the deeply indented coast offered excellent harbors. Thus, the Phoenicians became preeminent sailors. Their great cities, Sidon and Tyre, established colonies throughout the Mediterranean and had an extensive commerce with every region of the known world. 

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

Possible Answers:

Withdrawn 

Slight

Minuscule 

Timid

Massive

Correct answer:

Massive

Explanation:

“Extensive” means very large, extending over a large space. The correct answer is therefore “massive” which also means very large. To further help you, "minuscule" means very small; "slight" means slim and slender; "timid" means shy. "Withdrawn" can describe an action or a person. When it describes an action, "withdrawn" means taken back; when it describes a person "withdrawn" means shy, quiet, restrained

Example Question #92 : Social Studies

"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.

The underlined word “trivial” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

compulsive

coherent

insignificant

implausible

inherent

Correct answer:

insignificant

Explanation:

In context, the author says, “it is often the trivial and merely interesting that survives, whilst the significant but less fascinating can fade from memory.” Here, the “trivial and merely interesting” is contrasted against the “significant but less fascinating.” So, if “fascinating” and “interesting” are two matching terms, than “trivial” and “significant” must be opposite to one another. You can therefore determine that “trivial” must mean insignificant or not important. To provide further help, “coherent” means able to be understood; “compulsive” means forced to do; “implausible” means hard to believe or unlikely; and “inherent” means natural.

Example Question #1 : Context Dependent Meanings Of Words And Phrases In Argumentative Social Science 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.

The underlined word “repercussions” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

corporations

revolutions

consequences 

celebrations

elevations

Correct answer:

consequences 

Explanation:

In context, the author says, “This break has had long felt repercussions up to and including the present day. Yet, in spite of the deep importance . . ." Because what happened was of “deep importance” “up to and including the present day,” it is reasonable to determine that the break had long felt consequences. To provide further help, “consequences” are results of an action; “revolutions” are rebellions against someone’s control; “corporations” are large businesses owned by many people; and “elevations” are high places.  

Example Question #41 : 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:

Chosen by a religious figure

Elected by the people

Given to one’s parents

Passed down through the family

Requiring great personal wealth

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 #14 : Context Dependent Meanings Of Words And Phrases In Narrative Social Science 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:

scant

extra

loathsome

meager

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 #82 : 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:

disgrace

kingdom 

fame 

infamy 

orthodox 

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 #1 : Context Dependent Meanings Of Words And Phrases In Narrative Social Science 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:

Written down 

Listened to 

That happened

Spoken to 

That ended

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.

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