ISEE Lower Level Reading : Identifying and Analyzing Main Idea and Theme in Contemporary Life Passages

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

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Example Questions

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Example Question #11 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Idea And Theme In Contemporary Life Passages

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

Eleven submarine cables traverse the Atlantic between sixty and forty 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 sixty and forty 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 primary purpose of this passage is __________.

Possible Answers:

to demand that the government of the United States prioritize the construction of additional transatlantic cables

to provide a plausible outcome of the ownership and use of transatlantic cables in the event of war between England and the United States

to lament the lack of the United States' control over transatlantic cable communication

to argue against the idea that it is an important part of contemporary policy in the United States to construct numerous transatlantic cables

to describe the various transatlantic cable lines that connect the Americas with Europe

Correct answer:

to describe the various transatlantic cable lines that connect the Americas with Europe

Explanation:

The primary purpose of this passage is simply to describe the various transatlantic cable lines that connect the Americas with Europe. Although it is true that the author talks about the overwhelming number of transatlantic cables that are under the control of the English government, there is little evidence to suggest that this is the focus of the entire passage or that the author laments this state of affairs.

Example Question #1 : Recognizing The Main Idea In Argumentative 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 main purpose of this article is __________.

Possible Answers:

to encourage the breeding of dairy cows

to argue against the use of dairy cows for meat

to describe the properties of the Jersey cow

to reflect on the differences between various cows in England

to explain the basics of animal husbandry

Correct answer:

to encourage the breeding of dairy cows

Explanation:

In the first two paragraphs, the author primarily describes the properties of the Jersey cow, but his reason for doing so is to make an argument encouraging the greater selective breeding of dairy cows. This can be seen, for example, when the author says “There is no branch of cattle husbandry which promises better returns than the breeding and rearing of milch cows.” You can then see how the third paragraph is primarily a discussion of how farmers err by not focusing more of their attention in selectively breeding their dairy cows.

Example Question #11 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Idea And Theme In Contemporary Life Passages

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

"Artists" of the variety stage and the circus are always trying to find something new, for the same old trapeze performances, trials of strength, performances of rope dancers, etc., have been presented so many times that anyone who invents an entirely new trick is sure of making a large amount of money out of it; the more wild and dangerous it is, the better. Anything that naturally stands on its feet but can be made to stand on its head will be well received in the latter attitude by the public. Some such thought as this must have been in the mind of the man who conceived the idea of riding a bicycle on the ceiling instead of on the floor. The "trick" originated with the Swiss acrobat Di Batta, who, being too old to undertake such a performance himself, trained two of his pupils to do it, and they appeared with their wheel in Busch Circus in Berlin. The wheel, of course, ran on a track from which it was suspended in such a way that it could not fall, and the man who operated it used the handle bar as he would the cross bar of the trapeze. One would think that the position of the rider was sufficiently dangerous to satisfy any public, but the inventor of the trick sought to make it appear more wonderful by having the rider carry between his teeth a little trapeze from the crosspiece of which another man hung. Different colored lights were thrown on the performers as they rode around the ceiling, and at the end of the performance first one and then the other dropped into the safety net which had been placed about sixty feet below them.

The main idea of this passage is __________.

Possible Answers:

to explain why circus performers are so drawn to risk-taking

to highlight the loss of life that occasionally occurs during circus performances

to describe a new circus trick that has recently been invented

to describe the lifestyle and livelihood of a circus performer

to explain why people are so drawn towards dangerous and wild things

Correct answer:

to describe a new circus trick that has recently been invented

Explanation:

The main idea and purpose of this passage is to describe the invention of a new circus trick—riding a bike on the ceiling. The passage contains many different themes: the fact that people crave things they have not seen before; how people are drawn to wild and dangerous things; and how circus performers manipulate the public. None of these is the main idea of the passage, though.

Example Question #11 : Contemporary Life Passages

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

"Artists" of the variety stage and the circus are always trying to find something new, for the same old trapeze performances, trials of strength, performances of rope dancers, etc., have been presented so many times that anyone who invents an entirely new trick is sure of making a large amount of money out of it; the more wild and dangerous it is, the better. Anything that naturally stands on its feet but can be made to stand on its head will be well received in the latter attitude by the public. Some such thought as this must have been in the mind of the man who conceived the idea of riding a bicycle on the ceiling instead of on the floor. The "trick" originated with the Swiss acrobat Di Batta, who, being too old to undertake such a performance himself, trained two of his pupils to do it, and they appeared with their wheel in Busch Circus in Berlin. The wheel, of course, ran on a track from which it was suspended in such a way that it could not fall, and the man who operated it used the handle bar as he would the cross bar of the trapeze. One would think that the position of the rider was sufficiently dangerous to satisfy any public, but the inventor of the trick sought to make it appear more wonderful by having the rider carry between his teeth a little trapeze from the crosspiece of which another man hung. Different colored lights were thrown on the performers as they rode around the ceiling, and at the end of the performance first one and then the other dropped into the safety net which had been placed about sixty feet below them.

The primary theme of this passage is that __________.

Possible Answers:

people love to be distracted

the young are more likely to take foolish risks

people crave things they have not seen before

the inventor of riding a bicycle on the ceiling must have been a circus performer

the more dangerous something is the more interesting it becomes

Correct answer:

people crave things they have not seen before

Explanation:

Although this passage is about the invention of the trick that involves riding a bicycle on the ceiling, the primary theme is that people crave things they have not seen before. This is made most obvious in the following two excerpts: “'Artists' of the variety stage and the circus are always trying to find something new, for the same old trapeze performances, trials of strength, performances of rope dancers, etc., have been presented so many times" and “Anything that naturally stands on its feet but can be made to stand on its head will be well received in the latter attitude by the public.”

Example Question #14 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Idea And Theme In Contemporary Life Passages

Adapted from "The Dartmoor Ponies, or the Wandering of the Horse Tribe" by Arabella B. Buckley in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

It was a calm misty morning one day last week, giving promise of a bright and sunny day, when I started off for a long walk across the moor to visit the famous stone-circles, many of which are to be found not far off the track called Abbot’s Way, leading from Buckfast Abbey to the Abbey of Tavistock.

My mind was full of the olden times as I pictured to myself how, seven hundred years or more ago, some Benedictine monk from Tavistock Abbey paced this narrow path on his way to his Cistercian brothers at Buckfast, meeting some of them on his road as they wandered over the desolate moor in search of stray sheep. For the Cistercians were shepherds and wool-weavers, while the Benedictines devoted themselves to learning, and the track of about twenty-five miles from one abbey to the other, which still remains, was worn by the members of the two communities, the only variety in whose lives consisted probably in these occasional visits to each other.

Yet even these monks belonged to modern times compared to the ancient Britons who raised the stone-circles over the moor; and my mind drifted back to the days when, long before that pathway was worn, men clad in the skins of beasts hunted wild animals over the ground on which I was treading, and lived in caves and holes of the ground.

I wondered, as I thought of them, whether the monks and the ancient Britons delighted as much in the rugged scenery of the moor as I did that morning. For many miles in front of me the moor stretched out wild and treeless, while the early mist was rising off the hill-tops. It was a pleasure, there on the open moor, with the lark soaring overhead, and the butterflies and bees hovering among the sweet-smelling furze blossoms, to see horses free and joyous, with no thought of bit or bridle, harness or saddle, whose hooves had never been handled by the shoeing-smith, nor their coats touched with the singeing iron. Those little colts, with their thick heads, shaggy coats, and flowing tails, will have at least two years more liberty before they know what it is to be driven. Only once a year are they gathered together, claimed by their owners and branded with an initial, and then left again to wander where they will.

Which of these themes is most relative to this text?

Possible Answers:

The love of religion

The cost of travel

The joy of the wilderness

The passage of time

Hatred of horses

Correct answer:

The joy of the wilderness

Explanation:

Throughout this passage, the author expresses a great deal of joy about her experience of walking through the wilderness. This can be seen in excerpts such as “I wondered, as I thought of them, whether the cultured monks and the ancient Britons delighted as much in the rugged scenery of the moor as I did that morning.” She also says, “It was a pleasure, there on the open moor, with the lark soaring overhead, and the butterflies and bees hovering among the sweet-smelling furze blossoms, to see horses free and joyous, with no thought of bit or bridle, harness or saddle." This suggests that the primary theme of this text is “the joy of the wilderness.” Although the author does discuss the passage of time, with relation to the various groups of people that have lived on the moor in centuries past, this is part of her general reflection on the joy of walking through the land.

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