ISEE Middle Level Reading : Language in Contemporary Life Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In Contemporary Life Passages

"The Difficulties of Writing One's First Research Paper" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

When a high school student writes his or her first research paper, he or she likely will face a number of difficulties in finding and using sources for the essay. The single most significant of these difficulties is the finding of sources for the paper. The student will likely only know about his or her topic from the discussion that has occurred in class, based on the textbook that is being used. For a research paper, however, it will be necessary to find appropriate texts in the library to support the topic about which he or she is writing. This can be quite overwhelming, for there are often so many books on a given topic that it is difficult to know where to begin if your starting point is only a high school textbook. Many students will be tempted to use every book that they find, not focusing on the most appropriate texts for the topic. On the other hand, some students will rely heavily on a single book on the topic. In this case, many things are overlooked because of the student’s narrow research. Of course, there are a number of other difficulties involved in the writing of such a paper, but the use of sources likely remains the most troublesome by far.

What is the meaning of the underlined word “heavily” used above?

Possible Answers:

to a great degree

ponderously

sluggishly

lazily

having a lot of fat

Correct answer:

to a great degree

Explanation:

The word "heavily" can be used to describe doing something to a great degree. Of course, when we speak of a "heavy snow," we do not mean to say that the snow is necessarily physically heavy. When the word takes on a further metaphorical meaning, it can mean more generally "to a great degree" in a general way. Here, the word is used to describe the overuse of a single source by a student.

Example Question #21 : Vocabulary

"The Aging of Public Transportation Systems" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

As cities develop, their public transportation systems often show signs of aging that are mixed with aspects that are quite up-to-date.  An example of such a situation can be found in the transportation system in Washington DC. This system is made up of a mixture of buses and trains that connect people to locations in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. While the system has been well maintained and updated over the years, it still shows evidence that certain sections are older than others.

This is particularly noticeable when one considers the multiple lines that connect in Washington DC itself. Within the city, there are five different sets of tracks that run in various directions and to sundry places. A number of the newer lines are in excellent condition and rarely break down; however, the case of the red line is somewhat different. This oldest line of the metro train system often has issues because of its age, experiencing a number of track and signal issues even at rush hour when the overall system is its most efficient. Admittedly, the transportation authority is working to update this line and make it less problematic. Still, until this work is completed, it is obvious to all who are familiar with the metro train system that the red line is the oldest and most out of date.

What does the “sundry” mean in its context?

Possible Answers:

Several or various

Having beautiful vistas

Questionable

Important

Dried areas underground

Correct answer:

Several or various

Explanation:

The word "sundry" generally means "several" or "having a variety of kinds / types." This is definitely what is being expressed here, for the sentence is discussing tracks that run in various directions to different places. The word "sundry" is related to "sunder," which means "to cut apart." Things that are "varied" can be said to be, in a sense, cut apart from each other.

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

"Conservatism" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

In American politics, there is perhaps no word that is more over-simplified than “conservative.” Many people use this term as though it has a single meaning and expresses a single historical-political outlook. Nothing could be further from the truth. The development of American conservatism must be understood as a combination of a number of strands of ideology that often coexist with great tension and difficulty. Although there are many groups that are combined in this larger assortment, two examples will suffice to show the great diversity present in this seemingly simple group.

For instance, there are the “traditionalist conservatives,” who generally are concerned with preserving Western culture and tradition against the developments of modern thought and culture. In many ways, this type of conservatism is the most “conserving”; that is, traditionalists are primarily concerned with maintaining the “old order” of Western civilization and learning. Because of these concerns, the traditionalist conservatives are very wary of any kind of major governmental program that promises to bring a “new order” into existence. While not disagreeing with the idea of progress, these conservatives believe that any such changes should occur organically, in a natural manner over a period of years. 

On the other hand, there are also the “libertarians," who are often classed as “conservatives” as well. They are surprisingly different from the traditionalist conservatives. The libertarians are primarily concerned with maximizing freedom and limiting the role of government in individual lives. In many ways, they represent the kind of modern individualism disagreed with by the traditionalists.

These two opposed groups are able to come together in the general notion of “conservatism” because of their shared attitudes toward the government, particularly the federal government. The traditionalists wish to limit the role of the federal government out of a fear that it will ruin traditional culture through radically new plans and agendas. The libertarians seek to limit it out of a desire to give individual citizens maximum freedom of choice and action. While these two branches of “conservatism” are in many ways opposed to each other, they somehow manage to coexist along with many other positions that are all called “conservative” in spite of similarly striking differences.

What does the underlined word “branches” mean in its context?

Possible Answers:

An expansion

An argumentative faction

A piecemeal approach

Living sprout

Subdivision

Correct answer:

Subdivision

Explanation:

When the word "branch" is used as a verb, it means "to divide out into parts." When we consider the "branching of a tree," we are considering how the single trunk gradually becomes many branches—many divided and independent parts of the whole tree. Now, the "two branches of 'conservatism'" are parts of the whole. While they are said to be in conflict, they do indeed come together as subdivisions of the broader group named "conservatism"—like branches are parts of a single tree.

Example Question #1 : How To Find The Meaning Of Words With Multiple Meanings

"Online Shopping Options" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Often, online retailers provide special “favored customer” options that allow customers to spend a small subscription fee in order to receive special pricing and shipping options. Often, these customers believe that they are receiving a great deal of savings, particularly if this option greatly reduces the costs of having items shipped. While such an arrangement can allow someone to make previously planned purchases at a great discount, it likewise can become a great temptation to spend much more money than they would ever have spent had they not had the “favored customer” status.

What is the meaning of the underlined word “arrangement” in the context in which it is used in the passage?

Possible Answers:

Strange occurrence

Legal proceeding

Group of beautiful things

Agreement or established state of affairs

Organization

Correct answer:

Agreement or established state of affairs

Explanation:

In its most general sense, the word "arrangement" means "an ordering of things." This takes on various meanings (as in, for example, "an arrangement of flowers" and "a musical arrangement"). It can likewise have the meaning used here, namely "an agreement." For instance, one could say, "The two men had made an arrangement to pick up each other's mail when one of them was out of town." This is clearly the sense of the word used in the passage, because it discusses an arrangement regarding shipping procedures and costs.

Example Question #3 : Hspt Reading

"Conservatism" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

In American politics, there is perhaps no word that is more over-simplified than “conservative.” Many people use this term as though it has a single meaning and expresses a single historical-political outlook. Nothing could be further from the truth. The development of American conservatism must be understood as a combination of a number of strands of ideology that often coexist with great tension and difficulty. Although there are many groups that are combined in this larger assortment, two examples will suffice to show the great diversity present in this seemingly simple group.

For instance, there are the “traditionalist conservatives,” who generally are concerned with preserving Western culture and tradition against the developments of modern thought and culture. In many ways, this type of conservatism is the most “conserving”; that is, traditionalists are primarily concerned with maintaining the “old order” of Western civilization and learning. Because of these concerns, the traditionalist conservatives are very wary of any kind of major governmental program that promises to bring a “new order” into existence. While not disagreeing with the idea of progress, these conservatives believe that any such changes should occur organically, in a natural manner over a period of years. 

On the other hand, there are also the “libertarians," who are often classed as “conservatives” as well. They are surprisingly different from the traditionalist conservatives. The libertarians are primarily concerned with maximizing freedom and limiting the role of government in individual lives. In many ways, they represent the kind of modern individualism disagreed with by the traditionalists.

These two opposed groups are able to come together in the general notion of “conservatism” because of their shared attitudes toward the government, particularly the federal government. The traditionalists wish to limit the role of the federal government out of a fear that it will ruin traditional culture through radically new plans and agendas. The libertarians seek to limit it out of a desire to give individual citizens maximum freedom of choice and action. While these two branches of “conservatism” are in many ways opposed to each other, they somehow manage to coexist along with many other positions that are all called “conservative” in spite of similarly striking differences.

What does the underlined word “organically” mean in its context?

Possible Answers:

Gradually

In a healthy way

In a lively way

In a socially responsible way

Without artificial additives

Correct answer:

Gradually

Explanation:

Do not be fooled by the other meanings of "organic." Something is called "organic" if it is directly related to the idea of living. Often, it is contrasted to "inorganic" matter. The word can also be used to describe human phenomena—as it is here. The best context clue for this is the words directly following the word "organically" in the passage, "in a naturally manner over a period of years." In particular, the key expression is "over a period of years." "Organic changes" are changes that do not occur by sudden alterations or revolutions. Instead, they are "gradual"—that is, step-by-step and continuous.

Example Question #21 : Hspt Reading

"Why Learning Multiple Languages in Graduate School is Important" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

In graduate school, students are often required to learn a number of foreign languages in addition to their regular coursework. This can be quite frustrating and difficult, for the normal courses in graduate school require significantly more reading and writing than do undergraduate courses. It is not unusual for graduate students to have regular reading assignments of several hundred pages for each course that they take. Likewise, they often write papers of much greater length than those that they wrote as undergraduate students. When language examinations are added to this difficult course load, it can be very frustrating for graduate students to try to find the time to prepare for these additional examinations.

Although these frustrations are understandable, this system has not been created solely to cause woe for graduate students. Much of the work for which these students are being prepared will focus on research. While much has been written in English about many topics, adequate research can only be done if one is able to read what people have written in other languages. For instance, there are many important articles and books written about almost every topic by European scholars. If a graduate student does not know any foreign languages, all of these article and books will be impossible to read, and hence useless to their research endeavors. This would be a great loss for a student's research. Therefore, in spite of its frustrating aspects, the language examination process is an important component of graduate school education.

What is the meaning of the underlined word, “woe,” in the passage above?

Possible Answers:

hatred

fear

anger

distress

waste

Correct answer:

distress

Explanation:

The word "woe" can mean either "significant sorrow" or also "distress." The sentence begins by saying that these students do have understandable frustrations; however, the point being made is that the system of examinations is not intended solely to cause such distressing conditions. This is the best meaning for the word "woe" among those provided.

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

"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

lacking disease

sanitary

vigorous

healthy

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 #11 : Language In 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

peaceable

competing

remorseful

strong

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 #11 : 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:

storm

joke

ship

fish

blessing

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 #2 : 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 “trivial” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

inherent

compulsive

coherent

insignificant

implausible

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.

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