ISEE Middle Level Reading : Contemporary Life Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #11 : Contemporary Life Passages

"American Students and Foreign Languages" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

American students often find it difficult to understand the need for learning a foreign language. In part, this lack of understanding seems to occur because of the insulated nature of American geography. Unlike Europe, America is a massive country, comprised of states that all speak the same language. When an American travels from state to state, he or she is not confronted with a completely different language group as is the case when, for example, a Frenchman travels from his native land to the neighboring country of Italy or to England. Although America does have Canada to its north and Mexico to its south, it still does not have the great internal variety of languages as one finds in the small European continent. Therefore, students often do not experience the practical importance of knowing other languages.

Of course, America has always been called the “melting pot,” for many peoples have arrived on its shores, bringing their own distinctive cultures and languages with them. Still, this very expression—“melting pot”—shows that these immigrant cultures do not forever retain their own particular manners and languages. With time, these varied cultures become part of the American culture as a whole. While they do influence and change the culture, they likewise become assimilated into it. Their spoken language often becomes English. Even if they retain their mother tongue, they generally speak it privately. This is done as a matter of personal heritage, not as part of the day-to-day life in the culture. 

Additionally, America’s global dominance likewise allows Americans to avoid learning other languages. Since America has such influence over the rest of the world, it is generally in the interests of other peoples to learn English in order to be part of the economic, political, and military world in which America operates. Therefore, even at international meetings that are filled with people from many nationalities and language groups, English-speakers are at an advantage because they can talk with the many individuals who speak English. The work and learning of other peoples thus allows the Americans to convince themselves that there is no need to learn another language. 

Lastly, American education has come to emphasize mathematics and science to such a great degree that things such as language can often seem unimportant. The main goals of education are said to be the training of students for the technology workforce. If this is presented as the main goal of school, few children will understand why any of the non-scientific subjects are included in the curriculum. If a subject does not help in learning math and science, it will appear to be irrelevant. In particular, foreign languages do not seem to add to the teaching of math and science, which can be done very easily and effectively in English alone. 

Of course, many other reasons could be considered, and a more detailed discussion would undertake such a lengthy investigation. Still, the factors discussed above do provide some sense as to why American students find it difficult to understand the importance of learning a foreign language.

What is the main intent of this passage?

Possible Answers:

To present statistics concerning the deficiencies of American education with regard to languages

To critique the American education system, particularly in its ignorance regarding foreign languages

To discuss the reasons that American students find it difficult to understand the need for learning a foreign language

To show the many ways that Americans are deficient in languages in comparison with other countries

To discuss the imperialism of American aspirations and insistence on the use of English

Correct answer:

To discuss the reasons that American students find it difficult to understand the need for learning a foreign language

Explanation:

Do not be fooled by the length or detailed nature of this passage. The first paragraph begins by stating, "American students often find it difficult to understand the need for learning a foreign language." All of the details following in the first through fourth paragraphs give reasons for this difficulty in understanding such a need. They do not directly critique the whole educational establishment or even present a detailed study of the problem. The paragraphs merely present some interesting reasons as to why American students do not understand the importance of learning foreign languages. The closing paragraph reaffirms this intention, stating: "Still, the factors discussed above do provide some sense as to why American students find it difficult to understand the importance of learning a foreign language."

Example Question #11 : 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 argue against the idea that it is an important part of contemporary policy in the United States to construct numerous transatlantic cables

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

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

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

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

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 #12 : Contemporary Life Passages

Adapted from Scientific American Supplement No. 1178 Vol. XLV (June 25th, 1898)

In the present war between the United States and Spain, the Queen Regent is an impressive figure, and it is entirely owing to her charm and fortitude that the present dynasty of Spain is maintained. Since his earliest youth, she has constantly made efforts to fit her son to wear the crown. The Queen Regent came from the great historic house of Hapsburg, which has done much to shape the destinies of the world. All the fortitude that has distinguished its members is represented in this lady, who is the widow of Alfonzo XII and the mother of the present king. Her father was the late Archduke Karl Ferdinand and she is the cousin of Emperor Franz Joseph. She has had a sad history. Her husband died before the young king was born, and from the hour of his birth she has watched and cared for the boy.

She is the leader in all good works in Spain, and her sympathy for the distressed is proverbial. She gives freely from her private purse wherever there is need, whether it be for the relief of misery or, as recently, when the state is in peril. The young king has been carefully educated. By a curious fate, his birth deposed from the throne his sister Maria de las Mercedes, who as a little girl was queen for a few months. The boy has been brought up under the influence of family life and has a warm affection for his mother and sisters. He has never had the full delights of childhood, for he has been educated in that false, punctilious, and thoroughly artificial atmosphere of the court of Spain, in which every care has been taken to fit him for his royal position. His health is far from robust, though the military education he has received has done much to strengthen his constitution. He has been taught to interest himself especially in the naval and military affairs, and the study of the models of ships and military discipline has been one of the principal occupations of his childhood. It is the earnest wish of Spain that he should prove worthy of his mother.

The primary focus of this essay is __________.

Possible Answers:

the life and personality of the Queen Regent of Spain

the relationship between the Queen Regent and her son and country

how the Queen Regent of Spain presents a danger to the United States

the sickness and ineptitude of young King of Spain

the deteriorating relationship between Spain and the United States

Correct answer:

the relationship between the Queen Regent and her son and country

Explanation:

The primary focus and main theme of this essay is the relationship between the Queen Regent of Spain and her country and son. This can be seen in excerpts like “ . . . the Queen Regent is an impressive figure, and it is entirely owing to her charm and fortitude that the present dynasty of Spain is maintained.” And, “Since his earliest youth she has constantly made efforts to fit her son to wear the crown.” And, “It is the earnest wish of Spain that he should prove worthy of his mother.”

Example Question #13 : 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:

the young are more likely to take foolish risks

people crave things they have not seen before

the more dangerous something is the more interesting it becomes

people love to be distracted

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

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 : 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 describe the lifestyle and livelihood of a circus performer

to describe a new circus trick that has recently been invented

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

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

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 #501 : Isee Middle Level (Grades 7 8) Reading Comprehension

Adapted from Scientific American Supplement No. 1178 Vol. XLV (June 25th, 1898)

An invention, to be patented, must be applied for by the actual inventor, and in the absence of acts constituting a transfer, the patent, and all legal ownership in it and all rights under it, go exclusively to the inventor. In the absence of express or implied contract, a mere employer of the inventor has no rights under the patent. Only contracts or assignments give to the employer, or to anyone else, a license or a partial or entire ownership in the patent. The equity of this may be appreciated by example. The carpenter invents an improvement in window frames, and the shop owner has no rights. He has no right even to make the patented window frame without license. The shop owner, in merely employing the carpenter, acquires no rights to the carpenter's patented inventions. But there are cases in which an implied license would go to the shop owner. For instance, if the carpenter was employed on the mutual understanding that he was particularly ingenious in devising carpenter work, and capable of improving upon the products of the shop; and if in the course of his work he devised a new and patentable window frame, and developed it in connection with his employment and at the expense of his employer; and if the new frames were made by the employer without protest from the carpenter, the carpenter could, of course, patent the new frame, but he could not oust the employer in his right to continue making the invention, for it would be held that the employer had acquired an implied license.

If he could not use it, then he would not be getting the very advantage for which he employed this particular carpenter, and if he did get that right, he would be getting all that he employed the carpenter for, and that right would not be at all lessened by the fact that the carpenter had a patent under which he could license other people. The patent does not constitute the right to make or use or sell, for such right is enjoyed without a patent. The patent constitutes the "exclusive" right to make, sell or use, and this the shop owner does not get unless he specially bargains for it. Implied licenses stand on delicate ground, and where men employ people of ingenious talent, with the understanding that the results of such talent developed during the employment shall inure to the benefit of the employer, there is only one safeguard, and that is to found the employment on a contract unmistakably setting forth the understanding.

The primary purpose of this passage is to do which of the following?

Possible Answers:

To explain the trade of a carpenter

To advise employers as to how to trick their employees into working for the best interests of the employer

To demonstrate why patent law needs reforming

To explain how patents work in a legal and logistical sense

To demonstrate the confusion that surrounds patent ownership

Correct answer:

To explain how patents work in a legal and logistical sense

Explanation:

The primary purpose of this passage is to explain, using practical examples, how patents work in a legal and logistical sense. The author provides many examples of specific circumstances to show how patent law works in each situation. It might seem as if the author is advising employers as to how they can ensure their employee works for the best interests of the employer, but it is not clear that the author is offering advice to either the employee or the employer—he is merely explaining who has the ownership of patents in different circumstances. Also, while the author does demonstrate the confusion surrounding patent ownership, this is done merely to explain how patents work.

Example Question #11 : Ideas 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.

George Harbo and Frank Samuelson were trying to __________.

Possible Answers:

be the first men to sail across the Atlantic ocean unassisted by others

row across the Atlantic without the help of a sail or a rudder

reach Europe from America without stopping for additional fuel

reach America from Europe without stopping for additional fuel

swim across the Atlantic ocean

Correct answer:

row across the Atlantic without the help of a sail or a rudder

Explanation:

It is clear that these two men were trying to cross the Atlantic ocean in some fashion that would be considered difficult. You have to read carefully to determine how exactly they were trying to do so. The author notes that when they met with a Norwegian ship, the captain "signed the log book and testified that the boat had neither sail nor rudder.” So, the two men were trying to row across the Atlantic without using a sail or a rudder to guide and power their ship.

Example Question #1 : Ideas In History Passages

"What Do We Remember About History?" by Daniel Morrison (2014)

Henry the Eighth is most commonly remembered for the amusing and 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.

Which of these is the main argument of this essay?

Possible Answers:

Our collective understanding of history is too often focused on the entertaining rather than the significant.

Henry the Eighth is often misremembered in his own country.

Henry the Eighth was a terrible king and an even worse man who treated women with disdain and carelessness.

Our understanding of history has been impacted by the manner in which certain details are passed down through the generations.

The English decision to break with the Catholic church has been of great significance throughout English history.

Correct answer:

Our collective understanding of history is too often focused on the entertaining rather than the significant.

Explanation:

The main argument of this passage is best captured in the conclusion, where the author says, “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.” It is clear that the author believes “our collective understanding of history is too often focused on the entertaining rather than the significant.” Although the author does talk about Henry the Eighth for a long portion of the passage, Henry the Eighth is merely an example around which the author constructs his argument about history.

Example Question #3 : Identifying And Analyzing Supporting Ideas In History 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.

According to the author, what should Henry the Eighth be most remembered for?

Possible Answers:

Dying too young

Declaring war on France

Permanently establishing Protestantism in England

Misunderstanding history

Marrying six different wives

Correct answer:

Permanently establishing Protestantism in England

Explanation:

According to the author, Henry the Eighth should be most remembered for “permanently establishing Protestantism in England.” The author says “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.” You might have been tempted to say that Henry the Eighth should be remembered as “misunderstanding history," but the author is concerned that his readers and other modern-day people misunderstand history, not that Henry the Eighth did specifically.

Example Question #161 : Nonfiction 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 primary purpose of this essay is to __________.

Possible Answers:

describe how England ended up breaking with the Catholic church

explain the significance of Henry the Eighth

talk about Henry the Eighth's six wives

teach a lesson about the popular understanding of history

explain how England has changed since the rule of Henry the Eighth

Correct answer:

teach a lesson about the popular understanding of history

Explanation:

Although much of this essay talks about the significance of Henry the Eighth, this is not the primary purpose of the essay. The experience of Henry the Eighth and his memory in our collective understanding is used as an example to teach a lesson about the popular understanding of history. The primary purpose is best shown in the conclusion: "it is often the trivial and merely interesting that survives, whilst the significant but less fascinating can fade from memory.”

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