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 #21 : Critical Comprehension

Adapted from "Errors in Our Food Economy" in Scientific American Supplement No. 1082 Vol. XLII (September 26th, 1896)

Scientific research, interpreting the observations of practical life, implies that several errors are common in the use of food.

First, many people purchase needlessly expensive kinds of food, doing this under the false impression that there is some peculiar virtue in the costlier materials, and that economy in our diet is somehow detrimental to our dignity or our welfare. And, unfortunately, those who are most extravagant in this respect are often the ones who can least afford it.

Secondly, the food which we eat does not always contain the proper proportions of the different kinds of nutritive ingredients. We consume relatively too much of the fuel ingredients of food, such as the fats of meat and butter, and the starch which makes up the larger part of the nutritive material of flour, potatoes, sugar, and sweetmeats. Conversely, we have relatively too little of the protein of flesh-forming substances, like the lean of meat and fish and the gluten of wheat, which make muscle and sinew and which are the basis of blood, bone and brain.

Thirdly, many people, not only the well-to-do, but those in moderate circumstances, use needless quantities of food. Part of the excess, however, is simply thrown away with the wastes of the table and the kitchen; so that the injury to health, great as it may be, is doubtless much less than if all were eaten. Probably the worst sufferers from this evil are well-to-do people of sedentary occupations.

Finally, we are guilty of serious errors in our cooking. We waste a great deal of fuel in the preparation of our food, and even then a great deal of the food is very badly cooked. A reform in these methods of cooking is one of the economic demands of our time.

The primary theme of this essay is that __________.

Possible Answers:

Humans misuse their food resources heavily to the detriment of individual health and social equality.

Wealthy people are just as guilty as poor people when it comes to eating a nutritionally balanced diet.

If humanity is to survive the massive growth in population, people need to get smarter about the types and quantities of food they consume.

The economic divide between wealthy and poor people is contributing negatively to the supply of food in the world.

Poorer people are particularly vulnerable to changes in the food market.

Correct answer:

Humans misuse their food resources heavily to the detriment of individual health and social equality.

Explanation:

While it is true that the differences between wealthy people and poor people in the purchase, preparation, and consumption of food is an important theme in this text, it is more accurate to say that the primary theme is that all “humans misuse their food resources heavily.“ The author employs examples of the ways in which poor and wealthy people both do this to demonstrate that this mistake is not unique to one or the other, but rather is a universal tendency of humanity.

Example Question #21 : 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 intention of the author of this passage?

Possible Answers:

To note the crassness of a society that overlooks the suffering and addiction experienced by others

To raise awareness regarding potentially hidden but dangerous behaviors

To overcome social stereotypes regarding addiction

To express dissatisfaction with the psychological community's treatment of psychological disorders

To condemn certain types of behaviors

Correct answer:

To raise awareness regarding potentially hidden but dangerous behaviors

Explanation:

The key sentence for discerning the author's purpose is: "Perhaps several examples can assist in increasing the reader’s awareness of these potentially problematic habits." This helps to interpret the first three sentences in the opening paragraph. The author is not merely intending to provide information about hidden types of addiction. In addition, the author wishes to "increase the reader's awareness." Thus, the best answer regarding the purpose is "to raise awareness regarding potentially hidden but dangerous behaviors."

Example Question #1 : Identifying And Analyzing Supporting Ideas In Contemporary Life Passages

"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.

Why is it obvious to all who are familiar with the metro train system that the red line is the oldest and most out of date?

Possible Answers:

Its tracks are visibly rusting and showing wear after many years of use.

It travels from Maryland to DC and back out to another section of Maryland, which is very strange.

Its signals look much older than the others, indicating the age of the line.

It is the most prone to break down because of its aging parts.

It is the slowest metro line in the city.

Correct answer:

It is the most prone to break down because of its aging parts.

Explanation:

Do not infer anything more than you can from the paragraph itself. Some of the wrong answers come up with details that are not at all justified. We are not told anything about rust on the tracks or the appearance of the signals. All that we know from the paragraph is that the red line is the most prone to break down due to its aging parts. This is what allows those familiar with the system to know that is the oldest and most out of date.

Example Question #1 : Passage Reasoning In Social Science 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.

Based on what the author has said, why might it be fair to say that traditionalist conservatives most closely deserve the title “conservative” in the strict sense of that word?

Possible Answers:

Because they ultimately have a sense for the importance of other kinds of conservation, like environmental conservation

Because they have questioned the limitations of modernity

Because they are concerned with preserving the "old order" of things

Because they have always opposed the libertarians

Because they have long celebrated the great poets of Western civilization

Correct answer:

Because they are concerned with preserving the "old order" of things

Explanation:

Although the author does state that the traditionalist conservatives question modernity, the key passage for this question is, "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." This sentence states that the traditionalist conservatives are primarily concerned with maintaining the "old order" of Western civilization—the "old order" of things. Because they wish to do this, it can fairly be said that they work to "conserve" something—as is implied by the word "conservative."

Example Question #2 : Identifying And Analyzing Supporting Ideas 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.

Why does the author conclude, “In many ways, [the libertarians] represent the kind of modern individualism disagreed with by the traditionalists.”

Possible Answers:

Traditionalist conservatives oppose all forms of freedom as being mere chances for modern innovation.

They are all advocates of modernity and its changes.

Traditionalist conservatives oppose new initiatives in every form.

They regularly oppose the old culture as being something out of date.

They so focus on individuals that they likely ignore tradition, which does not merely come from individuals.

Correct answer:

They so focus on individuals that they likely ignore tradition, which does not merely come from individuals.

Explanation:

The author does not say much about the libertarians, so let's pay close attention to what actually is said. The key sentence here is, "The libertarians are primarily concerned with maximizing freedom and limiting the role of government in individual lives." Now, it is said that the traditionalist conservatives do take issue with the role of government. However, they also are very concerned with preserving the "old order" and traditions of Western civilization. This sentence states that the libertarians are concerned with maximizing freedom—implying that this is individual freedom. This focus on individuals is very likely to overlook the role of tradition, which is passed from generation to generation, meaning that there is something more important than the individual alone.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing The Text In Contemporary Life Passages

"The Meaning of 'Liberal Arts Education'" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Many people use the expression “liberal arts education” but do not know much at all about the original meaning of such an education. It is often thought that a “true liberal education” is one that gives the student knowledge that is not pursued for “utilitarian values”—that is, knowledge that is not merely “for the sake of getting a job.” Sometimes, the expression “liberal education” is used to describe an education that is not a mere repetition of old beliefs, but is open-minded and “liberal” in this way.

To understand the original meaning of the expression “liberal arts” it is necessary to consider each part of the expression as it was used in its ancient and medieval senses. The word “liberal” was used to describe these “arts” insofar as they were not the “servile arts,” that is, “arts” in the sense of “artisan work.” In this regard, “liberal arts” were not a matter of “getting a job.” The word “art” still had a meaning that was related to “artisanship.” However, these “arts” were “liberal” because they were the “arts of reasoning,” that is, “the arts of the mind.” They were meant to be tools that prepared someone for more in-depth studies. Thus, they were not envisioned as “knowledge for the sake of knowledge.” Instead, they were the initial tools that enabled the young student to reason properly.  This more ancient sense of the “liberal arts” is often missed or, at least, partially overlooked in contemporary discussions about them.

According to the reasoning of the passage, which sentence directly explains the older meaning of “art” in the expression “liberal arts”?

Possible Answers:

The word “art” still had a meaning that was related to “artisanship.”  

This more ancient sense of the “liberal arts” is often missed or, at least, partially overlooked in contemporary discussions about them.

Instead, they were the initial tools that enabled the young student to reason properly.

The word “liberal” was used to describe these “arts” insofar as they were not the “servile arts,” that is, “arts” in the sense of “artisan work.”

In this regard, “liberal arts” were not a matter of “getting a job.”

Correct answer:

Instead, they were the initial tools that enabled the young student to reason properly.

Explanation:

Although this paragraph speaks about what the liberal arts were not, only a few of the sentences provide some description of what actually defined them. They were arts in the sense of being tools for helping students to reason properly.

Example Question #1 : Identifying And Analyzing Supporting Ideas In Contemporary Life Passages

Adapted from "Errors in Our Food Economy" in Scientific American Supplement No. 1082 Vol. XLII (September 26th, 1896)

Scientific research, interpreting the observations of practical life, implies that several errors are common in the use of food.

First, many people purchase needlessly expensive kinds of food, doing this under the false impression that there is some peculiar virtue in the costlier materials, and that economy in our diet is somehow detrimental to our dignity or our welfare. And, unfortunately, those who are most extravagant in this respect are often the ones who can least afford it.

Secondly, the food which we eat does not always contain the proper proportions of the different kinds of nutritive ingredients. We consume relatively too much of the fuel ingredients of food, such as the fats of meat and butter, and the starch which makes up the larger part of the nutritive material of flour, potatoes, sugar, and sweetmeats. Conversely, we have relatively too little of the protein of flesh-forming substances, like the lean of meat and fish and the gluten of wheat, which make muscle and sinew and which are the basis of blood, bone and brain.

Thirdly, many people, not only the well-to-do, but those in moderate circumstances, use needless quantities of food. Part of the excess, however, is simply thrown away with the wastes of the table and the kitchen; so that the injury to health, great as it may be, is doubtless much less than if all were eaten. Probably the worst sufferers from this evil are well-to-do people of sedentary occupations.

Finally, we are guilty of serious errors in our cooking. We waste a great deal of fuel in the preparation of our food, and even then a great deal of the food is very badly cooked. A reform in these methods of cooking is one of the economic demands of our time.

The primary argument of the second paragraph is that _________.

Possible Answers:

Wealthy people have created an injustice in society by attaching a sense of dignity to the purchase of needlessly expensive food, which has the effect of reducing the buying power of poorer people.

None of these answers represents the primary argument of the second paragraph.

People who can least afford the expense are most likely to be convinced that there is some benefit accrued by spending more money on food than is necessary.

Society has betrayed the poorer people in society by requiring them to spend more money on food than is necessary in order to maintain a sense of dignity.

Poorer people are just as inclined as wealthy people to be overly extravagant in their food purchases.

Correct answer:

People who can least afford the expense are most likely to be convinced that there is some benefit accrued by spending more money on food than is necessary.

Explanation:

The primary argument of the second paragraph is actually two ideas combined. First, the idea that “many people purchase needlessly expensive kinds of food" is argued. This idea is expressed in many of the answer choices, so we need to combine it with the second idea, which is that “unfortunately, those who are most extravagant in this respect are often the ones who can least afford it.” So, those people who can least afford the expense are most likely to needlessly spend money. Only one of these answer choices reflects this argument. The rest are primarily concerned with attaching blame, either to “society” or to “wealthy people,” which the author does not do.

Example Question #23 : Contemporary Life Passages

Adapted from "Wild Animals in Captivity" by W. A. Atkinson in Chatterbox Periodical (1906, ed. J. Erskine Clark)

Notwithstanding all the care which is now bestowed upon wild animals in our zoological gardens and menageries, nearly all of them suffer a little in some way or other by confinement. When we think of the great difference which exists between the surroundings natural to a free wild animal, and those of even the best zoological gardens, we cannot but be surprised that so many animals from all parts of the world can be kept alive and in good condition in a climate so changeable as ours. Every effort is made by the keepers to copy as far as possible the natural conditions to which each animal is accustomed.

It was usual, for instance, to deprive all the flesh-eating animals of one of the greatest traveling menageries of food during one day in each week. It was found by experience that the animals were healthier when they suffered periods of fasting like this, than they were when they were fed regularly every day without a break. The explanation of this was very simple. These animals, when they were living wild in the jungles, forests, deserts, or ice-fields, obtained all their food by hunting. When game was scarce or difficult to catch, they were compelled to go hungry; and this occurred so often as to be a natural condition to which they were well accustomed. When, therefore, they were placed in cages, and were fed as regularly, though not as frequently as human beings, their health was more or less impaired.

Animals in confinement often undergo slight changes even when no alteration in their appearance or falling-off in health is noticeable. Many of them, for instance, rarely have young ones, and even when they have, the young are seldom as healthy and robust as if born in a wild state. The keepers have frequently the utmost difficulty in rearing animals which are born in menageries and zoological gardens. Yet if these animals were born in their own countries and under natural conditions, they would grow up healthy and strong, without receiving any more care than a kitten receives from its mother.

An incident which occurred in the Zoo not long ago affords a striking illustration of these facts. A wolf had an ordinary family of eight young ones. The keepers, probably thinking that these were too many for the captive wolf to bring up alone, divided the family. Four of them were left with their mother, and four of them were placed in charge of a collie. The dog took kindly to her foster-children, and reared them successfully with her own. This was only what the keepers expected. But when they placed the young ones together again, and compared the collie's family with the wolf's family, they were surprised to find that the four which had been nurtured by the collie were stronger and better animals than their four brothers and sisters. The best explanation of this result is that the collie was living a healthy natural life, while the wolf, though to all appearance quite well, was not enjoying the full vigor which results from a free and active life.

According to the passage, why is it better for meat-eating animals kept in captivity to occasionally be denied a daily meal?

Possible Answers:

It causes the animals to learn to fend for themselves by denying them enough food to survive.

It replicates the notion of “survival of the fittest” ensuring only the healthiest animals survive.

It keeps the animals weaker and makes it easier for the zookeepers to control them.

It keeps the animal healthier by simulating the realities of hunting in the wild.

It ensures that the zoological gardens can afford to keep as many animals as possible.

Correct answer:

It keeps the animal healthier by simulating the realities of hunting in the wild.

Explanation:

The author this passage is primarily discussing the ways in which animals suffer in captivity and the ways in which zookeepers can minimize this suffering. In context here, the author says, “These animals, when they were living wild in the jungles, forests, deserts, or ice-fields, obtained all their food by hunting. When game was scarce or difficult to catch, they were compelled to go hungry; and this occurred so often as to be a natural condition to which they were well accustomed. When, therefore, they were placed in cages, and were fed as regularly, though not as frequently as human beings, their health was more or less impaired.” Basically, the author is saying that it is a natural condition of wildlife to someone times go without food, so to ensure the best possible health of a captive animal, it is wise to sometimes deny them food.

Example Question #1 : Identifying And Analyzing Supporting Ideas 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.

Which sentence explains why students experience difficulties choosing the appropriate kinds and quantities of texts for their first research papers?

Possible Answers:

On the other hand, some students will rely heavily on a single book on the topic.

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.

Many students will be tempted to use every book that they find, not focusing on the most appropriate texts for the topic.

The single most significant of these difficulties is the finding of sources for the paper.

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.

Correct answer:

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.

Explanation:

The question is asking why students in general experience the problem of finding sources. It does not distinguish between those students who choose too many texts and those who choose too few; therefore, the best sentence is the one that explains that they experience these problems because they only have their school textbook as a guide. The implication is that this is a limited resource for deciding which books are good for a research project and which are not.

Example Question #1 : Understanding And Evaluating Opinions And Arguments In Argumentative Humanities 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 different about the way that the author presents addiction to work and addiction to coffee?

Possible Answers:

There are no significant differences in presentation.

In the case of work, he ignores the psychological damage of such obsession.

In the case of caffeine, he focuses only on physical damage that can occur.

In the case of work, he denies the negative aspects on the whole.

In the case of work, he notes that addiction to work can even appear to be a positive thing.

Correct answer:

In the case of work, he notes that addiction to work can even appear to be a positive thing.

Explanation:

The only acceptable answer is the one that notes that the author remarks that obsession with work can often appear to be a good thing, something he does not do in the case of coffee. Among the wrong answers, there is a trap answer: "In the case of caffeine, he focuses only on physical damage that can occur." It is true that the author focuses on physical damage in the case of coffee but does not do so for work. Still, the author does not focus only on that even in the case of coffee.

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