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 #61 : 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.

It is the author's opinion that we should consume less/fewer __________ and more __________.

Possible Answers:

sugar . . . fat

sweetmeats . . . lean meat

lean meat . . . fish

wheat gluten . . . potatoes

fish . . . butter

Correct answer:

sweetmeats . . . lean meat

Explanation:

In the third paragraph, the author states, "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." So, he or she thinks we should consume less fatty meat, butter, and starch in the form of flour, potatoes, sugar, and sweetmeats. This allows us to narrow down our answer choices to "sweetmeats . . . lean meat" and "sugar . . . fat." So, does the author think we should eat more lean meat, or more fat? The author says in the second sentence that we should eat more lean meat, fish, and wheat gluten, so "sweetmeats . . . lean meat" is the correct answer. The author mentions fat when discussing things of which we consume too much in the first sentence.

Example Question #31 : 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 different about the way that the author presents addiction to work and addiction to coffee?

Possible Answers:

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

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

There are no significant differences in presentation.

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

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

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.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing The Text 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 expression “strands of ideology” mean in its context?

Possible Answers:

Distinct groups with different beliefs

Opposed, warring factions

Rope-like thinking that is different and inconsistent

Long discussions on matters that are very complicated

Opposed groups who have no desire to be in communication

Correct answer:

Distinct groups with different beliefs

Explanation:

The word "strands" is taken from the literal usage meaning "fiber" or "string." The metaphorical sense of the word is "a particular, independent group within a larger group." The strands of a rope are brought together to make one rope out of many fibers. An "ideology" is a system of ideas. Sometimes the word is used negatively to indicate that the "ideology" is detached from reality or closed-minded. However, it can have the general sense of being a system of ideas. Thus, among the options provided, the best is, "distinct groups with different beliefs."

Example Question #16 : Inferential Comprehension

"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.

Which of the following sentences implies a negative outcome that might occur if graduate students no longer were required to study (and be examined in) foreign languages?

Possible Answers:

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.

Much of the work for which these students are being prepared will focus on research.

Therefore, in spite of its frustrating aspects, the language examination process is an important component of graduate school education.

This can be quite frustrating and difficult, for the normal courses in graduate school require significantly more reading and writing than do undergraduate courses.

Although these frustrations are understandable, this system has not been created solely to cause woe for graduate students.

Correct answer:

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.

Explanation:

Throughout the second paragraph, it is argued that graduate students are being trained to do research. The place of foreign languages in graduate study is justified in light of this training. The correct answer among the options provided is the one that explains what will occur if the students are not able to read foreign languages: the many articles and books written in other languages will be useless because the students will be unable to read them.

Example Question #11 : How To Find Word Meaning From Context

"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.

What is meant by the underlined expression “utilitarian values”?

Possible Answers:

values centered on the acquisition of useful property

values focused on selfish motives

values focused on practical usefulness

values focused on paying utility bills

values focused on greed and luxury

Correct answer:

values focused on practical usefulness

Explanation:

Generally, the word "utilitarian" is used to mean "practical" and "useful." In this sentence, the expression "utilitarian values" is given context by the clause that continues, "that is, knowledge . . ."  Liberal education is said not to pursue knowledge merely for the sake of employment. Now, "utilitarian values" are not directly defined by "for the sake of a job." They describe a class of motives that might lead someone to get a particular kind of education. The best definition of "utilitarian" will be useful, or a synonym of the word. "Utilitarian values" lead someone to look for an education that one can "put to use"—for example (as in this selection) in the "job market."

Example Question #12 : How To Find Word Meaning From Context

"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 expression, “slaves away without cessation”?

Possible Answers:

has become an indentured servant

is extremely hard working

works without stopping

is reluctantly working on a project

is overcome by the corporate overlords

Correct answer:

works without stopping

Explanation:

The word "slaving" is a form of the verb "to slave," which means "to work very hard." This does not necessarily mean that the person who is "slaving" is a servant or a slave—though the words certainly are related. The word "cessation" means "stopping."  It is related to the English word "cease." Thus, to "slave away without cessation" is to work very hard without stopping.

Example Question #36 : Authorial Purpose

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 portion of the text is meant to highlight __________.

Possible Answers:

the diseases that were common in this time period

the difficulty of life on the open ocean

why the two men were rowing across the Atlantic

on what things the two men would spend their winnings

how much the two men suffered for their prize

Correct answer:

how much the two men suffered for their prize

Explanation:

At the beginning of the last paragraph, the author notes, “Cost what it might, the men were bent upon reaching this port in order to gain the reward promised by Mr. Fox." The author is saying that no matter the personal cost to the two men, they were desperate to gain the reward promised. He then goes on to note what exactly it did cost the two men in terms of health and suffering: their skin, faces, and legs were all greatly damaged by the circumstances of their trip.

Example Question #2 : Analyzing The Text 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 expression, “slaves away without cessation”?

Possible Answers:

has become an indentured servant

works without stopping

is reluctantly working on a project

is extremely hard working

is overcome by the corporate overlords

Correct answer:

works without stopping

Explanation:

The word "slaving" is a form of the verb "to slave," which means "to work very hard." This does not necessarily mean that the person who is "slaving" is a servant or a slave—though the words certainly are related. The word "cessation" means "stopping."  It is related to the English word "cease." Thus, to "slave away without cessation" is to work very hard without stopping.

Example Question #1 : Textual Relationships 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.

In the event of war between England and the United States, the author would most likely feel that __________.

Possible Answers:

the United States would have a massive advantage

communication between the Americas and Europe would suffer

the United States would be wise to ally with France or Germany

communication between the United States and the rest of Europe would remain largely uninterrupted

the United States would have little chance of emerging triumphant

Correct answer:

communication between the Americas and Europe would suffer

Explanation:

The focus of this essay is on communication between the Americas and Europe, and there is little evidence to suggest that the author would agree with any of the answer choices that discuss the chances of the United States winning or losing a hypothetical war. Similarly, the author makes no mention of an idea that the United States should ally with France or Germany. What the author does say, however, is that “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.” So, since the United States and England own the vast majority of transatlantic cables, if the two nations were at war and censoring the communication that flowed over these cables, presumably the state of communications between the Americas and Europe would suffer heavily.

Example Question #32 : Contemporary Life Passages

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 author of this passage is most probably which of the following?

Possible Answers:

A carpenter

A professor

A shopkeeper

An inventor

A legal expert

Correct answer:

A legal expert

Explanation:

This passage is written from the perspective of someone who understands the intricacies of patent law deeply. There is no suggestion or direct statement that the author is a shopkeeper, inventor, or carpenter, even though he does talk at length about these things. It seems most reasonable to infer that the author is a legal expert.

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