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 #1 : Making Inferences And Predictions 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.

How did the Norwegian vessel that the two men met most significantly help them?

Possible Answers:

It gave them additional fuel for their ship.

It rescued them from the open ocean.

It verified that they were operating without sail or rudder.

It provided them with food and water.

It towed them to Havre.

Correct answer:

It provided them with food and water.

Explanation:

Answering this question requires you to read in detail, but also to be able to think critically and make an inference. The author tells you that the two men lost their supplies of food and water when they were tossed into the ocean on the tenth of July. He then notes, “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.” So the Norwegian vessel gave the two men food and water and also verified that they were operating without sail or rudder. But, it is quite certain that as the two men were without food or water for five days on the open ocean, this gift would have been of a great deal more help to them than the verification offered by the captain. This is where you needed to think critically.

Example Question #241 : Ssat Elementary Level Reading Comprehension

"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.

What can you infer about Henry’s sixth wife?

Possible Answers:

She wrote many books.

She was killed along with Henry.

She gave him a son.

She outlived him.

She was divorced shortly before Henry died.

Correct answer:

She outlived him.

Explanation:

The famous English ditty goes “Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.” If we are to take it that, as the author says, this saying is used to remember the fates of the various wives, it seems reasonable to infer that the sixth wife was neither “divorced,” “beheaded,” nor did she “die.” But, rather she “survived,” so “she outlived him.” There is no evidence to suggest she gave Henry a son, was killed along with Henry, wrote many books, or was divorced.

Example Question #2 : Textual Relationships 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.

Given the option between two identical meals, one of which costs ten dollars and another five dollars, the author would most likely __________.

Possible Answers:

pick the more expensive meal

pick the cheaper meal

It is impossible to say.

try and barter the more expensive meal down in value

investigate the reputations of those who have cooked the two meals

Correct answer:

pick the cheaper meal

Explanation:

Answering this question requires you to pick up on one key argument made by the author. The author says, “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.” From this, we can determine that when given the choice between two identical meals, we should choose the one which is cheaper, for this would be less detrimental to our ability to purchase other food at a later date. The author clearly believes that the dignity attached to purchasing more expensive food is a false impression.

Example Question #2 : Making Predictions

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.

Based on this whole passage, what can you predict is the best way for zookeepers to best provide for the health of their captive animals?

Possible Answers:

Imitate the animals’ experience of the wild as closely as possible.

Keep male and female animals of the same species separate to avoid confrontation between males.

Separate animals' young at birth to ensure the most young survive.

Keep the animals well fed and meticulously nurtured.

Ensure that each animal is allowed out of its cage on a regular basis to experience a taste of freedom.

Correct answer:

Imitate the animals’ experience of the wild as closely as possible.

Explanation:

The overall argument of this passage, as demonstrated by the stories about the study of the wolf and the collie raising the wolf's pups and the discussion of why it is best to deny captive animals an occasional meal, is that the best way for zookeepers to provide for the health of their captive animals is to “imitate the animals’ experience of the wild as closely as possible.” 

Example Question #1 : Language In Contemporary Life Passages

Adapted from The Spoiled Children of Civilization (1912) by Samuel McChord Crothers

To spoil a child is no easy task, for Nature is all the time working on behalf of the childish virtues and veracities, and is gently correcting the abnormalities of education. Still it can be done. The secret of it is never to let the child alone, and to insist on doing for him all that he would otherwise do for himself—and more.

In that "more" is the spoiling power. The child must be early made acquainted with the feeling of satiety. There must be too much of everything. If he were left to himself to any extent, this would be an unknown experience. For he is a hungry little creature, with a growing appetite, and naturally is busy ministering to his own needs. He is always doing something for himself, and enjoys the exercise. The little egoist, even when he has "no language but a cry," uses that language to make known to the world that he wants something and wants it very much. As his wants increase, his exertions increase also. Arms and legs, fingers and toes, muscles and nerves and busy brain are all at work to get something which he desires. He is a mechanic fashioning his little world to his own uses. He is a despot who insists on his divine right to rule the subservient creatures around him. He is an inventor devising ways and means to secure all the ends which he has the wit to see. That these great works on which he has set his heart end in self is obvious enough, but we forgive him. Altruism will come in its own time if we can train ourselves.

The word “altruism” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

selflessness

bravery

honesty

timidity

discretion

Correct answer:

selflessness

Explanation:

The word “altruism” refers to acts of kindness and selflessness. It is often associated with charitable behavior. Within context of the sentence you know that “altruism” must refer to something positive, or opposite to the child’s previous behavior; because the author states that we “forgive the child” and wait for something to “come in its own time.” Bravery and honesty are both positive, but are less literal opposites to living a life of selfishness and need-fulfillment.

Example Question #9 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Phrases Or Sentences In Humanities Passages

Adapted from The Spoiled Children of Civilization (1912) by Samuel McChord Crothers

To spoil a child is no easy task, for Nature is all the time working on behalf of the childish virtues and veracities, and is gently correcting the abnormalities of education. Still it can be done. The secret of it is never to let the child alone, and to insist on doing for him all that he would otherwise do for himself—and more.

In that "more" is the spoiling power. The child must be early made acquainted with the feeling of satiety. There must be too much of everything. If he were left to himself to any extent, this would be an unknown experience. For he is a hungry little creature, with a growing appetite, and naturally is busy ministering to his own needs. He is always doing something for himself, and enjoys the exercise. The little egoist, even when he has "no language but a cry," uses that language to make known to the world that he wants something and wants it very much. As his wants increase, his exertions increase also. Arms and legs, fingers and toes, muscles and nerves and busy brain are all at work to get something which he desires. He is a mechanic fashioning his little world to his own uses. He is a despot who insists on his divine right to rule the subservient creatures around him. He is an inventor devising ways and means to secure all the ends which he has the wit to see. That these great works on which he has set his heart end in self is obvious enough, but we forgive him. Altruism will come in its own time if we can train ourselves.

The “virtues and veracities” of childish nature most literally correspond to __________.

Possible Answers:

laziness and temerity

hunger and desire

wants and needs

respectfulness and godliness

goodness and honesty

Correct answer:

goodness and honesty

Explanation:

The easiest manner by which to solve this question is matching definitions. Virtue refers to the quality of goodness and veracity means honesty; however, if you were not aware of the definitions you can still solve the question by understand the context within which “virtues and veracities” are discussed. In the first paragraph the author constructs a contrast between the “correcting” aspect of nature and the spoiling “abnormalities” of education and human interference. This means the description of the affects of nature have to be positive. Of the answer choices goodness and honesty represent the best match for a positive description.

Example Question #2 : Vocabulary

"Preparing for Standardized Tests: Two Approaches" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Generally speaking, there are two major camps regarding the appropriate manner by which one should approach a standardized test. On the one hand, there are those people and businesses that believe that you should learn the “tricks of the test.” This approach encourages the idea that the given exam relies on a set of “inside tricks” that will fool students who are not well-informed about the way such tricks are designed. It likewise focuses less on content then on strategies for answering questions. On the other hand, there is the camp that believes that the best way to approach an exam is to be a complete expert on the content that will be examined. While this approach focuses on teaching the subject matter that will be tested, it often focuses very little on the test-taking strategies that can aid students who are taking a given exam. Although there are numerous strong partisans regarding each approach, it must be admitted that both have their strengths and their weaknesses.

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

Possible Answers:

a political party

a subset of a larger group

a group that supports a given position or belief

a specific type of decision out of a general class

a place where something remains safe

Correct answer:

a group that supports a given position or belief

Explanation:

The word "camp" can be used outside its standard context of tents and other such things that are used in the wild or in military campaigns.  In an extended sense, the term can mean "a group supporting a particular doctrine or position."  When we speak of "two camps," it is like there are two groups that are "camped out" on their respective positions—not physical positions but ideological ones.

Example Question #1 : How To Find Word Meaning From Context

"Preparing for Standardized Tests: Two Approaches" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Generally speaking, there are two major camps regarding the appropriate manner by which one should approach a standardized test. On the one hand, there are those people and businesses that believe that you should learn the “tricks of the test.” This approach encourages the idea that the given exam relies on a set of “inside tricks” that will fool students who are not well-informed about the way such tricks are designed. It likewise focuses less on content then on strategies for answering questions. On the other hand, there is the camp that believes that the best way to approach an exam is to be a complete expert on the content that will be examined. While this approach focuses on teaching the subject matter that will be tested, it often focuses very little on the test-taking strategies that can aid students who are taking a given exam. Although there are numerous strong partisans regarding each approach, it must be admitted that both have their strengths and their weaknesses.

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

Possible Answers:

a type of political reactionary

an argumentative person

a member of a political party

someone who supports a particular idea, thing or person

a small percentage of a large whole

Correct answer:

someone who supports a particular idea, thing or person

Explanation:

The word "partisan" is indeed related to the word "part," but be careful what you infer from this. It means a person who could be said to "take the part" (or "side") of some cause. This selection is discussing two different approaches to teaching standardized tests. Those who support one or the other of these approaches could be called a "partisan" of that given approach.

Example Question #3 : Vocabulary

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

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

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

Possible Answers:

having a lot of fat

sluggishly

ponderously

to a great degree

lazily

Correct answer:

to a great degree

Explanation:

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

Example Question #1 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings 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.

What does the word “sundry” mean in its context?

Possible Answers:

Questionable

Important

Several or various

Having beautiful vistas

Dried areas underground

Correct answer:

Several or various

Explanation:

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

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