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 #15 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In 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.

The underlined word “scarce” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

limited 

deadly 

sequestered

unlimited 

infinite 

Correct answer:

limited 

Explanation:

In context, the author says, “When game was scarce or difficult to catch, [wild animals] were compelled to go hungry.” “Game” is food that can be hunted and eaten and “compelled” means forced. So, when food was “scarce,” the wild animals went hungry. This suggests that “scarce” means rare or limited." To provide further help, “infinite” means unlimited.

Example Question #32 : How To Find Word Meaning From Context

"The Pets of the Elderly" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Many younger people think that it is a bit strange to see elderly widows and widowers fussing greatly over their pet dogs and cats. While it is perhaps amusing to see a mature adult babying an animal, this aspect of life often is of crucial importance for the health and happiness of these aging persons. Although they have lost their spouses and often have a dwindling number of friends, these people often have a social network outside of the house that can be deceptively large and active. All of this activity can hide the great loneliness that these people experience when they return home. Often having been the shared refuge with the loving presence of a spouse, the widow’s house or apartment can become a lonely isolation cell, no matter how active he or she might be. Pets often are a solution to this loneliness, becoming dear companions in a life that would otherwise be very devoid of personal contact every morning and night. They offer great joy and consolation to these elderly people. It is therefore understandable that their owners often give them such large amounts of attention.

What is the meaning of the underlined word “dwindling?”

Possible Answers:

mortifying

passing

diminishing

dying

abandoning

Correct answer:

diminishing

Explanation:

The word "dwindle" in general means reducing in number and size. The sentence itself implies that the aging person has lost his or her spouse and likewise a number of friends; however, it also indicates that they do have a social network that is larger than expected. (The fact that this network is larger than expected shows that it is also a fact that their number of friends has nevertheless been dwindling. That is what makes the large network surprising).

Example Question #16 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In Contemporary Life Passages

"Addictions" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Addictions come in many forms, often quite hidden from those who should be aware of them. It is helpful to be aware of how hidden these obsessive behaviors can be. Often, they appear to be harmless, but this appearance is deceptive.  Perhaps several examples can assist in increasing the reader’s awareness of these potentially problematic habits. 

A very simple example of such an apparently innocuousaddiction is the addiction that many people have to a beverage like coffee. While not as destructive as an addiction to alcohol, an extreme need for caffeine often covers a need for more sleep or an overzealous desire to be completely energetic at every waking moment. Also, a great deal of caffeine can potentially do damage to one’s heart due to the stress caused by its stimulating effects. 

Another example of a seemingly harmless addiction can be found in the case of people who are addicted to work. It is very tempting to praise such obsessive behavior, as it provides many benefits for others and even for the one doing the work. The advancement of a career certainly seems beneficial and often allows for great personal and financial fulfillment. Nevertheless, constant work often hides some sadness, insecurity, or fear that should be confronted by the person who slaves away without cessation. Likewise, over time, such continuous work often can be greatly destructive of important personal relationships.

Of course, many more examples could be brought forth, for one can obsess over almost anything. Still, even these two simple examples should make clear to the reader that it is possible for there to be apparently harmless—indeed, seemingly helpful—life practices that in reality can pose a potential harm to one’s physical or mental well-being.

 

What is the meaning of the underlined word, “innocuous,” in its context?

Possible Answers:

healthy

harmless

vigorous

sanitary

lacking disease

Correct answer:

harmless

Explanation:

Do not be confused by the relationship of "innocuous" to "inoculate." To be "inoculated" is to be provided with immunity so that exposure to a given disease is made to be harmless for the inoculated person. When something is "innocuous" it is harmless. This is the sense used here. This could be gleaned from the first paragraph, which states that these behaviors can "appear to be harmless."

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Passage Logic, Genre, And Organization 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 choose the two examples used in the selection?

Possible Answers:

In order to provide an exhaustive example of the divisions in conservatism

In order to present a fact, followed by a counter-fact

In order to present the stages of a progressive argument for the passage's thesis

In order to show the incoherence of the word "conservatism"

In order to provide a striking set of examples to support the passage's thesis

Correct answer:

In order to provide a striking set of examples to support the passage's thesis

Explanation:

The thesis of this passage is that the word "conservative" is used to describe a set of groups that are very different from each other. At the end of the first paragraph, the author states, "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." This is a clear statement of the reasoning behind the second and third paragraphs. They provide two very striking examples of the wide divergences in ideas accepted by people who call themselves "conservatives."

Example Question #31 : Authorial Purpose

"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.

In addition to introducing the topic, what is the purpose of the first paragraph in this passage?

Possible Answers:

To describe the dire plight of students who cannot learn languages well

To explain the the justifications for delaying graduate school language exams for several years

To advocate on behalf of an elimination of graduate school language exams

To make a concession and present reasons why people dislike language exams in graduate school

To discuss the various means of language examinations used in graduate schools

Correct answer:

To make a concession and present reasons why people dislike language exams in graduate school

Explanation:

The first paragraph presents a view that is then (indirectly) opposed in the second paragraph. This is signaled by the second paragraph's opening sentence, "Although these frustrations are understandable, . . ."  The second paragraph then continues by providing justifications for the language examinations given in graduate schools. It then closes with the key sentence, "Therefore, in spite of its frustrating aspects, the language examination process is an important component of graduate school education." The first paragraph did concede that these exams are frustrating, providing some reasons for that frustration.

Example Question #32 : Authorial Purpose

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

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

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

What is the purpose of the second paragraph in this passage?

Possible Answers:

To present the author's argument that the language exams in question are, in fact, reasonable

To condemn the laziness of those students who dislike graduate school language examinations

To disagree with the methods of examining often proposed by students

To argue on behalf of an increase in the number of language exams from their current number

To remark on the marvels of language and the enlightenment that it affords

Correct answer:

To present the author's argument that the language exams in question are, in fact, reasonable

Explanation:

The second paragraph opens by stating that the system of language exams was not created to cause distress for graduate students. It argues that there are indeed justifications for these exams, particularly in view of the research that students will be undertaking. The remainder of the paragraph provides supporting reasons for the importance of languages in preparing graduate students to undertake research. All of this aims to show the reasonableness of this system, in spite of the remarks that were noted in the first paragraph.

Example Question #2 : Analyzing Passage Logic, Genre, And Organization 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.

What is the purpose of the underlined sentence starting with “Sometimes, the expression . . .”?

Possible Answers:

To contrast the contemporary understanding of "liberal education" with the ancient understanding

To provide a contrast for the first example provided in this paragraph

To provide a second example of what some people think is meant by the expression "liberal arts education"

To expand on the topic discussed in the sentence before

To state the thesis of this selection

Correct answer:

To provide a second example of what some people think is meant by the expression "liberal arts education"

Explanation:

The first paragraph generally aims to state that many people do not know the original meaning of "liberal arts education." The second sentence provides a first example, stating what is "often" thought by people. The third sentence (the sentence in question) provides an example of what is "sometimes" thought about liberal arts education as well. This sentence does not object to anything coming before it. It merely states another example, implying that it is one of the cases to which the author had referred in the opening sentence.

Example Question #3 : Authorial Purpose

"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 the purpose of the second paragraph?

Possible Answers:

To provide examples of servile arts

To discuss the history of medieval universities

To condemn the modern use of the expression "liberal arts education"

To explain the meaning of "liberal arts" in its original sense 

To defend the existence of liberal arts colleges in the modern world

Correct answer:

To explain the meaning of "liberal arts" in its original sense 

Explanation:

The purpose of the second paragraph is relatively clearly expressed in the first sentence of the paragraph. The author begins by stating that it is necessary to consider both parts of the expression in its older use. The remainder of the paragraph provides some basic information about these uses of the words "arts" and "liberal" in order to explain the original meaning of the expression "liberal arts."

Example Question #33 : Authorial Purpose

"The Pets of the Elderly" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Many younger people think that it is a bit strange to see elderly widows and widowers fussing greatly over their pet dogs and cats. While it is perhaps amusing to see a mature adult babying an animal, this aspect of life often is of crucial importance for the health and happiness of these aging persons. Although they have lost their spouses and often have a dwindling number of friends, these people often have a social network outside of the house that can be deceptively large and active. All of this activity can hide the great loneliness that these people experience when they return home. Often having been the shared refuge with the loving presence of a spouse, the widow’s house or apartment can become a lonely isolation cell, no matter how active he or she might be. Pets often are a solution to this loneliness, becoming dear companions in a life that would otherwise be very devoid of personal contact every morning and night. They offer great joy and consolation to these elderly people. It is therefore understandable that their owners often give them such large amounts of attention.

What is the purpose of the two underlined sentences?

Possible Answers:

To indicate the specific kind of loneliness potentially experienced by elderly widows and widowers

To show that it is a lie to say that elderly widows and widowers have no friends

To show the limitations of our presumptions regarding the social lives of elderly widows and widowers

To show the absolute dejection of elderly widows and widowers

To show the regular awareness of mortality experienced by elderly widows and widowers

Correct answer:

To indicate the specific kind of loneliness potentially experienced by elderly widows and widowers

Explanation:

The first of the two bold sentences states that the elderly do have a somewhat active and large social network outside the house—and this in spite of the dwindling number of friends that they have. The key word in this first sentence is "deceptively;" however, we must look at the second sentence to understand the manner in which it is "deceptive." It is not a matter of the elderly people deceiving others about their social lives. Instead, it is such insofar as it might convince others that these people are not lonely; however, the second sentence states that this activity can hide the loneliness that these people experience at home. The purpose of this statement is to indicate the specific kind of loneliness potentially experienced by elderly widows and widowers. This distinction helps us to understand what kind of loneliness pets help to cure.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Passage Logic, Genre, And Organization 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 purpose of the second and third paragraphs?

Possible Answers:

To explain the meaning of the notion of "harmless addictions"

To provide examples of several extremely harmful addictions

To explain how deceptive addictions hide their harmfulness

To provide examples of several addictions that ultimately are not harmful

To provide specific examples of addictions that appear to be harmless at first glance

Correct answer:

To provide specific examples of addictions that appear to be harmless at first glance

Explanation:

The beginnings of these paragraphs' sentences express their purpose very well:

(1) "A very simple example of such an apparently innocuous addiction . . ."

(2) "Another example of a seemingly harmless addiction . . ."

The key words are "apparently innocuous" and "seemingly harmless."  These show that the addictions being enumerated appear harmless (though they actually are). This was also implied in the opening paragraph.

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