ISEE Middle Level Reading : Contemporary Life Passages

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

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Passage Reasoning In Natural Science 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.

Which of these factors does the author believe is most relevant to why the excessive preparation of food is less injurious to our health than the other mistakes and fallacies he discusses?

Possible Answers:

The consumption of excess food on one occasion allows us to consume less food at a later date.

Much of the excess, instead of being eaten, is simply thrown away.

The preparation of excess food encourages social gathering and bonding.

The excess food can be saved and eaten at a later date.

All of these answers are given equal credibility by the author.

Correct answer:

Much of the excess, instead of being eaten, is simply thrown away.

Explanation:

When discussing the excessive preparation of food, the author says, “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.” This is the only example he gives for which he provides a mitigating factor, so we know that he believes this particular mistake is less injurious to our health than others which he discusses. The reason he gives is that, rather than consuming this excess food, we generally just throw it away. No doubt he still believes this to be a problem, but the harm it does to individuals is reduced by the fact that so much of it is not eaten.

Example Question #81 : Contemporary Life Passages

"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.

Which of the following sentences explicitly describes how pets are important in the lives of elderly widows and widowers?

Possible Answers:

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.

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.

All of this activity can hide the great loneliness that these people experience when they return home.

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.

It is therefore understandable that their owners often give them such large amounts of attention.

Correct answer:

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.

Explanation:

While several of the incorrect options are related to the positive relationship between these elderly people and their pets, the only one that is explicit is the sentence that says that the pets often "are a solution to . . . loneliness" because they are "dear companions" particularly "every morning and night." 

Example Question #31 : Ideas In Contemporary Life Passages

Adapted from Scientific American Supplement No. 1082 Vol. XLII (September 26th, 1896)

The rowboat Fox, of the port of New York, manned by George Harbo, thirty-one years of age, captain of a merchantman, and Frank Samuelson, twenty-six years of age, left New York for Havre on the sixth of June. Ten days later the boat was met by the German transatlantic steamer Fürst Bismarck proceeding from Cherbourg to New York. On the eighth, ninth and tenth of July, the Fox was cast by a tempest upon the reefs of Newfoundland. The two men jumped into the sea, and thanks to the watertight compartments provided with air chambers fore and aft, it was possible for them to right the boat; but the unfortunates lost their provisions and their supply of drinking water. On the fifteenth they met the Norwegian three-masted vessel Cito, which supplied them with food and water. The captains of the vessels met with signed the log book and testified that the boat had neither sail nor rudder. The Fox reached the Scilly Islands on the first of August, having at this date been on the ocean fifty-five days. It arrived at Havre on the seventh of August.

Cost what it might, the men were bent upon reaching this port in order to gain the reward promised by Mr. Fox, of the Police Gazette. Thanks to the wind and a favorable current, they made one hundred and twenty-five miles in twenty-four hours. One slept three hours while the other rowed. Their skins and faces were tumefied by the wind, salt water, and sun; the skin of their hands was renewed three times; their legs were weakened; and they were worn out.

For how long were the two men at sea?

Possible Answers:

Fifty-five days

Sixty-one days

Eighty-five days

Eighty days

It is impossible to say. 

Correct answer:

Sixty-one days

Explanation:

Answering this question requires you to read carefully in detail and also to be careful not to fall for the trick answer. The author tells you, “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.” So, on the first of August, they had been at sea for fifty-five days, but they then continued on six more days until the seventh of August, when they finally arrived at their destination. This means that in total they were at sea for “sixty-one days.”

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Cause And Effect In Contemporary Life Passages

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

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

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

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

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

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

Based on what is said in the third paragraph, why are other countries encouraged to learn English?

Possible Answers:

American dominance has rotted the cultures of other nations, making them subservient to American mores and language.

America's global dominance creates an environment that greatly encourages the use of English by citizens of other countries.

Other nations naturally enjoy the use of English at international meetings, for it is the most expressive of modern languages.

American imperialism forces English on other countries by refusing to trade with non-English-speaking nations.

America has enforced its language by military pressure on other nations.

Correct answer:

America's global dominance creates an environment that greatly encourages the use of English by citizens of other countries.

Explanation:

The most related sentence to this question is, "Since America has such influence over the rest of the world, it is generally in the interests of other peoples to learn English in order to be part of the economic, political, and military world in which America operates." Other nations have an interest in learning English in order to function with ease in the broad area in which America operates with dominance. While this paragraph speaks of American "dominance," this merely means power or influence; it does not necessarily mean that such dominance is despotic or militaristic.

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