ISEE Middle Level Reading : Determining Context-Dependent Word Meanings in Contemporary Life Passages

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

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Example Question #11 : 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 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 word, “innocuous,” in its context?

Possible Answers:

harmless

lacking disease

vigorous

sanitary

healthy

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 #51 : Contemporary Life Passages

Adapted from Scientific American Supplement No. 1157 Vol. XLV (March 5th, 1898).

Eleven submarine cables traverse the Atlantic between 60 and 40 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 60 and 40 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.

The underlined word “belligerent” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

uncaring

competing

peaceable

strong

remorseful

Correct answer:

competing

Explanation:

The world “belligerent” usually means hostile or aggressive; however, this is usually when the word is used to describe the personality of someone or something. In the passage, the word is being used to describe the relationship between two countries—the United States and Great Britain. Specifically, the word is being used to describe them if they were to enter into a state of war. Consider the word in context: “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.” You are told that the two “belligerent states" are in a state of war with one another, and thus "belligerent" may be most closely seen as meaning “competing” in the war. To provide further help, “peaceable” is an antonym of “belligerent”; it means not hostile, or peaceful. “Remorseful” means feeling bad about something one has done.

Example Question #52 : Hspt Reading

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 word “tempest” most probably means __________.

Possible Answers:

ship

storm

joke

fish

blessing

Correct answer:

storm

Explanation:

In the context that the word "tempest" is used, the author says, “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.” So, a “tempest” is something that causes a boat to be thrown off of its usual course and passengers to be forced into the open water. From this clue, you can reasonably infer that a “tempest” is a storm.

Example Question #11 : Argumentative Social Science Passages

"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.

The underlined word “trivial” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

implausible

coherent

insignificant

inherent

compulsive

Correct answer:

insignificant

Explanation:

In context, the author says, “it is often the trivial and merely interesting that survives, whilst the significant but less fascinating can fade from memory.” Here, the “trivial and merely interesting” is contrasted against the “significant but less fascinating.” So, if “fascinating” and “interesting” are two matching terms, than “trivial” and “significant” must be opposite to one another. You can therefore determine that “trivial” must mean insignificant or not important. To provide further help, “coherent” means able to be understood; “compulsive” means forced to do; “implausible” means hard to believe or unlikely; and “inherent” means natural.

Example Question #1 : Context Dependent Meanings Of Words And Phrases In Argumentative Social Science Passages

"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.

The underlined word “repercussions” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

celebrations

consequences 

elevations

corporations

revolutions

Correct answer:

consequences 

Explanation:

In context, the author says, “This break has had long felt repercussions up to and including the present day. Yet, in spite of the deep importance . . ." Because what happened was of “deep importance” “up to and including the present day,” it is reasonable to determine that the break had long felt consequences. To provide further help, “consequences” are results of an action; “revolutions” are rebellions against someone’s control; “corporations” are large businesses owned by many people; and “elevations” are high places.  

Example Question #12 : 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 “robust” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

athletic 

intelligent

timid 

weak 

strong 

Correct answer:

strong 

Explanation:

In context the author says “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 author is discussing how animals suffer for being held captive and states that they rarely have babies and that those babies are “seldom as healthy and robust as if born in a wild state.” “Seldom” means rarely, as we know the babies are born less healthy and weaker, it stands to reason that they would rarely be born healthy or “strong.” To provide further help, “timid” means shy.

Example Question #61 : Humanities 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:

infinite 

sequestered

unlimited 

limited 

deadly 

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 #12 : Language In 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.

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

Possible Answers:

mortifying

abandoning

passing

dying

diminishing

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 #11 : 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:

lacking disease

healthy

harmless

vigorous

sanitary

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."

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