ISEE Middle Level Reading : Language in History Passages

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

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Example Questions

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

Adapted from The Man with the Muck-Rake by Theodore Roosevelt (1906)

There are in the body politic, economic and social, many and grave evils, and there is urgent necessity for the sternest war upon them. There should be relentless exposure of and attack upon every evil man, whether politician or business man, every evil practice, whether in politics, business, or social life. I hail as a benefactor every writer or speaker, every man who, on the platform or in a book, magazine, or newspaper, with merciless severity makes such attack, provided always that he in his turn remembers that the attack is of use only if it is absolutely truthful.

The liar is no whit better than the thief, and if his mendacity takes the form of slander he may be worse than most thieves. It puts a premium upon knavery untruthfully to attack an honest man, or even with hysterical exaggeration to assail a bad man with untruth. An epidemic of indiscriminate assault upon character does no good, but very great harm. The soul of every scoundrel is gladdened whenever an honest man is assailed, or even when a scoundrel is untruthfully assailed.

The word “assail” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

accuse 

indoctrinate 

praise 

encourage 

protect

Correct answer:

accuse 

Explanation:

The word “assail” generally refers to an attack on someone’s character. The correct answer is therefore “accuse.” If you did not know this definition it would become necessary to read-in-context to determine the correct answer. The paragraph that contains the word “assail” discusses attacks and assaults on character and very little else. So when you read the sentence “The soul of every scoundrel is gladdened whenever an honest man is assailed . . .” it should clue you in that in this context “assail” means “to accuse.”

Example Question #2 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Argumentative Social Science Passages

Adapted from Citizenship in a Republic (1910) by Theodore Roosevelt

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

The word “spends” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

neglects 

fails 

exhausts 

buys 

considers 

Correct answer:

exhausts 

Explanation:

The author favorably describes how some people “spend” themselves in a difficult cause. In this context the word “spends” means to exhaust. You might be more familiar with hearing the phrase “I’m spent” used by someone who has put a great deal of effort into something and no longer has the energy to continue.

Example Question #291 : Social Sciences / History

Adapted from Citizenship in a Republic (1910) by Theodore Roosevelt

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

The word “errs” is a reference to the importance of __________.

Possible Answers:

mistakes 

challenges

government 

historical context 

celebration 

Correct answer:

mistakes 

Explanation:

To err means to make a mistake. The author describes how it is important to take chances, to make mistakes and errors, and to learn from those errors. According to the author striving and failing is much better than not striving at all. Indeed, the author implies that making mistakes is a necessary part of the process.

Example Question #105 : Hspt Reading

"The Holy Roman Empire" by Daniel Morrison (2014)

The Holy Roman Empire was somewhat unique among the various organized states of Middle and Early Modern Europe in that the Emperor was chosen by a group of electors. This is in stark contrast to the strict hereditary nature of English or French succession, where the position of monarch was handed down from the outgoing ruler to his closest legitimate heir, usually a son. In the Holy Roman Empire, the Emperor was chosen by seven electors, which in theory might seem to give the Empire a sort of early democratic flavor. However, in practice, only two or three families were ever able to draw on sufficient personal wealth to stand for election. Of these, the Luxembourgs and the Hapsburgs are most well known. The Hapsburgs were so successful that they were able to maintain their “elected” position for almost four centuries, and the Luxembourgs somehow still have a small country named after their family almost seven hundred years after their fall from dominance.

The underlined word “hereditary” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

Given to one’s parents

Chosen by a religious figure

Elected by the people

Requiring great personal wealth

Passed down through the family

Correct answer:

Passed down through the family

Explanation:

In context, the author is talking about the nature of the English and French monarchies, where the position of King or Queen was passed down to the ruler’s closest “heir” (descendant, son or daughter, next in line), in comparison to the Holy Roman Empire. The author describes, “the strict hereditary nature of English or French succession, where the position of monarch was handed down from the outgoing ruler to his closest legitimate heir, usually a son. The key phrase is “usually a son,” which tells you that “hereditary” means passed down through the family or handed down.

Example Question #12 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In History Passages

Adapted from The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Van Loon (1921)

During the first twenty years of his life, young Napoleon was a professional Corsican patriot—a Corsican Sinn Feiner, who hoped to deliver his beloved country from the yoke of the bitterly hated French enemy. But the French revolution had unexpectedly recognised the claims of the Corsicans and gradually Napoleon, who had received a good training at the military school of Brienne, drifted into the service of his adopted country. Although he never learned to spell French correctly or to speak it without a broad Italian accent, he became a Frenchman. In due time he came to stand as the highest expression of all French virtues. At present he is regarded as the symbol of the Gallic genius.

Napoleon was what is called a fast worker. His career does not cover more than twenty years. In that short span of time he fought more wars and gained more victories and marched more miles and conquered more square kilometers and killed more people and brought about more reforms and generally upset Europe to a greater extent than anybody (including Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan) had ever managed to do.

He was a little fellow and during the first years of his life his health was not very good. He never impressed anybody by his good looks and he remained to the end of his days very clumsy whenever he was obliged to appear at a social function. He did not enjoy a single advantage of breeding or birth or riches. For the greater part of his youth he was desperately poor and often he had to go without a meal or was obliged to make a few extra pennies in curious ways.

He gave little promise as a literary genius. When he competed for a prize offered by the Academy of Lyons, his essay was found to be next to the last and he was number 15 out of 16 candidates. But he overcame all these difficulties through his absolute and unshakable belief in his own destiny, and in his own glorious future. Ambition was the main-spring of his life. The thought of self, the worship of that capital letter "N" with which he signed all his letters, and which recurred forever in the ornaments of his hastily constructed palaces, the absolute will to make the name Napoleon the most important thing in the world next to the name of God, these desires carried Napoleon to a pinnacle of fame which no other man has ever reached.

The underlined word “obliged” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

required

encouraged

allowed

determined

suggested

Correct answer:

required

Explanation:

In context, the author is talking about how Napoleon was clumsy and uncomfortable in social settings and never made a good impression with his looks or the way he carried himself, so when the author says that he was “obliged to appear at a social function,” we may reasonably infer that Napoleon would have had to be forced or “required” to attend.

Example Question #13 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In History Passages

Adapted from "Crossing the Rubicon" in History of Julius Caesar by Jacob Abbott (1902)

There was a little stream in ancient times, in the north of Italy, which flowed eastward into the Adriatic Sea, called the Rubicon. This stream has been immortalized by the transactions which we are now about to describe.

The Rubicon was a very important boundary, and yet it was in itself so small and insignificant that it is now impossible to determine which of two or three little brooks here running into the sea is entitled to its name and renown. In history the Rubicon is a grand, permanent, and conspicuous stream, gazed upon with continued interest by all mankind for nearly twenty centuries; in nature it is an uncertain rivulet, for a long time doubtful and undetermined, and finally lost.

The Rubicon originally derived its importance from the fact that it was the boundary between all that part of the north of Italy which is formed by the valley of the Po, one of the richest and most magnificent countries of the world, and the more southern Roman territories. This country of the Po constituted what was in those days called the hither Gaul, and was a Roman province. It belonged now to Cæsar's jurisdiction, as the commander in Gaul. All south of the Rubicon was territory reserved for the immediate jurisdiction of the city. The Romans, in order to protect themselves from any danger which might threaten their own liberties from the immense armies which they raised for the conquest of foreign nations, had imposed on every side very strict limitations and restrictions in respect to the approach of these armies to the capital. The Rubicon was the limit on this northern side. Generals commanding in Gaul were never to pass it. To cross the Rubicon with an army on the way to Rome was rebellion and treason. Hence the Rubicon became, as it were, the visible sign and symbol of civil restriction to military power.

The underlined word “renown” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

infamy 

orthodox 

disgrace

kingdom 

fame 

Correct answer:

fame 

Explanation:

In context, the author says “The Rubicon was a very important boundary, and yet it was in itself so small and insignificant that it is now impossible to determine which of two or three little brooks here running into the sea is entitled to its name and renown.” In the opening of the first paragraph, the author is discussing the disparate smallness and famousness of the Rubicon, so it makes sense that in the context of the Rubicon as “a very important boundary” the “name and renown” it is entitled to is notoriety and fame. To provide further help, “infamy” is fame derived from having done bad deeds; “disgrace” is shame; and “orthodox” means thinking conventionally or strictly following tradition.

Example Question #11 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In History Passages

Adapted from Scientific American Supplement No. 1178 Vol. XLV (June 25th, 1898)

The United States “regular" is in many respects the least-equipped foot soldier of my acquaintance. This was my reflection as I overhauled the kit of a private this morning. There was not a single brush in his knapsack. I counted three in that of a Spanish foot soldier only a few weeks ago. The American’s knapsack is not intended to be carried on any extended marches, although the total weight he is ever called upon to carry is only 50 pounds, a good 12 pounds less than what is carried by German privates. The men of this regiment carry an overcoat with a cape, amongst other things; on this expedition overcoats are a superfluity, and it is absurd that troops should be sent to the tropics in summer wearing exactly the same uniform they would be using throughout the winter on the frontiers of Canada. This war will, no doubt, produce a change after English models.

Now, as to discipline in the American army I cannot speak at present, for the war is yet too young. It may, however, be worth noting that in this particular regiment, while most complete liberty was allowed the men all the twelve days of the rail journey from San Francisco to Tampa, not a single breach of discipline was reported. The firing discipline during the three times we have been under fire has been excellent; the obedience of soldiers to their officers has been as prompt and intelligent as anything I have seen in Europe; and as to coolness under fire and accuracy of aim, what I have seen is most satisfactory.

All this I note, because I have more than once heard European officers question the possibility of making an army out of elements different from those to which they were accustomed. I have heard Germans insist that unless the officer appears in uniform he cannot command the respect of his men. On this ship it would be frequently difficult to tell officers from men when the tunic is laid aside and shoulder straps are not seen. But we must go a little beneath the surface and see things, not on the parade ground, but in actual war. For the American parade uniform has been designed by a lot of unsoldierly politicians and tailors about Washington. They have made the patient United States army a victim of their vulgar designs. On the battlefield, however, there are no political tailors, and the Washington dress regulations are ruthlessly disregarded.

The underlined word “superfluity” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

requirement

necessity

waste

misery

shortage

Correct answer:

waste

Explanation:

The word “superfluity” is the noun form of the word "superfluous" and generally means an unnecessary or excessive amount of something or something that is not needed. None of the answer choices quite matches up to this definition, but we can certainly eliminate “necessity” and “requirement.” If we examine the context in which the word is used in the passage, it becomes easier to determine how the word is being used by this author. He says, “On this expedition overcoats are a superfluity, and it is absurd that troops should be sent to the tropics in summer wearing exactly the same uniform they would be using throughout the winter on the frontiers of Canada.” So, if it is “absurd” (ridiculous) that the troops are carrying their overcoats due to the weather, it makes sense that carrying overcoats would be a “waste” of time and energy in this situation.

Example Question #81 : Isee Middle Level (Grades 7 8) Reading Comprehension

Adapted from Scientific American Supplement No. 841 Vol. XXXIII (February 13th 1892)

From the earliest times of which we have record, man has been disposed to strive with his fellow man, either to maintain his own rights or to possess himself of some rights or material advantage enjoyed by others. When one or only a few men encroach on the rights of others in an organized community, they may be restrained by the legal machinery of the state, such as courts, police, and prisons, but when a whole community or state rises against another, the civil law becomes powerless and a state of war ensues. It is not proposed here to discuss the ethics of this question, nor the desirability of providing a suitable court of nations for settling all international difficulties without war. The great advantage of such a system of avoiding war is admitted by all intelligent people. We notice here a singular inconsistency in the principles upon which this strife is carried on, viz.: If it be a single combat, either a friendly contest or a deadly one, the parties are expected to contest on equal terms as nearly as may be arranged; but if large numbers are engaged, or in other words, when the contest becomes war, the rule is reversed and each party is expected to take every possible advantage of his adversary, even to the extent of stratagem or deception. In fact, it has passed into a proverb that "all things are fair in love and war."

The underlined word “encroach” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

protect

forget about

intervene on behalf of

suppose

intrude on

Correct answer:

intrude on

Explanation:

In context, the author is talking about one group of people violating the rights of another group of people. “When one or only a few men encroach on the rights of others in an organized community, they may be restrained by the legal machinery of the state, such as courts, police, and prisons,” he says. So, you can reasonably determine that “encroach” must mean something like intrude on or violate. To provide further help, “intervene” means get involved with, and an “outlier” is something unusual or something outside the normal range of a set of data.

Example Question #11 : Understanding The Content Of Social Science Passages

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

Since William II of Germany ascended the throne as German Emperor and King of Prussia on June 15, 1888, the eyes of Europe have been fixed on him. The press of the world delights in showing up his weak points, and the "war lord" undoubtedly has them, but, at the same time, he has qualities which are to be admired and which make him conspicuous among the rulers of Europe.

He is popular in Germany, and it is not surprising, for, in spite of being autocratic to the last degree, he is honest, courageous, ambitious, hard working, and a thorough German, being intensely patriotic. Indeed, if the people of Germany had the right to vote, they would undoubtedly choose their present ruler, for, while the virtues we have named may seem commonplace, they are not so when embodied in an emperor. One thing which places William at a disadvantage is his excessive frankness. His mistakes have largely resulted from his impulsive nature coupled with chauvinism, which is, perhaps, excusable, in a ruler.

Since the time when William was a child, he evidenced a strong desire to become acquainted with the details of the office to which his lofty birth entitled him. In the army he has worked his way up like any other officer and has a firm grasp on all the multifarious details of the military establishment of the great country. He believes in militarism, or in force, to use a more common expression, but in this he is right, for it has taken two hundred and fifty years to bring Prussia to the position it now holds, and what it has gained at the point of the sword must be retained in the same way. The immense sacrifices which the people make to support the army and navy are deemed necessary for self-preservation, and with France on one side and Russia on the other, there really seems to be ample excuse for it.

In this context, the underlined word “conspicuous” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

obvious

unusual

demonstrative

concealed

revealed

Correct answer:

unusual

Explanation:

The word “conspicuous” usually means obvious, easily noticed, or not well-hidden. However, in this context it is used slightly differently. The author says, "at the same time, he has qualities which are to be admired and which make him conspicuous among the rulers of Europe.” From the author’s later comments that William II’s virtues “may seem commonplace, [but] are not so when embodied in an emperor," we can reasonably determine that, in context, the author is talking how William II’s admirable qualities make him “unusual” among European rulers. To provide further help, “concealed” means hidden, and “demonstrative” means demonstrating something or showy and emotional.

Example Question #31 : Hspt Reading

Adapted from "The Treatment of Rattlesnake Bite by Permanganate of Potassium, Based on Nine Successful Cases" by Amos W. Barber, M.D. in Scientific American Supplement No. 841, Vol. XXXIII (February 13th 1892)

Poisoned wounds, inflicted by the fangs of the rattlesnake, are happily rarer each year, since, as the country is becoming more populated, the crotalus is rapidly being exterminated. Yet, considering the disregard that characterizes the cowboy in his treatment of this reptile, it is astonishing that this class of injury is not more common.

It is the invariable custom among the cattlemen to dismount and destroy these snakes whenever they are seen. This is readily accomplished, since a slight blow will break the back. This blow is, however, generally delivered by means of the quirt, a whip not over two and a half feet long, and hence a weapon which brings the one who wields it in unpleasant proximity to the fangs of the reptile. A still more dangerous practice, and one which I have frequently seen, is a method of playing with the rattlesnake for the humor of the cowboy at the expense of a "tenderfoot." It is well known that unless a snake is coiled or in other specific positions, it cannot strike. On this theory, a mounted cowboy first puts a rattler to flight, then seizes it by the tail, and, swinging it so rapidly around his head that it is impossible for it to strike, sets off in pursuit of whoever has exhibited the most terror at the sight of the reptile. When within fair distance, he hurls the snake at the unfortunate victim, in the full assurance that even should it hit him it cannot bury its fangs in his flesh, since it cannot coil until it reaches the ground. This is a jest of which I have frequently been the victim, nor have I yet learned to appreciate it with unalloyed mirth.

The first case of rattlesnake wound to which I was called occurred in 1885. A cowboy was bitten on the foot, the fang penetrating through the boot. I saw him about twenty-four hours after he was struck. There was enormous swelling, extending up to the knee. There was no special discoloration about the wound; in fact, the swelling disguised this to such an extent that it was impossible to determine exactly where the fangs had entered. The patient was suffering great pain. His mind was clear, but he was oppressed with a dreadful anxiety.

In this context the underlined word “unalloyed” most probably means __________.

Possible Answers:

angry 

theoretical

surprised

genuine

metallic

Correct answer:

genuine

Explanation:

Based on the context of the sentence—the author has just had a rattlesnake thrown at him—you can probably reasonably infer that he would have a difficult time enjoying the experience. “Mirth” means happiness or good-humor. The author says, “This is a jest of which I have frequently been the victim, nor have I yet learned to appreciate it with unalloyed mirth.” Apparently people have often thrown rattlesnakes at him, which must be unpleasant. So, when he says he has not learned to “appreciate it with unalloyed mirth,” you can infer he probably fakes being part of the joke, but really does not feel genuine good-humor at the situation. The word “unalloyed” is usually used to describe a metal that is not mixed with another metal, like pure copper. An “alloy” is a mix of metals.

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