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 #21 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In History Passages

Adapted from Ten Great Events in History by James Johonnot (1887)

Following the Council of Clermont, preparations for invading the Holy Land began in almost every country of Europe. The nobles mortgaged their estates, the farmer endeavored to sell his plow, and the artisan his tools to purchase a sword. During the spring and summer of 1096, the roads teemed with crusaders, all hastening to the towns and villages appointed as the rendezvous of the district. Very few knew where Jerusalem was. Some thought it fifty thousand miles away, and others imagined it but a month's journey; while at the sight of every tower or castle the children exclaimed "Is that Jerusalem?" 

Little attempt at any organization was made, though the multitude had three leaders. It is said that the first band, consisting of twenty thousand foot, with only eight horsemen, were led by a Burgundian gentleman called Walter the Penniless. They were followed by a rabble of forty thousand men, women, and children led by Peter the Hermit. Next followed a band of fifteen thousand men, mostly Germans, under a priest named Gottschalk.

Like their nominal leader, each of the followers of Walter the Penniless was poor to penury, and trusted for subsistence to the chances of the road. In Hungary, they met with loud resistance from the people, whose houses they attacked and plundered, but in Bulgaria, the natives declared war against the hungry horde; they were dispersed and almost exterminated. Some, including Walter, reached Constantinople, where they awaited Peter and his companions. The Hermit, who had the same difficulties to contend with in marching through Hungary and Bulgaria, reached Constantinople with his army greatly reduced, and in a most deplorable condition. Here he and Walter joined forces. They were hospitably received by the emperor, but their riotous conduct soon wearied out his patience, and he was glad to listen to a proposal to help them at once pass into Asia. 

The rabble accordingly crossed the Bosphorus, and took up their quarters in Bethynia. Here they became perfectly ungovernable, ravaging the country around, and committing incredible excesses; at length Peter, utterly disgusted and despairing, left them to their own guidance and returned to Constantinople. The bravest of them were annihilated in a battle fought near Nice, Walter the Penniless falling with seven mortal wounds. Between two and three thousand alone escaped. The emperor dismissed them, with orders to return home, and thus ended the disastrous expedition of Walter the Penniless and Peter the Hermit.

The fifteen thousand Germans led by Gottschalk never reached Constantinople, being slaughtered or dispersed during their passage through Hungary. Thus, within a few months, upward of a quarter of a million of human beings were swept out of existence. And they had spent their lives, without one important result having been accomplished. This was the worst paroxysm of the madness of Europe.

Based on the passage the underlined word “paroxysm” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

relocation

sudden outburst

great outrage

showing

definition

Correct answer:

sudden outburst

Explanation:

In the context of “This was the worst paroxysm of the madness of Europe,” only two of the five possible answers fit. The two possible answers are “showing” and “sudden outburst.” We can guess that “showing” does not fit the author's tone, as it does not correspond to the use of the word “madness.” “Sudden outburst” fits as it is a direct definition of “paroxysm.”

Example Question #41 : Language In History Passages

Adapted from Ten Great Events in History by James Johonnot (1887)

Following the Council of Clermont, preparations for invading the Holy Land began in almost every country of Europe. The nobles mortgaged their estates, the farmer endeavored to sell his plow, and the artisan his tools to purchase a sword. During the spring and summer of 1096, the roads teemed with crusaders, all hastening to the towns and villages appointed as the rendezvous of the district. Very few knew where Jerusalem was. Some thought it fifty thousand miles away, and others imagined it but a month's journey; while at the sight of every tower or castle the children exclaimed "Is that Jerusalem?" 

Little attempt at any organization was made, though the multitude had three leaders. It is said that the first band, consisting of twenty thousand foot, with only eight horsemen, were led by a Burgundian gentleman called Walter the Penniless. They were followed by a rabble of forty thousand men, women, and children led by Peter the Hermit. Next followed a band of fifteen thousand men, mostly Germans, under a priest named Gottschalk.

Like their nominal leader, each of the followers of Walter the Penniless was poor to penury, and trusted for subsistence to the chances of the road. In Hungary, they met with loud resistance from the people, whose houses they attacked and plundered, but in Bulgaria, the natives declared war against the hungry horde; they were dispersed and almost exterminated. Some, including Walter, reached Constantinople, where they awaited Peter and his companions. The Hermit, who had the same difficulties to contend with in marching through Hungary and Bulgaria, reached Constantinople with his army greatly reduced, and in a most deplorable condition. Here he and Walter joined forces. They were hospitably received by the emperor, but their riotous conduct soon wearied out his patience, and he was glad to listen to a proposal to help them at once pass into Asia. 

The rabble accordingly crossed the Bosphorus, and took up their quarters in Bethynia. Here they became perfectly ungovernable, ravaging the country around, and committing incredible excesses; at length Peter, utterly disgusted and despairing, left them to their own guidance and returned to Constantinople. The bravest of them were annihilated in a battle fought near Nice, Walter the Penniless falling with seven mortal wounds. Between two and three thousand alone escaped. The emperor dismissed them, with orders to return home, and thus ended the disastrous expedition of Walter the Penniless and Peter the Hermit.

The fifteen thousand Germans led by Gottschalk never reached Constantinople, being slaughtered or dispersed during their passage through Hungary. Thus, within a few months, upward of a quarter of a million of human beings were swept out of existence. And they had spent their lives, without one important result having been accomplished. This was the worst paroxysm of the madness of Europe.

Based on the passage, the underlined word “penury” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

stealing

the aim of being pious

extreme poverty

the service of the crusade

the point of starvation

Correct answer:

extreme poverty

Explanation:

The author states that “Walter the Penniless was poor to penury, and trusted for subsistence to the chances of the road.” So, he was so poor he had to live off of that given to him by people he passed on the road. This could be seen as “extreme poverty” or “begging.” We know that Walter and his followers did eventually steal, but the word “penury” is used in a separate context.

Example Question #22 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In History Passages

Adapted from A Modern History from the Time of Luther to the Fall of Napoleon by John Lord (1874)

The period at which this history commences—the beginning of the sixteenth century—when compared with the ages which had preceded it, since the fall of the Roman empire, was one of unprecedented brilliancy and activity. It was a period very fruitful in great people and great events, and, though stormy and turbulent, was favorable to experiments and reforms. The nations of Europe seem to have been suddenly aroused from a state of torpor and rest, and to have put forth new energies in every department of life. The material and the political, the moral and the social condition of society was subject to powerful agitations, and passed through important changes.

Great discoveries and inventions had been made. The use of movable types, first ascribed to Gutenberg in 1441 and to Peter Schœffer in 1444, changed the whole system of book-making, and vastly increased the circulation of the scriptures, the Greek and Latin classics, and all other valuable works, which, by the industry of the monkish copyist, had been preserved from the ravages of time and barbarism. Gunpowder, whose explosive power had been perceived by Roger Bacon as early as 1280, though it was not used on the field of battle until 1346, had changed the art of war, which had greatly contributed to undermining the feudal system. The polarity of the magnet, also discovered in the middle ages, and not practically applied to the mariner's compass until 1403, had led to the greatest event of the fifteenth century—the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus, in 1492. The impulse given to commerce by this and other discoveries of unknown continents and oceans, by the Portuguese, the Spaniards, the Dutch, the English, and the French, cannot be here enlarged on. America revealed to the astonished European its riches in gold and silver; and Indian spices, and silks, and drugs, were imported through new channels. Mercantile wealth, with all its refinements, acquired new importance in the eyes of the nations. The world opened towards the east and the west. The horizon of knowledge extended. Popular delusions were dispelled. Liberality of mind was acquired. The material prosperity of the western nations was increased. Tastes became more refined, and social intercourse more cheerful.

The underlined word “torpor” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

darkness

confusion

inactivity

ridiculousness

mediocrity

Correct answer:

inactivity

Explanation:

The word “torpor” usually refers to a state of mental or physical inactivity or lethargy; however, you can read carefully in context to determine the author’s meaning. In the first paragraph, the author says, “The nations of Europe seem to have been suddenly aroused from a state of torpor and rest, and to have put forth new energies in every department of life.” So, you know that the state the nations of Europe were previously in was one of something and "rest." It was something that they were awoken from and engaged with new energies. This suggests the correct answer must mean something like “inactivity,” which is the correct answer. To provide further help, “mediocrity” is the state of being average when higher quality is expected.

Example Question #21 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In History Passages

Adapted from A Modern History from the Time of Luther to the Fall of Napoleon by John Lord (1874)

The independence of the Church of England was followed by important consequences, and was the first step to the reformation. But as the first acts of the reformation were prompted by political considerations, the reformers in England, during the reign of Henry VIII, should be considered chiefly in a political point of view. The separation from Rome was not followed by the abolition of the Roman Catholic worship, nor any of the rites and ceremonies of that church. Nor was religious toleration secured. Everything was subservient to the royal conscience, and a secular, instead of an ecclesiastical pope, still reigned in England.

Henry soon found that his new position, as head of the English Church, imposed new duties and cares; he therefore established a separate department for the conduct of ecclesiastical affairs, over which he placed the unscrupulous but energetic Cromwell—a fit minister to such a monarch. A layman who hated the clergy and who looked solely to the pecuniary interests of his master was thus placed over the highest prelates of the church. But Cromwell also had an eye to the political interests of the kingdom. He was a thoughtful and practical man of the world, and was disgusted with the vices of the clergy, and especially with the custom of sending money to Rome. This evil he fixed, which greatly enriched the country, for the popes at this time were extortionate. Cromwell hated the monks. They were lazy, ignorant, and debauched. They were a great burden on the people. Cranmer, who sympathized with the German reformers, hated them on religious grounds, and readily cooperated with Cromwell, while the king, whose extortion and rapacity knew no bounds, listened, with glistening eye, to the suggestions of his two favorite ministers.

The nation was suddenly astounded with the intelligence that parliament had passed a bill giving to the king and his heirs all the monastic establishments in the kingdom. By this spoliation, perhaps called for, but exceedingly unjust and harsh, and in violation of all the rights of property, thousands were reduced to beggary and misery, while there was scarcely an eminent man in the kingdom who did not come in for a share of the plunder. Vast grants of lands were bestowed by the king on his favorite assistants and courtiers, in order to appease the nation; and thus the foundations of many of the great estates of the English nobility were laid.

The underlined word “eminent” in the third paragraph is closest in meaning to which of the following?

Possible Answers:

Honest

Important

Corrupt

Redeemable

Pious

Correct answer:

Important

Explanation:

In context, the author is talking about how certain “eminent” men were made wealthier by the distribution of the monasteries' riches to the King’s favorite individuals. Those individuals, you can learn from context, were "his favorite assistants and courtiers . . . and thus the foundations of many of the great estates of the English nobility were laid.” The fact that these people were part of the English nobility, or else were the King’s favorite assistants and courtiers, allows you to reasonably infer that “eminent” must mean something like famous, respected, or distinguished. Thus, the best answer available is “important.” To provide further help, “pious” means deeply religious, and “redeemable” means able to be saved.

Example Question #96 : Isee Middle Level (Grades 7 8) Reading Comprehension

Adapted from A Modern History from the Time of Luther to the Fall of Napoleon by John Lord (1874)

While the Protestants in Germany were struggling for religious liberty and the Parliaments of France for political privileges, there was a contest going on in England for the attainment of the same great ends. With the accession of James I, a new era commences in English history, marked by the growing importance of the House of Commons and their struggles for civil and religious liberty. The Commons had not been entirely silent during the long reign of Elizabeth, but members of them occasionally dared to assert those rights of which English people are proud. The Queen was particularly sensitive to any thing which pertained to her prerogative, and generally sent to the Tower any man who boldly expressed his opinion on subjects that she deemed that she and her ministers alone had the right to discuss. These forbidden subjects were those which pertained to the management of religion, to her particular courts, and to her succession to the crown. She never made an attack on what she conceived to be the constitution, but only zealously defended what she considered as her own rights. And she was ever sufficiently wise to yield a point to the Commons after she had asserted her power so that concession, on her part, had all the appearance of bestowing a favor. She never pushed matters to extremity, but gave way in good time. And in this policy she showed great wisdom, so that, in spite of all her crimes and caprices, she ever retained the affections of the English people. During her reign, the Commons was actively kept in check, but this all changed following her rule, during the reign of James I, when the Commons ascended to the position of the most powerful ruling body in England.

The underlined word “prerogative” most nearly means which of the following?

Possible Answers:

Right

Life

Concept

Misery

Demands

Correct answer:

Right

Explanation:

In context, the author is talking about the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in England. He suggests that during her reign, the Queen suppressed the rights and power of the House of Commons (part of the British parliament) and refused to allow the Commons to express its opinions "on subjects that she deemed that she and her ministers alone had the right to discuss.” This correctly suggests that “prerogative” means privileges or rights reserved for one person or group. This is supported by the following excerpt, which appears shortly after the underlined text: “She never made an attack on what she conceived to be the constitution, but only zealously defended what she considered as her own rights.”

Example Question #21 : Context Dependent Meanings Of Words And Phrases In Narrative Social Science Passages

Adapted from A Child’s History of England by Charles Darwin (1905)

Henry Plantagenet, when he was but twenty-one years old, quietly succeeded to the throne of England, according to his agreement made with the late king at Winchester. Six weeks after Stephen’s death, he and his queen, Eleanor, were crowned in that city, into which they rode on horseback in great state, side by side, amidst much shouting and rejoicing, and clashing of music, and strewing of flowers.

The reign of King Henry the Second began well. The king had great possessions, and (with his own property, and with that of his wife) was lord of one-third part of France. He was a young man of strength, ability, and determination, and immediately applied himself to remove some of the evils which had arisen in the last unhappy reign. He took away all the grants of land that had been hastily made, on either side, during the recent struggles; he forced numbers of disorderly soldiers to depart from England; he reclaimed all the castles belonging to the crown; and he forced the wicked nobles to pull down their own castles, to the number of eleven hundred, in which such dismal cruelties had been inflicted on the people.  

The king’s brother, Geoffrey, rose against him in France and forced Henry to wage a war in France. After he had subdued and made a friendly arrangement with his brother (who did not live long), his ambition to increase his possessions involved him in a war with the French king, Louis. He had been on such friendly terms with the French king just before, that to his infant daughter, then a baby in the cradle, he had promised one of his little sons in marriage, who was a child of five years old. However, the war came to nothing at last, and the Pope made the two kings friends again.

The underlined word “late” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

replaced

delayed

arrived

existing

dead

Correct answer:

dead

Explanation:

The word “late” usually means not on time or delayed. This is one of the answer choices available to you; however, in this context, this is not how the word is being used. The word “late” also is often used to mean dead or recently deceased. In context, the author says “Henry Plantagenet . . . quietly succeeded to the throne of England, according to his agreement made with the late King at Winchester.  Six weeks after Stephen’s death . . . “ The fact that Henry became King due to an agreement made with the previous King (Stephen), who are you are told has died, means that when the author describes the King at Winchester as “late,” he means "dead" and not "delayed."

Example Question #21 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In History Passages

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

In all matters of government, the Greek democracy recognised only one class of citizens—the freemen. Every Greek city was composed of a small number of free born citizens, a large number of slaves and a sprinkling of foreigners.

At rare intervals (usually during a war) the Greeks showed themselves willing to confer the rights of citizenship upon the "barbarians," as they called the foreigners, but this was an exception. Citizenship was a matter of birth. You were an Athenian because your father and your grandfather had been Athenians before you. However great your distinction as a trader or a soldier, if you were born of non-Athenian parents, you remained a "foreigner" until the end of time.

The Greek city, therefore, whenever it was not ruled by a king or a tyrant, was run by and for the freemen, and this would not have been possible without a large army of slaves, who outnumbered the free citizens at the rate of six or five to one, and who performed those tasks to which we modern people must devote most of our time and energy if we wish to provide for our families and pay the rent of our apartments. The slaves did all the cooking and baking and candlestick making of the entire city. They were the tailors and the carpenters and the jewelers and the school-teachers and the bookkeepers and they tended the store and looked after the factory while the master went to the public meeting to discuss questions of war and peace, or visited the theatre to see the latest play of Aeschylus or hear a discussion of the revolutionary ideas of Euripides, who had dared to express certain doubts upon the omnipotence of the great god Zeus.

Indeed, ancient Athens resembled a modern club. All the freeborn citizens were hereditary members, and all the slaves were hereditary servants who waited upon the needs of their masters, and it was very pleasant to be a certain member of the organisation.

When we talk about slaves, we do not mean the sort that once existed in the United States. It is true that the position of those slaves who tilled the fields was a very unpleasant one, but the average freeman who had come down in the world and who had been obliged to hire himself out as a farm hand led just as miserable a life. In the cities, furthermore, many of the slaves were more prosperous than the poorer classes of the freemen. For the Greeks, who loved moderation in all things, did not like to treat their slaves after the fashion that afterward was so common in Rome, where a slave had as few rights as an engine in a modern factory and could be thrown to the wild animals upon the smallest pretext.

The Greeks believed slavery to be a necessary institution, without which no city could possibly become the home of a truly civilized people.

The underlined word, “distinction,” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

dissimilarity

similarity

merit 

mediocrity

variance

Correct answer:

merit 

Explanation:

In context the author says that “you were an Athenian because your father and your grandfather had been Athenians before you. However great your distinction as a trader or a soldier, if you were born of non-Athenian parents, you remained a 'foreigner' until the end of time.” The author is talking about how in Athens it was impossible to be granted citizenship if you were not of Athenian heritage. Where the author employs the word, “distinction,” it makes sense from context that he would be trying to provide an extreme case to highlight how impossible such mobility was. The word “distinction” usually means difference between. So the answer choices “dissimilarity” and “variance” might have been tempting. But, here the author is employing a secondary meaning of the word which is excellence, great skill, impressive merits. To provide final help, “mediocrity” means being average in an undesirable way.

Example Question #11 : Vocabulary

Adapted from A Modern History from the Time of Luther to the Fall of Napoleon by John Lord (1874)

For more than ten centuries, great struggles have been going on in society between the dominant orders and sects. The victories gained by the oppressed millions over their different masters, constitute what is called the progress of society. When any great order defended the cause of the people against the tyranny and selfishness of another order, then the people have advanced a step in civil and social freedom.

When feudalism weighed heavily upon the people, the clergy sought justice on their behalf. By the aid of the church, royalty also rose above feudalism, and aided the popular cause. The church, having gained the ascendency, sought then to enslave the kings of the earth. But royalty, borrowing help from humiliated nobles and from the people, became the dominant power in Europe.

In these struggles, the people acquired political importance. They had obtained a knowledge of their rights and of their strength; and they were determined to maintain them. They liked not the tyranny of either nobles, priests, or kings; but they bent all their energies to suppress the power of the latter, since the two former had been already humiliated.

The struggle of the people against royalty is preeminently the genius of the English Revolution. It is to be doubted whether any king could have resisted the storm of popular fury which hurled Charles from his throne. But no king could have managed worse than he; no king could be more unfortunately and unpropitiously placed, and his own imprudence and folly hastened the catastrophe.

The House of Commons, which had acquired great strength, spirit, and popularity during the reign of James, fully perceived the difficulties and necessities of Charles, but made no adequate or generous effort to relieve him from them. Some of the more turbulent rejoiced in them. They knew that kings, like other men, were selfish, and that it was not natural for people to part with their privileges and power without a struggle, even though this power was injurious to the interests of society. In the Middle Ages, barons, bishops, and popes had fought desperately in the struggle of classes; and it was only from their necessities that either kings or people had obtained what they demanded. King Charles, no more than Pope Boniface VIII, would surrender, as a boon to man, without compulsion, his supposed omnipotence.

The underlined word “compulsion” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

desire

virtue

coercion

oppression

vice

Correct answer:

coercion

Explanation:

In context, the author is talking about the reluctance of King Charles to forfeit some of his royal powers for the good of society. The key clues that should help you determine the meaning of the word “compulsion” can be found earlier in the paragraph, where the author says, "They knew that kings, like other men, were selfish, and that it was not natural for people to part with their privileges and power without a struggle." So, Charles does not want to part with his privileges and power without putting up a fight, he therefore needs to be forced to do so. So, King Charles would not surrender his power without “compulsion,” or being forced to. The answer choice most similar to this is “coercion.” To provide further help, “oppression” is extended and unjust control; “virtue” is a good quality or good qualities in general; and “vice” is a bad quality or bad qualities in generally.

Example Question #1 : Passage Wide Features In Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from “Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions” by Elizabeth Cady Stanton; Lucretia Mott; and others (1848)

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of women under this government, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled.

For what purpose does the author employ the language of the first few lines of the United States Constitution?

Possible Answers:

To establish an argument that will be later refuted

To deny the relevance of an established authority

To chastise a group or an individual

To frame a new idea within the context of familiar language

To distract from the main point

Correct answer:

To frame a new idea within the context of familiar language

Explanation:

You may have noticed that the author slightly manipulates the language of the Constitution. The Constitution states that “all men are created equal” and the author alters this to say “that all men and women are created equal.” The purpose of doing this is to contextualize a new idea within the framework of existing, and familiar, language. The author clearly feels that this will make her argument more evocative and relevant.

Example Question #4 : Passage Wide Features In Social Science / History 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 tone of this passage is __________.

Possible Answers:

angry and emotive

whimsical and sardonic

apathetic and miserly

jubilant and celebratory

urgent and serious

Correct answer:

urgent and serious

Explanation:

The overall tone of this passage is urgent and serious. This is clear throughout as the author employs several phrases to demonstrate the urgency and severity of the situation. Most obviously, and helpfully, the author uses the word “urgent.” The only other possible correct answer choice could be “angry and emotive.” However, the author uses very little angry or aggressive language and instead focuses on highlighting the seriousness of the situation.

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