ISEE Upper Level Reading : Ideas in Contemporary Life Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : 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 intention of the author of this passage?

Possible Answers:

To overcome social stereotypes regarding addiction

To note the crassness of a society that overlooks the suffering and addiction experienced by others

To express dissatisfaction with the psychological community's treatment of psychological disorders

To condemn certain types of behaviors

To raise awareness regarding potentially hidden but dangerous behaviors

Correct answer:

To raise awareness regarding potentially hidden but dangerous behaviors

Explanation:

The key sentence for discerning the author's purpose is: "Perhaps several examples can assist in increasing the reader’s awareness of these potentially problematic habits." This helps to interpret the first three sentences in the opening paragraph. The author is not merely intending to provide information about hidden types of addiction. In addition, the author wishes to "increase the reader's awareness." Thus, the best answer regarding the purpose is "to raise awareness regarding potentially hidden but dangerous behaviors."

Example Question #1 : Authorial Purpose In Humanities Passages

"Commentaries" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

The idea of a commentary is not anywhere as simple as most people think. To the popular imagination, the commentator makes a few observations based on a text, not going far beyond its contents. This standard opinion completely misses the various types of commentaries that can be written. Indeed, even the notion of “literal commentary” is itself so variegated that it is incorrect to imagine that such “literal” work is merely a slavish repetition of an original text.

Some literal commentaries truly are “literal,” that is, based on the letters and words of the text. Such philological studies investigate the language structures and meanings of a text. The interpretation of the text proceeds based on these linguistic investigations. Often, this process will note the types of rhetoric being used, the dialects utilized, and any odd language structures that might imply something with regard to the text’s meaning. All of these methods remain very concerned with the “letter of the text” in a very direct manner.

Indeed, even the Medieval commentaries on Aristotle’s works could be considered “literal,” though they do differ from such linguistic approaches. Men like Thomas Aquinas would very carefully read Aristotle’s text, giving what was called a divisio textus for every section of the text in question. This “division of the text” sought to provide a succinct but correct outline of the text in question so that its literal meaning might be more easily noticed. Certainly, the commentary that followed this divisio textus did express some aspects of Aquinas’ own thought. However, he (like other literal commentators of this type) would attempt to remain as close to the literal meaning of the text as possible, always using the divisio textus as a guide for understanding the structure of the original author’s thought.

What is the overall purpose of this passage?

Possible Answers:

To call into question a modern hypothesis regarding commentaries

To show all of the different types of commentaries that one might write

To argue forcefully on behalf of a thesis

To present a general idea and provide several examples in confirmation 

To contrast two different types of commenting on a text

Correct answer:

To present a general idea and provide several examples in confirmation 

Explanation:

The general purpose of this passage is expressed in the first paragraph. Clearly, the text intends to remark that commentaries are more complex of a reality than many realize. Then, it cites two examples taken from the class of commentaries known as "literal commentaries." It does not claim to provide a complete set of examples. Thus, it introduces the general idea regarding the complexity of the notion "commentary" and then follows this with several examples.

Example Question #11 : Literal Comprehension

"Commentaries" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

The idea of a commentary is not anywhere as simple as most people think. To the popular imagination, the commentator makes a few observations based on a text, not going far beyond its contents. This standard opinion completely misses the various types of commentaries that can be written. Indeed, even the notion of “literal commentary” is itself so variegated that it is incorrect to imagine that such “literal” work is merely a slavish repetition of an original text.

Some literal commentaries truly are “literal,” that is, based on the letters and words of the text. Such philological studies investigate the language structures and meanings of a text. The interpretation of the text proceeds based on these linguistic investigations. Often, this process will note the types of rhetoric being used, the dialects utilized, and any odd language structures that might imply something with regard to the text’s meaning. All of these methods remain very concerned with the “letter of the text” in a very direct manner.

Indeed, even the Medieval commentaries on Aristotle’s works could be considered “literal,” though they do differ from such linguistic approaches. Men like Thomas Aquinas would very carefully read Aristotle’s text, giving what was called a divisio textus for every section of the text in question. This “division of the text” sought to provide a succinct but correct outline of the text in question so that its literal meaning might be more easily noticed. Certainly, the commentary that followed this divisio textus did express some aspects of Aquinas’ own thought. However, he (like other literal commentators of this type) would attempt to remain as close to the literal meaning of the text as possible, always using the divisio textus as a guide for understanding the structure of the original author’s thought.

What was the purpose of the so-called divisio textus mentioned in the third paragraph above?

Possible Answers:

To extract the interesting portions from the text in question.

To provide an outline to be used for interpreting the text in question.

To remove any questionable passages from the text in question.

To provide a religious manner to understand a questionable pagan text.

To correct the errors found in longer commentaries on the same text.

Correct answer:

To provide an outline to be used for interpreting the text in question.

Explanation:

The key sentence to note is: "This 'division of the text' sought to provide a succinct but correct outline of the text in question so that its literal meaning might be more easily noticed." The divisio textus, this "division of the text," was meant to provide a short but correct outline for the sake of finding and interpreting the text's literal meaning.

Example Question #32 : Authorial Purpose

"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, it still does not have the great internal variety of languages as one finds in the small European continent. Therefore, students often do not experience the practical importance of knowing other languages.

Of course, America has always been called the “melting pot,” for many peoples have arrived on its shores, bringing their own distinctive cultures and languages with them. 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 often 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 the many individuals who speak English. 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-scientific 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.

What is the main intent of this passage?

Possible Answers:

To show the many ways that Americans are deficient in languages in comparison with other countries

To discuss the reasons that American students find it difficult to understand the need for learning a foreign language

To critique the American education system, particularly in its ignorance regarding foreign languages

To discuss the imperialism of American aspirations and insistence on the use of English

To present statistics concerning the deficiencies of American education with regard to languages

Correct answer:

To discuss the reasons that American students find it difficult to understand the need for learning a foreign language

Explanation:

Do not be fooled by the length or detailed nature of this passage. The first paragraph begins by stating, "American students often find it difficult to understand the need for learning a foreign language." All of the details following in the first through fourth paragraphs give reasons for this difficulty in understanding such a need. They do not directly critique the whole educational establishment or even present a detailed study of the problem. The paragraphs merely present some interesting reasons as to why American students do not understand the importance of learning foreign languages. The closing paragraph reaffirms this intention, stating: "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."

Example Question #11 : Contemporary Life Passages

Adapted from Seven Discourses Delivered in the Royal Academy By the President by Joshua Reynolds (1778)

All the objects which are exhibited to our view by nature, upon close examination will be found to have their blemishes and defects. The most beautiful forms have something about them like weakness, minuteness, or imperfection. But it is not every eye that perceives these blemishes. It must be an eye long used to the contemplation and comparison of these forms—and which, by a long habit of observing what any set of objects of the same kind have in common, that alone can acquire the power of discerning what each wants in particular. This long laborious comparison should be the first study of the painter who aims at the greatest style. By this means, he acquires a just idea of beautiful forms; he corrects nature by herself, her imperfect state by her more perfect. His eye being enabled to distinguish the accidental deficiencies, excrescences, and deformities of things from their general figures, he makes out an abstract idea of their forms more perfect than any one original—and what may seem a paradox, he learns to design naturally by drawing his figures unlike to any one object. This idea of the perfect state of nature, which the artist calls the ideal beauty, is the great leading principle by which works of genius are conducted. By this, Phidias acquired his fame. He wrought upon a sober principle what has so much excited the enthusiasm of the world—and by this method you, who have courage to tread the same path, may acquire equal reputation.

The main argument of the passage is __________.

Possible Answers:

a painter can learn nothing through study

a painter must always draw the imperfections of nature

a painter is born with a natural ability to draw images in nature

a painter can perfect the blemishes of nature in his own work through careful study

a painter can never do better than images in nature

Correct answer:

a painter can perfect the blemishes of nature in his own work through careful study

Explanation:

The passage contains two major themes: the imperfections of nature and the careful study a painter must undertake. These combine into the argument that a painter can perfect the blemishes in nature.

Example Question #522 : Passage Based Questions

Adapted from “Advice to Youth” by Mark Twain (1882)

Being told I would be expected to talk here, I inquired what sort of talk I ought to make. They said it should be something suitable to youth--something didactic, instructive, or something in the nature of good advice. Very well. I have a few things in my mind which I have often longed to say for the instruction of the young; for it is in one’s tender early years that such things will best take root and be most enduring and most valuable. First, then I will say to you my young friends--and I say it beseechingly, urgently-- Always obey your parents, when they are present. This is the best policy in the long run, because if you don’t, they will make you. Most parents think they know better than you do, and you can generally make more by humoring that superstition than you can by acting on your own better judgment.

Be respectful to your superiors, if you have any, also to strangers, and sometimes to others. If a person offends you and you are in doubt as to whether it was intentional or not, do not resort to extreme measures; simply watch your chance and hit him with a brick. That will be sufficient. If you shall find that he had not intended any offense, come out frankly and confess yourself in the wrong when you struck him; acknowledge it like a man and say you didn’t mean to. 

Go to bed early, get up early--this is wise. Some authorities say get up with the sun; some say get up with one thing, others with another. But a lark is really the best thing to get up with. It gives you a splendid reputation with everybody to know that you get up with the lark; and if you get the right kind of lark, and work at him right, you can easily train him to get up at half past nine, every time--it’s no trick at all.

Now as to the matter of lying. You want to be very careful about lying; otherwise you are nearly sure to get caught. Once caught, you can never again be in the eyes to the good and the pure, what you were before. Many a young person has injured himself permanently through a single clumsy and ill finished lie, the result of carelessness born of incomplete training. Some authorities hold that the young ought not to lie at all. That of course, is putting it rather stronger than necessary; still while I cannot go quite so far as that, I do maintain, and I believe I am right, that the young ought to be temperate in the use of this great art until practice and experience shall give them that confidence, elegance, and precision which alone can make the accomplishment graceful and profitable. Patience, diligence, painstaking attention to detail--these are requirements; these in time, will make the student perfect; upon these only, may he rely as the sure foundation for future eminence. 

But I have said enough. I hope you will treasure up the instructions which I have given you, and make them a guide to your feet and a light to your understanding. Build your character thoughtfully and painstakingly upon these precepts, and by and by, when you have got it built, you will be surprised and gratified to see how nicely and sharply it resembles everybody else’s.

According to the author parental ideas of superiority are __________.

Possible Answers:

inherent 

unfounded 

mitigating 

confusing 

incomprehensible

Correct answer:

unfounded 

Explanation:

The author disparages the overconfidence of parents throughout this passage, but the most pertinent piece of evidence can be found in lines 6-8 where the author says: “Most parents think they know better than you do, and you can generally make more by humoring that superstition than you can by acting on your own better judgment.” Here the author is expressing how parents confidence is born out of “superstition” and goes against the “better judgment” of the child. This indicates that the author believes parental superiority is unfounded (which means unsupported). Inherent means innate; incomprehensible means impossible to understand; mitigating means make existing circumstances less severe.

Example Question #81 : Single Answer Questions

Adapted from Seven Discourses Delivered in the Royal Academy By the President by Joshua Reynolds (1778)

All the objects which are exhibited to our view by nature, upon close examination will be found to have their blemishes and defects. The most beautiful forms have something about them like weakness, minuteness, or imperfection. But it is not every eye that perceives these blemishes. It must be an eye long used to the contemplation and comparison of these forms—and which, by a long habit of observing what any set of objects of the same kind have in common, that alone can acquire the power of discerning what each wants in particular. This long laborious comparison should be the first study of the painter who aims at the greatest style. By this means, he acquires a just idea of beautiful forms; he corrects nature by herself, her imperfect state by her more perfect. His eye being enabled to distinguish the accidental deficiencies, excrescences, and deformities of things from their general figures, he makes out an abstract idea of their forms more perfect than any one original—and what may seem a paradox, he learns to design naturally by drawing his figures unlike to any one object. This idea of the perfect state of nature, which the artist calls the ideal beauty, is the great leading principle by which works of genius are conducted. By this, Phidias acquired his fame. He wrought upon a sober principle what has so much excited the enthusiasm of the world—and by this method you, who have courage to tread the same path, may acquire equal reputation.

The author's view of nature is best summarized as __________.

Possible Answers:

it cannot be improved by humanity

it is unable to be studied by humans

it has a beauty that cannot be represented by human art

it is a threat to humanity

it is inherently imperfect

Correct answer:

it is inherently imperfect

Explanation:

The passage begins by noting that nature, "upon close examination," contains "blemishes and defects." The passage further argues that a skilled painter can study nature to improve upon its imperfections.

Example Question #1 : Identifying And Analyzing Supporting Ideas In Contemporary Life Passages

Adapted from Seven Discourses Delivered in the Royal Academy By the President by Joshua Reynolds (1778)

All the objects which are exhibited to our view by nature, upon close examination will be found to have their blemishes and defects. The most beautiful forms have something about them like weakness, minuteness, or imperfection. But it is not every eye that perceives these blemishes. It must be an eye long used to the contemplation and comparison of these forms—and which, by a long habit of observing what any set of objects of the same kind have in common, that alone can acquire the power of discerning what each wants in particular. This long laborious comparison should be the first study of the painter who aims at the greatest style. By this means, he acquires a just idea of beautiful forms; he corrects nature by herself, her imperfect state by her more perfect. His eye being enabled to distinguish the accidental deficiencies, excrescences, and deformities of things from their general figures, he makes out an abstract idea of their forms more perfect than any one original—and what may seem a paradox, he learns to design naturally by drawing his figures unlike to any one object. This idea of the perfect state of nature, which the artist calls the ideal beauty, is the great leading principle by which works of genius are conducted. By this, Phidias acquired his fame. He wrought upon a sober principle what has so much excited the enthusiasm of the world—and by this method you, who have courage to tread the same path, may acquire equal reputation.

The author believes that painters are __________.

Possible Answers:

hopelessly out of touch with natural beauty

able to improve their abilities with study

always produce images that are superior to images from nature

born with natural gifts that cannot be improved

unable to replicate what is found in nature

Correct answer:

able to improve their abilities with study

Explanation:

The author urges painters to have a "habit of observing" and to study natural images. The passage also demonstrates quite clearly that study will make painters better able to "perfect" natural forms and correct nature's "blemishes and defects."

Example Question #291 : Comprehension

Adapted from Seven Discourses Delivered in the Royal Academy By the President by Joshua Reynolds (1778)

All the objects which are exhibited to our view by nature, upon close examination will be found to have their blemishes and defects. The most beautiful forms have something about them like weakness, minuteness, or imperfection. But it is not every eye that perceives these blemishes. It must be an eye long used to the contemplation and comparison of these forms—and which, by a long habit of observing what any set of objects of the same kind have in common, that alone can acquire the power of discerning what each wants in particular. This long laborious comparison should be the first study of the painter who aims at the greatest style. By this means, he acquires a just idea of beautiful forms; he corrects nature by herself, her imperfect state by her more perfect. His eye being enabled to distinguish the accidental deficiencies, excrescences, and deformities of things from their general figures, he makes out an abstract idea of their forms more perfect than any one original—and what may seem a paradox, he learns to design naturally by drawing his figures unlike to any one object. This idea of the perfect state of nature, which the artist calls the ideal beauty, is the great leading principle by which works of genius are conducted. By this, Phidias acquired his fame. He wrought upon a sober principle what has so much excited the enthusiasm of the world—and by this method you, who have courage to tread the same path, may acquire equal reputation.

The author's view of artistic ability is best described as __________.

Possible Answers:

equal in all who possess it

unable to replicate objects in nature

useless to humanity

only worthwhile for the the naturally gifted to study

able to be improved through study

Correct answer:

able to be improved through study

Explanation:

The entire passage is essentially a piece of advice to artists, regarding the study of objects in nature. Above all, the passage is predicated on the notion that artistic ability can and should be improved through careful study.

Example Question #1 : Identifying And Analyzing Supporting Ideas In Contemporary Life Passages

Adapted from Seven Discourses Delivered in the Royal Academy By the President by Joshua Reynolds (1778)

All the objects which are exhibited to our view by nature, upon close examination will be found to have their blemishes and defects. The most beautiful forms have something about them like weakness, minuteness, or imperfection. But it is not every eye that perceives these blemishes. It must be an eye long used to the contemplation and comparison of these forms—and which, by a long habit of observing what any set of objects of the same kind have in common, that alone can acquire the power of discerning what each wants in particular. This long laborious comparison should be the first study of the painter who aims at the greatest style. By this means, he acquires a just idea of beautiful forms; he corrects nature by herself, her imperfect state by her more perfect. His eye being enabled to distinguish the accidental deficiencies, excrescences, and deformities of things from their general figures, he makes out an abstract idea of their forms more perfect than any one original—and what may seem a paradox, he learns to design naturally by drawing his figures unlike to any one object. This idea of the perfect state of nature, which the artist calls the ideal beauty, is the great leading principle by which works of genius are conducted. By this, Phidias acquired his fame. He wrought upon a sober principle what has so much excited the enthusiasm of the world—and by this method you, who have courage to tread the same path, may acquire equal reputation.

The author does NOT view imperfections in nature as __________.

Possible Answers:

pervasive

abhorrent

normal

minuscule

confounding

Correct answer:

abhorrent

Explanation:

The author notes that "all the objects" in nature have "blemishes and defects." The author also notes that the "most beautiful forms" have a "weakness, minuteness, or imperfection." The only answer choice that makes sense with the passage is "abhorrent," meaning distasteful or offensive.

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