ISEE Upper Level Reading : Language in Contemporary Life Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #41 : Contemporary Life Passages

"Preparing for Standardized Tests: Two Approaches" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Generally speaking, there are two major camps regarding the appropriate manner by which one should approach a standardized test. On the one hand, there are those people and businesses that believe that you should learn the “tricks of the test.” This approach encourages the idea that the given exam relies on a set of “inside tricks” that will fool students who are not well-informed about the way such tricks are designed. It likewise focuses less on content then on strategies for answering questions. On the other hand, there is the camp that believes that the best way to approach an exam is to be a complete expert on the content that will be examined. While this approach focuses on teaching the subject matter that will be tested, it often focuses very little on the test-taking strategies that can aid students who are taking a given exam. Although there are numerous strong partisans regarding each approach, it must be admitted that both have their strengths and their weaknesses.

What does the underlined word “camp” mean in its context?

Possible Answers:

a group that supports a given position or belief

a subset of a larger group

a political party

a specific type of decision out of a general class

a place where something remains safe

Correct answer:

a group that supports a given position or belief

Explanation:

The word "camp" can be used outside its standard context of tents and other such things that are used in the wild or in military campaigns.  In an extended sense, the term can mean "a group supporting a particular doctrine or position."  When we speak of "two camps," it is like there are two groups that are "camped out" on their respective positions—not physical positions but ideological ones.

Example Question #2 : Vocabulary

"The Difficulties of Writing One's First Research Paper" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

When a high school student writes his or her first research paper, he or she likely will face a number of difficulties in finding and using sources for the essay. The single most significant of these difficulties is the finding of sources for the paper. The student will likely only know about his or her topic from the discussion that has occurred in class, based on the textbook that is being used. For a research paper, however, it will be necessary to find appropriate texts in the library to support the topic about which he or she is writing. This can be quite overwhelming, for there are often so many books on a given topic that it is difficult to know where to begin if your starting point is only a high school textbook. Many students will be tempted to use every book that they find, not focusing on the most appropriate texts for the topic. On the other hand, some students will rely heavily on a single book on the topic. In this case, many things are overlooked because of the student’s narrow research. Of course, there are a number of other difficulties involved in the writing of such a paper, but the use of sources likely remains the most troublesome by far.

What is the meaning of the underlined word “heavily” used above?

Possible Answers:

sluggishly

to a great degree

lazily

having a lot of fat

ponderously

Correct answer:

to a great degree

Explanation:

The word "heavily" can be used to describe doing something to a great degree. Of course, when we speak of a "heavy snow," we do not mean to say that the snow is necessarily physically heavy. When the word takes on a further metaphorical meaning, it can mean more generally "to a great degree" in a general way. Here, the word is used to describe the overuse of a single source by a student.

Example Question #1 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In Contemporary Life Passages

"Conservatism" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

In American politics, there is perhaps no word that is more over-simplified than “conservative.” Many people use this term as though it has a single meaning and expresses a single historical-political outlook. Nothing could be further from the truth. The development of American conservatism must be understood as a combination of a number of strands of ideology that often coexist with great tension and difficulty. Although there are many groups that are combined in this larger assortment, two examples will suffice to show the great diversity present in this seemingly simple group.

For instance, there are the “traditionalist conservatives,” who generally are concerned with preserving Western culture and tradition against the developments of modern thought and culture. In many ways, this type of conservatism is the most “conserving”; that is, traditionalists are primarily concerned with maintaining the “old order” of Western civilization and learning. Because of these concerns, the traditionalist conservatives are very wary of any kind of major governmental program that promises to bring a “new order” into existence. While not disagreeing with the idea of progress, these conservatives believe that any such changes should occur organically, in a natural manner over a period of years. 

On the other hand, there are also the “libertarians," who are often classed as “conservatives” as well. They are surprisingly different from the traditionalist conservatives. The libertarians are primarily concerned with maximizing freedom and limiting the role of government in individual lives. In many ways, they represent the kind of modern individualism disagreed with by the traditionalists.

These two opposed groups are able to come together in the general notion of “conservatism” because of their shared attitudes toward the government, particularly the federal government. The traditionalists wish to limit the role of the federal government out of a fear that it will ruin traditional culture through radically new plans and agendas. The libertarians seek to limit it out of a desire to give individual citizens maximum freedom of choice and action. While these two branches of “conservatism” are in many ways opposed to each other, they somehow manage to coexist along with many other positions that are all called “conservative” in spite of similarly striking differences.

What does the underlined word “branches” mean in its context?

Possible Answers:

An argumentative faction

Subdivision

Living sprout

An expansion

A piecemeal approach

Correct answer:

Subdivision

Explanation:

When the word "branch" is used as a verb, it means "to divide out into parts." When we consider the "branching of a tree," we are considering how the single trunk gradually becomes many branches—many divided and independent parts of the whole tree. Now, the "two branches of 'conservatism'" are parts of the whole. While they are said to be in conflict, they do indeed come together as subdivisions of the broader group named "conservatism"—like branches are parts of a single tree.

Example Question #1 : Hspt Reading

"Conservatism" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

In American politics, there is perhaps no word that is more over-simplified than “conservative.” Many people use this term as though it has a single meaning and expresses a single historical-political outlook. Nothing could be further from the truth. The development of American conservatism must be understood as a combination of a number of strands of ideology that often coexist with great tension and difficulty. Although there are many groups that are combined in this larger assortment, two examples will suffice to show the great diversity present in this seemingly simple group.

For instance, there are the “traditionalist conservatives,” who generally are concerned with preserving Western culture and tradition against the developments of modern thought and culture. In many ways, this type of conservatism is the most “conserving”; that is, traditionalists are primarily concerned with maintaining the “old order” of Western civilization and learning. Because of these concerns, the traditionalist conservatives are very wary of any kind of major governmental program that promises to bring a “new order” into existence. While not disagreeing with the idea of progress, these conservatives believe that any such changes should occur organically, in a natural manner over a period of years. 

On the other hand, there are also the “libertarians," who are often classed as “conservatives” as well. They are surprisingly different from the traditionalist conservatives. The libertarians are primarily concerned with maximizing freedom and limiting the role of government in individual lives. In many ways, they represent the kind of modern individualism disagreed with by the traditionalists.

These two opposed groups are able to come together in the general notion of “conservatism” because of their shared attitudes toward the government, particularly the federal government. The traditionalists wish to limit the role of the federal government out of a fear that it will ruin traditional culture through radically new plans and agendas. The libertarians seek to limit it out of a desire to give individual citizens maximum freedom of choice and action. While these two branches of “conservatism” are in many ways opposed to each other, they somehow manage to coexist along with many other positions that are all called “conservative” in spite of similarly striking differences.

What does the underlined word “organically” mean in its context?

Possible Answers:

In a socially responsible way

Gradually

In a lively way

Without artificial additives

In a healthy way

Correct answer:

Gradually

Explanation:

Do not be fooled by the other meanings of "organic." Something is called "organic" if it is directly related to the idea of living. Often, it is contrasted to "inorganic" matter. The word can also be used to describe human phenomena—as it is here. The best context clue for this is the words directly following the word "organically" in the passage, "in a naturally manner over a period of years." In particular, the key expression is "over a period of years." "Organic changes" are changes that do not occur by sudden alterations or revolutions. Instead, they are "gradual"—that is, step-by-step and continuous.

Example Question #31 : Contemporary Life Passages

"The Meaning of 'Liberal Arts Education'" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Many people use the expression “liberal arts education” but do not know much at all about the original meaning of such an education. It is often thought that a “true liberal education” is one that gives the student knowledge that is not pursued for “utilitarian values”—that is, knowledge that is not merely “for the sake of getting a job.” Sometimes, the expression “liberal education” is used to describe an education that is not a mere repetition of old beliefs, but is open-minded and “liberal” in this way.

To understand the original meaning of the expression “liberal arts” it is necessary to consider each part of the expression as it was used in its ancient and medieval senses. The word “liberal” was used to describe these “arts” insofar as they were not the “servile arts,” that is, “arts” in the sense of “artisan work.” In this regard, “liberal arts” were not a matter of “getting a job.” The word “art” still had a meaning that was related to “artisanship.” However, these “arts” were “liberal” because they were the “arts of reasoning,” that is, “the arts of the mind.” They were meant to be tools that prepared someone for more in-depth studies. Thus, they were not envisioned as “knowledge for the sake of knowledge.” Instead, they were the initial tools that enabled the young student to reason properly.  This more ancient sense of the “liberal arts” is often missed or, at least, partially overlooked in contemporary discussions about them.

What is meant by the underlined expression “utilitarian values”?

Possible Answers:

values focused on paying utility bills

values focused on selfish motives

values focused on greed and luxury

values centered on the acquisition of useful property

values focused on practical usefulness

Correct answer:

values focused on practical usefulness

Explanation:

Generally, the word "utilitarian" is used to mean "practical" and "useful." In this sentence, the expression "utilitarian values" is given context by the clause that continues, "that is, knowledge . . ."  Liberal education is said not to pursue knowledge merely for the sake of employment. Now, "utilitarian values" are not directly defined by "for the sake of a job." They describe a class of motives that might lead someone to get a particular kind of education. The best definition of "utilitarian" will be useful, or a synonym of the word. "Utilitarian values" lead someone to look for an education that one can "put to use"—for example (as in this selection) in the "job market."

Example Question #1 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Words In Humanities Passages

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.

The word “hold” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

embrace

grasp 

reserve 

contain 

claim 

Correct answer:

claim 

Explanation:

The author uses the word “hold” to mean maintain or claim. Answering this question requires you to recognize firstly that hold is a very simple word and therefore the SAT most likely is asking you to recall a secondary meaning of the word. You can therefore eliminate the words that resemble the primary meaning of “hold” like “embrace” or “grasp.”After that you need to recognize that the sentence describes how some authorities believe or say something; the correct answer is therefore that the authorities “claim” something to be true.

Example Question #43 : Contemporary Life Passages

"Why Learning Multiple Languages in Graduate School is Important" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

In graduate school, students are often required to learn a number of foreign languages in addition to their regular coursework. This can be quite frustrating and difficult, for the normal courses in graduate school require significantly more reading and writing than do undergraduate courses. It is not unusual for graduate students to have regular reading assignments of several hundred pages for each course that they take. Likewise, they often write papers of much greater length than those that they wrote as undergraduate students. When language examinations are added to this difficult course load, it can be very frustrating for graduate students to try to find the time to prepare for these additional examinations.

Although these frustrations are understandable, this system has not been created solely to cause woe for graduate students. Much of the work for which these students are being prepared will focus on research. While much has been written in English about many topics, adequate research can only be done if one is able to read what people have written in other languages. For instance, there are many important articles and books written about almost every topic by European scholars. If a graduate student does not know any foreign languages, all of these article and books will be impossible to read, and hence useless to their research endeavors. This would be a great loss for a student's research. Therefore, in spite of its frustrating aspects, the language examination process is an important component of graduate school education.

What is the meaning of the underlined word, “woe,” in the passage above?

Possible Answers:

fear

distress

hatred

anger

waste

Correct answer:

distress

Explanation:

The word "woe" can mean either "significant sorrow" or also "distress." The sentence begins by saying that these students do have understandable frustrations; however, the point being made is that the system of examinations is not intended solely to cause such distressing conditions. This is the best meaning for the word "woe" among those provided.

Example Question #11 : Language In Contemporary Life Passages

"The Aging of Public Transportation Systems" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

As cities develop, their public transportation systems often show signs of aging that are mixed with aspects that are quite up-to-date.  An example of such a situation can be found in the transportation system in Washington DC. This system is made up of a mixture of buses and trains that connect people to locations in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. While the system has been well maintained and updated over the years, it still shows evidence that certain sections are older than others.

This is particularly noticeable when one considers the multiple lines that connect in Washington DC itself. Within the city, there are five different sets of tracks that run in various directions and to sundry places. A number of the newer lines are in excellent condition and rarely break down; however, the case of the red line is somewhat different. This oldest line of the metro train system often has issues because of its age, experiencing a number of track and signal issues even at rush hour when the overall system is its most efficient. Admittedly, the transportation authority is working to update this line and make it less problematic. Still, until this work is completed, it is obvious to all who are familiar with the metro train system that the red line is the oldest and most out of date.

What does the word “sundry” mean in its context?

Possible Answers:

Dried areas underground

Having beautiful vistas

Questionable

Several or various

Important

Correct answer:

Several or various

Explanation:

The word "sundry" generally means "several" or "having a variety of kinds / types." This is definitely what is being expressed here, for the sentence is discussing tracks that run in various directions to different places. The word "sundry" is related to "sunder," which means "to cut apart." Things that are "varied" can be said to be, in a sense, cut apart from each other.

Example Question #21 : Ssat Upper Level Reading Comprehension

Adapted from Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads by John A. Lomax (1910)

The big ranches of the West are now being cut up into small farms. The nester has come, and come to stay. Gone is the buffalo and the free grass of the open plain—even the stinging lizard, the horned frog, the centipede, the prairie dog, the rattlesnake, are fast disappearing. Save in some of the secluded valleys of southern New Mexico, the old-time round-up is no more; the trails to Kansas and to Montana have become grass-grown or lost in fields of waving grain; the maverick steer, the regal longhorn, has been supplanted by his unpoetic but more beefy and profitable Polled Angus, Durham, and Hereford cousins from across the seas. The changing and romantic West of the early days lives mainly in story and in song. The last figure to vanish is the cowboy, the animating spirit of the vanishing era. He sits his horse easily as he rides through a wide valley, enclosed by mountains, clad in the hazy purple of coming night,—with his face turned steadily down the long, long road, "the road that the sun goes down." Dauntless, reckless, without the unearthly purity of Sir Galahad though as gentle to a woman as King Arthur, he is truly a knight of the twentieth century. A vagrant puff of wind shakes a corner of the crimson handkerchief knotted loosely at his throat; the thud of his pony's feet mingling with the jingle of his spurs is borne back; and as the careless, gracious, lovable figure disappears over the divide, the breeze brings to the ears, faint and far yet cheery still, the refrain of a cowboy song.

As used in the passage, the underlined word “vagrant” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

wandering

accidental

beggar

traveler

unpredictable

Correct answer:

wandering

Explanation:

First off, we can eliminate “beggar” and “traveler” because they are nouns, and the context calls for an adjective. “Accidental” does not make sense for a puff of air, and it doesn’t seem relevant whether or not it’s "unpredictable." “Wandering” is the best answer; not only is it a standard definition of “vagrant,” but it also makes the most sense in the context of the sentence.

Example Question #1 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Argumentative Humanities Passages

Adapted from "The Eulogy of the Dog" by George Graham Vest (1870)

The best friend a man has in this world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter whom he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name, may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has, he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it the most. A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.

Gentlemen of the jury, a man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he can be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince.

When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens. If fortune drives the master forth an outcast into the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him, to guard him against danger, to fight against his enemies. And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes his master in its embrace and his body is laid in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open, in alert watchfulness, faithful and true, even unto death.

In the second paragraph, the underlined word “encounter” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

avoidance 

fortune 

contact 

exercise 

misfortune 

Correct answer:

contact 

Explanation:

In context the word “encounter” means come into contact with. The author describes how a man’s dog “will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the world.” Of the five answer choices, “contact” fits most naturally.

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