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 #21 : Language In Contemporary Life Passages

Adapted from What I Think and Feel at Twenty-Five (1922) by F. Scott Fitzgerald

As a man grows older it stands to reason that his vulnerability increases. Three years ago, for instance, I could be hurt in only one way—through myself. If my best friend’s wife had her hair torn off by an electric washing-machine, I was grieved, of course. I would make my friend a long speech full of “old mans,” and finish up with a paragraph from Washington’s Farewell Address; but when I’d finished I could go to a good restaurant and enjoy my dinner as usual. In fact I was pretty much invulnerable. I put up a conventional wail whenever a ship was sunk or a train got wrecked; but I don’t suppose, if the whole city of Chicago had been wiped out, I’d have lost a night’s sleep over it—unless something led me to believe that St. Paul was the next city on the list. Even then I could have moved my luggage over to Minneapolis and rested pretty comfortably all night.

But that was three years ago when I was still a young man. I was only twenty-two. Now, I’m vulnerable. I’m vulnerable in every way. I used to have about ten square feet of skin vulnerable to chills and fevers. Now I have about twenty. I have not personally enlarged, the twenty feet includes the skin of my family, but I might as well have, because if a chill or fever strikes any bit of that twenty feet of skin I begin to shiver. And so I ooze gently into middle-age; for the true middle-age is not the acquirement of years, but the acquirement of a family. The incomes of the childless have wonderful elasticity. Two people require a room and a bath; a couple with child requires the millionaire’s suite on the sunny side of the hotel. And yet I think that marriage is the most satisfactory institution we have. I’m simply stating my belief that when Life has used us for its purposes it takes away all our attractive qualities and gives us, instead, ponderous but shallow convictions of our own wisdom and “experience.” The older I grow the more I get so I don’t know anything. If I had been asked to do this article about five years ago it might have been worth reading.

What is the nearest meaning to the word “elasticity?”

Possible Answers:

Respectability

Posterity 

Absurdity

Longevity 

Informality 

Correct answer:

Longevity 

Explanation:

The meaning of the word “elasticity” is usually flexibility or ability to retain shape; however, in this instance the author is using it to describe how far a wealthy childless couple can stretch their money. In this sense it most nearly resembles longevity which means how long something can last. Absurdity means ridiculousness; respectability means satisfactory or acceptability; informality means the opposite of formal; posterity refers to preserving something.

Example Question #31 : Hspt Reading

"Addictions" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Addictions come in many forms, often quite hidden from those who should be aware of them. It is helpful to be aware of how hidden these obsessive behaviors can be. Often, they appear to be harmless, but this appearance is deceptive.  Perhaps several examples can assist in increasing the reader’s awareness of these potentially problematic habits. 

A very simple example of such an apparently innocuous addiction is the addiction that many people have to a beverage like coffee. While not as destructive as an addiction to alcohol, an extreme need for caffeine often covers a need for more sleep or an overzealous desire to be completely energetic at every waking moment. Also, a great deal of caffeine can potentially do damage to one’s heart due to the stress caused by its stimulating effects. 

Another example of a seemingly harmless addiction can be found in the case of people who are addicted to work. It is very tempting to praise such obsessive behavior, as it provides many benefits for others and even for the one doing the work. The advancement of a career certainly seems beneficial and often allows for great personal and financial fulfillment. Nevertheless, constant work often hides some sadness, insecurity, or fear that should be confronted by the person who slaves away without cessation. Likewise, over time, such continuous work often can be greatly destructive of important personal relationships.

Of course, many more examples could be brought forth, for one can obsess over almost anything. Still, even these two simple examples should make clear to the reader that it is possible for there to be apparently harmless—indeed, seemingly helpful—life practices that in reality can pose a potential harm to one’s physical or mental well-being.

What is the meaning of the underlined word, “innocuous,” in its context?

Possible Answers:

harmless

vigorous

lacking disease

healthy

sanitary

Correct answer:

harmless

Explanation:

Do not be confused by the relationship of "innocuous" to "inoculate." To be "inoculated" is to be provided with immunity so that exposure to a given disease is made to be harmless for the inoculated person. When something is "innocuous" it is harmless. This is the sense used here. This could be gleaned from the first paragraph, which states that these behaviors can "appear to be harmless."

Example Question #61 : Language 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 does the underlined word “philological” mean in context above?

Possible Answers:

rational or intellectual

zealous

pertaining to love

brotherly or familial

pertaining to the study of language

Correct answer:

pertaining to the study of language

Explanation:

The word "philological" is quite a vocabulary word that you might not know at first sight. It means "pertaining to the study of languages (historically, in form, and so forth)." The prefix "phil-" means "love," as is found in the name of the city Philadelphia, which means "The city of brotherly love (phil-)." Philology is the love of languages or the love of learning. (The "-logy" suffix can mean everything from "words" to "reason" to "learning.") From the context, you can likely realize this word's meaning. Note the whole sentence: "Such philological studies investigate the language structures and meanings of a text."

Example Question #81 : Argumentative 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 does the underlined word “variegated” mean in context above?

Possible Answers:

multiplied indefinitely

interpretive in nature

out of date

confusing

marked by variety

Correct answer:

marked by variety

Explanation:

The word "variegated" is related to the words "various" and "variety."  Strictly speaking, it is used to describe mixed colors, such as those found on "variegated leaves."  Here, the context indicates that the notion of "literal commentary" is more complex than one thinks, having a variety of forms that could equally be called "literal commentaries."  The remainder of the selection provides examples of such different types.

Example Question #131 : Humanities

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 “superstition” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

concept 

condescension

delusion 

truism 

admonishment

Correct answer:

delusion 

Explanation:

The word “superstition” usually refers to a belief in something preternatural or magical. However, in this context, the author is using it to describe the delusional beliefs of most parents who feel themselves to be superior to their children. Truism describes a common saying; concept refers to an idea; admonishment means to tell off or rebuke; condescension means arrogance or looking down at somebody.

Example Question #43 : Hspt Reading

"The Pets of the Elderly" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Many younger people think that it is a bit strange to see elderly widows and widowers fussing greatly over their pet dogs and cats. While it is perhaps amusing to see a mature adult babying an animal, this aspect of life often is of crucial importance for the health and happiness of these aging persons. Although they have lost their spouses and often have a dwindling number of friends, these people often have a social network outside of the house that can be deceptively large and active. All of this activity can hide the great loneliness that these people experience when they return home. Often having been the shared refuge with the loving presence of a spouse, the widow’s house or apartment can become a lonely isolation cell, no matter how active he or she might be. Pets often are a solution to this loneliness, becoming dear companions in a life that would otherwise be very devoid of personal contact every morning and night. They offer great joy and consolation to these elderly people. It is therefore understandable that their owners often give them such large amounts of attention.

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

Possible Answers:

dying

passing

abandoning

mortifying

diminishing

Correct answer:

diminishing

Explanation:

The word "dwindle" in general means reducing in number and size. The sentence itself implies that the aging person has lost his or her spouse and likewise a number of friends; however, it also indicates that they do have a social network that is larger than expected. (The fact that this network is larger than expected shows that it is also a fact that their number of friends has nevertheless been dwindling. That is what makes the large network surprising).

Example Question #11 : How To Find The Meaning Of Words With Multiple Meanings

"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.

In the first paragraph, what does the underlined word “insulated” mean in its context?

Possible Answers:

Non-flammable

Isolated or removed from direct contact with

Non-conductive

Padded

Preventing the hearing of something

Correct answer:

Isolated or removed from direct contact with

Explanation:

The word "insulate" comes originally from the Latin word for "island." An island is "shielded" or "padded" from other lands by the waters that surround it. This sense of being removed or protected by means of material—be it water, air, rubber, etc.—is retained in the English words "insulate" and "insulation." In our selection, the sense of the word is that the United States is removed from direct contact with other nations, at least in comparison to the frequent and numerous direct contacts that are found, for instance, in Europe.

Example Question #51 : Hspt Reading

"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.

In the second paragraph, what does the underlined word “assimilated” mean in its context?

Possible Answers:

To produce copies of

To forge ahead in

To argue about one's place in

To become integrated into

To work to bring about changes in

Correct answer:

To become integrated into

Explanation:

The word "assimilate" is related to the English "similar." To become "assimilated" literally means to become similar to (something else). This meaning can be inferred in part from the sentence in which it is found. The initial dependent clause states, "While they do influence and change the culture. . ." The "while" is being used like "although." The sentence could be simplified and read as stating, "While they do influence the culture, they are likely influenced by it." This initial reading can at least help you to come close to the meaning of "assimilated," which generally means to become part of or to become integrated into something foreign.

Example Question #51 : Contemporary Life Passages

My dear old friend Sebastian used to tell me that he had something of a sliding scale regarding the musicians to which he could listen. For him, Bach was the most celestial of musicians, and he could listen to him for an eternity without ever being wearied. Mozart was likewise favorably judged, though Sebastian said that he could only endure his music for approximately three to five hours at a time. When it came to Richard Wagner, however, my dear friend was quite unable to bear the intensity of the composer’s works. In stark contrast to his great patience and love for the music of Bach, he could spend little more than five minutes listening to compositions by Wagner.

Based on its context in the selection above, what does the expression "sliding scale" (underlined) mean?

Possible Answers:

An ever-changing standard

An instrument for measuring weight

An instrument for measuring length

A varying spectrum of preferences

A fickle sense of music

Correct answer:

A varying spectrum of preferences

Explanation:

The use of the expression "sliding scale" is metaphorical here. The idea being expressed is that Sebastian has a spectrum or range of preferences that he applies to musicians. The word "spectrum" is used to describe things that have positions between two extremes. For instance, the "visible spectrum" is the set of colors in the rainbow that span from the highest to the lowest visible wavelengths of colors. Since Sebastian has a spectrum of judgments regarding Bach, Mozart, and Wagner, this best describes the metaphorical use of "sliding scale."

Example Question #1 : Tone, Audience, And Point Of View 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 overall tone of this passage is __________.

Possible Answers:

histrionic

passionate

combative

ecstatic

humorous

Correct answer:

humorous

Explanation:

The author’s tone throughout this passage is sardonic and humorous. The author takes the notion of giving good, or prudent, advice and inverts it to humorous effect. This is made most obvious in the conclusion where the author notes: “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.”

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