ISEE Upper Level Reading : Ideas in Literature Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #22 : Identifying And Analyzing Supporting Ideas In Literature Passages

Adapted from Looking Backward From 2000 to 1887 by Edward Bellamy (1887)

Living as we do in the closing year of the twentieth century, enjoying the blessings of a social order at once so simple and logical that it seems but the triumph of common sense, it is no doubt difficult for those whose studies have not been largely historical to realize that the present organization of society is, in its completeness, less than a century old. No historical fact is, however, better established than that till nearly the end of the nineteenth century it was the general belief that the ancient industrial system, with all its shocking social consequences, was destined to last, with possibly a little patching, to the end of time. How strange and wellnigh incredible does it seem that so prodigious a moral and material transformation as has taken place since then could have been accomplished in so brief an interval! The readiness with which men accustom themselves, as matters of course, to improvements in their condition, which, when anticipated, seemed to leave nothing more to be desired, could not be more strikingly illustrated. What reflection could be better calculated to moderate the enthusiasm of reformers who count for their reward on the lively gratitude of future ages!

The object of this volume is to assist persons who, while desiring to gain a more definite idea of the social contrasts between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, are daunted by the formal aspect of the histories which treat the subject. Warned by a teacher's experience that learning is accounted a weariness to the flesh, the author has sought to alleviate the instructive quality of the book by casting it in the form of a romantic narrative, which he would be glad to fancy not wholly devoid of interest on its own account.

The reader, to whom modern social institutions and their underlying principles are matters of course, may at times find Dr. Leete's explanations of them rather trite—but it must be remembered that to Dr. Leete's guest they were not matters of course, and that this book is written for the express purpose of inducing the reader to forget for the nonce that they are so to him. One word more. The almost universal theme of the writers and orators who have celebrated this bimillennial epoch has been the future rather than the past, not the advance that has been made, but the progress that shall be made, ever onward and upward, till the race shall achieve its ineffable destiny. This is well, wholly well, but it seems to me that nowhere can we find more solid ground for daring anticipations of human development during the next one thousand years, than by "Looking Backward" upon the progress of the last one hundred.

In the second paragraph, the narrator seems to suggest that __________.

Possible Answers:

romantic narratives are rarely interesting

the act of learning is tiresome

the reader will be more interested in history as a result of this book

history is fascinating no matter in what way it is told

Correct answer:

the act of learning is tiresome

Explanation:

The speaker says that he has been "warned by a teacher's experience that learning is accounted a weariness to the flesh," meaning that he thinks that the act of learning is tiresome.

Example Question #41 : Ideas In Literature Passages

Adapted from "Exordium" by Edgar Allan Poe (1842)

In commencing, with the New Year, a New Volume, we shall be permitted to say a very few words by way of exordium to our usual chapter of Reviews, or, as we should prefer calling them, of Critical Notices. Yet we speak not for the sake of the exordium, but because we have really something to say, and know not when or where better to say it.

That the public attention, in America, has, of late days, been more than usually directed to the matter of literary criticism, is plainly apparent. Our periodicals are beginning to acknowledge the importance of the science (shall we so term it?) and to disdain the flippant opinion which so long has been made its substitute.

Time was when we imported our critical decisions from the mother country. For many years we enacted a perfect farce of subserviency to the dicta of Great Britain. At last a revulsion of feeling, with self-disgust, necessarily ensued. Urged by these, we plunged into the opposite extreme. In throwing totally off that “authority,” whose voice had so long been so sacred, we even surpassed, and by much, our original folly. But the watchword now was, “a national literature!”—as if any true literature could be “national”—as if the world at large were not the only proper stage for the literary histrio. We became, suddenly, the merest and maddest partizans in letters. Our papers spoke of “tariffs” and “protection.” Our Magazines had habitual passages about that “truly native novelist, Mr. Cooper,” or that “staunch American genius, Mr. Paulding.” Unmindful of the spirit of the axioms that “a prophet has no honor in his own land” and that “a hero is never a hero to his valet-de-chambre"—axioms founded in reason and in truth—our reviews urged the propriety—our booksellers the necessity, of strictly “American” themes. A foreign subject, at this epoch, was a weight more than enough to drag down into the very depths of critical damnation the finest writer owning nativity in the States; while, on the reverse, we found ourselves daily in the paradoxical dilemma of liking, or pretending to like, a stupid book the better because (sure enough) its stupidity was of our own growth, and discussed our own affairs.

It is, in fact, but very lately that this anomalous state of feeling has shown any signs of subsidence. Still it is subsiding. Our views of literature in general having expanded, we begin to demand the use–to inquire into the offices and provinces of criticism—to regard it more as an art based immoveably in nature, less as a mere system of fluctuating and conventional dogmas. And, with the prevalence of these ideas, has arrived a distaste even to the home-dictation of the bookseller-coteries. If our editors are not as yet all independent of the will of a publisher, a majority of them scruple, at least, to confess a subservience, and enter into no positive combinations against the minority who despise and discard it. And this is a very great improvement of exceedingly late date.

In the passage's second paragraph, Poe says that a main difference between the present and the past is __________.

Possible Answers:

Americans are too likely to take sides in a literary discussion

American literary opinion is subservient to that of Great Britain

Americans have become disgusted with themselves for taking on others' literary opinions

Americans form their own literary opinions rather than taking them from Great Britain

Correct answer:

Americans form their own literary opinions rather than taking them from Great Britain

Explanation:

Poe suggests in the second paragraph that Americans no longer take their cues on literary opinions from Great Britain.

Example Question #21 : Identifying And Analyzing Supporting Ideas In Literature Passages

Adapted from "Exordium" by Edgar Allan Poe (1842)

In commencing, with the New Year, a New Volume, we shall be permitted to say a very few words by way of exordium to our usual chapter of Reviews, or, as we should prefer calling them, of Critical Notices. Yet we speak not for the sake of the exordium, but because we have really something to say, and know not when or where better to say it.

That the public attention, in America, has, of late days, been more than usually directed to the matter of literary criticism, is plainly apparent. Our periodicals are beginning to acknowledge the importance of the science (shall we so term it?) and to disdain the flippant opinion which so long has been made its substitute.

Time was when we imported our critical decisions from the mother country. For many years we enacted a perfect farce of subserviency to the dicta of Great Britain. At last a revulsion of feeling, with self-disgust, necessarily ensued. Urged by these, we plunged into the opposite extreme. In throwing totally off that “authority,” whose voice had so long been so sacred, we even surpassed, and by much, our original folly. But the watchword now was, “a national literature!”—as if any true literature could be “national”—as if the world at large were not the only proper stage for the literary histrio. We became, suddenly, the merest and maddest partizans in letters. Our papers spoke of “tariffs” and “protection.” Our Magazines had habitual passages about that “truly native novelist, Mr. Cooper,” or that “staunch American genius, Mr. Paulding.” Unmindful of the spirit of the axioms that “a prophet has no honor in his own land” and that “a hero is never a hero to his valet-de-chambre"—axioms founded in reason and in truth—our reviews urged the propriety—our booksellers the necessity, of strictly “American” themes. A foreign subject, at this epoch, was a weight more than enough to drag down into the very depths of critical damnation the finest writer owning nativity in the States; while, on the reverse, we found ourselves daily in the paradoxical dilemma of liking, or pretending to like, a stupid book the better because (sure enough) its stupidity was of our own growth, and discussed our own affairs.

It is, in fact, but very lately that this anomalous state of feeling has shown any signs of subsidence. Still it is subsiding. Our views of literature in general having expanded, we begin to demand the use–to inquire into the offices and provinces of criticism—to regard it more as an art based immoveably in nature, less as a mere system of fluctuating and conventional dogmas. And, with the prevalence of these ideas, has arrived a distaste even to the home-dictation of the bookseller-coteries. If our editors are not as yet all independent of the will of a publisher, a majority of them scruple, at least, to confess a subservience, and enter into no positive combinations against the minority who despise and discard it. And this is a very great improvement of exceedingly late date.

In the passage's second paragraph, Poe suggests all of the following EXCEPT __________.

Possible Answers:

that literary criticism is becoming very important to Americans

that "opinion" and "criticism" are one and the same

that literary criticism might be considered a science

that magazines and newspapers are starting to see how important literary criticism is 

Correct answer:

that "opinion" and "criticism" are one and the same

Explanation:

In the second paragraph, Poe says that periodicals are coming to "disdain the flippant opinion which so long has been made [literary criticism's] substitute," which implies that "criticism" and "opinion" are not one and the same.

Example Question #341 : Isee Upper Level (Grades 9 12) Reading Comprehension

Adapted from "Exordium" by Edgar Allan Poe (1842)

In commencing, with the New Year, a New Volume, we shall be permitted to say a very few words by way of exordium to our usual chapter of Reviews, or, as we should prefer calling them, of Critical Notices. Yet we speak not for the sake of the exordium, but because we have really something to say, and know not when or where better to say it.

That the public attention, in America, has, of late days, been more than usually directed to the matter of literary criticism, is plainly apparent. Our periodicals are beginning to acknowledge the importance of the science (shall we so term it?) and to disdain the flippant opinion which so long has been made its substitute.

Time was when we imported our critical decisions from the mother country. For many years we enacted a perfect farce of subserviency to the dicta of Great Britain. At last a revulsion of feeling, with self-disgust, necessarily ensued. Urged by these, we plunged into the opposite extreme. In throwing totally off that “authority,” whose voice had so long been so sacred, we even surpassed, and by much, our original folly. But the watchword now was, “a national literature!”—as if any true literature could be “national”—as if the world at large were not the only proper stage for the literary histrio. We became, suddenly, the merest and maddest partizans in letters. Our papers spoke of “tariffs” and “protection.” Our Magazines had habitual passages about that “truly native novelist, Mr. Cooper,” or that “staunch American genius, Mr. Paulding.” Unmindful of the spirit of the axioms that “a prophet has no honor in his own land” and that “a hero is never a hero to his valet-de-chambre"—axioms founded in reason and in truth—our reviews urged the propriety—our booksellers the necessity, of strictly “American” themes. A foreign subject, at this epoch, was a weight more than enough to drag down into the very depths of critical damnation the finest writer owning nativity in the States; while, on the reverse, we found ourselves daily in the paradoxical dilemma of liking, or pretending to like, a stupid book the better because (sure enough) its stupidity was of our own growth, and discussed our own affairs.

It is, in fact, but very lately that this anomalous state of feeling has shown any signs of subsidence. Still it is subsiding. Our views of literature in general having expanded, we begin to demand the use–to inquire into the offices and provinces of criticism—to regard it more as an art based immoveably in nature, less as a mere system of fluctuating and conventional dogmas. And, with the prevalence of these ideas, has arrived a distaste even to the home-dictation of the bookseller-coteries. If our editors are not as yet all independent of the will of a publisher, a majority of them scruple, at least, to confess a subservience, and enter into no positive combinations against the minority who despise and discard it. And this is a very great improvement of exceedingly late date.

Poe says that critics often found themselves having to express liking for "a stupid book" because __________.

Possible Answers:

that book was not about foreign ideas or written by a foreigner

that book was poorly translated from a language other than English 

that book was written in America about American subject matter

that book was written by the “truly native novelist, Mr. Cooper"

Correct answer:

that book was written in America about American subject matter

Explanation:

Poe suggests that during the earlier time he is writing about, critics often expressed liking for books that were "stupid" simply because the book in question was written by an American about American subject matter.

Example Question #41 : Ideas In Literature Passages

Adapted from Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)

All day long we seemed to dawdle through a country which was full of beauty of every kind. Sometimes we saw little towns or castles on the top of steep hills such as we see in old missals; sometimes we ran by rivers and streams which seemed from the wide stony margin on each side of them to be subject to great floods. It takes a lot of water, and running strong, to sweep the outside edge of a river clear. At every station there were groups of people, sometimes crowds, and in all sorts of attire. Some of them were just like the peasants at home or those I saw coming through France and Germany, with short jackets and round hats and home-made trousers; but others were very picturesque. The women looked pretty, except when you got near them, but they were very clumsy about the waist. They had all full white sleeves of some kind or other, and most of them had big belts with a lot of strips of something fluttering from them like the dresses in a ballet, but of course there were petticoats under them. The strangest figures we saw were the Slovaks, who wore big cow-boy hats, great baggy dirty-white trousers, white linen shirts, and enormous heavy leather belts, nearly a foot wide, all studded over with brass nails. They wore high boots, with their trousers tucked into them, and had long black hair and heavy black moustaches.

It was on the dark side of twilight when we got to Bistritz, which is a very interesting old place. Being practically on the frontier—for the Borgo Pass leads from it into Bukovina—it has had a very stormy existence, and it certainly shows marks of it. Fifty years ago a series of great fires took place, which made terrible havoc on five separate occasions. At the very beginning of the seventeenth century it underwent a siege of three weeks and lost 13,000 people, the casualties of war proper being assisted by famine and disease.

Count Dracula had directed me to go to the Golden Krone Hotel, which I found, to my great delight, to be thoroughly old-fashioned, for of course I wanted to see all I could of the ways of the country. I was evidently expected, for when I got near the door I faced a cheery-looking elderly woman in the usual peasant dress—white undergarment with long double apron, front, and back, of coloured stuff fitting almost too tight for modesty. When I came close she bowed and said, “The Herr Englishman?” “Yes,” I said, “Jonathan Harker.” She smiled, and gave some message to an elderly man in white shirt-sleeves, who had followed her to the door. He went, but immediately returned with a letter:—

“My Friend.—Welcome to the Carpathians. I am anxiously expecting you. Sleep well to-night. At three to-morrow the diligence will start for Bukovina; a place on it is kept for you. At the Borgo Pass my carriage will await you and will bring you to me. I trust that your journey from London has been a happy one, and that you will enjoy your stay in my beautiful land.

“Your friend,
Dracula.”

A key supporting theme in this passage is __________.

Possible Answers:

the relationship between nature and humanity

the importance of the printing press

how individuals react to locations with which they are not familiar

how individuals interacted in the late 18th century

the fear of meeting people one has never met

Correct answer:

how individuals react to locations with which they are not familiar

Explanation:

The text readily suggests that places, both familiar and unfamiliar, are an important concept for us. In particular, it suggests that places we don't know are often depicted as different because of their foreign nature. The other options are not themes of this passage.

Example Question #41 : Literature Passages

Adapted from “Our Amateur Poets, No. III. — William Ellery Channing” in The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. XI: Literary Criticism by Edgar Allan Poe (1843, ed. 1902)

In speaking of Mr. William Ellery Channing, who has just published a very neat little volume of poems, we feel the necessity of employing the indefinite rather than the definite article. He is a, and by no means the, William Ellery Channing. He is only the son of the great essayist deceased. He is just such a person, in despite of his clarum et venerabile nomen, as Pindar would have designated by the significant term τις. It may be said in his favor that nobody ever heard of him. His book contains about sixty-three things, which he calls poems, and which he no doubt seriously supposes so to be. They are full of all kinds of mistakes, of which the most important is that of their having been printed at all. They are not precisely English; perhaps they are Channingese. We may convey some general idea of them by two foreign terms not in common use—the Italian pavoneggiarsi, “to strut like a peacock,” and the German word for “sky-rocketing,” schwarmerei. They are more preposterous, in a word, than any poems except those of the author of “Sam Patch;” for we presume we are right (are we not?) in taking it for granted that the author of “Sam Patch” is the very worst of all the wretched poets that ever existed upon earth.

In spite, however, of the customary phrase about a man’s “making a fool of himself,” we doubt if any one was ever a fool of his own free will and accord. A poet, therefore, should not always be taken too strictly to task. He should be treated with leniency, and, even when damned, should be damned with respect. Nobility of descent, too, should be allowed its privileges not more in social life than in letters. The son of a great author cannot be handled too tenderly by the critical Jack Ketch. Mr. Channing must be hung, that’s true. He must be hung in terrorem—and for this there is no help under the sun; but then we shall do him all manner of justice, and observe every species of decorum, and be especially careful of his feelings, and hang him gingerly and gracefully, with a silken cord, as the Spaniards hang their grandees of the blue blood, their nobles of the sangre azula.

Poe suggests that we must use the indefinite article a rather than the definite article the for William Ellery Channing because __________.

Possible Answers:

he is not well-known

he is not a significant person owing to his parentage

there is nothing in his work to make him famous

he is not a poet

Correct answer:

there is nothing in his work to make him famous

Explanation:

Poe suggests that Channing's work in this volume of poems is not going to make him famous for his writing, and so he will be a William Ellery Channing rather than the William Ellery Channing.

Example Question #21 : Identifying And Analyzing Supporting Ideas In Literature Passages

Adapted from “Our Amateur Poets, No. III. — William Ellery Channing” in The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. XI: Literary Criticism by Edgar Allan Poe (1843, ed. 1902)

In speaking of Mr. William Ellery Channing, who has just published a very neat little volume of poems, we feel the necessity of employing the indefinite rather than the definite article. He is a, and by no means the, William Ellery Channing. He is only the son of the great essayist deceased. He is just such a person, in despite of his clarum et venerabile nomen, as Pindar would have designated by the significant term τις. It may be said in his favor that nobody ever heard of him. His book contains about sixty-three things, which he calls poems, and which he no doubt seriously supposes so to be. They are full of all kinds of mistakes, of which the most important is that of their having been printed at all. They are not precisely English; perhaps they are Channingese. We may convey some general idea of them by two foreign terms not in common use—the Italian pavoneggiarsi, “to strut like a peacock,” and the German word for “sky-rocketing,” schwarmerei. They are more preposterous, in a word, than any poems except those of the author of “Sam Patch;” for we presume we are right (are we not?) in taking it for granted that the author of “Sam Patch” is the very worst of all the wretched poets that ever existed upon earth.

In spite, however, of the customary phrase about a man’s “making a fool of himself,” we doubt if any one was ever a fool of his own free will and accord. A poet, therefore, should not always be taken too strictly to task. He should be treated with leniency, and, even when damned, should be damned with respect. Nobility of descent, too, should be allowed its privileges not more in social life than in letters. The son of a great author cannot be handled too tenderly by the critical Jack Ketch. Mr. Channing must be hung, that’s true. He must be hung in terrorem—and for this there is no help under the sun; but then we shall do him all manner of justice, and observe every species of decorum, and be especially careful of his feelings, and hang him gingerly and gracefully, with a silken cord, as the Spaniards hang their grandees of the blue blood, their nobles of the sangre azula.

Given the context, "Jack Ketch" most likely refers to __________.

Possible Answers:

a reader

another writer

a famous executioner

a literary critic

Correct answer:

a famous executioner

Explanation:

The rest of the paragraph refers to Channing being metaphorically hanged by critics (such as Poe), and given that language and the fact that Poe modifies the name with "critical," the name "Jack Ketch" likely refers to a famous executioner of the time.

Example Question #2 : Passage Reasoning In Contemporary Life Passages

Adapted from "The Writing of Essays" in Certain Personal Matters by H.G. Wells (1901)

The art of the essayist is so simple, so entirely free from canons of criticism, and withal so delightful, that one must needs wonder why all men are not essayists. Perhaps people do not know how easy it is. Or perhaps beginners are misled. Rightly taught it may be learnt in a brief ten minutes or so, what art there is in it. And all the rest is as easy as wandering among woodlands on a bright morning in the spring.

Then sit you down if you would join us, taking paper, pens, and ink; and mark this, your pen is a matter of vital moment. For every pen writes its own sort of essay, and pencils also after their kind. The ink perhaps may have its influence too, and the paper; but paramount is the pen. This, indeed, is the fundamental secret of essay-writing. Wed any man to his proper pen, and the delights of composition and the birth of an essay are assured. Only many of us wander through the earth and never meet with her—futile and lonely men.

And, of all pens, your quill for essays that are literature. There is a subtle informality, a delightful easiness, perhaps even a faint immorality essentially literary, about the quill. The quill is rich in suggestion and quotation. There are quills that would quote you Montaigne and Horace in the hands of a trades-union delegate. And those quirky, idle noises this pen makes are delightful, and would break your easy fluency with wit. All the classical essayists wrote with a quill, and Addison used the most expensive kind the Government purchased. And the beginning of the inferior essay was the dawn of the cheap steel pen.

Wells suggests that the choice of writing instrument is important because __________.

Possible Answers:

each writing instrument writes its own kind of essay

a good essay cannot be written with a typewriter

one cannot write without a writing instrument

pens are better than pencils when it comes to writing

Correct answer:

each writing instrument writes its own kind of essay

Explanation:

Wells suggests that an essayist will write a different essay depending on the pen or pencil he uses, no doubt due to the difference in result that each instrument creates on the page and their ease of use. (Pencils do not have to be dipped in ink wells, whereas some pens would.)

Example Question #1 : Making Inferences In Humanities Passages

Adapted from "The Writing of Essays" in Certain Personal Matters by H.G. Wells (1901)

The art of the essayist is so simple, so entirely free from canons of criticism, and withal so delightful, that one must needs wonder why all men are not essayists. Perhaps people do not know how easy it is. Or perhaps beginners are misled. Rightly taught it may be learnt in a brief ten minutes or so, what art there is in it. And all the rest is as easy as wandering among woodlands on a bright morning in the spring.

Then sit you down if you would join us, taking paper, pens, and ink; and mark this, your pen is a matter of vital moment. For every pen writes its own sort of essay, and pencils also after their kind. The ink perhaps may have its influence too, and the paper; but paramount is the pen. This, indeed, is the fundamental secret of essay-writing. Wed any man to his proper pen, and the delights of composition and the birth of an essay are assured. Only many of us wander through the earth and never meet with her—futile and lonely men.

And, of all pens, your quill for essays that are literature. There is a subtle informality, a delightful easiness, perhaps even a faint immorality essentially literary, about the quill. The quill is rich in suggestion and quotation. There are quills that would quote you Montaigne and Horace in the hands of a trades-union delegate. And those quirky, idle noises this pen makes are delightful, and would break your easy fluency with wit. All the classical essayists wrote with a quill, and Addison used the most expensive kind the Government purchased. And the beginning of the inferior essay was the dawn of the cheap steel pen.

In the third paragraph, Wells says that a quill pen "would quote you Montaigne and Horace in the hands of a trades-union delegate" in order to imply that __________.

Possible Answers:

an essay written with a quill pen simply reads better

bad writers might become worse when they use quill pens

the necessity of writing slowly with a quill pen leads a writer to greater eloquence

the quill pen inspires the writer to use quotations in his work

Correct answer:

the necessity of writing slowly with a quill pen leads a writer to greater eloquence

Explanation:

Because it requires more time to write with a quill, which must be dipped in ink, than with a pen that contains its own ink, Wells is most likely suggesting that a writer using one is capable of greater eloquence because the writer is forced to take his time.

Example Question #411 : Humanities

Adapted from "The Writing of Essays" in Certain Personal Matters by H.G. Wells (1901)

The art of the essayist is so simple, so entirely free from canons of criticism, and withal so delightful, that one must needs wonder why all men are not essayists. Perhaps people do not know how easy it is. Or perhaps beginners are misled. Rightly taught it may be learnt in a brief ten minutes or so, what art there is in it. And all the rest is as easy as wandering among woodlands on a bright morning in the spring.

Then sit you down if you would join us, taking paper, pens, and ink; and mark this, your pen is a matter of vital moment. For every pen writes its own sort of essay, and pencils also after their kind. The ink perhaps may have its influence too, and the paper; but paramount is the pen. This, indeed, is the fundamental secret of essay-writing. Wed any man to his proper pen, and the delights of composition and the birth of an essay are assured. Only many of us wander through the earth and never meet with her—futile and lonely men.

And, of all pens, your quill for essays that are literature. There is a subtle informality, a delightful easiness, perhaps even a faint immorality essentially literary, about the quill. The quill is rich in suggestion and quotation. There are quills that would quote you Montaigne and Horace in the hands of a trades-union delegate. And those quirky, idle noises this pen makes are delightful, and would break your easy fluency with wit. All the classical essayists wrote with a quill, and Addison used the most expensive kind the Government purchased. And the beginning of the inferior essay was the dawn of the cheap steel pen.

Wells brings up Addison most likely because __________.

Possible Answers:

Addison's lesser essays are not written with an expensive pen

Addison is an essayist that Wells admires

Addison is someone the reader is not expected to be familiar with

Addison knew how to choose the best pens

Correct answer:

Addison is an essayist that Wells admires

Explanation:

While Wells' readers would likely know who Addison is, modern readers of Wells' essay may not. Given the context surrounding Wells' reference, it is likely that Addison is an essayist that Wells would consider a good example of the sort of writer that the reader can become with the right pen.

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