SSAT Elementary Level Reading : How to Determine the Meaning of a Word from Its Context in a Nonfiction Passage

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SSAT Elementary Level Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #21 : How To Determine The Meaning Of A Word From Its Context In A Nonfiction Passage

Adapted from A Catechism of Familiar Things: Their History and the Events Which Led to Their Discovery by the Benziger Brothers (1881)

Iron is one of the most useful and abundant metals, being found in all mineral earths, stones, plants, and animal fluids. Iron is found in great masses, in various states, in the bowels of the earth; it is usually, however, compounded with stone, from which it is separated by the action of fire. In some parts of the world, whole mountains are formed of iron; among these may be mentioned the Pilot Knob and the Iron Mountain, in Missouri, being unsurpassed by anything of the kind found elsewhere.

It is hard, fusible, not very malleable, but extremely ductile, and very tenacious; it is of a greyish color, and nearly eight times heavier than water. Without iron, society could make no progress in the cultivation of the ground, in mechanical arts or trades, in architecture or navigation; it is therefore of the greatest use to man.

The underlined word “abundant” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

concealed

morose

coherent

plentiful

fortunate

Correct answer:

plentiful

Explanation:

In context, the author is talking about the great quantity, or the large amount of iron that can be found within the earth. Take, for example, “Iron is one of the most useful and abundant metals; being found in all mineral earths," or “iron is found in great masses, in various states, in the bowels of the earth." From the author’s emphasis on the large amount of iron on and in the Earth, you can deduce that “abundant” means plentiful or existing in large amounts. To provide further help, “coherent” means able to be understood; “morose” means sad, depressed, and serious; “fortunate” means lucky; and “concealed” means hidden.

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

Adapted from "Sea-slugs and Cuttlefish" by Charles Darwin in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

I was much interested, on several occasions, by watching the habits of a cuttlefish. Although common in the pools of water left by the retiring tide, these animals were not easily caught. By means of their long arms and suckers, they could drag their bodies into very narrow crevices; and when thus fixed, it required great force to remove them. At other times they darted, with the rapidity of an arrow, from one side of the pool to the other, at the same instant discoloring the water with a dark chestnut-brown ink. These animals also escape detection by a very extraordinary, chameleon-like power of changing their color. They appear to vary their tints according to the nature of the ground over which they pass: when in deep water, their general shade was brownish-purple, but when placed on the land, or in shallow water, this dark tint changed into one of a yellowish green.

This cuttlefish displayed its chameleon-like power both during the act of swimming and whilst remaining stationary at the bottom. I was amused by the various arts to escape detection used by one individual, which seemed fully aware that I was watching it. Remaining for a time motionless, it would then stealthily advance an inch or two, like a cat after a mouse; sometimes changing its color, it proceeded, till having gained a deeper part, it darted away, leaving a dusky train of ink to hide the hole into which it had crawled.

The underlined word “motionless” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

still

rapid

underwater

obvious

loose

Correct answer:

still

Explanation:

In context, the author says, "Remaining for a time motionless, it would then stealthily advance an inch or two, like a cat after a mouse." The fact that it remains “motionless” and then “stealthily advances an inch or two” suggests that it is remaining still and then “slowly moving forward an inch or two.” This is also supported by the fact that the cuttlefish is trying to avoid being seen. To provide further help, “rapid” means happening very quickly, and “jumpy” means nervous and anxious.

Example Question #21 : How To Determine The Meaning Of A Word From Its Context In A Nonfiction Passage

Adapted from "America the Old World" by L. Agassiz in Wonders of Earth, Sea, and Sky (1902, ed. Edward Singleton Holden)

There is, perhaps, no part of the world where the early geological periods can be studied with so much ease and precision as in the United States. Along their northern borders, between Canada and the United States, there runs the low line of hills known as the Laurentian Hills. Insignificant in height, nowhere rising more than fifteen hundred or two thousand feet above the level of the sea, these are nevertheless some of the first mountains that broke the uniform level of the earth's surface and lifted themselves above the waters. Their low stature, as compared with that of other more lofty mountain ranges, is in accordance with an invariable rule, by which the relative age of mountains may be estimated. The oldest mountains are the lowest, while the younger and more recent ones tower above their elders, and are usually more torn and dislocated also. So it is known the Alps, Rockies, and Himalayas are considerably younger than the Appalachian mountains.

The underlined word “lofty” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

high

flat

short

ashamed

proud

Correct answer:

high

Explanation:

The word “lofty” can mean either high above the ground, noble, or proud. To determine the correct answer, you have to consider the context, or the information and phrasing in the passage around where the word is used. The author says, “Their low stature, as compared with that of other more lofty mountain ranges . . ." So, the “low stature” of one set of mountains is compared with the “lofty” stature of another set of mountains. Therefore, “lofty” must mean the opposite of “low,” and so the correct answer is “high.”

Example Question #4 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In History Passages

Adapted from Early European History by Hutton Webster (1917)

The Phoenicians were a Syrian people whose country was a narrow stretch of coast, about one hundred and twenty miles in length, seldom more than twelve miles in width, between the Lebanon Mountains and the sea. This tiny land could not support a large population. As the Phoenicians increased in numbers, they were obliged to betake themselves to the sea. The Lebanon cedars furnished soft, white wood for shipbuilding, and the deeply indented coast offered excellent harbors. Thus, the Phoenicians became preeminent sailors. Their great cities, Sidon and Tyre, established colonies throughout the Mediterranean and had an extensive commerce with every region of the known world.

What does the underlined word “seldom” most nearly mean?

Possible Answers:

Often

Rarely

Menacingly

Frequently

Much

Correct answer:

Rarely

Explanation:

The author describes how the Phoenicians lived in a very small land and then goes on to describe the exact measurements of their territory. "Their country was a narrow stretch of coast, about one hundred and twenty miles in length, seldom more than twelve miles in width. . .” If we know that the author wants to show us how small the land is, it makes the most sense that "seldom" means rarely. To further help you, "frequently" and "often" both mean happening all the time; "menacingly" means dangerously or scarily.

Example Question #5 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In History Passages

Adapted from Early European History by Hutton Webster (1917)

The Phoenicians were a Syrian people whose country was a narrow stretch of coast, about one hundred and twenty miles in length, seldom more than twelve miles in width, between the Lebanon Mountains and the sea. This tiny land could not support a large population. As the Phoenicians increased in numbers, they were obliged to betake themselves to the sea. The Lebanon cedars furnished soft, white wood for shipbuilding, and the deeply indented coast offered excellent harbors. Thus, the Phoenicians became preeminent sailors. Their great cities, Sidon and Tyre, established colonies throughout the Mediterranean and had an extensive commerce with every region of the known world.

What does the underlined word “established” most nearly mean?

Possible Answers:

Ruined

Encouraged

Set up

Destroyed

Urged

Correct answer:

Set up

Explanation:

The word “established” means set up. If you were not aware of this you would have to read in-context to figure out the meaning. The author tells us that the great cities of Sidon and Tyre “established” colonies in the Mediterranean and traded throughout the world. A "colony" is a group of people who go and live in a new place, but stay ruled by their home country. America used to be a colony of Britain. Since the people of Sidon and Tyre were traveling throughout the Mediterranean and trading with various people, it makes sense that they would set up, or "establish," colonies rather than destroy them. To further help you, "ruined" means made much worse; "encouraged" and "urged" both mean to try very hard to make someone do something.

Example Question #22 : How To Determine The Meaning Of A Word From Its Context In A Nonfiction Passage

Adapted from A Catechism of Familiar Things: Their History and the Events Which Led to Their Discovery (1881) by the Benziger Brothers.

The olive tree was a great favorite with the ancient Greeks, and scarcely an ancient custom existed in which the olive was not in some way associated: at their marriages and festivals, all parts of their dwellings, especially the doors, were ornamented with them, and the same custom prevails at the present day, both in public and private rejoicings. It was also scarcely less a favorite with the Romans, although it was not held in the same sacred light as amongst the Greeks. The olive-branch has likewise been universally considered the emblem of plenty, and as such, is found on the coins of those countries of which it is not a native.

The underlined word “dwellings” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

Horses. 

Animals. 

Homes.

Harbors.

Forests. 

Correct answer:

Homes.

Explanation:

A “dwelling” is a home or where something or someone lives. Assuming you did not know this, it would become necessary to solve for the meaning of the word using contextual clues. The author says, "all parts of their dwellings, especially the doors, were ornamented with them." The fact that “dwellings” have “doors” tells you that the answer is "homes." “Ornamented” means decorated with, which is also a clue as people do not usually decorate their “forests,” “horses,” “animals,” or “harbors.”

Example Question #51 : Isee Lower Level (Grades 5 6) Reading Comprehension

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

I am going to take you to the top of the highest pyramid and I am going to ask that you imagine yourself possessed of the eyes of a hawk. Way, way off, in the distance, far beyond the yellow sands of the desert, you will see something green and shimmering. It is a valley situated between two rivers. It is the land of mystery and wonder which the Greeks called Mesopotamia—the "country between the rivers."

The names of the two rivers are the Euphrates and the Tigris. They begin their course amidst the snows of the mountains of Armenia and slowly they flow through the southern plain until they reach the muddy banks of the Persian gulf. They perform a very useful service. They turn the arid regions of Western Asia into a fertile garden.

The valley of the Nile had attracted people because it had offered them food upon fairly easy terms. The "land between the rivers" was popular for the same reason. It was a country full of promise and both the inhabitants of the northern mountains and the tribes which roamed through the southern deserts tried to claim this territory as their own and most exclusive possession. The constant rivalry between the mountaineers and the desert-nomads led to endless warfare. Only the strongest and the bravest could hope to survive, and that will explain why Mesopotamia became the home of very strong people.

The underlined word “arid” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

dry

plentiful

stifling

frosty 

wet

Correct answer:

dry

Explanation:

The word “arid” means dry and not receiving much rain. Assuming you did not know this, you would have to try to figure out the meaning from context. The author says, that the Tigris and Euphrates rivers "turn the arid regions of Western Asia into a fertile garden.” If the regions were previously “arid” and have been turned by water into a “fertile garden,” then the word “arid” must mean the opposite of “wet” and “fertile,” so “dry” is the best possible answer choice. To provide further help, “fertile” means able to produce a lot of food or life; “plentiful” means having a lot or more than enough of something; “frosty” means cold; and “stifling” means uncomfortably hot.

Example Question #7 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In History Passages

"What Do We Remember About History?" by Daniel Morrison (2014)

Henry the Eighth is most commonly remembered for the unique fact that he took six different wives over the course of his lifetime. There is even a famous ditty uttered by English schoolchildren to help them remember the fate of his various wives: “Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.”

However, during Henry’s rule, England permanently ended its long-standing relationship with the Catholic church and became forever a Protestant kingdom. This break has had long-felt repercussions up to and including the present day. Yet, in spite of the deep importance of Henry’s decision to leave the family of Catholic nations, he is best known for taking six wives. This difference between importance of actions and nature of popular remembrance should tell us something about the collective understanding of history—it is often the trivial and merely interesting that survives, whilst the significant but less fascinating can fade from memory.

The underlined word “trivial” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

implausible

inherent

coherent

compulsive

insignificant

Correct answer:

insignificant

Explanation:

In context, the author says, “it is often the trivial and merely interesting that survives, whilst the significant but less fascinating can fade from memory.” Here, the “trivial and merely interesting” is contrasted against the “significant but less fascinating.” So, if “fascinating” and “interesting” are two matching terms, than “trivial” and “significant” must be opposite to one another. You can therefore determine that “trivial” must mean insignificant or not important. To provide further help, “coherent” means able to be understood; “compulsive” means forced to do; “implausible” means hard to believe or unlikely; and “inherent” means natural.

Example Question #8 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In History Passages

"What Do We Remember About History?" by Daniel Morrison (2014)

Henry the Eighth is most commonly remembered for the unique fact that he took six different wives over the course of his lifetime. There is even a famous ditty uttered by English schoolchildren to help them remember the fate of his various wives: “Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.”

However, during Henry’s rule, England permanently ended its long-standing relationship with the Catholic church and became forever a Protestant kingdom. This break has had long-felt repercussions up to and including the present day. Yet, in spite of the deep importance of Henry’s decision to leave the family of Catholic nations, he is best known for taking six wives. This difference between importance of actions and nature of popular remembrance should tell us something about the collective understanding of history—it is often the trivial and merely interesting that survives, whilst the significant but less fascinating can fade from memory.

The underlined word “repercussions” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

revolutions

corporations

celebrations

elevations

consequences 

Correct answer:

consequences 

Explanation:

In context, the author says, “This break has had long felt repercussions up to and including the present day. Yet, in spite of the deep importance . . ." Because what happened was of “deep importance” “up to and including the present day,” it is reasonable to determine that the break had long felt consequences. To provide further help, “consequences” are results of an action; “revolutions” are rebellions against someone’s control; “corporations” are large businesses owned by many people; and “elevations” are high places.  

Example Question #31 : Narrative Social Science Passages

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

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

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

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

The underlined word “late” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

existing

dead

replaced

arrived

delayed

Correct answer:

dead

Explanation:

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

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