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

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Example Question #21 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In History Passages

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

As great and good in peace as he was great and good in war, King Alfred never rested from his labors to improve his people. He loved to talk with clever men and travelers from foreign countries and to write down what they told him for his people to read. He had studied Latin after learning to read English, and now another of his labors was to translate Latin books into the English-Saxon tongue, that his people might be interested and improved by their contents. He made just laws, that they might live more happily and freely; he turned away all partial judges, that no wrong might be done them; he was so careful of their property, and punished robbers so severely that it was a common thing to say that under the great King Alfred, garlands of golden chains and jewels might have hung across the streets, and no man would have touched one. He founded schools, and he patiently heard causes himself in his Court of Justice. The great desires of his heart were, to do right to all his subjects, and to leave England better, wiser, and happier in all ways than he found it. His industry in these efforts was quite astonishing. Every day he divided into certain portions, and in each portion devoted himself to a certain pursuit. That he might divide his time exactly, he had wax torches or candles made, which were all of the same size, were notched across at regular distances, and were always kept burning. Thus, as the candles burnt down, he divided the day into notches, almost as accurately as we now divide it into hours upon the clock. But when the candles were first invented, it was found that the wind and draughts of air, blowing into the palace through the doors and windows and through the chinks in the walls, caused them to gutter and burn unequally. To prevent this, the King had them put into cases formed of wood and white horn. And these were the first lanterns ever made in England.

All this time, he was afflicted with a terrible unknown disease, which caused him violent and frequent pain that nothing could relieve. He bore it, as he had borne all the troubles of his life, like a brave good man, until he was fifty-three years old; and then, having reigned thirty years, he died. He died in the year nine hundred and one; but, long ago as that is, his fame, and the love and gratitude with which his subjects regarded him, are freshly remembered to the present hour.

The underlined word “just” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

harsh

illegal

complicated

only 

fair

Correct answer:

fair

Explanation:

The word “just” means fair and equal; it can also mean only. When it is used to mean fair and equal, it is usually used to describe laws or legal things. However, if you did not know this, it would be necessary to figure out the correct answer from context. The author says “He made just laws, that they might live more happily and freely; he turned away all partial judges, that no wrong might be done them." If the laws he made were “just,” and they made people “live more happily and freely,” it would not make sense for “just” to mean “harsh." Nothing in the passage suggests that the laws were "complicated" or "illegal," and "only" clearly doesn't work in the sentence; we can't say that Alfred made "only laws," as he appears to have made many other changes while king of England. The only answer that makes sense is “fair.”

Example Question #17 : Context Dependent Meanings Of Words And Phrases In Narrative Social Science Passages

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

As great and good in peace as he was great and good in war, King Alfred never rested from his labors to improve his people. He loved to talk with clever men and travelers from foreign countries and to write down what they told him for his people to read. He had studied Latin after learning to read English, and now another of his labors was to translate Latin books into the English-Saxon tongue, that his people might be interested and improved by their contents. He made just laws, that they might live more happily and freely; he turned away all partial judges, that no wrong might be done them; he was so careful of their property, and punished robbers so severely that it was a common thing to say that under the great King Alfred, garlands of golden chains and jewels might have hung across the streets, and no man would have touched one. He founded schools, and he patiently heard causes himself in his Court of Justice. The great desires of his heart were, to do right to all his subjects, and to leave England better, wiser, and happier in all ways than he found it. His industry in these efforts was quite astonishing. Every day he divided into certain portions, and in each portion devoted himself to a certain pursuit. That he might divide his time exactly, he had wax torches or candles made, which were all of the same size, were notched across at regular distances, and were always kept burning. Thus, as the candles burnt down, he divided the day into notches, almost as accurately as we now divide it into hours upon the clock. But when the candles were first invented, it was found that the wind and draughts of air, blowing into the palace through the doors and windows and through the chinks in the walls, caused them to gutter and burn unequally. To prevent this, the King had them put into cases formed of wood and white horn. And these were the first lanterns ever made in England.

All this time, he was afflicted with a terrible unknown disease, which caused him violent and frequent pain that nothing could relieve. He bore it, as he had borne all the troubles of his life, like a brave good man, until he was fifty-three years old; and then, having reigned thirty years, he died. He died in the year nine hundred and one; but, long ago as that is, his fame, and the love and gratitude with which his subjects regarded him, are freshly remembered to the present hour.

The underlined word “labors” most nearly means

Possible Answers:

failures

mistakes

conversations

efforts

feelings

Correct answer:

efforts

Explanation:

In context, the author says that “King Alfred never rested from his labors to improve his people.” The word “labors” means work, projects, or efforts. If you did not know this, it would be necessary to consider what the author says after this excerpt. He describes how Alfred “loved to talk with clever men and travelers from foreign countries and to write down what they told him" and how Alfred "had studied Latin after learning to read English." These all sound like things that one has to work at or put effort into. To provide further help, a “conversation” is a casual instance of two or more people talking with one another.

Example Question #31 : How To Determine The Meaning Of A Word From Its Context In A Nonfiction Passage

The stock market crashed on October 29, 1929, which officially began the Great Depression in the United States. Starting on the above date (often called "Black Tuesday"), unemployment rapidly rose, causing economic hardships for many workers and their families. President Herbert Hoover tried to halt the Great Depression, but his numerous attempts were futile. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt took the presidential office in 1932, he enacted the "New Deal" to offer work relief for many displaced American workers. All of the "New Deal" programs were focused on the 3 Rs: relief for the poor and unemployed, recovery from the economic downturn, and reform efforts to prevent a second Great Depression. The Great Depression ended in 1941 when the United States entered World War II.

What is the meaning of the underlined word "futile"?

Possible Answers:

Incapable of producing positive effects

Successful in every aspect of its implementation

Applauded by the greater public

Caused by a lack of foresight

Subject to approval by the House of Representatives

Correct answer:

Incapable of producing positive effects

Explanation:

"Futile" is defined as pointless and ineffective. We can determine the meaning of "futile" based on its surrounding context in the sentence, "President Herbert Hoover tried to halt the Great Depression, but his numerous attempts were futile." The inclusion of "but" in the sentence conveys to the reader that President Hoover did not successfully halt the Great Depression.

Example Question #291 : Ssat Elementary Level Reading Comprehension

It has often been asserted by modern historians that the Czech Republic ought to be known as the Republic of Bohemia and Moravia. These are the two regions of Europe that constitute the modern Czech country. The problem is that each of these names has a loose association with the short-lived reign of Hitler and the Nazis in what was then called Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia was also the name of the country in the Communist Era, until Slovakia voted to separate from the Czech Republic. So it has come to pass that the Czech people are left with a name that is to them, at least, somewhat unsatisfying. Perhaps several generations from now, as the horrors of World War Two fade further from European memory, the better names of the Czech region will once more emerge into prominence.

The underlined word "constitute" most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

outline

dormant

separate

make-up

break-up

Correct answer:

make-up

Explanation:

In context, the author is talking about how the regions of Bohemia and Moravia "make up" the Czech Republic. You ought to be able to infer that "constitute" means make-up, because the author tells you that Bohemia and Moravia are in the Czech Republic, and that they are of sufficiently significant so as to give the name to the whole nation. "Outline" means draw around, describe; "dormant" means asleep, inactive.

Example Question #292 : Ssat Elementary Level Reading Comprehension

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

Thebes was an ancient city in Greece, founded by Cadmus, a Phoenician, though of Egyptian parentage. Sailing from the coast of Phoenicia, he arrived in Greece, and built the city, calling it Thebes, from the city of that name in Egypt. The prince is credited with the invention of sixteen letters of the Greek Alphabet. Athens was the capital of Attica, founded by Cecrops, an Egyptian. It was the seat of learning and the arts, and has produced some of the most celebrated warriors, politicians, orators, poets, and sculptors in the world. Since the liberation of Greece from the Ottoman Empire, Athens has been chosen as its capital, and is still a considerable town adorned with splendid ruins of the beautiful buildings it once possessed.

The underlined word, "splendid," most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

broken

bold

impressive

imperfect

incredulous

Correct answer:

impressive

Explanation:

In context the author is talking about the "beautiful buildings" and "splendid ruins" that can be found in the city of Athens. He says "Athens has been chosen as its capital, and is it still a considerable town, adorned with splendid ruins of the beautiful buildings it once possessed." If you are "adorned" with something, that means made more beautiful, decorated, so the ruins are unlikely to be "broken," "imperfect," or "incredulous." "Bold" is a possibility, but from the context, "impressive" is a much more reasonable answer. To provide further help, "imperfect" means not perfect; "incredulous" means disbelieving; "bold" means brave.

Example Question #293 : Ssat Elementary Level Reading Comprehension

Egypt

Molly Kubik, 2016

Egypt is a country in northern Africa.  Egypt is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, the Red Sea to the east, Sudan to the south, and Libya to the west.  The capital of Egypt is Cairo.  Cairo is the largest city in Africa, and has been a very important place throughout Egypt's history.  Cairo is a modern city.  If you visit, you will see large buildings and many cars.  Egypt has a very rich history.  Long ago, the ancient Egyptians were a very advanced civilization.  They were very intelligent people who built pyramids, invented ways to farm in the desert, invented a way of writing, and set up many schools.  Ancient Egyptian writing was very advanced.  Ancient Egyptians used hieroglyphics to write, which are small pictures that tell a written story.  Although is very difficult to live in the desert, the ancient Egyptians were very resourceful and were able to create a prosperous civilization.  Like the ancient Egyptians and modern day Egyptians mainly live near the Nile River.  Modern day Egypt sometimes has problems.  Over 82 million people live in Egypt.  Some people live in poverty.  Many poor people need jobs, homes, and education.  There have been problems with wars.  Egypt is working very hard to solve these problems.  They are working hard to make their schools better, and are helping students to learn more.  Egypt has a wonderful history, and it will have a great future too because people are working hard to make Egypt a great place.

Based on the passage, what does the term "prosperous" mean?

Possible Answers:

Ancient

Poor

Successful

Modern

Correct answer:

Successful

Explanation:

Best answer is "successful." We know that the Ancient Egyptians were successful because they built an advanced civilization in the desert. The reader might have answered "intelligent", because the passage states that the Egyptians were intelligent, but this is not the best synonym of "prosperous."

Example Question #31 : Evaluative Understanding In Nonfiction Passages

Adapted from Early European History by Hutton Webster (1917)

History cannot easily go back beyond written records. These alone will preserve a full and accurate account of man's achievements. Manuscripts and books form one class of written records. The old Babylonians used tablets of soft clay, on which signs were impressed with a metal instrument. The tablets were then baked hard in an oven. The Egyptians made a kind of paper out of the papyrus, a plant native to the Nile valley. The Greeks and Romans at first used papyrus, but later they employed the more lasting parchment prepared from sheepskin. Paper seems to have been a Chinese invention. It was introduced into Europe by the Arabs during the twelfth century of our era.

History, based on written records, begins in different countries at varying dates. A few manuscripts and inscriptions found in Egypt date back three or four thousand years before Christ. The annals of Babylonia are scarcely less ancient. Trustworthy records in China and India do not extend beyond 1000 B.C. For the Greeks and Romans the commencement of the historic period must be placed about 750 B.C. The inhabitants of northern Europe did not come into the light of history until about the opening of the Christian era.

The underlined word “employed” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

hired 

fired 

served 

used 

worked 

Correct answer:

used 

Explanation:

In context, the author is discussing the different ways in which different groups of people used materials to keep written records. The author says “The Greeks and Romans at first used papyrus, but later they employed the more lasting parchment prepared from sheepskin.” From this sentence, you learn that the Greeks and Romans first “used” one thing, and then they “employed” another, so “employed” means "used."

Example Question #6 : 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 “extensive” most nearly mean?

Possible Answers:

Withdrawn 

Slight

Minuscule 

Timid

Massive

Correct answer:

Massive

Explanation:

“Extensive” means very large, extending over a large space. The correct answer is therefore “massive” which also means very large. To further help you, "minuscule" means very small; "slight" means slim and slender; "timid" means shy. "Withdrawn" can describe an action or a person. When it describes an action, "withdrawn" means taken back; when it describes a person "withdrawn" means shy, quiet, restrained

Example Question #2 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In Contemporary Life Passages

"Soccer" by Daniel Morrison (2014)

Soccer is considered by some Americans to be a European and Latin American sport. For numerous reasons, the sport has struggled to take hold professionally in the United States, but there is growing participation in the sport at the youth level. This can probably be attributed to the relative dangers faced by those playing soccer and those playing America’s traditional favorite youth sport—American football.

Young children who play American football are at high risk of several catastrophic injuries such as concussions, fractures and spinal damage. The universal concern among parents to protect the health of their children has lead many to encourage their child to take up soccer as opposed to American football. If this trend continues, which it almost certainly will as our society becomes more aware of the degree of damage done by repeated collisions in American football, it will not be long before the popularity of soccer spreads upwards to the professional level.

The underlined word “catastrophic” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

highly contagious

unfairly dismissive

simply tragic

extremely damaging

very unforgiving

Correct answer:

extremely damaging

Explanation:

The author mentions the fear of “catastrophic injuries” as something that encourages parents to push their children towards playing soccer over American football. The author also lists what these injuries are: “concussions, fractures, and spinal damage.” We may therefore conclude that “catastrophic” means extremely damaging.

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