SSAT Elementary Level Reading : How to Recognize and Analyze Main Ideas in Nonfiction Passages

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

varsity tutors app store varsity tutors android store

Example Questions

1 3 Next →

Example Question #21 : Nonfiction Passages

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.

What “useful” function do the Euphrates and Tigris rivers fulfill?

Possible Answers:

They allow trade to flourish up and down Western Asia.

They provide drinking water for the people of Egypt.

They provide drinking water for the slaves building the ancient pyramids.

They allow food to grow in the dry environments of Western Asia.

They allow the people of Armenia to travel easily to Persia.

Correct answer:

They allow food to grow in the dry environments of Western Asia.

Explanation:

In context, the author says, “They perform a very useful service. They turn the arid regions of Western Asia into a fertile garden.” If you understand that “arid” means dry and “fertile” means allowing food or life to grow in large amounts, then it is clear that the author is saying that the “useful function” of the two rivers is that they allow food to grow in the otherwise dry area of Western Asia. This can also be understood by reading the beginning of the next paragraph, where the author says “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.”

Example Question #22 : Nonfiction Passages

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

The Phoenicians were a Semitic tribe that at a very early age had settled along the shores of the Mediterranean. They had built themselves two well-fortified towns, Tyre and Sidon, and within a short time they had gained a monopoly of the trade of the western seas. Their ships went regularly to Greece and Italy and Spain and they even ventured beyond the straits of Gibraltar to visit the Scilly islands where they could buy tin. Wherever they went, they built themselves small trading stations, which they called colonies. Many of these were the origin of modern cities, such as Cadiz and Marseilles.

They bought and sold whatever promised to bring them a good profit and regarded a well-filled treasure chest the highest ideal of all good citizens. Notably, they rendered future generations one service of the greatest possible value: they helped develop the alphabet used in modern English.

The Phoenicians had been familiar with the art of writing, invented by the Sumerians. But they regarded the Sumerian method as a clumsy waste of time. They were practical business men and could not spend hours engraving two or three letters. They set to work and invented a new system of writing which was greatly superior to the old one. They borrowed a few pictures from the Egyptians and they simplified a number of the wedge-shaped figures of the Sumerians. They sacrificed the pretty looks of the older system for the advantage of speed and they reduced the thousands of different images to a short and handy alphabet of twenty-two letters.

In due course of time, this alphabet travelled across the Aegean Sea and entered Greece. The Greeks added a few letters of their own and carried the improved system to Italy. The Romans modified the figures somewhat and in turn taught them to the barbarians of western Europe. That is the reason why this is written in characters that are of Phoenician origin and not in the hieroglyphics of the Egyptians or in the nail-script of the Sumerians.

The main purpose of this passage is to __________.

Possible Answers:

highlight how far the Phoenicians ventured in pursuit of trade

highlight the Phoenician love of commerce

explain the Phoenician origin of the English alphabet

outline the origin of the English language

contrast Phoenician and Roman commerce

Correct answer:

explain the Phoenician origin of the English alphabet

Explanation:

All of these answer choices are related to the purpose and argument of this passage. However, only “explain the Phoenician origin of our alphabet” accurately reflects the author’s dual emphasis on detailing the history of the early Phoenicians as well as explaining how the Latin alphabet originated. The Phoenician emphasis on making money and trading seems to have encouraged them to create a simple and quick alphabet, which has then been handed down over the long expanse of time.

Example Question #23 : Nonfiction Passages

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

Henry the Eighth is most commonly remembered for the amusing and 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.

Which of these is the main argument of this essay?

Possible Answers:

Our understanding of history has been impacted by the manner in which certain details are passed down through the generations.

Our collective understanding of history is too often focused on the entertaining rather than the significant.

Henry the Eighth was a terrible king and an even worse man who treated women with disdain and carelessness.

The English decision to break with the Catholic church has been of great significance throughout English history.

Henry the Eighth is often misremembered in his own country.

Correct answer:

Our collective understanding of history is too often focused on the entertaining rather than the significant.

Explanation:

The main argument of this passage is best captured in the conclusion, where the author says, “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.” It is clear that the author believes “our collective understanding of history is too often focused on the entertaining rather than the significant.” Although the author does talk about Henry the Eighth for a long portion of the passage, Henry the Eighth is merely an example around which the author constructs his argument about history.

Example Question #3 : Identifying And Analyzing Supporting Ideas 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.

According to the author, what should Henry the Eighth be most remembered for?

Possible Answers:

Dying too young

Declaring war on France

Permanently establishing Protestantism in England

Misunderstanding history

Marrying six different wives

Correct answer:

Permanently establishing Protestantism in England

Explanation:

According to the author, Henry the Eighth should be most remembered for “permanently establishing Protestantism in England.” The author says “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.” You might have been tempted to say that Henry the Eighth should be remembered as “misunderstanding history," but the author is concerned that his readers and other modern-day people misunderstand history, not that Henry the Eighth did specifically.

Example Question #24 : Nonfiction Passages

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

Early in the tenth century a Viking by the name of Rollo had repeatedly attacked the coast of France. The king of France, too weak to resist these northern robbers, tried to bribe them into "being good." He offered them the province of Normandy, if they would promise to stop bothering the rest of his domains. Rollo accepted this bargain and became Duke of Normandy.

But his children remained interested in conquest. Across the channel, only a few hours away from the European mainland, they could see the white cliffs and the green fields of England. Poor England had passed through difficult days. For two hundred years it had been a Roman colony. After the Romans left, it had been conquered by the Angles and the Saxons, two German tribes from Schleswig. Next the Danes had taken the greater part of the country and had established the kingdom of Cnut. The Danes had been driven away and now (it was early in the eleventh century) another Saxon king, Edward the Confessor, was on the throne. But Edward was not expected to live long and he had no children. The circumstances favored the ambitious dukes of Normandy.

In 1066 Edward died. Immediately William of Normandy crossed the channel, defeated and killed Harold of Wessex (who had taken the crown) at the battle of Hastings, and proclaimed himself king of England.

In another story I have told you how in the year 800 a German chieftain had become a Roman Emperor. Now in the year 1066 the grandson of a Norse pirate was recognized as King of England. Why should we ever read fairy stories, when the truth of history is so much more interesting and entertaining?

The primary purpose of this essay is to __________.

Possible Answers:

ridicule other historians for making history boring and unenjoyable

introduce the life story of William of Normandy

describe the fate of England since the Romans left

show how the stories in history are often fascinating and enjoyable

outline the rise of the Normans in England

Correct answer:

show how the stories in history are often fascinating and enjoyable

Explanation:

The primary purpose of this essay is so that the author can show how fascinating and enjoyable history can be. The author reveals this purpose in the conclusion where he says “Why should we ever read fairy stories, when the truth of history is so much more interesting and entertaining?” Although much of the essay concerns itself with describing the fate of England, the rise of the Normans in England, and the life of William of Normandy, this story is merely used to illustrate why history can be so “interesting and entertaining.”

Example Question #25 : Nonfiction Passages

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

After bursting from the egg, it becomes a large worm or caterpillar of a yellowish-white color, (which is its first state); this caterpillar feeds on the leaves of the mulberry tree, until, arriving at maturity, it winds itself up in a silken bag or case, called a cocoon, about the size and shape of a pigeon's egg, and becomes a chrysalis, in which state it lies without signs of life. In about ten days it eats its way out of its case, a perfect butterfly, which lays a number of eggs and then dies. In the warmth of the summer weather, these eggs are hatched and become worms, as their parents did at first.

This passage is primarily about __________.

Possible Answers:

what a chrysalis is

the transition of a caterpillar into a butterfly

how a caterpillar survives infancy

how long a butterfly lives for

the circle of life in butterflies and caterpillars

Correct answer:

the circle of life in butterflies and caterpillars

Explanation:

This passage begins by talking about the transition of a caterpillar into a butterfly, and it might be reasonable to suspect this is the correct answer; however, this is somewhat incomplete as answers go. The end of the passage suggests that a better answer would be "the circle of life in butterflies and caterpillars" because the passage begins by talking about how a caterpillar bursts from an egg, then discusses how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, before finally talking about the life and death of a butterfly and how the cycle begins anew. The most relevant phrase for establishing this is also the last phrase "in the warmth of the summer weather, these eggs are hatched and become worms, as their parents did at first."

Example Question #26 : Nonfiction Passages

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, these other names of the Czech region will once more emerge into prominence.

The primary argument of this essay is that __________.

Possible Answers:

The Czech nation is a confusing collection of territories.

The Czech Republic did not benefit from the split with Slovakia.

The Germans are primarily to blame for the improper naming of the Czech Republic.

The Czech Republic should be called the Republic of Bohemia and Moravia.

The horrors of World War Two are still very important to most Europeans.

Correct answer:

The Czech Republic should be called the Republic of Bohemia and Moravia.

Explanation:

The primary argument of this essay is that "the Czech Republic ought to be known as the Republic of Bohemia and Moravia." The other answers are either unmentioned, or else rely on making an inference on something the author does not directly state: for example, "The Germans are primarily to blame for the improper naming of the Czech Republic" could be seen to be true perhaps, but the author, like most historians, separates Germany from the reign of Hitler and the Nazis, and indeed even then the blame is more on the association with Nazism, rather than attaching direct blame to someone.

Example Question #27 : Nonfiction Passages

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.

This passage is primarily __________.

Possible Answers:

a brief look at the history of Thebes and Athens

an essay about the founding fathers of Thebes and Athens

an explanation of the founding of Thebes and Athens

a comparison between Thebes and Athens

a thesis on the role the Ottoman Empire played in Greek history

Correct answer:

a brief look at the history of Thebes and Athens

Explanation:

This passage is a very brief, and very cursory, look at the history of Thebes and Athens, two notable Greek cities. The passage talks about the founding of the two cities and the men who founded them, as well as discussing the freedom of Greece from the Ottoman Empire and the use of Athens as the capital. All of the other answer choices are only a part of this passage.

Example Question #28 : Nonfiction Passages

Brandi Chastain - A Soccer Champion

Molly Kubik, 2016

The year 1999 was a big year for women's soccer.  The United States Women's Soccer team played the Chinese Women's Soccer in the finals of the Women's World Cup.  They were tied 4-4 in the final game.  The whole world watched this game to see would be the World Champion.  Over 90,000 people came to the game, which was hosted at the Rose Bowl in California, and over forty million people across the world watched the game on television.  Because the game was tied, the winner had to be decided with penalty kicks.  Everyone watched as United States player Brandi Chastain lined up to take her penalty kick, which would decide the game.  She lined up, ran, and shot the ball!  The ball flew into the upper right corner of the net.  The Chinese goalie couldn't reach it.  Brandi Chastain had scored!  The United States won the game 5-4.  They were the World Champions! Many people say that this was the most important moment of Brandi Chastain's whole soccer career.   Brandi had always been a standout soccer player since she was very young.  She played soccer in high school and college.  She even played on the champion World Cup soccer team in 1991 and went to the 1996 Olympic games, where she won a gold medal.  Soccer had always been a very important part of Brandi's life.  In 1993, Brandi played professional soccer in Japan because there was no professional women's team in the United States for her to join.  While she played there, she was voted to be the most valuable player.  When she returned to the United States, she could not play professional soccer because there was still no professional women's team!  Finally, in the spring of 2000, the United States formed a professional women's soccer league.  Brandi Chastain played for San Francisco.  As usual, Brandi remained in the spotlight.  She was never afraid to play against tough teams and win.  Brandi Chastain is truly a soccer champion.

What was important about Brandi Chastain's soccer goal in the 1999 Women's World Cup?

Possible Answers:

Brandi Chastain lacked confidence and was very nervous

This was Brandi Chastain's last soccer game

Brandi Chastain hadn't scored very many goals before

Brandi Chastain's goal was the winning goal

Correct answer:

Brandi Chastain's goal was the winning goal

Explanation:

Brandi Chastain's goal was the winning goal in the 1999 Women's World Cup is the correct answer because it is the main reason why her goal is important. The passage states that, "The ball flew into the upper right corner of the net.  The Chinese goalie couldn't reach it. Brandi Chastain had scored! The United States had won the game 5-4. They were World Champions!"

The other answers are not supported by the passage. Although many people watching on TV might make the goal seem important, it is not the main reason that the goal was important. The passage does not state that this was Brandi Chastain's last soccer game, although it was the end of the 1999 World Cup. The passage does not state that Brandi Chastain had not scored many goals before. The reader might infer that Brandi Chastain was nervous or lacked confidence because they read that so many people were watching on television, but this is not explicitly stated by the passage and it is not the main reason why her goal was important.

Example Question #29 : Nonfiction Passages

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.

Which statement best explains the main idea of the passage?

Possible Answers:

Egypt was better in the past than it is now

Ancient Egypt was very important

Egypt is a country with a rich history and a bright future

Egypt is having a lot of problems

Correct answer:

Egypt is a country with a rich history and a bright future

Explanation:

This is the correct answer because it best supports the main idea of the passage. The passage is mainly about Egypt's history and the things that are happening in Egypt to make the future better. The passage discusses some problems that Egypt has had, such as poverty and problems with schools, but this is not what the passage is mainly about.

1 3 Next →
Learning Tools by Varsity Tutors