SSAT Elementary Level Reading : Evaluative Understanding in Nonfiction Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #61 : Science Passages

Adapted from "Life Growth - Frogs" by Margaret Warner Morley in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

Our common frogs, like many of the fishes, do not trouble themselves about the fate of their eggs after they are carefully laid in a safe place. They trust Mother Nature to see the little tadpoles safely through the perils of childhood, to help them avoid being eaten or starving, and cut, not their teeth, but their arms and legs.

In Venezuela, however, there dwells a frog with well developed maternal instinct. The mothers have pockets on their backs, not for their own convenience, but as cradles for their babies. The fathers put the fertilized eggs into the pockets of the mothers, and there they remain, well guarded, until the young are able to care for themselves.

The underlined word “perils” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

manners

wonders

aims

dangers

lessons

Correct answer:

dangers

Explanation:

The word “peril” means great danger, so “perils” are dangers. However, you might not have known this, in which case it would be necessary to read in context to determine the answer. The author says, “They trust Mother Nature to see the little tadpoles safely through the perils of childhood, to help them avoid being eaten or starving." Because the “perils” of childhood are something that the tadpoles need to be seen through “safely,” it is apparent that “perils” are “dangers.” This could also be determined by considering the examples of “perils” that the author provides—“being eaten" and “starving.” These are clearly “dangers.” To help you, “aims” are goals or things you want to do.

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:

plentiful

morose

coherent

fortunate

concealed

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

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

loose

obvious

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 #1 : 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:

extremely damaging

unfairly dismissive

highly contagious

simply tragic

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.

Example Question #22 : 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

proud

ashamed

flat

short

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 #1 : 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:

Frequently

Menacingly

Much

Rarely

Often

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

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:

Encouraged

Set up

Destroyed

Ruined

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 #1 : 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:

Slight

Miniscule

Timid

Massive

Withdrawn 

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, "miniscule" 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 #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 (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. 

Harbors.

Animals. 

Homes.

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

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

stifling

wet

plentiful

frosty 

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.

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