SSAT Elementary Level Reading : Inferential Understanding in Nonfiction Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #2 : Making Inferences And Predictions In Science Passages

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.

Which of these can be most reasonably inferred about the author based on the passage?

Possible Answers:

He is not a well-regarded scientist.

He works, or has worked, in the United States.

He has traveled in the Himalayas.

He has studied mountain ranges all around the world.

He is an American citizen.

Correct answer:

He works, or has worked, in the United States.

Explanation:

From this passage we can reasonably infer that the author has worked in the United States. This is because he says “There is, perhaps, no part of the world, certainly none familiar to science, where the early geological periods can be studied with so much ease and precision as in the United States.” It might be reasonable from this statement to also conclude that the author “is an American citizen” or “has studied mountain ranges around the world.” But, each of these answer requires more inference than the correct answer. Just because he has worked in the United States does not necessarily mean he is an American citizen, and just because he considers mountain ranges in the United States to be the easiest to study does not necessarily mean he is familiar with mountain ranges around the world—he might simply not be as familiar with other mountain ranges. 

Example Question #3 : 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 information that King Alfred suffered from a “terrible unknown disease” is meant to highlight __________.

Possible Answers:

the abundance of disease in England during the medieval period

the lack of doctors in Alfred’s English kingdom

Alfred’s inability to focus on himself

Alfred’s resolve and virtue

the lack of medical knowledge in the time period being discussed

Correct answer:

Alfred’s resolve and virtue

Explanation:

Throughout the passage, the author highlights how hard-working, determined, and virtuous King Alfred was. When discussing Alfred's “terrible unknown disease,” the author says, “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." So, you can infer that the author would is portraying Alfred as “resolute” (determined) and “virtuous” (good). The author says that he “bore” (suffered through) his disease “like a brave good man.” Taken altogether, this means that this part of the passage highlight's "Alfred's resolve and virtue."

Example Question #21 : Inferential Understanding In 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?

What can you most easily infer from the information in the underlined final paragraph?

Possible Answers:

The author is an avid reader of fairy tales.

The author does not believe fairy tales have any use.

The author is new to the study of history.

This article is written by an Englishman.

This article is part of a larger collection of stories.

Correct answer:

This article is part of a larger collection of stories.

Explanation:

The most relevant piece of information for answering this question is when the author says “In another story I have told you how in the year 800 a German chieftain had become a Roman Emperor.” Because he says “In another story,“ you can reasonably infer that this article is likely to be part of a larger collection of stories. There is no information to support an inference that the author is an Englishman or new to the study of history. Although the author does mention his belief that history is more interesting than fairy tales, he does not go so far as to imply fairy tales have no use whatsoever. The answer choice “The author does not believe fairy tales have any use” is close to correct, but the question asks what you can “most easily” infer, and this answer requires more of a leap of inference than the correct answer.

Example Question #111 : 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?

Why does the author believe the the situation in England favored the Dukes of Normandy prior to their conquest?

Possible Answers:

Because England was in a state of disarray.

Because the Battle of Hastings was to be  fought on Norman ground.

Because the English military was weak from several exhausting campaigns.

Because the existing King had no children or heirs.

Because the Normans had greater military strength and better tactics.

Correct answer:

Because the existing King had no children or heirs.

Explanation:

Immediately before the author says “The circumstances favored the ambitious dukes of Normandy,” he says that “Edward the Confessor, was on the throne. But Edward was not expected to live long and he had no children.” This tells you that the author primarily believes that the situation favored the Dukes of Normandy because the current King (Edward the Confessor) had no children to pass on his title to. You could perhaps infer from the author’s description of the various groups who came to control England for a short period of time that the military would be weak from several exhausting campaigns, or that the country was in a state of disarray (chaos), but this requires far more inference than the correct answer which is directly stated.

Example Question #112 : Nonfiction Passages

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.

How long did the Great Depression last?

Possible Answers:

Two years

One hundred years

Nineteen years

Twenty-two years

Twelve years

Correct answer:

Twelve years

Explanation:

The Great Depression began in 1929 with the stock market crash and ended in 1941 when the United States entered World War II. So, it lasted for twelve years.

Example Question #113 : Nonfiction Passages

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.

Why is October 29, 1929 referred to as "Black Tuesday"?

Possible Answers:

The American unemployment rate was at its peak on that date.

President Herbert Hoover was inaugurated, even though the American public did not want him to become president.

The United States began World War II.

It was a horrible day for the United States and had long-lasting negative effects on its economy.

The American working class started an uprising in response to higher taxes.

Correct answer:

It was a horrible day for the United States and had long-lasting negative effects on its economy.

Explanation:

"Black Tuesday" received its nickname because it was the most economically devastating stock market crash in modern American history. It took over ten years for the United States to recover from "Black Tuesday," thus causing the Great Depression.

Example Question #114 : 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.

What can you infer about the life of a butterfly?

Possible Answers:

It is full of drama.

It is pointless.

It is peaceful and long-lasting.

It is full of danger.

It is very brief.

Correct answer:

It is very brief.

Explanation:

When discussing the life of a butterfly the author says "a perfect butterfly, which lays a number of eggs and then dies." It seems as if all a butterfly does is "lay eggs" and "then die." This suggests that it’s life is "very brief" or not very long. The author does not offer any information to suggest that it is dangerous, dramatic, pointless, or peaceful.

Example Question #115 : 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.

Why does the author describe the cocoon as "about the size and shape of a pigeon's egg?"

Possible Answers:

To help the audience understand the color of a cocoon

To explain how the hatching process of a caterpillar is very similar to that of a pigeon

To illustrate the close relationship between butterflies and pigeons

To show how pigeons are a blight on society, whereas butterflies are a blessing

To provide a comparison so that the audience can understand the dimensions of the cocoon

Correct answer:

To provide a comparison so that the audience can understand the dimensions of the cocoon

Explanation:

The information about the size and shape of a cocoon as being similar to that of a pigeon’s egg is given to help the audience understand the dimensions of a cocoon. The author clearly assumes that to his audience the size and shape of a pigeon’s egg is more familiar than the size and shape of a cocoon. So he is attempting to provide clarity by using a comparison.

Example Question #116 : 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.

What can you infer about Slovakia?

Possible Answers:

It is a state in the Czech Republic.

It despised the Communist regime.

It is a city in the Czech Republic.

It revolted against the Nazis.

It is another country in Europe.

Correct answer:

It is another country in Europe.

Explanation:

The author tells you that Slovakia chose to break away from the Czech Republic and that once the two had been combined under the name of Czechoslovakia. This information should enable you to infer that Slovakia is "another country in Europe."

Example Question #117 : 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.

Which of these inferences can most easily be made from this text?

Possible Answers:

Athens was founded before Thebes.

Athens has never been ruled by a tyrant or a foreign power.

Had Athens never been founded, Thebes would be the current capital of Greece.

Many Greek cities were founded by Egyptians.

Cadmus died a violent death.

Correct answer:

Many Greek cities were founded by Egyptians.

Explanation:

You are told in this text that Thebes was founded by a man of Egyptian parentage who named the city after a famous city in Egypt. You are also told that Athens was founded by an Egyptian. From this information you can infer that "many" Greek cities were founded by Egyptians. This is not a certain inference, but can be made more reliably made than any of the other answer choices. There is no evidence to support that Cadmus died a violent death or that had Athens never been founded then Thebes would be the current capital. It is not mentioned whether Athens or Thebes was founded first, and you can reasonably infer from the fact that Greece had to be "liberated" from the Ottoman Empire that it has, at least once, been ruled by a foreign power.

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