SSAT Middle Level Reading : Finding Context-Dependent Meanings of Words in Literary Fiction Passages

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

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Example Questions

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Example Question #21 : Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from "The Three Musketeers" in Volume Sixteen of The Romances of Alexandre Dumas (1844; 1893 ed.)

As they rode along, the duke endeavored to draw from d'Artagnan not all that had happened, but what d'Artagnan himself knew. By adding all that he heard from the mouth of the young man to his own remembrances, he was enabled to form a pretty exact idea of a position of the seriousness of which, for the rest, the queen's letter, short but explicit, gave him the clue. But that which astonished him most was that the cardinal, so deeply interested in preventing this young man from setting his foot in England, had not succeeded in arresting him on the road. It was then, upon the manifestation of this astonishment, that d'Artagnan related to him the precaution taken, and how, thanks to the devotion of his three friends, whom he had left scattered and bleeding on the road, he had succeeded in coming off with a single sword thrust, which had pierced the queen's letter and for which he had repaid Monsieur de Wardes with such terrible coin. While he was listening to this recital, delivered with the greatest simplicity, the duke looked from time to time at the young man with astonishment, as if he could not comprehend how so much prudence, courage, and devotedness could be allied with a countenance which indicated not more than twenty years.

The horses went like the wind, and in a few minutes they were at the gates of London. D'Artagnan imagined that on arriving in town the duke would slacken his pace, but it was not so. He kept on his way at the same rate, heedless about upsetting those whom he met on the road. In fact, in crossing the city two or three accidents of this kind happened; but Buckingham did not even turn his head to see what became of those he had knocked down. D'Artagnan followed him amid cries which strongly resembled curses.

On entering the court of his hotel, Buckingham sprang from his horse, and without thinking what became of the animal, threw the bridle on his neck, and sprang toward the vestibule. D'Artagnan did the same, with a little more concern, however, for the noble creatures, whose merits he fully appreciated; but he had the satisfaction of seeing three or four grooms run from the kitchens and the stables, and busy themselves with the steeds.

To what or to whom does the underlined “his” in the last paragraph refer?

Possible Answers:

Monsieur de Wardes

D'Artagnan

Buckingham

D'Artagnan's horse

Buckingham's horse

Correct answer:

Buckingham's horse

Explanation:

The underlined "his" appears in the following sentence: "On entering the court of his hotel, Buckingham sprang from his horse, and without thinking what became of the animal, threw the bridle on his neck, and sprang toward the vestibule." We can eliminate Monsieur de Wardes, D'Artagnan, and D'Artagnan's horse as potential answer choices because only Buckingham and Buckingham's horse are mentioned in the sentence. From here, we have to consider what is going on in the sentence: Buckingham rides up to the hotel, and "without thinking what became of the animal, threw the bridle on his neck." "The animal" is the noun that most closely precedes the possessive pronoun "his," and it wouldn't make sense for Buckingham to throw the bridle on his own neck—he would throw the bridle on his horse's neck. The correct answer is thus "Buckingham's horse."

Example Question #21 : Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from The Fight at the Pass of Thermopylæ by Charlotte M. Yonge (1876)

The troops sent for this purpose were from different cities, and amounted to about 4,000 who were to keep the pass against two millions. The leader of them was Leonidas, who had newly become one of the two kings of Sparta, the city that above all in Greece trained its sons to be hardy soldiers, dreading death infinitely less than shame. Leonidas had already made up his mind that the expedition would probably be his death, perhaps because a prophecy had been given at the Temple at Delphi that Sparta should be saved by the death of one of her kings of the race of Hercules. He was allowed by law to take with him 300 men, and these he chose most carefully, not merely for their strength and valor, but selecting those who had sons, so that no family might be altogether destroyed. These Spartans, with their helots or slaves, made up his own share of the numbers, but all the army was under his generalship. It is even said that the 300 celebrated their own funeral rites before they set out lest they should be deprived of them by the enemy, since, as we have already seen, it was the Greek belief that the spirits of the dead found no rest till their obsequies had been performed. Such preparations did not daunt the spirits of Leonidas and his men, and his wife, Gorgo, not a woman to be faint-hearted or hold him back. Long before, when she was a very little girl, a word of hers had saved her father from listening to a traitorous message from the King of Persia; and every Spartan lady was bred up to be able to say to those she best loved that they must come home from battle "with the shield or carried upon it."

The underlined word “valor” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

courage 

intellect 

vigilance

honesty 

humor 

Correct answer:

courage 

Explanation:

In context, the author is discussing the reasons that caused the Spartan king to choose the three-hundred men who he intended to take into battle with him. The author says, “He was allowed by law to take with him 300 men, and these he chose most carefully, not merely for their strength and valor.” As the qualities “strength and valor” are two qualities used to pick the best soldiers, it stads to reason that “valor” most probably means courage. To provide further help, “intellect” is intelligence or smartness and “vigilance” is watchfulness.

Example Question #22 : Literary Fiction Passages

Passage adapted from The Tell-Tale Heart (1838) by Edgar Allen Poe

True!--nervous--very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses--not destroyed--not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily--how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

It is impossible to say how the idea first entered my brain: but, once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes it was this! One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture--a pale, blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so, by degrees--very gradually--I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

In the context of the passage, the word "object" has the closest meaning to ____________.

Possible Answers:

reward

item

goal

product

Correct answer:

goal

Explanation:

The noun "object" can mean either a material thing that can be seen or touched or a goal or purpose. Since the narrator is discussing his motivation -or lackthereof- for murdering "the old man," "goal" has the closest meaning.

Example Question #23 : Literary Fiction Passages

Passage adapted from The Tell-Tale Heart (1838) by Edgar Allen Poe

True!--nervous--very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses--not destroyed--not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily--how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

It is impossible to say how the idea first entered my brain: but, once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes it was this! One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture--a pale, blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so, by degrees--very gradually--I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

 

In the context of this passage, the word "mad" has the closest meaning to ___________.

Possible Answers:

furious

unreliable

frustrated

insane

Correct answer:

insane

Explanation:

The adjective "mad" can mean either mentally ill or insane or very angry. Since the narrator later describes his motivation for killing the old man by saying, "Passion there was none," we can rule out very angry as the relevant definition. Of the answer options, "insane" has the closest meaning.

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