SSAT Middle Level Reading : Finding Context-Dependent Meanings of Words in Narrative Social Science Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #11 : Context Dependent Meanings Of Words And Phrases In Narrative Social Science Passages

Adapted from Young People’s History of the War with Spain by Prescott Holmes (1900)

On April 21st, 1898, a war began between the United States and Spain. All the other countries of the world felt an interest in it but did not take any part in it. They were what we call "neutral" and did not help either side. As soon as the war was declared, a great wave of excitement swept through the United States from shore to shore. Flags were hung out in every city and town; thousands of men offered to serve in the army—volunteers, they were called—and many persons offered to help in other ways. The people were dispirited that war had begun, but they soon felt that their country was doing right and that they ought to support the war effort.

And what was the cause of the war? Spain, a large country across the Atlantic Ocean in the southwestern part of Europe, owned some of the islands called "West Indies" near the United States. Spain had been unjust and cruel to the people living in one of these islands for many years. Several times, the unhappy islanders tried to drive the Spanish from the island and set up a government of their own, but Spain sent so many soldiers there that they could not get their freedom. They fought bravely, however, but matters kept getting worse and worse. Spain sent a very cruel general to take charge of affairs on the island. His name was Weyler and he was determined to conquer the islanders. After a while, he found he could not do it by fighting them, so he sent his soldiers to drive those who were not fighting away from their homes and farms and make them live in or near the large cities. After he did this, the people had no way to earn money for food and soon began to get sick and die of starvation. The cruel Weyler would not give them anything to eat and so they died by the thousands. Americans were faced with the choice of standing idly by whilst thousands perished or risking American lives in a difficult war.

The underlined word “dispirited” in the first paragraph most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

sanctimonious

wanton

underwhelmed

oblivious

discouraged

Correct answer:

discouraged

Explanation:

The word is used in the context of the general public’s reaction to the declaration of war. It would make sense that people would react negatively to a declaration of war and the fact that the following clause establishes an opposite meaning (using the word “but”) and discusses how the people soon changed their minds confirms that “dispirited” must have a negative meaning. Dispirited means discouraged, miserable, dejected. Of the answer choices, it is closest in meaning to "discouraged." To provide further help, "wanton" means random; "sanctimonious" means self-righteous; "oblivious" means not aware

Example Question #12 : Context Dependent Meanings Of Words And Phrases In Narrative Social Science Passages

Adapted from Young People’s History of the War with Spain by Prescott Holmes (1900)

On April 21st, 1898, a war began between the United States and Spain. All the other countries of the world felt an interest in it but did not take any part in it. They were what we call "neutral" and did not help either side. As soon as the war was declared, a great wave of excitement swept through the United States from shore to shore. Flags were hung out in every city and town; thousands of men offered to serve in the army—volunteers, they were called—and many persons offered to help in other ways. The people were dispirited that war had begun, but they soon felt that their country was doing right and that they ought to support the war effort.

And what was the cause of the war? Spain, a large country across the Atlantic Ocean in the southwestern part of Europe, owned some of the islands called "West Indies" near the United States. Spain had been unjust and cruel to the people living in one of these islands for many years. Several times, the unhappy islanders tried to drive the Spanish from the island and set up a government of their own, but Spain sent so many soldiers there that they could not get their freedom. They fought bravely, however, but matters kept getting worse and worse. Spain sent a very cruel general to take charge of affairs on the island. His name was Weyler and he was determined to conquer the islanders. After a while, he found he could not do it by fighting them, so he sent his soldiers to drive those who were not fighting away from their homes and farms and make them live in or near the large cities. After he did this, the people had no way to earn money for food and soon began to get sick and die of starvation. The cruel Weyler would not give them anything to eat and so they died by the thousands. Americans were faced with the choice of standing idly by whilst thousands perished or risking American lives in a difficult war.

What name is given to a person who offers to serve in the army?

Possible Answers:

draftee

volunteer

enlister

private

mercenary

Correct answer:

volunteer

Explanation:

The passage states in the first paragraph, “thousands of men offered to serve in the army—volunteers, they were called." To provide further help, to "enlist" means to sign-up; a "mercenary" is someone who is paid to fight in a war; a "draftee" is someone who is picked to join the army; a "private" is the lowest rank in the army.

Example Question #13 : Context Dependent Meanings Of Words And Phrases In Narrative Social Science Passages

Adapted from "The Great Red Dragon of Wales" in Welsh Fairy Tales (1921) by William Elliot Griffis.

Every old country that has won fame in history and built up a civilization of its own has a national flower. Besides this, some living creature, bird, or beast, or, it may be, a fish is on its flag. In places of honor, it stands as the emblem of the nation; that is, of the people, apart from the land they live on. Besides flag and symbol, it has a motto. That of Wales is: "Awake: It is light."

Now because the glorious stories of Wales, Scotland, and Ireland have been nearly lost in those of mighty England, men have at times, almost forgotten about the leek, the thistle, and the shamrock, which stand for the other three divisions of the British Isles.

Yet each of these peoples has a history as noble as that of which the rose and the lion are the emblems. Each has also its patron saint and civilizer. So we have Saint George, Saint David, Saint Andrew, and Saint Patrick, all of them white-souled heroes. On the union flag, or standard of the United Kingdom, we see their three crosses.

The lion of England, the harp of Ireland, the thistle of Scotland, and the Red Dragon of Wales represent the four peoples in the British Isles, each with its own speech, traditions, and emblems; yet all in unity and in loyalty.

The word, “unity,” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

bravery

cowardice

brilliance

separateness

togetherness

Correct answer:

togetherness

Explanation:

The author has spent the passage describing the various different mottos and emblems of the nations that make up the United Kingdom; however, at the end, he states: “The lion of England, the harp of Ireland, the thistle of Scotland, and the Red Dragon of Wales represent the four peoples in the British Isles, each with its own speech, traditions, and emblems; yet all in unity and in loyalty.” Here the author is emphasizing the togetherness (unity) of the kingdom, rather than the differences. To help you, "bravery" and "cowardice" are opposites; "brilliance" means greatness

Example Question #22 : Social Science Passages

Adapted from A Man Who Coveted Washington’s Shoes by Frank E. Stockton (1896)

The person whose story we are now about to tell was not a Jerseyman, but, as most of the incidents which make him interesting to us occurred in this state, we will give him the benefit of a few years' residence here.

This was General Charles Lee, who might well have been called a soldier of fortune. He was born in England, but the British Isles were entirely too small to satisfy his wild ambitions and his bold spirit. There are few heroes of romance who have had such a wide and varied experience, and who have engaged in so many strange enterprises. He was a brave man and very able, but he had a fault which prevented him from being a high-class soldier: he could not bear authority and was always restive under command of another, and, while always ready to tell other people what they ought to do, was never willing to be told what he ought to do.

He joined the British army when he was a young man, and he first came to this country in 1757, when General Abercrombie brought over an army to fight the French. For three years, Lee was engaged in the wilds and forests, doing battle with the Native Americans and French, and no doubt he had all the adventures an ordinary person would desire, but this experience was far from satisfactory.

The underlined word “able” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

miserly

generous

apprehensive

excitable

talented

Correct answer:

talented

Explanation:

The author says that Lee was “a brave man and very able,” and goes on to talk about how despite being brave and able he had a serious flaw. Based on the construction of the sentence, you can assume that "able" must mean something positive, as it is being contrasted against something negative. That means the answer choice cannot be "miserly" (as that means not generous) and cannot be "apprehensive" (because that means worried). "Excitable" is neither a positive nor a negative word (it means easily excited), so you are left with only "generous" (giving) and "talented" (skilled). “Able” means capable, having the ability to do many things, or talented, so "talented" is the correct answer.

Example Question #12 : Context Dependent Meanings Of Words And Phrases In Narrative Social Science Passages

Adapted from A Man Who Coveted Washington’s Shoes by Frank E. Stockton (1896)

The person whose story we are now about to tell was not a Jerseyman, but, as most of the incidents which make him interesting to us occurred in this state, we will give him the benefit of a few years' residence here.

This was General Charles Lee, who might well have been called a soldier of fortune. He was born in England, but the British Isles were entirely too small to satisfy his wild ambitions and his bold spirit. There are few heroes of romance who have had such a wide and varied experience, and who have engaged in so many strange enterprises. He was a brave man and very able, but he had a fault which prevented him from being a high-class soldier: he could not bear authority and was always restive under command of another, and, while always ready to tell other people what they ought to do, was never willing to be told what he ought to do.

He joined the British army when he was a young man, and he first came to this country in 1757, when General Abercrombie brought over an army to fight the French. For three years, Lee was engaged in the wilds and forests, doing battle with the Native Americans and French, and no doubt he had all the adventures an ordinary person would desire, but this experience was far from satisfactory.

The underlined word “satisfactory” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

good enough

over-the-top 

boring

unacceptable

under control

Correct answer:

good enough

Explanation:

The word “satisfactory” means acceptable or good enough. In the context of the passage, it is used to describe how the adventures Lee had while fighting the French and the Native Americans were not satisfactory for him. Given that we are told earlier in the story that Lee has a wild spirit and had an adventurous nature, we can assume that he would want greater and wilder adventures and that those adventures he had while fighting the French and the Native Americans might not have been good enough for him.

Example Question #11 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Narrative Social Science Passages

Adapted from A Man Who Coveted Washington’s Shoes by Frank E. Stockton (1896)

The person whose story we are now about to tell was not a Jerseyman, but, as most of the incidents which make him interesting to us occurred in this state, we will give him the benefit of a few years' residence here.

This was General Charles Lee, who might well have been called a soldier of fortune. He was born in England, but the British Isles were entirely too small to satisfy his wild ambitions and his bold spirit. There are few heroes of romance who have had such a wide and varied experience, and who have engaged in so many strange enterprises. He was a brave man and very able, but he had a fault which prevented him from being a high-class soldier: he could not bear authority and was always restive under command of another, and, while always ready to tell other people what they ought to do, was never willing to be told what he ought to do.

He joined the British army when he was a young man, and he first came to this country in 1757, when General Abercrombie brought over an army to fight the French. For three years, Lee was engaged in the wilds and forests, doing battle with the Native Americans and French, and no doubt he had all the adventures an ordinary person would desire, but this experience was far from satisfactory.

The underlined word "residence" most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

fighting

working

traveling

living

farming

Correct answer:

living

Explanation:

Your "residence" is the place or the building where you live. In the context of the passage, the author says "but, as most of the incidents which make him interesting to us occurred in this State, we will give him the benefit of a few years' residence here." Here, "residence" means living or residing.

Example Question #12 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Narrative Social Science Passages

Adapted from Early European History by Hutton Webster (1917)

Perhaps the most striking feature of a medieval village was its self-sufficiency. The inhabitants tried to produce at home everything they required, in order to avoid the uncertainty and expense of trade. The land gave them their food; the forest provided them with wood for houses and furniture. They made their own clothes of flax, wool, and leather. Their meal and flour were ground at the village mill, and at the village smithy their farm implements were manufactured. The chief articles which needed to be brought from some distant market were salt, used to salt down farm animals killed in autumn, iron for various tools, and millstones. Cattle, horses, and surplus grain also formed common objects of exchange between manors.

Life in a medieval village was rude and rough. The peasants labored from sunrise to sunset, ate coarse fare, lived in huts, and suffered from frequent diseases. They were often the helpless prey of the feudal nobles. If their lord happened to be a quarrelsome man, given to fighting with his neighbors, they might see their lands ravaged, their cattle driven off, their village burned, and might themselves be slain. Even under peaceful conditions the narrow, shut-in life of the manor could not be otherwise than degrading.

Yet there is another side to the picture. If the peasants had a just and generous lord, they probably led a fairly comfortable existence. Except when crops failed, they had an abundance of food, and possibly wine or cider drink. They shared a common life in the work of the fields, in the sports of the village green, and in the services of the parish church. They enjoyed many holidays; it has been estimated that, besides Sundays, about eight weeks in every year were free from work. Festivities at Christmas, Easter, and May Day, at the end of ploughing and the completion of harvest, relieved the monotony of the daily round of labor. Perhaps these medieval peasants were not much worse off than the agricultural laborers in most countries of modern Europe. 

The underlined word “surplus” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

loathsome

hungry 

meager

scant

extra

Correct answer:

extra

Explanation:

A “surplus” is an excess amount of something. If I have surplus food, it means I have more food than I need. In context, the author says, “Cattle, horses, and surplus grain also formed common objects of exchange between manors.” Here the author is telling us that the extra grain that the peasants did not need was traded with other manors. To help you, "meager" and "scant" mean too little in quantity, and "loathsome" means deserving of hatred.

Example Question #13 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In History Passages

Adapted from "Crossing the Rubicon" in History of Julius Caesar by Jacob Abbott (1902)

There was a little stream in ancient times, in the north of Italy, which flowed eastward into the Adriatic Sea, called the Rubicon. This stream has been immortalized by the transactions which we are now about to describe.

The Rubicon was a very important boundary, and yet it was in itself so small and insignificant that it is now impossible to determine which of two or three little brooks here running into the sea is entitled to its name and renown. In history the Rubicon is a grand, permanent, and conspicuous stream, gazed upon with continued interest by all mankind for nearly twenty centuries; in nature it is an uncertain rivulet, for a long time doubtful and undetermined, and finally lost.

The Rubicon originally derived its importance from the fact that it was the boundary between all that part of the north of Italy which is formed by the valley of the Po, one of the richest and most magnificent countries of the world, and the more southern Roman territories. This country of the Po constituted what was in those days called the hither Gaul, and was a Roman province. It belonged now to Cæsar's jurisdiction, as the commander in Gaul. All south of the Rubicon was territory reserved for the immediate jurisdiction of the city. The Romans, in order to protect themselves from any danger which might threaten their own liberties from the immense armies which they raised for the conquest of foreign nations, had imposed on every side very strict limitations and restrictions in respect to the approach of these armies to the capital. The Rubicon was the limit on this northern side. Generals commanding in Gaul were never to pass it. To cross the Rubicon with an army on the way to Rome was rebellion and treason. Hence the Rubicon became, as it were, the visible sign and symbol of civil restriction to military power.

The underlined word “renown” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

infamy 

orthodox 

disgrace

kingdom 

fame 

Correct answer:

fame 

Explanation:

In context, the author says “The Rubicon was a very important boundary, and yet it was in itself so small and insignificant that it is now impossible to determine which of two or three little brooks here running into the sea is entitled to its name and renown.” In the opening of the first paragraph, the author is discussing the disparate smallness and famousness of the Rubicon, so it makes sense that in the context of the Rubicon as “a very important boundary” the “name and renown” it is entitled to is notoriety and fame. To provide further help, “infamy” is fame derived from having done bad deeds; “disgrace” is shame; and “orthodox” means thinking conventionally or strictly following tradition.

Example Question #441 : Ssat Middle Level Reading Comprehension

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:

efforts

conversations

failures

mistakes

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 #11 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words 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 “just” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

only 

illegal

complicated

harsh

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.”

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