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

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Example Question #11 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In History Passages

"The Holy Roman Empire" by Daniel Morrison (2014)

The Holy Roman Empire was somewhat unique among the various organized states of Middle and Early Modern Europe in that the Emperor was chosen by a group of electors. This is in stark contrast to the strict hereditary nature of English or French succession, where the position of monarch was handed down from the outgoing ruler to his closest legitimate heir, usually a son. In the Holy Roman Empire, the Emperor was chosen by seven electors, which in theory might seem to give the Empire a sort of early democratic flavor. However, in practice, only two or three families were ever able to draw on sufficient personal wealth to stand for election. Of these, the Luxembourgs and the Hapsburgs are most well known. The Hapsburgs were so successful that they were able to maintain their “elected” position for almost four centuries, and the Luxembourgs somehow still have a small country named after their family almost seven hundred years after their fall from dominance.

The underlined word “hereditary” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

Chosen by a religious figure

Requiring great personal wealth

Passed down through the family

Elected by the people

Given to one’s parents

Correct answer:

Passed down through the family

Explanation:

In context, the author is talking about the nature of the English and French monarchies, where the position of King or Queen was passed down to the ruler’s closest “heir” (descendant, son or daughter, next in line), in comparison to the Holy Roman Empire. The author describes, “the strict hereditary nature of English or French succession, where the position of monarch was handed down from the outgoing ruler to his closest legitimate heir, usually a son. The key phrase is “usually a son,” which tells you that “hereditary” means passed down through the family or handed down.

Example Question #21 : Language In History Passages

Adapted from A Child’s History of England by Charles Darwin (1905)

Henry Plantagenet, when he was but twenty-one years old, quietly succeeded to the throne of England, according to his agreement made with the late king at Winchester. Six weeks after Stephen’s death, he and his queen, Eleanor, were crowned in that city, into which they rode on horseback in great state, side by side, amidst much shouting and rejoicing, and clashing of music, and strewing of flowers.

The reign of King Henry the Second began well. The king had great possessions, and (with his own property, and with that of his wife) was lord of one-third part of France. He was a young man of strength, ability, and determination, and immediately applied himself to remove some of the evils which had arisen in the last unhappy reign. He took away all the grants of land that had been hastily made, on either side, during the recent struggles; he forced numbers of disorderly soldiers to depart from England; he reclaimed all the castles belonging to the crown; and he forced the wicked nobles to pull down their own castles, to the number of eleven hundred, in which such dismal cruelties had been inflicted on the people.  

The king’s brother, Geoffrey, rose against him in France and forced Henry to wage a war in France. After he had subdued and made a friendly arrangement with his brother (who did not live long), his ambition to increase his possessions involved him in a war with the French king, Louis. He had been on such friendly terms with the French king just before, that to his infant daughter, then a baby in the cradle, he had promised one of his little sons in marriage, who was a child of five years old. However, the war came to nothing at last, and the Pope made the two kings friends again.

The underlined word “late” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

dead

arrived

replaced

delayed

existing

Correct answer:

dead

Explanation:

The word “late” usually means not on time or delayed. This is one of the answer choices available to you; however, in this context, this is not how the word is being used. The word “late” also is often used to mean dead or recently deceased. In context, the author says “Henry Plantagenet . . . quietly succeeded to the throne of England, according to his agreement made with the late King at Winchester.  Six weeks after Stephen’s death . . . “ The fact that Henry became King due to an agreement made with the previous King (Stephen), who are you are told has died, means that when the author describes the King at Winchester as “late,” he means "dead" and not "delayed."

Example Question #22 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In History Passages

Adapted from A Modern History from the Time of Luther to the Fall of Napoleon by John Lord (1874)

The period at which this history commences—the beginning of the sixteenth century—when compared with the ages which had preceded it, since the fall of the Roman empire, was one of unprecedented brilliancy and activity. It was a period very fruitful in great people and great events, and, though stormy and turbulent, was favorable to experiments and reforms. The nations of Europe seem to have been suddenly aroused from a state of torpor and rest, and to have put forth new energies in every department of life. The material and the political, the moral and the social condition of society was subject to powerful agitations, and passed through important changes.

Great discoveries and inventions had been made. The use of movable types, first ascribed to Gutenberg in 1441 and to Peter Schœffer in 1444, changed the whole system of book-making, and vastly increased the circulation of the scriptures, the Greek and Latin classics, and all other valuable works, which, by the industry of the monkish copyist, had been preserved from the ravages of time and barbarism. Gunpowder, whose explosive power had been perceived by Roger Bacon as early as 1280, though it was not used on the field of battle until 1346, had changed the art of war, which had greatly contributed to undermining the feudal system. The polarity of the magnet, also discovered in the middle ages, and not practically applied to the mariner's compass until 1403, had led to the greatest event of the fifteenth century—the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus, in 1492. The impulse given to commerce by this and other discoveries of unknown continents and oceans, by the Portuguese, the Spaniards, the Dutch, the English, and the French, cannot be here enlarged on. America revealed to the astonished European its riches in gold and silver; and Indian spices, and silks, and drugs, were imported through new channels. Mercantile wealth, with all its refinements, acquired new importance in the eyes of the nations. The world opened towards the east and the west. The horizon of knowledge extended. Popular delusions were dispelled. Liberality of mind was acquired. The material prosperity of the western nations was increased. Tastes became more refined, and social intercourse more cheerful.

The underlined word “torpor” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

darkness

confusion

inactivity

ridiculousness

mediocrity

Correct answer:

inactivity

Explanation:

The word “torpor” usually refers to a state of mental or physical inactivity or lethargy; however, you can read carefully in context to determine the author’s meaning. In the first paragraph, the author says, “The nations of Europe seem to have been suddenly aroused from a state of torpor and rest, and to have put forth new energies in every department of life.” So, you know that the state the nations of Europe were previously in was one of something and "rest." It was something that they were awoken from and engaged with new energies. This suggests the correct answer must mean something like “inactivity,” which is the correct answer. To provide further help, “mediocrity” is the state of being average when higher quality is expected.

Example Question #81 : History Passages

Adapted from Early European History by Hutton Webster (1917) 

The prehistoric period is commonly divided, according to the character of the materials used for tools and weapons, into the Age of Stone and the Age of Metals. The one is the age of savagery; the other is the age of barbarism or semi-civilization.

Man's earliest implements were those that lay ready to his hand. A branch from a tree served as a spear; a thick stick in his strong arms became a powerful club. Later, perhaps, came the use of a hard stone such as flint, which could be chipped into the forms of arrowheads, axes, and spear tips. The first stone implements were so rude in shape that it is difficult to believe them of human workmanship. They may have been made several hundred thousand years ago. After countless centuries of slow advance, early people learned to fasten wooden handles to their stone tools and weapons and also to use such materials as jade and granite, which could be ground and polished into a variety of forms. Stone implements continued to be made during the greater part of the prehistoric period. Every region of the world has had a Stone Age.  Its length is reckoned, not by centuries, but by millennia.

The Age of Metals, compared with its predecessor, covers a brief expanse of time. The use of metals came in not much before the dawn of history. The earliest civilized peoples, the Babylonians and Egyptians, when we first become acquainted with them, appear to be passing from the use of stone implements to those of metal. Copper was the first metal in common use. The credit for the invention of copper tools seems to belong to the Egyptians. At a very early date they were working the copper mines on the peninsula of Sinai. The Babylonians probably obtained their copper from the same region. Another source of this metal was the island of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean. The Greek name of the island means "copper." But copper tools were soft and would not keep an edge. Some ancient smith, more ingenious than his fellows, discovered that the addition of a small part of tin to the copper produced a new metal—bronze—harder than the old, yet capable of being molded into a variety of forms. At least as early as 3000 BCE we find bronze taking the place of copper in both Egypt and Babylonia. Somewhat later bronze was introduced into the island of Crete, then along the eastern coast of Greece, and afterwards into other European countries.

The introduction of iron occurred in comparatively recent times. At first it was a scarce, and therefore a very precious, metal. The Egyptians seem to have made little use of iron before 1500 BCE They called it "the metal of heaven," as if they obtained it from meteorites. In the Greek Homeric poems, composed about 900 BCE or later, we find iron considered so valuable that a lump of it is one of the chief prizes at athletic games. In the first five books of the Bible iron is mentioned only thirteen times, though copper and bronze are referred to forty-four times. Iron is more difficult to work than either copper or bronze, but it is vastly superior to those metals in hardness and durability. Hence it gradually displaced them throughout the greater part of the Old World.

The underlined word “obtained” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

seen 

got 

learned 

suggested 

taught 

Correct answer:

got 

Explanation:

In context, the author says, “The credit for the invention of copper tools seems to belong to the Egyptians. At a very early date they were working the copper mines on the peninsula of Sinai. The Babylonians probably obtained their copper from the same region.” So the author begins by telling you that the Egyptians got their copper from mines on the peninsula of Sinai, and then says that the Babylonians “obtained” their copper from the same place. This should tell you that “obtained” means got.

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