SSAT Middle Level Reading : Humanities Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #111 : Humanities Passages

Adapted from The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Van Loon (1921)

Early humans did not know what time meant, but in a general way they kept track of the seasons. They had noticed that the cold winter was invariably followed by the mild spring—that spring grew into the hot summer when fruits ripened and the wild ears of corn were ready to be eaten and that summer ended when sudden gusts of wind swept the leaves from the trees and a number of animals were getting ready for the long hibernal sleep.

But now, something was the matter with the weather. The warm days of summer had come very late. All the time the days grew shorter and the nights grew colder than they ought to have been.

It began to snow. It snowed for months and months. All the plants died and the animals fled in search of the southern sun. The early humans hoisted their young upon their backs and followed them. But they could not travel as fast as the wilder creatures and he were forced to choose between quick thinking or quick dying. They seem to have preferred the former, for they have managed to survive the terrible glacial periods which threatened to kill every human being on the face of the earth.

First, it was necessary that early humans clothe themselves lest they freeze to death. They learned how to dig holes and cover them with branches and leaves, and in these traps they caught animals, which they then killed with heavy stones and whose skins they used as coats for himself and their families.

Next came the housing problem. This was simple. Many animals were in the habit of sleeping in dark caves. The early humans now followed their example, drove the animals out of their warm homes and claimed them for their own.

In this way thousands of years passed. Only the people with the cleverest brains survived. They had to struggle day and night against cold and hunger. They discovered fire. They were forced to invent tools. They learned how to sharpen stones into axes and how to make hammers. They were obliged to put up large stores of food for the endless days of the winter and they found that clay could be made into bowls and jars and hardened in the rays of the sun. And so the glacial period, which had threatened to destroy humanity, became its greatest teacher because it forced humans to use their brains.

The primary purpose of this passage is __________.

Possible Answers:

to reinforce a scientific understanding of human development

to question the existing understanding of human advancement

to highlight the destructive impact of nature

to outline the importance of struggle in the development of mankind

to undermine a religious interpretation of human existence

Correct answer:

to outline the importance of struggle in the development of mankind

Explanation:

Although the author is arguing in favor of a scientific understanding of human development, there is no evidence to support an answer choice that suggests he is arguing against religion, questioning existing understanding, or even primarily reinforcing a scientific understanding. The evidence primarily points to “outline the importance of struggle in the development of mankind” being the correct answer. This is most clearly seen in the conclusion, but indeed is the purpose of the essay throughout, to show how struggle might not be beneficial to the individual, but is greatly beneficial to the species as a whole because “only the cleverest survive.”

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Passage Logic, Genre, And Organization In Contemporary Life Passages

"Addictions" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Addictions come in many forms, often quite hidden from those who should be aware of them. It is helpful to be aware of how hidden these obsessive behaviors can be. Often, they appear to be harmless, but this appearance is deceptive.  Perhaps several examples can assist in increasing the reader’s awareness of these potentially problematic habits. 

A very simple example of such an apparently innocuous addiction is the addiction that many people have to a beverage like coffee. While not as destructive as an addiction to alcohol, an extreme need for caffeine often covers a need for more sleep or an overzealous desire to be completely energetic at every waking moment. Also, a great deal of caffeine can potentially do damage to one’s heart due to the stress caused by its stimulating effects. 

Another example of a seemingly harmless addiction can be found in the case of people who are addicted to work. It is very tempting to praise such obsessive behavior, as it provides many benefits for others and even for the one doing the work. The advancement of a career certainly seems beneficial and often allows for great personal and financial fulfillment. Nevertheless, constant work often hides some sadness, insecurity, or fear that should be confronted by the person who slaves away without cessation. Likewise, over time, such continuous work often can be greatly destructive of important personal relationships.

Of course, many more examples could be brought forth, for one can obsess over almost anything. Still, even these two simple examples should make clear to the reader that it is possible for there to be apparently harmless—indeed, seemingly helpful—life practices that in reality can pose a potential harm to one’s physical or mental well-being.

What is the purpose of the second and third paragraphs?

Possible Answers:

To explain the meaning of the notion of "harmless addictions"

To provide specific examples of addictions that appear to be harmless at first glance

To explain how deceptive addictions hide their harmfulness

To provide examples of several extremely harmful addictions

To provide examples of several addictions that ultimately are not harmful

Correct answer:

To provide specific examples of addictions that appear to be harmless at first glance

Explanation:

The beginnings of these paragraphs' sentences express their purpose very well:

(1) "A very simple example of such an apparently innocuous addiction . . ."

(2) "Another example of a seemingly harmless addiction . . ."

The key words are "apparently innocuous" and "seemingly harmless."  These show that the addictions being enumerated appear harmless (though they actually are). This was also implied in the opening paragraph.

Example Question #2 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Idea And Theme In Contemporary Life Passages

"Addictions" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Addictions come in many forms, often quite hidden from those who should be aware of them. It is helpful to be aware of how hidden these obsessive behaviors can be. Often, they appear to be harmless, but this appearance is deceptive. Perhaps several examples can assist in increasing the reader’s awareness of these potentially problematic habits. 

A very simple example of such an apparently innocuous addiction is the addiction that many people have to a beverage like coffee. While not as destructive as an addiction to alcohol, an extreme need for caffeine often covers a need for more sleep or an overzealous desire to be completely energetic at every waking moment. Also, a great deal of caffeine can potentially do damage to one’s heart due to the stress caused by its stimulating effects. 

Another example of a seemingly harmless addiction can be found in the case of people who are addicted to work. It is very tempting to praise such obsessive behavior, as it provides many benefits for others and even for the one doing the work. The advancement of a career certainly seems beneficial and often allows for great personal and financial fulfillment. Nevertheless, constant work often hides some sadness, insecurity, or fear that should be confronted by the person who slaves away without cessation. Likewise, over time, such continuous work often can be greatly destructive of important personal relationships.

Of course, many more examples could be brought forth, for one can obsess over almost anything. Still, even these two simple examples should make clear to the reader that it is possible for there to be apparently harmless—indeed, seemingly helpful—life practices that in reality can pose a potential harm to one’s physical or mental well-being.

What is the intention of the author of this passage?

Possible Answers:

To note the crassness of a society that overlooks the suffering and addiction experienced by others

To raise awareness regarding potentially hidden but dangerous behaviors

To condemn certain types of behaviors

To express dissatisfaction with the psychological community's treatment of psychological disorders

To overcome social stereotypes regarding addiction

Correct answer:

To raise awareness regarding potentially hidden but dangerous behaviors

Explanation:

The key sentence for discerning the author's purpose is: "Perhaps several examples can assist in increasing the reader’s awareness of these potentially problematic habits." This helps to interpret the first three sentences in the opening paragraph. The author is not merely intending to provide information about hidden types of addiction. In addition, the author wishes to "increase the reader's awareness." Thus, the best answer regarding the purpose is "to raise awareness regarding potentially hidden but dangerous behaviors."

Example Question #31 : Word Meaning

Adapted from "The Eulogy of the Dog" by George Graham Vest (1870)

The best friend a man has in this world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter whom he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name, may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has, he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it the most. A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.

Gentlemen of the jury, a man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he can be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince.

When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens. If fortune drives the master forth an outcast into the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him, to guard him against danger, to fight against his enemies. And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes his master in its embrace and his body is laid in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open, in alert watchfulness, faithful and true, even unto death.

In the second paragraph, the underlined word “encounter” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

avoidance 

exercise 

contact 

fortune 

misfortune 

Correct answer:

contact 

Explanation:

In context the word “encounter” means come into contact with. The author describes how a man’s dog “will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the world.” Of the five answer choices, “contact” fits most naturally.

Example Question #51 : Contemporary Life Passages

"Addictions" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Addictions come in many forms, often quite hidden from those who should be aware of them. It is helpful to be aware of how hidden these obsessive behaviors can be. Often, they appear to be harmless, but this appearance is deceptive.  Perhaps several examples can assist in increasing the reader’s awareness of these potentially problematic habits. 

A very simple example of such an apparently innocuous addiction is the addiction that many people have to a beverage like coffee. While not as destructive as an addiction to alcohol, an extreme need for caffeine often covers a need for more sleep or an overzealous desire to be completely energetic at every waking moment. Also, a great deal of caffeine can potentially do damage to one’s heart due to the stress caused by its stimulating effects. 

Another example of a seemingly harmless addiction can be found in the case of people who are addicted to work. It is very tempting to praise such obsessive behavior, as it provides many benefits for others and even for the one doing the work. The advancement of a career certainly seems beneficial and often allows for great personal and financial fulfillment. Nevertheless, constant work often hides some sadness, insecurity, or fear that should be confronted by the person who slaves away without cessation. Likewise, over time, such continuous work often can be greatly destructive of important personal relationships.

Of course, many more examples could be brought forth, for one can obsess over almost anything. Still, even these two simple examples should make clear to the reader that it is possible for there to be apparently harmless—indeed, seemingly helpful—life practices that in reality can pose a potential harm to one’s physical or mental well-being.

What is the meaning of the underlined word, “innocuous,” in its context?

Possible Answers:

healthy

harmless

sanitary

vigorous

lacking disease

Correct answer:

harmless

Explanation:

Do not be confused by the relationship of "innocuous" to "inoculate." To be "inoculated" is to be provided with immunity so that exposure to a given disease is made to be harmless for the inoculated person. When something is "innocuous" it is harmless. This is the sense used here. This could be gleaned from the first paragraph, which states that these behaviors can "appear to be harmless."

Example Question #61 : Context Dependent Meanings Of Words And Phrases In Argumentative Humanities Passages

Adapted from "The Eulogy of the Dog" by George Graham Vest (1870)

The best friend a man has in this world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter whom he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name, may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has, he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it the most. A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.

Gentlemen of the jury, a man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he can be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince.

When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens. If fortune drives the master forth an outcast into the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him, to guard him against danger, to fight against his enemies. And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes his master in its embrace and his body is laid in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open, in alert watchfulness, faithful and true, even unto death.

The expression “riches take wings” could be paraphrased as __________.

Possible Answers:

a person owns property 

a person makes a great deal of profit

a person misplaces gold

a person makes a successful investment

a person loses money

Correct answer:

a person loses money

Explanation:

The author uses “riches take wings” in the context of negative situations that a man can experience over the course of his lifetime; therefore, you can reasonably assume that the answer choice must describe a negative experience. This eliminates "a person makes a successful investment," "a person makes a great deal of profit," and "a person owns property" as possible answer choices. As gold is never explicitly mentioned, "a person misplaces gold" seems an unlikely answer choice. “Riches” suggests money and “take wings” suggests having something fly away or losing something. The correct answer is “a person loses money."

Example Question #2 : Analyzing The Text In Contemporary Life Passages

"Addictions" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Addictions come in many forms, often quite hidden from those who should be aware of them. It is helpful to be aware of how hidden these obsessive behaviors can be. Often, they appear to be harmless, but this appearance is deceptive.  Perhaps several examples can assist in increasing the reader’s awareness of these potentially problematic habits. 

A very simple example of such an apparently innocuous addiction is the addiction that many people have to a beverage like coffee. While not as destructive as an addiction to alcohol, an extreme need for caffeine often covers a need for more sleep or an overzealous desire to be completely energetic at every waking moment. Also, a great deal of caffeine can potentially do damage to one’s heart due to the stress caused by its stimulating effects. 

Another example of a seemingly harmless addiction can be found in the case of people who are addicted to work. It is very tempting to praise such obsessive behavior, as it provides many benefits for others and even for the one doing the work. The advancement of a career certainly seems beneficial and often allows for great personal and financial fulfillment. Nevertheless, constant work often hides some sadness, insecurity, or fear that should be confronted by the person who slaves away without cessation. Likewise, over time, such continuous work often can be greatly destructive of important personal relationships.

Of course, many more examples could be brought forth, for one can obsess over almost anything. Still, even these two simple examples should make clear to the reader that it is possible for there to be apparently harmless—indeed, seemingly helpful—life practices that in reality can pose a potential harm to one’s physical or mental well-being.

What is the meaning of the underlined expression, “slaves away without cessation”?

Possible Answers:

is reluctantly working on a project

is extremely hard working

works without stopping

has become an indentured servant

is overcome by the corporate overlords

Correct answer:

works without stopping

Explanation:

The word "slaving" is a form of the verb "to slave," which means "to work very hard." This does not necessarily mean that the person who is "slaving" is a servant or a slave—though the words certainly are related. The word "cessation" means "stopping."  It is related to the English word "cease." Thus, to "slave away without cessation" is to work very hard without stopping.

Example Question #1 : Main Idea

"Newton's Mistakes" by Daniel Morrison (2014)

Isaac Newton has often been thought of as the greatest thinker in human history. His insight into the role that gravity plays in existence and physics completely changed our collective understanding of the universe and our place in it. He was understood in his own time as a genius. One famous quote by Alexander Pope (himself quite an intelligent man) demonstrates the deep affection felt for Newton: “Nature, and nature’s mysteries, lay bathed in night, God said 'Let there be Newton,’ and all was light.”

Yet, when the famous economist John Kenneth Galbraith purchased Newton’s journals and diaries at auction, he found to his astonishment, and partial dismay, that more than half of Newton’s work was dedicated to the practice of alchemy—the pursuit of turning ordinary materials into precious metals. Our current understanding of science tells us that this is impossible and that Newton was wasting a significant proportion of his time.

Another famous story about Newton tells of his attempts to figure out the effect of direct exposure to sunlight on the human eye. To carry out this experiment he decided to stare at the sun for as long as humanly possible to see what would happen. The effect, as you might have guessed, was that he very nearly went permanently blind and was indeed completely unable to see for two days.

One might determine from these stories that Newton was not the genius we consider him to be—that he was, in fact, a fool; however, it should tell us something about the nature of genius. It is not merely deep intelligence, but the willingness to try new things and the rejection of the fear of failure. Newton was not a genius in spite of his mistakes, but because of them.

The main argument of this essay is __________.

Possible Answers:

That genius is born, not made

That the pursuit of alchemy ultimately led to the intellectual ruin of Isaac Newton

That Newton’s contributions to science make him the greatest mind in human history

That Newton was a genius because of his willingness to make mistakes, not in spite of this

That in spite of his many breathtaking achievements, Newton should be best remembered for his foolishness

Correct answer:

That Newton was a genius because of his willingness to make mistakes, not in spite of this

Explanation:

Throughout this essay, the author is primarily contrasting Newton’s scientific contributions and esteemed reputation with examples of his whimsy and foolishness in order to lead the reader to his main argument and conclusion. This is, “But, really it should tell us something about the nature of genius. It is not merely deep intelligence, but the willingness to try new things and the rejection of the fear of failure. Newton was not a genius in spite of his mistakes, but because of them.” So, the correct answer is “That Newton was a genius because of his willingness to make mistakes, not in spite of this.”

Example Question #1 : Recognizing The Main Idea In Argumentative Humanities Passages

Adapted from The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Van Loon (1921)

Early humans did not know what time meant, but in a general way they kept track of the seasons. They had noticed that the cold winter was invariably followed by the mild spring—that spring grew into the hot summer when fruits ripened and the wild ears of corn were ready to be eaten and that summer ended when sudden gusts of wind swept the leaves from the trees and a number of animals were getting ready for the long hibernal sleep.

But now, something was the matter with the weather. The warm days of summer had come very late. All the time the days grew shorter and the nights grew colder than they ought to have been.

It began to snow. It snowed for months and months. All the plants died and the animals fled in search of the southern sun. The early humans hoisted their young upon their backs and followed them. But they could not travel as fast as the wilder creatures and he were forced to choose between quick thinking or quick dying. They seem to have preferred the former, for they have managed to survive the terrible glacial periods which threatened to kill every human being on the face of the earth.

First, it was necessary that early humans clothe themselves lest they freeze to death. They learned how to dig holes and cover them with branches and leaves, and in these traps they caught animals, which they then killed with heavy stones and whose skins they used as coats for himself and their families.

Next came the housing problem. This was simple. Many animals were in the habit of sleeping in dark caves. The early humans now followed their example, drove the animals out of their warm homes and claimed them for their own.

In this way thousands of years passed. Only the people with the cleverest brains survived. They had to struggle day and night against cold and hunger. They discovered fire. They were forced to invent tools. They learned how to sharpen stones into axes and how to make hammers. They were obliged to put up large stores of food for the endless days of the winter and they found that clay could be made into bowls and jars and hardened in the rays of the sun. And so the glacial period, which had threatened to destroy humanity, became its greatest teacher because it forced humans to use their brains.

The main argument of this passage is that __________.

Possible Answers:

The ice age had a negative impact on the evolution of mankind.

Human history is a long struggle against the elemental forces of nature.

Mankind almost perished during the glacial periods of Earth’s history.

The forces of nature represent the greatest threats to human existence.

Mankind was forced into great mental development by the ice age.

Correct answer:

Mankind was forced into great mental development by the ice age.

Explanation:

In this passage, the author is primarily arguing that mankind was forced into rapid mental adaptation due to the threat brought about by an ice age. This is most clearly shown in the concluding paragraph when the author says, “In this way thousands of years passed. Only the people with the cleverest brains survived. They had to struggle day and night against cold and hunger” and “And so the glacial period, which had threatened to destroy humanity, became its greatest teacher because it forced humans to use their brains.” Almost all of these answer choices are part of the author’s arguments in this passage, but only one accurately captures the author’s emphasis on the ice age as means of teaching humanity and aiding its development.

Example Question #1 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Argumentative Humanities Passages

Adapted from The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Van Loon (1921)

Early humans did not know what time meant, but in a general way they kept track of the seasons. They had noticed that the cold winter was invariably followed by the mild spring—that spring grew into the hot summer when fruits ripened and the wild ears of corn were ready to be eaten and that summer ended when sudden gusts of wind swept the leaves from the trees and a number of animals were getting ready for the long hibernal sleep.

But now, something was the matter with the weather. The warm days of summer had come very late. All the time the days grew shorter and the nights grew colder than they ought to have been.

It began to snow. It snowed for months and months. All the plants died and the animals fled in search of the southern sun. The early humans hoisted their young upon their backs and followed them. But they could not travel as fast as the wilder creatures and he were forced to choose between quick thinking or quick dying. They seem to have preferred the former, for they have managed to survive the terrible glacial periods which threatened to kill every human being on the face of the earth.

First, it was necessary that early humans clothe themselves lest they freeze to death. They learned how to dig holes and cover them with branches and leaves, and in these traps they caught animals, which they then killed with heavy stones and whose skins they used as coats for himself and their families.

Next came the housing problem. This was simple. Many animals were in the habit of sleeping in dark caves. The early humans now followed their example, drove the animals out of their warm homes and claimed them for their own.

In this way thousands of years passed. Only the people with the cleverest brains survived. They had to struggle day and night against cold and hunger. They discovered fire. They were forced to invent tools. They learned how to sharpen stones into axes and how to make hammers. They were obliged to put up large stores of food for the endless days of the winter and they found that clay could be made into bowls and jars and hardened in the rays of the sun. And so the glacial period, which had threatened to destroy humanity, became its greatest teacher because it forced humans to use their brains.

Which of these statements is NOT supported by the passage?

Possible Answers:

Early humans might not have survived had people not learned to employ the pelts of animals for warmth.

All the plants died during the ice age.

Humanity first made tools out of necessity. 

All animals fled south during the ice age.

Humans were forced to live in glacial conditions for millennia.

Correct answer:

All animals fled south during the ice age.

Explanation:

All of these statements are supported by this passage except the idea that “all animals fled south during the Ice Age.” While the author does state “All the plants died and the animals fled in search of the southern sun. The early humans hoisted their young upon their backs and followed them. But they could not travel as fast as the wilder creatures and he were forced to choose between quick thinking or quick dying,” this excerpt actually contains information that must refute the answer choice we have chosen. We know that “all the plants died,” and that man could not keep up with the animals that were fleeing. This means that man would surely have starved to death if “all the animals fled south.” Some of them must have remained, e.g. for him to trap and chase out of caves.

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