SSAT Middle Level Reading : Humanities Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #61 : Ssat Middle Level Reading Comprehension

Adapted from The Boy Heroes of Crecy and Poitiers by Treadwell Walden (1879)

There was only one road to success or fame in those days, and that was the profession of fighting. The ambition of every high-born young fellow was to become a knight. Knighthood was something that both king and nobles regarded as higher in some respects than even the royalty or nobility to which they were born. No one could be admitted into an order of the great brotherhood of knights, which extended all over Europe and formed an independent society, unless he had gone through severe discipline, and had performed some distinguished deed of valor. Then he could wear the golden spurs; for knighthood had its earliest origin in the distinction of fighting on horseback, while ordinary soldiers fought on foot. Although knighthood changed afterward, the word "chivalry" always expressed it, from the French word cheval, a horse. And in addition to valor, which was the result of physical strength and courage, the knight was expected to be generous, courteous, faithful, devout, truthful, high-souled, high-principled. Hence the epithet, "chivalrous," which, even today, is so often heard applied to men of especially fine spirit. "Honor" was the great word which included all these qualities then, as it does in some measure now.

The underlined word “profession” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

teacher

career

house

war

amateur

Correct answer:

career

Explanation:

The word “profession” means job or career. If your mother is a doctor, then her profession is medicine. If your father is a famer, than his profession is agricultural work. In the context of the passage, the author describes the “profession of fighting.” None of the other choices make sense when plugged in for "profession." To help you, an "amateur" is someone not paid for their work or someone who is not an expert; an amateur is the opposite of a professional.

Example Question #62 : Ssat Middle Level Reading Comprehension

Adapted from The Boy Heroes of Crecy and Poitiers by Treadwell Walden (1879)

There was only one road to success or fame in those days, and that was the profession of fighting. The ambition of every high-born young fellow was to become a knight. Knighthood was something that both king and nobles regarded as higher in some respects than even the royalty or nobility to which they were born. No one could be admitted into an order of the great brotherhood of knights, which extended all over Europe and formed an independent society, unless he had gone through severe discipline, and had performed some distinguished deed of valor. Then he could wear the golden spurs; for knighthood had its earliest origin in the distinction of fighting on horseback, while ordinary soldiers fought on foot. Although knighthood changed afterward, the word "chivalry" always expressed it, from the French word “cheval,” a horse. And in addition to valor, which was the result of physical strength and courage, the knight was expected to be generous, courteous, faithful, devout, truthful, high-souled, high-principled. Hence the epithet, "chivalrous," which, even to-day, is so often heard applied to men of especially fine spirit. "Honor" was the great word which included all these qualities then, as it does in some measure now.

The underlined word “distinguished” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

well-known 

mysterious

tiresome

energizing

enigmatic

Correct answer:

well-known 

Explanation:

The word “distinguish” means separate someone from others. Something that is distinguished is known for being different and recognized as an accomplishment. The author says, “No one could be admitted into an order of the great brotherhood of knights, which extended all over Europe and formed an independent society, unless he had gone through severe discipline, and had performed some distinguished deed of valor.” In order to become a knight, one had to perform some kind of heroic act. "Mysterious" and "unknown" both mean not known or hard to predict, which makes little sense because someone can't become recognized for doing something unknown. The correct answer is “well-known,” because that most accurately fits into the sentence. As for the other answer choices, something that is "tiresome" is exhausting and boring, and something that is "energizing" gives you energy.

Example Question #63 : Ssat Middle Level Reading Comprehension

Adapted from The Boy Heroes of Crecy and Poitiers by Treadwell Walden (1879)

There was only one road to success or fame in those days, and that was the profession of fighting. The ambition of every high-born young fellow was to become a knight. Knighthood was something that both king and nobles regarded as higher in some respects than even the royalty or nobility to which they were born. No one could be admitted into an order of the great brotherhood of knights, which extended all over Europe and formed an independent society, unless he had gone through severe discipline, and had performed some distinguished deed of valor. Then he could wear the golden spurs; for knighthood had its earliest origin in the distinction of fighting on horseback, while ordinary soldiers fought on foot. Although knighthood changed afterward, the word "chivalry" always expressed it, from the French word “cheval,” a horse. And in addition to valor, which was the result of physical strength and courage, the knight was expected to be generous, courteous, faithful, devout, truthful, high-souled, high-principled. Hence the epithet, "chivalrous," which, even to-day, is so often heard applied to men of especially fine spirit. "Honor" was the great word which included all these qualities then, as it does in some measure now.

The underlined word “distinction” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

boastful

arrogant

difference

lofty 

similarity 

Correct answer:

difference

Explanation:

The word “distinction” is taken from this sentence in the passage: “Then he could wear the golden spurs; for knighthood had its earliest origin in the distinction of fighting on horseback, while ordinary soldiers fought on foot.” This sentence compares two things, fighting on horseback and fighting on foot, and discusses how the knight is different from the soldier because he fights on the back of a horse. The word “distinction” is used to describe a difference between two things where one is usually of a higher quality or deserving of greater respect, so "difference" is the correct answer because it is closest in meaning to "distinction." As for the other answer choices, "lofty" means high up or proud; "arrogant" and "boastful" are loose synonyms of one another that both mean proud and constantly talking about yourself in a way that other people find annoying.

Example Question #62 : Narrative Humanities Passages

Adapted from "A Very Narrow Shave" by John Lang in Adventures in Many Lands (1912)

It was a cold, clear, frosty morning when we started, the stars throbbing and winking as they seem to do only during frost, and we toiled, not particularly gaily, up the bed of a creek, stumbling in the darkness and barking our shins over more boulders and big stones than one would have believed existed in all creation. Just before dawn, when the grey light was beginning to show us more clearly where we were going, we saw in the sand of the creek fresh tracks of a large bear, the water only then beginning to ooze into the prints left by his great feet, and I can hardly say that I gazed on them with the amount of enthusiasm that Halley professed to feel.

The underlined word “toiled” most likely means __________.

Possible Answers:

leapt

enamored

embraced

deplored

struggled

Correct answer:

struggled

Explanation:

In context, the author says, “we toiled, not particularly gaily, up the bed of a creek, stumbling in the darkness and barking our shins over more boulders and big stones than one would have believed existed in all creation.” From this description you can reasonably see that the author and his party were “struggling” to carry out their expedition. It was dark, they were falling over, and there were more obstacles than “one would have believed existed in all creation.” Even if you don’t know that “toil” means work and “toiled” means worked hard or struggled, you can infer this meaning from the manner in which the author talks about the expedition. To provide further help, “leapt” means jumped high; “embraced” means enthusiastically adopted or hugged; “enamored” means in love with; and “deplored” means hated.

Example Question #12 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Phrases Or Sentences In Humanities Passages

Passage adapted from "Of One Defect in Our Government" in Essays of Michael, Seigneur de Montaigne in The Complete Works of Michael de Montaigne (1580, trans. C. Cotton, ed. W. Hazlitt 1842)

My late father, a man that had no other advantages than experience and his own natural parts, was nevertheless of a very clear judgment, formerly told me that he once had thoughts of endeavoring to introduce this practice; that there might be in every city a certain place assigned to which such as stood in need of anything might repair, and have their business entered by an officer appointed for that purpose. As for example: I want a chapman to buy my pearls; I want one that has pearls to sell; such a one wants company to go to Paris; such a one seeks a servant of such a quality; such a one a master; such a one such an artificer; some inquiring for one thing, some for another, every one according to what he wants. And doubtless, these mutual advertisements would be of no contemptible advantage to the public correspondence and intelligence: for there are evermore conditions that hunt after one another, and for want of knowing one another's occasions leave men in very great necessity.

I have heard, to the great shame of the age we live in, that in our very sight two most excellent men for learning died so poor that they had scarce bread to put in their mouths: Lilius Gregorius Giraldus in Italy and Sebastianus Castalio in Germany: and I believe there are a thousand men would have invited them into their families, with very advantageous conditions, or have relieved them where they were, had they known their wants. The world is not so generally corrupted, but that I know a man that would heartily wish the estate his ancestors have left him might be employed, so long as it shall please fortune to give him leave to enjoy it, to secure rare and remarkable persons of any kind, whom misfortune sometimes persecutes to the last degree, from the dangers of necessity; and at least place them in such a condition that they must be very hard to please, if they are not contented.

My father in his domestic economy had this rule (which I know how to commend, but by no means to imitate), namely, that besides the day-book or memorial of household affairs, where the small accounts, payments, and disbursements, which do not require a secretary's hand, were entered, and which a steward always had in custody, he ordered him whom he employed to write for him, to keep a journal, and in it to set down all the remarkable occurrences, and daily memorials of the history of his house: very pleasant to look over, when time begins to wear things out of memory, and very useful sometimes to put us out of doubt when such a thing was begun, when ended; what visitors came, and when they went; our travels, absences, marriages, and deaths; the reception of good or ill news; the change of principal servants, and the like. An ancient custom, which I think it would not be amiss for every one to revive in his own house; and I find I did very foolishly in neglecting it.

Based on context, what is the meaning of the underlined clause “he ordered him whom he employed to write for him”?

Possible Answers:

the narrator's father ordered one of his servants to write for the narrator's father

the narrator ordered one of the narrator's father's servants to write for the narrator's father

the narrator's father ordered one of his servants to write for himself

the narrator's father's servant ordered the narrator's father to write for the narrator

the narrator's father's servant ordered the narrator's father to write for the narrator's father's servant

Correct answer:

the narrator's father ordered one of his servants to write for the narrator's father

Explanation:

Answering this question correctly requires you to read in context very carefully in order to determine the antecedents of each of the pronouns involved in the specified clause. Let's figure out each one in turn. The first "he" refers to "My father," as it is part of the sentence that begins with "My father," so he is still the subject of the sentence. Don't be confused by phrase "and which a steward always had in custody" that immediately precedes the selection!

So, so far we have "[the narrator's father] ordered him whom he employed to write for him." The "him whom he employed" is signifying employees of the narrator's father, and since we know that the narrator's father employs servants, we can replace "him whom he employed" with "one of the narrator's father's servants" and be accurate. So, we now have "[the narrator's father] ordered [one of his servants] to write for him."

This reduces the potentially correct answer choices to "the narrator's father ordered one of his servants to write for the narrator's father" and "the narrator's father ordered one of his servants to write for himself." Well, if it were the latter answer, the sentence would need to say "himself," in order to refer reflexively to the servant. That means that "the narrator's father ordered one of his servants to write for the narrator's father" is the correct answer.

Example Question #1 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Phrases In Narrative Humanities Passages

Passage adapted from the Preface to The Woman in White (1859) by Wilkie Collins

One word more, before I conclude, in acknowledgment of the heavy debt of gratitude which I owe to the reading public. It is no affectation on my part to say that the success of this book has been especially welcome to me, because it implied the recognition of a literary principle which has guided me since I first addressed my readers in the character of a novelist.

I have always held the old-fashioned opinion that the primary object of a work of fiction should be to tell a story; and I have never believed that the novelist who properly performed this first condition of his art, was in danger, on that account, of neglecting the delineation of character — for this plain reason, that the effect produced by any narrative of events is essentially dependent, not on the events themselves, but on the human interest which is directly connected with them. It may be possible, in novel-writing, to present characters successfully without telling a story; but it is not possible to tell a story successfully without presenting characters; their existence, as recognisable realities, being the sole condition on which the story can be effectively told. The only narrative which can hope to lay a strong hold on the attention of readers, is a narrative which interests them about men and women — for the perfectly obvious reason that they are men and women themselves.

The phrase "primary object" is closest in meaning to __________.

Possible Answers:

central theme

first printing

essential purpose

main character

Correct answer:

essential purpose

Explanation:

"Primary" is an adjective that means of chief importance. "Object" is a noun with many possible meanings, one of which is a goal or purpose. This is useful information, but we don't necessarily have to know that in order to find the best answer. 

We're looking for a phrase that explains the relationship between fiction and telling stories. Try inserting each phrase into the blank of the following sentence: the [blank] of fiction is to tell a story. Which answer makes the most sense? We can eliminate "central theme" and "main character" because these are components of stories themselves, not explanations of the relationship between fiction and telling stories. We can also eliminate "first printing"; this could refer to an event, the first time the book was printed, or it could refer to a physical book produced during that event, but again it doesn't explain the relationship between fiction and telling stories. "Essential purpose" has the closest meaning.

Example Question #61 : Humanities Passages

Passage adapted from the Preface to The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1902) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Some few words on the chronology of these stories may not be out of place. The first of them, "A Study in Scarlet," published in '87, was the very first separate booklet of mine that ever appeared. "The Sign of Four" followed two years later. Then, in ‘91, the “Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” began to appear in the “Strand Magazine.” The public having shown them some favour I was persuaded to continue them into another series, “The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes,” which came to an end in 1893. That it was an end, and that I had no intention of abusing the patience of the public, was shown by the last story in which, wisely or unwisely, I brought my hero as well as my stories to an end. The subject had begun to weary me, and it seemed to me that, while there was no reason to be ashamed of doing detective stories, it was unjustifiable that I should allow myself to be tempted into doing nothing else. “The Hounds of Baskerville” represents the inevitable relapse after repentance.

In the context of this passage, the phrase "my hero" most likely refers to _____________.

Possible Answers:

the main character in the author's stories

the main character from the author's favorite book

a person the author admires

a person who once helped the author

Correct answer:

the main character in the author's stories

Explanation:

When people say "my hero," they often refer to a person they admire. However, since we're reading a passage about writing stories, we should be aware of the possibility that the author is talking about a character in a story. This possibility is likely, since the author uses the phrase in the sentence, "I bought my hero as well as my stories to an end." Of the answer choices, only one of them is within the author's control to "end": "The main character in the author's stories" is the best answer.

Example Question #62 : Humanities Passages

Passage adapted from the Preface to The Woman in White (1859) by Wilkie Collins

One word more, before I conclude, in acknowledgment of the heavy debt of gratitude which I owe to the reading public. It is no affectation on my part to say that the success of this book has been especially welcome to me, because it implied the recognition of a literary principle which has guided me since I first addressed my readers in the character of a novelist.

I have always held the old-fashioned opinion that the primary object of a work of fiction should be to tell a story; and I have never believed that the novelist who properly performed this first condition of his art, was in danger, on that account, of neglecting the delineation of character — for this plain reason, that the effect produced by any narrative of events is essentially dependent, not on the events themselves, but on the human interest which is directly connected with them. It may be possible, in novel-writing, to present characters successfully without telling a story; but it is not possible to tell a story successfully without presenting characters; their existence, as recognisable realities, being the sole condition on which the story can be effectively told. The only narrative which can hope to lay a strong hold on the attention of readers, is a narrative which interests them about men and women — for the perfectly obvious reason that they are men and women themselves.

In this passage, the phrase "men and women" refers to _____________.

Possible Answers:

First readers, then writers.

First readers, then characters.

First characters, then readers. 

First authors, then readers.

Correct answer:

First characters, then readers. 

Explanation:

If we follow the subject of the sentence: "The only narrative which can hope to lay a strong hold on the attention of readers, is a narrative which interests them about men and women — for the perfectly obvious reason that they are men and women themselves."

We can see that "them" refers to readers, and therefore "they are men and women" also refers to the readers. So we know that the second instance of the phrase "men and women" refers to readers. Now all we have to do is figure out whether the first instance of the phrase "men and women" refers to authors or characters. Since the previous sentences in the passage discuss the role of characters in telling stories and interest in readers, "Characters, then readers" is the correct answer.

Example Question #11 : Making Inferences About The Author Or Humanities Passage Content

Passage adapted from "Of One Defect in Our Government" in Essays of Michael, Seigneur de Montaigne in The Complete Works of Michael de Montaigne (1580, trans. C. Cotton, ed. W. Hazlitt 1842)

My late father, a man that had no other advantages than experience and his own natural parts, was nevertheless of a very clear judgment, formerly told me that he once had thoughts of endeavoring to introduce this practice; that there might be in every city a certain place assigned to which such as stood in need of anything might repair, and have their business entered by an officer appointed for that purpose. As for example: I want a chapman to buy my pearls; I want one that has pearls to sell; such a one wants company to go to Paris; such a one seeks a servant of such a quality; such a one a master; such a one such an artificer; some inquiring for one thing, some for another, every one according to what he wants. And doubtless, these mutual advertisements would be of no contemptible advantage to the public correspondence and intelligence: for there are evermore conditions that hunt after one another, and for want of knowing one another's occasions leave men in very great necessity.

I have heard, to the great shame of the age we live in, that in our very sight two most excellent men for learning died so poor that they had scarce bread to put in their mouths: Lilius Gregorius Giraldus in Italy and Sebastianus Castalio in Germany: and I believe there are a thousand men would have invited them into their families, with very advantageous conditions, or have relieved them where they were, had they known their wants. The world is not so generally corrupted, but that I know a man that would heartily wish the estate his ancestors have left him might be employed, so long as it shall please fortune to give him leave to enjoy it, to secure rare and remarkable persons of any kind, whom misfortune sometimes persecutes to the last degree, from the dangers of necessity; and at least place them in such a condition that they must be very hard to please, if they are not contented.

My father in his domestic economy had this rule (which I know how to commend, but by no means to imitate), namely, that besides the day-book or memorial of household affairs, where the small accounts, payments, and disbursements, which do not require a secretary's hand, were entered, and which a steward always had in custody, he ordered him whom he employed to write for him, to keep a journal, and in it to set down all the remarkable occurrences, and daily memorials of the history of his house: very pleasant to look over, when time begins to wear things out of memory, and very useful sometimes to put us out of doubt when such a thing was begun, when ended; what visitors came, and when they went; our travels, absences, marriages, and deaths; the reception of good or ill news; the change of principal servants, and the like. An ancient custom, which I think it would not be amiss for every one to revive in his own house; and I find I did very foolishly in neglecting it.

The household journal described in the third paragraph could potentially solve all but one of the following problems. Which problem would it NOT help to solve?

Possible Answers:

Confirming the number of days a builder worked on a renovation project

Recalling the exact date on which a new butler was hired

Remembering when one's cousin was married

Determining exactly how much rain fell on crops in the past month

Determining how many days the resident family spent on vacation in the past year

Correct answer:

Determining exactly how much rain fell on crops in the past month

Explanation:

To correctly answer this question, we have to consider the third paragraph's description of the uses of the household journal: it contains "all the remarkable occurrences, and daily memorials of the history of [the] house" and is "very pleasant to look over, when time begins to wear things out of memory, and very useful sometimes to put us out of doubt when such a thing was begun, when ended; what visitors came, and when they went; our travels, absences, marriages, and deaths; the reception of good or ill news; the change of principal servants, and the like." From here, we can see that all but one of the answer choices matches up with a quotation from this part of the passage: "Remembering when one's cousin was married" matches up with "marriages," "Confirming the number of days a builder worked on a renovation project" matches up with "when such a thing was begun, when ended," "Determining how many days the resident family spent on vacation in the past year" matches up with "travels" and "absences," and "Recalling the exact date on which a new butler was hired" matches up with "the change of principal servants." The only answer choice that does not match up with a part of the quotation is "Determining exactly how much rain fell on crops in the past month," and this is the correct answer, because nowhere is quantitative data about the amount of rainfall included in the description of the things the journal keeps track of.

Example Question #1 : Making Inferences In Narrative Humanities Passages

Adapted from The Little Post Boy (1846) by Bayard Taylor.

Very few foreigners travel in Sweden in the winter, on account of the intense cold. As you go northward from Stockholm, the capital, the country becomes ruder and wilder, and the climate more severe. In the sheltered valleys along the Gulf of Bothnia and the rivers that empty into it, there are farms and villages for a distance of seven or eight hundred miles, after which fruit trees disappear, and nothing will grow in the short, cold summers, except potatoes and a little barley. Farther inland, there are great forests and lakes, and ranges of mountains where bears, wolves, and herds of wild reindeer make their home. No people could live in such a country unless they were very industrious and thrifty.

I made my journey in the winter, because I was on my way to Lapland, where it is easier to travel when the swamps and rivers are frozen, and the reindeer-sleds can fly along over the smooth snow. It was very cold indeed, the greater part of the time; the days were short and dark, and if I had not found the people so kind, so cheerful, and so honest, I should have felt inclined to turn back more than once. But I do not think there are better people in the world than those who live in Norrland, which is a Swedish province, commencing about two hundred miles north of Stockholm.

They are a hale, strong people, with yellow hair and bright blue eyes, and the handsomest teeth I ever saw. They live plainly, but very comfortably, in snug wooden houses, with double windows and doors to keep out the cold; and since they cannot do much outdoor work, they spin and weave and mend their farming implements in the large family room, thus enjoying the winter in spite of its severity. They are very happy and contented, and few of them would be willing to leave that cold country and make their homes in a warmer climate.

Where does the author think the best people in the world live?

Possible Answers:

Norrland

Stockholm

England

Sweden

Norway

Correct answer:

Norrland

Explanation:

The author says, “but I do not think there are better people in the world than those who live in Norrland, which is a Swedish province, commencing about two hundred miles north of Stockholm. The author believes people from the Swedish province of Norrland are the best people in the world.

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