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

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

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Example Questions

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Example Question #21 : Context Dependent Meanings Of Words And Phrases In Literary Fiction Passages

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

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

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

In the context of this passage, the phrase "to take the life of the old man" is closest in meaning to ___________.

Possible Answers:

to murder the old man

to steal the old man's fortune

to mimic the old man

to impersonate the old man

Correct answer:

to murder the old man

Explanation:

The key to this question lies in the phrase "and thus rid myself of the eye forever." We're looking for a phrase that's closest in meaning to "take the life of" and would also result in getting rid of the old man "forever." Neither impersonating the old man, mimicking the old man, or stealing from the old man would have this result. "To murder the old man" has the closest meaning. 

Example Question #5 : Language In Literature Passages

Adapted from Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (1883)

He was a very silent man by custom. All day he hung round the cove or upon the cliffs with a brass telescope; all evening he sat in a corner of the parlor next the fire and drank rum and water very strong. Mostly he would not speak when spoken to, only look up sudden and fierce and blow through his nose like a fog-horn; and we and the people who came about our house soon learned to let him be. Every day when he came back from his stroll he would ask if any seafaring men had gone by along the road. At first we thought it was the want of company of his own kind that made him ask this question, but at last we began to see he was desirous to avoid them. When a seaman did put up at the Admiral Benbow (as now and then some did, making by the coast road for Bristol) he would look in at him through the curtained door before he entered the parlor; and he was always sure to be as silent as a mouse when any such was present. For me, at least, there was no secret about the matter, for I was, in a way, a sharer in his alarms. He had taken me aside one day and promised me a silver fourpenny on the first of every month if I would only keep my "weather-eye open for a seafaring man with one leg" and let him know the moment he appeared. Often enough when the first of the month came round and I applied to him for my wage, he would only blow through his nose at me and stare me down, but before the week was out he was sure to think better of it, bring me my four-penny piece, and repeat his orders to look out for "the seafaring man with one leg.”

How that personage haunted my dreams, I need scarcely tell you. I would see him in a thousand forms, and with a thousand diabolical expressions. Now the leg would be cut off at the knee, now at the hip; now he was a monstrous kind of a creature who had never had but the one leg, and that in the middle of his body. To see him leap and run and pursue me over hedge and ditch was the worst of nightmares. And altogether I paid pretty dear for my monthly fourpenny piece, in the shape of these abominable fancies.

“That personage,” underlined in the second paragraph, refers to __________.

Possible Answers:

the seafaring man with one leg

Admiral Benbow

the man who pays the speaker a fourpenny piece each month

the owner of the inn

the narrator

Correct answer:

the seafaring man with one leg

Explanation:

You need to pay attention to the transition between the passage’s two paragraphs to get this question correct. At the end of the first passage, we are told, “Often enough when the first of the month came round and I applied to him for my wage, he would only blow through his nose at me and stare me down, but before the week was out he was sure to think better of it, bring me my four-penny piece, and repeat his orders to look out for "the seafaring man with one leg.” Then, the second paragraph begins, “How that personage haunted my dreams, I need scarcely tell you.” The past person mentioned in the first paragraph was “the seafaring man with one leg,” so that is the correct answer.

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