SSAT Middle Level Reading : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, and Arguments in Narrative Social Science Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #31 : Details

Adapted from The Man who Spoiled Napoleon’s Destiny by Rev. W. H. Fitchett, LL.D. (1899)

From March 18 to May 20, 1799—for more than sixty days and nights, that is—a little, half-forgotten, and more than half-ruined Syrian town was the scene of one of the fiercest and most dramatic sieges recorded in military history. And rarely has there been a struggle so apparently one-sided.

A handful of British sailors and Turkish irregulars were holding Acre, a town without regular defenses, against Napoleon, the most brilliant military genius of his generation, with an army of 10,000 war-hardened veterans, the "Army of Italy"—soldiers who had dared the snows of the Alps and conquered Italy, and to whom victory was a familiar experience. In their ranks military daring had reached, perhaps, its very highest point. And yet the sailors inside that ring of crumbling wall won! At Acre Napoleon experienced his first defeat; and, years after, at St. Helena, he said of Sir Sidney Smith, the gallant sailor who baffled him, "That man made me miss my destiny." It is a curious fact that one Englishman thwarted Napoleon's career in the East, and another ended his career in the West, and it may be doubted which of the two Napoleon hated most—Wellington, who finally overthrew him at Waterloo, or Sidney Smith, who, to use Napoleon's own words, made him "miss his destiny," and exchange the empire of the East for a lonely pinnacle of rock in the Atlantic.

In what year did the siege of Acre take place?

Possible Answers:

1812

1799

1912

1800

1899

Correct answer:

1799

Explanation:

In the first sentence, the author reveals how the siege of Acre took place between March 18th and May 20th, 1799. 

Example Question #1 : Analyzing The Text In History Passages

Adapted from The Man who Spoiled Napoleon’s Destiny by Rev. W. H. Fitchett, LL.D. (1899)

From March 18 to May 20, 1799—for more than sixty days and nights, that is—a little, half-forgotten, and more than half-ruined Syrian town was the scene of one of the fiercest and most dramatic sieges recorded in military history. And rarely has there been a struggle so apparently one-sided.

A handful of British sailors and Turkish irregulars were holding Acre, a town without regular defenses, against Napoleon, the most brilliant military genius of his generation, with an army of 10,000 war-hardened veterans, the "Army of Italy"—soldiers who had dared the snows of the Alps and conquered Italy, and to whom victory was a familiar experience. In their ranks military daring had reached, perhaps, its very highest point. And yet the sailors inside that ring of crumbling wall won! At Acre Napoleon experienced his first defeat; and, years after, at St. Helena, he said of Sir Sidney Smith, the gallant sailor who baffled him, "That man made me miss my destiny." It is a curious fact that one Englishman thwarted Napoleon's career in the East, and another ended his career in the West, and it may be doubted which of the two Napoleon hated most—Wellington, who finally overthrew him at Waterloo, or Sidney Smith, who, to use Napoleon's own words, made him "miss his destiny," and exchange the empire of the East for a lonely pinnacle of rock in the Atlantic.

Who is described as “the most brilliant military genius of his generation?”

Possible Answers:

None of these answers

Sir Sidney Smith 

Wellington 

Napoleon

Waterloo

Correct answer:

Napoleon

Explanation:

Napoleon is described as “the most brilliant military genius of his generation" in the first sentence of the passage's second paragraph.

Example Question #1 : Identifying And Analyzing Details In History Passages

Adapted from The Man who Spoiled Napoleon’s Destiny by Rev. W. H. Fitchett, LL.D. (1899)

From March 18 to May 20, 1799—for more than sixty days and nights, that is—a little, half-forgotten, and more than half-ruined Syrian town was the scene of one of the fiercest and most dramatic sieges recorded in military history. And rarely has there been a struggle so apparently one-sided.

A handful of British sailors and Turkish irregulars were holding Acre, a town without regular defenses, against Napoleon, the most brilliant military genius of his generation, with an army of 10,000 war-hardened veterans, the "Army of Italy"—soldiers who had dared the snows of the Alps and conquered Italy, and to whom victory was a familiar experience. In their ranks military daring had reached, perhaps, its very highest point. And yet the sailors inside that ring of crumbling wall won! At Acre Napoleon experienced his first defeat; and, years after, at St. Helena, he said of Sir Sidney Smith, the gallant sailor who baffled him, "That man made me miss my destiny." It is a curious fact that one Englishman thwarted Napoleon's career in the East, and another ended his career in the West, and it may be doubted which of the two Napoleon hated most—Wellington, who finally overthrew him at Waterloo, or Sidney Smith, who, to use Napoleon's own words, made him "miss his destiny," and exchange the empire of the East for a lonely pinnacle of rock in the Atlantic.

What is the name given to Napoleon’s troops?

Possible Answers:

The Army of the Alps

The Empire Army

The French Army

The Army of Italy

The Army of Destiny

Correct answer:

The Army of Italy

Explanation:

The author describes Napoleon's army as "an army of 10,000 war-hardened veterans, the "Army of Italy"—soldiers who had dared the snows of the Alps and conquered Italy, and to whom victory was a familiar experience.” So, the name given to Napoleon's army is "the Army of Italy."

Example Question #12 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments 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.

What is the motto of Wales?

Possible Answers:

“Union makes strength.”

“Awake: It is light.”

“Strength and endurance.”

“Wherever the fates carry us.”

“The Eternal State.”

Correct answer:

“Awake: It is light.”

Explanation:

The author says that every great nation has a flag, a symbol, and a motto; that of Wales is: "Awake: It is light."

Example Question #11 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments 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.

Which of these countries is NOT correctly matched with its appropriate emblem?

Possible Answers:

Ireland—Harp.

Wales—Red Dragon.

England—Rose.

Scotland—Bagpipes.

They are all correctly matched.

Correct answer:

Scotland—Bagpipes.

Explanation:

The passage reveals that England has a lion and a rose; Ireland the shamrock and a harp; Wales the leek and the red dragon; Scotland the thistle and nothing else. There is no mention of bagpipes. This is a trick question relying on you having carefully read the whole passage to spot the trick.

Example Question #14 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Narrative Social Science Passages

Adapted from Early European History by Hutton Webster (1917)

Henry II, who ascended the English throne in 1154 C.E., was a grandson of William the Conqueror and the first of the famous Plantagenet family, Henry spent more than half of his reign abroad, looking after his extensive possessions in France, but this fact did not prevent him from giving England good government. Three things in which all Englishmen take special pride—the courts, the jury system, and the Common law—began to take shape during Henry's reign.

Henry, first of all, developed the royal court of justice. This had been, at first, simply the court of the king's chief vassals, corresponding to the local feudal courts. Henry transformed it from an occasional assembly of warlike nobles into a regular body of trained lawyers, and at the same time opened its doors to all except serfs. In the king's court any freeman could find a justice that was cheaper and speedier than that dispensed by the feudal lords. The higher courts of England have sprung from this institution.

Henry also took measures to bring the king's justice directly to the people. He sent members of the royal court on circuit throughout the kingdom. At least once a year a judge was to hold an assembly in each county and try such cases as were brought before him. This system of circuit judges helped to make the law uniform in all parts of England.

The king's court owed much of its popularity to the fact that it employed a better form of trying cases than the old ordeal, oath-swearing, or judicial duel. Henry introduced a method of jury trial which had long been in use in Normandy. When a case came before the king's judges on circuit, they were to select twelve knights, usually neighbors of the parties engaged in the dispute, to make an investigation and give a "verdict" as to which side was in the right. These selected men bore the name of "jurors," because they swore to tell the truth. In Henry's time this method of securing justice applied only to civil cases, that is, to cases affecting land and other forms of property, but later it was extended to persons charged with criminal offenses. Thus arose the "petty jury," an institution which nearly all European peoples have borrowed from England.

Another of Henry's innovations developed into the "grand jury." Before his time, many offenders went unpunished, especially if they were so powerful that no private individual dared accuse them. Henry provided that when the king's justices came to a county court, a number of selected men should be put upon their oath and required to give the names of any persons whom they knew or believed to be guilty of crimes. Such persons were then to be arrested and tried. This "grand jury," as it came to be called, thus had the public duty of making accusations, whether its members felt any personal interest in the matter or not.

The decisions handed down by the legal experts who composed the royal court formed the basis of the English system of jurisprudence. It received the name “Common law” because it grew out of such customs as were common to the realm, as distinguished from those which were merely local. This law, from Henry's II's time, became so widespread and so firmly established that it could not be supplanted by the Roman law followed on the Continent. Carried by English colonists across the seas, it has now come to prevail throughout a great part of the world.

Which of these statements about Henry II is true?

Possible Answers:

He spent most of his time living outside of England.

He was married to Marie Antoinette.

He founded the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

He paid little interest in economic or legal matters, focusing instead on warfare.

He was the great Grandfather of William the Conqueror.

Correct answer:

He spent most of his time living outside of England.

Explanation:

In the first paragraph the author states, “Henry spent more than half of his reign abroad.” “Abroad” means outside the country.

Example Question #1 : Locating Details In Narrative Social Science Passages

Adapted from Early European History by Hutton Webster (1917)

Henry II, who ascended the English throne in 1154 C.E., was a grandson of William the Conqueror and the first of the famous Plantagenet family, Henry spent more than half of his reign abroad, looking after his extensive possessions in France, but this fact did not prevent him from giving England good government. Three things in which all Englishmen take special pride—the courts, the jury system, and the Common law—began to take shape during Henry's reign.

Henry, first of all, developed the royal court of justice. This had been, at first, simply the court of the king's chief vassals, corresponding to the local feudal courts. Henry transformed it from an occasional assembly of warlike nobles into a regular body of trained lawyers, and at the same time opened its doors to all except serfs. In the king's court any freeman could find a justice that was cheaper and speedier than that dispensed by the feudal lords. The higher courts of England have sprung from this institution.

Henry also took measures to bring the king's justice directly to the people. He sent members of the royal court on circuit throughout the kingdom. At least once a year a judge was to hold an assembly in each county and try such cases as were brought before him. This system of circuit judges helped to make the law uniform in all parts of England.

The king's court owed much of its popularity to the fact that it employed a better form of trying cases than the old ordeal, oath-swearing, or judicial duel. Henry introduced a method of jury trial which had long been in use in Normandy. When a case came before the king's judges on circuit, they were to select twelve knights, usually neighbors of the parties engaged in the dispute, to make an investigation and give a "verdict" as to which side was in the right. These selected men bore the name of "jurors," because they swore to tell the truth. In Henry's time this method of securing justice applied only to civil cases, that is, to cases affecting land and other forms of property, but later it was extended to persons charged with criminal offenses. Thus arose the "petty jury," an institution which nearly all European peoples have borrowed from England.

Another of Henry's innovations developed into the "grand jury." Before his time, many offenders went unpunished, especially if they were so powerful that no private individual dared accuse them. Henry provided that when the king's justices came to a county court, a number of selected men should be put upon their oath and required to give the names of any persons whom they knew or believed to be guilty of crimes. Such persons were then to be arrested and tried. This "grand jury," as it came to be called, thus had the public duty of making accusations, whether its members felt any personal interest in the matter or not.

The decisions handed down by the legal experts who composed the royal court formed the basis of the English system of jurisprudence. It received the name “Common law” because it grew out of such customs as were common to the realm, as distinguished from those which were merely local. This law, from Henry's II's time, became so widespread and so firmly established that it could not be supplanted by the Roman law followed on the Continent. Carried by English colonists across the seas, it has now come to prevail throughout a great part of the world.

Who was excluded from equal justice in Henry’s court system?

Possible Answers:

Nobles 

Serfs

The King 

Priests

Merchants

Correct answer:

Serfs

Explanation:

In context, the author states, “Henry, first of all, developed the royal court of justice. This had been, at first, simply the court of the king's chief vassals, corresponding to the local feudal courts. Henry transformed it from an occasional assembly of warlike nobles into a regular body of trained lawyers, and at the same time opened its doors to all except serfs.” As it is stated that Henry’s Court System was open to everyone except serfs, it can be said that serfs were excluded from equal justice in Henry’s court system.

Example Question #1 : Identifying And Analyzing Details In History Passages

Adapted from Early European History Hutton Webster (1917)

It was the work of Darius to provide for his dominions a stable government which should preserve what the sword had won. The problem was difficult. The empire was a collection of many people widely different in race, language, customs, and religion. Darius did not attempt to weld the conquered nations into unity. As long as the subjects of Persia paid tribute and furnished troops for the royal army, they were allowed to conduct their own affairs with little interference from the Great King.

The entire empire, excluding Persia proper, was divided into twenty satrapies, or provinces, each one with its civil governor, or satrap. The satraps carried out the laws and collected the heavy tribute annually levied throughout the empire. In most of the provinces there were also military governors who commanded the army and reported directly to the king. This device of entrusting the civil and military functions to separate officials lessened the danger of revolts against the Persian authority. As an additional precaution Darius provided special agents whose business it was to travel from province to province and investigate the conduct of his officials. It became a proverb that "the king has many eyes and many ears."

Darius also established a system of military roads throughout the Persian dominions. The roads were provided at frequent intervals with inns, where postmen stood always in readiness to take up a letter and carry it to the next station. The Royal Road from Susa, the Persian capital, to Sardis in Lydia was over fifteen hundred miles long; but government couriers, using relays of fresh horses, could cover the distance within a week. An old Greek writer declares with admiration that "there is nothing mortal more swift than these messengers."

Into how many satrapies was Persia divided?

Possible Answers:

Two 

Twenty 

Thirteen 

Ten 

Fifteen 

Correct answer:

Twenty 

Explanation:

This is a simple detail retention question that requires you to read the passage in search of a specific detail. At the beginning of the second paragraph, the author says, “The entire empire, excluding Persia proper, was divided into twenty satrapies, or provinces, each one with its civil governor, or satrap.” So the correct answer is “twenty.”

Example Question #21 : Isee Upper Level (Grades 9 12) Reading Comprehension

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 Rubicon originally got its importance from __________.

Possible Answers:

its flood plains that were very useful for large scale agriculture

its position as a dividing line between Gaul and Briton

None of these answers

being the boundary between Northern and Southern Italy

its closeness to the Adriatic Sea

Correct answer:

being the boundary between Northern and Southern Italy

Explanation:

This is a fact (or detail) retention question. At the beginning of the third paragraph, the author states, “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.” To help you understand, “derived” means got and a “boundary” is a division or wall that separates one area from another.

Example Question #11 : Locating Details In Narrative Social Science 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.

Which was the first metal to become commonly used after the Stone Age?

Possible Answers:

Steel 

Bronze 

Gold 

Iron 

Copper 

Correct answer:

Copper 

Explanation:

This is a simple detail retention question. When answering this type of question, you have to read the text carefully to discover the required information, but it should be plainly stated, requiring little inference or critical thinking. In the middle of the third paragraph, the author remarks, “Copper was the first metal in common use.”

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