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 #21 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Narrative Social Science Passages

Adapted from Young People’s History of the War with Spain by Prescott Holmes (1900)

On April 21st, 1898, a war began between the United States and Spain. All the other countries of the world felt an interest in it but did not take any part in it. They were what we call "neutral" and did not help either side. As soon as the war was declared, a great wave of excitement swept through the United States from shore to shore. Flags were hung out in every city and town; thousands of men offered to serve in the army—volunteers, they were called—and many persons offered to help in other ways. The people were dispirited that war had begun, but they soon felt that their country was doing right and that they ought to support the war effort.

And what was the cause of the war? Spain, a large country across the Atlantic Ocean in the southwestern part of Europe, owned some of the islands called "West Indies" near the United States. Spain had been unjust and cruel to the people living in one of these islands for many years. Several times, the unhappy islanders tried to drive the Spanish from the island and set up a government of their own, but Spain sent so many soldiers there that they could not get their freedom. They fought bravely, however, but matters kept getting worse and worse. Spain sent a very cruel general to take charge of affairs on the island. His name was Weyler and he was determined to conquer the islanders. After a while, he found he could not do it by fighting them, so he sent his soldiers to drive those who were not fighting away from their homes and farms and make them live in or near the large cities. After he did this, the people had no way to earn money for food and soon began to get sick and die of starvation. The cruel Weyler would not give them anything to eat and so they died by the thousands. Americans were faced with the choice of standing idly by whilst thousands perished or risking American lives in a difficult war.

Which two nations declared war on April 21st, 1898?

Possible Answers:

France and England

France and the United States

France and Spain

England and the United States.

Spain and the United States

Correct answer:

Spain and the United States

Explanation:

The first sentence of the passage establishes that a war began between the United States and Spain on April 21st, 1898.

Example Question #71 : Comprehension

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.

What advantage did bronze have over copper?

Possible Answers:

It was considerably easier to mine, and much more malleable.

It was considerably stronger, although slightly less malleable.

It was weaker, but could be much more easily shaped.

It was stronger and could be more easily shaped.

It was sharper and did not require the use of tin.

Correct answer:

It was stronger and could be more easily shaped.

Explanation:

The author argues “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.” Here the author first states why copper was deficient—it was “soft and would not keep an edge”—and then explains how bronze is better because it is “harder than the old, yet capable of being molded."

Example Question #22 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Narrative Social Science Passages

Adapted from A Man Who Coveted Washington’s Shoes by Frank E. Stockton (1896)

The person whose story we are now about to tell was not a Jerseyman, but, as most of the incidents which make him interesting to us occurred in this state, we will give him the benefit of a few years' residence here.

This was General Charles Lee, who might well have been called a soldier of fortune. He was born in England, but the British Isles were entirely too small to satisfy his wild ambitions and his bold spirit. There are few heroes of romance who have had such a wide and varied experience, and who have engaged in so many strange enterprises. He was a brave man and very able, but he had a fault which prevented him from being a high-class soldier: he could not bear authority and was always restive under command of another, and, while always ready to tell other people what they ought to do, was never willing to be told what he ought to do.

He joined the British army when he was a young man, and he first came to this country in 1757, when General Abercrombie brought over an army to fight the French. For three years, Lee was engaged in the wilds and forests, doing battle with the Native Americans and French, and no doubt he had all the adventures an ordinary person would desire, but this experience was far from satisfactory.

Why does General Charles Lee not stay in the British Isles?

Possible Answers:

The British Isles could not match New Jersey for natural beauty.

He was wanted for committing a petty crime.

His wife had already immigrated to the United States.

They were too small to satisfy his wild ambitions. 

He wanted to fight in the Revolutionary War.

Correct answer:

They were too small to satisfy his wild ambitions. 

Explanation:

The author states that Lee was born in Britain but did not stay there because the British Isles were too small for him: “He was born in England, but the British Isles were entirely too small to satisfy his wild ambitions and his bold spirit.”

Example Question #23 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Narrative Social Science Passages

Adapted from A Man Who Coveted Washington’s Shoes by Frank E. Stockton (1896)

The person whose story we are now about to tell was not a Jerseyman, but, as most of the incidents which make him interesting to us occurred in this state, we will give him the benefit of a few years' residence here.

This was General Charles Lee, who might well have been called a soldier of fortune. He was born in England, but the British Isles were entirely too small to satisfy his wild ambitions and his bold spirit. There are few heroes of romance who have had such a wide and varied experience, and who have engaged in so many strange enterprises. He was a brave man and very able, but he had a fault which prevented him from being a high-class soldier: he could not bear authority and was always restive under command of another, and, while always ready to tell other people what they ought to do, was never willing to be told what he ought to do.

He joined the British army when he was a young man, and he first came to this country in 1757, when General Abercrombie brought over an army to fight the French. For three years, Lee was engaged in the wilds and forests, doing battle with the Native Americans and French, and no doubt he had all the adventures an ordinary person would desire, but this experience was far from satisfactory.

When did General Charles Lee first come to the United States?

Possible Answers:

1783

1776

1777

1767

1757

Correct answer:

1757

Explanation:

The author says that General Charles Lee "joined the British army when he was a young man; and he first came to this country in 1757.”

Example Question #3 : Analyzing Cause And Effect In History Passages

"The Units of Ancient Warfare" by Daniel Morrison (2014)

The armies of the ancient world were generally composed of three distinct units who faced off against each other in a gigantic game of rock-paper-scissors. These were the infantry, cavalry, and slingers. The heavily armored but slow-moving infantry were able to fend off the cavalry with their long pikes, but were sitting ducks for the fast moving slingers who carried only a sling and a bag of small rocks. The slingers in turn were great at taking down infantry as they could out-maneuver them and never get bogged down in hand-to-hand combat, but were easily decimated by the rapidly advancing cavalry.

In this manner the history of warfare progressed for several thousand years. The slingers were replaced by archers, and then by heavily artillery; the cavalry constantly advanced in tactical awareness and arms; and the infantry progressed from swordsmen, to pikemen, to riflemen. Next time you are playing rock-paper-scissors to decide who gets the last slice of pizza, don’t forget that you are channeling your inner Scipio Africanus.  

Why did slingers maintain an advantage over infantry?

Possible Answers:

Because they were able to maintain their distance and avoid direct contact

Because the infantry was generally comprised of peasants and farmers who were forced into conflict

Because they were better equipped for hand-to-hand combat

Because they were generally better trained and led by more competent leaders

None of the other answer choices is correct.

Correct answer:

Because they were able to maintain their distance and avoid direct contact

Explanation:

Answering this question requires you to read for detail and interpret the correct portion of text. The advantage of the slingers, according to the author, is that “they could out-maneuver [the infantry] and never get bogged down in hand-to-hand combat.” This is very similar to the answer choice that reads "they were able to maintain their distance and avoid direct contact."

Example Question #64 : Comprehension

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

On Christmas Day, William was crowned in Westminster Abbey under the title of William the First, but he is best known as William the Conqueror. It was a strange coronation. One of the bishops who performed the ceremony asked the Normans, in French, if they would have William the Conqueror for their king. They answered "Yes." Another of the bishops put the same question to the Saxons, in English. They too answered "Yes," with a loud shout. The noise was heard by a guard of Norman horse-soldiers outside, and was mistaken for resistance on the part of the English. The guard instantly set fire to the neighboring houses, and chaos ensued, in the midst of which the king, being left alone in the abbey with a few priests (and they all being in a terrible fright together) was hurriedly crowned. When the crown was placed upon his head, he swore to govern the English as well as the best of their own monarchs. I dare say you think, as I do, that if we except the great Alfred, he might pretty easily have done that.

Why does the author think the crowning of William was a “strange coronation”?

Possible Answers:

Because of the romantic nature of the conquered English people

Because the bishops in attendance were unwilling to crown William without the consent of all the people

Because of the tensions between the Normans and the English

Because of the aggressive behavior of the Norman conquerors

Because of the hurried nature of the ceremony

Correct answer:

Because of the tensions between the Normans and the English

Explanation:

The author says it was a “strange coronation” because there were tensions between the conquering Normans and the conquered English that too easily broke out into chaos and conflict. Take the portion of text immediately after the author says it was a “strange coronation,” the author writes, “One of the bishops who performed the ceremony asked the Normans, in French, if they would have William the Conqueror for their king. They answered "Yes." Another of the bishops put the same question to the Saxons, in English. They too answered "Yes," with a loud shout. The noise was heard by a guard of Norman horse-soldiers outside, and was mistaken for resistance on the part of the English.” The strangeness is not derived from the nature of the ceremony, the behavior of the Normans or the English, or the bishops. It is a result of the tensions between the Normans, who clearly felt the English might not accept their leader as their king, and the inability of the two groups to understand one another.

Example Question #24 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Narrative Social Science Passages

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

Early in the tenth century a Viking by the name of Rollo had repeatedly attacked the coast of France. The king of France, too weak to resist these northern robbers, tried to bribe them into "being good." He offered them the province of Normandy, if they would promise to stop bothering the rest of his domains. Rollo accepted this bargain and became Duke of Normandy.

But his children remained interested in conquest. Across the channel, only a few hours away from the European mainland, they could see the white cliffs and the green fields of England. Poor England had passed through difficult days. For two hundred years it had been a Roman colony. After the Romans left, it had been conquered by the Angles and the Saxons, two German tribes from Schleswig. Next the Danes had taken the greater part of the country and had established the kingdom of Cnut. The Danes had been driven away and now (it was early in the eleventh century) another Saxon king, Edward the Confessor, was on the throne. But Edward was not expected to live long and he had no children. The circumstances favored the ambitious dukes of Normandy.

In 1066 Edward died. Immediately William of Normandy crossed the channel, defeated and killed Harold of Wessex (who had taken the crown) at the battle of Hastings, and proclaimed himself king of England.

In another story I have told you how in the year 800 a German chieftain had become a Roman Emperor. Now in the year 1066 the grandson of a Norse pirate was recognized as King of England. Why should we ever read fairy stories, when the truth of history is so much more interesting and entertaining?

The primary purpose of this essay is to __________.

Possible Answers:

outline the rise of the Normans in England

show how the stories in history are often fascinating and enjoyable

introduce the life story of William of Normandy

describe the fate of England since the Romans left

ridicule other historians for making history boring and unenjoyable

Correct answer:

show how the stories in history are often fascinating and enjoyable

Explanation:

The primary purpose of this essay is so that the author can show how fascinating and enjoyable history can be. The author reveals this purpose in the conclusion where he says “Why should we ever read fairy stories, when the truth of history is so much more interesting and entertaining?” Although much of the essay concerns itself with describing the fate of England, the rise of the Normans in England, and the life of William of Normandy, this story is merely used to illustrate why history can be so “interesting and entertaining.”

Example Question #25 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Narrative Social Science Passages

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

As great and good in peace as he was great and good in war, King Alfred never rested from his labors to improve his people. He loved to talk with clever men and travelers from foreign countries and to write down what they told him for his people to read. He had studied Latin after learning to read English, and now another of his labors was to translate Latin books into the English-Saxon tongue, that his people might be interested and improved by their contents. He made just laws, that they might live more happily and freely; he turned away all partial judges, that no wrong might be done them; he was so careful of their property, and punished robbers so severely that it was a common thing to say that under the great King Alfred, garlands of golden chains and jewels might have hung across the streets, and no man would have touched one. He founded schools, and he patiently heard causes himself in his Court of Justice. The great desires of his heart were, to do right to all his subjects, and to leave England better, wiser, and happier in all ways than he found it. His industry in these efforts was quite astonishing. Every day he divided into certain portions, and in each portion devoted himself to a certain pursuit. That he might divide his time exactly, he had wax torches or candles made, which were all of the same size, were notched across at regular distances, and were always kept burning. Thus, as the candles burnt down, he divided the day into notches, almost as accurately as we now divide it into hours upon the clock. But when the candles were first invented, it was found that the wind and draughts of air, blowing into the palace through the doors and windows and through the chinks in the walls, caused them to gutter and burn unequally. To prevent this, the King had them put into cases formed of wood and white horn. And these were the first lanterns ever made in England.

All this time, he was afflicted with a terrible unknown disease, which caused him violent and frequent pain that nothing could relieve. He bore it, as he had borne all the troubles of his life, like a brave good man, until he was fifty-three years old; and then, having reigned thirty years, he died. He died in the year nine hundred and one; but, long ago as that is, his fame, and the love and gratitude with which his subjects regarded him, are freshly remembered to the present hour.

For what purposes did King Alfred have candles and lanterns made?

Possible Answers:

So people felt safer on the streets at night

So that more people could have access to literature

So he could better organize his time

To provide priests with enough light to carry out their exhausting work

So he could read throughout the night

Correct answer:

So he could better organize his time

Explanation:

Answering this question requires little more than reading carefully in detail. The author says, “That he might divide his time exactly, he had wax torches or candles made, which were all of the same size, were notched across at regular distances, and were always kept burning. Thus, as the candles burnt down, he divided the day into notches, almost as accurately as we now divide it into hours upon the clock.” So King Alfred has candles made so that “he might divide his time exactly.” Alfred wanted to “better organize his time.”

Example Question #2 : Analyzing Cause And Effect 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.

Why were the Hapsburg and Luxembourg families able to stand for election?

Possible Answers:

They had the historical legitimacy necessary to be elected

They were beloved by the people

They were renowned throughout Europe

They had sufficient personal wealth to afford it

They were deemed highly virtuous and religious families

Correct answer:

They had sufficient personal wealth to afford it

Explanation:

This question is asking you to identify a relevant detail from the text. When you are asked to do this, it is important to read carefully to determine which of the answers is most directly supported in the text. The author says, "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.” So, the correct answer is that the Hapsburgs and Luxembourgs were able to stand for election because they were wealthy enough to afford the costs involved.

Example Question #26 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Narrative Social Science 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.

According to the author, how were books and writings preserved before the invention of movable type?

Possible Answers:

There was no deliberate attempt to protect any particular written works; some books merely survived due to fortune.

Barbarians and other conquerors had no great interest in books, so books survived without much loss.

A series of dedicated kings worked over many centuries to protect the classics.

Monks worked diligently to make copies of works and ensure their longevity.

Many individual wealthy men kept some books for themselves and ensured they would pass on to their children.

Correct answer:

Monks worked diligently to make copies of works and ensure their longevity.

Explanation:

Answering this question requires you to read the passage carefully to discover the correct detail. In the second paragraph, the author says, “The use of movable types . . . changed the whole system of book-making, and vastly increased the circulation of . . . valuable works, which, by the industry of the monkish copyist, had been preserved from the ravages of time and barbarism.” So, it is the “industry” (hard-work and dedication) of the “monkish copyist” which preserved literature in the years before movable type.

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