SSAT Middle Level Reading : Poetry Passages

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

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Authorial Attitude, Tone, And Purpose In Poetry Passages

Adapted from “The Duel” by Eugene Field (1888)

The gingham dog and the calico cat
Side by side on the table sat;
'Twas half-past twelve, and (what do you think!)
Not one nor t'other had slept a wink!
The old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate
Appeared to know as sure as fate
There was going to be a terrible spat.
(I wasn't there; I simply state
What was told to me by the Chinese plate!)

The gingham dog went "bow-wow-wow!"
And the calico cat replied "mee-ow!"
The air was littered, an hour or so,
With bits of gingham and calico,
While the old Dutch clock in the chimney-place
Up with its hands before its face,
For it always dreaded a family row!
(Now mind: I'm only telling you
What the old Dutch clock declares is true!)

The Chinese plate looked very blue,
And wailed, "Oh, dear! What shall we do?"
But the gingham dog and the calico cat
Wallowed this way and tumbled that,
Employing every tooth and claw
In the awfullest way you ever saw--
And, oh! how the gingham and calico flew!
(Don't fancy I exaggerate!
I got my views from the Chinese plate!)

Next morning where the two had sat
They found no trace of the dog or cat;
And some folks think unto this day
That burglars stole the pair away!
But the truth about the cat and the pup
Is this: They ate each other up!
Now what do you really think of that!
(The old Dutch clock, it told me so,
And that is how I came to know.)

Which of these words best describes the tone of this poem?

Possible Answers:

Serious

Somber

Intense

Silly

Educational

Correct answer:

Silly

Explanation:

When trying to figure out the tone of a story you have to look for how the information is being presented to you and what the author’s attitude towards the subject and the audience is. For example, the tone of a cartoon would likely be silly and the tone of a funeral speech would be very sad and serious. In this poem, the tone is silly and not serious because it is a story about a cloth dog and a cloth cat fighting told from the perspective of a clock and a plate—not the most serious of subjects. ("Gingham" and "calico" are each prints found on fabrics, so you can infer that the cat and dog are each objects made of fabric, not live animals.)

Example Question #1 : Inferential Understanding In Poetry Passages

Adapted from "No Harm Meant" in Chatterbox Periodical edited by J. Erskine Clark (1906)

Two puppies with good-natured hearts, but clumsy little toes,
Were feeling rather sleepy, so they settled for a doze;
But underneath the very ledge on which they chanced to be,
A large and stately pussy cat was basking dreamily.

A short half-hour had hardly passed, when one pup made a stir,
And stretching out a lazy paw, just touched the tabby's fur;
'Twas nothing but an accident, yet, oh! the angry wail!
The flashing in the tabby's eye, the lashing of her tail!

"Who's that that dares to serve me so?" she cried with arching back.
"I'll teach you puppies how to make an unprovoked attack!"
One puppy started to his feet with terror in his eyes,
The other said, as soon as pluck had overcome surprise:

"I'm really very sorry, ma'am, but honestly declare
I hadn't any notion that a pussy cat was there."
But just like those who look for wrong in every one they see,
She left the spot, nor deigned to take the pup's apology.

“The flashing in the tabby’s eye” demonstrates __________.

Possible Answers:

the dogs' fear at the anger of the cat

the cat’s relaxed belief that it was probably an accident

the cat’s good-humor during the uncomfortable situation

the cat’s anger at having suffered an affront 

the author’s belief in the aggressive nature of cats

Correct answer:

the cat’s anger at having suffered an affront 

Explanation:

In context, “the flashing in the tabby’s eye” occurs shortly after she is “attacked." This part of the poem is surrounded by other descriptions of her anger, so it makes sense that it is meant to be an example of the “cat’s anger at having been attacked.” A “flashing in the eye” is an English idiom that means a look of anger or real meaning that can be seen in someone’s eyes. To provide further help, “suffered an affront” means been attacked or been insulted.

Example Question #1 : How To Determine The Meaning Of A Word From Its Context In A Poetry Passage

Adapted from The Cat and the Fox by Jean de la Fontaine (1678)

The Cat and the Fox once took a walk together,
Sharpening their wits with talk about the weather
And as their walking sharpened appetite too,
They also took some things they had no right to.
Cream, that is so delicious when it thickens,
Pleased the Cat best. The Fox liked little chickens.

With stomachs filled, they presently grew prouder,
And each began to try to talk the louder,
Bragging about his skill, and strength, and cunning.
"Pooh!" said the Fox. "You ought to see me running.
Besides, I have a hundred tricks. You Cat, you!
What can you do when Mr. Dog comes at you?"
"To tell the truth," the Cat said, "though it grieve me
I've but one trick. Yet that's enough—believe me!"

There came a pack of fox-hounds, yelping, baying.
"Pardon me", said the Cat. "I can't be staying.
This is my trick." And up a tree he scurried,
Leaving the Fox below a trifle worried.

In vain, he tried his hundred tricks and ruses
(The sort of thing that Mr. Dog confuses),
Doubling, and seeking one hole, then another,
Smoked out of each until he thought he'd smother.
At last as he once more came out of cover,
Two nimble dogs pounced on him—all was over!

Which of the following is a synonym of the underlined word "scurried"?

Possible Answers:

Dashed

Lumbered

Assembled

Hopped

Walked

Correct answer:

Dashed

Explanation:

When the fox-hounds attempt to chase the Fox and the Cat, the Cat "scurries" up a tree, leaving the Fox behind. Based on the context of the sentence, we are looking for an answer choice that conveys the danger approaching the Fox and the Cat, which requires immediate and swift action to be taken. The best answer choice is "dashed," defined as to run or travel somewhere in a great hurry.

Example Question #2 : How To Determine The Meaning Of A Word From Its Context In A Poetry Passage

Adapted from "No Harm Meant" in Chatterbox Periodical edited by J. Erskine Clark (1906)

Two puppies with good-natured hearts, but clumsy little toes,
Were feeling rather sleepy, so they settled for a doze;
But underneath the very ledge on which they chanced to be,
A large and stately pussy cat was basking dreamily.

A short half-hour had hardly passed, when one pup made a stir,
And stretching out a lazy paw, just touched the tabby's fur;
'Twas nothing but an accident, yet, oh! the angry wail!
The flashing in the tabby's eye, the lashing of her tail!

"Who's that that dares to serve me so?" she cried with arching back.
"I'll teach you puppies how to make an unprovoked attack!"
One puppy started to his feet with terror in his eyes,
The other said, as soon as pluck had overcome surprise:

"I'm really very sorry, ma'am, but honestly declare
I hadn't any notion that a pussy cat was there."
But just like those who look for wrong in every one they see,
She left the spot, nor deigned to take the pup's apology.

The underlined word “stately” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

modest 

dignified 

outgoing 

expressive 

frank 

Correct answer:

dignified 

Explanation:

The word “stately” means impressive, grand, but also dignified and graceful. The answer choice closest in meaning to "stately" is “dignified,” which means noble, behaving like a King, or classy. None of the other answer choices are close in meaning to "stately": “expressive” means comfortable saying things and showing feelings; “outgoing” means friendly; “modest” means humble and not boastful of things done well; and “frank” means honest.

Example Question #1 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Poetry Passages

Adapted from "No Harm Meant" in Chatterbox Periodical edited by J. Erskine Clark (1906)

Two puppies with good-natured hearts, but clumsy little toes,
Were feeling rather sleepy, so they settled for a doze;
But underneath the very ledge on which they chanced to be,
A large and stately pussy cat was basking dreamily.

A short half-hour had hardly passed, when one pup made a stir,
And stretching out a lazy paw, just touched the tabby's fur;
'Twas nothing but an accident, yet, oh! the angry wail!
The flashing in the tabby's eye, the lashing of her tail!

"Who's that that dares to serve me so?" she cried with arching back.
"I'll teach you puppies how to make an unprovoked attack!"
One puppy started to his feet with terror in his eyes,
The other said, as soon as pluck had overcome surprise:

"I'm really very sorry, ma'am, but honestly declare
I hadn't any notion that a pussy cat was there."
But just like those who look for wrong in every one they see,
She left the spot, nor deigned to take the pup's apology.

The underlined word “pluck” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

jubilation

terror 

astonishment 

courage 

trepidation 

Correct answer:

courage 

Explanation:

In context, the author says “'Who's that that dares to serve me so?' she cried with arching back. 'I'll teach you puppies how to make an unprovoked attack!' One puppy started to his feet with terror in his eyes, The other said, as soon as pluck had overcome surprise . . .” By describing how the puppies are fearful of the cat, the author suggests that fear was what needed to be overcome with “pluck.” This suggests that “pluck” means courage or bravery. None of the other answer choices are close in meaning to "pluck": “terror” is great fear; “jubilation” is great happiness; “astonishment” is surprise; and “trepidation” is anxiety, carefulness, or worry.

Example Question #2 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Poetry Passages

Adapted from "No Harm Meant" in Chatterbox Periodical edited by J. Erskine Clark (1906)

Two puppies with good-natured hearts, but clumsy little toes,
Were feeling rather sleepy, so they settled for a doze;
But underneath the very ledge on which they chanced to be,
A large and stately pussy cat was basking dreamily.

A short half-hour had hardly passed, when one pup made a stir,
And stretching out a lazy paw, just touched the tabby's fur;
'Twas nothing but an accident, yet, oh! the angry wail!
The flashing in the tabby's eye, the lashing of her tail!

"Who's that that dares to serve me so?" she cried with arching back.
"I'll teach you puppies how to make an unprovoked attack!"
One puppy started to his feet with terror in his eyes,
The other said, as soon as pluck had overcome surprise:

"I'm really very sorry, ma'am, but honestly declare
I hadn't any notion that a pussy cat was there."
But just like those who look for wrong in every one they see,
She left the spot, nor deigned to take the pup's apology.

The underlined word “deigned” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

ascended 

obtained 

comprehended 

forgave 

condescended

Correct answer:

condescended

Explanation:

In context, the author says, “But just like those who look for wrong in every one they see, / She left the spot, nor deigned to take the pup's apology.” Here, “deigned” means condescended or talked down to. None of the other answer choices are close in meaning to "deigned": “ascended” means went up; “comprehended” means understood; “forgave” means accepted someone’s apology; and “obtained” means got.

Example Question #1 : Poetry Passages

Adapted from "No Harm Meant" in Chatterbox Periodical edited by J. Erskine Clark (1906)

Two puppies with good-natured hearts, but clumsy little toes,
Were feeling rather sleepy, so they settled for a doze;
But underneath the very ledge on which they chanced to be,
A large and stately pussy cat was basking dreamily.

A short half-hour had hardly passed, when one pup made a stir,
And stretching out a lazy paw, just touched the tabby's fur;
'Twas nothing but an accident, yet, oh! the angry wail!
The flashing in the tabby's eye, the lashing of her tail!

"Who's that that dares to serve me so?" she cried with arching back.
"I'll teach you puppies how to make an unprovoked attack!"
One puppy started to his feet with terror in his eyes,
The other said, as soon as pluck had overcome surprise:

"I'm really very sorry, ma'am, but honestly declare
I hadn't any notion that a pussy cat was there."
But just like those who look for wrong in every one they see,
She left the spot, nor deigned to take the pup's apology.

The underlined word “notion” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

Idea 

Dream 

Danger

Fear

Dread

Correct answer:

Idea 

Explanation:

In context, the author says “The other said, as soon as pluck had overcome surprise: / 'I'm really very sorry, ma'am, but honestly declare / I hadn't any notion that a pussy cat was there.'” Here, one of the puppies is making an excuse to the cat by saying that he can honestly say he had no idea a cat was there. So, the answer choice closest in meaning to "notion" is "idea." As for the other answer choices, “dread” is great worry and fear.

Example Question #3 : How To Determine The Meaning Of A Word From Its Context In A Poetry Passage

Adapted from “The Duel” by Eugene Field (1888)

The gingham dog and the calico cat
Side by side on the table sat;
'Twas half-past twelve, and (what do you think!)
Not one nor t'other had slept a wink!
The old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate
Appeared to know as sure as fate
There was going to be a terrible spat.
(I wasn't there; I simply state
What was told to me by the Chinese plate!)

The gingham dog went "bow-wow-wow!"
And the calico cat replied "mee-ow!"
The air was littered, an hour or so,
With bits of gingham and calico,
While the old Dutch clock in the chimney-place
Up with its hands before its face,
For it always dreaded a family row!
(Now mind: I'm only telling you
What the old Dutch clock declares is true!)

The Chinese plate looked very blue,
And wailed, "Oh, dear! What shall we do?"
But the gingham dog and the calico cat
Wallowed this way and tumbled that,
Employing every tooth and claw
In the awfullest way you ever saw--
And, oh! how the gingham and calico flew!
(Don't fancy I exaggerate!
I got my views from the Chinese plate!)

Next morning where the two had sat
They found no trace of the dog or cat;
And some folks think unto this day
That burglars stole the pair away!
But the truth about the cat and the pup
Is this: They ate each other up!
Now what do you really think of that!
(The old Dutch clock, it told me so,
And that is how I came to know.)

The underlined word “exaggerate” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

overstate

overthrow

underwhelm

overwhelm

understate

Correct answer:

overstate

Explanation:

The word “exaggerate” is used to describe a situation where someone has made something more noticeable or prominent or when someone overstates the situation, or adds details to a story that makes it more dramatic. In this context, the poem's narrator says “Don't fancy I exaggerate! I got my views from the Chinese plate.” In this context, the narrator means “Do not think I am adding details to make the story more dramatic, this is what actually happened according to the Chinese plate.” To help you, "understate" means make less of a point than is usual; "overwhelm" means heavily affect someone due to their having to deal with too many of a certain thing; "underwhelm" means be not as good as was expected or unimpressive; and "overthrow" means replace someone in a powerful position using force.

Example Question #1 : Poetry Passages

Adapted from The Cat and the Fox by Jean de la Fontaine (1678)

The Cat and the Fox once took a walk together,
Sharpening their wits with talk about the weather
And as their walking sharpened appetite too,
They also took some things they had no right to.
Cream, that is so delicious when it thickens,
Pleased the Cat best. The Fox liked little chickens.

With stomachs filled, they presently grew prouder,
And each began to try to talk the louder,
Bragging about his skill, and strength, and cunning.
"Pooh!" said the Fox. "You ought to see me running.
Besides, I have a hundred tricks. You Cat, you!
What can you do when Mr. Dog comes at you?"
"To tell the truth," the Cat said, "though it grieve me
I've but one trick. Yet that's enough—believe me!"

There came a pack of fox-hounds, yelping, baying.
"Pardon me", said the Cat. "I can't be staying.
This is my trick." And up a tree he scurried,
Leaving the Fox below a trifle worried.

In vain, he tried his hundred tricks and ruses
(The sort of thing that Mr. Dog confuses),
Doubling, and seeking one hole, then another,
Smoked out of each until he thought he'd smother.
At last as he once more came out of cover,
Two nimble dogs pounced on him—all was over!

What happens to the Fox at the end of the story?

Possible Answers:

The Fox escapes up a tree with the Cat.

The Fox successfully tricks the fox-hounds.

The Fox meets up with the Cat for dinner.

The Fox is caught by the fox-hounds.

The Fox enjoys more cream.

Correct answer:

The Fox is caught by the fox-hounds.

Explanation:

We learn in the last sentence of the story that "Two nimble dogs pounced on him—all was over." Since "pounce" is defined as to swoop suddenly so as to catch prey, we can safely assume that the Fox is caught by the fox-hounds.

Example Question #1 : How To Make Inferences Based On Poetry Passages

Adapted from "No Harm Meant" in Chatterbox Periodical edited by J. Erskine Clark (1906)

Two puppies with good-natured hearts, but clumsy little toes,
Were feeling rather sleepy, so they settled for a doze;
But underneath the very ledge on which they chanced to be,
A large and stately pussy cat was basking dreamily.

A short half-hour had hardly passed, when one pup made a stir,
And stretching out a lazy paw, just touched the tabby's fur;
'Twas nothing but an accident, yet, oh! the angry wail!
The flashing in the tabby's eye, the lashing of her tail!

"Who's that that dares to serve me so?" she cried with arching back.
"I'll teach you puppies how to make an unprovoked attack!"
One puppy started to his feet with terror in his eyes,
The other said, as soon as pluck had overcome surprise:

"I'm really very sorry, ma'am, but honestly declare
I hadn't any notion that a pussy cat was there."
But just like those who look for wrong in every one they see,
She left the spot, nor deigned to take the pup's apology.

What can you infer about the cat’s opinion of herself in comparison to how the cat feels about the dogs?

Possible Answers:

The cat is embarrassed to be in the same house as the dogs.

The cat thinks of herself as better than the dogs.

The cat thinks she is much less intelligent than the dogs.

The cat thinks the dogs are vicious and trying to kill her.

The cat thinks the dogs are much stronger than she is.

Correct answer:

The cat thinks of herself as better than the dogs.

Explanation:

From the proud and dignified manner in which the cat carries herself and the cat’s comments when she is attacked (“'Who's that that dares to serve me so?'”), we can infer that the cat thinks very highly of herself and thinks that she is better than the puppies. Furthermore, toward the end of the passage, the author uses the word “deigned,” which means condescended or agreed to talk to someone who you think is lower than you. These clues all add up to suggest that the cat thinks of herself as better than the dogs.

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