SSAT Middle Level Reading : Recognizing the Main Idea 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 #1 : Recognizing The Main Idea In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from Daisy Miller by Henry James (1879)

The young lady inspected her flounces and smoothed her ribbons again; and Winterbourne presently risked an observation upon the beauty of the view. He was ceasing to be embarrassed, for he had begun to perceive that she was not in the least embarrassed herself. There had not been the slightest alteration in her charming complexion; she was evidently neither offended nor flattered. If she looked another way when he spoke to her, and seemed not particularly to hear him, this was simply her habit, her manner. Yet, as he talked a little more and pointed out some of the objects of interest in the view, with which she appeared quite unacquainted, she gradually gave him more of the benefit of her glance; and then he saw that this glance was perfectly direct and unshrinking. It was not, however, what would have been called an immodest glance, for the young girl's eyes were singularly honest and fresh. They were wonderfully pretty eyes; and, indeed, Winterbourne had not seen for a long time anything prettier than his fair countrywoman's various features—her complexion, her nose, her ears, her teeth. He had a great relish for feminine beauty; he was addicted to observing and analyzing it; and as regards this young lady's face he made several observations. It was not at all insipid, but it was not exactly expressive; and though it was eminently delicate, Winterbourne mentally accused it—very forgivingly—of a want of finish. He thought it very possible that Master Randolph's sister was a coquette; he was sure she had a spirit of her own; but in her bright, sweet, superficial little visage there was no mockery, no irony. Before long it became obvious that she was much disposed toward conversation. She told him that they were going to Rome for the winter—she and her mother and Randolph. She asked him if he was a "real American"; she shouldn't have taken him for one; he seemed more like a German—this was said after a little hesitation—especially when he spoke. Winterbourne, laughing, answered that he had met Germans who spoke like Americans, but that he had not, so far as he remembered, met an American who spoke like a German. Then he asked her if she should not be more comfortable in sitting upon the bench which he had just quitted. She answered that she liked standing up and walking about; but she presently sat down. She told him she was from New York State—"if you know where that is." Winterbourne learned more about her by catching hold of her small, slippery brother and making him stand a few minutes by his side.

The woman that Winterbourne speaks to tells him that he seems __________.

Possible Answers:

like a sightseer

like a German

like an American

threatening

as if he is traveling to Rome like she is

Correct answer:

like a German

Explanation:

The woman that Winterbourne speaks to initially believes that Winterbourne is German, as you can tell from the following lines: "She asked him if he was a 'real American'; she shouldn't have taken him for one; he seemed more like a German—this was said after a little hesitation—especially when he spoke."

Example Question #3 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Idea And Theme In Literature Passages

Adapted from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (1876)

Within two minutes, or even less, he had forgotten all his troubles. Not because his troubles were one whit less heavy and bitter to him than a man's are to a man, but because a new and powerful interest bore them down and drove them out of his mind for the time—just as men's misfortunes are forgotten in the excitement of new enterprises. This new interest was a valued novelty in whistling, which he had just acquired, and he was suffering to practice it undisturbed. It consisted in a peculiar bird-like turn, a sort of liquid warble, produced by touching the tongue to the roof of the mouth at short intervals in the midst of the music—the reader probably remembers how to do it, if he has ever been a boy. Diligence and attention soon gave him the knack of it, and he strode down the street with his mouth full of harmony and his soul full of gratitude. He felt much as an astronomer feels who has discovered a new planet—no doubt, as far as strong, deep, unalloyed pleasure is concerned, the advantage was with the boy, not the astronomer.

The summer evenings were long. It was not dark, yet. Presently Tom checked his whistle. A stranger was before him—a boy a shade larger than himself. A newcomer of any age or either sex was an impressive curiosity in the poor little shabby village of St. Petersburg. This boy was well-dressed, too—well-dressed on a weekday. This was simply astounding. His cap was a dainty thing, his close-buttoned blue cloth roundabout was new and natty, and so were his pantaloons. He had shoes on—and it was only Friday. He even wore a necktie, a bright bit of ribbon. He had a citified air about him that ate into Tom's vitals. The more Tom stared at the splendid marvel, the higher he turned up his nose at his finery and the shabbier and shabbier his own outfit seemed to him to grow. Neither boy spoke. If one moved, the other moved—but only sidewise, in a circle; they kept face to face and eye to eye all the time.

Why does Tom feel especially happy at the end of the first paragraph?

Possible Answers:

He has learned to whistle.

He rescued a bird.

He made a new friend.

It has finally stopped raining.

He saw his parents.

Correct answer:

He has learned to whistle.

Explanation:

 In the middle of the first paragraph, we are told, "This new interest was a valued novelty in whistling, which he had just acquired, and he was suffering to practice it undisturbed." So, we know that Tom is practicing how to whistle. Near the end of the paragraph, we are told, "Diligence and attention soon gave him the knack of it, and he strode down the street with his mouth full of harmony and his soul full of gratitude." So, Tom feels especially happy at the end of the passage's first paragraph because he has learned to whistle.

Example Question #2 : Recognizing The Main Idea In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from Myths and Legends of All Nations by Logan Marshall (1914)

Many, many centuries ago there lived two brothers, Prometheus or Forethought, and Epimetheus or Afterthought. They were the sons of those Titans who had fought against Jupiter and been sent in chains to the great prison-house of the lower world, but for some reason had escaped punishment.

Prometheus, however, did not care for idle life among the gods on Mount Olympus. Instead he preferred to spend his time on the earth, helping men to find easier and better ways of living. For the children of earth were not happy as they had been in the golden days when Saturn ruled. Indeed, they were very poor and wretched and cold, without fire, without food, and with no shelter but miserable caves. "With fire they could at least warm their bodies and cook their food," Prometheus thought, "and later they could make tools and build houses for themselves and enjoy some of the comforts of the gods."

So Prometheus went to Jupiter and asked that he might be permitted to carry fire to the earth. But Jupiter shook his head in wrath. "Fire, indeed!" he exclaimed. "If men had fire they would soon be as strong and wise as we who dwell on Olympus. Never will I give my consent." Prometheus made no reply, but he didn't give up his idea of helping men. "Some other way must be found," he thought.

Then, one day, as he was walking among some reeds he broke off one, and seeing that its hollow stalk was filled with a dry, soft pith, exclaimed: “At last! In this I can carry fire and the children of men shall have the great gift in spite of Jupiter."

Immediately, taking a long stalk in his hands, he set out for the dwelling of the sun in the far east. He reached there in the early morning, just as Apollo's chariot was about to begin its journey across the sky. Lighting his reed, he hurried back, carefully guarding the precious spark that was hidden in the hollow stalk.

Then he showed men how to build fires for themselves, and it was not long before they began to do all the wonderful things of which Prometheus had dreamed. They learned to cook and to domesticate animals and to till the fields and to mine precious metals and melt them into tools and weapons. And they came out of their dark and gloomy caves and built for themselves beautiful houses of wood and stone. And instead of being sad and unhappy they began to laugh and sing. "Behold, the Age of Gold has come again," they said. But Jupiter was not so happy. He saw that men were gaining daily greater power, and their very prosperity made him angry. "That young Titan!" he cried out, when he heard what Prometheus had done. "I will punish him."

He called Strength and Force and bade them seize the Titan and carry him to the highest peak of the Caucasus Mountains. Then he sent Vulcan to bind him with iron chains, making arms and feet fast to the rocks. Vulcan was sorry for Prometheus, but dared not disobey.

So the friend of man lay, miserably bound, naked to the winds, while the storms beat about him and an eagle tore at his liver with its cruel talons. But Prometheus did not utter a groan in spite of all his sufferings. Year after year he lay in agony, and yet he would not complain, beg for mercy or repent of what he had done. Men were sorry for him, but could do nothing.

Then one day a beautiful white cow passed over the mountain, and stopped to look at Prometheus with sad eyes. “I know you," Prometheus said. "You are Io, once a fair and happy maiden dwelling in Argos, doomed by Jupiter and his jealous queen to wander over the earth in this guise. Go southward and then west until you come to the great river Nile. There you shall again become a maiden, fairer than ever before, and shall marry the king of that country. And from your race shall spring the hero who will break my chains and set me free."

Centuries passed and then a great hero, Hercules, came to the Caucasus Mountains. He climbed the rugged peak, slew the fierce eagle, and with mighty blows broke the chains that bound the friend of man.

How does Prometheus intend to alleviate the suffering of man?

Possible Answers:

By giving man fire 

By giving man food 

By giving man religion 

By giving man music 

By showing man how to live 

Correct answer:

By giving man fire 

Explanation:

In the second paragraph, the author expresses Prometheus’ thoughts on how to lessen the suffering of man: "'With fire they could at least warm their bodies and cook their food."" This means that Prometheus intends to alleviate their suffering by given them fire. 

Example Question #5 : Literature Passages

Adapted from "The Three Musketeers" in Volume Sixteen of The Romances of Alexandre Dumas (1844; 1893 ed.)

As they rode along, the duke endeavored to draw from d'Artagnan not all that had happened, but what d'Artagnan himself knew. By adding all that he heard from the mouth of the young man to his own remembrances, he was enabled to form a pretty exact idea of a position of the seriousness of which, for the rest, the queen's letter, short but explicit, gave him the clue. But that which astonished him most was that the cardinal, so deeply interested in preventing this young man from setting his foot in England, had not succeeded in arresting him on the road. It was then, upon the manifestation of this astonishment, that d'Artagnan related to him the precaution taken, and how, thanks to the devotion of his three friends, whom he had left scattered and bleeding on the road, he had succeeded in coming off with a single sword thrust, which had pierced the queen's letter and for which he had repaid Monsieur de Wardes with such terrible coin. While he was listening to this recital, delivered with the greatest simplicity, the duke looked from time to time at the young man with astonishment, as if he could not comprehend how so much prudence, courage, and devotedness could be allied with a countenance which indicated not more than twenty years.

The horses went like the wind, and in a few minutes they were at the gates of London. D'Artagnan imagined that on arriving in town the duke would slacken his pace, but it was not so. He kept on his way at the same rate, heedless about upsetting those whom he met on the road. In fact, in crossing the city two or three accidents of this kind happened; but Buckingham did not even turn his head to see what became of those he had knocked down. D'Artagnan followed him amid cries which strongly resembled curses.

On entering the court of his hotel, Buckingham sprang from his horse, and without thinking what became of the animal, threw the bridle on his neck, and sprang toward the vestibule. D'Artagnan did the same, with a little more concern, however, for the noble creatures, whose merits he fully appreciated; but he had the satisfaction of seeing three or four grooms run from the kitchens and the stables, and busy themselves with the steeds.

Which of the following best summarizes the passage?

Possible Answers:

D'Artagnan manages to travel to London despite the cardinal attempting to stop him.

By speaking with d'Artagnan, the duke learns more details about the situation described in the queen's letter.

The duke speaks with d'Artagnan about previous events and his experiences on the road, and then the two of them rush to the duke's hotel in London.

The duke meets d'Artagnan. 

D'Artagnan and his friends get into a fight on the road.

Correct answer:

The duke speaks with d'Artagnan about previous events and his experiences on the road, and then the two of them rush to the duke's hotel in London.

Explanation:

Picking out the best summary of a passage requires you to have a sense for which ideas in the passage are most important and which are simply details, as well as an appropriate level of specificity in the summary. "The duke meets d'Artagnan" is far too general and only describes actions that take place in the first paragraph, so it cannot be the correct answer. "D'Artagnan and his friends get into a fight on the road" describes not events that occur in the passage, but events which are discussed in the passage, and it also only describes part of the passage's first paragraph; it can't be the correct answer either. "By speaking with d'Artagnan, the duke learns more details about the situation described in the queen's letter" is a good description of the first paragraph, but other significant events happen later in the passage which aren't mentioned in the summary sentence, so it can't be the correct answer. Two answer choices remain: "D'Artagnan manages to travel to London despite the cardinal attempting to stop him" and "The duke speaks with d'Artagnan about previous events and his experiences on the road, and then the two of them rush to the duke's hotel in London." The latter of these two is the better answer because Buckingham, the Duke, plays a major role in the passage, and the former answer choice doesn't mention Buckingham at all, while the latter does. So, the correct answer is "The duke speaks with d'Artagnan about previous events and his experiences on the road, and then the two of them rush to the duke's hotel in London." This answer choice describes events that take place in each of the passage's paragraphs at an appropriate level of detail.

Example Question #1 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (1876)

Within two minutes, or even less, he had forgotten all his troubles. Not because his troubles were one whit less heavy and bitter to him than a man's are to a man, but because a new and powerful interest bore them down and drove them out of his mind for the time—just as men's misfortunes are forgotten in the excitement of new enterprises. This new interest was a valued novelty in whistling, which he had just acquired, and he was suffering to practice it undisturbed. It consisted in a peculiar bird-like turn, a sort of liquid warble, produced by touching the tongue to the roof of the mouth at short intervals in the midst of the music—the reader probably remembers how to do it, if he has ever been a boy. Diligence and attention soon gave him the knack of it, and he strode down the street with his mouth full of harmony and his soul full of gratitude. He felt much as an astronomer feels who has discovered a new planet—no doubt, as far as strong, deep, unalloyed pleasure is concerned, the advantage was with the boy, not the astronomer.

The summer evenings were long. It was not dark, yet. Presently Tom checked his whistle. A stranger was before him—a boy a shade larger than himself. A newcomer of any age or either sex was an impressive curiosity in the poor little shabby village of St. Petersburg. This boy was well-dressed, too—well-dressed on a weekday. This was simply astounding. His cap was a dainty thing, his close-buttoned blue cloth roundabout was new and natty, and so were his pantaloons. He had shoes on—and it was only Friday. He even wore a necktie, a bright bit of ribbon. He had a citified air about him that ate into Tom's vitals. The more Tom stared at the splendid marvel, the higher he turned up his nose at his finery and the shabbier and shabbier his own outfit seemed to him to grow. Neither boy spoke. If one moved, the other moved—but only sidewise, in a circle; they kept face to face and eye to eye all the time.

What is going on in the final sentences of this passage?

Possible Answers:

Tom and the other boy are sizing each other up.

Tom is realizing that the other boy is his cousin.

Tom and the other boy are making fun of each other.

Tom is attempting to walk around the other boy and ignore him.

The other boy is getting ready to run away from Tom.

Correct answer:

Tom and the other boy are sizing each other up.

Explanation:

In the passage's second paragraph, we are told, "The more Tom stared at the splendid marvel, the higher he turned up his nose at his finery and the shabbier and shabbier his own outfit seemed to him to grow. Neither boy spoke. If one moved, the other moved—but only sidewise, in a circle; they kept face to face and eye to eye all the time." Based on this description, we can tell that Tom and the other boy are sizing each other up—that is, making judgments about each other based on first impressions and appearances.

Example Question #9 : Literature Passages

Adapted from Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (1871)

One thing was certain, that the white kitten had had nothing to do with it—it was the black kitten's fault entirely. For the white kitten had been having its face washed by the old cat for the last quarter of an hour (and bearing it pretty well, considering); so you see that it COULDN'T have had any hand in the mischief.

The way Dinah washed her children's faces was this: first she held the poor thing down by its ear with one paw, and then with the other paw she rubbed its face all over, the wrong way, beginning at the nose: and just now, as I said, she was hard at work on the white kitten, which was lying quite still and trying to purr—no doubt feeling that it was all meant for its good.

But the black kitten had been finished with earlier in the afternoon, and so, while Alice was sitting curled up in a corner of the great arm-chair, half talking to herself and half asleep, the kitten had been having a grand game of romps with the ball of worsted Alice had been trying to wind up, and had been rolling it up and down till it had all come undone again; and there it was, spread over the hearth-rug, all knots and tangles, with the kitten running after its own tail in the middle.

'Oh, you wicked little thing!' cried Alice, catching up the kitten, and giving it a little kiss to make it understand that it was in disgrace. 'Really, Dinah ought to have taught you better manners! You OUGHT, Dinah, you know you ought!' she added, looking reproachfully at the old cat, and speaking in as cross a voice as she could manage—and then she scrambled back into the arm-chair, taking the kitten and the worsted with her, and began winding up the ball again. But she didn't get on very fast, as she was talking all the time, sometimes to the kitten, and sometimes to herself. Kitty sat very demurely on her knee, pretending to watch the progress of the winding, and now and then putting out one paw and gently touching the ball, as if it would be glad to help, if it might.

Which of the following best describes what happens in this passage?

Possible Answers:

Dinah washes her white kitten.

Alice waits for her family to arrive.

Alice spends time with her cats.

The black kitten unwinds the ball of worsted.

Alice talks to her cat and kittens while rewinding a ball one kitten unwound.

Correct answer:

Alice talks to her cat and kittens while rewinding a ball one kitten unwound.

Explanation:

When answering a main idea question, it is important to select an answer choice that is not too general and not too specific. For example, “Dinah washes her white kitten” and “The black kitten unwinds the ball of worsted” are each too specific to be the main idea of this passage. Neither mention Alice! (Also, the black kitten unwound the ball of worsted in the past of the passage, but even if the timing was correct, the answer choice dealing with it would still be too specific.) “Alice waits for her family to arrive” cannot be the correct answer because we’re not told anything about Alice waiting for her family in the passage. This leaves us with “Alice spends time with her cats” and “Alice talks to her cat and kittens while rewinding a ball one kitten unwound.” This latter answer is a more specific description of the entire passage, so it is the better answer choice.

Example Question #1 : Recognizing The Main Idea In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (1871)

One thing was certain, that the white kitten had had nothing to do with it—it was the black kitten's fault entirely. For the white kitten had been having its face washed by the old cat for the last quarter of an hour (and bearing it pretty well, considering); so you see that it COULDN'T have had any hand in the mischief.

The way Dinah washed her children's faces was this: first she held the poor thing down by its ear with one paw, and then with the other paw she rubbed its face all over, the wrong way, beginning at the nose: and just now, as I said, she was hard at work on the white kitten, which was lying quite still and trying to purr—no doubt feeling that it was all meant for its good.

But the black kitten had been finished with earlier in the afternoon, and so, while Alice was sitting curled up in a corner of the great arm-chair, half talking to herself and half asleep, the kitten had been having a grand game of romps with the ball of worsted Alice had been trying to wind up, and had been rolling it up and down till it had all come undone again; and there it was, spread over the hearth-rug, all knots and tangles, with the kitten running after its own tail in the middle.

'Oh, you wicked little thing!' cried Alice, catching up the kitten, and giving it a little kiss to make it understand that it was in disgrace. 'Really, Dinah ought to have taught you better manners! You OUGHT, Dinah, you know you ought!' she added, looking reproachfully at the old cat, and speaking in as cross a voice as she could manage—and then she scrambled back into the arm-chair, taking the kitten and the worsted with her, and began winding up the ball again. But she didn't get on very fast, as she was talking all the time, sometimes to the kitten, and sometimes to herself. Kitty sat very demurely on her knee, pretending to watch the progress of the winding, and now and then putting out one paw and gently touching the ball, as if it would be glad to help, if it might.

One kitten could be described as __________, the other as __________.

Possible Answers:

unfriendly . . . feral

pitiful . . . angry

a troublemaker . . . playful

frustrated . . . glum

cooperative . . . mischievous

Correct answer:

cooperative . . . mischievous

Explanation:

This question is tricky because the kittens are not specified; either adjective could refer to either kitten, so you must attribute one adjective in each answer to each kitten and see if the answer makes sense. Let’s consider each answer choice individually:

“unfriendly . . . feral”: Neither kitten can be said to be “unfriendly” or “feral” (semi-wild), so this answer choice cannot be correct.

“pitiful . . . angry”: The white kitten might seem somewhat “pitiful,” but neither kitten can be described as “angry,” so this answer choice cannot be correct. 

“frustrated . . . glum”: The white kitten might be described as somewhat “frustrated,” but the black kitten never seems “glum” in the passage, so this answer cannot be correct.

“a troublemaker . . . playful”: The black kitten could be described as “a troublemaker” and “playful,” but neither of these adjectives accurately describes the white kitten, so this answer choice cannot be correct.

“cooperative . . . mischievous”: The white kitten can be described as “cooperative” since while it is being cleaned, it is “lying quite still and trying to purr—no doubt feeling that it was all meant for its good.” The black kitten can be described as mischievous because it plays in the ball of worsted, unwinds it, and gets in trouble with Alice. This is thus the correct answer.

Example Question #5 : Recognizing The Main Idea In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (1871)

One thing was certain, that the white kitten had had nothing to do with it—it was the black kitten's fault entirely. For the white kitten had been having its face washed by the old cat for the last quarter of an hour (and bearing it pretty well, considering); so you see that it COULDN'T have had any hand in the mischief.

The way Dinah washed her children's faces was this: first she held the poor thing down by its ear with one paw, and then with the other paw she rubbed its face all over, the wrong way, beginning at the nose: and just now, as I said, she was hard at work on the white kitten, which was lying quite still and trying to purr—no doubt feeling that it was all meant for its good.

But the black kitten had been finished with earlier in the afternoon, and so, while Alice was sitting curled up in a corner of the great arm-chair, half talking to herself and half asleep, the kitten had been having a grand game of romps with the ball of worsted Alice had been trying to wind up, and had been rolling it up and down till it had all come undone again; and there it was, spread over the hearth-rug, all knots and tangles, with the kitten running after its own tail in the middle.

'Oh, you wicked little thing!' cried Alice, catching up the kitten, and giving it a little kiss to make it understand that it was in disgrace. 'Really, Dinah ought to have taught you better manners! You OUGHT, Dinah, you know you ought!' she added, looking reproachfully at the old cat, and speaking in as cross a voice as she could manage—and then she scrambled back into the arm-chair, taking the kitten and the worsted with her, and began winding up the ball again. But she didn't get on very fast, as she was talking all the time, sometimes to the kitten, and sometimes to herself. Kitty sat very demurely on her knee, pretending to watch the progress of the winding, and now and then putting out one paw and gently touching the ball, as if it would be glad to help, if it might.

Alice didn’t stop the black kitten from unwinding the ball because __________.

Possible Answers:

she wasn’t in the room when it happened

she was talking to someone else and was distracted

she was half-asleep

she is trying to avoid having to do something, and having to rewind the ball allows her to procrastinate

the ball it was unwinding wasn’t hers

Correct answer:

she was half-asleep

Explanation:

Let’s look at the specific part of the passage where it talks about the black kitten unwinding the ball of worsted:

“But the black kitten had been finished with earlier in the afternoon, and so, while Alice was sitting curled up in a corner of the great arm-chair, half talking to herself and half asleep, the kitten had been having a grand game of romps with the ball of worsted Alice had been trying to wind up, and had been rolling it up and down till it had all come undone again.”

What was Alice doing when this was happening? The passage tells us: “Alice was sitting curled up in a corner of the great arm-chair, half talking to herself and half asleep.” So, we can pick out “she was half-asleep” as the correct answer. “She was talking to someone else and was distracted” might look like a good answer, but since she was talking to herself, it can’t be correct.

Example Question #2 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss (1879 Kingston ed.)

Thus talking, we pushed on until we came to a pleasant grove which stretched down to the water's edge. Here, we halted to rest, seating ourselves under a large tree, by a rivulet that murmured and splashed along its pebbly bed into the great ocean before us. A thousand gaily-plumaged birds flew twittering above us, and Fritz and I gazed up at them. 

My son suddenly started up.

"A monkey," he exclaimed. “I am nearly sure I saw a monkey." 

As he spoke, he sprang round to the other side of the tree, and in doing so, stumbled over a small round object. He handed it to me, remarking as he did so that it was a round bird's nest, of which he had often heard. "You may have done so," said I, laughing, "but this is a coconut."

We split open the nut, but, to our disgust, found the kernel dry and uneatable. 

"Hullo," cried Fritz, "I always thought a coconut was full of delicious sweet liquid, like almond milk."

"So it is," I replied, "when young and fresh, but as it ripens the milk becomes congealed, and in course of time is solidified into a kernel. This kernel then dries as you see here, but when the nut falls on favorable soil, the germ within the kernel swells until it bursts through the shell, and, taking root, springs up a new tree."

"I do not understand," said Fritz, "how the little germ manages to get through this great thick shell, which is not like an almond or hazelnut shell, which is divided down the middle already."

"Nature provides for all things," I answered, taking up the pieces. " Look here, do you see these three round holes near the stalk? It is through them that the germ obtains egress. Now let us find a good nut if we can." 

As coconuts must be overripe before they fall naturally from the tree, it was not without difficulty that we obtained one in which the kernel was not dried up. When we succeeded, however, we were so refreshed by the fruit that we could defer eating until later in the day, and so spare our stock of provisions.

Which of the following best describes what happens in this passage?

Possible Answers:

The narrator and Fritz explore.

The narrator and Fritz encounter a coconut tree; the narrator explains coconuts to Fritz, and they find and eat a ripe coconut.

The narrator and Fritz discuss coconuts.

The narrator and Fritz wander away from the rest of their group and find a coconut tree; the narrator explains coconuts to Fritz, and they find and eat a ripe coconut.

The narrator and Fritz find a coconut tree.

Correct answer:

The narrator and Fritz encounter a coconut tree; the narrator explains coconuts to Fritz, and they find and eat a ripe coconut.

Explanation:

When picking out the correct answer to a question that asks about a passage’s main idea, it is important to pick out one that describes what happens in each paragraph, but isn’t broad enough to include ideas that aren’t discussed. In this case, the answer choice “The narrator and Fritz discuss coconuts” is too narrow, because more happens in the passage than just this conversation. “The narrator and Fritz explore” is also much too general, as this doesn't mention coconuts at all. Similarly, “The narrator and Fritz find a coconut tree” is also too general when compared to the other available answer choices. 

The two remaining answer choices are “The narrator and Fritz encounter a coconut tree; the narrator explains coconuts to Fritz, and they find and eat a ripe coconut,” and “The narrator and Fritz wander away from the rest of their group and find a coconut tree; the narrator explains coconuts to Fritz, and they find and eat a ripe coconut.” These answers differ in one point: the latter includes “The narrator and Fritz wander away from the rest of their group,” whereas the first one doesn’t. Since nothing is mentioned about their wandering away from a group in the passage, the latter of these two answers cannot be correct. This means that the correct answer is “The narrator and Fritz encounter a coconut tree; the narrator explains coconuts to Fritz, and they find and eat a ripe coconut.”

Example Question #131 : Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908)

The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters, then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash, 'till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said "Bother!" and "O blow!" and also "Hang spring cleaning!" and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat. Something up above was calling him imperiously, and he made for the steep little tunnel which answered in his case to the gaveled carriage-drive owned by animals whose residences are nearer to the sun and air. So he scraped and scratched and scrabbled and scrooged and then he scrooged again and scrabbled and scratched and scraped, working busily with his little paws and muttering to himself, "Up we go! Up we go!" 'till at last, pop! His snout came out into the sunlight, and he found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow.

"This is fine!" he said to himself. "This is better than whitewashing!" The sunshine struck hot on his fur, soft breezes caressed his heated brow, and after the seclusion of the cellarage he had lived in so long, the carol of happy birds fell on his dulled hearing almost like a shout. Jumping off all his four legs at once, in the joy of living and the delight of spring without its cleaning, he pursued his way across the meadow 'till he reached the hedge on the further side.

"Hold up!" said an elderly rabbit at the gap. "Sixpence for the privilege of passing by the private road!" He was bowled over in an instant by the impatient and contemptuous Mole, who trotted along the side of the hedge chaffing the other rabbits as they peeped hurriedly from their holes to see what the row was about. "Onion-sauce! Onion-sauce!" he remarked jeeringly, and was gone before they could think of a thoroughly satisfactory reply. Then they all started grumbling at each other. "How STUPID you are! Why didn't you tell him—" "Well, why didn't YOU say—" "You might have reminded him—" and so on, in the usual way; but, of course, it was then much too late, as is always the case.

What is the mole excited to do in this passage?

Possible Answers:

Spring clean his home

Prepare for a party

Sleep

See his friends, the rabbits

Be outside

Correct answer:

Be outside

Explanation:

In the first paragraph, we are told that the mole spring cleans his house, but he is not excited about this; on the contrary, he gets sick of it and goes outside. The mole is clearly happy and excited to be outside, however, as we can tell from the following lines, found at the end of the passage's second paragraph: "The sunshine struck hot on his fur, soft breezes caressed his heated brow, and after the seclusion of the cellarage he had lived in so long, the carol of happy birds fell on his dulled hearing almost like a shout. Jumping off all his four legs at once, in the joy of living and the delight of spring without its cleaning, he pursued his way across the meadow 'till he reached the hedge on the further side."

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