SSAT Middle Level Reading : Recognizing the Main Idea in Poetry Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In 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 of the following is most likely the moral of this fable?

Possible Answers:

A rolling stone gathers no moss.

Tricks should never be executed.

Do not count your chickens before they hatch.

Fox-hounds are smarter than cats.

It is better to do one thing effectively than one hundred things ineffectively.

Correct answer:

It is better to do one thing effectively than one hundred things ineffectively.


Even though the Fox brags that he has a hundred tricks, he is unable to escape the fox-hounds. On the other hand, the Cat only has one trick, but he is able to escape the fox-hounds simply by dashing up a tree where the fox-hounds could not reach him. The best answer choice is "It is better to do one thing effectively than one hundred things ineffectively."

Example Question #11 : 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.)

From whom does the author claim he heard this story?

Possible Answers:

A stranger in a restaurant

The Dutch clock and the Chinese plate

None of these answers

His mother when he was a child

The Gingham dog and the Calico cat

Correct answer:

The Dutch clock and the Chinese plate


This poem is written following a set pattern for each verse, as is commonly done in poetry. Each verse ends with a two line refrain describing how the author heard about the story. For example in the first verse the author says: “(I wasn't there; I simply state; what was told to me by the Chinese plate!)” And in the last verse the author says: “(The old Dutch clock, it told me so, And that is how I came to know.)” This reveals that the author was told about this story by the Dutch clock and the Chinese plate - you can assume that this is not a true story, but rather a silly poem meant for children. 

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