SSAT Upper Level Reading : Finding Context-Dependent Meanings of Words in Argumentative Humanities Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #61 : Language In Humanities Passages

"Commentaries" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

The idea of a commentary is not anywhere as simple as most people think. To the popular imagination, the commentator makes a few observations based on a text, not going far beyond its contents. This standard opinion completely misses the various types of commentaries that can be written. Indeed, even the notion of “literal commentary” is itself so variegated that it is incorrect to imagine that such “literal” work is merely a slavish repetition of an original text.

Some literal commentaries truly are “literal,” that is, based on the letters and words of the text. Such philological studies investigate the language structures and meanings of a text. The interpretation of the text proceeds based on these linguistic investigations. Often, this process will note the types of rhetoric being used, the dialects utilized, and any odd language structures that might imply something with regard to the text’s meaning. All of these methods remain very concerned with the “letter of the text” in a very direct manner.

Indeed, even the Medieval commentaries on Aristotle’s works could be considered “literal,” though they do differ from such linguistic approaches. Men like Thomas Aquinas would very carefully read Aristotle’s text, giving what was called a divisio textus for every section of the text in question. This “division of the text” sought to provide a succinct but correct outline of the text in question so that its literal meaning might be more easily noticed. Certainly, the commentary that followed this divisio textus did express some aspects of Aquinas’ own thought. However, he (like other literal commentators of this type) would attempt to remain as close to the literal meaning of the text as possible, always using the divisio textus as a guide for understanding the structure of the original author’s thought.

What does the underlined word “philological” mean in context above?

Possible Answers:

zealous

brotherly or familial

pertaining to the study of language

rational or intellectual

pertaining to love

Correct answer:

pertaining to the study of language

Explanation:

The word "philological" is quite a vocabulary word that you might not know at first sight. It means "pertaining to the study of languages (historically, in form, and so forth)." The prefix "phil-" means "love," as is found in the name of the city Philadelphia, which means "The city of brotherly love (phil-)." Philology is the love of languages or the love of learning. (The "-logy" suffix can mean everything from "words" to "reason" to "learning.") From the context, you can likely realize this word's meaning. Note the whole sentence: "Such philological studies investigate the language structures and meanings of a text."

Example Question #12 : How To Find Word Meaning From Context

"Commentaries" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

The idea of a commentary is not anywhere as simple as most people think. To the popular imagination, the commentator makes a few observations based on a text, not going far beyond its contents. This standard opinion completely misses the various types of commentaries that can be written. Indeed, even the notion of “literal commentary” is itself so variegated that it is incorrect to imagine that such “literal” work is merely a slavish repetition of an original text.

Some literal commentaries truly are “literal,” that is, based on the letters and words of the text. Such philological studies investigate the language structures and meanings of a text. The interpretation of the text proceeds based on these linguistic investigations. Often, this process will note the types of rhetoric being used, the dialects utilized, and any odd language structures that might imply something with regard to the text’s meaning. All of these methods remain very concerned with the “letter of the text” in a very direct manner.

Indeed, even the Medieval commentaries on Aristotle’s works could be considered “literal,” though they do differ from such linguistic approaches. Men like Thomas Aquinas would very carefully read Aristotle’s text, giving what was called a divisio textus for every section of the text in question. This “division of the text” sought to provide a succinct but correct outline of the text in question so that its literal meaning might be more easily noticed. Certainly, the commentary that followed this divisio textus did express some aspects of Aquinas’ own thought. However, he (like other literal commentators of this type) would attempt to remain as close to the literal meaning of the text as possible, always using the divisio textus as a guide for understanding the structure of the original author’s thought.

What does the underlined word “variegated” mean in context above?

Possible Answers:

out of date

multiplied indefinitely

confusing

marked by variety

interpretive in nature

Correct answer:

marked by variety

Explanation:

The word "variegated" is related to the words "various" and "variety."  Strictly speaking, it is used to describe mixed colors, such as those found on "variegated leaves."  Here, the context indicates that the notion of "literal commentary" is more complex than one thinks, having a variety of forms that could equally be called "literal commentaries."  The remainder of the selection provides examples of such different types.

Example Question #6 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In Contemporary Life Passages

Adapted from “Advice to Youth” by Mark Twain (1882)

Being told I would be expected to talk here, I inquired what sort of talk I ought to make. They said it should be something suitable to youth--something didactic, instructive, or something in the nature of good advice. Very well. I have a few things in my mind which I have often longed to say for the instruction of the young; for it is in one’s tender early years that such things will best take root and be most enduring and most valuable. First, then I will say to you my young friends--and I say it beseechingly, urgently-- Always obey your parents, when they are present. This is the best policy in the long run, because if you don’t, they will make you. Most parents think they know better than you do, and you can generally make more by humoring that superstition than you can by acting on your own better judgment.

Be respectful to your superiors, if you have any, also to strangers, and sometimes to others. If a person offends you and you are in doubt as to whether it was intentional or not, do not resort to extreme measures; simply watch your chance and hit him with a brick. That will be sufficient. If you shall find that he had not intended any offense, come out frankly and confess yourself in the wrong when you struck him; acknowledge it like a man and say you didn’t mean to. 

Go to bed early, get up early--this is wise. Some authorities say get up with the sun; some say get up with one thing, others with another. But a lark is really the best thing to get up with. It gives you a splendid reputation with everybody to know that you get up with the lark; and if you get the right kind of lark, and work at him right, you can easily train him to get up at half past nine, every time--it’s no trick at all.

Now as to the matter of lying. You want to be very careful about lying; otherwise you are nearly sure to get caught. Once caught, you can never again be in the eyes to the good and the pure, what you were before. Many a young person has injured himself permanently through a single clumsy and ill finished lie, the result of carelessness born of incomplete training. Some authorities hold that the young ought not to lie at all. That of course, is putting it rather stronger than necessary; still while I cannot go quite so far as that, I do maintain, and I believe I am right, that the young ought to be temperate in the use of this great art until practice and experience shall give them that confidence, elegance, and precision which alone can make the accomplishment graceful and profitable. Patience, diligence, painstaking attention to detail--these are requirements; these in time, will make the student perfect; upon these only, may he rely as the sure foundation for future eminence. 

But I have said enough. I hope you will treasure up the instructions which I have given you, and make them a guide to your feet and a light to your understanding. Build your character thoughtfully and painstakingly upon these precepts, and by and by, when you have got it built, you will be surprised and gratified to see how nicely and sharply it resembles everybody else’s.

The word “hold” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

claim 

embrace

reserve 

grasp 

contain 

Correct answer:

claim 

Explanation:

The author uses the word “hold” to mean maintain or claim. Answering this question requires you to recognize firstly that hold is a very simple word and therefore the SAT most likely is asking you to recall a secondary meaning of the word. You can therefore eliminate the words that resemble the primary meaning of “hold” like “embrace” or “grasp.”After that you need to recognize that the sentence describes how some authorities believe or say something; the correct answer is therefore that the authorities “claim” something to be true.

Example Question #81 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Words In Humanities Passages

Adapted from “Advice to Youth” by Mark Twain (1882)

Being told I would be expected to talk here, I inquired what sort of talk I ought to make. They said it should be something suitable to youth--something didactic, instructive, or something in the nature of good advice. Very well. I have a few things in my mind which I have often longed to say for the instruction of the young; for it is in one’s tender early years that such things will best take root and be most enduring and most valuable. First, then I will say to you my young friends--and I say it beseechingly, urgently-- Always obey your parents, when they are present. This is the best policy in the long run, because if you don’t, they will make you. Most parents think they know better than you do, and you can generally make more by humoring that superstition than you can by acting on your own better judgment.

Be respectful to your superiors, if you have any, also to strangers, and sometimes to others. If a person offends you and you are in doubt as to whether it was intentional or not, do not resort to extreme measures; simply watch your chance and hit him with a brick. That will be sufficient. If you shall find that he had not intended any offense, come out frankly and confess yourself in the wrong when you struck him; acknowledge it like a man and say you didn’t mean to. 

Go to bed early, get up early--this is wise. Some authorities say get up with the sun; some say get up with one thing, others with another. But a lark is really the best thing to get up with. It gives you a splendid reputation with everybody to know that you get up with the lark; and if you get the right kind of lark, and work at him right, you can easily train him to get up at half past nine, every time--it’s no trick at all.

Now as to the matter of lying. You want to be very careful about lying; otherwise you are nearly sure to get caught. Once caught, you can never again be in the eyes to the good and the pure, what you were before. Many a young person has injured himself permanently through a single clumsy and ill finished lie, the result of carelessness born of incomplete training. Some authorities hold that the young ought not to lie at all. That of course, is putting it rather stronger than necessary; still while I cannot go quite so far as that, I do maintain, and I believe I am right, that the young ought to be temperate in the use of this great art until practice and experience shall give them that confidence, elegance, and precision which alone can make the accomplishment graceful and profitable. Patience, diligence, painstaking attention to detail--these are requirements; these in time, will make the student perfect; upon these only, may he rely as the sure foundation for future eminence. 

But I have said enough. I hope you will treasure up the instructions which I have given you, and make them a guide to your feet and a light to your understanding. Build your character thoughtfully and painstakingly upon these precepts, and by and by, when you have got it built, you will be surprised and gratified to see how nicely and sharply it resembles everybody else’s.

The word “superstition” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

concept 

truism 

delusion 

condescension

admonishment

Correct answer:

delusion 

Explanation:

The word “superstition” usually refers to a belief in something preternatural or magical. However, in this context, the author is using it to describe the delusional beliefs of most parents who feel themselves to be superior to their children. Truism describes a common saying; concept refers to an idea; admonishment means to tell off or rebuke; condescension means arrogance or looking down at somebody.

Example Question #71 : Determining Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Humanities Passages

Adapted from a letter by T. Thatcher published in The Publishers Circular on September 27th, 1902

A PLEA FOR A LONG WALK

Sir—In these days of increasing rapid artificial locomotion, may I be permitted to say a word in favor of a very worthy and valuable old friend of mine, Mr. Long-Walk?

I am afraid that this good gentleman is in danger of getting neglected, if not forgotten. We live in days of water trips and land trips, excursions by sea, road, and rail—bicycles and tricycles, tram cars and motor cars, hansom cabs and ugly cabs; but in my humble opinion good honest walking exercise for health beats all other kinds of locomotion into a cocked hat. In rapid traveling all the finer nerves, senses, and vessels are "rush" and unduly excited, but in walking every particle of the human frame, and even the moral faculties, are evenly and naturally brought into exercise. It is the best discipline and physical mental tonic in the world. Limbs, body, muscles, lungs, chest, heart, digestion, breathing, are healthily brought into normal operation, while. especially in the long distance walk, the exercise of patience, perseverance, industry, energy, perception, and reflection—and, indeed, all the senses and moral faculties—are elevated and cultivated healthfully and naturally. Many never know the beauty of it because they never go far enough: exercise and hard work should never be relinquished at any age or by either sex. Heart disease, faintness, and sudden death, and even crime, are far more due to the absence of wholesome normal exercise and taste than to anything else, to enervating luxuries rather than to hill climbing.

I usually give myself a holiday on a birthday, and as I lately reached my 63rd I determined to give myself a day with my old friend Mr. Long-Walk, and decided to tramp to the city of Wells and back for my birthday holiday—a distance of about forty-two miles. Fortune favors the brave, and, thanks to a mosquito that pitched on my nose and was just commencing operations, I woke very early in the morning. It is an ill wind that blows no one any good. Mosquitoes are early birds, but I stole a march on them. But to my journey.

I started at about 5 A.M., and proceeding via Dundry and Chow Stoke, reached Wells soon after 10 A.M. After attending the cathedral, I pursued my walk homeward by a different route, via Chewton Mendip, Farrington, Temple Cloud, Clutton, and Pensford.

To make a walk successful, mind and body should be free of burden. I never carry a stick on a long walk, but prefer to be perfectly free, giving Nature’s balancing poles—the pendulum arms—complete swing and absolute liberty. Walking exercises, together with a well-educated palate, are the greatest physicians in the world: no disease can withstand them. I returned from my forty-two miles tramp with birthday honors and reward. I had no headache on the following morning, but was up early in good form, fresh and ready for work. Forty-two miles may be too strong a dose for many, but I cannot too strongly recommend for a day’s companionship the society of my old and well-tried friend, Mr. Long-Walk.

Faithfully yours,

T. Thatcher

44 College Green, Bristol. 

As used by the author, what does “enervating” mean?

Possible Answers:

self-indulgent

causing one to feel drained of energy

expensive

irrelevant

energizing

Correct answer:

causing one to feel drained of energy

Explanation:

The definition of "enervating" is causing one to feel drained of energy. You can eliminate the choice "energizing" by noting how the author places "enervating luxuries" in contrast to walking, which he claims gives you healthful energy.

Example Question #83 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Words In Humanities Passages

Adapted from “A Defense of Slang” in The Romance of the Commonplace by Gelett Burgess (1902)

Could Shakespeare come to Chicago and listen curiously to "the man in the street," he would find himself more at home than in London. In the mouths of messenger boys and clerks he would find the English language used with all the freedom of unexpected metaphor and the plastic, suggestive diction that was the privilege of the Elizabethan dramatists; he would say, no doubt, that he had found a nation of poets. There was hardly any such thing as slang in his day, for no graphic trope was too virile or uncommon for acceptance, if its meaning were patent. His own heroes often spoke what corresponds to the slang of today.

The word, indeed, needs precise definition, before we condemn all unconventional talk with vigor. Slang has been called "poetry in the rough," and it is not all coarse or vulgar. There is a prosaic as well as a poetic license. The man in the street calls a charming girl, for instance, a "daisy." Surely this is not inelegant, and such a reference will be understood a century from now. Slang, to prove adjuvant to our speech, which is growing more and more rigid and conventional, should be terse; it should make for force and clarity, without any sacrifice of beauty.

The underlined word “virile” in the first paragraph most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

confusing

ineffectual

moderate

spiritual

potent

Correct answer:

potent

Explanation:

In-context the word “virile” is used in line 7 to convey a sense of energy and forcefulness. From the surrounding phrases the author makes it clear that virility of language is something that might, in other circumstances, cause slang to not be accepted. This makes it clear that it must have some sort of controversial affect on the audience to the language. In this instance “virile” most nearly means potent. Ineffectual and moderate are effectively the opposite of potency so can be ruled out. Confusing could be eliminated because the author tells us that the meaning of the slang is “patent” which means obvious. Spiritual simply does not fit within the rest of the passage which makes no reference to religion or spirituality.  

Example Question #84 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Words In Humanities Passages

Adapted from “A Defense of Slang” in The Romance of the Commonplace by Gelett Burgess (1902)

Could Shakespeare come to Chicago and listen curiously to "the man in the street," he would find himself more at home than in London. In the mouths of messenger boys and clerks he would find the English language used with all the freedom of unexpected metaphor and the plastic, suggestive diction that was the privilege of the Elizabethan dramatists; he would say, no doubt, that he had found a nation of poets. There was hardly any such thing as slang in his day, for no graphic trope was too virile or uncommon for acceptance, if its meaning were patent. His own heroes often spoke what corresponds to the slang of today.

The word, indeed, needs precise definition, before we condemn all unconventional talk with vigor. Slang has been called "poetry in the rough," and it is not all coarse or vulgar. There is a prosaic as well as a poetic license. The man in the street calls a charming girl, for instance, a "daisy." Surely this is not inelegant, and such a reference will be understood a century from now. Slang, to prove adjuvant to our speech, which is growing more and more rigid and conventional, should be terse; it should make for force and clarity, without any sacrifice of beauty.

The underlined word “adjuvant” in the second paragraph most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

complementary

beneficial

discouraging

mindful

harmful

Correct answer:

complementary

Explanation:

The word “adjuvant”, when used as an adjective, generally means to assist or help by supplementing. In this instance the author makes one statement about the direction linguistic development is generally taking and then makes a second statement about the impact that slang can have upon this development. It is clear the author believes slang to be useful to language from the whole of the passage; therefore it is easy to eliminate the answer choices harmful, discouraging, and mindful. Beneficial could make sense within the context, but it is not as good a substitute for adjuvant as complementary.

Example Question #91 : Argumentative Humanities Passages

Adapted from Nature; Addresses and Lectures by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1849)

The first in time and the first in importance of the influences upon the mind is that of nature. Every day, the sun; and after sunset, night and her stars. Ever the winds blow; ever the grass grows. Every day men and women conversing, beholding and beholden. The scholar is he of all men whom this spectacle most engages. He must settle its value in his mind. What is nature to him? There is never a beginning, there is never an end to the inexplicable continuity of this web of God, but always circular power returning into itself. Therein it resembles his own spirit, whose beginning, whose ending, he never can find—so entire, so boundless. Far, too, as her splendors shine, system on system shooting like rays, upward, downward, without center, without circumference—in the mass and in the particle, nature hastens to render account of herself to the mind. Classification begins. To the young mind everything is individual, stands by itself. By and by it finds how to join two things and see in them one nature, then three, then three thousand; and so, tyrannized over by its own unifying instinct, it goes on tying things together, diminishing anomalies, discovering roots running under ground, whereby contrary and remote things cohere and flower out from one stem. It presently learns that since the dawn of history there has been a constant accumulation and classifying of facts. But what is classification but the perceiving that these objects are not chaotic and are not foreign, but have a law which is also a law of the human mind?

The underlined word "cohere" is closest in meaning to which of the following?

Possible Answers:

Gather

Secure

Fuse

Develop

Divide

Correct answer:

Fuse

Explanation:

"Cohere" is used in the following sentence:

"By and by [the young mind] finds how to join two things and see in them one nature, then three, then three thousand; and so, tyrannized over by its own unifying instinct, it goes on tying things together, diminishing anomalies, discovering roots running under ground, whereby contrary and remote things cohere and flower out from one stem."

The most important context for figuring out the meaning of the word cohere is the phrase at the end of the sentence, "whereby contrary and remote things cohere and flower out from one stem." We are told that the things are initially "contrary and remote," but that after they "cohere," they "flower out from one stem." This means that two initially separate things are joined together, so the best answer choice is "fuse."

Example Question #41 : Context Dependent Meanings Of Words And Phrases In Argumentative Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Advice to Youth" by Mark Twain (1882)

Being told I would be expected to talk here, I inquired what sort of talk I ought to make. They said it should be something suitable to youth—something didactic, instructive, or something in the nature of good advice. Very well. I have a few things in my mind which I have often longed to say for the instruction of the young; for it is in one’s tender early years that such things will best take root and be most enduring and most valuable. First, then. I will say to you, my young friends—and I say it beseechingly, urgently—always obey your parents, when they are present. This is the best policy in the long run, because if you don’t, they will make you. Most parents think they know better than you do, and you can generally make more by humoring that superstition than you can by acting on your own better judgment.

Go to bed early, get up early—this is wise. Some authorities say get up with the sun; some say get up with one thing, others with another. But a lark is really the best thing to get up with. It gives you a splendid reputation with everybody to know that you get up with the lark; and if you get the right kind of lark, and work at him right, you can easily train him to get up at half past nine, every time—it’s no trick at all.

The underlined word "beseechingly" is closest in meaning to which of the following words?

Possible Answers:

Imploringly

Gracefully

Tentatively

Swiftly

Modestly

Correct answer:

Imploringly

Explanation:

"Beseechingly" is used in the following sentence: "I will say to you, my young friends—and I say it beseechingly, urgently—always obey your parents, when they are present." Here, "beseechingly" is used in parallel with the word "urgently," so you can infer that it means something close to "urgently." Thus, the best answer is "imploringly," as "beseechingly," "urgently," and "imploringly" all have to do with earnest asking or begging.

Example Question #93 : Argumentative Humanities Passages

Adapted from Queen Elizabeth by Jacob Abbott (1876; 1904 ed.)

As to the question whether Mary or Elizabeth had the rightful title to the English crown, it has not only never been settled, but from its very nature it cannot be settled. It is one of those cases in which a peculiar contingency occurs which runs beyond the scope and reach of all the ordinary principles by which analogous cases are tried, and leads to questions which cannot be decided. As long as a hereditary succession goes smoothly on, like a river keeping within its banks, we can decide subordinate and incidental questions which may arise; but when a case occurs in which we have the omnipotence of Parliament to set off against the infallibility of the pope—the sacred obligations of a will against the equally sacred principles of hereditary succession—and when we have, at last, two contradictory actions of the same ultimate umpire, we find all technical grounds of coming to a conclusion gone. We then, abandoning these, seek for some higher and more universal principles—essential in the nature of things, and thus independent of the will and action of man—to see if they will throw any light on the subject. But we soon find ourselves as much perplexed and confounded in this inquiry as we were before. We ask, in beginning the investigation, What is the ground and nature of the right by which any king or queen succeeds to the power possessed by his ancestors? And we give up in despair, not being able to answer even this first preliminary inquiry.

The underlined and bolded word "contingency," as used in the passage, most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

misfortune

royal succession

possible circumstance

crisis moment

necessary situation

Correct answer:

possible circumstance

Explanation:

Contingency is the opposite of necessity; if something is contingent, it could be otherwise. As used in this passage, it simply means a possible circumstance. If you are unfamiliar with the word, the best contextual clue comes in the phrase "but when a case occurs."

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