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

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Example Question #51 : Context Dependent Meanings Of Words And Phrases In 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 word "succeeds," as used in the passage, most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

strengthens

approves of

deposes

triumphs

follows

Correct answer:

follows

Explanation:

The earliest meaning of "succeed" was "to follow after"; the sense of "to do well" came later. Here the word is used in its original meaning.

Example Question #1 : Humanities Passages

Adapted from "On the Death of Marie Antoinette" by Edmund Burke (1793)

It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the Queen of France, then the Dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she had just begun to move in, glittering like the morning star full of life and splendor and joy.

Oh, what a revolution! and what a heart must I have, to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall! Little did I dream, when she added titles of veneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom; little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her, in a nation of gallant men and of cavaliers! I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards, to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult.

But the age of chivalry is gone; that of sophistry, economists, and calculators has succeeded, and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever. Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom! The unsought grace of life, the cheap defense of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise is gone. It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honor, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil, by losing all its grossness.

In context, the reference to “cavaliers” conveys a sense of __________.

Possible Answers:

foolishness 

conflict 

temerity

heroism 

arrogance 

Correct answer:

heroism 

Explanation:

The word “cavalier” is traditionally used in English language to convey either as an adjective meaning conveying a sense of arrogance or jaunty disregard or as a noun meaning a gallant and chivalrous gentleman. The reference to “gallant men” in the phrase immediately preceding “cavalier” should also clue you in that when the author uses “cavalier,” it is to convey a sense of chivalry or heroism.

Example Question #95 : Argumentative Humanities Passages

Passage adapted from the "Man In The Arena" speech given by Theodore Roosevelt (1910)

Today I shall speak to you on the subject of individual citizenship, the one subject of vital importance to you, my hearers, and to me and my countrymen, because you and we a great citizens of great democratic republics. A democratic republic such as ours - an effort to realize its full sense government by, of, and for the people - represents the most gigantic of all possible social experiments, the one fraught with great responsibilities alike for good and evil. The success or republics like yours and like ours means the glory, and our failure of despair, of mankind; and for you and for us the question of the quality of the individual citizen is supreme. Under other forms of government, under the rule of one man or very few men, the quality of the leaders is all-important. If, under such governments, the quality of the rulers is high enough, then the nations for generations lead a brilliant career, and add substantially to the sum of world achievement, no matter how low the quality of average citizen; because the average citizen is an almost negligible quantity in working out the final results of that type of national greatness. But with you and us the case is different. With you here, and with us in my own home, in the long run, success or failure will be conditioned upon the way in which the average man, the average women, does his or her duty, first in the ordinary, every-day affairs of life, and next in those great occasional cries which call for heroic virtues. The average citizen must be a good citizen if our republics are to succeed. The stream will not permanently rise higher than the main source; and the main source of national power and national greatness is found in the average citizenship of the nation. Therefore it behooves us to do our best to see that the standard of the average citizen is kept high; and the average cannot be kept high unless the standard of the leaders is very much higher.

In the passage, the underlined word "conditioned" most nearly means ________________.

Possible Answers:

dependent

prepared

resolved

verified

trained

Correct answer:

dependent

Explanation:

The sentence creates a cause-and-effect relationship in which success or failure is the result of the way in which average people do their duties. "Dependent" establishes this relationship, and none of the other answer choices reflect this direct causal relationship.

Example Question #21 : Language In Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Mr. Wordsworth" in The Spirit of the Age: or Contemporary Portraits by William Hazlitt (1825)

Mr. Wordsworth’s genius is a pure emanation of the Spirit of the Age. Had he lived in any other period of the world, he would never have been heard of. As it is, he has some difficulty to contend with the lethargy of his intellect, and the meanness of his subject. With him “lowliness is young ambition’s ladder;” but he finds it a toil to climb in this way the steep of Fame. His homely Muse can hardly raise her wing from the ground, nor spread her hidden glories to the sun. He has “no figures nor no fantasies, which busy passion draws in the brains of men:” neither the gorgeous machinery of mythological lore, nor the splendid colors of poetic diction. His style is vernacular: he delivers household truths. He sees nothing loftier than human hopes; nothing deeper than the human heart. This he probes, this he tampers with, this he poises, with all its incalculable weight of thought and feeling, in his hands, and at the same time calms the throbbing pulses of his own heart, by keeping his eye ever fixed on the face of nature. If he can make the life-blood flow from the wounded breast, this is the living coloring with which he paints his verse: if he can assuage the pain or close up the wound with the balm of solitary musing, or the healing power of plants and herbs and “skyey influences,” this is the sole triumph of his art. He takes the simplest elements of nature and of the human mind, the mere abstract conditions inseparable from our being, and tries to compound a new system of poetry from them; and has perhaps succeeded as well as anyone could. “Nihil humani a me alienum puto” (I consider nothing that is human alien to me)—is the motto of his works. He thinks nothing low or indifferent of which this can be affirmed: everything that professes to be more than this, that is not an absolute essence of truth and feeling, he holds to be vitiated, false, and spurious. In a word, his poetry is founded on setting up an opposition (and pushing it to the utmost length) between the natural and the artificial: between the spirit of humanity, and the spirit of fashion and of the world!

It is one of the innovations of the time. It partakes of, and is carried along with, the revolutionary movement of our age: the political changes of the day were the model on which he formed and conducted his poetical experiments. His Muse (it cannot be denied, and without this we cannot explain its character at all) is a leveling one. It proceeds on a principle of equality, and strives to reduce all things to the same standard. It is distinguished by a proud humility. It relies upon its own resources, and disdains external show and relief. It takes the commonest events and objects, as a test to prove that nature is always interesting from its inherent truth and beauty, without any of the ornaments of dress or pomp of circumstances to set it off. Hence the unaccountable mixture of seeming simplicity and real abstruseness in the Lyrical Ballads. Fools have laughed at, and wise men scarcely understand, them. He takes a subject or a story merely as pegs or loops to hang thought and feeling on; the incidents are trifling, in proportion to his contempt for imposing appearances; the reflections are profound, according to the gravity and aspiring pretensions of his mind.

As it is used in the passage, the underlined word “emanation” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

commission 

digression 

emission 

expulsion 

disgrace

Correct answer:

emission 

Explanation:

In this context of Wordsworth's genius being an “emanation,” the word means a production or an emergence. Here, the best synonym would be “emission,” as the only other suitable answer is “expulsion,” which does not fully fit the meaning of the passage. An “expulsion” is a throwing out, “disgrace” means shame, “digression” means a departure from the subject or an act of misbehaving, and a “commission” is a task or a job.

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