SSAT Upper Level Reading : Finding Context-Dependent Meanings of Words in Narrative Social Science Passages

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

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In History Passages

Adapted from The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (1784)

At the time I established myself in Pennsylvania there was not a good bookseller's shop in any of the colonies to the southward of Boston. In New York and Philadelphia the printers were indeed stationers; they sold only paper, etc., almanacs, ballads, and a few common school-books. Those who loved reading were obliged to send for their books from England; the members of the Junto had each a few. We had left the ale-house, where we first met, and hired a room to hold our club in. I proposed that we should all of us bring our books to that room, where they would not only be ready to consult in our conferences, but become a common benefit, each of us being at liberty to borrow such as he wished to read at home. This was accordingly done, and for some time contented us.

Finding the advantage of this little collection, I proposed to render the benefit from books more common by commencing a public subscription library. I drew a sketch of the plan and rules that would be necessary, and got a skilful conveyancer, Mr. Charles Brockden, to put the whole in form of articles of agreement, to be subscribed, by which each subscriber engaged to pay a certain sum down for the first purchase of books, and an annual contribution for increasing them. So few were the readers at that time in Philadelphia, and the majority of us so poor, that I was not able, with great industry to find more than fifty persons, mostly young tradesmen, willing to pay down for this purpose forty shillings each, and ten shillings per annum. On this little fund we began. The books were imported; the library was opened one day in the week for lending to the subscribers, on their promissory notes to pay double the value if not duly returned. The institution soon manifested its utility, was imitated by other towns and in other provinces. The libraries were augmented by donations; reading became fashionable; and our people, having no public amusements to divert their attention from study, became better acquainted with books, and in a few years were observed by strangers to be better instructed and more intelligent than people of the same rank generally are in other countries.

In the first line of the second paragraph, "finding" most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

locating

concluding

discovering

decreeing

Correct answer:

discovering

Explanation:

Franklin's use of the word "finding" here refers to the advantage of having books readily available, an advantage which he only discovered after establishing the library for himself and his friends in the Junto. So, the best answer choice is "discovering."

Example Question #61 : Isee Upper Level (Grades 9 12) Reading Comprehension

Adapted from The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (1784)

At the time I established myself in Pennsylvania there was not a good bookseller's shop in any of the colonies to the southward of Boston. In New York and Philadelphia the printers were indeed stationers; they sold only paper, etc., almanacs, ballads, and a few common school-books. Those who loved reading were obliged to send for their books from England; the members of the Junto had each a few. We had left the ale-house, where we first met, and hired a room to hold our club in. I proposed that we should all of us bring our books to that room, where they would not only be ready to consult in our conferences, but become a common benefit, each of us being at liberty to borrow such as he wished to read at home. This was accordingly done, and for some time contented us.

Finding the advantage of this little collection, I proposed to render the benefit from books more common by commencing a public subscription library. I drew a sketch of the plan and rules that would be necessary, and got a skilful conveyancer, Mr. Charles Brockden, to put the whole in form of articles of agreement, to be subscribed, by which each subscriber engaged to pay a certain sum down for the first purchase of books, and an annual contribution for increasing them. So few were the readers at that time in Philadelphia, and the majority of us so poor, that I was not able, with great industry to find more than fifty persons, mostly young tradesmen, willing to pay down for this purpose forty shillings each, and ten shillings per annum. On this little fund we began. The books were imported; the library was opened one day in the week for lending to the subscribers, on their promissory notes to pay double the value if not duly returned. The institution soon manifested its utility, was imitated by other towns and in other provinces. The libraries were augmented by donations; reading became fashionable; and our people, having no public amusements to divert their attention from study, became better acquainted with books, and in a few years were observed by strangers to be better instructed and more intelligent than people of the same rank generally are in other countries.

Judging from the context of the passage, the underlined word "conveyancer" most likely means __________.

Possible Answers:

a contractor

a builder

a lawyer

an architect

Correct answer:

a lawyer

Explanation:

A "conveyancer" was a lawyer who specialized in drawing up contracts, or "articles of agreement" such as the one Franklin creates for the subscribers to the library.

Example Question #83 : Critical Comprehension

"The Sociology of Deviance" by Joseph Ritchie (2014)

Sociologically, deviance is defined as behaviors or actions that violate informal or formal social sanctions. A formal social sanction is one set by a proper authority, such as a state or federal legislature. Formal laws and sanctions are often enforced and propagated by an official body or organization, such as police departments and court houses. Informal sanctions are known as "folkways" and "mores." Informal sanctions are not proposed as law and are enforced by informal means such as exclusion, avoidance, or negative sentiments. Deviance and the enforcement of social norms, both formal and informal, play important roles in the construction of society and its values.

Sociologist Emile Durkheim hypothesized that deviance is an important and necessary part of the organization of society. He stated that deviance performs the following functions: it affirms cultural norms, defines moral boundaries, strengthens society’s bonds through its enforcement, and advances social revolution. This is considered to be a structural-functionalist theory because it outlines deviance’s function in the structure and construction of society.

Robert Merton outlined deviance as the product of the interactions between an individual’s cultural goals and the means to obtain these goals as produced by society or institutions. Cultural goals can be described as financial success, acquisition of academic degrees, or the pursuit of "the American Dream." Institutionalized means are best described as society’s proposed paths to achieve cultural goals. Merton hypothesized that the acceptance or rejection of cultural goals and institutionalized means of achievement defined an individual’s level of deviance. Conformists accept cultural norms and institutionalized means while retreatists reject both norms and means. An innovator will accept cultural goals but reject the institutionalized means to obtain them. A ritualist will embrace the rules set forth by society but will lose sight of and reject cultural norms. Lastly, rebellious individuals will create a counter-culture that not only rejects a society's goals and means, but also creates new cultural norms and means to achieve these goals.

Deviance plays a role in society that has been studied by various sociologists. Some feel that it is a necessary element utilized in the structure and function of society, while others feel that it defines an individual’s outlook on societal norms and means of achievement. Deviance can be described as behavior that goes against the grain of conduct deemed acceptable by society. The phenomena that exist in its composition and purpose will continue to be studied by researchers in an effort to better understand society and culture.

"Folkways" and "mores" are best described as which of the following terms?

Possible Answers:

Laws

Informal social sanctions

Formal social sanctions

Felonies

Theories

Correct answer:

Informal social sanctions

Explanation:

In its first paragraph, the passage describes "folkways" and "mores" as informal social sanctions. These informal sanctions are enforced by informal means. They are not proposed laws set forth by government legislature.

Example Question #11 : How To Find The Meaning Of A Word

"The Holy Roman Empire" by Daniel Morrison (2014)

The Holy Roman Empire was somewhat unique among the various organized states of Middle and Early Modern Europe in that the Emperor was chosen by a group of electors. This is in stark contrast to the strict hereditary nature of English or French succession, where the position of monarch was handed down from the outgoing ruler to his closest legitimate heir, usually a son. In the Holy Roman Empire, the Emperor was chosen by seven electors, which in theory might seem to give the Empire a sort of early democratic flavor. However, in practice, only two or three families were ever able to draw on sufficient personal wealth to stand for election. Of these, the Luxembourgs and the Hapsburgs are most well known. The Hapsburgs were so successful that they were able to maintain their “elected” position for almost four centuries, and the Luxembourgs somehow still have a small country named after their family almost seven hundred years after their fall from dominance.

The underlined word “hereditary” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

Chosen by a religious figure

Passed down through the family

Given to one’s parents

Elected by the people

Requiring great personal wealth

Correct answer:

Passed down through the family

Explanation:

In context, the author is talking about the nature of the English and French monarchies, where the position of King or Queen was passed down to the ruler’s closest “heir” (descendant, son or daughter, next in line), in comparison to the Holy Roman Empire. The author describes, “the strict hereditary nature of English or French succession, where the position of monarch was handed down from the outgoing ruler to his closest legitimate heir, usually a son. The key phrase is “usually a son,” which tells you that “hereditary” means passed down through the family or handed down.

Example Question #3 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In History Passages

Adapted from Early European History Hutton Webster (1917)

It was the work of Darius to provide for his dominions a stable government which should preserve what the sword had won. The problem was difficult. The empire was a collection of many people widely different in race, language, customs, and religion. Darius did not attempt to weld the conquered nations into unity. As long as the subjects of Persia paid tribute and furnished troops for the royal army, they were allowed to conduct their own affairs with little interference from the Great King.

The entire empire, excluding Persia proper, was divided into twenty satrapies, or provinces, each one with its civil governor, or satrap. The satraps carried out the laws and collected the heavy tribute annually levied throughout the empire. In most of the provinces there were also military governors who commanded the army and reported directly to the king. This device of entrusting the civil and military functions to separate officials lessened the danger of revolts against the Persian authority. As an additional precaution Darius provided special agents whose business it was to travel from province to province and investigate the conduct of his officials. It became a proverb that "the king has many eyes and many ears."

Darius also established a system of military roads throughout the Persian dominions. The roads were provided at frequent intervals with inns, where postmen stood always in readiness to take up a letter and carry it to the next station. The Royal Road from Susa, the Persian capital, to Sardis in Lydia was over fifteen hundred miles long; but government couriers, using relays of fresh horses, could cover the distance within a week. An old Greek writer declares with admiration that "there is nothing mortal more swift than these messengers."

The underlined word “levied” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

introduced 

faded

dogged 

imposed 

cloistered 

Correct answer:

imposed 

Explanation:

The word is used in the following context: “The satraps carried out the laws and collected the heavy tribute annually levied throughout the empire.” We are told that a heavy tribute is annually “levied,” which suggests that it is collected, raised, or imposed. “Imposed” means forced upon, and since people wouldn't likely pay their takes unless someone made them do so, the takes have to be “levied,” or “imposed.” To provide further help, “dogged” means determined; “faded” means dull or discolored; and “cloistered” means secluded.

Example Question #2 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In History Passages

Adapted from Early European History Hutton Webster (1917)

It was the work of Darius to provide for his dominions a stable government which should preserve what the sword had won. The problem was difficult. The empire was a collection of many people widely different in race, language, customs, and religion. Darius did not attempt to weld the conquered nations into unity. As long as the subjects of Persia paid tribute and furnished troops for the royal army, they were allowed to conduct their own affairs with little interference from the Great King.

The entire empire, excluding Persia proper, was divided into twenty satrapies, or provinces, each one with its civil governor, or satrap. The satraps carried out the laws and collected the heavy tribute annually levied throughout the empire. In most of the provinces there were also military governors who commanded the army and reported directly to the king. This device of entrusting the civil and military functions to separate officials lessened the danger of revolts against the Persian authority. As an additional precaution Darius provided special agents whose business it was to travel from province to province and investigate the conduct of his officials. It became a proverb that "the king has many eyes and many ears."

Darius also established a system of military roads throughout the Persian dominions. The roads were provided at frequent intervals with inns, where postmen stood always in readiness to take up a letter and carry it to the next station. The Royal Road from Susa, the Persian capital, to Sardis in Lydia was over fifteen hundred miles long; but government couriers, using relays of fresh horses, could cover the distance within a week. An old Greek writer declares with admiration that "there is nothing mortal more swift than these messengers."

The underlined word “furnished” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

implied 

ensconced

commanded 

meandered 

supplied 

Correct answer:

supplied 

Explanation:

The word "furnished" is used in the following sentence: “As long as the subjects of Persia paid tribute and furnished troops for the royal army, they were allowed to conduct their own affairs with little interference from the Great King.” We are told that Persia’s subjects had to pay tribute and “furnish” troops to the royal army in order to live outside the king’s interference. As we are told that the army is “royal,” and that the subjects are trying to please the “king," so we can assume that “furnished” means gave to or supplied. To provide further help, “commanded” means led; “ensconced” means settled in; “meandered” means traveled towards a destination indirectly, in a side-to-side fashion, like a river; and “implied” means suggested subtly without directly stating.

Example Question #41 : Language In History Passages

Adapted from "Crossing the Rubicon" in History of Julius Caesar by Jacob Abbott (1902)

There was a little stream in ancient times, in the north of Italy, which flowed eastward into the Adriatic Sea, called the Rubicon. This stream has been immortalized by the transactions which we are now about to describe.

The Rubicon was a very important boundary, and yet it was in itself so small and insignificant that it is now impossible to determine which of two or three little brooks here running into the sea is entitled to its name and renown. In history the Rubicon is a grand, permanent, and conspicuous stream, gazed upon with continued interest by all mankind for nearly twenty centuries; in nature it is an uncertain rivulet, for a long time doubtful and undetermined, and finally lost.

The Rubicon originally derived its importance from the fact that it was the boundary between all that part of the north of Italy which is formed by the valley of the Po, one of the richest and most magnificent countries of the world, and the more southern Roman territories. This country of the Po constituted what was in those days called the hither Gaul, and was a Roman province. It belonged now to Cæsar's jurisdiction, as the commander in Gaul. All south of the Rubicon was territory reserved for the immediate jurisdiction of the city. The Romans, in order to protect themselves from any danger which might threaten their own liberties from the immense armies which they raised for the conquest of foreign nations, had imposed on every side very strict limitations and restrictions in respect to the approach of these armies to the capital. The Rubicon was the limit on this northern side. Generals commanding in Gaul were never to pass it. To cross the Rubicon with an army on the way to Rome was rebellion and treason. Hence the Rubicon became, as it were, the visible sign and symbol of civil restriction to military power.

The underlined word “renown” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

orthodox 

kingdom 

fame 

infamy 

disgrace

Correct answer:

fame 

Explanation:

In context, the author says “The Rubicon was a very important boundary, and yet it was in itself so small and insignificant that it is now impossible to determine which of two or three little brooks here running into the sea is entitled to its name and renown.” In the opening of the first paragraph, the author is discussing the disparate smallness and famousness of the Rubicon, so it makes sense that in the context of the Rubicon as “a very important boundary” the “name and renown” it is entitled to is notoriety and fame. To provide further help, “infamy” is fame derived from having done bad deeds; “disgrace” is shame; and “orthodox” means thinking conventionally or strictly following tradition.

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