SSAT Upper Level Reading : Argumentative Humanities Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #13 : Determining Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Mr. Coleridge" from The Spirit of the Age by William Hazlitt (1825)

The present is an age of talkers, and not of doers, and the reason is, that the world is growing old. We are so far advanced in the Arts and Sciences, that we live in retrospect, and dote on past achievements. The accumulation of knowledge has been so great that we are lost in wonder at the height it has reached, instead of attempting to climb or add to it, while the variety of objects distracts and dazzles the looker-on. What niche remains unoccupied? What path untried? What is the use of doing anything, unless we could do better than all those who have gone before us? What hope is there of this? We are like those who have been to see some noble monument of art, who are content to admire without thinking of rivaling it; or like guests after a feast, who praise the hospitality of the donor "and thank the bounteous Pan"—perhaps carrying away some trifling fragments; or like the spectators of a mighty battle, who still hear its sound afar off, and the clashing of armor and the neighing of the war-horse and the shout of victory is in their ears, like the rushing of innumerable waters!

Mr. Coleridge has "a mind reflecting ages past”; his voice is like the echo of the congregated roar of the "dark rearward and abyss" of thought. He who has seen a mouldering tower by the side of a crystal lake, hid by the mist, but glittering in the wave below, may conceive the dim, gleaming, uncertain intelligence of his eye; he who has marked the evening clouds up rolled (a world of vapors), has seen the picture of his mind: unearthly, unsubstantial, with gorgeous tints and ever-varying forms.

Our author's mind is (as he himself might express it) tangential. There is no subject on which he has not touched, none on which he has rested. With an understanding fertile, subtle, expansive, "quick, forgetive, apprehensive," beyond all living precedent, few traces of it will perhaps remain. He lends himself to all impressions alike; he gives up his mind and liberty of thought to none. He is a general lover of art and science, and wedded to no one in particular. He pursues knowledge as a mistress, with outstretched hands and winged speed; but as he is about to embrace her, his Daphne turns—alas! not to a laurel! Hardly a speculation has been left on record from the earliest time, but it is loosely folded up in Mr. Coleridge's memory, like a rich, but somewhat tattered piece of tapestry; we might add (with more seeming than real extravagance), that scarce a thought can pass through the mind of man, but its sound has at some time or other passed over his head with rustling pinions. On whatever question or author you speak, he is prepared to take up the theme with advantage—from Peter Abelard down to Thomas Moore, from the subtlest metaphysics to the politics of the Courier. There is no man of genius, in whose praise he descants, but the critic seems to stand above the author, and "what in him is weak, to strengthen, what is low, to raise and support”; nor is there any work of genius that does not come out of his hands like an Illuminated Missal, sparkling even in its defects. If Mr. Coleridge had not been the most impressive talker of his age, he would probably have been the finest writer; but he lays down his pen to make sure of an auditor, and mortgages the admiration of posterity for the stare of an idler. If he had not been a poet, he would have been a powerful logician; if he had not dipped his wing in the Unitarian controversy, he might have soared to the very summit of fancy. But in writing verse, he is trying to subject the Muse to transcendental theories: in his abstract reasoning, he misses his way by strewing it with flowers. All that he has done of moment, he had done twenty years ago: since then, he may be said to have lived on the sound of his own voice. Mr. Coleridge is too rich in intellectual wealth to need to task himself to any drudgery: he has only to draw the sliders of his imagination, and a thousand subjects expand before him, startling him with their brilliancy, or losing themselves in endless obscurity.

Which of these is the best antonym to the underlined word “varying,” as used in this passage?

Possible Answers:

comparing 

matching 

differing 

colloquial

quintessential

Correct answer:

matching 

Explanation:

The verb “vary,” which is a root for the word “varying,” in this context means be different or diverse. The antonym therefore would be “match” or “matching.” This answer can be attained by elimination, with “comparing” being the closest word to “matching” as an incorrect answer. To provide further help, “colloquial” speech is informal, and “quintessential” means typical or representative of an idea.

Example Question #51 : Argumentative Humanities Passages

Adapted from “Talking About Our Troubles” by Mark Rutherford (1901)

We may talk about our troubles to those persons who can give us direct help, but even in this case we ought as much as possible to come to a provisional conclusion before consultation; to be perfectly clear to ourselves within our own limits. Some people have a foolish trick of applying for aid before they have done anything whatever to aid themselves, and in fact try to talk themselves into perspicuity. The only way in which they can think is by talking, and their speech consequently is not the expression of opinion already and carefully formed, but the manufacture of it.

We may also tell our troubles to those who are suffering if we can lessen their own. It may be a very great relief to them to know that others have passed through trials equal to theirs and have survived. There are obscure, nervous diseases, hypochondriac fancies, almost uncontrollable impulses, which terrify by their apparent singularity. If we could believe that they are common, the worst of the fear would vanish.

But, as a rule, we should be very careful for our own sake not to speak much about what distresses us. Expression is apt to carry with it exaggeration, and this exaggerated form becomes henceforth that under which we represent our miseries to ourselves, so that they are thereby increased. By reserve, on the other hand, they are diminished, for we attach less importance to that which it was not worthwhile to mention. Secrecy, in fact, may be our salvation.

 

The word “singularity” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

Implausibility

Condemnation

Miraculous 

Uniqueness 

Spectacle 

Correct answer:

Uniqueness 

Explanation:

The author describes certain diseases and nervous afflictions as being terrifying by their singularity, and suggests that in these instances discovering that other people have been afflicted by similar afflictions might lessen the terror felt by the individual experiencing those problems for the first time. This should make it apparent that the word “singularity” refers to uniqueness, for in knowing that their suffering is not unique, people are made more comfortable.

Example Question #52 : Argumentative Humanities Passages

Adapted from “Talking About Our Troubles” by Mark Rutherford (1901)

We may talk about our troubles to those persons who can give us direct help, but even in this case we ought as much as possible to come to a provisional conclusion before consultation; to be perfectly clear to ourselves within our own limits. Some people have a foolish trick of applying for aid before they have done anything whatever to aid themselves, and in fact try to talk themselves into perspicuity. The only way in which they can think is by talking, and their speech consequently is not the expression of opinion already and carefully formed, but the manufacture of it.

We may also tell our troubles to those who are suffering if we can lessen their own. It may be a very great relief to them to know that others have passed through trials equal to theirs and have survived. There are obscure, nervous diseases, hypochondriac fancies, almost uncontrollable impulses, which terrify by their apparent singularity. If we could believe that they are common, the worst of the fear would vanish.

But, as a rule, we should be very careful for our own sake not to speak much about what distresses us. Expression is apt to carry with it exaggeration, and this exaggerated form becomes henceforth that under which we represent our miseries to ourselves, so that they are thereby increased. By reserve, on the other hand, they are diminished, for we attach less importance to that which it was not worthwhile to mention. Secrecy, in fact, may be our salvation.

The word "perspicuity" most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

clarity 

fear 

concern 

opulence 

misunderstanding 

Correct answer:

clarity 

Explanation:

"Perspicuity" means clarity or lucidity. Other than knowing the meaning of the word the only way to solve this problem is to read-in-context. From the context of the first paragraph it is clear that the author is talking about how some people do not deal with their problems but instead try and talk them through with other people until they reach “perspicuity.” You can therefore infer that perspicuity must refer to some sort of desirable conclusion. "Misunderstanding," "concern," and "fear" are all undesirable conclusions, and "opulence" simply refers to fanciness or luxury.

Example Question #53 : Argumentative Humanities Passages

Adapted from “Aristotle at Afternoon Tea” by Oscar Wilde (1887)

In society, says Mr. Mahaffy, every civilized man and woman ought to feel it their duty to say something, even when there is hardly anything to be said, and, in order to encourage this delightful art of brilliant chatter, he has published a social guide without which no debutante or dandy should ever dream of going out to dine. Not that Mr. Mahaffy's book can be said to be, in any sense of the word, popular. In discussing this important subject of conversation, he has not merely followed the scientific method of Aristotle which is, perhaps, excusable, but he has adopted the literary style of Aristotle for which no excuse is possible. There is, also, hardly a single anecdote, hardly a single illustration, and the reader is left to put the professor's abstract rules into practice, without either the examples or the warnings of history to encourage or to dissuade him in his reckless career. Still, the book can be warmly recommended to all who propose to substitute the vice of verbosity for the stupidity of silence. It fascinates in spite of its form and pleases in spite of its pedantry, and is the nearest approach, that we know of, in modern literature to meeting Aristotle at an afternoon tea.

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

Possible Answers:

habit

training 

repetition

rehearsal 

application

Correct answer:

application

Explanation:

The word “practice” is most commonly used to refer to training for something by repeating one's actions to improve one's skills; however, in this context you have to know the secondary meaning of the word "practice." More specifically, you have to know what is meant by “to put something into practice.” It means to apply something or to put something into application; therefore, "application" is the correct answer.

Example Question #71 : Language In Humanities Passages

Adapted from "The Writing of Essays" in Certain Personal Matters by H.G. Wells (1901)

The art of the essayist is so simple, so entirely free from canons of criticism, and withal so delightful, that one must needs wonder why all men are not essayists. Perhaps people do not know how easy it is. Or perhaps beginners are misled. Rightly taught it may be learnt in a brief ten minutes or so, what art there is in it. And all the rest is as easy as wandering among woodlands on a bright morning in the spring.

Then sit you down if you would join us, taking paper, pens, and ink; and mark this, your pen is a matter of vital moment. For every pen writes its own sort of essay, and pencils also after their kind. The ink perhaps may have its influence too, and the paper; but paramount is the pen. This, indeed, is the fundamental secret of essay-writing. Wed any man to his proper pen, and the delights of composition and the birth of an essay are assured. Only many of us wander through the earth and never meet with her—futile and lonely men.

And, of all pens, your quill for essays that are literature. There is a subtle informality, a delightful easiness, perhaps even a faint immorality essentially literary, about the quill. The quill is rich in suggestion and quotation. There are quills that would quote you Montaigne and Horace in the hands of a trades-union delegate. And those quirky, idle noises this pen makes are delightful, and would break your easy fluency with wit. All the classical essayists wrote with a quill, and Addison used the most expensive kind the Government purchased. And the beginning of the inferior essay was the dawn of the cheap steel pen.

The word "canons" as Wells uses it in the first sentence most likely means __________.

Possible Answers:

sets of rules by which something is judged

the collected works of an author

a collection of works considered the best in their field

pieces of artillery used for attack

Correct answer:

sets of rules by which something is judged

Explanation:

Wells seems to suggest that writing essays means not having to be judged by a static set of rules of excellence in the same way that other works are judged.

Example Question #72 : Language In Humanities Passages

Adapted from "The Writing of Essays" in Certain Personal Matters by H.G. Wells (1901)

The art of the essayist is so simple, so entirely free from canons of criticism, and withal so delightful, that one must needs wonder why all men are not essayists. Perhaps people do not know how easy it is. Or perhaps beginners are misled. Rightly taught it may be learnt in a brief ten minutes or so, what art there is in it. And all the rest is as easy as wandering among woodlands on a bright morning in the spring.

Then sit you down if you would join us, taking paper, pens, and ink; and mark this, your pen is a matter of vital moment. For every pen writes its own sort of essay, and pencils also after their kind. The ink perhaps may have its influence too, and the paper; but paramount is the pen. This, indeed, is the fundamental secret of essay-writing. Wed any man to his proper pen, and the delights of composition and the birth of an essay are assured. Only many of us wander through the earth and never meet with her—futile and lonely men.

And, of all pens, your quill for essays that are literature. There is a subtle informality, a delightful easiness, perhaps even a faint immorality essentially literary, about the quill. The quill is rich in suggestion and quotation. There are quills that would quote you Montaigne and Horace in the hands of a trades-union delegate. And those quirky, idle noises this pen makes are delightful, and would break your easy fluency with wit. All the classical essayists wrote with a quill, and Addison used the most expensive kind the Government purchased. And the beginning of the inferior essay was the dawn of the cheap steel pen.

The word "withal" as Wells uses it in the first sentence most likely means __________.

Possible Answers:

in addition

undoubtedly

however

nevertheless

Correct answer:

in addition

Explanation:

The word "withal" is an archaic term that means additionally or in addition.

Example Question #73 : Language In Humanities Passages

Adapted from "The Writing of Essays" in Certain Personal Matters by H.G. Wells (1901)

The art of the essayist is so simple, so entirely free from canons of criticism, and withal so delightful, that one must needs wonder why all men are not essayists. Perhaps people do not know how easy it is. Or perhaps beginners are misled. Rightly taught it may be learnt in a brief ten minutes or so, what art there is in it. And all the rest is as easy as wandering among woodlands on a bright morning in the spring.

Then sit you down if you would join us, taking paper, pens, and ink; and mark this, your pen is a matter of vital moment. For every pen writes its own sort of essay, and pencils also after their kind. The ink perhaps may have its influence too, and the paper; but paramount is the pen. This, indeed, is the fundamental secret of essay-writing. Wed any man to his proper pen, and the delights of composition and the birth of an essay are assured. Only many of us wander through the earth and never meet with her—futile and lonely men.

And, of all pens, your quill for essays that are literature. There is a subtle informality, a delightful easiness, perhaps even a faint immorality essentially literary, about the quill. The quill is rich in suggestion and quotation. There are quills that would quote you Montaigne and Horace in the hands of a trades-union delegate. And those quirky, idle noises this pen makes are delightful, and would break your easy fluency with wit. All the classical essayists wrote with a quill, and Addison used the most expensive kind the Government purchased. And the beginning of the inferior essay was the dawn of the cheap steel pen.

The word "paramount" as Wells uses it in the second sentence of the second paragraph most likely means __________.

Possible Answers:

most important

primary

leading

having supreme power

Correct answer:

most important

Explanation:

"Paramount" is an adjective that means of highest importance.

Example Question #628 : Isee Upper Level (Grades 9 12) Reading Comprehension

Adapted from "Preface: The Maypole and the Column" in Extemporary Essays by Maurice Hewlett (1922)

In days of more single purpose than these, young men and maidens, in the first flush of summer, set up a maypole on the green; but before they joined hands and danced round about it they had done honor to what it stood for by draping it with swags of flowers and green-stuff, hanging it with streamers of diverse colors, and sticking it with as many gilt hearts as there were hearts among them of votive inclination. So they transfigured the thing signified, and turned a shaven tree-trunk from a very crude emblem into a thing of happy fantasy. That will serve me for a figure of how the poet deals with his little idea, or great one; and in his more sober mood it is open to the essayist so to deal with his, supposing he have one. He must hang his pole, or concept, not with rhyme but with wise or witty talk. He must turn it about and about, not to set the ornaments jingling, or little bells ringing; rather that you may see its shapeliness enhanced, its proportions emphasized, and in all the shifting lights and shadows of its ornamentation discern it still for the notion that it is. That, at least, is my own notion of what the essayist should do, though I am aware that very distinguished practitioners have not agreed with me and do not agree at this hour. The modern essayist, for reasons which I shall try to expound, has been driven from the maypole to the column.

Certainly, the parent of the Essay draped no maypoles with speech. Montaigne was a sedentary philosopher, of the order of the post-prandials; a wine-and-walnuts man. One thing would open out into another, and one seem better than the other, at the time of hearing. "Je n'enseigne point; je raconte," he tells you of himself; and it is true. To listen to him is a liberal education; yet you can hardly think of Montaigne footing it on the green. Bacon's line, again, was the aphoristic. He shreds off his maypole rather than clothes it: but he has one set up. He can give his argument as witty a turn as the Frenchman when he pleases—"There is no man doth a wrong for the wrong's sake, but thereby to purchase himself profit, or pleasure, or honor, or the like. Therefore why should I be angry with a man for loving himself better than me?" That is the turn his thoughts take upon Revenge, and a fair sample of his way with an abstract idea—shredding off it all the time, getting down to the pith. But he can be very obscure: "A single life doth well with Churchmen; for charity will hardly water the ground where it must first fill a pool." That is proleptic reasoning. We are to caper about the pole before the ornaments are on.

The underlined word "votive" as Hewlett uses in the passage most likely means __________.

Possible Answers:

consecrated

devotional

desecrated

dedicated

Correct answer:

devotional

Explanation:

The passage describes the dancers around the maypole "[doing] honor" to it, which would be a form of devotion to the maypole.

Example Question #629 : Isee Upper Level (Grades 9 12) Reading Comprehension

Adapted from "Preface: The Maypole and the Column" in Extemporary Essays by Maurice Hewlett (1922)

In days of more single purpose than these, young men and maidens, in the first flush of summer, set up a maypole on the green; but before they joined hands and danced round about it they had done honor to what it stood for by draping it with swags of flowers and green-stuff, hanging it with streamers of diverse colors, and sticking it with as many gilt hearts as there were hearts among them of votive inclination. So they transfigured the thing signified, and turned a shaven tree-trunk from a very crude emblem into a thing of happy fantasy. That will serve me for a figure of how the poet deals with his little idea, or great one; and in his more sober mood it is open to the essayist so to deal with his, supposing he have one. He must hang his pole, or concept, not with rhyme but with wise or witty talk. He must turn it about and about, not to set the ornaments jingling, or little bells ringing; rather that you may see its shapeliness enhanced, its proportions emphasized, and in all the shifting lights and shadows of its ornamentation discern it still for the notion that it is. That, at least, is my own notion of what the essayist should do, though I am aware that very distinguished practitioners have not agreed with me and do not agree at this hour. The modern essayist, for reasons which I shall try to expound, has been driven from the maypole to the column.

Certainly, the parent of the Essay draped no maypoles with speech. Montaigne was a sedentary philosopher, of the order of the post-prandials; a wine-and-walnuts man. One thing would open out into another, and one seem better than the other, at the time of hearing. "Je n'enseigne point; je raconte," he tells you of himself; and it is true. To listen to him is a liberal education; yet you can hardly think of Montaigne footing it on the green. Bacon's line, again, was the aphoristic. He shreds off his maypole rather than clothes it: but he has one set up. He can give his argument as witty a turn as the Frenchman when he pleases—"There is no man doth a wrong for the wrong's sake, but thereby to purchase himself profit, or pleasure, or honor, or the like. Therefore why should I be angry with a man for loving himself better than me?" That is the turn his thoughts take upon Revenge, and a fair sample of his way with an abstract idea—shredding off it all the time, getting down to the pith. But he can be very obscure: "A single life doth well with Churchmen; for charity will hardly water the ground where it must first fill a pool." That is proleptic reasoning. We are to caper about the pole before the ornaments are on.

The underline word "diverse" as Hewlett uses it in the passage most likely means __________.

Possible Answers:

various

several

similar

monochromatic

Correct answer:

various

Explanation:

In this context, the word "diverse" means "various."

Example Question #630 : Isee Upper Level (Grades 9 12) Reading Comprehension

Adapted from "Preface: The Maypole and the Column" in Extemporary Essays by Maurice Hewlett (1922)

In days of more single purpose than these, young men and maidens, in the first flush of summer, set up a maypole on the green; but before they joined hands and danced round about it they had done honor to what it stood for by draping it with swags of flowers and green-stuff, hanging it with streamers of diverse colors, and sticking it with as many gilt hearts as there were hearts among them of votive inclination. So they transfigured the thing signified, and turned a shaven tree-trunk from a very crude emblem into a thing of happy fantasy. That will serve me for a figure of how the poet deals with his little idea, or great one; and in his more sober mood it is open to the essayist so to deal with his, supposing he have one. He must hang his pole, or concept, not with rhyme but with wise or witty talk. He must turn it about and about, not to set the ornaments jingling, or little bells ringing; rather that you may see its shapeliness enhanced, its proportions emphasized, and in all the shifting lights and shadows of its ornamentation discern it still for the notion that it is. That, at least, is my own notion of what the essayist should do, though I am aware that very distinguished practitioners have not agreed with me and do not agree at this hour. The modern essayist, for reasons which I shall try to expound, has been driven from the maypole to the column.

Certainly, the parent of the Essay draped no maypoles with speech. Montaigne was a sedentary philosopher, of the order of the post-prandials; a wine-and-walnuts man. One thing would open out into another, and one seem better than the other, at the time of hearing. "Je n'enseigne point; je raconte," he tells you of himself; and it is true. To listen to him is a liberal education; yet you can hardly think of Montaigne footing it on the green. Bacon's line, again, was the aphoristic. He shreds off his maypole rather than clothes it: but he has one set up. He can give his argument as witty a turn as the Frenchman when he pleases—"There is no man doth a wrong for the wrong's sake, but thereby to purchase himself profit, or pleasure, or honor, or the like. Therefore why should I be angry with a man for loving himself better than me?" That is the turn his thoughts take upon Revenge, and a fair sample of his way with an abstract idea—shredding off it all the time, getting down to the pith. But he can be very obscure: "A single life doth well with Churchmen; for charity will hardly water the ground where it must first fill a pool." That is proleptic reasoning. We are to caper about the pole before the ornaments are on.

Something that is "post-prandial," judging from the beginning of the passage's second paragraph, is something that __________.

Possible Answers:

follows a nap

moves from one point to another lazily

follows a meal

involves nuts and wine

Correct answer:

follows a meal

Explanation:

Something that is "post-prandial" takes place after a meal, which is implied by the reference to wine and walnuts, as these might be had together as a light snack after a dinner.

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