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 #1 : Language In Humanities Passages

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 word "sedentary" as Montaigne uses it in the first sentence of the passage's second paragraph most likely means __________.

Possible Answers:

surreptitious

lazy

desk-bound

inactive

Correct answer:

inactive

Explanation:

Hewlett describes Montaigne as a philosopher whose writing doesn't convey a lot of movement and says that "you can hardly think of Montaigne footing it on the green," so "sedentary" in this context means sitting and relatively inactive.

Example Question #2 : Language In Humanities Passages

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 word "aphoristic" as Hewlett uses it to describe Bacon in the passage's second paragraph most likely means __________.

Possible Answers:

given to pithy sayings

prolific

verbose

prolix

Correct answer:

given to pithy sayings

Explanation:

Bacon's writing is characterized by short and pithy sayings, such as those that Hewlett quotes here. (An "aphorism" is a short, pithy saying.)

Example Question #74 : Language In Humanities Passages

Adapted from "The Philosophy of Composition" by Edgar Allan Poe (1846)

Nothing is more clear than that every plot, worth the name, must be elaborated to its dénouement before any thing be attempted with the pen. It is only with the dénouement constantly in view that we can give a plot its indispensable air of consequence, or causation, by making the incidents, and especially the tone at all points, tend to the development of the intention.

There is a radical error, I think, in the usual mode of constructing a story. Either history affords a thesis—or one is suggested by an incident of the day—or, at best, the author sets himself to work in the combination of striking events to form merely the basis of his narrative—designing, generally, to fill in with description, dialogue, or autorial comment, whatever crevices of fact, or action, may, from page to page, render themselves apparent.

I prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect. Keeping originality always in view—for he is false to himself who ventures to dispense with so obvious and so easily attainable a source of interest—I say to myself, in the first place, “Of the innumerable effects, or impressions, of which the heart, the intellect, or (more generally) the soul is susceptible, what one shall I, on the present occasion, select?” Having chosen a novel, first, and secondly a vivid effect, I consider whether it can best be wrought by incident or tone—whether by ordinary incidents and peculiar tone, or the converse, or by peculiarity both of incident and tone—afterward looking about me (or rather within) for such combinations of event, or tone, as shall best aid me in the construction of the effect.

The best synonym for the "effect" that Poe is trying to achieve with a story would be __________.

Possible Answers:

intellectual response

emotional impact

catharsis

original idea

Correct answer:

emotional impact

Explanation:

Poe refers to the heart, intellect, and soul all being susceptible to this "effect," which makes it likely that he means the emotional impact of the work. While "catharsis," or the release of strong negative emotions often caused by interacting with art, is a kind of emotional impact, it is too specific; Poe never mentions anything about emotions being released in the passage, so one can safely assume that the more general "emotional impact" is the correct answer.

Example Question #75 : Language In Humanities Passages

Adapted from "The Philosophy of Composition" by Edgar Allan Poe (1846)

Nothing is more clear than that every plot, worth the name, must be elaborated to its dénouement before any thing be attempted with the pen. It is only with the dénouement constantly in view that we can give a plot its indispensable air of consequence, or causation, by making the incidents, and especially the tone at all points, tend to the development of the intention.

There is a radical error, I think, in the usual mode of constructing a story. Either history affords a thesis—or one is suggested by an incident of the day—or, at best, the author sets himself to work in the combination of striking events to form merely the basis of his narrative—designing, generally, to fill in with description, dialogue, or autorial comment, whatever crevices of fact, or action, may, from page to page, render themselves apparent.

I prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect. Keeping originality always in view—for he is false to himself who ventures to dispense with so obvious and so easily attainable a source of interest—I say to myself, in the first place, “Of the innumerable effects, or impressions, of which the heart, the intellect, or (more generally) the soul is susceptible, what one shall I, on the present occasion, select?” Having chosen a novel, first, and secondly a vivid effect, I consider whether it can best be wrought by incident or tone—whether by ordinary incidents and peculiar tone, or the converse, or by peculiarity both of incident and tone—afterward looking about me (or rather within) for such combinations of event, or tone, as shall best aid me in the construction of the effect.

As Poe uses it, the underlined word "indispensible" in the first paragraph most likely means __________.

Possible Answers:

superfluous

elaborate

sturdy

all-important

Correct answer:

all-important

Explanation:

Although all of these words are synonyms or antonyms of "indispensible," Poe is using it here in the sense of describing something as unable to be done without, which would make "all-important" the most likely meaning of the word.

Example Question #76 : Language In Humanities Passages

Adapted from "The Philosophy of Composition" by Edgar Allan Poe (1846)

Nothing is more clear than that every plot, worth the name, must be elaborated to its dénouement before any thing be attempted with the pen. It is only with the dénouement constantly in view that we can give a plot its indispensable air of consequence, or causation, by making the incidents, and especially the tone at all points, tend to the development of the intention.

There is a radical error, I think, in the usual mode of constructing a story. Either history affords a thesis—or one is suggested by an incident of the day—or, at best, the author sets himself to work in the combination of striking events to form merely the basis of his narrative—designing, generally, to fill in with description, dialogue, or autorial comment, whatever crevices of fact, or action, may, from page to page, render themselves apparent.

I prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect. Keeping originality always in view—for he is false to himself who ventures to dispense with so obvious and so easily attainable a source of interest—I say to myself, in the first place, “Of the innumerable effects, or impressions, of which the heart, the intellect, or (more generally) the soul is susceptible, what one shall I, on the present occasion, select?” Having chosen a novel, first, and secondly a vivid effect, I consider whether it can best be wrought by incident or tone—whether by ordinary incidents and peculiar tone, or the converse, or by peculiarity both of incident and tone—afterward looking about me (or rather within) for such combinations of event, or tone, as shall best aid me in the construction of the effect.

The word dénouement is closest in meaning to the English word __________.

Possible Answers:

epilogue

finale

climax

resolution

Correct answer:

resolution

Explanation:

The word dénouement is usually translated in English as "resolution," which is not always the end of the story nor its climax.

Example Question #77 : Language In Humanities Passages

Adapted from "The Philosophy of Composition" by Edgar Allan Poe (1846)

Nothing is more clear than that every plot, worth the name, must be elaborated to its dénouement before any thing be attempted with the pen. It is only with the dénouement constantly in view that we can give a plot its indispensable air of consequence, or causation, by making the incidents, and especially the tone at all points, tend to the development of the intention.

There is a radical error, I think, in the usual mode of constructing a story. Either history affords a thesis—or one is suggested by an incident of the day—or, at best, the author sets himself to work in the combination of striking events to form merely the basis of his narrative—designing, generally, to fill in with description, dialogue, or autorial comment, whatever crevices of fact, or action, may, from page to page, render themselves apparent.

I prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect. Keeping originality always in view—for he is false to himself who ventures to dispense with so obvious and so easily attainable a source of interest—I say to myself, in the first place, “Of the innumerable effects, or impressions, of which the heart, the intellect, or (more generally) the soul is susceptible, what one shall I, on the present occasion, select?” Having chosen a novel, first, and secondly a vivid effect, I consider whether it can best be wrought by incident or tone—whether by ordinary incidents and peculiar tone, or the converse, or by peculiarity both of incident and tone—afterward looking about me (or rather within) for such combinations of event, or tone, as shall best aid me in the construction of the effect.

The word "incident" as Poe uses it in the passage's last paragraph most likely means __________.

Possible Answers:

emotion

tone

setting

event

Correct answer:

event

Explanation:

Poe refers to "incidents" as the things that happen during the course of a story, as opposed to the tone of the prose with which the story is told.

Example Question #81 : Language In Humanities Passages

Adapted from "The Philosophy of Composition" by Edgar Allan Poe (1846)

Nothing is more clear than that every plot, worth the name, must be elaborated to its dénouement before any thing be attempted with the pen. It is only with the dénouement constantly in view that we can give a plot its indispensable air of consequence, or causation, by making the incidents, and especially the tone at all points, tend to the development of the intention.

There is a radical error, I think, in the usual mode of constructing a story. Either history affords a thesis—or one is suggested by an incident of the day—or, at best, the author sets himself to work in the combination of striking events to form merely the basis of his narrative—designing, generally, to fill in with description, dialogue, or autorial comment, whatever crevices of fact, or action, may, from page to page, render themselves apparent.

I prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect. Keeping originality always in view—for he is false to himself who ventures to dispense with so obvious and so easily attainable a source of interest—I say to myself, in the first place, “Of the innumerable effects, or impressions, of which the heart, the intellect, or (more generally) the soul is susceptible, what one shall I, on the present occasion, select?” Having chosen a novel, first, and secondly a vivid effect, I consider whether it can best be wrought by incident or tone—whether by ordinary incidents and peculiar tone, or the converse, or by peculiarity both of incident and tone—afterward looking about me (or rather within) for such combinations of event, or tone, as shall best aid me in the construction of the effect.

The word "converse" as Poe uses it in the passage's last paragraph most likely means __________.

Possible Answers:

equivalent

reverse

identical

universal

Correct answer:

reverse

Explanation:

The word "converse" refers to the reversal of the terms Poe has just referred to ("ordinary incidents and peculiar tone", which would make the converse "peculiar incidents and ordinary tone"). So, "reverse" is the correct answer.

Example Question #32 : Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Slang in America" in Vol. 141, No. 348 of The North American Review by Walt Whitman (November 1885)

View'd freely, the English language is the accretion and growth of every dialect, people, and range of time, and is both the free and compacted composition of all. From this point of view, it stands for Language in the largest sense, and is really the greatest of studies. It involves so much; is indeed a sort of universal absorber, combiner, and conqueror. The scope of its etymologies is the scope not only of man and civilization, but the history of Nature in all departments, and of the organic Universe, brought up to date; for all are comprehended in words, and their backgrounds. This is when words become vitalized, and stand for things, as they unerringly and soon come to do, in the mind that enters on their study with fitting spirit, grasp, and appreciation.

Slang, profoundly consider’d, is the lawless germinal element, below all words and sentences, and behind all poetry, and proves a certain perennial rankness and protestantism in speech. As the United States inherit by far their most precious possession—the language they talk and write—from the Old World, under and out of its feudal institutes, I will allow myself to borrow a simile even of those forms farthest removed from American Democracy. Considering Language then as some mighty potentate, into the majestic audience-hall of the monarch ever enters a personage like one of Shakespeare’s clowns, and takes position there, and plays a part even in the stateliest ceremonies. Such is Slang, or indirection, an attempt of common humanity to escape from bald literalism, and express itself illimitably, which in highest walks produces poets and poems, and doubtless in prehistoric times gave the start to, and perfected, the whole immense tangle of the old mythologies. For, curious as it may appear, it is strictly the same impulse-source, the same thing. Slang, too, is the wholesome fermentation or eructation of those processes eternally active in language, by which froth and specks are thrown up, mostly to pass away, though occasionally to settle and permanently crystallize.

The underlined word "accretion" as Whitman uses it here most likely means __________.

Possible Answers:

a gradual accumulation

a brief comingling

a subtle combining

a large mixture

Correct answer:

a gradual accumulation

Explanation:

The word "accretion" is still used today when we refer to the accretion discs around celestial bodies, which are formed by the gradual accumulation of matter around these gravitational attractors. Whitman here is using the word in this sense. 

Example Question #33 : Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Slang in America" in Vol. 141, No. 348 of The North American Review by Walt Whitman (November 1885)

View'd freely, the English language is the accretion and growth of every dialect, people, and range of time, and is both the free and compacted composition of all. From this point of view, it stands for Language in the largest sense, and is really the greatest of studies. It involves so much; is indeed a sort of universal absorber, combiner, and conqueror. The scope of its etymologies is the scope not only of man and civilization, but the history of Nature in all departments, and of the organic Universe, brought up to date; for all are comprehended in words, and their backgrounds. This is when words become vitalized, and stand for things, as they unerringly and soon come to do, in the mind that enters on their study with fitting spirit, grasp, and appreciation.

Slang, profoundly consider’d, is the lawless germinal element, below all words and sentences, and behind all poetry, and proves a certain perennial rankness and protestantism in speech. As the United States inherit by far their most precious possession—the language they talk and write—from the Old World, under and out of its feudal institutes, I will allow myself to borrow a simile even of those forms farthest removed from American Democracy. Considering Language then as some mighty potentate, into the majestic audience-hall of the monarch ever enters a personage like one of Shakespeare’s clowns, and takes position there, and plays a part even in the stateliest ceremonies. Such is Slang, or indirection, an attempt of common humanity to escape from bald literalism, and express itself illimitably, which in highest walks produces poets and poems, and doubtless in prehistoric times gave the start to, and perfected, the whole immense tangle of the old mythologies. For, curious as it may appear, it is strictly the same impulse-source, the same thing. Slang, too, is the wholesome fermentation or eructation of those processes eternally active in language, by which froth and specks are thrown up, mostly to pass away, though occasionally to settle and permanently crystallize.

The word "etymologies" as Whitman uses it here most likely means __________.

Possible Answers:

origins

conclusions

effects

meanings

Correct answer:

origins

Explanation:

Whitman uses the word to mean "origins" here, which makes sense because in the sentence in which "etymologies" appears, Whitman is claiming that the entire universe can be understood using the language and thus its origins are within the entire universe.

Example Question #51 : Determining Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Slang in America" in Vol. 141, No. 348 of The North American Review by Walt Whitman (November 1885)

View'd freely, the English language is the accretion and growth of every dialect, people, and range of time, and is both the free and compacted composition of all. From this point of view, it stands for Language in the largest sense, and is really the greatest of studies. It involves so much; is indeed a sort of universal absorber, combiner, and conqueror. The scope of its etymologies is the scope not only of man and civilization, but the history of Nature in all departments, and of the organic Universe, brought up to date; for all are comprehended in words, and their backgrounds. This is when words become vitalized, and stand for things, as they unerringly and soon come to do, in the mind that enters on their study with fitting spirit, grasp, and appreciation.

Slang, profoundly consider’d, is the lawless germinal element, below all words and sentences, and behind all poetry, and proves a certain perennial rankness and protestantism in speech. As the United States inherit by far their most precious possession—the language they talk and write—from the Old World, under and out of its feudal institutes, I will allow myself to borrow a simile even of those forms farthest removed from American Democracy. Considering Language then as some mighty potentate, into the majestic audience-hall of the monarch ever enters a personage like one of Shakespeare’s clowns, and takes position there, and plays a part even in the stateliest ceremonies. Such is Slang, or indirection, an attempt of common humanity to escape from bald literalism, and express itself illimitably, which in highest walks produces poets and poems, and doubtless in prehistoric times gave the start to, and perfected, the whole immense tangle of the old mythologies. For, curious as it may appear, it is strictly the same impulse-source, the same thing. Slang, too, is the wholesome fermentation or eructation of those processes eternally active in language, by which froth and specks are thrown up, mostly to pass away, though occasionally to settle and permanently crystallize.

The word "profoundly" as Whitman uses it here most likely means __________.

Possible Answers:

partially

completely

mostly

simply

Correct answer:

completely

Explanation:

Although "profound" can mean deep, in this case Whitman is using the word in the sense of "completely" or to the fullest extent.

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