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 #31 : 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 in the first paragraph, the underlined word “unduly” means __________.

Possible Answers:

understandably

painfully

incomprehensibly

excessively

supernaturally

Correct answer:

excessively

Explanation:

The definition of "unduly" is excessively or in an undue manner. This can also be figured out by its contrast with the "evenly and naturally" that the author uses to describe walking. Using that logic, "supernaturally" would also be an acceptable answer; however, the author does not mention supernatural elements in the rest of the letter and it would therefore be out of place.

Example Question #8 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Words In Humanities Passages

Adapted from “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For” in Walden by Henry David Thoreau (1845)

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to "glorify God and enjoy him forever."

The underlined word “practice” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

ritualize

observe

study 

attempt 

rehearse 

Correct answer:

observe

Explanation:

This is a difficult question that requires you to know the secondary definition for more than one word. The word “practice” is most commonly used to mean study or rehearse for something; however, in this context, it is being used to describe doing something as a custom or habit. Out of the five answer choices, it is most similar to "observe." The primary meaning of "observe" is to see or witness; however, it also can mean to do something habitually. These types of questions are rare; usually you will only have to know the secondary meaning of one word. But, it is important to study and remember the secondary definitions of numerous words. Or, failing that, remember that if you see a word that seems particularly easy or obviously defined, it is highly likely that the test may be asking you to remember a secondary meaning.

Example Question #81 : Argumentative Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Civil Disobedience" by Henry David Thoreau (1849)

I heartily accept the motto, "That government is best which governs least," and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe, "That government is best which governs not at all," and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have. Government is at best but an expedient, but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient. The objections which have been brought against a standing army, and they are many and weighty, and deserve to prevail, may also at last be brought against a standing government. The standing army is only an arm of the standing government. The government itself, which is only the mode which the people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it. Witness the present Mexican war, the work of comparatively a few individuals using the standing government as their tool, for in the outset, the people would not have consented to this measure.

This American government—what is it but a tradition, though a recent one, endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to posterity, but each instant losing some of its integrity? It has not the vitality and force of a single living man, for a single man can bend it to his will. It is a sort of wooden gun to the people themselves. But it is not the less necessary for this, for the people must have some complicated machinery or other, and hear its din, to satisfy that idea of government which they have. Governments show thus how successfully men can be imposed upon, even impose on themselves, for their own advantage. It is excellent, we must all allow; yet this government never of itself furthered any enterprise, but by the alacrity with which it got out of its way. It does not keep the country free. It does not settle the West. It does not educate. The character inherent in the American people has done all that has been accomplished; and it would have done somewhat more, if the government had not sometimes got in its way. For government is an expedient, by which men would fain succeed in letting one another alone, and, as has been said, when it is most expedient, the governed are most let alone by it. Trade and commerce, if they were not made of India rubber, would never manage to bounce over obstacles which legislators are continually putting in their way, and if one were to judge these men wholly by the effects of their actions and not partly by their intentions, they would deserve to be classed and punished with those mischievous persons who put obstructions on the railroads.

The word "expedient" as underlined in the first paragraph most likely means __________.

Possible Answers:

a convenience

a means

an advantage

an appropriate measure

Correct answer:

a means

Explanation:

The word "expedient" here is being used to mean a means, as in a means to an end, and thus Thoreau is saying that government is at best a way of getting things done.

Example Question #421 : Psat Critical Reading

"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:

pertaining to love

brotherly or familial

pertaining to the study of language

zealous

rational or intellectual

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 #15 : 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:

confusing

out of date

interpretive in nature

marked by variety

multiplied indefinitely

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 #7 : 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 “hold” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

grasp 

contain 

embrace

claim 

reserve 

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 #85 : Language 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:

delusion 

condescension

concept 

admonishment

truism 

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 #86 : Language 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:

irrelevant

causing one to feel drained of energy

expensive

energizing

self-indulgent

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 #87 : Language 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:

moderate

potent

spiritual

ineffectual

confusing

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 #88 : Language 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:

mindful

complementary

beneficial

harmful

discouraging

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.

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