SSAT Upper Level Reading : Making Inferences in Argumentative Humanities Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #2 : Extrapolating From The Text In Humanities Passages

Adapted from a letter of Thomas Jefferson popularly known as “A Dialogue Between the Head and Heart” (October 12th, 1786) in Volume II of Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies, from the Papers of Thomas Jefferson (1830)

(Note: This work is presented like a play having two characters, the “Head” and the “Heart.” In the following passage, we are privy to the words of the “Head.”)

Every thing in this world is matter of calculation. Advance, then, with caution, the balance in your hand. Put into one scale the pleasures which any object may offer, but put fairly into the other the pains which are to follow, and see which preponderates. The making an acquaintance is not a matter of indifference. When a new one is proposed to you, view it all round. Consider what advantages it presents, and to what inconveniences it may expose you. Do not bite at the bait of pleasure, till you know there is no hook beneath it. The art of life is the art of avoiding pain, and he is the best pilot, who steers clearest of the rocks and shoals with which it is beset. Pleasure is always before us, but misfortune is at our side; while running after that, this arrests us.

The most effectual means of being secure against pain is to retire within ourselves and to suffice for our own happiness. Those which depend on ourselves are the only pleasures a wise man will count on, for nothing is ours, which another may deprive us of. Hence the inestimable value of intellectual pleasures. Ever in our power, always leading us to something new, never cloying, we ride serene and sublime above the concerns of this mortal world, contemplating truth and nature, matter and motion, the laws which bind up their existence, the laws which bind up their existence, and that Eternal Being, who made and bound them up by those laws.

Let this be our employ. Leave the bustle and tumult of society to those who have not talents to occupy themselves without them. Friendship is but another name for an alliance with the follies and the misfortunes of others. Our own share of miseries is sufficient: why enter then as volunteers into those of another? Is there so little gall poured into our cup, that we must heed help to drink that of our neighbor? A friend dies, or leaves us: we feel as if a limb was cut off. He is sick: we must watch over him, and participate of his pains. His fortune is shipwrecked: ours must be laid under contribution. He loses a child, a parent, or a partner: we must mourn the loss as if it were our own.

What would the “Head” say about the attempts to gain knowledge of political matters and the running of the country?

Possible Answers:

This is one of the sad things that we must do in life.

This is not something that a wise man will do.

None of the other answers

This is an important aspect of life.

This is better than friendship and therefore should be done.

Correct answer:

This is not something that a wise man will do.

Explanation:

The key sentence here is, "Leave the bustle and tumult of society to those who have not talents to occupy themselves without them." The word "society" here means the company of other people in general. However, we can infer that the "Head" definitely would not like the bustle and tumult of political life very much at all. Therefore, it is safe to assume that it would tell us that a wise man does not undertake such matters.

Example Question #601 : Psat Critical Reading

Adapted from a letter of Thomas Jefferson popularly known as “A Dialogue Between the Head and Heart” (October 12th, 1786) in Volume II of Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies, from the Papers of Thomas Jefferson (1830)

(Note: This work is presented like a play having two characters, the “Head” and the “Heart.” In the following passage, we are privy to the words of the “Head.”)

Every thing in this world is matter of calculation. Advance, then, with caution, the balance in your hand. Put into one scale the pleasures which any object may offer, but put fairly into the other the pains which are to follow, and see which preponderates. The making an acquaintance is not a matter of indifference. When a new one is proposed to you, view it all round. Consider what advantages it presents, and to what inconveniences it may expose you. Do not bite at the bait of pleasure, till you know there is no hook beneath it. The art of life is the art of avoiding pain, and he is the best pilot, who steers clearest of the rocks and shoals with which it is beset. Pleasure is always before us, but misfortune is at our side; while running after that, this arrests us.

The most effectual means of being secure against pain is to retire within ourselves and to suffice for our own happiness. Those which depend on ourselves are the only pleasures a wise man will count on, for nothing is ours, which another may deprive us of. Hence the inestimable value of intellectual pleasures. Ever in our power, always leading us to something new, never cloying, we ride serene and sublime above the concerns of this mortal world, contemplating truth and nature, matter and motion, the laws which bind up their existence, the laws which bind up their existence, and that Eternal Being, who made and bound them up by those laws.

Let this be our employ. Leave the bustle and tumult of society to those who have not talents to occupy themselves without them. Friendship is but another name for an alliance with the follies and the misfortunes of others. Our own share of miseries is sufficient: why enter then as volunteers into those of another? Is there so little gall poured into our cup, that we must heed help to drink that of our neighbor? A friend dies, or leaves us: we feel as if a limb was cut off. He is sick: we must watch over him, and participate of his pains. His fortune is shipwrecked: ours must be laid under contribution. He loses a child, a parent, or a partner: we must mourn the loss as if it were our own.

If you know that the “Heart” almost always takes the opposite view to the “Head” in this essay, what do you think the “Heart” will reply?

Possible Answers:

On the contrary, the joys of life outbalance the afflictions experienced!

None of the other answers

On the contrary, the greatest joys of life are found in the company of others!

On the contrary, friends will never betray you!

On the contrary, you yourself have many acquaintances, thus showing that we must indeed interact with other people!

Correct answer:

On the contrary, the greatest joys of life are found in the company of others!

Explanation:

The main focus of this section is the "Head's" contention that social bonds (even friendships) are little more than a source of woe. If the "Heart" takes an opposite view of things, we can infer that it will reply that friends are not a source of woe but instead are among life's greatest joys.

Example Question #11 : Making Inferences About The Author Or Humanities Passage Content

Adapted from Strength and Decency by Theodore Roosevelt (1903)

There is always a tendency among very young men and among boys who are not quite young men as yet to think that to be wicked is rather smart; to think it shows that they are men. Oh, how often you see some young fellow who boasts that he is going to "see life," meaning by that that he is going to see that part of life which it is a thousand fold better should remain unseen!

I ask that every man here constitute himself his brother's keeper by setting an example to that younger brother which will prevent him from getting such a false estimate of life. Example is the most potent of all things. If any one of you in the presence of younger boys, and especially the younger people of our own family, misbehave yourself, if you use coarse and blasphemous language before them, you can be sure that these younger people will follow your example and not your precept. Remember that the preaching does not count if it is not backed up by practice. There is no good in your preaching to your boys to be brave if you run away. There is no good in your preaching to them to tell the truth if you do not. There is no good in your preaching to them to be unselfish if they see you selfish with your wife, disregardful of others. You must feel that the most effective way in which you can preach is by your practice.

Which of these statements would the author of this passage most likely NOT agree with?

Possible Answers:

It is better to teach through setting a good example than through positive instruction.

Instruction is worth little if it is not backed up by example.

It is good to be unselfish and respectful of others.

Young people will ignore the vices of their elders.

Young people have a great urge to experience all aspects of life.

Correct answer:

Young people will ignore the vices of their elders.

Explanation:

In this passage the author states that young people express a desire to experience life, so you can rule out the answer choice “Young people have a great urge to experience all aspects of life” because the author would agree with this statement. The author would also agree that “it is better to teach through setting a good example than through positive instruction” and that “instruction is worth little if it is not backed up by example.” This is evidenced throughout, but most notably in the conclusion when the author states: “You must feel that the most effective way in which you can preach is by your practice.” Finally, the author advises against being selfish or disrespectful in front of young people, so you can assume that the author believes “it is good to be unselfish and respectful of others.” The remaining answer choice, that “young people will ignore the vices of their elders” is correct because the author spends much of the passage advising how to set a good example to young people so they do not mimic the vices of those older than themselves.

Example Question #361 : Hspt Reading

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.

The author is most likely __________.

Possible Answers:

an automobile manufacturer

a student researching means of transportation

a respected physician

a politician

an exercise enthusiast

Correct answer:

an exercise enthusiast

Explanation:

The author is passionate about his subject but not well-informed with research or science; therefore he is likely an amateur enthusiast. He says that walking is better than physicians, so he is not likely one himself. He does not provide research as a student would. While his letter is persuasive, it has no political bent. Additionally, due to the author's preference for walking instead of "tram cars and motor cars, hansom cabs and ugly cabs" and the fact that he does not mention cars anywhere else in the passage, we cannot assume that he is associated with the automotive industry.

Example Question #32 : Drawing Inferences From 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."

Which of these statements would the author of this passage most likely NOT agree with?

Possible Answers:

It is best to live with purpose.

Reducing life to its lowest terms is a distraction.

One can learn about life by living in the woods.

Society distracts from the facts of life.

Most men live to glorify God.

Correct answer:

Reducing life to its lowest terms is a distraction.

Explanation:

From the first sentence, you know that the author of this passage would agree that one can learn about life by living in the woods and that it is always best to live with purpose. It can be inferred from the author’s description of most men that society would distract from any attempt to discover the facts of life. The conclusion states that most men, in their uncertainty, "have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to 'glorify God and enjoy him forever.'" The correct answer is that the author would disagree with the statement that reducing life to its lowest terms is a distraction. The author states, “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life . . . and reduce it to its lowest terms.”

Example Question #82 : Making Inferences And Predictions In Literature 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.

Thoreau suggests which of the following?

Possible Answers:

Traditional ideas should never be questioned.

Traditions should have integrity in order to be passed down.

Traditions gain integrity as they are passed down from one generation to the next.

Traditions, even recent ones, should be handed down to our descendants.

Traditions should not be blindly passed down without change.

Correct answer:

Traditions should not be blindly passed down without change.

Explanation:

In comparing the government to a tradition, Thoreau states, "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?" In stating this, he suggests that traditions should not blindly be handed down without change.

Example Question #3 : Making Inferences And Predictions In Contemporary Life 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.

From the whole of this passage which of these statements about lying would the author most likely support?

Possible Answers:

Parents lie to their children as commonly as children lie to their parents.

Lying is a malevolent force that holds back the progress of the world.

It is always wrong and risky to tell a lie.

It is acceptable to lie to one’s parents, but never to a friend or a stranger.

It is necessary to practice the art of deceit before employing it too frequently.

Correct answer:

It is necessary to practice the art of deceit before employing it too frequently.

Explanation:

In the first sentence of the fourth paragraph the author introduces a discussion on the art of lying by stating: “You want to be very careful about lying; otherwise you are nearly sure to get caught.” Then, later in the paragraph the author says: ”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.” This tells you that the author believes it is necessary to practice the art of deceit before using it too frequently.

Example Question #141 : Argumentative 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.

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.

In the context of the passage, "half past nine" is meant to be interpreted as __________.

Possible Answers:

a late time to get up

an early time to get up

a time typically associated with birds singing

the time at which the speaker typically eats breakfast

a time selected at random with no bearing on the passsage

Correct answer:

a late time to get up

Explanation:

"Half past nine" is mentioned at the end of the passage: "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." "Getting up with the lark" typically implies getting up very early, but the author makes a joke dependent on that assumption by saying that his audience should train their larks to get up at "half past nine." Based on this context, "half past nine" is meant to be viewed as a relatively late time to get up.

Example Question #142 : Argumentative 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.

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.

The author most likely mentions parental rules in order to __________.

Possible Answers:

undermine all parental authority

encourage youth rebellion

ridicule how youth are not often given enough opportunity to make their own decisions

discourage youth from making their own decisions

condemn the current system of rules that parents demand of their children

Correct answer:

ridicule how youth are not often given enough opportunity to make their own decisions

Explanation:

Although there are several close answers, the best fit is that the example of parental rules is used to jest at the current system of rules that doesn't often take into account the decision abilities of youth.

Example Question #1 : Drawing Conclusions In Social Science Passages

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

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

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

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

It can be inferred from the passage that the Queen of France __________.

Possible Answers:

reigned for several decades

improved French quality of life

was well protected

has suffered a disaster

was the victim of an assassination attempt

Correct answer:

has suffered a disaster

Explanation:

From the whole of this passage, you can infer that some disaster must have befallen the Queen of France. This is apparent because the author laments her “fall” and the “disasters” that she suffered. You might suppose that it can be inferred that the Queen was the victim of an assassination attempt; however, this is a far more specific answer and would require much more evidence in order to be reliably inferred.

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