SSAT Upper Level Reading : Understanding and Evaluating Opinions and Arguments in Argumentative Humanities Passages

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

varsity tutors app store varsity tutors android store

Example Questions

Example Question #54 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Argumentative Humanities Passages

Adapted from "The Modern Essay" in The Times Literary Supplement by Virginia Woolf (November 30, 1922)

As Mr. Rhys truly says, it is unnecessary to go profoundly into the history and origin of the essay—whether it derives from Socrates or Siranney the Persian—since, like all living things, its present is more important than its past. Moreover, the family is widely spread; and while some of its representatives have risen in the world and wear their coronets with the best, others pick up a precarious living in the gutter near Fleet Street. The form, too, admits variety. The essay can be short or long, serious or trifling, about God and Spinoza, or about turtles and Cheapside. But as we turn over the pages of these five little volumes, containing essays written between 1870 and 1920, certain principles appear to control the chaos, and we detect in the short period under review something like the progress of history.

Of all forms of literature, however, the essay is the one which least calls for the use of long words. The principle which controls it is simply that it should give pleasure; the desire which impels us when we take it from the shelf is simply to receive pleasure. Everything in an essay must be subdued to that end. It should lay us under a spell with its first word, and we should only wake, refreshed, with its last. In the interval we may pass through the most various experiences of amusement, surprise, interest, indignation; we may soar to the heights of fantasy with Lamb or plunge to the depths of wisdom with Bacon, but we must never be roused. The essay must lap us about and draw its curtain across the world.

Woolf suggests that the present of the essay is more important than its past because __________.

Possible Answers:

the essay form is a living thing

the essay is not that important

the origin of the essay is simply not important

the origin of the essay is untraceable

Correct answer:

the essay form is a living thing

Explanation:

Woolf refers to the essay as a living thing in the metaphorical sense that it continues to grow, flourish, and be relevant.

Example Question #55 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Argumentative Humanities Passages

Adapted from "The Modern Essay" in The Times Literary Supplement by Virginia Woolf (November 30, 1922)

As Mr. Rhys truly says, it is unnecessary to go profoundly into the history and origin of the essay—whether it derives from Socrates or Siranney the Persian—since, like all living things, its present is more important than its past. Moreover, the family is widely spread; and while some of its representatives have risen in the world and wear their coronets with the best, others pick up a precarious living in the gutter near Fleet Street. The form, too, admits variety. The essay can be short or long, serious or trifling, about God and Spinoza, or about turtles and Cheapside. But as we turn over the pages of these five little volumes, containing essays written between 1870 and 1920, certain principles appear to control the chaos, and we detect in the short period under review something like the progress of history.

Of all forms of literature, however, the essay is the one which least calls for the use of long words. The principle which controls it is simply that it should give pleasure; the desire which impels us when we take it from the shelf is simply to receive pleasure. Everything in an essay must be subdued to that end. It should lay us under a spell with its first word, and we should only wake, refreshed, with its last. In the interval we may pass through the most various experiences of amusement, surprise, interest, indignation; we may soar to the heights of fantasy with Lamb or plunge to the depths of wisdom with Bacon, but we must never be roused. The essay must lap us about and draw its curtain across the world.

By comparing the essay to a family with members both well-to-do and barely making a living, Woolf is __________.

Possible Answers:

comparing the popularity of essays to the popularity of people

telling us that all kinds of people write all kinds of essays

showing that essays serve both high and low purposes

making a case for the social breadth and depth of the essay form

Correct answer:

showing that essays serve both high and low purposes

Explanation:

Woolf is using this metaphor to show that essays can be written for both high and lowly purposes.

Example Question #56 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Argumentative 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.

Whitman attributes all of the following to the same impulses that produce slang EXCEPT __________.

Possible Answers:

the ability of poets to compose

the existence of poems themselves

the many forms of religion

the myths of ancient peoples

Correct answer:

the many forms of religion

Explanation:

Whitman does not include religion in his list of the things created by the impulses that have also created slang.

Example Question #57 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Argumentative 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.

Hewlett brings up Montaigne to show that __________.

Possible Answers:

great essayists are not known for their imagery

great essayists always draped their essays with wonderful words

great essayists did not concern themselves with merely teaching a subject

even great essayists didn't necessarily use a lot of artifice in their essays

Correct answer:

even great essayists didn't necessarily use a lot of artifice in their essays

Explanation:

Hewlett refers to Montaigne as someone who "draped no maypoles with speech" and cannot be imagined as dancing around the maypole, so even a great essayist like Montaigne didn't always use a lot of artifice in his essays.

Example Question #58 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Argumentative 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.

Hewlett's second paragraph suggests that __________.

Possible Answers:

Montaigne and Bacon write just like modern essayists do

Montaigne and Bacon are the best examples a modern essayist can follow

despite their faults, even writers like Montaigne and Bacon are better than modern essayists

Montaigne and Bacon are not examples that modern essayists should follow

Correct answer:

despite their faults, even writers like Montaigne and Bacon are better than modern essayists

Explanation:

While Hewlett states the reasons that Montaigne and Bacon are not quite "decorating the maypole" as completely as they might, he implies that they do a better job of writing than modern essayists do.

Example Question #55 : Humanities

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.

Poe claims that the dénouement must constantly be kept in mind for all of the following reasons EXCEPT __________.

Possible Answers:

the writer makes every incident in the story lead logically to the conclusion

the writer gives the ending a feeling of logical consequence

the writer makes the tone of the story consistent with how it ends

the writer gives the reader the feeling that everything in the story is meant to happen

Correct answer:

the writer gives the reader the feeling that everything in the story is meant to happen

Explanation:

In the second sentence of the first paragraph, Poe writes, "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." So, while the writer may indeed give the reader the feeling that everything in the story is meant to happen, the main purposes of keeping the dénouement in mind have to do with keeping the tone consistent and having the story proceed to a logical conclusion.

Example Question #56 : Humanities

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.

Poe says that each of the following ways of constructing a story are common but erroneous EXCEPT for __________.

Possible Answers:

putting together disparate elements to form the plot of a story

focusing on producing an overall feeling with the story

starting with an incident from history

starting with an incident drawn from current events

Correct answer:

focusing on producing an overall feeling with the story

Explanation:

In the second paragraph, Poe writes, "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."

So, while Poe lists starting with an incident from history ("history affords a thesis"), starting with an incident from current events ("[a thesis] is suggested by an incident of the day"), and putting together disparate elements to craft a story ("the combination of striking events to form merely the basis of his narrative"), he says nothing about the writer starting with trying to produce a certain emotion in the reader, which is actually the way he constructs his stories, as he describes in the third paragraph.

Example Question #101 : Content Of 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 author believes that slang should primarily be used __________.

Possible Answers:

when writing plays and sonnets

to describe something inelegantly

sparingly, so as not to cause offense

to praise or insult an individual

to add color and clarity to language

Correct answer:

to add color and clarity to language

Explanation:

The author’s opinion on the use of slang can be found in the concluding statement to this passage where he says “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 statement about how formal speech is growing more and more rigid provides a clue that the author believes slang should be used to add color to our language. In addition, the author states himself that slang should make for clarity. The other answer choices are neither explicitly nor implicitly stated in the passage.

Example Question #102 : 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.

In the passage's second line, why does the author contend that Shakespeare would be more at home in Chicago than in London?

Possible Answers:

He would discover a whole new form of expression, unfamiliar to Elizabethan England.

The author does not contend that Shakespeare would be more at home in Chicago than in London.

He would be able to escape the vulgarity of English slang.

He would find the English language used in a more poetic, elastic, and familiar manner.

In the “messenger boys and clerks” he would find characters reminiscent of the heroes of his plays.

Correct answer:

He would find the English language used in a more poetic, elastic, and familiar manner.

Explanation:

In order to answer this question, it is necessary to consider what you know about the passage as a whole. The author makes no obvious statement as to why Shakespeare would feel more at home in Chicago than in London, but the way in which he discusses slang usage in Chicago in comparison to the London that existed hundreds of years ago provides a clue that the author believes contemporary London to be lacking in colorful language. The author states that Shakespeare would be enamored with Chicago because of the poetic usage of slang, and because the slang that was being used would be familiar to Shakespeare as it resembles the language found often in his plays.

Example Question #36 : Analyzing Argumentative Claims, Bias, And Support 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.

Why does the author believe there was no slang in Shakespeare’s time?

Possible Answers:

There were too few laboring classes from which slang could be drawn.

Even strong, offensive, and unusual language was widely accepted and understood.

English dramatists refused to employ slang in their work.

Slang was considered too vulgar and its usage was discouraged by Queen Elizabeth I.

The people of Elizabethan England were too serious for such prosaic creativity.

Correct answer:

Even strong, offensive, and unusual language was widely accepted and understood.

Explanation:

The author makes a statement that there was “hardly any such thing as slang” in Shakespeare’s day. But, we know that the author has compared the slang spoken in Chicago to the language of Elizabethan England. To remedy this apparent discrepancy, it is necessary to read on and pay attention to the phrase “no graphic trope was too virile or uncommon for acceptance.” Here, the author is stating that slang language in Elizabethan England was part of the common city-wide vernacular and not confined to smaller groups, such as the “messenger boys and clerks” of Chicago. The author clearly feels that even offensive or unusual language was widely used and understood.

Learning Tools by Varsity Tutors