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

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #31 : Analyzing Authorial Tone And Method 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 author’s description of “most men” most strongly suggests that __________.

Possible Answers:

The author went to the woods to get away from most men.

The author finds most men to be mean and unkind.

The author believes most men are misguided in their pursuits.

The author does not understand most men.

The author does not believe in God.

Correct answer:

The author believes most men are misguided in their pursuits.

Explanation:

The author describes most men as being strangely uncertain about the meaning of life, and suggests that because of their uncertainty they “hastily” decide "that it is the chief end of man here to 'glorify God and enjoy him forever'." From the manner in which the author constructs most men as having a different opinion than his own, it is clear that the author feels most men are misguided in their pursuits.

Example Question #262 : Humanities

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.

Concerning the concept of the standing army, Thoreau believes all of the following EXCEPT __________.

Possible Answers:

there are many good arguments against a standing army

the arguments against a standing army should win out

a standing government is just as bad as a standing army

a standing army is necessary to the preservation of the country

Correct answer:

a standing army is necessary to the preservation of the country

Explanation:

Thoreau suggests all of these notions in the last four sentences of the first paragraph, except that the idea that a standing army is necessary in any way.

Example Question #71 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In 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.

In the second paragraph, Thoreau suggests all of the following EXCEPT __________.

Possible Answers:

people would've been able to do more if government had not hindered them

government is best when it gets out of the way

government is an expedient for getting things done

government is best when it leaves people alone

Correct answer:

government is an expedient for getting things done

Explanation:

In writing, "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," Thoreau does say that government is an expedient, but one for helping men leave each other alone.

Example Question #264 : Humanities

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 in the underlined sentence in the second paragraph that trade and commerce __________.

Possible Answers:

are bounced back and forth between nations by legislators

are unable to bounce over obstacles

are obstructed rather than aided by legislators

are mostly to do with India rubber than other goods

Correct answer:

are obstructed rather than aided by legislators

Explanation:

Thoreau suggests that legislators are more likely to create obstacles that trade and commerce cannot "manage to bounce over" rather than to help trade and commerce along.

Example Question #81 : 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 that government is so complicated because __________.

Possible Answers:

people have preconceived notions that it should be complicated

so many unnecessary changes have been made to the government's original structure

government needs to be complicated in order to make things happen

people do not feel like they are being governed unless government is complicated

Correct answer:

people have preconceived notions that it should be complicated

Explanation:

Thoreau states that "the people must have some complicated machinery or other, and hear its din, to satisfy that idea of government which they have," implying that people have a preconceived notion of government necessarily being a complicated thing.

Example Question #1 : Comparing And Contrasting In Humanities Passages

"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 is the difference between the type of commentary mentioned in the second paragraph and that which is mentioned in the third paragraph?

Possible Answers:

The first type of commentary is still being written, but Thomas Aquinas was the last person to do a literal, divisio textus commentary.

The first type is far more modern than the other type.

The first type is based primarily on details of language, while the other focuses primarily on the outline structure of the whole text. 

The first merely provides an historical analysis, while the latter provides a true commentary.

The first type is far more scientific and historical than the latter, outdated medieval methodology.

Correct answer:

The first type is based primarily on details of language, while the other focuses primarily on the outline structure of the whole text. 

Explanation:

Do not be distracted by secondary details about the two paragraphs. Clearly, the overall intent of this passage is to show these as two legitimate examples of types of so-called "literal commentaries." The first sentence of the third paragraph can help to see the contrast: "...though they do differ from such linguistic approaches." The difference is then stated: divisio textus outline in opposition to the linguistic approaches noted above.

Example Question #1 : Determining Authorial Purpose In Argumentative Humanities Passages

"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 was the purpose of the so-called divisio textus mentioned in the third paragraph above?

Possible Answers:

To remove any questionable passages from the text in question.

To correct the errors found in longer commentaries on the same text.

To provide an outline to be used for interpreting the text in question.

To provide a religious manner to understand a questionable pagan text.

To extract the interesting portions from the text in question.

Correct answer:

To provide an outline to be used for interpreting the text in question.

Explanation:

The key sentence to note is: "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." The divisio textus, this "division of the text," was meant to provide a short but correct outline for the sake of finding and interpreting the text's literal meaning.

Example Question #271 : Humanities

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 that it is the people, not the government, who have done of all of the following EXCEPT __________.

Possible Answers:

invent new technologies

educate people

Thoreau suggests that the people, not the government, have done all of the things listed in the other answer choices.

keep the country free

settle the West

Correct answer:

invent new technologies

Explanation:

In writing, "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," Thoreau lists educating people, keeping the country free, and settling the West as actions that the government has not done, but he does not mention the people inventing new technologies.

Example Question #273 : Humanities

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 what does the author think of most parents?

Possible Answers:

That too few parents are able to employ humor in parenting

That they are misguided in their self-belief

That most parents give beneficial advice

That they are wiser than their children

That they are not strict enough with their children

Correct answer:

That they are misguided in their self-belief

Explanation:

Throughout this passage the author contrasts the general “wise” advice given by parents with the more “worldly” advice being given by the author. The author believes that parents are misguided in their faith in their own authority and superiority. This viewpoint is exemplified in lines 6-8 where the author states: ” 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.”

Example Question #1 : Recognizing The Main Idea In Argumentative Humanities Passages

"Newton's Mistakes" by Daniel Morrison (2014)

Isaac Newton has often been thought of as the greatest thinker in human history. His insight into the role that gravity plays in existence and physics completely changed our collective understanding of the universe and our place in it. He was understood in his own time as a genius. One famous quote by Alexander Pope (himself quite an intelligent man) demonstrates the deep affection felt for Newton: “Nature, and nature’s mysteries, lay bathed in night, God said 'Let there be Newton,’ and all was light.”

Yet, when the famous economist John Kenneth Galbraith purchased Newton’s journals and diaries at auction, he found to his astonishment, and partial dismay, that more than half of Newton’s work was dedicated to the practice of alchemy—the pursuit of turning ordinary materials into precious metals. Our current understanding of science tells us that this is impossible and that Newton was wasting a significant proportion of his time.

Another famous story about Newton tells of his attempts to figure out the effect of direct exposure to sunlight on the human eye. To carry out this experiment he decided to stare at the sun for as long as humanly possible to see what would happen. The effect, as you might have guessed, was that he very nearly went permanently blind and was indeed completely unable to see for two days.

One might determine from these stories that Newton was not the genius we consider him to be—that he was, in fact, a fool; however, it should tell us something about the nature of genius. It is not merely deep intelligence, but the willingness to try new things and the rejection of the fear of failure. Newton was not a genius in spite of his mistakes, but because of them.

The main argument of this essay is __________.

Possible Answers:

That the pursuit of alchemy ultimately led to the intellectual ruin of Isaac Newton

That Newton’s contributions to science make him the greatest mind in human history

That Newton was a genius because of his willingness to make mistakes, not in spite of this

That genius is born, not made

That in spite of his many breathtaking achievements, Newton should be best remembered for his foolishness

Correct answer:

That Newton was a genius because of his willingness to make mistakes, not in spite of this

Explanation:

Throughout this essay, the author is primarily contrasting Newton’s scientific contributions and esteemed reputation with examples of his whimsy and foolishness in order to lead the reader to his main argument and conclusion. This is, “But, really it should tell us something about the nature of genius. It is not merely deep intelligence, but the willingness to try new things and the rejection of the fear of failure. Newton was not a genius in spite of his mistakes, but because of them.” So, the correct answer is “That Newton was a genius because of his willingness to make mistakes, not in spite of this.”

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