SSAT Reading Comprehension Practice Test 1

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On July 1, 1882, a brief notice appeared in the Portsmouth (England) Evening News. It read simply, "Dr. Doyle begs to notify that he has removed to 1, Bush Villas, Elm Grove, next to the Bush Hotel." So was announced the newly formed medical practice of a 23-year-old graduate of Edinburgh University—Arthur Conan Doyle. But the town of Southsea, the Portsmouth suburb in which Doyle had opened his office, already had several well-established physicians, and while he waited for patients the young Dr. Doyle found himself with a great deal of time on his hands. To fill it, he began writing—short stories, historical novels, whatever would keep him busy and, hopefully, bring additional funds into his sparsely filled coffers.

By the beginning of 1886, his practice had grown to the point of providing him with a respectable if not munificent income, and he had managed to have a few pieces published. Although literary success still eluded him, he had developed an idea for a new book, a detective story, and in March he began writing the tale that would give birth to one of literature's most enduring figures. Although he was familiar with and impressed by the fictional detectives created by Edgar Allan Poe, Emile Gaboriau, and Wilkie Collins, Doyle believed he could create a different kind of detective, one for whom detection was a science rather than an art. As a model, he used one of his medical school professors, Dr. Joseph Bell. As Bell's assistant, Doyle had seen how, by exercising his powers of observation and deduction and asking a few questions, Bell had been able not only to diagnose his patients' complaints but also to accurately determine their professions and backgrounds. A detective who applied similar intellectual powers to the solving of criminal mysteries could be a compelling figure, Doyle felt. At first titled A Tangled Skein, the story was to be told by his detective's companion, a Dr. Ormand Sacker, and the detective himself was to be named Sherrinford Holmes. But by April, 1886, when Doyle finished the manuscript, the title had become A Study in Scarlet, the narrator Dr. John H. Watson, and the detective Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

1. As used in the passage, the word deduction most nearly means

  • A. decreasing.
  • B. discounting.
  • C. reducing.
  • D. reasoning.
  • E. subtracting.

2. It can be inferred from the passage that Sherlock Holmes differed from previous fictional detectives in that

  • A. he focused his detective skills on the solving of crimes.
  • B. he conducted his investigations on a scientific basis.
  • C. he used his own background in medicine as a source of detective methods.
  • D. his cases were chronicled by a companion rather than by the detective himself.
  • E. his exploits were based on the experiences of a real individual.

3. The word compelling most nearly means

  • A. forceful.
  • B. inescapable.
  • C. believable.
  • D. fascinating.
  • E. insistent.

4. Which of the following titles best summarizes the content of the passage?

  • A. Arthur Conan Doyle and the Creation of the Modern Detective Story
  • B. A Detective's Reluctant Chronicler: The Birth of Sherlock Holmes
  • C. Physician and Author: How Arthur Conan Doyle Balanced Two Callings
  • D. The Many Strands in the Character of Sherlock Holmes
  • E. Joseph Bell: The Real-Life Inspiration for Sherlock Holmes

Leaving the elevated railroad where it dives under the Brooklyn Bridge at Franklin Square, scarce a dozen steps will take us where we wish, yet in our ears, we have turned the corner from prosperity to poverty. We stand upon the domain of the tenement. In the shadow of the great stone abutments, the old knickerbocker houses linger like ghosts of a departed day. Down the winding slope of Cherry Street—proud and fashionable Cherry Hill that was—their broad steps, sloping roofs, and dormer windows are easily made out; all the more easily for the contrast with the ugly barracks that elbow them right and left.

These never had other design than to shelter, at as little outlay as possible, the greatest crowds out of which rent could be wrung. They were the bad afterthought of a heedless day. The years have brought to the old houses unhonored age, a querulous second childhood that is out of tune with the time, their tenants, the neighbors, and cries out against them and against you in fretful protest in every step on their rotten floors or squeaky stairs. Good cause have they for their fretting. This one, with its shabby front and poorly patched roof—what flowing firesides, what happy children may it once have owned? Heavy feet, too often with unsteady step, for the saloon is next door—where is it not next door in these slums?—have worn away the brownstone steps since; the broken columns at the door have rotted away at the base. Of the handsome cornice barely a trace is left. Dirt and desolation reign in the wide hallway, and danger lurks on the stairs. Rough pine boards fence off the roomy fireplaces; where coal is bought by the pail at the rate of twelve dollars a ton, these have no place.

The arched gateway leads no longer to a shady bower on the banks of the rushing stream, inviting day-dreams with its gentle repose, but to a dark and nameless alley, shut in by high brick walls, cheerless as the lives of those they shelter. The wolf knocks loudly at the gate in the troubled dreams that come to this alley, echoes of the day's cares. A horde of dirty children play about the dripping hydrant, the only thing in the alley that thinks enough of its chance to make the most of it: it is the best it can do. These are the children of the tenements, the growing generation of the slums; this their home. From the great highway overhead, along which throbs the life-tide of two great cities, one might drop a pebble into half a dozen such alleys.

5. This passage serves primarily to

  • A. argue for the demolition of tenement buildings and restoration of the old houses.
  • B. decry the lifestyle and habits of the Cherry Street tenement dwellers.
  • C. describe how previous generations enjoyed their prosperous life on Cherry Street.
  • D. contrast present and past conditions of life on Cherry Street.
  • E. give a detailed accounting of the structural demise of the old knickerbocker houses.

6. The word outlay most nearly means

  • A. expense.
  • B. inconvenience.
  • C. need.
  • D. danger.
  • E. distance.

7. The author ascribes human feelings to the old houses ("The years have brought . . . what happy children may it once have owned?") primarily in order to

  • A. contrast the graceful houses with the poor tenement dwellers.
  • B. emphasize how time and poverty have ravaged the houses.
  • C. suggest that inanimate objects are capable of feelings and sensations.
  • D. elicit sympathy from readers who may care more for houses than people.
  • E. imply a value judgment about the current residents of the houses.

8. The author implies that the present residents of the Cherry Street houses

  • A. are too unrefined to appreciate the architectural beauty of their houses.
  • B. are too poor to properly maintain the old houses.
  • C. would be better off in the more recently erected barracks nearby.
  • D. are responsible for most of the physical damage to the houses.
  • E. could easily escape the poverty of their surroundings if they so wished.

9. The author's description of the children at play suggests that he views them with

  • A. disdain.
  • B. revulsion.
  • C. pity.
  • D. admiration.
  • E. fear.