HSPT Reading : Distinguishing Between Fact and Fiction in Natural Science Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for HSPT Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Fact / Fiction

Adapted from “Birds in Retreat” in “Animal Defences—Active Defence” in Volume Four of The Natural History of Animals: The Animal Life of the World in Its Various Aspects and Relations by James Richard Ainsworth Davis (1903)

Among the large running birds are forms, like the African ostrich, in which the absence of powers of flight is largely compensated by the specialization of the legs for the purpose of rapid movement on the ground. For straightforward retreat in open country nothing could be more effective; but another kind of adaptation is required in birds like rails, which are deficient in powers of flight, and yet are able to run through thickly-growing vegetation with such rapidity as to commonly elude their enemies. This is rendered possible by the shape of their bodies, which are relatively narrow and flattened from side to side, so as to easily slip between the stems of grasses, rushes, and similar plants. Anyone who has pursued our native land-rail or corn-crake with intent to capture will have noted how extremely difficult it is even to get within sight of a bird of this sort. 

Certain birds, unfortunately for themselves, have lost the power of flight without correspondingly increased powers of running, and have paid the penalty of extinction. Such an arrangement, as might be anticipated, was the result of evolution in islands devoid of any predatory ground-animals, and a classic example of it is afforded by the dodo and its allies, birds related to the pigeons. The dodo itself was a large and clumsy-looking species that at one time abounded in the island of Mauritius, which, like oceanic islands generally, possessed no native mammals, while its indigenous reptiles were only represented by lizards. The ubiquitous sailor, however, and the animals (especially swine) which he introduced, brought about the extinction of this helpless bird in less than a century after its first discovery in 1598. Its memory is now only kept green by a few contemporary drawings and descriptions, certain museum remains, and the proverb "as extinct as a dodo.” A similar fate must overtake any organism suddenly exposed to new and unfavorable conditions, if devoid of sufficient plasticity to rapidly accommodate itself to the altered environment.

What does the author mean in using the underlined phrase “kept green”?

Possible Answers:

kept literally alive

kept obscure

kept fresh and current

kept envious

kept feeling ill or worried

Correct answer:

kept fresh and current

Explanation:

 The phrase “keep green” appears in the following sentence in the passage’s second paragraph:

“[The dodo’s] memory is now only kept green by a few contemporary drawings and descriptions, certain museum remains, and the proverb "as extinct as a dodo.” 

From this context, we can tell that “kept green” is not being used to refer to the dodo itself, as at this point, the passage is discussing the “memory” that remains of the dodo as an extinct species. This means that “kept literally alive” cannot be correct. Nothing in the sentence suggests that the phrase means “kept envious, “”kept feeling ill or worried,” or “kept obscure.” However, the drawings, descriptions, remains, and proverb all keep the dodo’s memory fresh and current, so “kept fresh and current” is the correct answer.

Example Question #2 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Phrases Or Sentences In Natural Science Passages

"Cacti" by Ami Dave (2013)

Cacti are plants suited to the desert and we must keep this factor in mind always when growing ornamental cacti in our gardens, for it helps in the survival of the plant. For example, a cactus should never be watered over its body as it will start to rot. This is because it is covered with a waxy coating which prevents water loss through evaporation. When one waters the cactus over its body, the waxy coating is washed away and the plant begins to rot. The amount of water that you must supply to the cactus is very much dependent upon the season and upon the climate of the place. During the summer season one should water cacti every four days whereas in the rainy season once every fifteen days is quite enough.

Cacti need a minimum of two and a half hours of sunlight per day. However they should not be kept all day in the sun because they may wrinkle in too much of bright sunlight. Unlike other plants cacti produce carbon dioxide during the day and oxygen during the night. Hence, they are ideal plants to be kept in bedrooms to freshen up the air at night.

If the cactus plant is to thrive and prosper, the size of the pot in which it is grown has to be carefully monitored. The pot should always be a little smaller than the plant itself because it is only when the plant has to struggle to survive that it will thrive. If the pot is too spacious the struggle element is removed and the chances are that the cactus will die. Cacti are like human beings. When they suffer they will grow. Similarly if a cactus shows no signs of growth, stop the watering. It should be resumed only when the plant resumes growth.

The substrata of a cactus pot is ideally composed of pieces of broken bricks at the bottom, charcoal above it, then coarse sand and pebbles above it. Leaf mould is the best manure.

Grafting of cacti is very simple. A very small piece of the cactus plant should be stuck with cellotape to the plant that needs grafting. The smaller the piece the easier it is to graft. To reproduce cacti, one has to simply cut off a piece of the cactus, allow it to dry for a few days and then just place it over the cacti substrate. It will automatically develop roots.

To differentiate between cacti and other plants that look like cacti is very easy. All cacti have fine hair at the base of each thorn. The so-called thorns are in fact highly modified leaves which prevent loss of water through transpiration. If one ever gets pricked by cacti thorns, one should take cellotape, place it over the area where the thorns have penetrated the skin and then peel it off. All the thorns will get stuck to the cellotape and will be removed.

If the author were to add the underlined sentences, "Cacti are like human beings. When they suffer they will grow," to the third paragraph, what would these lines mean in context?

Possible Answers:

Cacti and humans endure similar levels of suffering.

Cacti and humans have no traits in common.

A suffering cactus will grow more quickly.

Overcoming the obstacles of life is the most significant factor that influences the maturity of an individual.

By providing oxygen, cacti help sustain human life.

Correct answer:

Overcoming the obstacles of life is the most significant factor that influences the maturity of an individual.

Explanation:

By making this statement, the author is suggesting that struggles and suffering result in individual growth. Thus, the most reasonable implication is that overcoming obstacles leads to maturity. The passage does not mention anything about the levels of suffering that human and cacti go through, nor does it say that they are similar.

Example Question #1 : Distinguishing Between Fact And Fiction In Natural Science Passages

"Interpreting the Copernican Revolution" by Matthew Minerd (2014)

The expressions of one discipline can often alter the way that other subjects understand themselves. Among such cases are numbered the investigations of Nicolaus Copernicus. Copernicus is best known for his views concerning heliocentrism, a view which eventually obliterated many aspects of the ancient/medieval worldview, at least from the standpoint of physical science. It had always been the natural view of mankind that the earth stood at the center of the universe, a fixed point in reference to the rest of the visible bodies. The sun, stars, and planets all rotated around the earth.

With time, this viewpoint became one of the major reference points for modern life. It provided a provocative image that was used—and often abused—by many people for various purposes. For those who wished to weaken the control of religion on mankind, it was said that the heliocentric outlook proved man’s insignificance. In contrast with earlier geocentrism, heliocentrism was said to show that man is not the center of the universe. He is merely one small being in the midst of a large cosmos. However, others wished to use the “Copernican Revolution” in a very different manner. These thinkers wanted to show that there was another “recentering” that had to happen. Once upon a time, we talked about the world. Now, however, it was necessary to talk of man as the central reference point. Just as the solar system was “centered” on the sun, so too should the sciences be centered on the human person.

However, both of these approaches are fraught with problems. Those who wished to undermine the religious mindset rather misunderstood the former outlook on the solar system. The earlier geocentric mindset did not believe that the earth was the most important body in the heavens. Instead, many ancient and medieval thinkers believed that the highest “sphere” above the earth was the most important being in the physical universe. Likewise, the so-called “Copernican Revolution” in physics was different from the one applied to the human person. Copernicus’ revolution showed that the human point of view was not the center, whereas the later forms of “Copernican revolution” wished to show just the opposite.

Of course, there are many complexities in the history of such important changes in scientific outlook. Nevertheless, it is fascinating to see the wide-reaching effects of such discoveries, even when they have numerous, ambiguous effects.

How was the underlined view about geocentrism incorrect?

Possible Answers:

Religions gladly accepted the point and moved on.

The view is actually reflective of the history of thought and does not contradict it.

Many earlier thinkers actually thought the earth was rather insignificant compared with the other celestial bodies.

None of the other answers

Religion had always despised human existence anyway, so this is not much of a change.

Correct answer:

Many earlier thinkers actually thought the earth was rather insignificant compared with the other celestial bodies.

Explanation:

For this question, the key two sentences are: "The earlier geocentric mindset did not believe that the earth was the most important body in the heavens. Instead, many ancient and medieval thinkers believed that the highest 'sphere' above the earth was the most important being in the physical universe." These state that geocentric thinkers in the ancient and medieval period actually believed that the higher "spheres" of heaven were more important than earth.

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