ISEE Lower Level Reading : Analyzing Tone, Style, and Figurative Language in Science Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ISEE Lower Level Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #11 : Gmat Verbal

Adapted from 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)

The examples of protective resemblance so far quoted are mostly permanent adaptations to one particular sort of surrounding. There are, however, numerous animals which possess the power of adjusting their color more or less rapidly so as to harmonize with a changing environment.

Some of the best known of these cases are found among those mammals and birds that inhabit countries more or less covered with snow during a part of the year. A good instance is afforded by the Irish or variable hare, which is chiefly found in Ireland and Scotland. In summer, this looks very much like an ordinary hare, though rather grayer in tint and smaller in size, but in winter it becomes white with the exception of the black tips to the ears. Investigations that have been made on the closely allied American hare seem to show that the phenomenon is due to the growth of new hairs of white hue. 

The common stoat is subject to similar color change in the northern parts of its range. In summer it is of a bright reddish brown color with the exception of the under parts, which are yellowish white, and the end of the tail, which is black. But in winter, the entire coat, save only the tip of the tail, becomes white, and in that condition the animal is known as an ermine. A similar example is afforded by the weasel. The seasonal change in the vegetarian Irish hare is purely of protective character, but in such an actively carnivorous creature as a stoat or weasel, it is aggressive as well, rendering the animal inconspicuous to its prey.

The tone of this passage is best described as __________.

Possible Answers:

angry

objective

judgmental

optimistic

considerate

Correct answer:

objective

Explanation:

The author’s tone in this passage is one that you may not even have noticed when reading the passage. Science passages like this one often employ a detached, impersonal, and neutral tone that can be called “objective.” This type of tone doesn’t involve the writer’s opinion or take sides with one or another of the topics being discussed. For instance, if the writer made the hares seem pitiable and the stoats seem like mean, bloodthirsty predators, his tone could not be said to be “objective.” However, the writer treats the stoats and hares in much the same way, discussing them in terms of their changing coat colors. “Objective” is the best answer for this question because we cannot support the assertions that the author’s tone is “angry,” “optimistic,” “considerate,” or “judgmental.”

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Tone, Style, And Figurative Language In Science Passages

Adapted from Cassell’s Natural History by Francis Martin Duncan (1913)

The penguins are a group of birds inhabiting the southern ocean, for the most part passing their lives in the icy waters of the Antarctic seas. Like the ratitae, penguins have lost the power of flight, but the wings are modified into swimming organs and the birds lead an aquatic existence and are scarcely seen on land except in the breeding season. They are curious-looking creatures that appear to have no legs, as the limbs are encased in the skin of the body and the large flat feet are set so far back that the birds waddle along on land in an upright position in a very ridiculous manner, carrying their long narrow flippers held out as if they were arms. When swimming, penguins use their wings as paddles while the feet are used for steering.

Penguins are usually gregarious—in the sea, they swim together in schools, and on land, assemble in great numbers in their rookeries. They are very methodical in their ways, and on leaving the water, the birds always follow well-defined tracks leading to the rookeries, marching with much solemnity one behind the other in soldierly order. 

The largest species of penguins are the king penguin and the emperor penguin, the former being found in Kerguelen Land, the Falklands, and other southern islands, and the latter in Victoria Land and on the pack ice of the Antarctic seas. As they are unaccustomed from the isolation of their haunts to being hunted and persecuted by man, emperor penguins are remarkably fearless, and Antarctic explorers invading their territory have found themselves objects of curiosity rather than fear to the strange birds who followed them about as if they were much astonished at their appearance. 

The emperor penguin lays but a single egg and breeds during the intense cold and darkness of the Antarctic winter. To prevent contact with the frozen snow, the bird places its egg upon its flat webbed feet and crouches down upon it so that it is well covered with the feathers. In spite of this precaution, many eggs do not hatch and the mortality amongst the young chicks is very great.

Readers can tell from the way the author describes the appearance of penguins in the first paragraph that he thinks they are __________.

Possible Answers:

confusing

bad-tempered

helpless

funny-looking

cute

Correct answer:

funny-looking

Explanation:

Let’s look at how the author describes the appearance of penguins in the first paragraph:

“They are curious-looking creatures that appear to have no legs, as the limbs are encased in the skin of the body and the large flat feet are set so far back that the birds waddle along on land in an upright position in a very ridiculous manner, carrying their long narrow flippers held out as if they were arms.”

The author calls penguins “curious-looking creatures” and says that they waddle “in a very ridiculous manner,” so the best answer choice is that he thinks they are “funny-looking.” Nothing in his description supports any of the other conclusions.

Example Question #2 : Analyzing Tone, Style, And Figurative Language In Science Passages

Adapted from Cassell’s Natural History by Francis Martin Duncan (1913)

The penguins are a group of birds inhabiting the southern ocean, for the most part passing their lives in the icy waters of the Antarctic seas. Like the ratitae, penguins have lost the power of flight, but the wings are modified into swimming organs and the birds lead an aquatic existence and are scarcely seen on land except in the breeding season. They are curious-looking creatures that appear to have no legs, as the limbs are encased in the skin of the body and the large flat feet are set so far back that the birds waddle along on land in an upright position in a very ridiculous manner, carrying their long narrow flippers held out as if they were arms. When swimming, penguins use their wings as paddles while the feet are used for steering.

Penguins are usually gregarious—in the sea, they swim together in schools, and on land, assemble in great numbers in their rookeries. They are very methodical in their ways, and on leaving the water, the birds always follow well-defined tracks leading to the rookeries, marching with much solemnity one behind the other in soldierly order

The largest species of penguins are the king penguin and the emperor penguin, the former being found in Kerguelen Land, the Falklands, and other southern islands, and the latter in Victoria Land and on the pack ice of the Antarctic seas. As they are unaccustomed from the isolation of their haunts to being hunted and persecuted by man, emperor penguins are remarkably fearless, and Antarctic explorers invading their territory have found themselves objects of curiosity rather than fear to the strange birds who followed them about as if they were much astonished at their appearance. 

The emperor penguin lays but a single egg and breeds during the intense cold and darkness of the Antarctic winter. To prevent contact with the frozen snow, the bird places its egg upon its flat webbed feet and crouches down upon it so that it is well covered with the feathers. In spite of this precaution, many eggs do not hatch and the mortality amongst the young chicks is very great.

The underlined portion of the passage makes the penguins seem __________.

Possible Answers:

predatory

military

bored

not prepared for extremely cold weather

frantic

Correct answer:

military

Explanation:

The underlined portion of the passage is as follows:

“They are very methodical in their ways, and on leaving the water, the birds always follow well-defined tracks leading to the rookeries, marching with much solemnity one behind the other in soldierly order.”

The fact that the author describes the penguins as proceeding “in soldierly order” and as “marching,” which is something soldiers do, supports the answer that his description makes them seem “military.” Nothing about the underlined portion of the passage makes the penguins seem “predatory,” “bored,” “frantic,” “or “not prepared for extremely cold weather.”

Example Question #3 : Analyzing Tone, Style, And Figurative Language In Science Passages

Adapted from "Birds’ Nests" by John Burroughs in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

The rarest of all nests is that of the eagle, because the eagle is the rarest of all birds. Indeed, so seldom is the eagle seen, that its presence always seems accidental. It appears as if merely pausing on the way, while bound for some distant unknown region. One September, while a youth, I saw the ring-tailed eagle, an immense bird, the sight of which filled me with awe. It lingered about the hills for two days. Some young cattle, a two year-old colt, and half a dozen sheep were at pasture on a high ridge that led up to the mountain, and in plain view of the house. On the second day, this dusky monarch was seen flying about above them. Presently he began to hover over them, after the manner of a hawk watching for mice. He then with extended legs let himself slowly down upon them, actually grappling the backs of the young cattle, and frightening the creatures so that they rushed about the field in great consternation; and finally, as he grew bolder and more frequent in his descents, the whole herd broke over the fence, and came tearing down to the house “like mad.” It did not seem to be an assault with intent to kill, but was, perhaps, a stratagem resorted to in order to separate the herd and expose the lambs, which hugged the cattle very closely. When he occasionally alighted upon the oaks that stood near, the branch could be seen to sway and bend beneath him. Finally, as a rifleman started out in pursuit of him, he launched into the air, set his wings, and sailed away southward. A few years afterward, in January, another eagle passed through the same locality, alighting in a field near some dead animal, but tarried briefly.

The author’s attitude towards eagles is primarily one of __________.

Possible Answers:

love and adoration

loathing

reverence and awe

respect and fear

envy

Correct answer:

reverence and awe

Explanation:

The sentence that best captures the author’s attitude towards eagles is “One September, while a youth, I saw the ring-tailed eagle, an immense bird, the sight of which filled me with awe.” Here can clearly be seen the deep respect (“reverence”) and “awe” that the author feels for eagles. It is probably too far to say that the author feels “love and adoration,” and, although he does “respect” them, there is no indication he “fears” them. To provide some final help, “envy” means jealousy, and “loathing” means deep hatred.

Example Question #2 : Authorial Attitude, Tone, And Purpose In Narrative Science Passages

Adapted from "How the Soil is Made" by Charles Darwin in Wonders of Earth, Sea, and Sky (1902, ed. Edward Singleton Holden)

Worms have played a more important part in the history of the world than most persons would at first suppose. In almost all humid countries they are extraordinarily numerous, and for their size possess great muscular power. In many parts of England a weight of more than ten tons (10,516 kilograms) of dry earth annually passes through their bodies and is brought to the surface on each acre of land, so that the whole superficial bed of vegetable mould passes through their bodies in the course of every few years. From the collapsing of the old burrows, the mold is in constant though slow movement, and the particles composing it are thus rubbed together. Thus the particles of earth, forming the superficial mold, are subjected to conditions eminently favorable for their decomposition and disintegration. This keeps the surface of the earth perfectly suited to the growth of an abundant array of fruits and vegetables.

Worms are poorly provided with sense-organs, for they cannot be said to see, although they can just distinguish between light and darkness; they are completely deaf, and have only a feeble power of smell; the sense of touch alone is well developed. They can, therefore, learn little about the outside world, and it is surprising that they should exhibit some skill in lining their burrows with their castings and with leaves, and in the case of some species in piling up their castings into tower-like constructions. But it is far more surprising that they should apparently exhibit some degree of intelligence instead of a mere blind, instinctive impulse, in their manner of plugging up the mouths of their burrows. They act in nearly the same manner as would a man, who had to close a cylindrical tube with different kinds of leaves, petioles, triangles of paper, etc., for they commonly seize such objects by their pointed ends. But with thin objects a certain number are drawn in by their broader ends. They do not act in the same unvarying manner in all cases, as do most of the lower animals.

The author’s attitude towards worms is primarily one of __________.

Possible Answers:

surprise and admiration

mockery and humiliation

love and devotion

reverence and worship

admonishment and criticism

Correct answer:

surprise and admiration

Explanation:

Throughout this passage, it is clear that the author “reveres” and “admires” worms. He talks at length about the crucial role they have played in human history and expresses great respect for their mental capacity when he says, “They do not act in the same unvarying manner in all cases, as do most of the lower animals.” He even compares the extent of their intelligence with the likely behavior of a man in a similar circumstance. It is probably going too far however to say that he “loves” or “worships” worms or that he shows “devotion” to them. What can be reasonably stated however is that he is “surprised” by the level of intelligence worms display. He says, “it is surprising that they should exhibit some skill in lining their burrows with their castings and with leaves, and in the case of some species in piling up their castings into tower-like constructions. But it is far more surprising that they should apparently exhibit some degree of intelligence instead of a mere blind, instinctive impulse.“ The word “surprising” is used twice in that excerpt alone. To provide further help, “admiration” means thinking something is impressive; “reverence” is deep respect; “admonishment” is saying something is wrong or punishment; “devotion” is deep commitment to something; “mockery” is making fun of something; and “humiliation” is deep embarrassment.

Example Question #4 : Analyzing Tone, Style, And Figurative Language In Science Passages

Adapted from "Birds’ Nests" by John Burroughs in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

The woodpeckers all build in about the same manner, excavating the trunk or branch of a decayed tree, and depositing the eggs on the fine fragments of wood at the bottom of the cavity. Though the nest is not especially an artistic work, requiring strength rather than skill, yet the eggs and the young of few other birds are so completely housed from the elements, or protected from their natural enemies—the jays, crows, hawks, and owls. A tree with a natural cavity is never selected, but one which has been dead just long enough to have become soft and brittle throughout. The bird goes in horizontally for a few inches, making a hole perfectly round and smooth and adapted to his size, then turns downward, gradually enlarging the hole, as he proceeds, to the depth of ten, fifteen, twenty inches, according to the softness of the tree and the urgency of the mother bird to deposit her eggs. While excavating, male and female work alternately. After one has been engaged fifteen or twenty minutes, drilling and carrying out chips, it ascends to an upper limb, utters a loud call or two, when its mate soon appears, and, alighting near it on the branch, the pair chatter and caress a moment; then the fresh one enters the cavity and the other flies away.

The tone of this passage is primarily __________.

Possible Answers:

outlandish

affectionate

academic

ominous

whimsical

Correct answer:

academic

Explanation:

Apart from a brief allusion to the close relationship between male and female woodpeckers at the end of the passage—that could perhaps be called “affectionate” or “whimsical”—the tone throughout this passage is primarily “academic.” “Academic” means relating to education and instruction. The author adopts a serious tone and tries to impart several precise lessons throughout the short text. This tone is most clearly seen in the middle of the passage, which reads, “The bird goes in horizontally for a few inches, making a hole perfectly round and smooth and adapted to his size, then turns downward, gradually enlarging the hole, as he proceeds, to the depth of ten, fifteen, twenty inches, according to the softness of the tree and the urgency of the mother bird to deposit her eggs.” To provide further help, “ominous” means threatening or suggesting bad things will happen; “outlandish” means extravagant and ridiculous; “affectionate” means loving; and “whimsical” means silly and quirky.

Example Question #3 : Authorial Attitude, Tone, And Purpose In Narrative Science Passages

Adapted from "The Wild Llama" by Charles Darwin in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

The wild llama is the characteristic quadruped of the plains of Patagonia; it is the South American representative of the camel in the East. It is an elegant animal in a state of nature, with a long slender neck and fine legs. It is very common over the whole of the temperate parts of the continent, as far south as the islands near Cape Horn. It generally lives in small herds of from half a dozen to thirty in each, but on the banks of the St. Cruz we saw one herd which must have contained at least five hundred.

They are generally wild and extremely wary. Mr. Stokes told me that he one day saw through a glass a herd of these animals which evidently had been frightened and were running away at full speed, although they were so far away that he could not distinguish them with his naked eye. The sportsman frequently receives the first notice of their presence by hearing from a long distance their peculiar shrill, neighing note of alarm. If he then looks attentively, he will probably see the herd standing in a line on the side of some distant hill. On approaching nearer, a few more squeals are given, and off they set at an apparently slow, but really quick canter, along some narrow beaten track to a neighboring hill. If, however, by chance, he abruptly meets a single animal, or several together, they will generally stand motionless and intently gaze at him, then perhaps move on a few yards, turn round, and look again. What is the cause of this difference in their shyness? Do they mistake a man in the distance for their chief enemy, the puma? Or does curiosity overcome their timidity?

In this passage, the author adopts a __________ attitude towards llamas.

Possible Answers:

humble and benign

abrasive and dismissive

malicious and spiteful

curious and puzzled

welcoming and humorous

Correct answer:

curious and puzzled

Explanation:

The author’s of this passage is clearly very “curious” about llamas. The fact that he goes to such lengths to provide basic information about them and then to investigate their modes of behavior tells you that he could never be accused of being “dismissive” or “malicious.” There is little evidence to suggest he is being “welcoming” or “humorous.” Both these words feel out of place with the academic and investigative tone of this piece. “Humble” means modest and “benign” means harmless; these words also feel out of touch with this piece. However, “puzzled” reflects the author's tone quite well, particularly at the very end of the passage, where he employs a series of questions to highlight what he does not know. To provide some final help, “abrasive” means rude, “dismissive” means saying something is worthless and not being concerned with it; “humorous” means funny; and “malicious” and “spiteful” both mean evil, full of hatred, and doing something for hatred or revenge.

Example Question #4 : Analyzing Tone, Style, And Figurative Language In Science Passages

"The Multiple Sides of Computer Science" by Matthew Minerd (2014)

It often takes some time for a new discipline to become recognized as an independent science. An excellent example of this is computer science. In many ways, this science still is a hodgepodge of several different sciences, each one having its own distinct character. For example, some computer scientists are almost indistinguishable from mathematicians. Many of the most difficult topics in pattern recognition and data communications require intensive mathematics in order to provide software solutions. Years of training in the appropriate disciplines are necessary before the computer scientist can even begin to work as a programmer in such areas. In contrast to those computer scientists who work with complex mathematics, many computer scientists work on areas of hardware development that are similar to disciplines like electrical engineering and physics.

However, computer science has its own particular problems regarding the unity of its subject matter. There are many practical applications for computing work; therefore, many computer scientists focus on learning a large set of skills in programming languages, development environments, and even information technology. All of these disciplines have a certain practical coloration that is quite distinct from the theoretical concepts used in other parts of the field. Nevertheless, these practical topics add to the broad range of topics covered by most academic programs that claim to focus on “computer science.” It can only be hoped that these disciplines will increase in orderliness in the coming decades.

Based on the passage, which of the following is likely the least related to computer science as a theoretical discipline?

Possible Answers:

Electrical Engineering

Physics

Mathematics

Programming languages

Information technology

Correct answer:

Information technology

Explanation:

This question comes down to a matter of tone. The author uses the word "even" before listing information technology among the topics studied by computer science students. Often, this word is used before something surprising. For example, "He was not rude to me alone. He even said horrible things to my elderly grandmother." This means that it is very surprising that someone would be so rude. Here, the idea is that it is surprising that information technology is among these subjects. This might sound strange, but it is the author's opinion as expressed in this passage.

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