ISEE Lower Level Reading : Determining Context-Dependent Word Meanings in Science Passages

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

varsity tutors app store varsity tutors android store

Example Questions

← Previous 1

Example Question #43 : 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.

What is meant by the underlined word "character"?

Possible Answers:

Morality

Personality

Temperament

Disposition

Nature

Correct answer:

Nature

Explanation:

The word "character" often has to do with someone's moral dispositions. A person of "good character" is someone who is upright and moral. However, it can more generally mean the "nature" of the person. (This is why the word is related to "characteristic.")  In this passage, this second meaning is by far the better option for the word "character." The idea is that the several topics studied in computer science are of differing natures. This is why it is so hard to tell exactly what is the single, united focus of the science.

Example Question #44 : 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.

What is meant by the underlined word “coloration”?

Possible Answers:

Outline

Undertaking

Focus

Mood

Application

Correct answer:

Focus

Explanation:

To have a certain "coloration" is to have a character that is similar to something else. Something with a "religious coloration" likely reminds us of religious settings and realities. Something with a "practical coloration" has a practical focus or a practical appearance. Here, the point is more about the focus of these disciplines than about their appearance.

Example Question #1 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In Science Passages

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.

Which of the following terms is closest in meaning to the underlined word “inconspicuous”?

Possible Answers:

important

hidden

fraudulent

wily

obvious

Correct answer:

hidden

Explanation:

The word “inconspicuous” is used the passage’s last sentence, “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.” “Important” makes no sense in this context, so we can discard that answer. “Wily” (sneaky and clever) and “fraudulent” (deceptive) may each seem like an ok answer, but neither of these would necessarily make the animal a better predator, and “wily” doesn’t describe how a predator would relate to its prey, and “fraudulent” is usually reserved for describing human behavior and intentions. “Hidden” would certainly make the animal a better predator, though—if a predator were “hidden” from its prey, it would be much harder for the prey to avoid the predator. “Hidden” makes the most sense in the context of the sentence, so it is the correct answer.

Example Question #1 : Context Dependent Meanings Of Words And Phrases In Narrative 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.

Based on the way it is used in the passage, what is the most likely meaning of the underlined word “gregarious”?

Possible Answers:

Sociable

Solitary

Argumentative

Having a large appetite

Dedicated

Correct answer:

Sociable

Explanation:

The word “gregarious” is found in the following sentence, the first sentence of the second paragraph:

“Penguins are usually gregarious—in the sea, they swim together in schools, and on land, assemble in great numbers in their rookeries.”

What does the sentence tell us about penguins? They like to be in groups, whether on land or in the sea. This allows us to infer that “gregarious” means preferring to be in groups rather than alone, or “sociable.” None of the other answer choices are supported by the passage.

Example Question #1 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In Science Passages

Adapted from "Sea-slugs and Cuttlefish" by Charles Darwin in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

I was much interested, on several occasions, by watching the habits of a cuttlefish. Although common in the pools of water left by the retiring tide, these animals were not easily caught. By means of their long arms and suckers, they could drag their bodies into very narrow crevices; and when thus fixed, it required great force to remove them. At other times they darted, with the rapidity of an arrow, from one side of the pool to the other, at the same instant discoloring the water with a dark chestnut-brown ink. These animals also escape detection by a very extraordinary, chameleon-like power of changing their color. They appear to vary their tints according to the nature of the ground over which they pass: when in deep water, their general shade was brownish-purple, but when placed on the land, or in shallow water, this dark tint changed into one of a yellowish green.

This cuttlefish displayed its chameleon-like power both during the act of swimming and whilst remaining stationary at the bottom. I was amused by the various arts to escape detection used by one individual, which seemed fully aware that I was watching it. Remaining for a time motionless, it would then stealthily advance an inch or two, like a cat after a mouse; sometimes changing its color, it proceeded, till having gained a deeper part, it darted away, leaving a dusky train of ink to hide the hole into which it had crawled.

The underlined word “motionless” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

underwater

rapid

still

loose

obvious

Correct answer:

still

Explanation:

In context, the author says, "Remaining for a time motionless, it would then stealthily advance an inch or two, like a cat after a mouse." The fact that it remains “motionless” and then “stealthily advances an inch or two” suggests that it is remaining still and then “slowly moving forward an inch or two.” This is also supported by the fact that the cuttlefish is trying to avoid being seen. To provide further help, “rapid” means happening very quickly, and “jumpy” means nervous and anxious.

Example Question #2 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In Science Passages

Adapted from "Bats" by W. S. Dallas in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

Like the owls, with which they share the dominion of the evening air, the bats have a perfectly noiseless flight; their activity is chiefly during the twilight, although some species are later, and in fact seem to keep up throughout the whole night. As they rest during the day, concealed usually in the most inaccessible places they can find, and are seen only upon the wing, their power of flight is their most striking peculiarity in the popular mind, and it is perhaps no great wonder that by many people, both in ancient and modern times, they have been regarded as birds. Nevertheless, their hairy bodies and leathery wings are so unlike anything that we ordinarily understand as pertaining to a bird, that opinion was apparently always divided, as to the true nature of these creatures—“a mouse with wings,” as Goldsmith called it once, according to James Boswell, is certainly a curious animal, and very difficult to classify so long as the would-be systematist has no particularly definite ideas to guide him. The likeness of the bat to a winged mouse has made itself felt in the name given to the creature in many languages, such as the “chauvesouris” of the French and the “flitter-mouse” of some parts of England, the latter being reproduced almost literally in German, Dutch, and Swedish, while the Danes called the bat a “flogenmues,” which has about the same meaning.

The underlined word “concealed” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

feasting

flying

hidden

revealed

residing

Correct answer:

hidden

Explanation:

In context, the author says, “As they rest during the day, concealed usually in the most inaccessible places they can find, and are seen only upon the wing . . . “ Because the places they are “concealed” in are “inaccessible” (unable to be accessed) and hard to see, we can reasonably conclude that “concealed” probably means hidden, which is indeed the correct answer. To provide further help, “revealed” means shown; “residing” means living; and “feasting” means eating with enthusiasm or in a large group.

Example Question #3 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In Science Passages

Adapted from "Bats" by W. S. Dallas in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

Like the owls, with which they share the dominion of the evening air, the bats have a perfectly noiseless flight; their activity is chiefly during the twilight, although some species are later, and in fact seem to keep up throughout the whole night. As they rest during the day, concealed usually in the most inaccessible places they can find, and are seen only upon the wing, their power of flight is their most striking peculiarity in the popular mind, and it is perhaps no great wonder that by many people, both in ancient and modern times, they have been regarded as birds. Nevertheless, their hairy bodies and leathery wings are so unlike anything that we ordinarily understand as pertaining to a bird, that opinion was apparently always divided, as to the true nature of these creatures—“a mouse with wings,” as Goldsmith called it once, according to James Boswell, is certainly a curious animal, and very difficult to classify so long as the would-be systematist has no particularly definite ideas to guide him. The likeness of the bat to a winged mouse has made itself felt in the name given to the creature in many languages, such as the “chauvesouris” of the French and the “flitter-mouse” of some parts of England, the latter being reproduced almost literally in German, Dutch, and Swedish, while the Danes called the bat a “flogenmues,” which has about the same meaning.

The underlined word “pertaining” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

seceding

according

underwhelming

allowing

relating

Correct answer:

relating

Explanation:

In context, the author says, "Nevertheless, their hairy bodies and leathery wings are . . .  unlike anything that we ordinarily understand as pertaining to a bird." We know that birds do not have hairy bodies or leathery wings, so we can determine that the author is talking about things that are unlike anything ordinarily “relating” to birds. “Pertaining to” means relating to. To provide further help, “seceding” means breaking away from and “according” means giving or stated by.

Example Question #4 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In Science Passages

Adapted from "America the Old World" by L. Agassiz in Wonders of Earth, Sea, and Sky (1902, ed. Edward Singleton Holden)

There is, perhaps, no part of the world where the early geological periods can be studied with so much ease and precision as in the United States. Along their northern borders, between Canada and the United States, there runs the low line of hills known as the Laurentian Hills. Insignificant in height, nowhere rising more than fifteen hundred or two thousand feet above the level of the sea, these are nevertheless some of the first mountains that broke the uniform level of the earth's surface and lifted themselves above the waters. Their low stature, as compared with that of other more lofty mountain ranges, is in accordance with an invariable rule, by which the relative age of mountains may be estimated. The oldest mountains are the lowest, while the younger and more recent ones tower above their elders, and are usually more torn and dislocated also. So it is known the Alps, Rockies, and Himalayas are considerably younger than the Appalachian mountains.

The underlined word “lofty” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

high

proud

flat

ashamed

short

Correct answer:

high

Explanation:

The word “lofty” can mean either high above the ground, noble, or proud. To determine the correct answer, you have to consider the context, or the information and phrasing in the passage around where the word is used. The author says, “Their low stature, as compared with that of other more lofty mountain ranges . . ." So, the “low stature” of one set of mountains is compared with the “lofty” stature of another set of mountains. Therefore, “lofty” must mean the opposite of “low,” and so the correct answer is “high.”

Example Question #5 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In Science Passages

Adapted from Chatterbox Stories of Natural History by R. Worthington (1880)

I would now like to talk briefly about the beaver. This industrious animal is generally found in Canada and the northern portions of the United States, where it makes its home on the banks of the rivers and lakes. Here they assemble in hundreds to assist each other in the construction of their dams, and in the building of their houses, which are put together with a considerable amount of engineering skill. The materials used in building the dams are wood, stones, and mud, which they collect themselves for that purpose, and after finishing the dam, or winter storehouse, they collect their stores for the winter's use, and then make a connection with their houses in the banks. Their skins are valuable in making fine hats, and their flesh is much relished by the hunters. The beaver is an interesting animal in many respects, and the expression “busy as a beaver” is borne out by its habits.

The underlined word “industrious” most probably means __________.

Possible Answers:

brave

inconsiderate

hard-working

odd

ill-tempered

Correct answer:

hard-working

Explanation:

Answering this question from direct context is a little challenging, as the author merely says “This industrious animal is generally found in Canada and the northern portions of the United States, where it makes its home on the banks of the rivers and lakes.” In this there are no real clues to help you determine the meaning of the underlined word, so you must turn to the rest of the passage to see what the author is focusing on. Throughout the passage the author talks about how beavers “assemble,” “construct,” “engineer,” and “make.” Additionally at the end of the passage, the author says, "the expression “busy as a beaver” is borne out by its habits.” These all provide evidence to suggest the author is talking about how hard-working beavers are, this is the correct definition of “industrious.”

Example Question #6 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings 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 underlined word “seldom” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

unfortunately

fortunately

infrequently

generously

frequently

Correct answer:

infrequently

Explanation:

In context the author is talking about how “rarely” he sees eagles. He says, “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.” From this, we can determine that “seldom” must mean something like “rarely.” The correct answer is therefore “infrequently,” which means not frequently or not often. To provide further help, “fortunately” means luckily; “unfortunately” means unluckily; “generously” means done with kindness or caring and giving.

← Previous 1
Learning Tools by Varsity Tutors

Incompatible Browser

Please upgrade or download one of the following browsers to use Instant Tutoring: