ISEE Middle Level Reading : Analyzing the Text in Science Passages

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

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Example Questions

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Example Question #53 : Natural Sciences

Adapted from “In Mammoth Cave” by John Burroughs (1894)

Some idea of the impression which Mammoth Cave makes upon the senses, irrespective even of sight, may be had from the fact that blind people go there to see it, and are greatly struck with it. I was assured that this is a fact. The blind seem as much impressed by it as those who have their sight. When the guide pauses at a more interesting point, or lights the scene up with a great torch or with small flares, and points out the more striking features, the blind exclaim, "How wonderful! How beautiful!" They can feel it, if they cannot see it. They get some idea of the spaciousness when words are uttered. The voice goes forth in these colossal chambers like a bird. When no word is spoken, the silence is of a kind never experienced on the surface of the earth, it is so profound and abysmal. This, and the absolute darkness, to a sighted person makes him feel as if he were face to face with the primordial nothingness. The objective universe is gone; only the subjective remains; the sense of hearing is inverted, and reports only the murmurs from within. The blind miss much, but much remains to them. The great cave is not merely a spectacle to the eye; it is a wonder to the ear, a strangeness to the smell and to the touch. The body feels the presence of unusual conditions through every pore.

Which of the following answer choices is supported by the author’s statement that inside Mammoth Cave, “The objective universe is gone”?

Possible Answers:

Every individual should visit Mammoth Cave.

The universe is more clearly understood within Mammoth Cave.

The experience of the cave alters perceived reality.

Blind people experience the cave in the same way as people with sight.

Sound is the primary sensory experience within the cave.

Correct answer:

The experience of the cave alters perceived reality.

Explanation:

The author states that in the darkness of the cave, “the objective universe is gone; only the subjective remains; the sense of hearing is inverted, and reports only the murmurs from within.” When the author says that the objective is gone and the subjective remains he means that the experience of the cave causes people to perceive things as they would individually, within the quiet of their own minds, rather than based on observable and generally agreed upon facts and prejudices. The author believes that the experience of the cave alters the perception of those who are undergoing the experience.

Example Question #241 : 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 phrase “harmonize with,” underlined in the first paragraph, most closely means __________.

Possible Answers:

conduct

match

systematize

parallel

sing in harmony with

Correct answer:

match

Explanation:

The phrase “harmonize with” appears in this sentence in the first paragraph: “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.” While “harmonize with” can mean “sing in harmony with,” this meaning doesn’t make sense in the context of the passage’s sentence. “Parallel,” “systematize,” and “conduct” don’t make sense either—only “match” makes sense, so it is the correct answer.

Example Question #3 : Analyzing The Text In Science Passages

Adapted from “Feathers of Sea Birds and Wild Fowl for Bedding” from The Utility of Birds by Edward Forbush (ed. 1922)

In the colder countries of the world, the feathers and down of waterfowl have been in great demand for centuries as filling for beds and pillows. Such feathers are perfect non-conductors of heat, and beds, pillows, or coverlets filled with them represent the acme of comfort and durability. The early settlers of New England saved for such purposes the feathers and down from the thousands of wild-fowl which they killed, but as the population increased in numbers, the quantity thus furnished was insufficient, and the people sought a larger supply in the vast colonies of ducks and geese along the Labrador coast. 

The manner in which the feathers and down were obtained, unlike the method practiced in Iceland, did not tend to conserve and protect the source of supply. In Iceland, the people have continued to receive for many years a considerable income by collecting eider down, but there they do not “kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.” Ducks line their nests with down plucked from their own breasts and that of the eider is particularly valuable for bedding. In Iceland, these birds are so carefully protected that they have become as tame and unsuspicious as domestic fowls In North America. Where they are constantly hunted they often conceal their nests in the midst of weeds or bushes, but in Iceland, they make their nests and deposit their eggs in holes dug for them in the sod. A supply of the ducks is maintained so that the people derive from them an annual income.

In North America, quite a different policy was pursued. The demand for feathers became so great in the New England colonies about the middle of the eighteenth century that vessels were fitted out there for the coast of Labrador for the express purpose of securing the feathers and down of wild fowl. Eider down having become valuable and these ducks being in the habit of congregating by thousands on barren islands of the Labrador coast, the birds became the victims of the ships’ crews. As the ducks molt all their primary feathers at once in July or August and are then quite incapable of flight and the young birds are unable to fly until well grown, the hunters were able to surround the helpless birds, drive them together, and kill them with clubs. Otis says that millions of wildfowl were thus destroyed and that in a few years their haunts were so broken up by this wholesale slaughter and their numbers were so diminished that feather voyages became unprofitable and were given up. 

This practice, followed by the almost continual egging, clubbing, shooting, etc. by Labrador fishermen, may have been a chief factor in the extinction of the Labrador duck, that species of supposed restricted breeding range. No doubt had the eider duck been restricted in its breeding range to the islands of Labrador, it also would have been exterminated long ago.

Which of the following best restates the meaning of the underlined phrase “as the population increased in numbers, the quantity thus furnished was insufficient”?

Possible Answers:

As the number of Icelandic citizens increased, the populations of Icelandic ducks decreased

As the number of citizens of New England increased, the desirability of eider down decreased

As the population of Icelandic ducks increased, their food sources began to deplete

As the population of New England settlers increased, the amount of eider down collected was no longer enough

As the number of ducks increased, the number of eggs they laid became no longer satisfactory

Correct answer:

As the population of New England settlers increased, the amount of eider down collected was no longer enough

Explanation:

In order to answer this question correctly, you have to consider the context in which this phrase appears: “The early settlers of New England saved for such purposes the feathers and down from the thousands of wild-fowl which they killed, but as the population increased in numbers, the quantity thus furnished was insufficient, and the people sought a larger supply in the vast colonies of ducks and geese along the Labrador coast.” It only makes sense for “population” to refer to a population of people, not of ducks, as the sentence concludes by saying “the people sought a larger supply in the vast colonies of ducks and geese along the Labrador coast.” They would not need to seek out a larger supply of ducks and geese if the population of ducks and geese was increasing. Knowing this, we can discard the answer choices “As the number of ducks increased, the number of eggs they laid became no longer satisfactory” and “As the population of Icelandic ducks increased, their food sources began to deplete.” The sentence is only discussing New England settlers; it does not mention Iceland. So, “As the number of Icelandic citizens increased, the populations of Icelandic ducks decreased” cannot be correct either. This leaves us with two answer choices: “As the number of citizens of New England increased, the desirability of eider down decreased,” and “As the population of North America increased, the amount of eider down collected was no longer enough.” The important distinction made between these two answer choices hinges on the meaning of the word “quantity.” “Quantity” means number of, so the correct answer is “As the population of New England increased, the amount of eider down collected was no longer enough.” If you read the sentence quickly and confused quantity with “quality,” which means how good something is, you may have picked the other answer choice. It’s important to read carefully, especially when answering questions that deal with paraphrasing!

Example Question #3 : Determining Context Dependent Meanings Of Phrases And Clauses In Natural Science Passages

"Abstraction in the Sciences" by Matthew Minerd (2014)

Thinking “abstractly” is not a term that means quite the same thing in all of the sciences. Although we rarely think about this, it plays a key role in almost all of our day-to-day thought. Consider a zoologist working in a lab with many animals. When she is studying any individual tiger, she is not completely worried about the particular tiger—at least not primarily. Instead, she is trying to figure out certain characteristics of tigers in general. By meticulous testing, the zoologist carefully works out the physiology of tigers and considers what are absolutely necessary elements of their physical makeup. Even when she places a tiger in different habitats, her sight is aimed at the general condition of tigers and their needs in general.

However, things become even stranger when you start to consider how we think about mathematical objects. Consider the case of geometric figures. A triangle appears to be rather simple for most of us to think about. You can draw a triangle on a piece of paper, each side having a certain thickness and length. However when you think about this in geometry class, the triangle’s edges have no real thickness. Neither a point nor a line has a thickness for the mathematician. Such a thickness only exists on our paper, which represents the point or line. Consider also a line drawn on a piece of graph paper. Technically, there are an infinite number of points in the line. Indeed, even between 4.5 and 4.6, there are an infinite number of numbers—for example 4.55 is between them, then 4.555 between 4.55 and 4.6, and 4.5555 between 4.555 and 4.6, et cetera. In all of these cases, the mathematical reality takes on a very peculiar character when you consider it in the abstract. However, the concrete triangle remains very tangible and ordinary. Likewise, 4.6 and 4.5 inches still have 0.1 inches between them. Nevertheless, in the abstract, mathematical realities are quite strange, even stranger then the idea of “a tiger in general.”

What is meant by the underlined selection, "Her sight is aimed at"?

Possible Answers:

Her goal is discovering . . .

Her vision is clearly undermined by . . .

None of the other answers

Her scopes are calibrated to . . .

Her guns are readied because of . . .

Correct answer:

Her goal is discovering . . .

Explanation:

The informal expression, "His or her sights are aimed at X," means "He or she is interested in X, " or, "He or she is paying attention to X." The scientist is here particularly interested in one thing in contrast to another, therefore her interest and goals are focused on that thing. She is "aiming her mind" at that information or goal.

Example Question #1 : Determining Context Dependent Meanings Of Phrases And Clauses In Natural Science Passages

Adapted from “Humming-Birds: As Illustrating the Luxuriance of Tropical Nature” in Tropical Nature, and Other Essays by Alfred Russel Wallace (1878)

The food of hummingbirds has been a matter of much controversy. All the early writers down to Buffon believed that they lived solely on the nectar of flowers, but since that time, every close observer of their habits maintains that they feed largely, and in some cases wholly, on insects. Azara observed them on the La Plata in winter taking insects out of the webs of spiders at a time and place where there were no flowers. Bullock, in Mexico, declares that he saw them catch small butterflies, and that he found many kinds of insects in their stomachs. Waterton made a similar statement. Hundreds and perhaps thousands of specimens have since been dissected by collecting naturalists, and in almost every instance their stomachs have been found full of insects, sometimes, but not generally, mixed with a proportion of honey. Many of them in fact may be seen catching gnats and other small insects just like fly-catchers, sitting on a dead twig over water, darting off for a time in the air, and then returning to the twig. Others come out just at dusk, and remain on the wing, now stationary, now darting about with the greatest rapidity, imitating in a limited space the evolutions of the goatsuckers, and evidently for the same end and purpose. Mr. Gosse also remarks, ” All the hummingbirds have more or less the habit, when in flight, of pausing in the air and throwing the body and tail into rapid and odd contortions. This is most observable in the Polytmus, from the effect that such motions have on the long feathers of the tail. That the object of these quick turns is the capture of insects, I am sure, having watched one thus engaged pretty close to me.”

What can we infer from the author’s use of the underlined phrase, “sometimes, but not generally”?

Possible Answers:

Hummingbirds can be found with both honey and insects in their stomachs, and this is what scientists observe most often.

Hummingbirds can be found with only honey in their stomachs quite often.

Hummingbirds can be found with honey in their stomachs, but it is not common.

None of the other answers

Hummingbirds can be found with insects in their stomachs, but this is rare.

Correct answer:

Hummingbirds can be found with honey in their stomachs, but it is not common.

Explanation:

The phrase “sometimes, but not generally” is found in the sentence, “Hundreds and perhaps thousands of specimens have since been dissected by collecting naturalists, and in almost every instance their stomachs have been found full of insects, sometimes, but not generally, mixed with a proportion of honey.” The phrase is specifically talking about the presence of honey in hummingbirds’ stomachs, not of insects, so we can eliminate the answer choice “Hummingbirds can be found with insects in their stomachs, but this is rare.” Since “not generally” means “not most of the time,” the author is saying “sometimes, but not most of the time, hummingbirds have honey in their stomachs.” This is only accurately stated by the answer choice “Hummingbirds can be found with honey in their stomachs, but it is not common.” The answer choices “Hummingbirds can be found with both honey and insects in their stomachs, and this is what scientists observe most often” and “Hummingbirds can be found with only honey in their stomachs quite often” are incorrect because neither suggests that finding a hummingbird with honey in its stomach is rare, which is what the author is saying.

Example Question #1 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Phrases In Narrative Science Passages

Adapted from “Humming-Birds: As Illustrating the Luxuriance of Tropical Nature” in Tropical Nature, and Other Essays by Alfred Russel Wallace (1878)

The food of hummingbirds has been a matter of much controversy. All the early writers down to Buffon believed that they lived solely on the nectar of flowers, but since that time, every close observer of their habits maintains that they feed largely, and in some cases wholly, on insects. Azara observed them on the La Plata in winter taking insects out of the webs of spiders at a time and place where there were no flowers. Bullock, in Mexico, declares that he saw them catch small butterflies, and that he found many kinds of insects in their stomachs. Waterton made a similar statement. Hundreds and perhaps thousands of specimens have since been dissected by collecting naturalists, and in almost every instance their stomachs have been found full of insects, sometimes, but not generally, mixed with a proportion of honey. Many of them in fact may be seen catching gnats and other small insects just like fly-catchers, sitting on a dead twig over water, darting off for a time in the air, and then returning to the twig. Others come out just at dusk, and remain on the wing, now stationary, now darting about with the greatest rapidity, imitating in a limited space the evolutions of the goatsuckers, and evidently for the same end and purpose. Mr. Gosse also remarks, ” All the hummingbirds have more or less the habit, when in flight, of pausing in the air and throwing the body and tail into rapid and odd contortions. This is most observable in the Polytmus, from the effect that such motions have on the long feathers of the tail. That the object of these quick turns is the capture of insects, I am sure, having watched one thus engaged pretty close to me.”

The meaning of the underlined phrase “on the wing” is __________.

Possible Answers:

vacationing

without preparation or preplanning

in flight

located on a feather on a bird’s wing

having been thrown

Correct answer:

in flight

Explanation:

The phrase “on the wing” is used in the following sentence in the passage:

“[Other hummingbirds] come out just at dusk, and remain on the wing, now stationary, now darting about with the greatest rapidity, imitating in a limited space the evolutions of the goatsuckers, and evidently for the same end and purpose.”

“On the wing” may initially appear to mean just what it says, “located on a feather on a bird’s wing,’ but considering the way it is used in the passage, this doesn’t make any sense. The sentence describes the hummingbirds “darting about,” and in order for them to do that, they would have to be flying, so you can tell that “on the wing” means “in flight.” None of the other answer choices make sense given the context in which the phrase is used.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing The Text In Science Passages

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

The swan is very valuable in clearing the ponds of weeds, and makes a most effective clearance, as it eats them before they rise to the surface. This beautiful and majestic bird was considered the bird-royal in England, owing to a law of England that when found in a partially wild state on the sea and navigable rivers it belonged to the crown; but of course it is to be found on the ponds and lakes of many a gentleman's estate, and is always prized as a great ornament to the lake. The swan affords a pleasing illustration of the love of the mother-bird for its young, and has been known to vanquish a fox who made an attack on its nest—showing that the instinct of motherhood kindles boldness and bravery in the breast of the most timid animals. The nest is generally made on an islet and composed of reeds and rushes, and when the five or seven large eggs are hatched, the mother may be seen swimming about with the young ones on her back.

Why was the swan considered to be the property of royalty in England?

Possible Answers:

Because of its grace

Because of its many useful functions

The author does not say.

Because of its maternal tendencies

Because of its beauty and majesty

Correct answer:

The author does not say.

Explanation:

The author states that “This beautiful and majestic bird was considered the bird-royal in England, owing to a law of England that when found in a partially wild state on the sea and navigable rivers it belonged to the crown.” However, he does not expressly say why this tradition developed. You could perhaps infer that any of the answer choices are correct based on an analysis of one portion of the text, but there is insufficient evidence to support an inference that one of these reasons is any more or less likely to be true than the other, so it is better to simply say that one cannot know why because the author does not say.

Example Question #2 : Textual Relationships In Contemporary Life Passages

Adapted from The Principles of Breeding by S. L. Goodale (1861)

The Jersey cow, formerly known as the Alderney, is almost exclusively employed for dairy purposes, and may not be expected to give satisfaction for other uses. Their milk is richer than that of any other cows, and the butter made from it possesses a superior flavor and a deep rich color, and consequently commands an extraordinary price in all markets where good butter is appreciated.

Jersey cattle are of Norman origin, and are noted for their milking properties. The cows are generally very docile and gentle, but the males when past two or three years of age often become vicious and unmanageable. It is said that the cows fatten readily when dry.

There is no branch of cattle husbandry which promises better returns than the breeding and rearing of milch cows. In the vicinity of large towns and cities are many cows which having been culled from many miles around, on account of dairy properties, are considerably above the average, but taking the cows of the country together they do not compare favorably with the oxen. Farmers generally take more pride in their oxen, and strive to have as good or better than any of their neighbors, while if a cow will give milk enough to rear a large steer calf and a little besides, it is often deemed satisfactory.

“Milch cows” are most probably __________.

Possible Answers:

cows raised for their milk

Jersey cows

male cows

female cows

cows raised for their meat

Correct answer:

cows raised for their milk

Explanation:

A “milch cow” is a cow that produces milk for the farmer, but it is highly likely you have never encountered this term before. You must therefore read in context. The author makes the statement “There is no branch of cattle husbandry which promises better returns than the breeding and rearing of milch cows” immediately after he spends two paragraphs talking about the immensely productive dairy-producing qualities of Jersey cows, so you may infer that a “milch cow” is a dairy cow, or a cow raised for its milk.

Example Question #11 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of 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.

What does the text mean by the underlined clause “the mortality amongst the young chicks is very great”?

Possible Answers:

The young chicks don’t play with one another, and instead spend most of their time with their parents.

Many of the young chicks do not survive to adulthood.

Polar bears eat many of the young chicks.

Most of the young chicks survive to have chicks of their own.

Some of the young chicks have a hard time learning to hunt.

Correct answer:

Many of the young chicks do not survive to adulthood.

Explanation:

“Mortality” means death rate, but if you did not know this, you could still figure out the correct answer by considering the sentence’s context. The underlined part of the sentence is preceded by “Despite this precaution, many eggs do not hatch,” the first part of which refers to the way in which an Emperor penguin will balance its egg on its feet and cover it with its feathers. These things would seem to help the egg survive, so the meaning of the underlined part of the sentence happens along with eggs not surviving despite the penguins’ precautions, it makes sense that it would be something bad happening to the chick. This reasoning supports the answer choice “Many of the young chicks do not survive to adulthood.” 

As for the other answer choices, polar bears are not mentioned in the passage at all, so the answer choice “Polar bears eat many of the young chicks” is too specific to be the correct answer choice. Nothing in the passage supports the answer choices “The young chicks don’t play with one another, and instead spend most of their time with their parents” and “Some of the young chicks have a hard time learning to hunt,” and we have figured out that the underlined part of the sentence has to mean something bad for the chicks, so “Most of the young chicks survive to have chicks of their own” cannot be correct either.

Example Question #62 : Science Passages

Adapted from "Wasps" by Thomas G. Belt in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

One day I saw a small black and yellow banded wasp hunting for spiders; it approached a web where a spider was stationed in the center, made a dart towards it—apparently a feint to frighten the spider clear of its web; at any rate it had that effect, for it fell to the ground, and was immediately seized by the wasp, who stung it, then ran quickly backwards, dragging the spider after it, up a branch reaching to the ground until it got high enough, when it flew heavily off with it. It was so small, and the spider so cumbersome, that it probably could not have raised it from the ground by flight.

All over the world there are wasps that store their nests with the bodies of spiders for their young to feed on. In Australia, I often witnessed a wasp engaging with a large flat spider that is found on the bark of trees. It would fall to the ground, and lie on its back, so as to be able to grapple with its opponent; but the wasp was always the victor in the encounters I saw, although it was not always allowed to carry off its prey in peace. One day, sitting on the sandbanks on the coast of Hobson’s Bay, I saw one dragging along a large spider. Three or four inches above it hovered two minute flies, keeping a little behind, and advancing with it. The wasp seemed much disturbed by the presence of the tiny flies, and twice left its prey to fly up towards them, but they darted away with it. As soon as the wasp returned to the spider, there they were hovering over and following it again. At last, unable to drive away its small provocateurs, the wasp reached its burrow and took down the spider, and the two flies stationed themselves one on each side of the entrance, and would, doubtless, when the wasp went away to seek another victim, descend and lay their own eggs in the nest.

In the underlined phrase, the author is most nearly saying __________.

Possible Answers:

“the wasp pretended to directly attack the spider in order to scare the spider into conceding the upper hand.”

“the wasp forcefully knocked the spider out of it’s web so that it could attack it more powerfully on the ground.”

“the spider was occupied with its own business and did not notice the wasp’s attack until it was too late.”

“the wasp approached the spider slowly and with guile and was able to startle the spider out of its web.”

“the spider was completely unprepared for the wasp's attack and was therefore unable to adequately defend itself.”

Correct answer:

“the wasp pretended to directly attack the spider in order to scare the spider into conceding the upper hand.”

Explanation:

Answering this question is easiest if you understand that “dart” means rapidly move towards and “feint” means a fake attack designed to deceive the enemy. From this, you can tell that the author is saying that the wasp pretended to attack (“feint”) the spider in order to frighten it into conceding the upper hand. The wasp does not actually knock the spider out of its web, nor does the wasp attack slowly against an unprepared spider.

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