ISEE Upper Level Reading : Analyzing Cause and Effect in Science Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Cause And Effect In Science Passages

Adapted from On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (1859)

How will the struggle for existence, discussed too briefly in the last chapter, act in regard to variation? Can the principle of selection, which we have seen is so potent in the hands of man, apply in nature? I think we shall see that it can act most effectually. Let it be borne in mind in what an endless number of strange peculiarities our domestic productions, and, in a lesser degree, those under nature, vary; and how strong the hereditary tendency is. Under domestication, it may be truly said that the whole organization becomes in some degree plastic. Let it be borne in mind how infinitely complex and close-fitting are the mutual relations of all organic beings to each other and to their physical conditions of life. Can it, then, be thought improbable, seeing that variations useful to man have undoubtedly occurred, that other variations useful in some way to each being in the great and complex battle of life, should sometimes occur in the course of thousands of generations? If such do occur, can we doubt (remembering that many more individuals are born than can possibly survive) that individuals having any advantage, however slight, over others, would have the best chance of surviving and of procreating their kind? On the other hand, we may feel sure that any variation in the least degree injurious would be rigidly destroyed. This preservation of favorable variations and the rejection of injurious variations, I call Natural Selection. Variations neither useful nor injurious would not be affected by natural selection, and would be left a fluctuating element, as perhaps we see in the species called polymorphic.

We shall best understand the probable course of natural selection by taking the case of a country undergoing some physical change, for instance, of climate. The proportional numbers of its inhabitants would almost immediately undergo a change, and some species might become extinct. We may conclude, from what we have seen of the intimate and complex manner in which the inhabitants of each country are bound together, that any change in the numerical proportions of some of the inhabitants, independently of the change of climate itself, would most seriously affect many of the others. If the country were open on its borders, new forms would certainly immigrate, and this also would seriously disturb the relations of some of the former inhabitants. Let it be remembered how powerful the influence of a single introduced tree or mammal has been shown to be. But in the case of an island, or of a country partly surrounded by barriers, into which new and better adapted forms could not freely enter, we should then have places in the economy of nature which would assuredly be better filled up, if some of the original inhabitants were in some manner modified; for, had the area been open to immigration, these same places would have been seized on by intruders. In such case, every slight modification, which in the course of ages chanced to arise, and which in any way favoured the individuals of any of the species, by better adapting them to their altered conditions, would tend to be preserved; and natural selection would thus have free scope for the work of improvement.

The intended effect of this passage is __________.

Possible Answers:

an understanding of the insignificance of humans

to argue for the evolution of animals and plants

a realization that humans dislike other animals

none of these answers

some excitement over animals in general

Correct answer:

to argue for the evolution of animals and plants

Explanation:

The author is clearly attempting to make a case for evolution and the scientific basis for change over time. His goal seems to be to get others to believe in that idea.

Example Question #2 : Analyzing Cause And Effect In 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.

What can we say of the effects of Copernicus’ discoveries on the reigning medieval way of looking at the world?

Possible Answers:

It had little effect in the final analysis.

It questioned every received authority with detailed critiques.

It only effected the ideas concerning the human person in comparison with the vast universe.

It completely discredited everything from the Middle Ages.

It required significant changes in its natural science and its manner of considering the human person.

Correct answer:

It required significant changes in its natural science and its manner of considering the human person.

Explanation:

Clearly, the theories of Copernicus had significant effects on the medieval mindset. Although the passage does not indicate that it required complete revision on every point, it does imply that it had an effect both on the medieval conception of the human person as well as its scientific conceptions of the world.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Cause And Effect In Natural Science Passages

"Darwinism's Effect on Science" by Matthew Minerd (2014)

For much of the history of human thought, the sciences have studied subjects that seemed to be eternal and unchanging. Even the basic laws of the Nile’s flooding were investigated in the hopes of finding never-altering laws. Similarly, the scientific investigations of the ancient Near East and Greece into the regular laws of the stars ultimately looked for constant patterns. This overall pattern of scientific reasoning has left deep marks on the minds of almost all thinkers and found its apotheosis in modern physics. From the time of the early renaissance to the nineteenth century, physics represented the ultimate expression of scientific investigation for almost all thinkers. Its static laws appeared to be the unchanging principles of all motion and life on earth. By the nineteenth century, it had appeared that only a few details had to be “cleared up” before all science was basically known.

In many ways, this situation changed dramatically with the arrival of Darwinism. It would change even more dramatically in early twentieth-century physics as well. Darwin’s theories of evolution challenged many aspects of the “static” worldview. Even those who did not believe that a divine being created an unchanging world were shaken by the new vistas opened up to science by his studies. It had been a long-accepted inheritance of Western culture to believe that the species of living organisms were unchanging in nature. Though there might be many different kinds of creatures, the kinds themselves were not believed to change. The thesis of a universal morphing of types shattered this cosmology, replacing the old world-view with a totally new one. Among the things that had to change in light of Darwin’s work was the very view of science held by most people.

Consider the underlined sentence. What was the new “cosmology” that arose after Darwin’s day?

Possible Answers:

The view of the world as an unchanging whole to be investigated by science.

The view of the world as a changing reality with its own historical nature.

None of the other answers

A completely areligious outlook on life.

The belief that history was an important but secondary aspect of scientific studies.

Correct answer:

The view of the world as a changing reality with its own historical nature.

Explanation:

Throughout the second paragraph, the passage discusses again the "static" nature of the former scientific outlook. The new worldview was quite different. You can guess at the meaning of "cosmology" by noticing the contrast between it and "universal morphing of types." A "cosmology" is a particular outlook on the world or reality as a whole. The passage implies that Darwin's work made it necessary to see the world as a changing whole with its own history.

Example Question #1 : Understanding And Evaluating Opinions And Arguments In Narrative Science Passages

Adapted from An Introduction to Astronomy by Forest Ray Moulton (1916 ed.)

It is doubtful if any important scientific idea ever sprang suddenly into the mind of a single man. The great intellectual movements in the world have had long periods of preparation, and often many men were groping for the same truth, without exactly seizing it, before it was fully comprehended.

The foundation on which all science rests is the principle that the universe is orderly, and that all phenomena succeed one another in harmony with invariable laws. Consequently, science was impossible until the truth of this principle was perceived, at least as applied to a limited part of nature.

The phenomena of ordinary observation, as, for example, the weather, depend on such a multitude of factors that it was not easy for men in their primitive state to discover that they occur in harmony with fixed laws. This was the age of superstition, when nature was supposed to be controlled by a great number of capricious gods whose favor could be won by childish ceremonies. Enormous experience was required to dispel such errors and to convince men that the universe is one vast organization whose changes take place in conformity with laws which they can in no way alter.

The actual dawn of science was in prehistoric times, probably in the civilizations that flourished in the valleys of the Nile and the Euphrates. In the very earliest records of these people that have come down to modern times it is found that they were acquainted with many astronomical phenomena and had coherent ideas with respect to the motions of the sun, moon, planets, and stars. It is perfectly clear from their writings that it was from their observations of the heavenly bodies that they first obtained the idea that the universe is not a chaos. Day and night were seen to succeed each other regularly, the moon was found to pass through its phases systematically, the seasons followed one another in order, and in fact the more conspicuous celestial phenomena were observed to occur in an orderly sequence. It is to the glory of astronomy that it first led men to the conclusion that law reigns in the universe.

What does this passage imply to be the effect of not understanding the causes of events?

Possible Answers:

It is one of the greatest sources of ill in societal development.

It was only overcome by overthrowing all religion in favor of scientific reasoning.

It led to mythological beliefs in other supernatural causes.

It was caused by mythology, which distracted people from reality.

None of the other answers

Correct answer:

It led to mythological beliefs in other supernatural causes.

Explanation:

In the passage, the author discusses the fact that sometimes cause and effect relationships are difficult to elaborate, particularly when many causes come together to make an effect occur. This often causes people to attribute such complex events to the gods. Although mythology might encourage people to remain ignorant, the passage does not really state that.

Example Question #3 : Analyzing Cause And Effect 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.

What caused the Labrador feather voyages to cease?

Possible Answers:

The island’s ecosystem shifted to support a larger population of bears, making the voyages too dangerous to be worthwhile.

So many ducks were killed that the voyages became unprofitable.

The ducks began producing feathers of significantly lower quality.

The ducks changed their migration pattern significantly.

The ducks relocated to an inaccessible island.

Correct answer:

So many ducks were killed that the voyages became unprofitable.

Explanation:

This question is answered by a sentence at the end of the passage’s third paragraph: “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.” The correct answer is thus “So many ducks were killed that the voyages became unprofitable.”

Example Question #22 : Locating Details In Narrative 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 did NOT contribute to the success and profitability of the Labrador feather voyages?

Possible Answers:

Fledgling ducks cannot fly

After the ducks being hunted lost their feathers, they could not fly

The ducks hunted lost all of their main feathers at one time in the summer

When hunted, ducks attempt to conceal their nests in the surrounding vegetation.

Ducks gathered in great numbers on islands on the coast of Labrador

Correct answer:

When hunted, ducks attempt to conceal their nests in the surrounding vegetation.

Explanation:

In the passage’s third paragraph, the author writes, “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.” This sentence tells readers that the Labrador feather voyages were helped by the fact that “ducks lose all their feathers at one time in the summer,” “after the ducks being hunted lost their feathers, they could not fly,” and “fledgling ducks cannot fly,” so none of these answer choices can be correct. This leaves us with the answer choices “Ducks gathered in great numbers on islands on the coast of Labrador” and “When hunted, ducks attempt to conceal their nests in the surrounding vegetation.” The latter of these is the correct answer; the fact that “Ducks gathered in great numbers on islands on the coast of Labrador” helped the voyages profit, but “When hunted, ducks attempt to conceal their nests in the surrounding vegetation” has nothing to do with the Labrador feather voyages. This detail is presented when describing the Icelandic practices of gathering eider down, and at any rate, would not be helpful to the voyages, as the ducks would hide their nests and likely themselves.

Example Question #52 : Textual Relationships In Science Passages

"Comparing Technologies: A Difficult Endeavor" by Matthew Minerd (2014)

Comparisons of technology are often difficult to make, not only because of the rapid pace of improvements but also because of the many new applications that are available as time progresses. If we were to consider the contemporary graphing calculator and the calculation capacities of computing machines from fifty years ago, there would be astounding improvements between these two devices. However, the improvements are not reduced merely to speed improvements. A graphing calculator also has numerous output capacities that far exceed those available much older computers, none of which had the ability to represent their output in any manner even closely resembling that of contemporary devices. Merely consider the display capacities of such a device. These enable users to input many new kinds of information, enabling design engineers to design new hardware functions to match the new means of collecting user input.

The situation is even more obvious when one considers the numerous functions performed by a modern “smartphone.” These devices are equipped with a panoply of features.  With all of these new functions come many new types of computational capabilities as well. In order to process images quickly, specialized hardware must be designed and software written for it in order to ensure that there are few issues with the phone’s operation. Indeed, the whole “real time” nature of telecommunications has exerted numerous pressures on the designers of computing devices. Layers of complexity, at all levels of production and development, are required to ensure that the phone can function in a synchronous manner. Gone are the days of asynchronous processing, when the computer user entered data into a mainframe, only to wait for a period of time before the processing results were provided. Today, even the smallest of digital devices must provide seamless service for users. The effects of this requirement are almost beyond number.

What is the effect of the features found on modern “smartphones”?

Possible Answers:

They wear out old equipment, requiring newer, faster processors.

They require many new types of technological advancements to accommodate them.

They overwhelm the customer with options all on one screen.

None of the other answers

They require increased memory capacities to accommodate their advancements.

Correct answer:

They require many new types of technological advancements to accommodate them.

Explanation:

Although the whole of the second paragraph helps to answer this question, a key sentence is, "With all of these new functions come many new types of computational capabilities as well." The effect of the new capabilities is to require many different kinds of new capabilities for the software and hardware of phones. That is, many new technological advances are required in order to make them possible and more efficient.

Example Question #4 : Analyzing Cause And Effect 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.

Why does the author believe many people have long regarded bats as birds?

Possible Answers:

Because bats can fly

Because bats lay eggs

Because bats live atop trees and on the roof of caves

Because bats have feathers

Because bats live in nests

Correct answer:

Because bats can fly

Explanation:

This is a relatively simple detail-based question. The author says, "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.” So, it is clear that the author believes many people have considered bats to be a bird because bats can also fly.

Example Question #5 : Analyzing Cause And Effect In Science Passages

Adapted from "The Man-Like Apes" by T. H. Huxley in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

The orangutan is found only in Sumatra and Borneo, and is common in either of these islands—in both of which it occurs always in low, flat plains, never in the mountains. It loves the densest and most sombre of the forests, which extend from the seashore inland, and thus is found only in the eastern half of Sumatra, where alone such forests occur, though, occasionally, it strays over to the western side. On the other hand, it is generally distributed through Borneo, except in the mountains, or where the population is dense. In favorable places the hunter may, by good fortune, see three or four in a day.

Except in the pairing time, the old males usually live by themselves. The old females and the immature males, on the other hand, are often met with in twos and threes, and the former occasionally have young with them, though the pregnant females usually separate themselves, and sometimes remain apart after they have given birth to their offspring. The young orangs seem to remain unusually long under their mother’s protection, probably in consequence of their slow growth. While climbing, the mother always carries her young against her bosom, the young holding on by the mother’s hair. At what time of life the orangutan becomes capable of propagation, and how long the females go with young is unknown, but it is probable that they are not adult until they arrive at ten or fifteen years of age. A female which lived for five years at Batavia had not attained one-third the height of the wild females. It is probable that, after reaching adult years, they go on growing, though slowly, and that they live to forty or fifty years. The Dyaks tell of old orangs that have not only lost all their teeth, but which find it so troublesome to climb that they maintain themselves on windfalls and juicy herbage.

Why is the orangutan found only in the eastern half of Sumatra?

Possible Answers:

Because this is where the orangutans can find the most food

Because this is where the mountains are predominantly found

Because this is where the thickest forest cover is found

None of these answers is correct

Because this is the furthest away from human settlements

Correct answer:

Because this is where the thickest forest cover is found

Explanation:

This question requires little more than reading in detail and understanding the meaning of the word “densest.” When used to describe forests, the word “dense” means thick with trees. Regarding where the orangutan is found in Sumatra, the author says “It loves the densest and most sombre of the forests . . . and thus is found only in the eastern half of Sumatra, where alone such forests occur." Although it might also be true that these places are furthest from human settlements and are places where the orangutans can find the most food, these answers are not explicitly stated in the text and are therefore less correct.

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