ISEE Upper Level Reading : Analyzing Passage Logic, Genre, and Organization in Science Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Argumentative Claims, Bias, And Support In Natural Science Passages

Adapted from "Recent Views as to Direct Action of Light on the Colors of Flowers and Fruits" in Tropical Nature, and Other Essays by Alfred Russel Wallace (1878)

The theory that the brilliant colors of flowers and fruits is due to the direct action of light has been supported by a recent writer by examples taken from the arctic instead of from the tropical flora. In the arctic regions, vegetation is excessively rapid during the short summer, and this is held to be due to the continuous action of light throughout the long summer days. "The further we advance towards the north, the more the leaves of plants increase in size as if to absorb a greater proportion of the solar rays. M. Grisebach says that during a journey in Norway he observed that the majority of deciduous trees had already, at the 60th degree of latitude, larger leaves than in Germany, while M. Ch. Martins has made a similar observation as regards the leguminous plants cultivated in Lapland.” The same writer goes on to say that all the seeds of cultivated plants acquire a deeper color the further north they are grown, white haricots becoming brown or black, and white wheat becoming brown, while the green color of all vegetation becomes more intense. The flowers also are similarly changed: those which are white or yellow in central Europe becoming red or orange in Norway. This is what occurs in the Alpine flora, and the cause is said to be the same in both—the greater intensity of the sunlight. In the one the light is more persistent, in the other more intense because it traverses a less thickness of atmosphere.

Admitting the facts as above stated to be in themselves correct, they do not by any means establish the theory founded on them; and it is curious that Grisebach, who has been quoted by this writer for the fact of the increased size of the foliage, gives a totally different explanation of the more vivid colors of Arctic flowers. He says, “We see flowers become larger and more richly colored in proportion as, by the increasing length of winter, insects become rarer, and their cooperation in the act of fecundation is exposed to more uncertain chances.” (Vegetation du Globe, col. i. p. 61—French translation.) This is the theory here adopted to explain the colors of Alpine plants, and we believe there are many facts that will show it to be the preferable one. The statement that the white and yellow flowers of temperate Europe become red or golden in the Arctic regions must we think be incorrect. By roughly tabulating the colors of the plants given by Sir Joseph Hooker as permanently Arctic, we find among fifty species with more or less conspicuous flowers, twenty-five white, twelve yellow, eight purple or blue, three lilac, and two red or pink; showing a very similar proportion of white and yellow flowers to what obtains further south.

The author brings up Joseph Hooker’s research in order to __________.

Possible Answers:

provide evidence in favor of the author’s theory, which disagrees with all of the previously mentioned theories

disprove the theory of the "recent writer" quoted in the first paragraph

support Martins’ theory

demonstrate that the colors of flowers change at varying latitudes

suggest that a follow-up experiment be performed to check his results

Correct answer:

disprove the theory of the "recent writer" quoted in the first paragraph

Explanation:

The author brings up Joseph Hooker's research near the end of the second paragraph, stating, "By roughly tabulating the colors of the plants given by Sir Joseph Hooker as permanently Arctic, we find among fifty species with more or less conspicuous flowers, twenty-five white, twelve yellow, eight purple or blue, three lilac, and two red or pink; showing a very similar proportion of white and yellow flowers to what obtains further south." This immediately follows the sentence, "The statement that the white and yellow flowers of temperate Europe become red or golden in the Arctic regions must we think be incorrect." In this sentence, the author is doubting the veracity of the "recent writer" quoted in the first paragraph. The author then uses Hooker's evidence to disprove the theory of the "recent writer," because if the theory of the "recent writer" were correct, there would be very few white or yellow flowers in the Arctic and many red or golden ones, and Hooker's evidence shows that this is not the case, as most of the Arctic flowers he observed were white. So, the correct answer is that the author uses Joseph Hooker's evidence to "disprove the theory of the 'recent writer' quoted in the first paragraph." "Provide evidence in favor of the author’s theory, which disagrees with all of the previously mentioned scientists' statements" cannot be the correct answer because the author is in agreement with M. Grisebach.

Example Question #21 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Ideas In Natural 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.

Which of the following is the best image for the author’s view of the universe?

Possible Answers:

Its highest beauties are found in the stars.

It is relatively ordered chaos.

None of the other answers

It is a structured whole.

It is the source of the greatest of all marvels, particularly life itself.

Correct answer:

It is a structured whole.

Explanation:

Sometimes, the answer to a question can be found in a single sentence. In the case of this question, the answer is found in the very last sentence: "It is to the glory of astronomy that it first led men to the conclusion that law reigns in the universe." If law reigns in the universe, this means that it is an orderly whole, not deviating from its law-like course of events. This is the best answer among those provided.

Example Question #173 : Content Of Natural Science Passages

Adapted from “Introduced Species That Have Become Pests” in Our Vanishing Wild Life, Its Extermination and Protection by William Temple Hornaday (1913)

The man who successfully transplants or "introduces" into a new habitat any persistent species of living thing assumes a very grave responsibility. Every introduced species is doubtful gravel until panned out. The enormous losses that have been inflicted upon the world through the perpetuation of follies with wild vertebrates and insects would, if added together, be enough to purchase a principality. The most aggravating feature of these follies in transplantation is that never yet have they been made severely punishable. We are just as careless and easygoing on this point as we were about the government of the Yellowstone Park in the days when Howell and other poachers destroyed our first national bison herd, and when caught red-handed—as Howell was, skinning seven Park bison cows—could not be punished for it, because there was no penalty prescribed by any law. Today, there is a way in which any revengeful person could inflict enormous damage on the entire South, at no cost to himself, involve those states in enormous losses and the expenditure of vast sums of money, yet go absolutely unpunished!

The gypsy moth is a case in point. This winged calamity was imported at Maiden, Massachusetts, near Boston, by a French entomologist, Mr. Leopold Trouvelot, in 1868 or 69. History records the fact that the man of science did not purposely set free the pest. He was endeavoring with live specimens to find a moth that would produce a cocoon of commercial value to America, and a sudden gust of wind blew out of his study, through an open window, his living and breeding specimens of the gypsy moth. The moth itself is not bad to look at, but its larvae is a great, overgrown brute with an appetite like a hog. Immediately Mr. Trouvelot sought to recover his specimens, and when he failed to find them all, like a man of real honor, he notified the State authorities of the accident. Every effort was made to recover all the specimens, but enough escaped to produce progeny that soon became a scourge to the trees of Massachusetts. The method of the big, nasty-looking mottled-brown caterpillar was very simple. It devoured the entire foliage of every tree that grew in its sphere of influence.

The gypsy moth spread with alarming rapidity and persistence. In course of time, the state authorities of Massachusetts were forced to begin a relentless war upon it, by poisonous sprays and by fire. It was awful! Up to this date (1912) the New England states and the United States Government service have expended in fighting this pest about $7,680,000!

The spread of this pest has been retarded, but the gypsy moth never will be wholly stamped out. Today it exists in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, and it is due to reach New York at an early date. It is steadily spreading in three directions from Boston, its original point of departure, and when it strikes the State of New York, we, too, will begin to pay dearly for the Trouvelot experiment.

The main reason the author mentions Howell’s story is __________.

Possible Answers:

to attack Howell’s actions as reprehensible

to suggest that the loss of bison is a more important problem than those caused by the gypsy moth

to provide an account that shows how bad it is that environmental offenders cannot be legally punished

to lament the loss of the United States’ first national bison herd

to argue for putting a fence up around Yellowstone National Park to keep out poachers

Correct answer:

to provide an account that shows how bad it is that environmental offenders cannot be legally punished

Explanation:

This question may initially seem tricky because Howell’s story accomplishes many of the answer choices’ statements: the author does attack Howell’s actions as reprehensible, and he does lament the loss of the United States’ first national bison herd. However, this are consequences of the story, not reasons why the author brought it up in the first place. The only answer choice that explains why the author mentions the story is “to provide an account that shows how bad it is that environmental offenders cannot be legally punished,” so this is the correct answer.

Example Question #1 : Recognizing The Main Idea 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.

In the context of the passage as a whole, the fourth paragraph serves to __________.

Possible Answers:

describe why eider down is a valuable commodity

provide more historical details about how the Labrador feather voyages were organized

describe some of the benefits of the Labrador feather voyages

detail further repercussions of the Labrador feather voyages

compare and contrast Icelandic and North American down-harvesting methods

Correct answer:

detail further repercussions of the Labrador feather voyages

Explanation:

Let’s look at what each paragraph is accomplishing in the context of the passage as a whole:

First paragraph: introduces and describes eider down

Second paragraph: describes Icelandic method of collecting eider down, which protects the duck population

Third paragraph: describes the North American method of collecting eider down, which destroys the duck population

Fourth paragraph: suggests that the Labrador feather voyages may have contributed to the extinction of the Labrador duck and says that they stopped because the duck populations were so much smaller that the trips were no longer profitable

Now that we have considered the structure of the passage’s argument as a whole, it should be easier to answer this question. “Compare and contrast Icelandic and North American down-harvesting methods” describes the second and third paragraphs, whereas “describe why eider down is a valuable commodity” describes the first paragraph. The Labrador feather voyages are cast in a negative light throughout the entire passage, so “describe some of the benefits of the Labrador feather voyages” cannot be the correct answer as benefits of them are never discussed. The fourth paragraph does not “provide more historical details about how the Labrador feather voyages were organized”; it describes their aftermath, so this answer choice cannot be correct. That the fourth paragraph serves to “detail further repercussions of the Labrador feather voyages” is the best answer choice. It discusses the effects of the Labrador feather voyages on the duck population and suggests that they may have contributed to the extinction of a particular species of duck that had a limited habitat.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Passage Logic, Genre, And Organization In Science Passages

Adapted from “Comets” by Camille Flammarion in Wonders of Earth, Sea, and Sky (1902, ed. Edward Singleton Holden)

The history of a comet would be an instructive episode of the great history of the heavens. In it could be brought together the description of the progressive movement of human thought, as well as the astronomical theory of these extraordinary bodies. Let us take, for example, one of the most memorable and best-known comets, and give an outline of its successive passages near the Earth. Like the planetary worlds, comets belong to the solar system, and are subject to the rule of the Star King. It is the universal law of gravitation which guides their path; solar attraction governs them, as it governs the movement of the planets and the small satellites. The chief point of difference between them and the planets is that their orbits are very elongated, and instead of being nearly circular, they take the elliptical form. In consequence of the nature of these orbits, the same comet may approach very near the sun, and afterwards travel from it to immense distances.

Thus, the period of the Comet of 1680 has been estimated at three thousand years. It approaches the sun, so as to be nearer to it than our moon is to us, whilst it recedes to a distance 853 times greater than the distance of the Earth from the sun. On the 17th of December, 1680, it was at its perihelion—that is, at its greatest proximity to the sun; it is now continuing its path beyond the Neptunian orbit. Its velocity varies according to its distance from the solar body. At its perihelion it travels thousands of leagues per minute; at its aphelion it does not pass over more than a few yards.  

Its proximity to the Sun in its passage near that body caused Newton to think that it received a heat twenty-eight thousand times greater than that we experience at the summer solstice, and that this heat being two thousand times greater than that of red-hot iron, an iron globe of the same dimensions would be fifty thousand years entirely losing its heat. Newton added that in the end, comets will approach so near the sun that they will not be able to escape the preponderance of its attraction, and that they will fall one after the other into this brilliant body, thus keeping up the heat which it perpetually pours out into space. Such is the deplorable end assigned to comets by the author of the Principia, an end which makes De la Brétonne say to Rétif: "An immense comet, already larger than Jupiter, was again increased in its path by being blended with six other dying comets. Thus displaced from its ordinary route by these slight shocks, it did not pursue its true elliptical orbit; so that the unfortunate thing was precipitated into the devouring centre of the Sun." "It is said," added he, "that the poor comet, thus burned alive, sent forth dreadful cries!"

The primary purpose of the second paragraph is to __________.

Possible Answers:

Outline the differences between the orbits of comets and the orbits of planetary bodies.

Ridicule the absurd conclusions reached in the Principia.

Underline the limited information we have about the range and behavior of comets and other satellite bodies.

Explain how the orbit of a comet functions, and how its position in that orbit affects its speed.

Highlight how close to the sun comets pass before receding back to the outer reaches of the solar system.

Correct answer:

Explain how the orbit of a comet functions, and how its position in that orbit affects its speed.

Explanation:

The primary point of the second paragraph is to explain how the orbit of a comet functions and to show how the position of the comet in its orbit, with relation to its proximity to the sun, affects its speed. This is most clearly highlighted by the author when he says “Its velocity varies according to its distance from the solar body. At its perihelion it travels thousands of leagues per minute; at its aphelion it does not pass over more than a few yards.” Some of the other answers for this question are quite close to correct, but it is important to consider the larger context of the whole passage in tandem with the specific information contained in the second paragraph. The answer choice “Highlight how close to the sun comets pass before receding back to the outer reaches of the solar system” is incorrect because it focuses more on the superficial facts of the comet's proximity to the sun. “Outline the differences between the orbits of comets and the orbits of planetary bodies” is incorrect because the bulk of that conclusion is already given to us in the first paragraph.

Example Question #21 : Textual Relationships In 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?

The primary purpose of the first paragraph is __________.

Possible Answers:

To provide some introductory information about wild llamas

To describe the size of herds that llamas like to move in

To characterize llamas as wild and unpredictable

To introduce the author’s argument that llamas are dangerous

To explain where wild llamas can be found in the wild

Correct answer:

To provide some introductory information about wild llamas

Explanation:

The primary purpose of the first paragraph is to provide some introductory information about wild llamas. Although the author does describe the size of the herds in which they move and explains where they can be found in the wild, the fact that he does each of these means that we cannot say that either is his primary purpose. Instead, both are part of the larger purpose of providing some introduction. The author does not go on to characterize the behavior of llamas until the second paragraph.

Example Question #6 : Summarizing And Describing Natural Science Passage Content

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.

In which of the following would you most expect to find this passage reprinted?

Possible Answers:

An article in a biology magazine

A how-to manual

A physics textbook

A scholarly report about weasels

A cookbook

Correct answer:

An article in a biology magazine

Explanation:

Where would one most likely find this article reprinted? Well, we wouldn’t be likely to find it in “a how-to manual” as it doesn’t explain how to do anything; it conveys information about certain types of animals. Similarly, since it doesn’t discuss physics or have anything to do with cooking, we can ignore the answers “A physics textbook” and “A cookbook.” This leaves us with “A scholarly report about weasels” and “An article in a biology magazine.” At this point we have to consider how the weasel is discussed in the passage—it is discussed very little, only in the context of being compared to the stoat or providing an example of carnivorous animals that change their fur color, along with the stoat. Given that the weasel isn’t the main subject of the passage, “An article in a biology magazine” is the best answer choice.

Example Question #2 : Analyzing Passage Logic, Genre, And Organization In Science Passages

Adapted from “The Progress of Medical Education in the United States” in the Scientific American Supplement No. 1157 Vol. XLV (March 5th, 1898)

It is pleasing to note and it augurs well for the future that a decided advance has been made in the direction of a more thorough medical training in America, yet at the same time it is discouraging to observe that, despite these progressive steps, competition does not abate, but rather daily becomes more acute.

There is now a grand total of one hundred and fifty-four medical schools in America. To make a telling comparison, the total number of medical schools in Austria and Germany, with a population exceeding that of this country, is twenty-nine. Great Britain, with more than half the population, has seventeen; while Russia, with one hundred million inhabitants, has nine. Of course we do not argue that America, with her immense territory and scattered population, does not need greater facilities for the study of medicine than do thickly inhabited countries, as Germany and Great Britain; but we do contend that when a city of the size of St. Louis has as many schools as Russia, the craze for multiplying these schools is being carried to absurd and harmful lengths.

However, that the number of schools and their yearly supply of graduates of medicine are far beyond the demand is perfectly well known to all. The Medical Record and other medical journals have fully discussed and insisted upon that point for a considerable time. The real question at issue is by what means to remedy or at least to lessen the bad effects of the system as quickly as possible. 

The first and most important steps toward this desirable consummation have been already taken, and when a four years' course comes into practice throughout the country, the difficult problem of checking excessive competition will at any rate be much nearer its solution. Why should France, Germany, Great Britain and other European nations consider that a course of from five to seven years is not too long to acquire a good knowledge of medical work, while in many parts of America two or three years' training is esteemed ample for the manufacture of a full-fledged doctor? Such methods are unfair both to the public and to the medical profession.

The comparison between American medical education and that in Europe is primarily intended to __________.

Possible Answers:

undermine the argument that American medical education has gone backwards in recent years

suggest that America needs the same number of medical schools as Russia

demonstrate the ease with which the medical system could be reformed

criticize the European nations for having too few medical schools

highlight the deficiencies in the American model

Correct answer:

highlight the deficiencies in the American model

Explanation:

The author primarily compares the American and European forms of medical education to “highlight the deficiencies in the American model.” The nations of Germany, Austria, and Great Britain are held up as examples for America to adopt. The author believes that the European nations have fewer universities, which offer a higher standard and length of education, and he wants America to mimic this approach. This can be most clearly seen in excerpts such as “Why should France, Germany, Great Britain and other European nations consider that a course of from five to seven years is not too long to acquire a good knowledge of medical work, while in many parts of America two or three years' training is esteemed ample for the manufacture of a full-fledged doctor?”

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