ISEE Upper Level Reading : Analyzing the Text in Science Passages

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

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Example Question #41 : Passage Based Questions

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 underlined sentence in the passage tells us that __________.

Possible Answers:

many northern-dwelling plants have small leaves

if you take a plant from a northern climate into a southern climate, its leaves will shrink

leaf size is associated with atmospheric moisture levels

the number of leaves on a tree is related to the latitude in which it is found

the further south you travel, the smaller plants’ leaves should be

Correct answer:

the further south you travel, the smaller plants’ leaves should be

Explanation:

The underlined sentence is "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." This has nothing to do with the number of leaves on a plant, so "the number of leaves on a tree is related to the latitude in which it is found" cannot be the correct answer. Similarly, nothing is said about moisture levels in the specified sentence, so "leaf size is associated with atmospheric moisture levels" cannot be correct either. Many northern-dwelling plants have small leaves" reverses the relationship being presented in a way that makes it incorrect; northern plants should have large leaves, not small ones. "If you take a plant from a northern climate into a southern climate, its leaves will shrink" derives too much from the statement; nothing is said about a given set of leaves changing size, just a variation amongst the sizes of many different sets of leaves. This leaves us with one remaining answer choice, the correct one: "the further south you travel, the smaller plants’ leaves should be." The specified sentence tells us that if you move north, the leaves of plants you see should get bigger. So, therefore, if you head south, the leaves you see on plants should get smaller. The correct answer states what the sentence is saying in a reverse, but still correct, way.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing The Text In Science Passages

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

The ancient Greeks, at a period four or five hundred years preceding the common era, definitely undertook to find from systematic observation how celestial phenomena follow one another. They determined very accurately the number of days in the year, the period of the moon's revolution, and the paths of the sun and the moon among the stars; they correctly explained the cause of eclipses and learned how to predict them with a considerable degree of accuracy; they undertook to measure the distances to the heavenly bodies, and to work out a complete system that would represent their motions. The idea was current among the Greek philosophers that the earth was spherical, that it turned on its axis, and, among some of them, that it revolved around the sun. They had true science in the modern acceptance of the term, but it was largely confined to the relations among celestial phenomena.

The conception that the heavens are orderly, which they definitely formulated and acted on with remarkable success, has been extended, especially in the last two centuries, so as to include the whole universe. The extension was first made to the inanimate world and then to the more complicated phenomena associated with living beings. Every increase in carefully recorded experience has confirmed and strengthened the belief that nature is perfectly orderly, until now every one who has had an opportunity of becoming familiar with any science is firmly convinced of the truth of this principle, which is the basis of all science.

What is the purpose of the underlined sentence, "The extension was first made . . ."?

Possible Answers:

To lay out a plan for the extension of science into new domains

To show the many ways that science could extend Greek concepts

To contrast developments in Greek and modern science

None of the other answers

To describe the history of late Greek science

Correct answer:

None of the other answers

Explanation:

This sentence helps to show how the initial optimism of Greek "astronomy" was able to be extended to many other topics, noting the regularity found in many other phenomena. At best, this could be considered a history of modern science's development, though it would be a rather thin history with few real details. None of the answers really state this. The closest might be, "To contrast developments in Greek and modern science." However, the sentence really is not contrasting the two. 

Example Question #2 : Analyzing The Text In Science Passages

Adapted from “The Influence of the Conception of Evolution on Modern Philosophy” by H. Höffding (1909) in Evolution in Modern Thought (1917 ed.)

When The Origin of Species appeared fifty years ago, Romantic speculation, Schelling's and Hegel's philosophy, still reigned on the continent, while in England, Positivism, the philosophy of Comte and Stuart Mill, represented the most important trend of thought. German speculation had much to say on evolution; it even pretended to be a philosophy of evolution. But then the word "evolution" was to be taken in an ideal, not in a real, sense. To speculative thought, the forms and types of nature formed a system of ideas, within which any form could lead us by continuous transitions to any other. It was a classificatory system which was regarded as a divine world of thought or images, within which metamorphoses could go on—a condition comparable with that in the mind of the poet when one image follows another with imperceptible changes.

Goethe's ideas of evolution, as expressed in his Metamorphosen der Pflanzen und der Thiere, belong to this category; it is, therefore, incorrect to call him a forerunner of Darwin. Schelling and Hegel held the same idea; Hegel expressly rejected the conception of a real evolution in time as coarse and materialistic. "Nature," he says, "is to be considered as a system of stages, the one necessarily arising from the other, and being the nearest truth of that from which it proceeds; but not in such a way that the one is naturally generated by the other; on the contrary [their connection lies] in the inner idea which is the ground of nature. The metamorphosis can be ascribed only to the notion as such, because it alone is evolution.... It has been a clumsy idea in the older as well as in the newer philosophy of nature, to regard the transformation and the transition from one natural form and sphere to a higher as an outward and actual production."

Which of the following is likely true about “Romantic speculation”?

Possible Answers:

None of the other answers

It really was not scientific in nature.

It represented a reaction against the scientific details of evolutionary thought.

It was surprisingly correct about scientific details.

It was emotional and had mostly to do with themes taken from love ballads.

Correct answer:

It really was not scientific in nature.

Explanation:

This answer is quite clear if you pay attention to two sentences: (1) "It even pretended to be a philosophy of evolution"; (2) "But then the word 'evolution' was to be taken in an ideal, not in a real, sense." The idea is that this "Romantic" philosophy was more of a revelry than a real undertaking of science.

Example Question #3 : Analyzing The Text In Science Passages

Adapted from “The Influence of the Conception of Evolution on Modern Philosophy” by H. Höffding (1909) in Evolution in Modern Thought (1917 ed.)

When The Origin of Species appeared fifty years ago, Romantic speculation, Schelling's and Hegel's philosophy, still reigned on the continent, while in England, Positivism, the philosophy of Comte and Stuart Mill, represented the most important trend of thought. German speculation had much to say on evolution; it even pretended to be a philosophy of evolution. But then the word "evolution" was to be taken in an ideal, not in a real, sense. To speculative thought, the forms and types of nature formed a system of ideas, within which any form could lead us by continuous transitions to any other. It was a classificatory system which was regarded as a divine world of thought or images, within which metamorphoses could go on—a condition comparable with that in the mind of the poet when one image follows another with imperceptible changes.

Goethe's ideas of evolution, as expressed in his Metamorphosen der Pflanzen und der Thiere, belong to this category; it is, therefore, incorrect to call him a forerunner of Darwin. Schelling and Hegel held the same idea; Hegel expressly rejected the conception of a real evolution in time as coarse and materialistic. "Nature," he says, "is to be considered as a system of stages, the one necessarily arising from the other, and being the nearest truth of that from which it proceeds; but not in such a way that the one is naturally generated by the other; on the contrary [their connection lies] in the inner idea which is the ground of nature. The metamorphosis can be ascribed only to the notion as such, because it alone is evolution.... It has been a clumsy idea in the older as well as in the newer philosophy of nature, to regard the transformation and the transition from one natural form and sphere to a higher as an outward and actual production."

Based on the passage, which of the following can be inferred about Schelling’s thought?

Possible Answers:

None of the other answers

It does not anticipate scientific evolutionary theories.

Its idealistic vigor was an excellent example of reaction against modernity.

It was based directly on the thought of Goethe and Hegel.

Its similarities to scientific evolutionary theories are striking.

Correct answer:

It does not anticipate scientific evolutionary theories.

Explanation:

Without getting into the details of Schelling, we do know that "Schelling . . . held the same idea" as Goethe in the latter's Metamorphosen der Pflanzen und der ThiereThis does not mean that it is directly indebted to it. It merely catalogues his thought as yet another example of a Romantic philosopher whose thought is not the same in character as that of Darwin.

Example Question #2 : Recognizing And Analyzing Supporting Ideas And Details In Humanities Passages

Adapted from “The Influence of the Conception of Evolution on Modern Philosophy” by H. Höffding (1909) in Evolution in Modern Thought (1917 ed.)

When The Origin of Species appeared fifty years ago, Romantic speculation, Schelling's and Hegel's philosophy, still reigned on the continent, while in England, Positivism, the philosophy of Comte and Stuart Mill, represented the most important trend of thought. German speculation had much to say on evolution; it even pretended to be a philosophy of evolution. But then the word "evolution" was to be taken in an ideal, not in a real, sense. To speculative thought, the forms and types of nature formed a system of ideas, within which any form could lead us by continuous transitions to any other. It was a classificatory system which was regarded as a divine world of thought or images, within which metamorphoses could go on—a condition comparable with that in the mind of the poet when one image follows another with imperceptible changes.

Goethe's ideas of evolution, as expressed in his Metamorphosen der Pflanzen und der Thiere, belong to this category; it is, therefore, incorrect to call him a forerunner of Darwin. Schelling and Hegel held the same idea; Hegel expressly rejected the conception of a real evolution in time as coarse and materialistic. "Nature," he says, "is to be considered as a system of stages, the one necessarily arising from the other, and being the nearest truth of that from which it proceeds; but not in such a way that the one is naturally generated by the other; on the contrary [their connection lies] in the inner idea which is the ground of nature. The metamorphosis can be ascribed only to the notion as such, because it alone is evolution.... It has been a clumsy idea in the older as well as in the newer philosophy of nature, to regard the transformation and the transition from one natural form and sphere to a higher as an outward and actual production."

Which of the following best describes the author’s presentation of Hegel’s thought about evolution?

Possible Answers:

It is not comprised of progressive stages, each being the natural cause of the next.

It is a natural process, at least of sorts.

It is purely a matter for our casual reflection.

It is a murky matter without much real reasoning at all.

None of the other answers

Correct answer:

It is not comprised of progressive stages, each being the natural cause of the next.

Explanation:

Among philosophers, Hegel is perhaps one of the hardest to read. Stay very close to this text and use context clues from within the passage. Clearly, Hegel is not being presented as an exponent of scientific evolution in the fashion of Darwin. The key portion of the passage is, "A system of stages, the one necessarily arising from the other, and being the nearest truth of that from which it proceeds; but not in such a way that the one is naturally generated by the other." Each stage is the "nearest truth" for the one following it. However, it is not the natural cause of it. Yes, Hegel is strange—and far more cryptic than this small selection. However, we have enough details to get our answer!

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 #4 : Analyzing The Text In Science Passages

Adapted from “Darwin’s Predecessors” by J. Arthur Thomson in Evolution in Modern Thought (1917 ed.)

In seeking to discover Darwin's relation to his predecessors, it is useful to distinguish the various services which he rendered to the theory of organic evolution.

As everyone knows, the general idea of the doctrine of descent is that the plants and animals of the present day are the lineal descendants of ancestors on the whole somewhat simpler, that these again are descended from yet simpler forms, and so on backwards towards the literal "Protozoa" and "Protophyta" about which we unfortunately know nothing. Now no one supposes that Darwin originated this idea, which in rudiment at least is as old as Aristotle. What Darwin did was to make it current intellectual coin. He gave it a form that commended itself to the scientific and public intelligence of the day, and he won widespread conviction by showing with consummate skill that it was an effective formula to work with, a key which no lock refused. In a scholarly, critical, and preeminently fair-minded way, admitting difficulties and removing them, foreseeing objections and forestalling them, he showed that the doctrine of descent supplied a modal interpretation of how our present-day fauna and flora have come to be.

In the second place, Darwin applied the evolution-idea to particular problems, such as the descent of man, and showed what a powerful tool it is, introducing order into masses of uncorrelated facts, interpreting enigmas both of structure and function, both bodily and mental, and, best of all, stimulating and guiding further investigation. But here again it cannot be claimed that Darwin was original. The problem of the descent or ascent of man, and other particular cases of evolution, had attracted not a few naturalists before Darwin's day, though no one [except Herbert Spencer in the psychological domain (1855)] had come near him in precision and thoroughness of inquiry.

In the third place, Darwin contributed largely to a knowledge of the factors in the evolution-process, especially by his analysis of what occurs in the case of domestic animals and cultivated plants, and by his elaboration of the theory of natural selection, which Alfred Russel Wallace independently stated at the same time, and of which there had been a few previous suggestions of a more or less vague description. It was here that Darwin's originality was greatest, for he revealed to naturalists the many different forms—often very subtle—which natural selection takes, and with the insight of a disciplined scientific imagination he realized what a mighty engine of progress it has been and is.

What is meant by the underlined expression, “current intellectual coin”?

Possible Answers:

A regular topic of discussion

None of the other answers

A profitable topic to pursue

An example of a publishable field of inquiry

A topic with ramifications for the markets

Correct answer:

A regular topic of discussion

Explanation:

The best way to approach this expression is by thinking of the expression "to coin a phrase." We say that someone "coins" a phrase when he or she invents it, using it for the first time before later becomes popular. The general idea is that the phase is able to be "traded" in discourse. We can use it when talking as if such ideas are like coins in commerce. Therefore, to make something "common intellectual coin" is to make it something that can be discussed, that is, to make it a topic of general discussion.

Example Question #31 : 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.

Which of the following best paraphrases the underlined sentence, “Every introduced species is doubtful gravel until panned out”?

Possible Answers:

Species that live in gravel are usually harmful when placed in new environments.

One should never move a species from its natural environment into a new environment for fear of the consequences.

Species that live underground should be carefully examined before being moved into new environments.

One can’t tell whether an introduced species will be helpful or harmful until it is actually introduced.

An invasive species can cause beneficial effects to its new environment as well as harmful ones.

Correct answer:

One can’t tell whether an introduced species will be helpful or harmful until it is actually introduced.

Explanation:

Here, the author is using figurative language to describe introduced species. He metaphorically calls them “doubtful gravel until [they are] panned out.” Because he’s not speaking literally, this sentence has nothing to do with the ground or gravel itself, so we can eliminate the answer choices “Species that live underground should be carefully examined before being moved into new environments” and “Species that live in gravel are usually harmful when placed in new environments.”

What is the author getting at with his metaphor? Panning rocks and dirt allows miners to separate out valuable minerals from other matter. Think of miners “panning for gold”—it’s the same principle, except here, the author is speaking of it as applying to gravel. By calling the gravel “doubtful,” the author is expressing that you don’t know what you’re going to get with it before you “pan it out” and see if there is anything valuable in it. Applying this thinking to invasive species, the author is therefore saying that “one can’t tell whether an introduced species will be helpful or harmful until it is actually introduced.” 

If you didn’t know what panning gravel was, you could still solve this question by narrowing down your answer choices. For instance, nowhere in the passage are the beneficial effects of introduced species discussed, though the author discusses this in a previous chapter of his book. Because they’re not mentioned in the passage, we can discard the answer choice “An invasive species can cause beneficial effects to its new environment as well as harmful ones.” This is definitely not what the indicated sentence is saying; if we replaced the sentence with this answer choice, the logic of the paragraph wouldn’t make any sense.

As for the remaining answer choice, “One should never move a species from its natural environment into a new environment for fear of the consequences,” it cannot be correct because in the sentence before the one on which this question focuses, the author writes, “The man who successfully transplants or ‘introduces' into a new habitat any persistent species of living thing assumes a very grave responsibility.” Note that he doesn’t say that this should never be done; he just implies that it could go very badly. It wouldn’t make much sense if in the next sentence, the author said this should never be done. It seems more logical that he would have led with that statement, it being the stronger of the two.

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 #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.

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