PSAT Critical Reading : Making Inferences About the Author or Natural Science Passage Content

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for PSAT Critical Reading

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Extrapolating From The Text In Natural Science Passages

Adapted from The Effects of Cross & Self-Fertilisation in the Vegetable Kingdom by Charles Darwin (1876)

As it is impossible to exclude such minute pollen-carrying insects as Thrips, flowers which it was intended to fertilise with their own pollen may sometimes have been afterwards crossed with pollen brought by these insects from another flower on the same plant; but as we shall hereafter see, a cross of this kind does not produce any effect, or at most only a slight one. When two or more plants were placed near one another under the same net, as was often done, there is some real though not great danger of the flowers which were believed to be self-fertilised being afterwards crossed with pollen brought by Thrips from a distinct plant. I have said that the danger is not great because I have often found that plants which are self-sterile, unless aided by insects, remained sterile when several plants of the same species were placed under the same net. If, however, the flowers which had been presumably self-fertilised by me were in any case afterwards crossed by Thrips with pollen brought from a distinct plant, crossed seedlings would have been included amongst the self-fertilised; but it should be especially observed that this occurrence would tend to diminish and not to increase any superiority in average height, fertility, etc., of the crossed over the self-fertilised plants.

As the flowers which were crossed were never castrated, it is probable or even almost certain that I sometimes failed to cross-fertilise them effectually, and that they were afterwards spontaneously self-fertilised. This would have been most likely to occur with dichogamous species, for without much care it is not easy to perceive whether their stigmas are ready to be fertilised when the anthers open. But in all cases, as the flowers were protected from wind, rain, and the access of insects, any pollen placed by me on the stigmatic surface whilst it was immature, would generally have remained there until the stigma was mature; and the flowers would then have been crossed as was intended. Nevertheless, it is highly probable that self-fertilised seedlings have sometimes by this means got included amongst the crossed seedlings. The effect would be, as in the former case, not to exaggerate but to diminish any average superiority of the crossed over the self-fertilised plants.

Errors arising from the two causes just named, and from others,—such as some of the seeds not having been thoroughly ripened, though care was taken to avoid this error—the sickness or unperceived injury of any of the plants,—will have been to a large extent eliminated, in those cases in which many crossed and self-fertilised plants were measured and an average struck. Some of these causes of error will also have been eliminated by the seeds having been allowed to germinate on bare damp sand, and being planted in pairs; for it is not likely that ill-matured and well-matured, or diseased and healthy seeds, would germinate at exactly the same time. The same result will have been gained in the several cases in which only a few of the tallest, finest, and healthiest plants on each side of the pots were measured.

Kolreuter and Gartner have proved that with some plants several, even as many as from fifty to sixty, pollen-grains are necessary for the fertilisation of all the ovules in the ovarium. Naudin also found in the case of Mirabilis that if only one or two of its very large pollen-grains were placed on the stigma, the plants raised from such seeds were dwarfed. I was therefore careful to give an amply sufficient supply of pollen, and generally covered the stigma with it; but I did not take any special pains to place exactly the same amount on the stigmas of the self-fertilised and crossed flowers. After having acted in this manner during two seasons, I remembered that Gartner thought, though without any direct evidence, that an excess of pollen was perhaps injurious. It was therefore necessary to ascertain whether the fertility of the flowers was affected by applying a rather small and an extremely large quantity of pollen to the stigma. Accordingly a very small mass of pollen-grains was placed on one side of the large stigma in sixty-four flowers of Ipomoea purpurea, and a great mass of pollen over the whole surface of the stigma in sixty-four other flowers. In order to vary the experiment, half the flowers of both lots were on plants produced from self-fertilised seeds, and the other half on plants from crossed seeds. The sixty-four flowers with an excess of pollen yielded sixty-one capsules; and excluding four capsules, each of which contained only a single poor seed, the remainder contained on an average 5.07 seeds per capsule. The sixty-four flowers with only a little pollen placed on one side of the stigma yielded sixty-three capsules, and excluding one from the same cause as before, the remainder contained on an average 5.129 seeds. So that the flowers fertilised with little pollen yielded rather more capsules and seeds than did those fertilised with an excess; but the difference is too slight to be of any significance. On the other hand, the seeds produced by the flowers with an excess of pollen were a little heavier of the two; for 170 of them weighed 79.67 grains, whilst 170 seeds from the flowers with very little pollen weighed 79.20 grains. Both lots of seeds having been placed on damp sand presented no difference in their rate of germination. We may therefore conclude that my experiments were not affected by any slight difference in the amount of pollen used; a sufficiency having been employed in all cases.

It can reasonably be inferred from the passage that which of the following is true?

Possible Answers:

The flowers given an excess of pollen produced more seeds on average.

Unripe seeds were of little concern in the experiments.  

Most of Naudin's studies did not concentrate on flowers.

In one experiment around one hundred and twenty-eight flowers were used. 

Thrips feed exclusively on flowers.

Correct answer:

In one experiment around one hundred and twenty-eight flowers were used. 

Explanation:

In the last paragraph, the experiment mentioned used sixty-four flowers which were over-pollinated, and a further sixty four flowers which were under-pollinated. This makes a total of one hundred and twenty eight flowers.

Example Question #51 : Extrapolating From The Text In Natural Science Passages

Adapted from Essays on Early Ornithology and Kindred Subjects by James R. McClymont (1920)

The voyagers named it the Angra de Santa Elena, and it may have been the bay which is now known as St. Helen’s Bay. But it is worthy of note that the G. de Sta. Ellena of the Cantino Chart is laid down in a position which corresponds rather with that of Table Bay than with that of St. Helen’s Bay.

The Portuguese came into contact with the inhabitants of the country adjacent to the anchorage. These people had tawny complexions, and carried wooden spears tipped with horn—assagais of a kind—and bows and arrows. They also used foxes’ tails attached to short wooden handles. We are not informed for what purposes the foxes’ tails were used. Were they used to brush flies away, or were they insignia of authority? The food of the natives was the flesh of whales, seals, and antelopes (gazellas), and the roots of certain plants. Crayfish or ‘Cape lobsters’ abounded near the anchorage.

The author of the roteiro affirms that the birds of the country resembled the birds in Portugal, and that amongst them were cormorants, larks, turtle-doves, and gulls. The gulls are called "guayvotas," but "guayvotas" is probably another instance of the eccentric orthography of the author and equivalent to "gaivotas."

In December the squadron reached the Angra de São Bràs, which was either Mossel Bay or another bay in close proximity to Mossel Bay. Here penguins and seals were in great abundance. The author of the roteiro calls the penguins "sotelycairos," which is more correctly written "sotilicarios" by subsequent writers. The word is probably related to the Spanish "sotil" and the Latin "subtilis," and may contain an allusion to the supposed cunning of the penguins, which disappear by diving when an enemy approaches.

The sotilicarios, says the chronicler, could not fly because there were no quill-feathers in their wings; in size they were as large as drakes, and their cry resembled the braying of an ass. Castanheda, Goes, and Osorio also mention the sotilicario in their accounts of the first voyage of Vasco da Gama, and compare its flipper to the wing of a bat—a not wholly inept comparison, for the under-surface of the wings of penguins is wholly devoid of feathery covering. Manuel de Mesquita Perestrello, who visited the south coast of Africa in 1575, also describes the Cape penguin. From a manuscript of his Roteiro in the Oporto Library, one learns that the flippers of the sotilicario were covered with minute feathers, as indeed they are on the upper surface and that they dived after fish, upon which they fed, and on which they fed their young, which were hatched in nests constructed of fishbones. There is nothing to cavil at in these statements, unless it be that which asserts that the nests were constructed of fishbones, for this is not in accordance with the observations of contemporary naturalists, who tell us that the nests of the Cape Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) are constructed of stones, shells, and debris. It is, therefore, probable that the fishbones which Perestrello saw were the remains of repasts of seals.

Seals, says the roteiro, were in great number at the Angra de São Bràs. On one occasion the number was counted and was found to be three thousand. Some were as large as bears and their roaring was as the roaring of lions. Others, which were very small, bleated like kids. These differences in size and in voice may be explained by differences in the age and in the sex of the seals, for seals of different species do not usually resort to the same locality. The seal which formerly frequented the south coast of Africa—for it is, I believe, no longer a denizen of that region—was that which is known to naturalists as Arctocephalus delalandii, and, as adult males sometimes attain eight and a half feet in length, it may well be described as of the size of a bear. Cubs from six to eight months of age measure about two feet and a half in length. The Portuguese caught anchovies in the bay, which they salted to serve as provisions on the voyage. They anchored a second time in the Angra de São Bràs in March, 1499, on their homeward voyage.

Yet one more allusion to the penguins and seals of the Angra de São Bràs is of sufficient historical interest to be mentioned. The first Dutch expedition to Bantam weighed anchor on the 2nd of April, 1595, and on the 4th of August of the same year the vessels anchored in a harbor called "Ague Sambras," in eight or nine fathoms of water, on a sandy bottom. So many of the sailors were sick with scurvy—"thirty or thirty-three," said the narrator, "in one ship"—that it was necessary to find fresh fruit for them. "In this bay," runs the English translation of the narrative, "lieth a small Island wherein are many birds called Pyncuins and sea Wolves that are taken with men’s hands." In the original Dutch narrative by Willem Lodewyckszoon, published in Amsterdam in 1597, the name of the birds appears as "Pinguijns."

Based on the first text the author describes, the probable reason for the name given to the penguins was to __________.

Possible Answers:

differentiate them from other birds found in Portugal

describe their nesting habits

commemorate the voyage that discovered them

elaborate on their character and behavior

suggest that they are flightless

Correct answer:

elaborate on their character and behavior

Explanation:

The author describes the possible root of the penguins name in the roteiro, saying that “the word is probably related to the Spanish "sotil" and the Latin "subtilis," and may contain an allusion to the supposed cunning of the penguins, which disappear by diving when an enemy approaches.” Thus, the probable reason for the name is that it alludes to the nature of the penguins.

Example Question #63 : Science

Adapted from Ice-Caves of France and Switzerland by George Forrest Browne (1865)

This account states that the cave is in the county of Thorn, among the lowest spurs of the Carpathians. The entrance, which faces the north, and is exposed to the cold winds from the snowy part of the Carpathian range, is eighteen fathoms high and nine broad; and the cave spreads out laterally, and descends to a point fifty fathoms below the entrance, where it is twenty-six fathoms in breadth, and of irregular height. Beyond this no one had at that time penetrated, on account of the unsafe footing, although many distant echoes were returned by the farther recesses of the cave; indeed, to get even so far as this, much step-cutting was necessary.

When the external frost of winter comes on, the account proceeds, the effect in the cave is the same as if fires had been lighted there: the ice melts, and swarms of flies and bats and hares take refuge in the interior from the severity of the winter. As soon as spring arrives, the warmth of winter disappears from the interior, water exudes from the roof and is converted into ice, while the more abundant supplies which pour down on to the sandy floor are speedily frozen there. In the dog-days, the frost is so intense that a small icicle becomes in one day a huge mass of ice; but a cool day promptly brings a thaw, and the cave is looked upon as a barometer, not merely feeling, but also presaging, the changes of weather. The people of the neighborhood, when employed in field-work, arrange their labour so that the mid-day meal may be taken near the cave, when they either ice the water they have brought with them, or drink the melted ice, which they consider very good for the stomach. It had been calculated that six hundred weekly carts would not be sufficient to keep the cavern free from ice. The ground above the cave is peculiarly rich in grass.

In explanation of these phenomena, Bell threw out the following suggestions, which need no comment. The earth being of itself cold and damp, the external heat of the atmosphere, by partially penetrating into the ground, drives in this native cold to the inner parts of the earth, and makes the cold there more dense. On the other hand, when the external air is cold, it draws forth towards the surface the heat there may be in the inner part of the earth, and thus makes caverns warm. In support and illustration of this view, he states that in the hotter parts of Hungary, when the people wish to cool their wine, they dig a hole two feet deep, and place in it the flagon of wine, and, after filling up the hole again, light a blazing fire upon the surface, which cools the wine as if the flagon had been laid in ice. He also suggests that possibly the cold winds from the Carpathians bring with them imperceptible particles of snow, which reach the water of the cave, and convert it into ice. Further, the rocks of the Carpathians abound in salts, nitre, alum, etc., which may, perhaps, mingle with such snowy particles, and produce the ordinary effect of the snow and salt in the artificial production of ice.

It can reasonably be inferred from the passage that __________.

Possible Answers:

the cave is high in the mountains

the cave is in Hungary

the ice is unsanitary

the author does not respect Bell's opinion

the cave is not far from civilization

Correct answer:

the cave is not far from civilization

Explanation:

We can infer that because the villagers' work is near the cave in summer and they use the cave's ice, there is some form of civilization in proximity to the cave. We know from the villager's use of the ice to melt it into water to drink that it is unlikely to be unsanitary. Bell's opinion is not commented on and is therefore, in the opinion of the author, possibly correct. The cave is in the country of Thorn and is at the base of the Carpathian Mountains, as is stated in the first paragraph.  

Example Question #73 : Content Of Natural Science Passages

Adapted from A Practical Treatise on the Hive and Honey-Bee by Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth (1857 ed.)

Of all the numerous enemies of the honey-bee, the Bee-Moth (Tinea mellonella), in climates of hot summers, is by far the most to be dreaded. So widespread and fatal have been its ravages in this country that thousands have abandoned the cultivation of bees in despair, and in districts which once produced abundant supplies of the purest honey, bee-keeping has gradually dwindled down into a very insignificant pursuit. Contrivances almost without number have been devised to defend the bees against this invidious foe, but still it continues its desolating inroads, almost unchecked, laughing as it were to scorn at all the so-called "moth-proof" hives, and turning many of the ingenious fixtures designed to entrap or exclude it into actual aids and comforts in its nefarious designs.

I should feel but little confidence in being able to reinstate bee-keeping in our country into a certain and profitable pursuit if I could not show the apiarian in what way he can safely bid defiance to the pestiferous assaults of this, his most implacable enemy. I have patiently studied its habits for years, and I am at length able to announce a system of management founded upon the peculiar construction of my hives, which will enable the careful bee-keeper to protect his colonies against the monster. The bee-moth infects our apiaries, just as weeds take possession of a fertile soil. Before explaining the means upon which I rely to circumvent the moth, I will first give a brief description of its habits.

Swammerdam, towards the close of the seventeenth century, gave a very accurate description of this insect, which was then called by the very expressive name of the "bee-wolf." He has furnished good drawings of it, in all its changes, from the worm to the perfect moth, together with the peculiar webs or galleries that it constructs and from which the name of Tinea galleria or “gallery moth” has been given to it by some entomologists. He failed, however, to discriminate between the male and female, which, because they differ so much in size and appearance, he supposed to be two different species of the wax-moth. It seems to have been a great pest in his time, and even Virgil speaks of the "dirum tineæ genus," the dreadful offspring of the moth; that is the worm.

This destroyer usually makes its appearance about the hives in April or May, the time of its coming depending upon the warmth of the climate or the forwardness of the season. It is seldom seen on the wing (unless startled from its lurking place about the hive) until towards dark, and is evidently chiefly nocturnal in its habits. In dark cloudy days, however, I have noticed it on the wing long before sunset, and if several such days follow in succession, the female, oppressed with the urgent necessity of laying her eggs, may be seen endeavoring to gain admission to the hives. The female is much larger than the male, and "her color is deeper and more inclining to a darkish gray, with small spots or blackish streaks on the interior edge of her upper wings." The color of the male inclines more to a light gray; they might easily be mistaken for different species of moths. These insects are surprisingly agile, both on foot and on the wing. The motions of a bee are very slow in comparison. "They are," says Reaumur, "the most nimble-footed creatures that I know." "If the approach to the apiary be observed of a moonlight evening, the moths will be found flying or running round the hives, watching an opportunity to enter, whilst the bees that have to guard the entrances against their intrusion will be seen acting as vigilant sentinels, performing continual rounds near this important post, extending their antenna to the utmost, and moving them to the right and left alternately. Woe to the unfortunate moth that comes within their reach!" "It is curious," says Huber, "to observe how artfully the moth knows how to profit, to the disadvantage of the bees, which require much light for seeing objects; and the precautions taken by the latter in reconnoitering and expelling so dangerous an enemy."

It can reasonably be inferred from the passage that __________.

Possible Answers:

The bees do not guard against the moth.

The moths are sluggish.

The author is a keen bee keeper. 

The author dislikes honey.

Bee-moths have only recently begun to trouble bee keepers.

Correct answer:

The author is a keen bee keeper. 

Explanation:

We know that someone wrote about the moths in the 17th century and called them "the 'bee-wolf'," so it doesn't seem likely that the problems they cause bee keepers only developed recently. We also know that the moths are quite fast from a description of their speed in the last paragraph. The author also states that the bees post “sentinels” to guard against the moths. We cannot tell from the passage if the author likes honey or not. The only thing we can really infer is that the author is a keen bee keeper, as he says in the passage that: “I have patiently studied [the bee-moth's] habits for years, and I am at length able to announce a system of management founded upon the peculiar construction of my hives.” This tells us he has kept and studied bees for many years.

Example Question #11 : Textual Relationships In 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.

Which of the following is implied in this passage about modern physics?

Possible Answers:

None of the other answers

It was dogmatically tied to Renaissance ideas.

It was freed of superstition during the Renaissance.

It was singularly new in the history of scientific thought.

It was viewed as the science that explained all others.

Correct answer:

It was viewed as the science that explained all others.

Explanation:

The best sentence for answering this question is, "Its static laws appeared to be the unchanging principles of all motion and life on earth." The first paragraph implies that physics appeared to provide the principles needed for explaining all things. It would therefore appear to many to be the "science of sciences." (Indeed, this has been the temptation in real history as well, though that is another, complex story!)

Example Question #12 : Textual Relationships In 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.

Who was most affected by the changes caused by Darwinism?

Possible Answers:

Science teachers

None of the other answers

Religious believers

Publishers of science texts

Religious zealots

Correct answer:

None of the other answers

Explanation:

There have almost always been controversies about evolution, lasting to our day. Do not bring any of this to your reading of the passage; stick to the text. The general implication in the second paragraph is that everyone was affected by these changes in outlook—believers and non-believers alike. None of the limited groups listed in the answers is sufficient. Therefore, the best choice is "none of the other answers."

Example Question #3 : Extrapolating From The Text 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.

Given Darwin's statements, which of the following should be expected?

Possible Answers:

Although we do not train bears as pets today, we may well in years to come.

Humanity as it is today has reached its fixed state.

Human beings will likely all die in a massive nuclear war.

Ancient physics was completely worthless.

There were no dogs at one time in the earth's history.

Correct answer:

There were no dogs at one time in the earth's history.

Explanation:

The second paragraph of this selection mostly discusses the fact that Darwin's theories lead to the belief in the changing of creatures over time. This means that some species may never have existed. Also, it implies that new ones might have arisen. Therefore, among the options provided, the best answer is the one that says that perhaps dogs did not at one time exist.

Example Question #2 : Extrapolating From The Text 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.

What could we expect the author to discuss in a paragraph following the last paragraph of this passage?

Possible Answers:

New theories of physics

The limits in Darwin's reasoning

The new textbooks that arose after Darwin

The new training needed for scientists after Darwin

The religious reaction to Darwinism

Correct answer:

New theories of physics

Explanation:

At the beginning of the second paragraph, the passage states, "It would change even more dramatically in early twentieth-century physics as well." In general, this passage is about the general transition from one scientific outlook to another. The details of Darwinism (or of the publication of textbooks as well) is not the main concern. Likely, the author would continue his or her discussion by returning to the theme of twentieth-century physics as well.

Example Question #81 : Narrative Science Passages

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

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

Based on what is said in the passage, the author most likely believes that __________.

Possible Answers:

hummingbirds eat only flower nectar

hummingbirds eat neither flower nectar nor insects

None of the other answers

hummingbirds eat a mixture of flower nectar and insects, but mostly flower nectar

hummingbirds eat a mixture of flower nectar and insects, but mostly insects

Correct answer:

hummingbirds eat a mixture of flower nectar and insects, but mostly insects

Explanation:

This is a tricky question because in the passage, the author never directly states his opinion about what hummingbirds eat; readers have to infer it based on the evidence he presents. The author begins the passage by stating that while old scientists used to think hummingbirds ate only flower nectar, modern writers think that they eat “largely, and in some cases wholly,” on insects. He then presents evidence suggesting that hummingbirds eat insects, and in discussing the contents of hummingbirds’ stomachs, says that scientists sometimes find both insects and honey. For the rest of the paragraph, he provides evidence suggesting that hummingbirds eat insects.

What can we infer from this? Well, we can tell that it’s not likely that the author thinks hummingbirds eat only flower nectar, because he provides evidence supporting the idea that they eat insects. This means that we can also discard the answer choice “hummingbirds eat neither flower nectar nor insects.” It’s quite reasonable to think that the author thinks that “hummingbirds eat a mixture of flower nectar and insects” because he mentions that sometimes honey is found along with insects in hummingbirds’ stomachs. So, we need to figure out whether he probably believes that they eat mostly insects or mostly flower nectar. Let’s look at how the author phrases his description of the contents of hummingbirds’ stomachs: “in almost every instance their stomachs have been found full of insects, sometimes, but not generally, mixed with a proportion of honey.” So, if “in almost every instance” the hummingbird stomachs examined were “full of insects,” but “sometimes, but not generally” honey was also found, the correct answer must be “hummingbirds eat a mixture of flower nectar and insects, but mostly insects.”

Example Question #91 : Content Of 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.”

Which of the following inferences does the passage expect its readers to make?

Possible Answers:

If a hummingbird consumes flower nectar, this nectar will turn into the honey that can be found in its stomach.

The author is the first scientist to ever have investigated what hummingbirds eat.

Scientists rarely learn about hummingbirds by dissecting them.

If a hummingbird eats gnats, it will not eat honey.

Fly-catchers are a type of insect.

Correct answer:

If a hummingbird consumes flower nectar, this nectar will turn into the honey that can be found in its stomach.

Explanation:

Let’s consider each of the answer choices to identify the correct one.

“The author is the first scientist to ever have investigated what hummingbirds eat.” - This cannot be true, because the author begins the passage by saying “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.” He also cites numerous other scientists’ opinions throughout the passage, so he can’t be the first person to have investigated what hummingbirds eat.

“Fly-catchers are a type of insect.” - The passage mentions fly-catchers in the following sentence: “Many [hummingbirds] 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.” This is a tricky answer choice in that it’s easy to misread the sentence and think that “just like flycatchers” refers to “other small insects” when in fact it refers to the act of “catching.” The sentence is saying that hummingbirds catch insects in the same manner as fly-catchers, not that fly-catchers are a type of insect. Plus, we are being asked to identify an inference readers are expected to make, and if this sentence did mean that fly-catchers were insects, it would be overtly telling us this, and there would be nothing we’d have to infer.

“Scientists rarely learn about hummingbirds by dissecting them.” - This answer choice is proven wrong by the following 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.”

“If a hummingbird eats gnats, it will not eat honey.” - Given that the questions of whether hummingbirds eat insects or honey and in what proportions is the topic of the passage, it may be easy to choose this answer choice because it seems like the one closest to the passage’s main idea; however, nothing in the passage supports this assertion.

“If a hummingbird consumes flower nectar, this nectar will turn into the honey that can be found in its stomach.” - This is the correct answer! The author initially states that “All the early writers down to Buffon believed that [hummingbirds] lived solely on the nectar of flowers”; however, he later states that “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 author does not address the idea that flower nectar and honey could be different substances, and instead expects the reader to treat these as one source of food.

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