SAT Critical Reading : Analyzing Argumentative Claims, Bias, and Support in Natural Science Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT Critical Reading

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Example Questions

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

Adapted from "Taking a Second Look: An Analysis of Genetic Markers in Species Relatedness" by Joseph Ritchie (2014)

Phylogenetics is the study of genetic composition in various species and is used by evolutionary biologists to investigate similarities in the molecular sequences of proteins in varying organisms. The amino acid sequences that build proteins are used to construct mathmatical matrices that aid in determining evolutionary ties through the investigation of percentage similarities. The study of these matrices helps to expose evolutionary relationships between species that may not have the same overt characteristics.

Species adapt and evolve based on the pressures that exist in their environment. Climate, food source, and habitat availability are only a few factors that act on species adaptation. These stressors can alter the physical characteristics of organisms. This divergence in evolution has made it difficult to determine the interrelatedness of organisms by analyzing their physical characteristics alone.

For instance, looking only at physical characteristics, the ghost bat resembles a pigeon more than a spider monkey; however, phylogenetics has found that the amino acid sequences that construct the beta hemoglobin molecules of bats are twenty percent more similar to those of mammalian primates than those of birds. This helps reject the assumption that common physical characteristics between species are all that is needed to determine relatedness. 

The differences produced by divergent evolution observed in the forest-dwelling, arboreal spider monkey and the nocturnal, airborne ghost bat can be reconciled through homology. Homologous characteristics are anatomical traits that are similar in two or more different species. For instance, the bone structure of a spider monkey’s wrist and fingers greatly resembles that of a bat’s wing or even a whale’s fin. These similarities are reinforced by phylogenetic evidence that supports the idea that physically dissimilar species can be evolutionarily related through anatomical and genetic similarities.

Paragraph four of the passage discusses which of the following?

Possible Answers:

The theory of evolution

All of the statements

The physiological functions of the spider monkey’s wrist and fingers, the bat’s wing, and the whale’s fin. 

The unreliability of physical characteristics in determining species relatedness

The reasons why a spider monkey’s wrist and fingers can resemble a bat's wing or a whale's fin

Correct answer:

The reasons why a spider monkey’s wrist and fingers can resemble a bat's wing or a whale's fin

Explanation:

One of paragraph four's central purposes is to give examples of homologous adaptation. It describes how the features of different species can possess anatomical similarities, even if the species are from vastly different habitats. The passage does not discuss the theory of evolution nor the physiological purposes of certain appendages, and the third paragraph, not the fourth, discusses the unreliability of physical characteristics in determining species relatedness.

Example Question #2 : 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.

What role does the underlined sentence play in the passage as a whole?

Possible Answers:

It provides a counterargument opposing the theory of the "recent writer" quoted in the first paragraph.

It provides evidence that the phenomenon being discussed exists, but does not support one theory more than the other.

It offers an opinion as to the validity of the theory of the "recent writer" quoted in the first paragraph.

It demonstrates that the "recent writer" quoted in the first paragraph is unreliable.

It provides evidence that supports the theory of the writer quoted in the first paragraph, but casts doubt on other theories.

Correct answer:

It provides evidence that the phenomenon being discussed exists, but does not support one theory more than the other.

Explanation:

The sentence underlined 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." To answer this question correctly, you have to pay a great deal of attention to the way in which it is presented in the passage. It is quoted as evidence that the "recent writer" uses to support his or her theory that leaf size differs in this way due to a change in the intensity of the sunlight. So, neither"It provides a counterargument opposing the theory of the 'recent writer' quoted in the first paragraph" nor "It demonstrates that the 'recent writer' quoted in the first paragraph is unreliable" can be the correct answer. Since the statement in question is just presenting evidence, and not an opinion, "It offers an opinion as to the validity of the theory of the 'recent writer' quoted in the first paragraph" cannot be the correct answer either. 

This leaves us with two possible answer choices: "It provides evidence that supports the theory of the writer quoted in the first paragraph, but casts doubt on other theories," and "It provides evidence that the phenomenon being discussed exists, but does not support one theory more than the other." The author of the passage, in the second paragraph, says that "the facts as above stated" are "in themselves correct, they do not by any means establish the theory founded on them." Given this, along with the fact that the underlined sentence's evidence never casts doubt on any theories in the passage, the correct answer is "It provides evidence that the phenomenon being discussed exists, but does not support one theory more than the other."

Example Question #3 : 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:

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 theories

demonstrate that the colors of flowers change at varying latitudes

support Martins’ theory

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 #4 : Analyzing Argumentative Claims, Bias, And Support In Natural Science Passages

"The Multiple Sides of Computer Science" by Matthew Minerd (2014)

It often takes some time for a new discipline to become recognized as an independent science. An excellent example of this is computer science. In many ways, this science still is a hodgepodge of several different sciences, each one having its own distinct character. For example, some computer scientists are almost indistinguishable from mathematicians. Many of the most difficult topics in pattern recognition and data communications require intensive mathematics in order to provide software solutions. Years of training in the appropriate disciplines are necessary before the computer scientist can even begin to work as a programmer in such areas. In contrast to those computer scientists who work with complex mathematics, many computer scientists work on areas of hardware development that are similar to disciplines like electrical engineering and physics.

However, computer science has its own particular problems regarding the unity of its subject matter. There are many practical applications for computing work; therefore, many computer scientists focus on learning a large set of skills in programming languages, development environments, and even information technology. All of these disciplines have a certain practical coloration that is quite distinct from the theoretical concepts used in other parts of the field. Nevertheless, these practical topics add to the broad range of topics covered by most academic programs that claim to focus on “computer science.” It can only be hoped that these disciplines will increase in orderliness in the coming decades.

Which of the following topics would not be a good example to add to the second paragraph?

Possible Answers:

Applications of computing to civic planning

Studies in the types of physics involved in memory chip design

Courses in manufacturing and connecting internet cables

Topics related to building new computers from parts

Studies of the social ramifications of programming

Correct answer:

Studies in the types of physics involved in memory chip design

Explanation:

The second paragraph focuses on the practical topics that often are taught in computer science programs. (These are contrasted to the more "theoretical" or "scientific" topics noted in the first paragraph.) The only really "scientific" topic listed here is the one about the physics involved in designing memory chips. Since this focuses on the physics, it is not so much about how to make these things as it is about the reasons why they work. This is more of a speculative matter than a practical or technical one.

Example Question #5 : Analyzing Argumentative Claims, Bias, And Support 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:

It is relatively ordered chaos.

Its highest beauties are found in the stars.

It is a structured whole.

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

None of the other answers

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 #1 : Argumentative 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.

How does the author feel about Howell?

Possible Answers:

The author likes Howell because he helped identify a problem with the consequences available for environmental disruptors.

The author is annoyed by Howell’s insistence that invasive species do not cause significant problems.

The author thinks that Howell made a great mistake in releasing Gypsy moths into the United States.

The author agrees with Howell that invasive species are often problematic.

The author greatly dislikes Howell for his audacious disrespect for nature.

Correct answer:

The author greatly dislikes Howell for his audacious disrespect for nature.

Explanation:

Let’s look at the part of the first paragraph in which the author brings up Howell, paying attention to why he does so:

“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.”

In mentioning Howell, the author is providing an example supporting his argument that harsher legal penalties are necessary for those who harm the environment. The author describes Howell as a “poacher” who “destroyed our first national bison herd” and was “caught red-handed.” From this, we can tell that the best answer choice is “the author greatly dislikes Howell for his audacious disrespect for nature.” 

One of the other answer choices attempts to get you to confuse Howell with Mr. Trouvelot, who released the gypsy moths—don’t fall for that! Check the passage if you are worried at all about confusing the two so you can avoid pitfall answers like that one.

Example Question #5 : Analyzing Argumentative Claims, Bias, And Support In 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 describes an opinion held by the author?

Possible Answers:

Despite spending a great deal of money, the United States will never be rid of the gypsy moth.

We should introduce a new species of animal that eats gypsy moths to combat the problems they cause.

Farmers should place nets around their fields and orchards to prevent the gypsy moths from getting to their crops.

Efforts to contain the gypsy moth will improve as technology improves, until all of the moths in the United States have been eradicated.

It is difficult to say what the future holds for the fate of the gypsy moth in the United States.

Correct answer:

Despite spending a great deal of money, the United States will never be rid of the gypsy moth.

Explanation:

The first sentence of the passage’s last paragraph provides the information we need to answer this question correctly: the author writes, “The spread of this pest has been retarded, but the gypsy moth never will be wholly stamped out.” We can thus definitively say that he thinks that “despite spending a great deal of money, the United States will never be rid of the gypsy moth.”

Example Question #41 : Science Passages

"The Multiple Sides of Computer Science" by Matthew Minerd (2014)

It often takes some time for a new discipline to become recognized as an independent science. An excellent example of this is computer science. In many ways, this science still is a hodgepodge of several different sciences, each one having its own distinct character. For example, some computer scientists are almost indistinguishable from mathematicians. Many of the most difficult topics in pattern recognition and data communications require intensive mathematics in order to provide software solutions. Years of training in the appropriate disciplines are necessary before the computer scientist can even begin to work as a programmer in such areas. In contrast to those computer scientists who work with complex mathematics, many computer scientists work on areas of hardware development that are similar to disciplines like electrical engineering and physics.

However, computer science has its own particular problems regarding the unity of its subject matter. There are many practical applications for computing work; therefore, many computer scientists focus on learning a large set of skills in programming languages, development environments, and even information technology. All of these disciplines have a certain practical coloration that is quite distinct from the theoretical concepts used in other parts of the field. Nevertheless, these practical topics add to the broad range of topics covered by most academic programs that claim to focus on “computer science.” It can only be hoped that these disciplines will increase in orderliness in the coming decades.

Which of the following would strengthen the author’s main contention?

Possible Answers:

Even social sciences like behavioral psychology are often studied in order to help develop artificial intelligence algorithms.

All computer science departments require calculus.

None of these

No computer science curricula include studies from biology and chemistry.

Almost all computer scientists have some ability in a major programming language.

Correct answer:

Even social sciences like behavioral psychology are often studied in order to help develop artificial intelligence algorithms.

Explanation:

The general point of the passage is that it is hard to find the "focus" of computer science. A number of the answers actually help to find the focus—either (1) by stating what all (or almost all) study or (2) by excluding certain subjects entirely (chemistry / biology); however, if computer scientists also studied behavioral psychology it would be yet one more topic in the "mix" of many different subjects studied.

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