SAT Critical Reading : Purpose and Effect of Word Choice in Natural Science Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT Critical Reading

varsity tutors app store varsity tutors android store

Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Passage Based Questions

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

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

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

What is implied by the word “merely” at the beginning of the underlined sentence?

Possible Answers:

The example that follows is meant for unexperienced audiences.

There are many, more profound differences even beyond those mentioned here.

None of the other answers

These are really unimportant points that need little attention.

The example given is quite intriguing, though many think it to be simplistic.

Correct answer:

There are many, more profound differences even beyond those mentioned here.

Explanation:

The word "merely" here implies that the detail is just one among many. The author is calling the reader's attention to one little detail among many others. It is, perhaps, a bit simple in its nature, but it is not necessarily unimportant or simplistic. The general point is that many other details could be brought forward if need be.

Example Question #31 : Narrative Science Passages

Adapted from Volume Four of The Natural History of Animals: The Animal Life of the World in Its Various Aspects and Relations by James Richard Ainsworth Davis (1903)

The examples of protective resemblance so far quoted are mostly permanent adaptations to one particular sort of surrounding. There are, however, numerous animals which possess the power of adjusting their color more or less rapidly so as to harmonize with a changing environment.

Some of the best known of these cases are found among those mammals and birds that inhabit countries more or less covered with snow during a part of the year. A good instance is afforded by the Irish or variable hare, which is chiefly found in Ireland and Scotland. In summer, this looks very much like an ordinary hare, though rather grayer in tint and smaller in size, but in winter it becomes white with the exception of the black tips to the ears. Investigations that have been made on the closely allied American hare seem to show that the phenomenon is due to the growth of new hairs of white hue. 

The common stoat is subject to similar color change in the northern parts of its range. In summer it is of a bright reddish brown color with the exception of the under parts, which are yellowish white, and the end of the tail, which is black. But in winter, the entire coat, save only the tip of the tail, becomes white, and in that condition the animal is known as an ermine. A similar example is afforded by the weasel. The seasonal change in the vegetarian Irish hare is purely of protective character, but in such an actively carnivorous creature as a stoat or weasel, it is aggressive as well, rendering the animal inconspicuous to its prey.

For what reason does the author describe the Irish hare as “vegetarian” in the underlined sentence?

Possible Answers:

To encourage the reader to switch to a vegetarian diet

To help readers empathize with the hare

To contrast the hare with the stoat and the weasel

To provide insight about what food is available in arctic environments

To provide information about the hare's diet that the reader may not know

Correct answer:

To contrast the hare with the stoat and the weasel

Explanation:

The underlined sentence is the last sentence of the third paragraph, “The seasonal change in the vegetarian Irish hare is purely of protective character, but in such an actively carnivorous creature as a stoat or weasel, it is aggressive as well, rendering the animal inconspicuous to its prey. One could reasonably infer that a hare would be vegetarian, so “To provide information about the hare’s diet that the reader may not know” cannot be the correct answer. The section doesn’t aim to help readers empathize with the hare any more than the stoat and weasel, so “To help readers empathize with the hare” cannot be correct either. The sentence doesn’t specifically encourage the reader to do anything; it is merely providing information about certain animals; so, “To encourage the reader to switch to a vegetarian diet” cannot be correct. “To provide insight about what food is available in arctic environments” doesn’t make sense either, because we are not told about the food specifically available in arctic environments; we can’t even assume that there are only plants available, as the stoat and weasel eat meat. That brings us to the correct answer: “To contrast the hare with the stoat and the weasel.” The word “vegetarian” specifically contrasts with the word “carnivorous” used later in the sentence to describe the stoat and weasel. This contrast mirrors the contrast of defensive and aggressive/defensive color-changing adaptations which the author is discussing in the sentence.

Learning Tools by Varsity Tutors

Incompatible Browser

Please upgrade or download one of the following browsers to use Instant Tutoring: