SSAT Middle Level Reading : Determining Authorial Attitude in Argumentative Science Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SSAT Middle Level Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #162 : Science

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

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

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

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 #1 : Argumentative Science Passages

Adapted from "How Animals Spend the Winter" by W. S. Blatchley in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

One of the greatest problems that each of the living forms about us has had to solve, during the years of its existence on earth, is how best to perpetuate its kind during that cold season that once each year, in our temperate zone, is bound to come. Many are the solutions to this problem. Each form of life has, as it were, solved it best to suit its own peculiar case, and to the earnest student of Nature there is nothing more interesting than to pry into these solutions and note how varied, strange, and wonderful they are.

To fully appreciate some of the facts mentioned below it must be borne in mind that there is no such thing as “spontaneous generation” of life. Every cell is the offspring of a pre-existing cell. Hence every weed that next season will spring up and provoke the farmer’s ire, and every insect that will then make life almost intolerable for man or beast, exists throughout the winter in some form.

Beginning with the earthworms and their kindred, we find that at the approach of winter they burrow deep down where the icy breath of the frost never reaches, and there they live, during the cold season, a life of comparative quiet. That they are exceedingly sensitive to warmth, however, may be proven by the fact that when a warm rain comes some night in February or March, thawing out the crust of the earth, the next morning reveals in our dooryards the mouths of hundreds of the pits or burrows of these primitive tillers of the soil, each surrounded by a little pile of pellets, the castings of the active artisans of the pits during the night before.

If we will get up before dawn on such a morning we can find the worms crawling actively about over the surface of the ground, but when the first signs of day appear they seek once more their protective burrows, and only an occasional belated individual serves as a breakfast for the early birds.

The author’s attitude towards the subject matter is primarily one of __________.

Possible Answers:

frightened fascination

impudence and criticism

anger and annoyance

timidity and confusion

curiosity and wonder

Correct answer:

curiosity and wonder

Explanation:

The phrase in which the author’s attitude can be most clearly seen is “Each form of life has, as it were, solved it best to suit its own peculiar case, and to the earnest student of Nature there is nothing more interesting than to pry into these solutions and note how varied, strange, and wonderful they are.” Here the author expresses the “peculiar” and “strange” things of which “there is nothing more interesting” and “wonderful.” From the use of these words and phrases and an understanding of the overall style of the text, we can conclude that the author’s attitude is primarily one of “curiosity and wonder.” To provide further help, “impudence” means rudeness and disrespect; “criticism” means  pointing out flaws in something or someone; “fascination” means great interest in something, and “timidity” means shyness or meekness.

Example Question #1 : Determining Authorial Attitude In Argumentative Science Passages

Adapted from "The Greatest Sea-Wave Ever Known" by R. A. Proctor in Wonders of Earth, Sea, and Sky (1902, ed. Edward Singleton Holden)

Far on beyond the shores of New Zealand the great wave coursed, reaching at length the coast of Australia. At dawn of August 14th Moreton Bay was visited by five well-marked waves. At Newcastle, on the Hunter River, the sea rose and fell several times in a remarkable manner, the oscillatory motion commencing at half-past six in the morning. But the most significant evidence of the extent to which the sea-wave traveled in this direction was afforded at Port Fairy, Belfast, South Victoria. Here the oscillation of the water was distinctly perceived at midday on August 14th; and yet, to reach this point, the sea-wave must not only have traveled on a circuitous course nearly equal in length to half the circumference of the earth, but must have passed through Bass's Straits, between Australia and Van Diemen's Land, and so have lost a considerable portion of its force and dimensions. When we remember that had not the effects of the earth-shock on the water been limited by the shores of South America, a wave of disturbance equal in extent to that which traveled westward would have swept toward the east, we see that the force of the shock was sufficient to have disturbed the waters of an ocean covering the whole surface of the earth. For the sea-waves which reached Yokohama in one direction and Port Fairy in another had each traversed a distance nearly equal to half the earth's circumference; so that if the surface of the earth were all sea, waves setting out in opposite directions from the center of disturbance would have met each other at the antipodes of their starting-point.

It is impossible to contemplate the effects which followed the great earthquake—the passage of a sea-wave of enormous volume over fully one third of the earth's surface, and the force with which, on the farthermost limits of its range, the wave rolled in upon shores more than ten thousand miles from its starting-place—without feeling that those geologists are right who deny that the subterranean forces of the earth are diminishing in intensity. It may be difficult, perhaps, to look on the effects which are ascribed to ancient earth-throes without imagining for a while that the power of modern earthquakes is altogether less. But when we consider fairly the share which time had in those ancient processes of change, when we see that while mountain ranges were being upheaved or valleys depressed to their present position, species after species, and type after type appeared on the earth, and lived out the long lives which belong to species and to types, we are recalled to the remembrance of the great work which the earth's subterranean forces are still engaged upon. Even now continents are being slowly depressed or upheaved; even now mountain ranges are being raised to a new level, tablelands are in process of formation, and great valleys are being gradually scooped out. It may need an occasional outburst, such as the earthquake of August, 1868, to remind us that great forces are at work beneath the earth's surface. But, in reality, the signs of change have long been noted. Old shorelines shift their place, old soundings vary; the sea advances in one place and retires in another; on every side Nature's plastic hand is at work modeling and remodeling the earth, in order that it may always be a fit abode for those who are to dwell upon it.

The author’s attitude towards the sea-wave could best be described as __________.

Possible Answers:

humility

awe

reverence

introspection

shame

Correct answer:

awe

Explanation:

The author is primarily astonished and awestruck by the intensity and extent of the sea-wave and the forces at work within the Earth’s interior. This can be seen in excerpts such as “the sea rose and fell several times in a remarkable manner" and the manner in which the author expresses “awe” at the distance traveled by the sea-wave in spite of the obstacles presented by the formation of the land. It might be reasonable to state that the author’s attitude is “reverence,” but this means deep respect, and whilst the author clearly has “respect” for the working of the Earth’s interior, he is more “astonished” and full of “awe” than he is “reverent.” Likewise, the use of the word “contemplate” at the beginning of the second paragraph might suggest the author is adopting an attitude of “introspection"; however, this is closer to the author’s attitude on the conclusions that can be derived from the awe-inspiring and intense power of the sea-wave, rather than his attitude towards the sea-wave itself.

Example Question #2 : Determining Authorial Attitude In Argumentative Science Passages

Adapted from “The Stars” by Sir Robert S. Ball in Wonders of Earth, Sea, and Sky (1902, ed. Edward Singleton Holden)

The group of bodies that cluster around our sun forms a little island in the extent of infinite space. We may illustrate this by drawing a map in which we shall endeavor to show the stars placed at their proper relative distances. 

We first open the compasses one inch, and thus draw a little circle to represent the path of Earth. We are not going to put in all the planets; we take Neptune, the outermost, at once. To draw its path, I open the compasses to thirty inches, and draw a circle with that radius. That will do for our solar system, though the comets no doubt will roam beyond these limits. 

To complete our map, we ought to put in some stars. There are a hundred million to choose from, and we shall begin with the brightest. It is often called the Dog Star, but astronomers know it better as Sirius. Let us see where it is to be placed on our map. Sirius is a good deal further off than Neptune; so I try at the edge of the drawing-board; I have got a method of making a little calculation that I do not intend to trouble you with, but I can assure you that the results it leads me to are quite correct; they show me that this board is not big enough. But could a board which was big enough fit into this lecture theatre? No; in fact, the board would have to go out through the wall of the theatre, out through London. Indeed, big as London is, it would not be large enough to contain the drawing-board that I should require. It would have to stretch about twenty miles from where we are now assembled. We may therefore dismiss any hope of making a practical map of our system on this scale if Sirius is to have its proper place. 

Let us, then, take some other star. We shall naturally try with the nearest of all. It is one that we do not know in this part of the world, but those that live in the southern hemisphere are well acquainted with it. The name of this star is Alpha Centauri. Even for this star, we should require a drawing three or four miles long if the distance from the earth to the sun is to be taken as one inch. 

You see what an isolated position our sun and its planets occupy. The stars might be very troublesome neighbors if they were very much closer to our system; it is therefore well they are so far off. If they were near at hand, they would drag us into unpleasantly great heat by bringing us too close to the sun, or produce a coolness by pulling us away from the sun, which would be quite as disagreeable.

The author primarily expects his audience to __________ his findings.

Possible Answers:

admire

ignore

laud

deride

trust

Correct answer:

trust

Explanation:

In order to answer this question, you have to be able to pay attention to the correct clue that the author provides. This requires careful reading of the whole text. In the middle of the first paragraph, the author says, “Sirius is a good deal further off than Neptune; so I try at the edge of the drawing-board; I have got a method of making a little calculation that I do not intend to trouble you with, but I can assure you that the results it leads me to are quite correct; they show me that this board is not big enough.” You can see that the author assumes his audience will “trust” his findings on faith alone because the author does not offer up the methodology he employs. He simply says “I have got a method . . . I do not intend to trouble you with [it], but I can assure you that the results . . . are quite correct.” To provide further help, “deride” means mock or make fun of, and “laud” means praise.

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