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

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #3 : 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.

The author’s tone in this passage is best described as __________

Possible Answers:

optimistic

imaginative

frustrated

humorous

sarcastic

Correct answer:

frustrated

Explanation:

Throughout the passage, the author laments that people who damage the environment by releasing invasive species cannot be legally punished for it, and provides the example of the gypsy moth as a particularly damaging invasive species. He takes his topic quite seriously, so we can’t call his tone “humorous.” He never uses sarcasm, so we can’t call it “sarcastic.” He doesn’t think that the United States will ever be rid of the gypsy moth, so we can’t call his tone “optimistic.” This leaves us with “imaginative” and “frustrated.” The author doesn’t use fanciful or figurative language in the passage, so we can’t accurately call his tone “imaginative.” “Frustrated” is the best answer. The author clearly wants to change the situation surrounding invasive species and the way in which those who introduce them are legally treated, but he cannot do anything to effect change in this area besides inform his readers of what’s wrong with the current system.

Example Question #21 : Analyzing Authorial Tone And Method 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.

The description of the gypsy moth caterpillar found in the passage’s second paragraph suggests that the author __________ it.

Possible Answers:

underestimates

detests

adores

misunderstands

respects

Correct answer:

detests

Explanation:

How does the author describe the gypsy moth caterpillar in the second paragraph? Well, we can tell he’s not very fond of it at all because he says, “The moth itself is not bad to look at, but its larvae is a great, overgrown brute with an appetite like a hog.” Similarly, at the end of the paragraph, he writes, “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.” Based on the strong negative language the author uses when discussing the gypsy moth caterpillars and the damage they cause, we can pick out “detests” as the correct answer.

Example Question #4 : Argumentative Science Passages

Adapted from “Some Strange Nurseries” by Grant Allen in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

Among the larger lizards, a distinct difference may be observed between the American alligator and its near ally, the African crocodile. On the banks of the Mississippi, the alligator lays a hundred eggs or thereabouts, which she deposits in a nest near the water’s edge, and then covers them up with leaves and other decaying vegetable matter. The fermentation of these leaves produces heat and so does for the alligator’s eggs what sitting does for those of hens and other birds: the mother deputes her maternal functions, so to speak, to a festering heap of decomposing plant-refuse. Nevertheless, she loiters about all the time to see what happens, and when the eggs hatch out, she leads her little ones down to the river, and there makes alligators of them. This is a simple nursery arrangement of the big lizards.

The African crocodile, on the other hand, does something different, and takes greater care for the safety of its young. It lays only about thirty eggs, but these it buries in warm sand, and then lies on top of them at night, both to protect them from attack and to keep them warm during the cooler hours. In short, it sits upon them. When the young crocodiles within the eggs are ready to hatch, they utter an acute cry. The mother then digs down to the eggs, and lays them freely on the surface, so that the little reptiles may have space to work their way out unimpeded. This they do by biting at the shell with a specially developed tooth; at the end of two hours’ nibbling they are free, and are led down to the water by their affectionate parent. In these two cases we see the beginnings of the instinct of hatching, which in birds has become almost universal.

The author’s tone in this passage is primarily __________.

Possible Answers:

informational

comforting

suspicious

irate

pessimistic 

Correct answer:

informational

Explanation:

This text reads like a simple academic text comparing the material behavior of two types of animals. His tone in this passage is very neutral. It certainly could not be described as “irate” (angry), “pessimistic” (expecting the worst out of situations), “suspicious,” or “comforting” (offering comfort). The only answer choice that makes sense is “informational” because the author focuses on imparting information and educating his audience.

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

Adapted from "The Colors of Animals" by Sir John Lubbock in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

The color of animals is by no means a matter of chance; it depends on many considerations, but in the majority of cases tends to protect the animal from danger by rendering it less conspicuous. Perhaps it may be said that if coloring is mainly protective, there ought to be but few brightly colored animals. There are, however, not a few cases in which vivid colors are themselves protective. The kingfisher itself, though so brightly colored, is by no means easy to see. The blue harmonizes with the water, and the bird as it darts along the stream looks almost like a flash of sunlight.

Desert animals are generally the color of the desert. Thus, for instance, the lion, the antelope, and the wild donkey are all sand-colored. “Indeed,” says Canon Tristram, “in the desert, where neither trees, brushwood, nor even undulation of the surface afford the slightest protection to its foes, a modification of color assimilated to that of the surrounding country is absolutely necessary. Hence, without exception, the upper plumage of every bird, and also the fur of all the smaller mammals and the skin of all the snakes and lizards, is of one uniform sand color.”

The next point is the color of the mature caterpillars, some of which are brown. This probably makes the caterpillar even more conspicuous among the green leaves than would otherwise be the case. Let us see, then, whether the habits of the insect will throw any light upon the riddle. What would you do if you were a big caterpillar? Why, like most other defenseless creatures, you would feed by night, and lie concealed by day. So do these caterpillars. When the morning light comes, they creep down the stem of the food plant, and lie concealed among the thick herbage and dry sticks and leaves, near the ground, and it is obvious that under such circumstances the brown color really becomes a protection. It might indeed be argued that the caterpillars, having become brown, concealed themselves on the ground, and that we were reversing the state of things. But this is not so, because, while we may say as a general rule that large caterpillars feed by night and lie concealed by day, it is by no means always the case that they are brown; some of them still retaining the green color. We may then conclude that the habit of concealing themselves by day came first, and that the brown color is a later adaptation.

The tone of this essay could best be described as __________.

Possible Answers:

irate

abrasive

serene

authoritative

humble

Correct answer:

authoritative

Explanation:

This essay reads like an academic essay with a clear and focused thesis. There is little tonal inflection one way or another, so answering this question is probably most easily done by eliminating answer choices that are definitely incorrect. For example, the author is definitely not “irate” (angry) or “abrasive” (rude and offensive). Likewise, he is not really “serene” (peaceful). That leaves “humble” and “authoritative,” which are in many ways opposites of one another. As the author’s argument is well laid out and seems to offer little room for compromise, we can reasonably deduce his tone is more “authoritative” than it is “humble.”

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