SSAT Middle Level Reading : Finding Context-Dependent Meanings of Phrases in Argumentative Science Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #51 : 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 paraphrases the underlined sentence, “Every introduced species is doubtful gravel until panned out”?

Possible Answers:

Species that live in gravel are usually harmful when placed in new environments.

One can’t tell whether an introduced species will be helpful or harmful until it is actually introduced.

Species that live underground should be carefully examined before being moved into new environments.

An invasive species can cause beneficial effects to its new environment as well as harmful ones.

One should never move a species from its natural environment into a new environment for fear of the consequences.

Correct answer:

One can’t tell whether an introduced species will be helpful or harmful until it is actually introduced.

Explanation:

Here, the author is using figurative language to describe introduced species. He metaphorically calls them “doubtful gravel until [they are] panned out.” Because he’s not speaking literally, this sentence has nothing to do with the ground or gravel itself, so we can eliminate the answer choices “Species that live underground should be carefully examined before being moved into new environments” and “Species that live in gravel are usually harmful when placed in new environments.”

What is the author getting at with his metaphor? Panning rocks and dirt allows miners to separate out valuable minerals from other matter. Think of miners “panning for gold”—it’s the same principle, except here, the author is speaking of it as applying to gravel. By calling the gravel “doubtful,” the author is expressing that you don’t know what you’re going to get with it before you “pan it out” and see if there is anything valuable in it. Applying this thinking to invasive species, the author is therefore saying that “one can’t tell whether an introduced species will be helpful or harmful until it is actually introduced.” 

If you didn’t know what panning gravel was, you could still solve this question by narrowing down your answer choices. For instance, nowhere in the passage are the beneficial effects of introduced species discussed, though the author discusses this in a previous chapter of his book. Because they’re not mentioned in the passage, we can discard the answer choice “An invasive species can cause beneficial effects to its new environment as well as harmful ones.” This is definitely not what the indicated sentence is saying; if we replaced the sentence with this answer choice, the logic of the paragraph wouldn’t make any sense.

As for the remaining answer choice, “One should never move a species from its natural environment into a new environment for fear of the consequences,” it cannot be correct because in the sentence before the one on which this question focuses, the author writes, “The man who successfully transplants or ‘introduces' into a new habitat any persistent species of living thing assumes a very grave responsibility.” Note that he doesn’t say that this should never be done; he just implies that it could go very badly. It wouldn’t make much sense if in the next sentence, the author said this should never be done. It seems more logical that he would have led with that statement, it being the stronger of the two.

Example Question #15 : 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.

Which of these sentences best restates the author’s meaning in the underlined portion of text?

Possible Answers:

“If the world was one completely connected ocean, the waves would never diminish in intensity until they met each other on the opposite side of the world.”

“If the Earth were devoid of land, waves traveling in opposite directions from the epicenter would meet each other at the exact opposite side of the Earth.”

“The waves set out in opposite directions from the epicenter and met at the exact opposite side of the world."

“Without the impacting influence of the land, the sea-wave would continue in perpetuity.”

“The surface of the Earth is largely undisturbed by the movement of the Earth’s molten interior.”

Correct answer:

“If the Earth were devoid of land, waves traveling in opposite directions from the epicenter would meet each other at the exact opposite side of the Earth.”

Explanation:

Answering this question is much simpler if you understand that “center of disturbance” is another way of saying “epicenter.” (Both terms meaning the center point where the earthquake occurred.) Similarly, it helps to understand that “antipode” means polar opposite. The author is talking about how, because of the impact of land, the waves traveling in opposite directions do not actually meet each other, but “if the earth were devoid of (without) land, waves traveling in opposite directions from the epicenter would meet each other at the exact opposite side of the Earth.”

Example Question #3 : Making Inferences And Predictions In Contemporary Life Passages

Adapted from The Principles of Breeding by S. L. Goodale (1861)

The Jersey cow, formerly known as the Alderney, is almost exclusively employed for dairy purposes, and may not be expected to give satisfaction for other uses. Their milk is richer than that of any other cows, and the butter made from it possesses a superior flavor and a deep rich color, and consequently commands an extraordinary price in all markets where good butter is appreciated.

Jersey cattle are of Norman origin, and are noted for their milking properties. The cows are generally very docile and gentle, but the males when past two or three years of age often become vicious and unmanageable. It is said that the cows fatten readily when dry.

There is no branch of cattle husbandry which promises better returns than the breeding and rearing of milch cows. In the vicinity of large towns and cities are many cows which having been culled from many miles around, on account of dairy properties, are considerably above the average, but taking the cows of the country together they do not compare favorably with the oxen. Farmers generally take more pride in their oxen, and strive to have as good or better than any of their neighbors, while if a cow will give milk enough to rear a large steer calf and a little besides, it is often deemed satisfactory.

“Milch cows” are most probably __________.

Possible Answers:

male cows

cows raised for their meat

cows raised for their milk

female cows

Jersey cows

Correct answer:

cows raised for their milk

Explanation:

A “milch cow” is a cow that produces milk for the farmer, but it is highly likely you have never encountered this term before. You must therefore read in context. The author makes the statement “There is no branch of cattle husbandry which promises better returns than the breeding and rearing of milch cows” immediately after he spends two paragraphs talking about the immensely productive dairy-producing qualities of Jersey cows, so you may infer that a “milch cow” is a dairy cow, or a cow raised for its milk.

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