SSAT Middle Level Reading : Understanding and Evaluating Opinions and Arguments in Argumentative Science Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #4 : Identifying And Analyzing Supporting Ideas In 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.

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

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

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

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

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 #181 : 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 example of the extent to which the sea-wave traveled is primarily used to prove __________.

Possible Answers:

that the people of the British Isles are particularly observant when it comes to ocean phenomena

that the world is much smaller than we have previously imagined

that the oceans are all interconnected

that the internal forces of the Earth are not declining in intensity

that no one can reliably predict the movement inside the Earth’s crust

Correct answer:

that the internal forces of the Earth are not declining in intensity

Explanation:

The author employs the example of the extent to which the sea-wave traveled to prove that the internal forces of the Earth are as powerful as they have been throughout the history of the Earth. This is the primary argument of the passage, and, in particular, the second paragraph. The author offers this conclusion to us most readily when he says "those geologists are right who deny that the subterranean forces of the earth are diminishing in intensity.”

Example Question #51 : Textual Relationships In 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.

Why is it considered especially vital for desert animals to match the color of the desert?

Possible Answers:

Because the predators in the desert are especially quick and intelligent

Because the color of the desert is similar to the natural colors of many animals

Because the inherent desolation of the desert ensures a lack of natural protection

Because the color of the desert is particularly suited to swift evolutionary adaptation

Because food is especially scarce in the desert

Correct answer:

Because the inherent desolation of the desert ensures a lack of natural protection

Explanation:

Answering this question requires you to pay attention to details and be able to interpret a small portion of text. In the relevant section, the author says, "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.” So, in the desert, there are no trees or changes in the surface of the earth to provide cover and protection (“inherent desolation”); therefore, it is especially vital for desert animals to mimic the color of their environment to ensure they can remain hidden.

Example Question #182 : 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 example of the mature caterpillar in the third paragraph is primarily intended to show __________.

Possible Answers:

how genetic adaptation follows and aids behavioral patterns

how the coloring of insects varied greatly based on their behavioral patterns

how easy it is to catch a caterpillar if you know where and when to look

how caterpillars have developed their green and brown colorings

how the coloring of some animals is less easy to explain.

Correct answer:

how genetic adaptation follows and aids behavioral patterns

Explanation:

In the third paragraph, the author talks at length about the development of a brown coloring among certain mature caterpillars which aids their survival in the daytime, when they hide among the sticks and twigs below their foods sources. It is clear that the author is arguing that the caterpillar’s coloring (“genetic adaptation”) follows and aids its habit of eating by night and hiding during the day (“behavioral patterns”) from the excerpt that reads, “We may then conclude that the habit of concealing themselves by day came first, and that the brown color is a later adaptation.”

Example Question #181 : 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.

Why is the vastness of the universe considered so important by the author?

Possible Answers:

It protects us from the harmful impact of other solar bodies being near Earth.

It allows us to prosper in peace and solitude.

It allows for the creation of life in millions of different settings.

It protects us from the possible aggression of alien civilizations.

It ensures the safety of our sun.

Correct answer:

It protects us from the harmful impact of other solar bodies being near Earth.

Explanation:

Throughout this passage, the author is trying to demonstrate the vastness of our universe by highlighting the difficulty of properly rendering the celestial bodies on a scaled-down model. However, toward the end of the passage, he changes track slightly and declares that it is a good thing the universe is so massive and relatively empty. He says, “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.” He is arguing that if the other stars were closer to us, they would interfere in our orbit around the sun and would have a harmful impact on our planet.

Example Question #184 : 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 example of the kingfisher in the first paragraph is intended to prove __________.

Possible Answers:

That birds are far more likely to have vibrant and striking coloring

That the color of an animal is not always adapted to match the background color of its environment

That adapted coloring has many doubters who use the kingfisher to disprove the theory

None of these answers; it is an anecdotal story designed to inject lightness into the subject

That the author’s thesis, whilst generally applicable, cannot be applied to every animal in every situation

Correct answer:

That the color of an animal is not always adapted to match the background color of its environment

Explanation:

Answering this question requires you to read the first paragraph carefully and to understand the argument that the author is making. The author says, “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.” So, while the colors of different animals generally match their environment, sometimes there are cases in which vivid colors offer better protection, as in the case of the kingfisher. There is no one rule about how an animal’s coloring might be adapted. As the author says, “The blue harmonizes with the water, and the bird as it darts along the stream looks almost like a flash of sunlight.” So, the kingfisher is better protected by vibrant colors.

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