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

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

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Example Questions

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Example Question #2 : Understanding Style, Argument, And Organization In Natural Science Passages

Adapted from “Humming-Birds: As Illustrating the Luxuriance of Tropical Nature” in Tropical Nature, and Other Essays by Alfred Russel Wallace (1878)

The food of hummingbirds has been a matter of much controversy. All the early writers down to Buffon believed that they lived solely on the nectar of flowers, but since that time, every close observer of their habits maintains that they feed largely, and in some cases wholly, on insects. Azara observed them on the La Plata in winter taking insects out of the webs of spiders at a time and place where there were no flowers. Bullock, in Mexico, declares that he saw them catch small butterflies, and that he found many kinds of insects in their stomachs. Waterton made a similar statement. Hundreds and perhaps thousands of specimens have since been dissected by collecting naturalists, and in almost every instance their stomachs have been found full of insects, sometimes, but not generally, mixed with a proportion of honey. Many of them in fact may be seen catching gnats and other small insects just like fly-catchers, sitting on a dead twig over water, darting off for a time in the air, and then returning to the twig. Others come out just at dusk, and remain on the wing, now stationary, now darting about with the greatest rapidity, imitating in a limited space the evolutions of the goatsuckers, and evidently for the same end and purpose. Mr. Gosse also remarks, ” All the hummingbirds have more or less the habit, when in flight, of pausing in the air and throwing the body and tail into rapid and odd contortions. This is most observable in the Polytmus, from the effect that such motions have on the long feathers of the tail. That the object of these quick turns is the capture of insects, I am sure, having watched one thus engaged pretty close to me.”

What evidence does Mr. Gosse have to support the claim that hummingbirds eat insects?

Possible Answers:

He surmised that they must eat insects because he has never seen one eating flower nectar.

He observed one flailing around in the air and concluded that it was eating insects.

He examined the contents of a hummingbird’s stomach and found many insects in it.

A hummingbird got into his collection of live insects, and soon after, all of his insects were missing.

He read in a reputable scientific journal that they eat insects.

Correct answer:

He observed one flailing around in the air and concluded that it was eating insects.

Explanation:

To answer this question, we have to consider the quotation attributed to Mr. Gosse found at the end of the passage:

“Mr. Gosse also remarks, ‘All the hummingbirds have more or less the habit, when in flight, of pausing in the air and throwing the body and tail into rapid and odd contortions. This is most observable in the Polytmus, from the effect that such motions have on the long feathers of the tail. That the object of these quick turns is the capture of insects, I am sure, having watched one thus engaged pretty close to me.’”

He doesn’t mention anything about having a collection of live insects, getting his information from a scientific journal, or dissecting a hummingbird’s stomach, so we can ignore those answer choices. He actively observes a hummingbird and surmises that they eat insects because of that, so the correct answer is “He observed one flailing around in the air and concluded that it was eating insects.”

Example Question #1 : Understanding And Evaluating Opinions And Arguments In Narrative Science Passages

Adapted from Cassell’s Natural History by Francis Martin Duncan (1913)

The penguins are a group of birds inhabiting the southern ocean, for the most part passing their lives in the icy waters of the Antarctic seas. Like the ratitae, penguins have lost the power of flight, but the wings are modified into swimming organs and the birds lead an aquatic existence and are scarcely seen on land except in the breeding season. They are curious-looking creatures that appear to have no legs, as the limbs are encased in the skin of the body and the large flat feet are set so far back that the birds waddle along on land in an upright position in a very ridiculous manner, carrying their long narrow flippers held out as if they were arms. When swimming, penguins use their wings as paddles while the feet are used for steering.

Penguins are usually gregarious—in the sea, they swim together in schools, and on land, assemble in great numbers in their rookeries. They are very methodical in their ways, and on leaving the water, the birds always follow well-defined tracks leading to the rookeries, marching with much solemnity one behind the other in soldierly order. 

The largest species of penguins are the king penguin and the emperor penguin, the former being found in Kerguelen Land, the Falklands, and other southern islands, and the latter in Victoria Land and on the pack ice of the Antarctic seas. As they are unaccustomed from the isolation of their haunts to being hunted and persecuted by man, emperor penguins are remarkably fearless, and Antarctic explorers invading their territory have found themselves objects of curiosity rather than fear to the strange birds who followed them about as if they were much astonished at their appearance. 

The emperor penguin lays but a single egg and breeds during the intense cold and darkness of the Antarctic winter. To prevent contact with the frozen snow, the bird places its egg upon its flat webbed feet and crouches down upon it so that it is well covered with the feathers. In spite of this precaution, many eggs do not hatch and the mortality amongst the young chicks is very great.

What aspect(s) of the king penguin and the emperor penguin does the passage contrast?

Possible Answers:

Their appearances

The locations in which they live

The locations in which they live, their food sources, and their appearances

Their food sources and appearances

The locations in which they live and their food sources

Correct answer:

The locations in which they live

Explanation:

The passage mentions the king penguin and the emperor penguin at the beginning of its third paragraph, so we can look there to identify how the two are contrasted. Only one sentence in the passage talks about the king penguin:

“The largest species of penguins are the king penguin and the emperor penguin, the former being found in Kerguelen Land, the Falklands, and other southern islands, and the latter in Victoria Land and on the pack ice of the Antarctic seas.”

While the answer choices about for sources and appearances may seem likely, but the correct answer is “The locations in which they live,” as this is the only aspect of the king penguin and the emperor penguin that is contrasted in the passage.

Example Question #2 : Understanding And Evaluating Opinions And Arguments In Narrative Science Passages

Adapted from A Catechism of Familiar Things: Their History and the Events Which Led to Their Discovery by the Benziger Brothers (1881)

The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, is a luminous appearance in the northern parts of the sky, seen mostly during winter, or in frosty weather, and clear evenings; it assumes a variety of forms and hues, especially in the polar regions, where it appears in its perfection, and proves a great solace to the inhabitants amidst the gloom of their long winter's night, which lasts from one to six months.

What aspect of the Aurora Borealis does the author highlight in the underlined phrase “proves a great solace to the inhabitants amidst the gloom of their long winter's night, which lasts from one to six months”?

Possible Answers:

The comfort it provides.

The beauty of it.

Its appearance only in winter.

The illumination it provides.

The length of time it lasts.

Correct answer:

The comfort it provides.

Explanation:

The author says that the Aurora Borealis “appears in its perfection” and “proves a great solace . . . amidst the gloom of their long winter’s night." Something that provides “solace” provides comfort. “Solace” means comfort. The author is talking about how the winters are long and “gloomy” (sad and dark) and that the Northern Lights provide comfort to people during this miserable time. Although the author does talk about how the Aurora Borealis occurs in winter, this is not what is being highlighted.

Example Question #177 : Science Passages

Adapted from "How the Soil is Made" by Charles Darwin in Wonders of Earth, Sea, and Sky (1902, ed. Edward Singleton Holden)

Worms have played a more important part in the history of the world than most persons would at first suppose. In almost all humid countries they are extraordinarily numerous, and for their size possess great muscular power. In many parts of England a weight of more than ten tons (10,516 kilograms) of dry earth annually passes through their bodies and is brought to the surface on each acre of land, so that the whole superficial bed of vegetable mould passes through their bodies in the course of every few years. From the collapsing of the old burrows, the mold is in constant though slow movement, and the particles composing it are thus rubbed together. Thus the particles of earth, forming the superficial mold, are subjected to conditions eminently favorable for their decomposition and disintegration. This keeps the surface of the earth perfectly suited to the growth of an abundant array of fruits and vegetables.

Worms are poorly provided with sense-organs, for they cannot be said to see, although they can just distinguish between light and darkness; they are completely deaf, and have only a feeble power of smell; the sense of touch alone is well developed. They can, therefore, learn little about the outside world, and it is surprising that they should exhibit some skill in lining their burrows with their castings and with leaves, and in the case of some species in piling up their castings into tower-like constructions. But it is far more surprising that they should apparently exhibit some degree of intelligence instead of a mere blind, instinctive impulse, in their manner of plugging up the mouths of their burrows. They act in nearly the same manner as would a man, who had to close a cylindrical tube with different kinds of leaves, petioles, triangles of paper, etc., for they commonly seize such objects by their pointed ends. But with thin objects a certain number are drawn in by their broader ends. They do not act in the same unvarying manner in all cases, as do most of the lower animals.

Worms are characterized as all of the following in this passage EXCEPT __________.

Possible Answers:

greatly underappreciated

surprisingly intelligent

None of the other answers

extremely prolific

immensely strong for their size

Correct answer:

None of the other answers

Explanation:

In this passage, worms are characterized as all of these answers. So, none of them is the exception. Early in the first paragraph, the author says, “In almost all humid countries they are extraordinarily numerous, and for their size possess great muscular power.” So, worms are “immensely strong for their size” and “extremely prolific.” “Prolific” and “numerous” both mean present in large numbers or plentiful. In the second paragraph, the author spends much of his time characterizing worms as “surprisingly intelligent,” as is shown in his focus on their ability to adapt to different circumstances when it comes to plugging their burrows. Finally, throughout the passage, worms are characterized as “greatly underappreciated.” This is notable in the second paragraph, where the author seems deeply impressed by the intelligence of worms, but most obviously notable in the first paragraph, where the author says “Worms have played a more important part in the history of the world than most persons would at first suppose.”

Example Question #31 : Locating Details In Narrative Science Passages

Adapted from "The Wild Llama" by Charles Darwin in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

The wild llama is the characteristic quadruped of the plains of Patagonia; it is the South American representative of the camel in the East. It is an elegant animal in a state of nature, with a long slender neck and fine legs. It is very common over the whole of the temperate parts of the continent, as far south as the islands near Cape Horn. It generally lives in small herds of from half a dozen to thirty in each, but on the banks of the St. Cruz we saw one herd which must have contained at least five hundred.

They are generally wild and extremely wary. Mr. Stokes told me that he one day saw through a glass a herd of these animals which evidently had been frightened and were running away at full speed, although they were so far away that he could not distinguish them with his naked eye. The sportsman frequently receives the first notice of their presence by hearing from a long distance their peculiar shrill, neighing note of alarm. If he then looks attentively, he will probably see the herd standing in a line on the side of some distant hill. On approaching nearer, a few more squeals are given, and off they set at an apparently slow, but really quick canter, along some narrow beaten track to a neighboring hill. If, however, by chance, he abruptly meets a single animal, or several together, they will generally stand motionless and intently gaze at him, then perhaps move on a few yards, turn round, and look again. What is the cause of this difference in their shyness? Do they mistake a man in the distance for their chief enemy, the puma? Or does curiosity overcome their timidity?

Why was the herd of llamas that the author witnessed on the banks of the St. Cruz considered exceptional?

Possible Answers:

It was eating a type of food that is extremely uncommon for wild llamas to eat.

It was exhibiting aggressive behavior that is highly unusual for a pack of llamas.

It was demonstrating a level of intelligence considered almost impossible for wild llamas.

It was found in an environment that was typically very uncommon for llamas to be found in.

It was much larger than the typical size of herds that the author had observed.

Correct answer:

It was much larger than the typical size of herds that the author had observed.

Explanation:

Answering this question requires little more than reading in context and identifying relevant information. The author says, “It generally lives in small herds of from half a dozen to thirty in each, but on the banks of the St. Cruz we saw one herd which must have contained at least five hundred.” So, llamas are usually found in herds between six and thirty individuals, but the pack found near the banks of the St. Cruz river contained over five hundred individuals.

Example Question #132 : Science Passages

Adapted from "What I Saw in an Ant’s Nest" by Andrew Wilson in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

The workers appear to perform a never-ending round of duties. They build the nests, make the roads, attend to the wants of the young, train up the latter in the ways of ant existence, wait on the sovereigns of the nest, and like diplomatic courtiers, duly arrange for the royal marriages of the future. As Mr. Bates remarks, “The wonderful part in the history of the termites is that not only is there a rigid division of labor, but that nature has given to each class a structure of body adapting it to the kind of labor it has to perform. The males and females form a class apart; they do no kind of work, but in the course of growth, acquire wings to enable them to issue forth and disseminate their kind. The workers and soldiers are wingless, and differ solely in the shape and armature of the head. The head in the laborers is smooth and rounded, the mouth being adapted for the working of the materials in building the hive. In the soldier, the head is of very large size, and is provided in almost every kind with special organs of offense and defense in the form of horny processes resembling pikes, tridents, and so forth . . . The course of human events in our day seems, unhappily, to make it more than ever necessary for the citizens of industrious communities to set apart a numerous armed class for the protection of the rest; in this, nations only do what nature has of old done for the termites. The soldier termite, however, has not only the fighting instinct and function; he is constructed as a soldier, and carries his weapons not in his hand but growing out of his body.” When a colony of termites is disturbed, the ordinary citizens disappear and the military are called out. “The soldiers mounted the breach,” says Mr. Bates, “to cover the retreat of the workers,” when a hole was made in the archway of one of their covered roads, and with military precision the rear men fall into the vacant places in the front ranks as the latter are emptied by the misfortune of war.

What is the “wonderful part in the history of termites”?

Possible Answers:

They work in harmony as one fully functional and self-sufficient unit.

Their types are permanently and rigidly divided.

They are not adverse to hard work and industry.

They are able to defend themselves from attack.

Their bodies are designed to maximize the function accorded to them.

Correct answer:

Their bodies are designed to maximize the function accorded to them.

Explanation:

In context, the author says, “The wonderful part in the history of the termites is that not only is there a rigid division of labor, but nature has given to each class a structure of body adapting it to the kind of labor it has to perform.” The author is remarking on how “nature has given . . . a structure of body adapting [each kind of termite] to the kind of labor it has to perform,” which could be restated as “their bodies are designed (by nature) to maximize the function accorded to them.” The author goes on to further explain this “wonderful” trait when he describes the different body parts of a worker and soldier termite.

Example Question #133 : Science Passages

Adapted from "What I Saw in an Ant’s Nest" by Andrew Wilson in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

The workers appear to perform a never-ending round of duties. They build the nests, make the roads, attend to the wants of the young, train up the latter in the ways of ant existence, wait on the sovereigns of the nest, and like diplomatic courtiers, duly arrange for the royal marriages of the future. As Mr. Bates remarks, “The wonderful part in the history of the termites is that not only is there a rigid division of labor, but that nature has given to each class a structure of body adapting it to the kind of labor it has to perform. The males and females form a class apart; they do no kind of work, but in the course of growth, acquire wings to enable them to issue forth and disseminate their kind. The workers and soldiers are wingless, and differ solely in the shape and armature of the head. The head in the laborers is smooth and rounded, the mouth being adapted for the working of the materials in building the hive. In the soldier, the head is of very large size, and is provided in almost every kind with special organs of offense and defense in the form of horny processes resembling pikes, tridents, and so forth . . . The course of human events in our day seems, unhappily, to make it more than ever necessary for the citizens of industrious communities to set apart a numerous armed class for the protection of the rest; in this, nations only do what nature has of old done for the termites. The soldier termite, however, has not only the fighting instinct and function; he is constructed as a soldier, and carries his weapons not in his hand but growing out of his body.” When a colony of termites is disturbed, the ordinary citizens disappear and the military are called out. “The soldiers mounted the breach,” says Mr. Bates, “to cover the retreat of the workers,” when a hole was made in the archway of one of their covered roads, and with military precision the rear men fall into the vacant places in the front ranks as the latter are emptied by the misfortune of war.

What aspect of humanity does the author compare to termites?

Possible Answers:

The ease with which society can be organized in times of peace and times of war

The need to maintain a permanent portion of the population as soldiers to defend the collective group

The natural tendency towards violence that requires all people to have at least a minimal understanding of fighting and warfare

The love of industry and hard work that has made humanity successful

The nature of complete obedience to an absolute ruler

Correct answer:

The need to maintain a permanent portion of the population as soldiers to defend the collective group

Explanation:

The author compares humanity to termites when discussing how termites maintain a permanent portion of the population as soldiers in order to provide for the defense of the rest of the population. The author says “The course of human events in our day seems, unhappily, to make it more than ever necessary for the citizens of civilized and industrious communities to set apart a numerous armed class for the protection of the rest; in this, nations only do what nature has of old done for the termites.”

Example Question #2 : Identifying And Analyzing Supporting Ideas In Science Passages

Adapted from "Bats" by W. S. Dallas in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

Like the owls, with which they share the dominion of the evening air, the bats have a perfectly noiseless flight; their activity is chiefly during the twilight, although some species are later, and in fact seem to keep up throughout the whole night. As they rest during the day, concealed usually in the most inaccessible places they can find, and are seen only upon the wing, their power of flight is their most striking peculiarity in the popular mind, and it is perhaps no great wonder that by many people, both in ancient and modern times, they have been regarded as birds. Nevertheless, their hairy bodies and leathery wings are so unlike anything that we ordinarily understand as pertaining to a bird, that opinion was apparently always divided, as to the true nature of these creatures—“a mouse with wings,” as Goldsmith called it once, according to James Boswell, is certainly a curious animal, and very difficult to classify so long as the would-be systematist has no particularly definite ideas to guide him. The likeness of the bat to a winged mouse has made itself felt in the name given to the creature in many languages, such as the “chauvesouris” of the French and the “flitter-mouse” of some parts of England, the latter being reproduced almost literally in German, Dutch, and Swedish, while the Danes called the bat a “flogenmues,” which has about the same meaning.

Why does the author consider the bat to be a difficult animal to classify?

Possible Answers:

Because the behavior of individual bats is often very different from the behavior of other individual bats

Because scientists have spent far too little time studying bats

Because the popular understanding of bats has been affected by centuries of superstition

Because it shares the appearance and characteristics of several disparate animals

Because the mannerisms of bats make them very hard to study

Correct answer:

Because it shares the appearance and characteristics of several disparate animals

Explanation:

The author says bats are “very difficult to classify so long as the would-be systematist has no particularly definite ideas to guide him.” Immediately before this, he says, “Nevertheless, their hairy bodies and leathery wings are so unlike anything that we ordinarily understand as pertaining to a bird, that opinion was apparently always divided, as to the true nature of these creatures—'a mouse with wings,' as Goldsmith called it once, according to James Boswell, is certainly a curious animal.“ So, the bat is hard to classify because it shares characteristics with all types of birds, and with mice, and does not therefore fit neatly into existing classifications.

Example Question #4 : Understanding And Evaluating Opinions And Arguments In Narrative Science Passages

Adapted from "Birds’ Nests" by John Burroughs in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

How alert the birds are, even when absorbed in building their nests! In an open space in the woods, I see a pair of cedar-birds collecting moss from the top of a dead tree. Following the direction in which they fly, I soon discover the nest placed in the fork of a small soft-maple, which stands amid a thick growth of wild-cherry trees and young beeches. Carefully concealing myself beneath it, without any fear that the workmen will hit me with a chip or let fall a tool, I await the return of the busy pair. Presently I hear the well-known note, and the female sweeps down and settles unsuspectingly into the half-finished structure. Hardly have her wings rested, before her eye has penetrated my screen, and with a hurried movement of alarm, she darts away. In a moment, the male, with a tuft of wool in his beak (for there is a sheep pasture near), joins her, and the two reconnoitre the premises from the surrounding bushes. With their beaks still loaded, they move around with a frightened look, and refuse to approach the nest till I have moved off and lain down behind a log. Then one of them ventures to alight upon the nest, but, still suspecting all is not right, quickly darts away again. Then they both together come, and after much peeping and spying about, and apparently much anxious consultation, cautiously proceed to work. In less than half an hour, it would seem that wool enough has been brought to supply the whole family, real and prospective, with socks, if needles and fingers could be found fine enough to knit it up. In less than a week, the female has begun to deposit her eggs—four of them in as many days—white tinged with purple, with black spots on the larger end. After two weeks of incubation, the young are out.

In this passage the author is primarily concerned with describing the __________ nature of birds.

Possible Answers:

aggressive

maternal

industrious

timid

vigilant

Correct answer:

vigilant

Explanation:

The beginning of this passage is concerned with the author’s attempts to hide from the birds and observe them whilst they build their nest. But, the author understands that the birds quickly notice him, and he spends the remainder of this passage describing how the birds “vigilantly” try to determine what it is that is amiss about the area in which they have chosen to build their nest. In the introductory lines, the author says, “How alert the birds are, even when absorbed in building their nests!” This highlights his concern with outlining how “vigilant” the birds are. “Vigilant” and “alert” are synonyms of one another. To provide further help, “industrious” means hard-working; “timid” means shy; “aggressive” means likely to attack; and “maternal” means acting like a mother or related to mothers.

 

 

Example Question #3 : Understanding And Evaluating Opinions And Arguments In Narrative Science Passages

Adapted from "Inhabitants of My Pool" by Arabella B. Buckley in Wonders of Earth, Sea, and Sky (1902, ed. Edward Singleton Holden)

The pool lies in a deep hollow among a group of rocks and boulders, close to the entrance of the cove, which can only be entered at low water; it does not measure more than two feet across, so that you can step over it, if you take care not to slip on the masses of green and brown seaweed growing over the rocks on its sides, as I have done many a time when collecting specimens for our saltwater aquarium. I find now the only way is to lie flat down on the rock, so that my hands and eyes are free to observe and handle, and then, bringing my eye down to the edge of the pool, to lift the seaweeds and let the sunlight enter into the chinks and crannies. In this way I can catch sight of many a small being either on the seaweed or the rocky ledges, and even creatures transparent as glass become visible by the thin outline gleaming in the sunlight. Then I pluck a piece of seaweed, or chip off a fragment of rock with a sharp-edged collecting knife, bringing away the specimen uninjured upon it, and place it carefully in its own separate bottle to be carried home alive and well.

Now though this little pool and I are old friends, I find new treasures in it almost every time I go, for it is almost as full of living things as the heavens are of stars, and the tide as it comes and goes brings many a mother there to find a safe home for her little ones, and many a waif and stray to seek shelter from the troubled life of the open ocean.

You will perhaps find it difficult to believe that in this rock-bound basin there can be millions of living creatures hidden away among the fine feathery weeds; yet so it is. Not that they are always the same. At one time it may be the home of myriads of infant crabs, not an eighth of an inch long, another of baby sea-urchins only visible to the naked eye as minute spots in the water, at another of young jelly-fish growing on their tiny stalks, and splitting off one by one as transparent bells to float away with the rising tide. Or it may be that the whelk has chosen this quiet nook to deposit her leathery eggs; or young barnacles, periwinkles, and limpets are growing up among the green and brown tangles, while the far-sailing velella and the stay-at-home sea-squirts, together with a variety of other sea-animals, find a nursery and shelter in their youth in this quiet harbor of rest.

And besides these casual visitors there are numberless creatures which have lived and multiplied there, ever since I first visited the pool. Tender red, olive-colored, and green seaweeds, stony corallines, and acorn-barnacles lining the floor, sea-anemones clinging to the sides, sponges tiny and many-colored hiding under the ledges, and limpets and mussels wedged in the cracks. These can be easily seen with the naked eye, but they are not the most numerous inhabitants; for these we must search with a magnifying glass, which will reveal to us wonderful fairy-forms, delicate crystal vases with tiny creatures in them whose transparent lashes make whirlpools in the water, living crystal bells so tiny that whole branches of them look only like a fringe of hair, jelly globes rising and falling in the water, patches of living jelly clinging to the rocky sides of the pool, and a hundred other forms, some so minute that you must examine the fine sand in which they lie under a powerful microscope before you can even guess that they are there.

The author primarily characterizes the rock pool as __________.

Possible Answers:

a barren hovel

a cold and dismal nook

a living entity

an abundant haven

a fecund annoyance

Correct answer:

an abundant haven

Explanation:

The author’s characterization of the rock pool broadly falls into two categories. Firstly, she characterizes it throughout the passage as “abundant” and “full of life.” This is the main point of this text. Her secondary characterization is that the rock pool serves as a haven for many small sea creatures who would otherwise dwell in the open ocean. This can be seen in excerpts such as "a variety of other sea-animals, find a nursery and shelter in their youth in this quiet harbor of rest" and “Or it may be that the whelk has chosen this quiet nook to deposit her leathery eggs."

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