SSAT Upper Level Reading : Determining Authorial Attitude in Narrative Science Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #23 : Main Idea

Adapted from The Evolutionist at Large by Grant Allen (1881)

I am engaged in watching a brigade of ants out on foraging duty, and intent on securing for the nest three whole segments of a deceased earthworm. They look for all the world like those busy companies one sees in the Egyptian wall paintings, dragging home a huge granite colossus by sheer force of bone and sinew. Every muscle in their tiny bodies is strained to the utmost as they pry themselves laboriously against the great boulders that strew the path, and that are known to our Brobdingnagian intelligence as grains of sand. Besides the workers themselves, a whole battalion of stragglers runs to and fro upon the broad line that leads to the headquarters of the community. The province of these stragglers, who seem so busy doing nothing, probably consists in keeping communications open, and encouraging the sturdy pullers by occasional relays of fresh workmen. I often wish that I could for a while get inside those tiny brains, and see, or rather smell, the world as ants do. For there can be little doubt that to these brave little carnivores here the universe is chiefly known as a collective bundle of odors, simultaneous or consecutive. As our world is mainly a world of visible objects, theirs, I believe, is mainly a world of olfactible things.

In the head of every one of these little creatures is something that we may fairly call a brain. Of course most insects have no real brains; the nerve-substance in their heads is a mere collection of ill-arranged ganglia, directly connected with their organs of sense. Whatever man may be, an earwig at least is a conscious, or rather a semi-conscious, automaton. He has just a few knots of nerve cells in his little pate, each of which leads straight from his dim eye or his vague ear or his indefinite organs of taste; and his muscles obey the promptings of external sensations without possibility of hesitation or consideration, as mechanically as the valve of a steam engine obeys the governor balls. The poor soul's intellect is wholly deficient, and the senses alone make up all that there is of him, subjectively considered. But it is not so with the highest insects. They have something that truly answers to the real brain of men, apes, and dogs, to the cerebral hemispheres and the cerebellum that are superadded in us mammals upon the simple sense-centers of lower creatures. Besides the eye, with its optic nerve and optic perceptive organs—besides the ear, with its similar mechanism—we mammalian lords of creation have a higher and more genuine brain, that collects and compares the information given to the senses, and sends down the appropriate messages to the muscles accordingly. Now, bees and flies and ants have got much the same sort of arrangement, on a smaller scale, within their tiny heads. On top of the little knots that do duty as nerve centers for their eyes and mouths, stand two stalked bits of nervous matter, whose duty is analogous to that of our own brains. And that is why these three sorts of insects think and reason so much more intellectually than beetles or butterflies, and why the larger part of them have organized their domestic arrangements on such an excellent cooperative plan.

We know well enough what forms the main material of thought with bees and flies, and that is visible objects. For you must think about something if you think at all; and you can hardly imagine a contemplative blow-fly setting itself down to reflect, like a Hindu devotee, on the syllable Om, or on the oneness of existence. Abstract ideas are not likely to play a large part in apian consciousness. A bee has a very perfect eye, and with this eye it can see not only form, but also color, as Sir John Lubbock's experiments have shown us. The information that it gets through its eye, coupled with other ideas derived from touch, smell, and taste, no doubt makes up the main thinkable and knowable universe as it reveals itself to the apian intelligence. To ourselves and to bees alike the world is, on the whole, a colored picture, with the notions of distance and solidity thrown in by touch and muscular effort; but sight undoubtedly plays the first part in forming our total conception of things generally.

The point of view from which the passage is told can best be described as that of __________.

Possible Answers:

a biologist

a geologist

a physicist

an ant

a writer of fiction

Correct answer:

a biologist

Explanation:

We can tell from the detailed descriptions of the brains of mammals and insects, as well as the overall interest in the subject of ants and bees, that the author is writing from a scientific or biological viewpoint.

Example Question #1 : Passage Wide Features In Natural Science Passages

Adapted from Ice-Caves of France and Switzerland by George Forrest Browne (1865)

This account states that the cave is in the county of Thorn, among the lowest spurs of the Carpathians. The entrance, which faces the north, and is exposed to the cold winds from the snowy part of the Carpathian range, is eighteen fathoms high and nine broad; and the cave spreads out laterally, and descends to a point fifty fathoms below the entrance, where it is twenty-six fathoms in breadth, and of irregular height. Beyond this no one had at that time penetrated, on account of the unsafe footing, although many distant echoes were returned by the farther recesses of the cave; indeed, to get even so far as this, much step-cutting was necessary.

When the external frost of winter comes on, the account proceeds, the effect in the cave is the same as if fires had been lighted there: the ice melts, and swarms of flies and bats and hares take refuge in the interior from the severity of the winter. As soon as spring arrives, the warmth of winter disappears from the interior, water exudes from the roof and is converted into ice, while the more abundant supplies which pour down on to the sandy floor are speedily frozen there. In the dog-days, the frost is so intense that a small icicle becomes in one day a huge mass of ice; but a cool day promptly brings a thaw, and the cave is looked upon as a barometer, not merely feeling, but also presaging, the changes of weather. The people of the neighborhood, when employed in field-work, arrange their labour so that the mid-day meal may be taken near the cave, when they either ice the water they have brought with them, or drink the melted ice, which they consider very good for the stomach. It had been calculated that six hundred weekly carts would not be sufficient to keep the cavern free from ice. The ground above the cave is peculiarly rich in grass.

In explanation of these phenomena, Bell threw out the following suggestions, which need no comment. The earth being of itself cold and damp, the external heat of the atmosphere, by partially penetrating into the ground, drives in this native cold to the inner parts of the earth, and makes the cold there more dense. On the other hand, when the external air is cold, it draws forth towards the surface the heat there may be in the inner part of the earth, and thus makes caverns warm. In support and illustration of this view, he states that in the hotter parts of Hungary, when the people wish to cool their wine, they dig a hole two feet deep, and place in it the flagon of wine, and, after filling up the hole again, light a blazing fire upon the surface, which cools the wine as if the flagon had been laid in ice. He also suggests that possibly the cold winds from the Carpathians bring with them imperceptible particles of snow, which reach the water of the cave, and convert it into ice. Further, the rocks of the Carpathians abound in salts, nitre, alum, etc., which may, perhaps, mingle with such snowy particles, and produce the ordinary effect of the snow and salt in the artificial production of ice.

The point of view from which the passage is told can best be described as that of __________.

Possible Answers:

a novelist

an ethnographer

a geographer

a mountaineer

a statistician

Correct answer:

a geographer

Explanation:

As the passage largely concerns itself with geographical formations, such as the cave, we can assume that the best answer is “a geographer.” This also becomes apparent if we consider the unsuitability of the other answers, for instance “an ethnographer” is akin to an anthropologist and “a statistician” would be completely wrong, as the passage has nothing to do with statistics and a statistician is a person who studies, calculates, and interprets statistics.

Example Question #1 : Science

Adapted from Rambles in the Mammoth Cave, during the Year 1844 by Alexander Clark Bullitt (1845)

Pensico Avenue averages about fifty feet in width with a height of about thirty feet, and is said to be two miles long. It unites in an eminent degree the truly beautiful with the sublime, and is highly interesting throughout its entire extent. For a quarter of a mile from the entrance, the roof is beautifully arched, about twelve feet high and sixty wide, and formerly was encrusted with rosettes and other formations, nearly all of which have been taken away or demolished, leaving this section of the Cave quite denuded. The walking here is excellent; a dozen persons might run abreast for a quarter of a mile to Bunyan's Way, a branch of the avenue leading on to the river. At this point the avenue changes its features of beauty and regularity, for those of wild grandeur and sublimity, which it preserves to the end. The way, no longer smooth and level, is frequently interrupted and turned aside by huge rocks, which lie tumbled around in all imaginable disorder. The roof now becomes very lofty and imposingly magnificent; its long, pointed, or lancet arches, forcibly reminding you of the rich and gorgeous ceilings of the old Gothic cathedrals, at the same time solemnly impressing you with the conviction that this is a "building not made with hands." No one, not dead to all the more refined sensibilities of our nature, but must exclaim, in beholding the sublime scenes which here present themselves, this is not the work of man! No one can be here without being reminded of the all pervading presence of the great "Father of all."

"What, but God, pervades, adjusts and agitates the whole!"

Not far from the point at which the avenue assumes the rugged features, which now characterize it, we separated from our guide, he continuing his straight-forward course, and we descending gradually a few feet and entering a tunnel of fifteen feet wide on our left, the ceiling twelve or fourteen feet high, perfectly arched and beautifully covered with white incrustations, very soon reached the Great Crossings. Here the guide jumped down some six or eight feet from the avenue which we had left, into the tunnel where we were standing, and crossing it, climbed up into the avenue, which he pursued for a short distance or until it united with the tunnel, where he again joined us. In separating from, then crossing, and again uniting with the avenue, it describes with it something like the figure 8. The name, “Great Crossings,” is not unapt. It was however, not given, as our intelligent guide veritably assured us, in honor of the Great Crossings where the man lives who killed Tecumseh, but because two great caves cross here; and moreover said he, "the valiant Colonel ought to change the name of his place, as no two places in a state should bear the same name, and this being the greatplace ought to have the preference."

Not very far from this point, we ascended a hill on our left, and walking a short distance over our shoe-tops in dry nitrous earth in a direction somewhat at a right angle with the avenue below, we arrived at the Pine Apple Bush, a large column composed of a white, soft, crumbling material, with bifurcations extending from the floor to the ceiling. At a short distance, either to the right or left, you have a fine view of the avenue some twenty feet below, both up and down. Why this crumbling stalactite is called the Pine Apple Bush, I cannot divine. It stands however in a charming, secluded spot, inviting to repose; and we luxuriated in inhaling the all-inspiring air, while reclining on the clean, soft, and dry saltpeter earth.

Which of the following statements about the author’s attitude toward the caves is supported by the passage?

Possible Answers:

He believes they should be constructed in.

He is taken with them. 

He is impartial to them.

He is disaffected by them.

He did not want to go far into them.

Correct answer:

He is taken with them. 

Explanation:

We know from the passage that the author is impressed or affected by the cave system from his references to the sublime and to God. We can thus say that he is “taken with it," which is synonymous with “impressed by it”. As for the other answer choices, “disaffected” means not affected or negatively affected, and “impartial” means not biased or not moved.

Example Question #2 : Science

Adapted from Rambles in the Mammoth Cave, during the Year 1844 by Alexander Clark Bullitt (1845)

Pensico Avenue averages about fifty feet in width with a height of about thirty feet, and is said to be two miles long. It unites in an eminent degree the truly beautiful with the sublime, and is highly interesting throughout its entire extent. For a quarter of a mile from the entrance, the roof is beautifully arched, about twelve feet high and sixty wide, and formerly was encrusted with rosettes and other formations, nearly all of which have been taken away or demolished, leaving this section of the Cave quite denuded. The walking here is excellent; a dozen persons might run abreast for a quarter of a mile to Bunyan's Way, a branch of the avenue leading on to the river. At this point the avenue changes its features of beauty and regularity, for those of wild grandeur and sublimity, which it preserves to the end. The way, no longer smooth and level, is frequently interrupted and turned aside by huge rocks, which lie tumbled around in all imaginable disorder. The roof now becomes very lofty and imposingly magnificent; its long, pointed, or lancet arches, forcibly reminding you of the rich and gorgeous ceilings of the old Gothic cathedrals, at the same time solemnly impressing you with the conviction that this is a "building not made with hands." No one, not dead to all the more refined sensibilities of our nature, but must exclaim, in beholding the sublime scenes which here present themselves, this is not the work of man! No one can be here without being reminded of the all pervading presence of the great "Father of all."

"What, but God, pervades, adjusts and agitates the whole!"

Not far from the point at which the avenue assumes the rugged features, which now characterize it, we separated from our guide, he continuing his straight-forward course, and we descending gradually a few feet and entering a tunnel of fifteen feet wide on our left, the ceiling twelve or fourteen feet high, perfectly arched and beautifully covered with white incrustations, very soon reached the Great Crossings. Here the guide jumped down some six or eight feet from the avenue which we had left, into the tunnel where we were standing, and crossing it, climbed up into the avenue, which he pursued for a short distance or until it united with the tunnel, where he again joined us. In separating from, then crossing, and again uniting with the avenue, it describes with it something like the figure 8. The name, “Great Crossings,” is not unapt. It was however, not given, as our intelligent guide veritably assured us, in honor of the Great Crossings where the man lives who killed Tecumseh, but because two great caves cross here; and moreover said he, "the valiant Colonel ought to change the name of his place, as no two places in a state should bear the same name, and this being the greatplace ought to have the preference."

Not very far from this point, we ascended a hill on our left, and walking a short distance over our shoe-tops in dry nitrous earth in a direction somewhat at a right angle with the avenue below, we arrived at the Pine Apple Bush, a large column composed of a white, soft, crumbling material, with bifurcations extending from the floor to the ceiling. At a short distance, either to the right or left, you have a fine view of the avenue some twenty feet below, both up and down. Why this crumbling stalactite is called the Pine Apple Bush, I cannot divine. It stands however in a charming, secluded spot, inviting to repose; and we luxuriated in inhaling the all-inspiring air, while reclining on the clean, soft, and dry saltpeter earth.

The point of view from which the passage is told can best be described as that of __________.

Possible Answers:

a knowledgeable spelunker

a geothermal expert

an adventurer and pioneer

an experienced paleontologist

a tourist and amateur geologist

Correct answer:

a tourist and amateur geologist

Explanation:

We can tell from the references to a “guide” and the ornate descriptions of the area and the things of interest in the cave that the author is probably a tourist. The references to mineral deposits and geological structures are basic, but their presence shows that the author probably has some amateur interest in geology.

Example Question #1 : 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.

The author’s attitude towards worms is primarily one of __________.

Possible Answers:

love and devotion

mockery and humiliation

admonishment and criticism

reverence and worship

surprise and admiration

Correct answer:

surprise and admiration

Explanation:

Throughout this passage, it is clear that the author “reveres” and “admires” worms. He talks at length about the crucial role they have played in human history and expresses great respect for their mental capacity when he says, “They do not act in the same unvarying manner in all cases, as do most of the lower animals.” He even compares the extent of their intelligence with the likely behavior of a man in a similar circumstance. It is probably going too far however to say that he “loves” or “worships” worms or that he shows “devotion” to them. What can be reasonably stated however is that he is “surprised” by the level of intelligence worms display. He says, “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.“ The word “surprising” is used twice in that excerpt alone. To provide further help, “admiration” means thinking something is impressive; “reverence” is deep respect; “admonishment” is saying something is wrong or punishment; “devotion” is deep commitment to something; “mockery” is making fun of something; and “humiliation” is deep embarrassment.

Example Question #2 : Authorial Attitude, Tone, And Purpose In Narrative 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.

What aspect of worms does the author of this passage seem to find most “surprising"?

Possible Answers:

That they are able to figure out where they are going without eyes

That they showcase such skill in lining and maintaining their burrows

That their importance in history is so often over-looked

That they have such limited sensory organs

That they are able to react and adapt to circumstance

Correct answer:

That they are able to react and adapt to circumstance

Explanation:

The author obviously finds it surprising that the importance of worms in history is so often over-looked. He also finds it surprising that they are able to showcase remarkable skill in lining and maintaining of their burrows. But, neither of these is the correct answer. The author says: “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.” The key phrase there, is, of course, “it is far more surprising.” The worms demonstrate an intelligence, an ability to “react and adapt to circumstance.” This is most surprising to the author.

Example Question #2 : Determining Authorial Tone 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?

In this passage, the author adopts a __________ attitude towards llamas.

Possible Answers:

abrasive and dismissive

humble and benign

welcoming and humorous

malicious and spiteful

curious and puzzled

Correct answer:

curious and puzzled

Explanation:

The author’s of this passage is clearly very “curious” about llamas. The fact that he goes to such lengths to provide basic information about them and then to investigate their modes of behavior tells you that he could never be accused of being “dismissive” or “malicious.” There is little evidence to suggest he is being “welcoming” or “humorous.” Both these words feel out of place with the academic and investigative tone of this piece. “Humble” means modest and “benign” means harmless; these words also feel out of touch with this piece. However, “puzzled” reflects the author's tone quite well, particularly at the very end of the passage, where he employs a series of questions to highlight what he does not know. To provide some final help, “abrasive” means rude, “dismissive” means saying something is worthless and not being concerned with it; “humorous” means funny; and “malicious” and “spiteful” both mean evil, full of hatred, and doing something for hatred or revenge.

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