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

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

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Example Questions

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Example Question #12 : Narrative Science Passages

Adapted from Common Diseases of Farm Animals by R. A. Craig (1916, 2nd ed.)

The common bot-fly of the horse (G. equi) has a heavy, hairy body. Its color is brown, with dark and yellowish spots. The female fly can be seen during the warm weather, hovering around the horse, and darting toward the animal for the purpose of depositing the egg. The color of the egg is yellow, and it adheres firmly to the hair. It hatches in from two to four weeks, and the larva reaches the mouth through the animal licking the part. From the mouth, it passes to the stomach, where it attaches itself to the gastric mucous membrane. Here it remains until fully developed, when it becomes detached and is passed out with the feces. The third stage is passed in the ground. This takes place in the spring and early summer and lasts for several weeks, when it finally emerges a mature fly.

The bot-fly of the ox (H. lineata) is dark in color and about the size of a honey-bee. On warm days, the female may be seen depositing eggs on the body of the animal, especially in the region of the heels. This seems to greatly annoy the animal, and it is not uncommon for cattle to become stampeded. The egg reaches the mouth through the animal licking the part. The saliva dissolves the shell of the egg and the larva is freed. It then migrates from the gullet, wanders about in the tissue until finally it may reach a point beneath the skin of the back. Here the larva matures and forms the well-known swelling or warble. In the spring of the year it works out through the skin. The next stage is spent in the ground. The pupa state lasts several weeks, when the mature fly issues forth.

The bot-fly of sheep (O. ovis) resembles an overgrown house-fly. Its general color is brown, and it is apparently lazy, flying about very little. This bot-fly makes its appearance when the warm weather begins, and deposits live larvae in the nostrils of sheep. This act is greatly feared by the animals, as shown by their crowding together and holding the head down. The larva works up the nasal cavities and reaches the sinuses of the head, where it becomes attached to the lining mucous membrane. In the spring, when fully developed, it passes out through the nasal cavities and nostrils, drops to the ground, buries itself, and in from four to six weeks develops into the mature fly.

SYMPTOMS OF BOT-FLY DISEASES.—The larvae of the bot-fly of the horse do not cause characteristic symptoms of disease. Work horses that are groomed daily are not hosts for a large number of "bots," but young and old horses that are kept in a pasture or lot and seldom groomed may become unthrifty and "pot bellied," or show symptoms of indigestion.

Cattle suffer much pain from the development of the larva of the H. lineata. During the spring of the year, the pain resulting from the presence of the larvae beneath the skin and the penetration of the skin is manifested by excitement and running about. Besides the loss in milk and beef production, there is a heavy yearly loss from the damage to hides.

The life of the bot-fly of sheep results in a severe catarrhal inflammation of the mucous membrane lining the sinuses of the head, and a discharge of a heavy, pus-like material from the nostrils. The irritation produced by the larvae may be so serious at times as to result in nervous symptoms and death.

For what purpose does the author reference different types of bot-fly?

Possible Answers:

To fully examine how the bot-fly might affect each animal possibly owned by the author's readers

To distinguish between large and small bot flies and the ways in which they interact with one another

To demonstrate the need for more scientific analysis of the bot-fly and its life cycle, as it is currently lacking

To thoroughly diagnose the habits of one type of bot-fly that is considered most lethal

All of these answers

Correct answer:

To fully examine how the bot-fly might affect each animal possibly owned by the author's readers

Explanation:

We can tell from the thorough analysis, and the reference to agricultural industry in the fifth paragraph, that the author is writing for a specific readership. We can also tell that the writer has either conducted or found sufficient research, as the information given is quite detailed and is also without complaint. The author is therefore examining each type of farm animal which could be affected by the bot-fly.

Example Question #51 : Natural Science Passages

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.

In the first paragraph, the information about Egyptian wall paintings serves to __________.

Possible Answers:

show that the ants are like slaves

show that the ants are undertaking a proportionally great task

show that ants have been around for aeons

show the reader that the author is in a desert environment

show the reader the author's superior historical knowledge

Correct answer:

show that the ants are undertaking a proportionally great task

Explanation:

The author is comparing the ants' struggle with the earthworm to the movement of monuments, by slaves, in Egyptian wall paintings. The purpose of this is to emphasise how the ants are undertaking a great task proportionally. “Every muscle in their tiny bodies is strained to the utmost as they pry themselves laboriously.”

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Sequence, Organization, And Structure 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, niter, 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.

Which of the following sentences best describes the function of the first paragraph within the passage as a whole?

Possible Answers:

A manifesto of what the author hopes to achieve in his study of the cave and the details he was given about it

A description of the woeful state of the cave at the time of the author's arrival there

A brief introduction, explaining the location and the existing knowledge about the cave and its shape

An argument about incorrect information which is being circulated about the cave, particularly about depth

A lengthy summation of all of the information available to the author on the cave

Correct answer:

A brief introduction, explaining the location and the existing knowledge about the cave and its shape

Explanation:

The first paragraph introduces the topic of the cave by discussing its location and general characteristics. It does not argue, give all the information about the cave, describe the poor state of the cave, or state what the author hopes to achieve.

Example Question #2 : Purpose And Effect Of Phrases Or Sentences 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, niter, 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.

In the third paragraph, the information about Bell's hypothesis serves to __________.

Possible Answers:

demonstrate the habits of the inhabitants of different European nations

vilify the author

demonstrate the exponential growth of ice in the cave

explain the phenomenon described in the second paragraph

discredit Bell

Correct answer:

explain the phenomenon described in the second paragraph

Explanation:

The third paragraph is a justification and explanation of the seemingly contradictory phenomenon of the second paragraph. The author is describing how the ice cave is able to retain its cold temperature in summer, as is mentioned in the second paragraph.

Example Question #3 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Ideas In Natural Science Passages

Adapted from “In Mammoth Cave” by John Burroughs (1894)

Some idea of the impression which Mammoth Cave makes upon the senses, irrespective even of sight, may be had from the fact that blind people go there to see it, and are greatly struck with it. I was assured that this is a fact. The blind seem as much impressed by it as those who have their sight. When the guide pauses at a more interesting point, or lights the scene up with a great torch or with small flares, and points out the more striking features, the blind exclaim, "How wonderful! How beautiful!" They can feel it, if they cannot see it. They get some idea of the spaciousness when words are uttered. The voice goes forth in these colossal chambers like a bird. When no word is spoken, the silence is of a kind never experienced on the surface of the earth, it is so profound and abysmal. This, and the absolute darkness, to a sighted person makes him feel as if he were face to face with the primordial nothingness. The objective universe is gone; only the subjective remains; the sense of hearing is inverted, and reports only the murmurs from within. The blind miss much, but much remains to them. The great cave is not merely a spectacle to the eye; it is a wonder to the ear, a strangeness to the smell and to the touch. The body feels the presence of unusual conditions through every pore.

The primary purpose of this passage is to __________.

Possible Answers:

establish an experiment 

predict an outcome 

convey an impression

conclude a narrative

refute an argument

Correct answer:

convey an impression

Explanation:

The primary purpose of this passage is to convey the author’s impression of the experience of Mammoth Caves. Evidence for this can be found in the detail the author uses to describe the sensory-based experiences. Such as “When no word is spoken, the silence is of a kind never experienced on the surface of the earth, it is so profound and abysmal.”

Example Question #1 : Science Passages

Adapted from “In Mammoth Cave” by John Burroughs (1894)

Some idea of the impression which Mammoth Cave makes upon the senses, irrespective even of sight, may be had from the fact that blind people go there to see it, and are greatly struck with it. I was assured that this is a fact. The blind seem as much impressed by it as those who have their sight. When the guide pauses at a more interesting point, or lights the scene up with a great torch or with small flares, and points out the more striking features, the blind exclaim, "How wonderful! How beautiful!" They can feel it, if they cannot see it. They get some idea of the spaciousness when words are uttered. The voice goes forth in these colossal chambers like a bird. When no word is spoken, the silence is of a kind never experienced on the surface of the earth, it is so profound and abysmal. This, and the absolute darkness, to a sighted person makes him feel as if he were face to face with the primordial nothingness. The objective universe is gone; only the subjective remains; the sense of hearing is inverted, and reports only the murmurs from within. The blind miss much, but much remains to them. The great cave is not merely a spectacle to the eye; it is a wonder to the ear, a strangeness to the smell and to the touch. The body feels the presence of unusual conditions through every pore.

Why does the author describe the experience of the blind in Mammoth Cave?

Possible Answers:

To postulate that seeing the cave detracts from the experience

To show the resiliency of blind people

To demonstrate the profound effect that Mammoth Cave has on everyone

To argue that blind people should not be allowed to go to Mammoth Cave

To demonstrate a difference between himself and blind people

Correct answer:

To demonstrate the profound effect that Mammoth Cave has on everyone

Explanation:

The author references the experience of blind people in Mammoth Cave to show how the cave stimulates more than one sense and affects everyone who visits it greatly. The author states that: “They can feel it, if they cannot see it. They get some idea of the spaciousness when words are uttered.” The experience of blind people in Mammoth Cave is meant to demonstrate the profound effect that the cave has on all who visit it.

Example Question #2 : Authorial Purpose In Natural Science Passages

"Cacti" by Ami Dave (2013)

Cacti are plants suited to the desert, and we must always keep this factor in mind when growing ornamental cacti in our gardens, for it helps us provide cacti with conditions that allow them to survive and thrive. For example, a cactus should never be watered over its body, as it will start to rot. This is because it is covered with a waxy coating which prevents water loss through evaporation. When one waters the cactus over its body, the waxy coating is washed away and the plant begins to rot. The amount of water that one must supply to the cactus is very much dependent upon the season and upon the climate of the place. During the summer season one should water cacti every four days, whereas in the rainy season, once every fifteen days is quite enough.

Cacti need a minimum of two and a half hours of sunlight per day; however, they should not be kept in the sun all day because they may wrinkle when exposed to too much bright sunlight. Unlike other plants, cacti produce carbon dioxide during the day and oxygen during the night, so they are ideal plants to be kept in bedrooms to freshen up the air at night.

If a cactus is to thrive and prosper, the size of the pot in which it is grown needs to be monitored carefully. The pot should always be a little smaller than the plant itself because it is only when the plant has to struggle to survive that it will thrive. If the pot is too spacious and the plant does not need to struggle, chances are that the cactus will die. Similarly, if a cactus shows no signs of growth, stop watering it. Watering should be resumed only when the plant begins to grow again.

The substrata of a cactus pot is ideally composed of pieces of broken bricks at the bottom, followed by a layer of charcoal above the bricks, and then coarse sand and pebbles above the charcoal. Leaf mould is the best manure.

Grafting cacti is very simple. A very small piece of the cactus plant should be stuck with tape to the plant that needs grafting. The smaller the piece, the easier it is to graft. To reproduce cacti, one has to simply cut off a piece of the cactus, allow it to dry for a few days, and then place it over the cacti substrate. It will automatically develop roots.

It is very easy to differentiate between cacti and other plants that look like cacti. All cacti have fine hair at the base of each thorn. The so-called “thorns” are in fact highly modified leaves which prevent loss of water through transpiration. If one ever gets pricked by cacti thorns, one should take tape, place it over the area where the thorns have penetrated the skin, and then peel it off. All of the thorns will get stuck to the tape and will be removed.

The purpose of this passage is to __________.

Possible Answers:

explain the proper conditions and protocols for growing cacti

explain what to do if you prick yourself on cactus thorns

describe the physical characteristics of a cactus

outline the differences between cacti and other plants

explain how to correctly graft cacti

Correct answer:

explain the proper conditions and protocols for growing cacti

Explanation:

Cacti grafts, physical characteristics of cacti, what to do if you prick yourself on cactus thorns, and differences between cacti and other plants are all ideas that are discussed in the passage; however, they are not the MAIN purpose of the passage. They are all details that comprise the paragraphs. The purpose of the passage is to explain the proper conditions and protocols for growing cacti.

Example Question #1 : Understanding Main Ideas 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.”

The purpose of this passage is __________.

Possible Answers:

to consider the opinions of scientists on what hummingbirds eat

to discuss the Polytmus’ feeding habits

to propose a definitive experiment about what hummingbirds eat

to explain why one should feed a captive hummingbird insects and not flower nectar

to critique the opinions of other scientists

Correct answer:

to consider the opinions of scientists on what hummingbirds eat

Explanation:

When answering questions about a passage’s purpose or main idea, it’s important to pick an answer choice that is broad enough to encompass the entire passage. For instance, while the Polytmus’ feeding habits are discussed in the passage, it can’t be said to be the purpose of the passage, since it’s only mentioned as a small detail. The passage can’t be said to critique the opinions of other scientists, because for the most part, the author quotes findings by scientists with whom he does not disagree. A definitive experiment is never proposed, and captive hummingbirds are never discussed. The passage does provide the opinions of scientists on what hummingbirds eat; this accurately captures the intent of the entire passage, not just some of its parts, and doesn’t state it too broadly.

Example Question #5 : Identifying And Analyzing Supporting Ideas In Science Passages

Adapted from “Birds in Retreat” in “Animal Defences—Active Defence” in Volume Four of The Natural History of Animals: The Animal Life of the World in Its Various Aspects and Relations by James Richard Ainsworth Davis (1903)

Among the large running birds are forms, like the African ostrich, in which the absence of powers of flight is largely compensated by the specialization of the legs for the purpose of rapid movement on the ground. For straightforward retreat in open country nothing could be more effective; but another kind of adaptation is required in birds like rails, which are deficient in powers of flight, and yet are able to run through thickly-growing vegetation with such rapidity as to commonly elude their enemies. This is rendered possible by the shape of their bodies, which are relatively narrow and flattened from side to side, so as to easily slip between the stems of grasses, rushes, and similar plants. Anyone who has pursued our native land-rail or corn-crake with intent to capture will have noted how extremely difficult it is even to get within sight of a bird of this sort.

Certain birds, unfortunately for themselves, have lost the power of flight without correspondingly increased powers of running, and have paid the penalty of extinction. Such an arrangement, as might be anticipated, was the result of evolution in islands devoid of any predatory ground-animals, and a classic example of it is afforded by the dodo and its allies, birds related to the pigeons. The dodo itself was a large and clumsy-looking species that at one time abounded in the island of Mauritius, which, like oceanic islands generally, possessed no native mammals, while its indigenous reptiles were only represented by lizards. The ubiquitous sailor, however, and the animals (especially swine) which he introduced, brought about the extinction of this helpless bird in less than a century after its first discovery in 1598. Its memory is now only kept green by a few contemporary drawings and descriptions, certain museum remains, and the proverb "as extinct as a dodo.” A similar fate must overtake any organism suddenly exposed to new and unfavorable conditions, if devoid of sufficient plasticity to rapidly accommodate itself to the altered environment.

The purpose of the underlined sentence is __________.

Possible Answers:

to make himself feel better about having never been able to catch a land-rail or corn-crake

to provide an example likely familiar to readers of how effective a running bird’s defenses can be

to introduce a discussion of the land-rail and corn-crake

to suggest that more people hunt land-rails and corn-crakes

to explain how other types of running birds differ from the African ostrich

Correct answer:

to provide an example likely familiar to readers of how effective a running bird’s defenses can be

Explanation:

The underlined sentence appears at the end of the first paragraph and reads, “Anyone who has pursued our native land-rail or corn-crake with intent to capture will have noted how extremely difficult it is even to get within sight of a bird of this sort.”

This is the only sentence in the passage that mentions the land-rail and corn-crake, so “to introduce a discussion of the land-rail and corn-crake” cannot be the correct answer. The author doesn’t tell us that he himself has pursued a land-rail or corn-crake, and while one might infer this, he doesn’t say anything about having failed to catch one, so “to make himself feel better about having never been able to catch a land-rail or corn-crake” doesn’t seem to be the correct answer either. The answer choice “to suggest that more people hunt land-rails and corn-crakes “ cannot be correct, as the author isn’t urging the reader to do anything in this sentence; it is simply conveying information. 

This leaves us with two answer choices: “to explain how other types of running birds differ from the African ostrich” and “to provide an example likely familiar to readers of how effective a running bird’s defenses can be.” While the first of these answer choices may seem correct at first glance, the author isn’t actually mentioning the land-rail and corn-crake to explain how other types of running birds differ from the African ostrich. He does this in a previous sentence. It is more accurate to say that the underlined sentenceprovide[s] an example likely familiar to readers of how effective a running bird’s defenses can be.”

Example Question #52 : Natural Science Passages

Adapted from “Birds in Retreat” in “Animal Defences—Active Defence” in Volume Four of The Natural History of Animals: The Animal Life of the World in Its Various Aspects and Relations by James Richard Ainsworth Davis (1903)

Among the large running birds are forms, like the African ostrich, in which the absence of powers of flight is largely compensated by the specialization of the legs for the purpose of rapid movement on the ground. For straightforward retreat in open country nothing could be more effective; but another kind of adaptation is required in birds like rails, which are deficient in powers of flight, and yet are able to run through thickly-growing vegetation with such rapidity as to commonly elude their enemies. This is rendered possible by the shape of their bodies, which are relatively narrow and flattened from side to side, so as to easily slip between the stems of grasses, rushes, and similar plants. Anyone who has pursued our native land-rail or corn-crake with intent to capture will have noted how extremely difficult it is even to get within sight of a bird of this sort. 

Certain birds, unfortunately for themselves, have lost the power of flight without correspondingly increased powers of running, and have paid the penalty of extinction. Such an arrangement, as might be anticipated, was the result of evolution in islands devoid of any predatory ground-animals, and a classic example of it is afforded by the dodo and its allies, birds related to the pigeons. The dodo itself was a large and clumsy-looking species that at one time abounded in the island of Mauritius, which, like oceanic islands generally, possessed no native mammals, while its indigenous reptiles were only represented by lizards. The ubiquitous sailor, however, and the animals (especially swine) which he introduced, brought about the extinction of this helpless bird in less than a century after its first discovery in 1598. Its memory is now only kept green by a few contemporary drawings and descriptions, certain museum remains, and the proverb "as extinct as a dodo.” A similar fate must overtake any organism suddenly exposed to new and unfavorable conditions, if devoid of sufficient plasticity to rapidly accommodate itself to the altered environment.

The narrator mentions the proverb “as extinct as a dodo” in order to __________.

Possible Answers:

encourage his readers to use more figurative language

support the idea that the dodo went extinct because of human influence

provide an example of what little is left of the dodo in his era

lament that the dodo was not eliminated sooner

transition to a discussion of the ways in which common sayings reference birds

Correct answer:

provide an example of what little is left of the dodo in his era

Explanation:

The author mentions the proverb “as extinct as a dodo” in the second paragraph, when he states, “[The dodo’s] memory is now only kept green by a few contemporary drawings and descriptions, certain museum remains, and the proverb ‘as extinct as a dodo.’” The author is clearly not mentioning the proverb in order to “lament that the dodo was not eliminated sooner”; we can tell this from the rest of the paragraph as well, in that he is saddened that it went extinct at all. The author isn’t urging his readers to do anything, so he can’t be using the proverb to “encourage his readers to use more figurative language.” He doesn’t begin to discuss the ways in which common sayings reference birds after this point, so it doesn’t make any sense to say that he uses the proverb as a transition to such a discussion. This leaves us with two answer choices: that he mentions the proverb to “support the idea that the dodo went extinct because of human influence” and that he does so to “provide an example of what little is left of the dodo in his era.” While this may seem like a somewhat tricky choice, it is important to realize that at this point, the author has made the point that the dodo went extinct due to human influence in an earlier sentence, and this sentence doesn’t mention the reasons why the dodo went extinct at all—it’s talking about what is left over now that the dodo is extinct. This means that the correct answer is that the author mentions this proverb in order to “provide an example of what little is left of the dodo in his era.”

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