SSAT Upper Level Reading : Determining Authorial Tone 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 #1 : Passage Wide Features In Natural 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.

The tone of this passage could best be described as __________.

Possible Answers:

playful

mocking

despondent

worried

methodical

Correct answer:

methodical

Explanation:

The passage is written in a “methodical” tone and fashion, or systematic, logical, and based on a method. It lists each individual bot-fly, its characteristics, and its habits. It then moves on to discuss symptoms seen in different animals and some forms of treatment. To help you, "despondent" means hopeless and sad.

Example Question #3 : 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 great place 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 tone of this passage could best be described as __________.

Possible Answers:

fanciful 

ecclesiastical

ribald

cynical 

erudite 

Correct answer:

erudite 

Explanation:

Aside from the short discussions of the “Father of all” and “sublimity” in the first paragraph, the overall tone of the passage is “erudite” in that it shows evidence of great knowledge or learning. It discusses the caves in detail and gives both facts and literary quotations. As for the other answer choices, “ecclesiastical” means related to the Christian religion; “cynical” means inclined towards disbelief and harshness; “ribald” means coarse and funny or rough and vulgar; and “fanciful” means not realistic or based on wishing.

Example Question #3 : Authorial Attitude, Tone, And Purpose In Narrative 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.

The tone of this passage could best be described as __________.

Possible Answers:

retaliatory

blithe 

supposing 

conversant

condescending 

Correct answer:

conversant

Explanation:

If we consider “conversant” in either its archaic meaning as having frequent or familiar association, or in its current meaning of having knowledge of or experience in, then this is the best answer. The author is informed about his subject and does not leave much information to conjecture. He talks at length about the subject in an intelligent manner. The passage shows no evidence of being any of the other answers in tone: “supposing” means imagining; “condescending” means haughty or talking down to someone; “blithe” means carefree or informal; and “retaliatory” means done to achieve revenge.

Example Question #11 : Analyzing Authorial Tone And Method 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.

In context, the reference to sound going forth in the “colossal chambers like a bird” conveys a sense of __________.

Possible Answers:

dimness

audacity 

empathy

grandeur 

mediocrity

Correct answer:

grandeur 

Explanation:

The author states that in the Mammoth Cave, “The voice goes forth in these colossal chambers like a bird.” This description highlights the imposing and awesome size of the cave, or in other words, its "grandeur" (impressiveness). "Dimness" doesn't make any sense as an answer choice because while the cave is dark, the sentence in question isn't highlighting that aspect of it. The statement doesn't convey a sense of "mediocrity" (averageness when greater results were expected) either, and "audacity" (gall) and "empathy" (the ability to connect with others on an emotional level) don't relate at all to the statement either.

Example Question #12 : Authorial Attitude, Tone, And Purpose In Narrative 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 tone of the passage can be described as __________.

Possible Answers:

objective

indignant

impassioned

critical

apprehensive

Correct answer:

objective

Explanation:

The passage is explanatory and does not offer an opinion on cacti, their growth, their nourishment, or any other factor. Thus, it can be considered "objective," having to do with facts instead of feelings and opinions. There is no evidence that the author is impassioned, cautious, critical, or indignant.

Example Question #61 : Language In Natural Science Passages

Adapted from “Feathers of Sea Birds and Wild Fowl for Bedding” from The Utility of Birds by Edward Forbush (ed. 1922)

In the colder countries of the world, the feathers and down of waterfowl have been in great demand for centuries as filling for beds and pillows. Such feathers are perfect non-conductors of heat, and beds, pillows, or coverlets filled with them represent the acme of comfort and durability. The early settlers of New England saved for such purposes the feathers and down from the thousands of wild-fowl which they killed, but as the population increased in numbers, the quantity thus furnished was insufficient, and the people sought a larger supply in the vast colonies of ducks and geese along the Labrador coast. 

The manner in which the feathers and down were obtained, unlike the method practiced in Iceland, did not tend to conserve and protect the source of supply. In Iceland, the people have continued to receive for many years a considerable income by collecting eider down, but there they do not “kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.” Ducks line their nests with down plucked from their own breasts and that of the eider is particularly valuable for bedding. In Iceland, these birds are so carefully protected that they have become as tame and unsuspicious as domestic fowls In North America. Where they are constantly hunted they often conceal their nests in the midst of weeds or bushes, but in Iceland, they make their nests and deposit their eggs in holes dug for them in the sod. A supply of the ducks is maintained so that the people derive from them an annual income.

In North America, quite a different policy was pursued. The demand for feathers became so great in the New England colonies about the middle of the eighteenth century that vessels were fitted out there for the coast of Labrador for the express purpose of securing the feathers and down of wild fowl. Eider down having become valuable and these ducks being in the habit of congregating by thousands on barren islands of the Labrador coast, the birds became the victims of the ships’ crews. As the ducks molt all their primary feathers at once in July or August and are then quite incapable of flight and the young birds are unable to fly until well grown, the hunters were able to surround the helpless birds, drive them together, and kill them with clubs. Otis says that millions of wildfowl were thus destroyed and that in a few years their haunts were so broken up by this wholesale slaughter and their numbers were so diminished that feather voyages became unprofitable and were given up. 

This practice, followed by the almost continual egging, clubbing, shooting, etc. by Labrador fishermen, may have been a chief factor in the extinction of the Labrador duck, that species of supposed restricted breeding range. No doubt had the eider duck been restricted in its breeding range to the islands of Labrador, it also would have been exterminated long ago.

The tone of the third paragraph of the passage __________.

Possible Answers:

helps readers empathize with the hunters’ difficult situation

makes the ducks’ situation seem pitiable

is completely objective

casts the hunters’ efficiency in a positive light

emphasizes the financial success of the Labrador feather voyages

Correct answer:

makes the ducks’ situation seem pitiable

Explanation:

How can we describe the author’s tone in the passage’s third paragraph? Well, the author writes that “the birds became the victims of the ships’ crews” when “the hunters were able to surround the helpless birds, drive them together, and kill them with clubs”; afterwards, he refers back to this as “this wholesale slaughter.” The author is certainly not attempting to cast the hunters’ efficiency in a positive light or help readers empathize with the hunters’ difficult situation. The author’s tone doesn’t have any effects relating to the financial success of the Labrador feather voyages. It’s also not objective: the hunters are being described as being the bad guys here, and the ducks are portrayed as being helpless. The best answer choice is the one that reflects this: that the author’s tone “makes the ducks’ situation seem pitiable.”

Example Question #22 : Analyzing Authorial Tone And Method In Natural Science Passages

Adapted from “Feathers of Sea Birds and Wild Fowl for Bedding” from The Utility of Birds by Edward Forbush (ed. 1922)

In the colder countries of the world, the feathers and down of waterfowl have been in great demand for centuries as filling for beds and pillows. Such feathers are perfect non-conductors of heat, and beds, pillows, or coverlets filled with them represent the acme of comfort and durability. The early settlers of New England saved for such purposes the feathers and down from the thousands of wild-fowl which they killed, but as the population increased in numbers, the quantity thus furnished was insufficient, and the people sought a larger supply in the vast colonies of ducks and geese along the Labrador coast. 

The manner in which the feathers and down were obtained, unlike the method practiced in Iceland, did not tend to conserve and protect the source of supply. In Iceland, the people have continued to receive for many years a considerable income by collecting eider down, but there they do not “kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.” Ducks line their nests with down plucked from their own breasts and that of the eider is particularly valuable for bedding. In Iceland, these birds are so carefully protected that they have become as tame and unsuspicious as domestic fowls In North America. Where they are constantly hunted they often conceal their nests in the midst of weeds or bushes, but in Iceland, they make their nests and deposit their eggs in holes dug for them in the sod. A supply of the ducks is maintained so that the people derive from them an annual income.

In North America, quite a different policy was pursued. The demand for feathers became so great in the New England colonies about the middle of the eighteenth century that vessels were fitted out there for the coast of Labrador for the express purpose of securing the feathers and down of wild fowl. Eider down having become valuable and these ducks being in the habit of congregating by thousands on barren islands of the Labrador coast, the birds became the victims of the ships’ crews. As the ducks molt all their primary feathers at once in July or August and are then quite incapable of flight and the young birds are unable to fly until well grown, the hunters were able to surround the helpless birds, drive them together, and kill them with clubs. Otis says that millions of wildfowl were thus destroyed and that in a few years their haunts were so broken up by this wholesale slaughter and their numbers were so diminished that feather voyages became unprofitable and were given up. 

This practice, followed by the almost continual egging, clubbing, shooting, etc. by Labrador fishermen, may have been a chief factor in the extinction of the Labrador duck, that species of supposed restricted breeding range. No doubt had the eider duck been restricted in its breeding range to the islands of Labrador, it also would have been exterminated long ago.

Based on the author’s tone, we can tell that he thinks that __________.

Possible Answers:

Icelandic eider ducks have become too tame

the use of eider down in bedding is a barbaric practice

the Icelandic way of collecting eider down is preferable to the practices employed in North America

the Labrador feather voyages shouldn’t have given up so easily

the Labrador feather voyages should have killed the ducks for their meat, not for their feathers

Correct answer:

the Icelandic way of collecting eider down is preferable to the practices employed in North America

Explanation:

The author describes the methods of collecting down in North America in a way that makes them seem barbaric and casts the ducks as the helpless victims of the hunters. Because of this, we can eliminate any of the answer choices that suggest the author would have encouraged the continuation of the Labrador feather voyages. The idea that the Labrador feather voyages should have killed the ducks for their meat instead of their feathers is never mentioned or suggested. While the author mentions that the Icelandic eider ducks have become quite tame, he doesn’t suggest this is a bad thing and that they are “too tame.” Similarly, while he describes the use of eider down in bedding materials and suggests that the North American methods of collecting down are barbaric, he doesn’t suggest that the use of eider down as a whole is a barbaric practice; he seems to support the collection of down using the Icelandic methods that don’t hurt the ducks. This supports the final answer we are left with and, the correct one: “the Icelandic way of collecting eider down is preferable to the practices employed in North America.”

Example Question #1 : Natural Science Passages

"Comparing Technologies: A Difficult Endeavor" by Matthew Minerd (2014)

Comparisons of technology are often difficult to make, not only because of the rapid pace of improvements but also because of the many new applications that are available as time progresses. If we were to consider the contemporary graphing calculator and the calculation capacities of computing machines from fifty years ago, there would be astounding improvements between these two devices. However, the improvements are not reduced merely to speed improvements. A graphing calculator also has numerous output capacities that far exceed those available much older computers, none of which had the ability to represent their output in any manner even closely resembling that of contemporary devices. Merely consider the display capacities of such a device. These enable users to input many new kinds of information, enabling design engineers to design new hardware functions to match the new means of collecting user input.

The situation is even more obvious when one considers the numerous functions performed by a modern “smartphone.” These devices are equipped with a panoply of features.  With all of these new functions come many new types of computational capabilities as well. In order to process images quickly, specialized hardware must be designed and software written for it in order to ensure that there are few issues with the phone’s operation. Indeed, the whole “real time” nature of telecommunications has exerted numerous pressures on the designers of computing devices. Layers of complexity, at all levels of production and development, are required to ensure that the phone can function in a synchronous manner. Gone are the days of asynchronous processing, when the computer user entered data into a mainframe, only to wait for a period of time before the processing results were provided. Today, even the smallest of digital devices must provide seamless service for users. The effects of this requirement are almost beyond number.

What is implied by the word “merely” at the beginning of the underlined sentence?

Possible Answers:

The example given is quite intriguing, though many think it to be simplistic.

There are many, more profound differences even beyond those mentioned here.

The example that follows is meant for unexperienced audiences.

These are really unimportant points that need little attention.

None of the other answers

Correct answer:

There are many, more profound differences even beyond those mentioned here.

Explanation:

The word "merely" here implies that the detail is just one among many. The author is calling the reader's attention to one little detail among many others. It is, perhaps, a bit simple in its nature, but it is not necessarily unimportant or simplistic. The general point is that many other details could be brought forward if need be.

Example Question #1 : Determining Authorial Tone In Narrative 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.

Which of the following best describes the tone the author employs throughout the passage?

Possible Answers:

Despondent

Carefree

None of the other answers

Furious

Oversensitive

Correct answer:

None of the other answers

Explanation:

The author’s tone throughout the passage may not stick out as you are reading it. Even though he discusses the extinction of the dodo, he relates the events without being emotional about them, and ends with a scientific principle about how this can happen to other species. Thus, we cannot say that he is “oversensitive” about these issues or any others, or similarly, that he is “despondent” (feeling hopeless, pessimistic, and sad) or “furious” (extremely angry) about the dodo’s extinction. Nothing in the passage suggests that the author’s tone is “carefree” either, as he obviously thinks the dodo’s extinction is an important example of what can happen when a species cannot adapt fast enough to a too-quickly-changing environment. This leaves us with one answer, the correct one: “None of the other answers.”

Example Question #4 : 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.

The author’s tone and attitude in this passage are best described as __________.

Possible Answers:

respectful and impressed

debasing and cantankerous

reverential and awe-struck

creative and humorous

educational and eloquent

Correct answer:

respectful and impressed

Explanation:

The author’s tone and attitude towards the birds, and throughout the passage, are best described as “respectful and impressed.” He is clearly “impressed” by the behavior of the birds on multiple occasions, as is evidenced by “How alert the birds are, even when absorbed in building their nests!”; “I await the return of the busy pair”; and “Then one of them ventures to alight upon the nest, but, still suspecting all is not right, quickly darts away again.” Although “reverential and awe-struck” is quite similar in meaning to the correct answer choice, these two words reflect an intensity of emotion and word choice that is not really there. To provide further help, “humorous” means funny; “debasing” means bullying; “cantankerous” means grumpy; and “eloquent” means well-spoken.

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