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

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

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Example Question #1 : Understanding And Evaluating Opinions And Arguments In 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.

Which of the following sentences best summarizes the fourth paragraph?

Possible Answers:

If a horse shows symptoms of bot-fly larvae, then it should be groomed, although this does not apply to very young or very old animals.

Horses show few symptoms and are more protected if they are groomed, unlike those left in pastures.

A horse must be groomed twice a year to avoid the symptoms of bot-fly larvae.

Young and old horses are not consistently attacked by the bot-fly, but adult horses are continuously attacked by the bot-fly.

Horses with matted hair are less susceptible to an infestation as they lick themselves less frequently.

Correct answer:

Horses show few symptoms and are more protected if they are groomed, unlike those left in pastures.

Explanation:

The paragraph states three things: firstly, bot-fly larvae “do not cause characteristic symptoms of disease”; secondly, “horses that are groomed daily are not hosts for a large number of 'bots'”; and thirdly, “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.” From this, we can conclude that the correct answer is "Horses show few symptoms and are more protected if they are groomed, unlike those left in pastures."

Example Question #1 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Phrases Or Sentences In 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.

Which of these most accurately restates the meaning of the underlined portion of text, “Abstract ideas are not likely to play a large part in apian consciousness"?

Possible Answers:

Insects considering the world around them in any more than a sensory aspect is an inane idea.

A flying insect personally debating the universe is irrelevant to this discussion.

Ants being ponderous is a ridiculous notion.

Complex thoughts being predominant in the mind of bees is improbable.

Bees and flies showing signs of reasoning is a whimsical image.

Correct answer:

Complex thoughts being predominant in the mind of bees is improbable.

Explanation:

The specified line is talking about bees, as "apian" means having to do with bees. Therefore, it is saying that complex ideas aren't likely to play a large part in the minds of bees, if they play any part at all. Or, one could say that complex ideas being predominant in the minds of bees is improbable.

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

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 Great Crossings in the cave is supported by the passage?

Possible Answers:

Its name suits it.

It is a highway into the caves.

The guide got lost after passing through Great Crossings.

It is where Tecumseh fell.

It is named because of its vast expanse.

Correct answer:

Its name suits it.

Explanation:

We know that in the cave, Great Crossings is not a highway into the caves, and that it is named because of its shape resembles a figure 8. The author says, “The name, Great Crossings, is not unapt.” By this, he means that the name is well suited to the area.

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

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.

One of the points made in the last paragraph is __________.

Possible Answers:

The author cannot understand the formation.

The air is good. 

The visibility in the cave is poor.

The author was very tired.

The guide explained the area and the names of the features.

Correct answer:

The air is good. 

Explanation:

The author states that “we luxuriated in inhaling the all-inspiring air, while reclining on the clean, soft and dry saltpeter earth.” The reference to the “all-inspiring air” suggests that the air was good and not stale, as the common perception of cave air would be.

Example Question #21 : Psat Critical Reading

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.

What is the main idea of the underlined sentence in the second paragraph?

Possible Answers:

If carts removed ice from the cave the area nearby would grow more grass.

It is estimated that six hundred carts could clear the cave of ice in a week.

The locals could drink a vast quantity of the melted ice before the cave was depleted of it.

Five hundred cartloads of ice removed from the cave per week would not free the cavern from it. 

The depletion of ice in the cave is induced by the movement of transportation near the cave on a weekly basis.

Correct answer:

Five hundred cartloads of ice removed from the cave per week would not free the cavern from it. 

Explanation:

The next-to-last sentence in the second paragraph states that not even six hundred carts a week could clear the cave of ice. The answer that best expresses this is the one that states that “over five hundred carts of ice could not free the cavern from ice” in like terms. If six hundred cartloads of ice would not clear the cave, five hundred cartloads would not be able to either.

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

Adapted from An Introduction to Astronomy by Forest Ray Moulton (1916 ed.)

It is doubtful if any important scientific idea ever sprang suddenly into the mind of a single man. The great intellectual movements in the world have had long periods of preparation, and often many men were groping for the same truth, without exactly seizing it, before it was fully comprehended.

The foundation on which all science rests is the principle that the universe is orderly, and that all phenomena succeed one another in harmony with invariable laws. Consequently, science was impossible until the truth of this principle was perceived, at least as applied to a limited part of nature.

The phenomena of ordinary observation, as, for example, the weather, depend on such a multitude of factors that it was not easy for men in their primitive state to discover that they occur in harmony with fixed laws. This was the age of superstition, when nature was supposed to be controlled by a great number of capricious gods whose favor could be won by childish ceremonies. Enormous experience was required to dispel such errors and to convince men that the universe is one vast organization whose changes take place in conformity with laws which they can in no way alter.

The actual dawn of science was in prehistoric times, probably in the civilizations that flourished in the valleys of the Nile and the Euphrates. In the very earliest records of these people that have come down to modern times it is found that they were acquainted with many astronomical phenomena and had coherent ideas with respect to the motions of the sun, moon, planets, and stars. It is perfectly clear from their writings that it was from their observations of the heavenly bodies that they first obtained the idea that the universe is not a chaos. Day and night were seen to succeed each other regularly, the moon was found to pass through its phases systematically, the seasons followed one another in order, and in fact the more conspicuous celestial phenomena were observed to occur in an orderly sequence. It is to the glory of astronomy that it first led men to the conclusion that law reigns in the universe.

What does this passage imply to be the effect of not understanding the causes of events?

Possible Answers:

It is one of the greatest sources of ill in societal development.

It led to mythological beliefs in other supernatural causes.

None of the other answers

It was only overcome by overthrowing all religion in favor of scientific reasoning.

It was caused by mythology, which distracted people from reality.

Correct answer:

It led to mythological beliefs in other supernatural causes.

Explanation:

In the passage, the author discusses the fact that sometimes cause and effect relationships are difficult to elaborate, particularly when many causes come together to make an effect occur. This often causes people to attribute such complex events to the gods. Although mythology might encourage people to remain ignorant, the passage does not really state that.

Example Question #21 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Ideas In Natural Science Passages

Adapted from An Introduction to Astronomy by Forest Ray Moulton (1916 ed.)

It is doubtful if any important scientific idea ever sprang suddenly into the mind of a single man. The great intellectual movements in the world have had long periods of preparation, and often many men were groping for the same truth, without exactly seizing it, before it was fully comprehended.

The foundation on which all science rests is the principle that the universe is orderly, and that all phenomena succeed one another in harmony with invariable laws. Consequently, science was impossible until the truth of this principle was perceived, at least as applied to a limited part of nature.

The phenomena of ordinary observation, as, for example, the weather, depend on such a multitude of factors that it was not easy for men in their primitive state to discover that they occur in harmony with fixed laws. This was the age of superstition, when nature was supposed to be controlled by a great number of capricious gods whose favor could be won by childish ceremonies. Enormous experience was required to dispel such errors and to convince men that the universe is one vast organization whose changes take place in conformity with laws which they can in no way alter.

The actual dawn of science was in prehistoric times, probably in the civilizations that flourished in the valleys of the Nile and the Euphrates. In the very earliest records of these people that have come down to modern times it is found that they were acquainted with many astronomical phenomena and had coherent ideas with respect to the motions of the sun, moon, planets, and stars. It is perfectly clear from their writings that it was from their observations of the heavenly bodies that they first obtained the idea that the universe is not a chaos. Day and night were seen to succeed each other regularly, the moon was found to pass through its phases systematically, the seasons followed one another in order, and in fact the more conspicuous celestial phenomena were observed to occur in an orderly sequence. It is to the glory of astronomy that it first led men to the conclusion that law reigns in the universe.

Which of the following is the best image for the author’s view of the universe?

Possible Answers:

Its highest beauties are found in the stars.

It is relatively ordered chaos.

None of the other answers

It is a structured whole.

It is the source of the greatest of all marvels, particularly life itself.

Correct answer:

It is a structured whole.

Explanation:

Sometimes, the answer to a question can be found in a single sentence. In the case of this question, the answer is found in the very last sentence: "It is to the glory of astronomy that it first led men to the conclusion that law reigns in the universe." If law reigns in the universe, this means that it is an orderly whole, not deviating from its law-like course of events. This is the best answer among those provided.

Example Question #1 : Understanding The Content Of Natural Science Passages

"Darwinism's Effect on Science" by Matthew Minerd (2014)

For much of the history of human thought, the sciences have studied subjects that seemed to be eternal and unchanging. Even the basic laws of the Nile’s flooding were investigated in the hopes of finding never-altering laws. Similarly, the scientific investigations of the ancient Near East and Greece into the regular laws of the stars ultimately looked for constant patterns. This overall pattern of scientific reasoning has left deep marks on the minds of almost all thinkers and found its apotheosis in modern physics. From the time of the early renaissance to the nineteenth century, physics represented the ultimate expression of scientific investigation for almost all thinkers. Its static laws appeared to be the unchanging principles of all motion and life on earth. By the nineteenth century, it had appeared that only a few details had to be “cleared up” before all science was basically known.

In many ways, this situation changed dramatically with the arrival of Darwinism. It would change even more dramatically in early twentieth-century physics as well. Darwin’s theories of evolution challenged many aspects of the “static” worldview. Even those who did not believe that a divine being created an unchanging world were shaken by the new vistas opened up to science by his studies. It had been a long-accepted inheritance of Western culture to believe that the species of living organisms were unchanging in nature. Though there might be many different kinds of creatures, the kinds themselves were not believed to change. The thesis of a universal morphing of types shattered this cosmology, replacing the old world-view with a totally new one. Among the things that had to change in light of Darwin’s work was the very view of science held by most people.

Which of the following provides an example of the main idea asserted in the first paragraph?

Possible Answers:

The Pythagorean theorem is based upon the constant relationship of the sides of a right triangle to its hypotenuse.

Religion constantly wanes with the rise of science.

The fluctuation of coloration within a species is rather minimal.

The interest in science only arises once agriculture reaches a certain point of fixity.

None of the other answers

Correct answer:

The Pythagorean theorem is based upon the constant relationship of the sides of a right triangle to its hypotenuse.

Explanation:

The first paragraph discusses the role of necessary connections and unvarying rules in scientific thinking, particularly the type of thinking that has played a prominent role in Western thought for many centuries. The example of the Pythagorean theorem is a good example of this.  Even if you do not know this mathematical equation, you can tell that this is the correct answer by the words "constant relationship."

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

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

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

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

Possible Answers:

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

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

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

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

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

Correct answer:

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

Explanation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Possible Answers:

aggressive

maternal

industrious

timid

vigilant

Correct answer:

vigilant

Explanation:

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

 

 

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