ACT Reading : Determining Context-Dependent Meanings of Words in Natural Science Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT Reading

varsity tutors app store varsity tutors android store varsity tutors amazon store varsity tutors ibooks store

Example Questions

1 2 4 Next →

Example Question #81 : Sat Critical Reading

"The Cell Cycle" by Joseph Ritchie (2014)

The process by which cells divide and multiply is known as the cell cycle. This cycle consists of two main phases: interphase and mitosis. Each phase consists of a series of clearly defined and observable steps. At the conclusion of the cycle, each parent cell produces two genetically identical daughter cells that may also replicate by proceeding through the cell cycle.

Roughly ninety percent of the cell cycle is spent in interphase. Interphase is comprised of three main steps: the first gap phase, the synthesis phase (also called "S phase"), and the second gap phase. The initial gap phase is a period of cellular preparation in which the cell increases in size and readies itself for DNA synthesis. In the synthesis phase, or S phase, DNA replication occurs, so that when the cell divides, each daughter cell will have the DNA necessary to function properly. In the second gap phase, the cell grows in size and prepares for cellular division in the mitotic phase. At the end of each gap phase, the cell has to pass a regulatory checkpoint to ensure that nothing is going wrong. If anything has gone wrong, the checkpoints stop the cell from proceeding through the cell cycle any further.

The next part of the cell cycle is mitosis. Mitosis is a form of cell division and is broken down into five distinct phases. During prophase, the genetic material contained in the cell’s chromatin condenses into distinct chromosomes. Prometaphase is marked by the breakdown of the cell’s nuclear envelope and the formation of centrosomes at the poles of the cell. During metaphase, the cell’s chromosomes are moved to the center of the cell. A checkpoint ensures that the chromosomes are properly aligned on the center and halts the cell cycle if any errors have occurred. In anaphase, chromosomes break apart at their center, or centromere, and sister chromatids move to opposite ends of the cell. Lastly, telophase and cytokinesis occur as nuclear membranes form to physically divide the cell into two new daughter cells. Chromosomes also unwind into loose chromatin during this part of mitosis. Cytokinesis is defined as the division of the each cell’s cytoplasm and organelles. At the conclusion of the cell cycle, two genetically identical daughter cells have formed.

The cell cycle operates by a series of checkpoints and external cues. This system of checks enables the cell to enter a state of dormancy known as the gap zero phase when conditions or other factors inhibit the cell cycle. Conversely, unregulated and uncontrolled cellular division can occur under certain circumstances. A cell in a state of uncontrolled division is known to be cancerous. Lastly, cells have the ability to mediate their own death by way of apoptosis if certain genetic or physical abnormalities exist. The cell cycle is a complex process that enables cells to replicate and proliferate under a stringent set of checks and balances that produce healthy and viable daughter cells that are each able to perform the process in the future.

Cytokinesis is best defined as which of the following?

Possible Answers:

The migration of sister chromatids to the poles of a cell

The division of the cytoplasm

The replication of DNA

The division of the nucleus

Correct answer:

The division of the cytoplasm

Explanation:

The third paragraph of the passage defines cytokinesis as the "division of the cell's cytoplasm and organelles." Cytokinesis occurs when the nucleaus has reformed in each cell. The organelles and cytoplasmic material are equally divided amongst daughter cells, and they split from one another as their cell walls grow to fully encompass each new daughter cell.

Example Question #11 : Language In Science Passages

Adapted from 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)

The examples of protective resemblance so far quoted are mostly permanent adaptations to one particular sort of surrounding. There are, however, numerous animals which possess the power of adjusting their color more or less rapidly so as to harmonize with a changing environment.

Some of the best known of these cases are found among those mammals and birds that inhabit countries more or less covered with snow during a part of the year. A good instance is afforded by the Irish or variable hare, which is chiefly found in Ireland and Scotland. In summer, this looks very much like an ordinary hare, though rather grayer in tint and smaller in size, but in winter it becomes white with the exception of the black tips to the ears. Investigations that have been made on the closely allied American hare seem to show that the phenomenon is due to the growth of new hairs of white hue. 

The common stoat is subject to similar color change in the northern parts of its range. In summer it is of a bright reddish brown color with the exception of the under parts, which are yellowish white, and the end of the tail, which is black. But in winter, the entire coat, save only the tip of the tail, becomes white, and in that condition the animal is known as an ermine. A similar example is afforded by the weasel. The seasonal change in the vegetarian Irish hare is purely of protective character, but in such an actively carnivorous creature as a stoat or weasel, it is aggressive as well, rendering the animal inconspicuous to its prey.

Which of the following terms is closest in meaning to the underlined word “inconspicuous”?

Possible Answers:

hidden

important

obvious

fraudulent

wily

Correct answer:

hidden

Explanation:

The word “inconspicuous” is used the passage’s last sentence, “The seasonal change in the vegetarian Irish hare is purely of protective character, but in such an actively carnivorous creature as a stoat or weasel, it is aggressive as well, rendering the animal inconspicuous to its prey.” “Important” makes no sense in this context, so we can discard that answer. “Wily” (sneaky and clever) and “fraudulent” (deceptive) may each seem like an ok answer, but neither of these would necessarily make the animal a better predator, and “wily” doesn’t describe how a predator would relate to its prey, and “fraudulent” is usually reserved for describing human behavior and intentions. “Hidden” would certainly make the animal a better predator, though—if a predator were “hidden” from its prey, it would be much harder for the prey to avoid the predator. “Hidden” makes the most sense in the context of the sentence, so it is the correct answer.

Example Question #2 : Analyzing Meaning, Purpose, And Effect Of Specified Text In 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.

Based on the way in which it is used in the passage, what is the meaning of the underlined word “ubiquitous”?

Possible Answers:

traveling everywhere

staying in one place

not widely known

careful

brave

Correct answer:

traveling everywhere

Explanation:

Even if you don’t know what the word “ubiquitous” means, you can work out its meaning from the way it is used in the passage. “Ubiquitous” is used in the following line in the second paragraph:

“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.”

Let’s consider each of the answer choices. “Staying in one place” doesn’t make sense, as the sailor clearly visited New Zealand. “Careful” doesn’t seem correct in that the sailors brought animals that hurt the indigenous species, and neither “brave” nor “not widely known” are supported at all. The only answer choice that makes sense is “traveling everywhere.” If sailors traveled everywhere, it would make sense that they would travel to New Zealand.

Note: "ubiquitous" is defined as located or existing everywhere, but "traveling everywhere" is in line with the author's use of the term in the passage.

Example Question #31 : Determining Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Natural Science Passages

Passage adapted from The Extermination of the American Bison, by William Hornaday (1889).

The history of the buffalo’s daily life and habits should begin with the “running season.” This period occupied the months of August and September, and was characterized by a degree of excitement and activity throughout the entire herd quite foreign to the ease-loving and even slothful nature which was so noticeable a feature of the bison’s character at all other times.

The mating season occurred when the herd was on its summer range. The spring calves were from two to four months old. Through continued feasting on the new crop of buffalo-grass and bunch-grass—the most nutritious in the world, perhaps—every buffalo in the herd had grown round-sided, fat, and vigorous. The faded and weather-beaten suit of winter hair had by that time fallen off and given place to the new coat of dark gray and black, and, excepting for the shortness of his hair, the buffalo was in prime condition.

During the “running season,” as it was called by the plainsmen, the whole nature of the herd was completely changed. Instead of being broken up into countless small groups and dispersed over a vast extent of territory, the herd came together in a dense and confused mass of many thousand individuals, so closely congregated as to actually blacken the face of the landscape. As if by a general and irresistible impulse, every straggler would be drawn to the common center, and for miles on every side of the great herd the country would be found entirely deserted.

At this time the herd itself became a seething mass of activity and excitement. As usual under such conditions, the bulls were half the time chasing the cows, and fighting each other during the other half. These actual combats, which were always of short duration and over in a few seconds after the actual collision took place, were preceded by the usual threatening demonstrations, in which the bull lowers his head until his nose almost touches the ground, roars like a fog-horn until the earth seems to fairly tremble with the vibration, glares madly upon his adversary with half-white eyeballs, and with his forefeet paws up the dry earth and throws it upward in a great cloud of dust high above his back. At such times the mingled roaring—it can not truthfully be described as lowing or bellowing—of a number of huge bulls unite and form a great volume of sound like distant thunder, which has often been heard at a distance of from 1 to 3 miles. I have even been assured by old plainsmen that under favorable atmospheric conditions such sounds have been heard five miles.

As used in the passage, the underlined word "seething" most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

Furious 

bubbling 

boiling

frothing 

pent-up

Correct answer:

pent-up

Explanation:

"Seething" is to be replete with unvoiced anger or excitement, and here is being used here to describe the nature of the herd as they draw closer together in an exicted fashion, and are about to become extremely active. "Pent-up" is therefore the best synonym.

"Boiling" is used to refer to liquid that has been heated to the point of bubbling. "Furious" means extrememly angry, with no additional connotations for excitement.

Example Question #151 : Natural Sciences

Passage adapted from The Extermination of the American Bison, by William Hornaday (1889).

The history of the buffalo’s daily life and habits should begin with the “running season.” This period occupied the months of August and September, and was characterized by a degree of excitement and activity throughout the entire herd quite foreign to the ease-loving and even slothful nature which was so noticeable a feature of the bison’s character at all other times.

The mating season occurred when the herd was on its summer range. The spring calves were from two to four months old. Through continued feasting on the new crop of buffalo-grass and bunch-grass—the most nutritious in the world, perhaps—every buffalo in the herd had grown round-sided, fat, and vigorous. The faded and weather-beaten suit of winter hair had by that time fallen off and given place to the new coat of dark gray and black, and, excepting for the shortness of his hair, the buffalo was in prime condition.

During the “running season,” as it was called by the plainsmen, the whole nature of the herd was completely changed. Instead of being broken up into countless small groups and dispersed over a vast extent of territory, the herd came together in a dense and confused mass of many thousand individuals, so closely congregated as to actually blacken the face of the landscape. As if by a general and irresistible impulse, every straggler would be drawn to the common center, and for miles on every side of the great herd the country would be found entirely deserted.

At this time the herd itself became a seething mass of activity and excitement. As usual under such conditions, the bulls were half the time chasing the cows, and fighting each other during the other half. These actual combats, which were always of short duration and over in a few seconds after the actual collision took place, were preceded by the usual threatening demonstrations, in which the bull lowers his head until his nose almost touches the ground, roars like a fog-horn until the earth seems to fairly tremble with the vibration, glares madly upon his adversary with half-white eyeballs, and with his forefeet paws up the dry earth and throws it upward in a great cloud of dust high above his back. At such times the mingled roaring—it can not truthfully be described as lowing or bellowing—of a number of huge bulls unite and form a great volume of sound like distant thunder, which has often been heard at a distance of from 1 to 3 miles. I have even been assured by old plainsmen that under favorable atmospheric conditions such sounds have been heard five miles.

In context, the underlined word "collision" most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

explosion 

fight 

accident 

wreck 

crash 

Correct answer:

fight 

Explanation:

The passage is indicating that the bison fight each other in the running season, and the "collision" is the actual physical confrontation between the animals. Animal "collisions" general do not result in combustion ("explosion"), while "crash" and "wreck" are better used in reference to vehicles. Since the "actual combats" mentioned are ascribed intentionality on the parts of the animal participants "accident" is clearly inappropriate.

Example Question #31 : Natural Science Passages

Adapted from "Taking a Second Look: An Analysis of Genetic Markers in Species Relatedness" by Joseph Ritchie (2014)

Phylogenetics is the study of genetic composition in various species and is used by evolutionary biologists to investigate similarities in the molecular sequences of proteins in varying organisms. The amino acid sequences that build proteins are used to construct mathematical matrices that aid in determining evolutionary ties through the investigation of percentage similarities. The study of these matrices helps to expose evolutionary relationships between species that may not have the same overt characteristics.

Species adapt and evolve based on the pressures that exist in their environment. Climate, food source, and habitat availability are only a few factors that act on species adaptation. These stressors can alter the physical characteristics of organisms. This divergence in evolution has made it difficult to determine the interrelatedness of organisms by analyzing their physical characteristics alone.

For instance, looking only at physical characteristics, the ghost bat resembles a pigeon more than a spider monkey; however, phylogenetics has found that the amino acid sequences that construct the beta hemoglobin molecules of bats are twenty percent more similar to those of mammalian primates than those of birds. This helps reject the assumption that common physical characteristics between species are all that is needed to determine relatedness. 

The differences produced by divergent evolution observed in the forest-dwelling, arboreal spider monkey and the nocturnal, airborne ghost bat can be reconciled through homology. Homologous characteristics are anatomical traits that are similar in two or more different species. For instance, the bone structure of a spider monkey’s wrist and fingers greatly resembles that of a bat’s wing or even a whale’s fin. These similarities are reinforced by phylogenetic evidence that supports the idea that physically dissimilar species can be evolutionarily related through anatomical and genetic similarities.

The underlined word "divergent" in paragraph four most nearly means which of the following?

Possible Answers:

Congruent

Indirect

Similiar

Dividing

Correct answer:

Dividing

Explanation:

The different appendages mentioned were all resultant from divergent evolution, or evolution that caused differences to emerge as distinct. It is suggested that the two organisms mentioned started out very similar to one another, then changed greatly in physical appearance over the years, yet still maintained some similarities to one another. Thus, "dividing" is the best answer choice. 

Example Question #21 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Narrative Science Passages

Adapted from "Taking a Second Look: An Analysis of Genetic Markers in Species Relatedness" by Joseph Ritchie (2014)

Phylogenetics is the study of genetic composition in various species and is used by evolutionary biologists to investigate similarities in the molecular sequences of proteins in varying organisms. The amino acid sequences that build proteins are used to construct mathematical matrices that aid in determining evolutionary ties through the investigation of percentage similarities. The study of these matrices helps to expose evolutionary relationships between species that may not have the same overt characteristics.

Species adapt and evolve based on the pressures that exist in their environment. Climate, food source, and habitat availability are only a few factors that act on species adaptation. These stressors can alter the physical characteristics of organisms. This divergence in evolution has made it difficult to determine the interrelatedness of organisms by analyzing their physical characteristics alone.

For instance, looking only at physical characteristics, the ghost bat resembles a pigeon more than a spider monkey; however, phylogenetics has found that the amino acid sequences that construct the beta hemoglobin molecules of bats are twenty percent more similar to those of mammalian primates than those of birds. This helps reject the assumption that common physical characteristics between species are all that is needed to determine relatedness. 

The differences produced by divergent evolution observed in the forest-dwelling, arboreal spider monkey and the nocturnal, airborne ghost bat can be reconciled through homology. Homologous characteristics are anatomical traits that are similar in two or more different species. For instance, the bone structure of a spider monkey’s wrist and fingers greatly resembles that of a bat’s wing or even a whale’s fin. These similarities are reinforced by phylogenetic evidence that supports the idea that physically dissimilar species can be evolutionarily related through anatomical and genetic similarities.

The underlined word "overt" in paragraph one most nearly means which of the following?

Possible Answers:

Outward

Genetic

Inner

Familial

Correct answer:

Outward

Explanation:

In the passage, "overt" most nearly means outward or physical characteristics. The sentence suggests the meaning of this word coincides with characteristics that are obvious and significant to the illustration of this subject matter. The word "overt," in this situation, also helps to show the difference between these species and others. 

1 2 4 Next →
Learning Tools by Varsity Tutors