ISEE Middle Level Reading : Textual Relationships in Science Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ISEE Middle Level Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #11 : Extrapolating From The Text 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 do Azara, Bullock, and Waterton have in common?

Possible Answers:

They are all critics of the writer and disagree with his theory.

They are all types of birds that eat insects.

They are all scientists who think hummingbirds eat insects.

They are all scientists who think hummingbirds eat flower nectar.

They are all types of hummingbirds.

Correct answer:

They are all scientists who think hummingbirds eat insects.

Explanation:

Azara, Bullock, and Waterton are all mentioned near the beginning of the passage. The author writes, “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.” He then mentioned the following:

(1) "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."

(2) "Bullock, in Mexico, declares that he saw them catch small butterflies, and that he found many kinds of insects in their stomachs."

(3) "Waterton made a similar statement."

The author is suggesting that Azara, Bullock, and Waterton fall into the group of “every close observer of their habits.” The three also make statements about hummingbirds. From this, we can narrow down our answers to three choices: that Azara, Bullock, and Waterton are critics of the author, scientists who think hummingbirds eat insects, or scientists who think hummingbirds eat flower nectar. Nowhere in the passage do the statements made by these writers appear to contradict the author’s opinion, so we can discard the idea that Azara, Bullock, and Waterton are critics of the author. So, are they saying that hummingbirds eat flower nectar or insects? They author says that early observers of hummingbirds thought that they eat flower nectar, but that more recent scientists—like the three quoted—think that they eat insects. The statements made by each also relate to hummingbirds eating insects, so the correct answer is “They are all scientists who think hummingbirds eat insects.”

Example Question #1 : Textual Relationships In Science Passages

Adapted from "The Wild Llama" by Charles Darwin in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

The wild llama is the characteristic quadruped of the plains of Patagonia; it is the South American representative of the camel in the East. It is an elegant animal in a state of nature, with a long slender neck and fine legs. It is very common over the whole of the temperate parts of the continent, as far south as the islands near Cape Horn. It generally lives in small herds of from half a dozen to thirty in each, but on the banks of the St. Cruz we saw one herd which must have contained at least five hundred.

They are generally wild and extremely wary. Mr. Stokes told me that he one day saw through a glass a herd of these animals which evidently had been frightened and were running away at full speed, although they were so far away that he could not distinguish them with his naked eye. The sportsman frequently receives the first notice of their presence by hearing from a long distance their peculiar shrill, neighing note of alarm. If he then looks attentively, he will probably see the herd standing in a line on the side of some distant hill. On approaching nearer, a few more squeals are given, and off they set at an apparently slow, but really quick canter, along some narrow beaten track to a neighboring hill. If, however, by chance, he abruptly meets a single animal, or several together, they will generally stand motionless and intently gaze at him, then perhaps move on a few yards, turn round, and look again. What is the cause of this difference in their shyness? Do they mistake a man in the distance for their chief enemy, the puma? Or does curiosity overcome their timidity?

Why does the author equate llamas with camels in the passage's first sentence?

Possible Answers:

To provide his audience with a comparison to something with which they are more likely to be familiar

To show how camels and llamas have the same wild nature

To explain the basic aggressive nature of llamas that is so well-understood as a personality trait found in camels

To provide an example of what llamas look like

None of the other answers

Correct answer:

To provide his audience with a comparison to something with which they are more likely to be familiar

Explanation:

In context, the author says, “The wild llama is the characteristic quadruped of the plains of Patagonia; it is the South American representative of the camel in the East.” It seems then that the reason he equates llamas with camels is not to describe any traits or behavioral patterns common between the two, but rather to provide his audience (which is presumably unfamiliar with llamas) with a comparison with something with which they are much more likely to be familiar.

Example Question #1 : Recognizing The Main Idea In Argumentative Science Passages

Adapted from “Some Strange Nurseries” by Grant Allen in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

Among the larger lizards, a distinct difference may be observed between the American alligator and its near ally, the African crocodile. On the banks of the Mississippi, the alligator lays a hundred eggs or thereabouts, which she deposits in a nest near the water’s edge, and then covers them up with leaves and other decaying vegetable matter. The fermentation of these leaves produces heat and so does for the alligator’s eggs what sitting does for those of hens and other birds: the mother deputes her maternal functions, so to speak, to a festering heap of decomposing plant-refuse. Nevertheless, she loiters about all the time to see what happens, and when the eggs hatch out, she leads her little ones down to the river, and there makes alligators of them. This is a simple nursery arrangement of the big lizards.

The African crocodile, on the other hand, does something different, and takes greater care for the safety of its young. It lays only about thirty eggs, but these it buries in warm sand, and then lies on top of them at night, both to protect them from attack and to keep them warm during the cooler hours. In short, it sits upon them. When the young crocodiles within the eggs are ready to hatch, they utter an acute cry. The mother then digs down to the eggs, and lays them freely on the surface, so that the little reptiles may have space to work their way out unimpeded. This they do by biting at the shell with a specially developed tooth; at the end of two hours’ nibbling they are free, and are led down to the water by their affectionate parent. In these two cases we see the beginnings of the instinct of hatching, which in birds has become almost universal.

How does the author of this passage compares the American alligator and the African crocodile in terms of __________.

Possible Answers:

how much food is needed to keep the young of the animal alive

how uncaring and protective the mothers are of their offspring

None of these answers is accurate.

how closely-related each type of animal is to birds

how caring and protective the mothers are of their offspring

Correct answer:

how uncaring and protective the mothers are of their offspring

Explanation:

From the context of the whole of this passage, which is discussing the differences between how alligators and crocodiles care for their young, it is clear that the author believes that the American alligator is far less protective of its young than the African crocodile is, so the two animals are being compared in terms of "how caring and protective the mothers are of their young."

Example Question #51 : Content Of Natural Science Passages

"Interpreting the Copernican Revolution" by Matthew Minerd (2014)

The expressions of one discipline can often alter the way that other subjects understand themselves. Among such cases are numbered the investigations of Nicolaus Copernicus. Copernicus is best known for his views concerning heliocentrism, a view which eventually obliterated many aspects of the ancient/medieval worldview, at least from the standpoint of physical science. It had always been the natural view of mankind that the earth stood at the center of the universe, a fixed point in reference to the rest of the visible bodies. The sun, stars, and planets all rotated around the earth.

With time, this viewpoint became one of the major reference points for modern life. It provided a provocative image that was used—and often abused—by many people for various purposes. For those who wished to weaken the control of religion on mankind, it was said that the heliocentric outlook proved man’s insignificance. In contrast with earlier geocentrism, heliocentrism was said to show that man is not the center of the universe. He is merely one small being in the midst of a large cosmos. However, others wished to use the “Copernican Revolution” in a very different manner. These thinkers wanted to show that there was another “recentering” that had to happen. Once upon a time, we talked about the world. Now, however, it was necessary to talk of man as the central reference point. Just as the solar system was “centered” on the sun, so too should the sciences be centered on the human person.

However, both of these approaches are fraught with problems. Those who wished to undermine the religious mindset rather misunderstood the former outlook on the solar system. The earlier geocentric mindset did not believe that the earth was the most important body in the heavens. Instead, many ancient and medieval thinkers believed that the highest “sphere” above the earth was the most important being in the physical universe. Likewise, the so-called “Copernican Revolution” in physics was different from the one applied to the human person. Copernicus’ revolution showed that the human point of view was not the center, whereas the later forms of “Copernican revolution” wished to show just the opposite.

Of course, there are many complexities in the history of such important changes in scientific outlook. Nevertheless, it is fascinating to see the wide-reaching effects of such discoveries, even when they have numerous, ambiguous effects.

Which of the following could classify the type of people described in the underlined sentence?

Possible Answers:

Humanistic

Humanitarian

Academic

Scientific

Hubristic

Correct answer:

Humanistic

Explanation:

The people mentioned in this sentence took a very different view from those who thought that the new science showed the "smallness" of the human person. They wanted to say, instead, that it was necessary to have another "recentering," placing the human person at the center of the sciences. Humanism is such a task—though, humanitarianism is not. The latter represents providing aid to help human beings (as in humanitarian action after a major natural disaster).

Example Question #31 : Drawing Inferences From Natural Science Passages

"Interpreting the Copernican Revolution" by Matthew Minerd (2014)

The expressions of one discipline can often alter the way that other subjects understand themselves. Among such cases are numbered the investigations of Nicolaus Copernicus. Copernicus is best known for his views concerning heliocentrism, a view which eventually obliterated many aspects of the ancient/medieval worldview, at least from the standpoint of physical science. It had always been the natural view of mankind that the earth stood at the center of the universe, a fixed point in reference to the rest of the visible bodies. The sun, stars, and planets all rotated around the earth.

With time, this viewpoint became one of the major reference points for modern life. It provided a provocative image that was used—and often abused—by many people for various purposes. For those who wished to weaken the control of religion on mankind, it was said that the heliocentric outlook proved man’s insignificance. In contrast with earlier geocentrism, heliocentrism was said to show that man is not the center of the universe. He is merely one small being in the midst of a large cosmos. However, others wished to use the “Copernican Revolution” in a very different manner. These thinkers wanted to show that there was another “recentering” that had to happen. Once upon a time, we talked about the world. Now, however, it was necessary to talk of man as the central reference point. Just as the solar system was “centered” on the sun, so too should the sciences be centered on the human person.

However, both of these approaches are fraught with problems. Those who wished to undermine the religious mindset rather misunderstood the former outlook on the solar system. The earlier geocentric mindset did not believe that the earth was the most important body in the heavens. Instead, many ancient and medieval thinkers believed that the highest “sphere” above the earth was the most important being in the physical universe. Likewise, the so-called “Copernican Revolution” in physics was different from the one applied to the human person. Copernicus’ revolution showed that the human point of view was not the center, whereas the later forms of “Copernican revolution” wished to show just the opposite.

Of course, there are many complexities in the history of such important changes in scientific outlook. Nevertheless, it is fascinating to see the wide-reaching effects of such discoveries, even when they have numerous, ambiguous effects.

Which of the following would likely be most interesting to those who believe the underlined sentence?

Possible Answers:

Human culture

None of the other answers

Evolution of primates into man

Human anatomy

The chemical basis for human emotions

Correct answer:

Human culture

Explanation:

The group noted in the underlined sentence has an interest in the human person precisely taken as a human person. That is, they are interested in the unique characteristics of human life. All of the incorrect answers consider something that is not necessarily unique to human life (though they do involve human beings). The other subjects are more like applications of chemistry and biology to the human person. However, human culture is unique to the human person. Therefore, it would most likely interest these people quite a bit.

Example Question #1 : Extrapolating From The Text In 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 is implied in this passage about modern physics?

Possible Answers:

It was freed of superstition during the Renaissance.

None of the other answers

It was singularly new in the history of scientific thought.

It was dogmatically tied to Renaissance ideas.

It was viewed as the science that explained all others.

Correct answer:

It was viewed as the science that explained all others.

Explanation:

The best sentence for answering this question is, "Its static laws appeared to be the unchanging principles of all motion and life on earth." The first paragraph implies that physics appeared to provide the principles needed for explaining all things. It would therefore appear to many to be the "science of sciences." (Indeed, this has been the temptation in real history as well, though that is another, complex story!)

Example Question #211 : Sat Critical Reading

"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.

Who was most affected by the changes caused by Darwinism?

Possible Answers:

Science teachers

Religious zealots

Publishers of science texts

None of the other answers

Religious believers

Correct answer:

None of the other answers

Explanation:

There have almost always been controversies about evolution, lasting to our day. Do not bring any of this to your reading of the passage; stick to the text. The general implication in the second paragraph is that everyone was affected by these changes in outlook—believers and non-believers alike. None of the limited groups listed in the answers is sufficient. Therefore, the best choice is "none of the other answers."

Example Question #1 : Making Inferences In 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.

Given Darwin's statements, which of the following should be expected?

Possible Answers:

There were no dogs at one time in the earth's history.

Although we do not train bears as pets today, we may well in years to come.

Humanity as it is today has reached its fixed state.

Ancient physics was completely worthless.

Human beings will likely all die in a massive nuclear war.

Correct answer:

There were no dogs at one time in the earth's history.

Explanation:

The second paragraph of this selection mostly discusses the fact that Darwin's theories lead to the belief in the changing of creatures over time. This means that some species may never have existed. Also, it implies that new ones might have arisen. Therefore, among the options provided, the best answer is the one that says that perhaps dogs did not at one time exist.

Example Question #21 : Reading Comprehension

"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.

What could we expect the author to discuss in a paragraph following the last paragraph of this passage?

Possible Answers:

New theories of physics

The new textbooks that arose after Darwin

The new training needed for scientists after Darwin

The religious reaction to Darwinism

The limits in Darwin's reasoning

Correct answer:

New theories of physics

Explanation:

At the beginning of the second paragraph, the passage states, "It would change even more dramatically in early twentieth-century physics as well." In general, this passage is about the general transition from one scientific outlook to another. The details of Darwinism (or of the publication of textbooks as well) is not the main concern. Likely, the author would continue his or her discussion by returning to the theme of twentieth-century physics as well.

Example Question #81 : Content Of 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.”

Based on what is said in the passage, the author most likely believes that __________.

Possible Answers:

None of the other answers

hummingbirds eat only flower nectar

hummingbirds eat a mixture of flower nectar and insects, but mostly flower nectar

hummingbirds eat neither flower nectar nor insects

hummingbirds eat a mixture of flower nectar and insects, but mostly insects

Correct answer:

hummingbirds eat a mixture of flower nectar and insects, but mostly insects

Explanation:

This is a tricky question because in the passage, the author never directly states his opinion about what hummingbirds eat; readers have to infer it based on the evidence he presents. The author begins the passage by stating that while old scientists used to think hummingbirds ate only flower nectar, modern writers think that they eat “largely, and in some cases wholly,” on insects. He then presents evidence suggesting that hummingbirds eat insects, and in discussing the contents of hummingbirds’ stomachs, says that scientists sometimes find both insects and honey. For the rest of the paragraph, he provides evidence suggesting that hummingbirds eat insects.

What can we infer from this? Well, we can tell that it’s not likely that the author thinks hummingbirds eat only flower nectar, because he provides evidence supporting the idea that they eat insects. This means that we can also discard the answer choice “hummingbirds eat neither flower nectar nor insects.” It’s quite reasonable to think that the author thinks that “hummingbirds eat a mixture of flower nectar and insects” because he mentions that sometimes honey is found along with insects in hummingbirds’ stomachs. So, we need to figure out whether he probably believes that they eat mostly insects or mostly flower nectar. Let’s look at how the author phrases his description of the contents of hummingbirds’ stomachs: “in almost every instance their stomachs have been found full of insects, sometimes, but not generally, mixed with a proportion of honey.” So, if “in almost every instance” the hummingbird stomachs examined were “full of insects,” but “sometimes, but not generally” honey was also found, the correct answer must be “hummingbirds eat a mixture of flower nectar and insects, but mostly insects.”

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