ISEE Upper Level Reading : Analyzing Tone, Style, and Figurative Language in Science Passages

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

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Example Questions

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Example Question #11 : Reading Comprehension

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.

The tone of this passage is best described as __________.

Possible Answers:

objective

judgmental

angry

optimistic

considerate

Correct answer:

objective

Explanation:

The author’s tone in this passage is one that you may not even have noticed when reading the passage. Science passages like this one often employ a detached, impersonal, and neutral tone that can be called “objective.” This type of tone doesn’t involve the writer’s opinion or take sides with one or another of the topics being discussed. For instance, if the writer made the hares seem pitiable and the stoats seem like mean, bloodthirsty predators, his tone could not be said to be “objective.” However, the writer treats the stoats and hares in much the same way, discussing them in terms of their changing coat colors. “Objective” is the best answer for this question because we cannot support the assertions that the author’s tone is “angry,” “optimistic,” “considerate,” or “judgmental.”

Example Question #51 : Language In Science Passages

Adapted from “The Progress of Medical Education in the United States” in the Scientific American Supplement No. 1157 Vol. XLV (March 5th, 1898)

It is pleasing to note and it augurs well for the future that a decided advance has been made in the direction of a more thorough medical training in America, yet at the same time it is discouraging to observe that, despite these progressive steps, competition does not abate, but rather daily becomes more acute.

There is now a grand total of one hundred and fifty-four medical schools in America. To make a telling comparison, the total number of medical schools in Austria and Germany, with a population exceeding that of this country, is twenty-nine. Great Britain, with more than half the population, has seventeen; while Russia, with one hundred million inhabitants, has nine. Of course we do not argue that America, with her immense territory and scattered population, does not need greater facilities for the study of medicine than do thickly inhabited countries, as Germany and Great Britain; but we do contend that when a city of the size of St. Louis has as many schools as Russia, the craze for multiplying these schools is being carried to absurd and harmful lengths.

However, that the number of schools and their yearly supply of graduates of medicine are far beyond the demand is perfectly well known to all. The Medical Record and other medical journals have fully discussed and insisted upon that point for a considerable time. The real question at issue is by what means to remedy or at least to lessen the bad effects of the system as quickly as possible. 

The first and most important steps toward this desirable consummation have been already taken, and when a four years' course comes into practice throughout the country, the difficult problem of checking excessive competition will at any rate be much nearer its solution. Why should France, Germany, Great Britain and other European nations consider that a course of from five to seven years is not too long to acquire a good knowledge of medical work, while in many parts of America two or three years' training is esteemed ample for the manufacture of a full-fledged doctor? Such methods are unfair both to the public and to the medical profession.

The author’s attitude towards American medical education is primarily one of __________.

Possible Answers:

pride

confusion

congratulations

frustration

guilt

Correct answer:

frustration

Explanation:

The author of this passage is primarily “frustrated” by the deficiencies he observes in American medical practice. You might be tempted to answer “congratulations” based on the opening line, which reads: “A retrospective survey of the progress made and of the reforms instituted in medical education in the United States is instructive. In many respects there is cause for much congratulation.“ However, that excerpt is finished by “while for other reasons the situation gives rise to feelings of alarm.” It is clear throughout that the author is frustrated by the American medical education’s lagging behind Europe's and wishes to encourage many changes.

Example Question #11 : Analyzing Tone, Style, And Figurative Language In Science Passages

"The Multiple Sides of Computer Science" by Matthew Minerd (2014)

It often takes some time for a new discipline to become recognized as an independent science. An excellent example of this is computer science. In many ways, this science still is a hodgepodge of several different sciences, each one having its own distinct character. For example, some computer scientists are almost indistinguishable from mathematicians. Many of the most difficult topics in pattern recognition and data communications require intensive mathematics in order to provide software solutions. Years of training in the appropriate disciplines are necessary before the computer scientist can even begin to work as a programmer in such areas. In contrast to those computer scientists who work with complex mathematics, many computer scientists work on areas of hardware development that are similar to disciplines like electrical engineering and physics.

However, computer science has its own particular problems regarding the unity of its subject matter. There are many practical applications for computing work; therefore, many computer scientists focus on learning a large set of skills in programming languages, development environments, and even information technology. All of these disciplines have a certain practical coloration that is quite distinct from the theoretical concepts used in other parts of the field. Nevertheless, these practical topics add to the broad range of topics covered by most academic programs that claim to focus on “computer science.” It can only be hoped that these disciplines will increase in orderliness in the coming decades.

Based on the passage, which of the following is likely the least related to computer science as a theoretical discipline?

Possible Answers:

Information technology

Mathematics

Programming languages

Electrical Engineering

Physics

Correct answer:

Information technology

Explanation:

This question comes down to a matter of tone. The author uses the word "even" before listing information technology among the topics studied by computer science students. Often, this word is used before something surprising. For example, "He was not rude to me alone. He even said horrible things to my elderly grandmother." This means that it is very surprising that someone would be so rude. Here, the idea is that it is surprising that information technology is among these subjects. This might sound strange, but it is the author's opinion as expressed in this passage.

Example Question #51 : Language In Science Passages

Adapted from On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (1859)

How will the struggle for existence, discussed too briefly in the last chapter, act in regard to variation? Can the principle of selection, which we have seen is so potent in the hands of man, apply in nature? I think we shall see that it can act most effectually. Let it be borne in mind in what an endless number of strange peculiarities our domestic productions, and, in a lesser degree, those under nature, vary; and how strong the hereditary tendency is. Under domestication, it may be truly said that the whole organization becomes in some degree plastic. Let it be borne in mind how infinitely complex and close-fitting are the mutual relations of all organic beings to each other and to their physical conditions of life. Can it, then, be thought improbable, seeing that variations useful to man have undoubtedly occurred, that other variations useful in some way to each being in the great and complex battle of life, should sometimes occur in the course of thousands of generations? If such do occur, can we doubt (remembering that many more individuals are born than can possibly survive) that individuals having any advantage, however slight, over others, would have the best chance of surviving and of procreating their kind? On the other hand, we may feel sure that any variation in the least degree injurious would be rigidly destroyed. This preservation of favorable variations and the rejection of injurious variations, I call Natural Selection. Variations neither useful nor injurious would not be affected by natural selection, and would be left a fluctuating element, as perhaps we see in the species called polymorphic.

We shall best understand the probable course of natural selection by taking the case of a country undergoing some physical change, for instance, of climate. The proportional numbers of its inhabitants would almost immediately undergo a change, and some species might become extinct. We may conclude, from what we have seen of the intimate and complex manner in which the inhabitants of each country are bound together, that any change in the numerical proportions of some of the inhabitants, independently of the change of climate itself, would most seriously affect many of the others. If the country were open on its borders, new forms would certainly immigrate, and this also would seriously disturb the relations of some of the former inhabitants. Let it be remembered how powerful the influence of a single introduced tree or mammal has been shown to be. But in the case of an island, or of a country partly surrounded by barriers, into which new and better adapted forms could not freely enter, we should then have places in the economy of nature which would assuredly be better filled up, if some of the original inhabitants were in some manner modified; for, had the area been open to immigration, these same places would have been seized on by intruders. In such case, every slight modification, which in the course of ages chanced to arise, and which in any way favoured the individuals of any of the species, by better adapting them to their altered conditions, would tend to be preserved; and natural selection would thus have free scope for the work of improvement.

The style of this passage is __________.

Possible Answers:

irritated

defensive

measured, but decisive

relaxed and curious

none of these answers

Correct answer:

measured, but decisive

Explanation:

The passage is quite concerned with offering a forthright and persuasive account of the subject at hand. The author is clearly arguing for something, but his tone is measured.

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