ISEE Upper Level Reading : Language in Science Passages

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

varsity tutors app store varsity tutors android store

Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Meaning, Purpose, And Effect Of Specified 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.”

The meaning of the underlined phrase “on the wing” is __________.

Possible Answers:

having been thrown

located on a feather on a bird’s wing

in flight

without preparation or preplanning

vacationing

Correct answer:

in flight

Explanation:

The phrase “on the wing” is used in the following sentence in the passage:

“[Other hummingbirds] 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.”

“On the wing” may initially appear to mean just what it says, “located on a feather on a bird’s wing,’ but considering the way it is used in the passage, this doesn’t make any sense. The sentence describes the hummingbirds “darting about,” and in order for them to do that, they would have to be flying, so you can tell that “on the wing” means “in flight.” None of the other answer choices make sense given the context in which the phrase is used.

Example Question #61 : Science Passages

Adapted from “Comets” by Camille Flammarion in Wonders of Earth, Sea, and Sky (1902, ed. Edward Singleton Holden)

The history of a comet would be an instructive episode of the great history of the heavens. In it could be brought together the description of the progressive movement of human thought, as well as the astronomical theory of these extraordinary bodies. Let us take, for example, one of the most memorable and best-known comets, and give an outline of its successive passages near the Earth. Like the planetary worlds, comets belong to the solar system, and are subject to the rule of the Star King. It is the universal law of gravitation which guides their path; solar attraction governs them, as it governs the movement of the planets and the small satellites. The chief point of difference between them and the planets is that their orbits are very elongated, and instead of being nearly circular, they take the elliptical form. In consequence of the nature of these orbits, the same comet may approach very near the sun, and afterwards travel from it to immense distances.

Thus, the period of the Comet of 1680 has been estimated at three thousand years. It approaches the sun, so as to be nearer to it than our moon is to us, whilst it recedes to a distance 853 times greater than the distance of the Earth from the sun. On the 17th of December, 1680, it was at its perihelion—that is, at its greatest proximity to the sun; it is now continuing its path beyond the Neptunian orbit. Its velocity varies according to its distance from the solar body. At its perihelion it travels thousands of leagues per minute; at its aphelion it does not pass over more than a few yards.  

Its proximity to the Sun in its passage near that body caused Newton to think that it received a heat twenty-eight thousand times greater than that we experience at the summer solstice, and that this heat being two thousand times greater than that of red-hot iron, an iron globe of the same dimensions would be fifty thousand years entirely losing its heat. Newton added that in the end, comets will approach so near the sun that they will not be able to escape the preponderance of its attraction, and that they will fall one after the other into this brilliant body, thus keeping up the heat which it perpetually pours out into space. Such is the deplorable end assigned to comets by the author of the Principia, an end which makes De la Brétonne say to Rétif: "An immense comet, already larger than Jupiter, was again increased in its path by being blended with six other dying comets. Thus displaced from its ordinary route by these slight shocks, it did not pursue its true elliptical orbit; so that the unfortunate thing was precipitated into the devouring centre of the Sun." "It is said," added he, "that the poor comet, thus burned alive, sent forth dreadful cries!"

What does the author most nearly mean when he says “Like the planetary worlds, comets belong to the solar system, and are subject to the rule of the Star King.”?

Possible Answers:

Some planets, like pluto, might better be considered as comets that have been trapped by the Star King.

Planets exert a controlling force on the comets throughout the solar system.

The solar system is composed of comets, planets, and the sun.

Comets and planets are both controlled by the gravitational pull of the sun.

Comets have little impact on the development of the planets, and are entirely controlled by the sun.

Correct answer:

Comets and planets are both controlled by the gravitational pull of the sun.

Explanation:

The first thing to establish here is that when the author says “Star King,” he is being creative and somewhat whimsical with his word choice, and in fact means “sun.” From this, and the larger context of the surrounding text, it is clear that the author is talking about the “gravitational pull of the sun” when he says “are subject to the rule of the Star King.” So you may determine that the author is talking about how both comets and planets in our solar system are controlled by the gravitational pull of the sun. That this is the correct answer is most clearly shown by the sentence that immediately follows the underlined text, where the author says, “It is the universal law of gravitation which guides their path; solar attraction governs them, as it governs the movement of the planets and the small satellites.”

Example Question #1 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Phrases In Narrative Science Passages

Adapted from "The Man-Like Apes" by T. H. Huxley in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

The orangutan is found only in Sumatra and Borneo, and is common in either of these islands—in both of which it occurs always in low, flat plains, never in the mountains. It loves the densest and most sombre of the forests, which extend from the seashore inland, and thus is found only in the eastern half of Sumatra, where alone such forests occur, though, occasionally, it strays over to the western side. On the other hand, it is generally distributed through Borneo, except in the mountains, or where the population is dense. In favorable places the hunter may, by good fortune, see three or four in a day.

Except in the pairing time, the old males usually live by themselves. The old females and the immature males, on the other hand, are often met with in twos and threes, and the former occasionally have young with them, though the pregnant females usually separate themselves, and sometimes remain apart after they have given birth to their offspring. The young orangs seem to remain unusually long under their mother’s protection, probably in consequence of their slow growth. While climbing, the mother always carries her young against her bosom, the young holding on by the mother’s hair. At what time of life the orangutan becomes capable of propagation, and how long the females go with young is unknown, but it is probable that they are not adult until they arrive at ten or fifteen years of age. A female which lived for five years at Batavia had not attained one-third the height of the wild females. It is probable that, after reaching adult years, they go on growing, though slowly, and that they live to forty or fifty years. The Dyaks tell of old orangs that have not only lost all their teeth, but which find it so troublesome to climb that they maintain themselves on windfalls and juicy herbage.

What does the author most nearly mean when he says “On the other hand, it is generally distributed through Borneo, except in the mountains, or where the population is dense”?

Possible Answers:

Orangutans are especially found in the mountains and forests of Borneo.

Orangutans are more common on the island of Borneo than they are on the island of Sumatra.

Outside of the mountains, orangutans are extremely common on the island of Borneo.

Whenever there are large groups of people, orangutans tend to be reasonably close nearby.

Orangutans can be found throughout Borneo, except in mountains or near large groups of people.

Correct answer:

Orangutans can be found throughout Borneo, except in mountains or near large groups of people.

Explanation:

“Generally distributed” is another way of saying “found throughout” and “where the population is dense” is another way of saying “where there are large groups of people.” So, in the underlined portion of text, the author is saying that “orangutans can be found throughout Borneo, except in the mountains or near large groups of people.”

Example Question #1 : Analyzing The Text 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.

The phrase “harmonize with,” underlined in the first paragraph, most closely means __________.

Possible Answers:

match

sing in harmony with

parallel

conduct

systematize

Correct answer:

match

Explanation:

The phrase “harmonize with” appears in this sentence in the first paragraph: “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.” While “harmonize with” can mean “sing in harmony with,” this meaning doesn’t make sense in the context of the passage’s sentence. “Parallel,” “systematize,” and “conduct” don’t make sense either—only “match” makes sense, so it is the correct answer.

Example Question #101 : 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.

In context, "extinct" most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

no longer alive for one generation

no longer alive for the rest of time

none of these answers

refusing to evolve

a combination of these answers

Correct answer:

no longer alive for the rest of time

Explanation:

In context, we can undertand that "extinct" most nearly means no longer alive for generations to come. The notion of extinction means the end of the line for that species by Darwin's definition.

Example Question #11 : 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.

What does Darwin mean by the phrase "economy of nature?"

Possible Answers:

the banking world

that islands and some climates are a complex economy 

none of these answers

a combination of these answers

the world of nature, creatures, and evolution

Correct answer:

the world of nature, creatures, and evolution

Explanation:

In context, we can see that Darwin is referring to the economy of animals and creatures throughout time. He writes, "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;" here is is disucssing not one specific place or creature, but the scene they have lived in as a whole.

Example Question #2 : Determining Context Dependent Meanings Of Phrases And Clauses In Natural Science Passages

Adapted from "Recent Views as to Direct Action of Light on the Colors of Flowers and Fruits" in Tropical Nature, and Other Essays by Alfred Russel Wallace (1878)

The theory that the brilliant colors of flowers and fruits is due to the direct action of light has been supported by a recent writer by examples taken from the arctic instead of from the tropical flora. In the arctic regions, vegetation is excessively rapid during the short summer, and this is held to be due to the continuous action of light throughout the long summer days. "The further we advance towards the north, the more the leaves of plants increase in size as if to absorb a greater proportion of the solar rays. M. Grisebach says that during a journey in Norway he observed that the majority of deciduous trees had already, at the 60th degree of latitude, larger leaves than in Germany, while M. Ch. Martins has made a similar observation as regards the leguminous plants cultivated in Lapland.” The same writer goes on to say that all the seeds of cultivated plants acquire a deeper color the further north they are grown, white haricots becoming brown or black, and white wheat becoming brown, while the green color of all vegetation becomes more intense. The flowers also are similarly changed: those which are white or yellow in central Europe becoming red or orange in Norway. This is what occurs in the Alpine flora, and the cause is said to be the same in both—the greater intensity of the sunlight. In the one the light is more persistent, in the other more intense because it traverses a less thickness of atmosphere.

Admitting the facts as above stated to be in themselves correct, they do not by any means establish the theory founded on them; and it is curious that Grisebach, who has been quoted by this writer for the fact of the increased size of the foliage, gives a totally different explanation of the more vivid colors of Arctic flowers. He says, “We see flowers become larger and more richly colored in proportion as, by the increasing length of winter, insects become rarer, and their cooperation in the act of fecundation is exposed to more uncertain chances.” (Vegetation du Globe, col. i. p. 61—French translation.) This is the theory here adopted to explain the colors of Alpine plants, and we believe there are many facts that will show it to be the preferable one. The statement that the white and yellow flowers of temperate Europe become red or golden in the Arctic regions must we think be incorrect. By roughly tabulating the colors of the plants given by Sir Joseph Hooker as permanently Arctic, we find among fifty species with more or less conspicuous flowers, twenty-five white, twelve yellow, eight purple or blue, three lilac, and two red or pink; showing a very similar proportion of white and yellow flowers to what obtains further south.

By the underlined phrase “act of fecundation” in the second paragraph, the author means __________.

Possible Answers:

pollination

the consumption of a prey organism by a predator

the expansion of the area in which a given type of organism is found

seasonal shedding of leaves

process of becoming active after a period of dormancy

Correct answer:

pollination

Explanation:

The phrase "act of fecundation" appears in the following sentence:"[Grisebach] says, 'We see flowers become larger and more richly colored in proportion as, by the increasing length of winter, insects become rarer, and their cooperation in the act of fecundation is exposed to more uncertain chances.' (Vegetation du Globe, col. i. p. 61—French translation.)" From this context, we can infer that whatever the "act of fecundation" is, insects are cooperatively involved in it. The only answer choice in which insects play a part for flowers is "pollination," so "pollination" is the correct answer. None of the other answer choices are supported by the text.

Example Question #11 : Natural Science Passages

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

The ancient Greeks, at a period four or five hundred years preceding the common era, definitely undertook to find from systematic observation how celestial phenomena follow one another. They determined very accurately the number of days in the year, the period of the moon's revolution, and the paths of the sun and the moon among the stars; they correctly explained the cause of eclipses and learned how to predict them with a considerable degree of accuracy; they undertook to measure the distances to the heavenly bodies, and to work out a complete system that would represent their motions. The idea was current among the Greek philosophers that the earth was spherical, that it turned on its axis, and, among some of them, that it revolved around the sun. They had true science in the modern acceptance of the term, but it was largely confined to the relations among celestial phenomena.

The conception that the heavens are orderly, which they definitely formulated and acted on with remarkable success, has been extended, especially in the last two centuries, so as to include the whole universe. The extension was first made to the inanimate world and then to the more complicated phenomena associated with living beings. Every increase in carefully recorded experience has confirmed and strengthened the belief that nature is perfectly orderly, until now every one who has had an opportunity of becoming familiar with any science is firmly convinced of the truth of this principle, which is the basis of all science.

What is meant by the underlined word “current”?

Possible Answers:

amazing

disputed

modern

coterminous

common

Correct answer:

common

Explanation:

We generally use "current" in a strictly temporal sense, meaning now or present. It can also be used in the sense of meaning common—as though it is "now accepted by everyone." This is the sense in this sentence, which basically is saying that the ideas listed were relatively common among Greek philosophers.

Example Question #231 : Isee Upper Level (Grades 9 12) Reading Comprehension

"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.

What is meant by the underlined word "character"?

Possible Answers:

Temperament

Disposition

Personality

Nature

Morality

Correct answer:

Nature

Explanation:

The word "character" often has to do with someone's moral dispositions. A person of "good character" is someone who is upright and moral. However, it can more generally mean the "nature" of the person. (This is why the word is related to "characteristic.")  In this passage, this second meaning is by far the better option for the word "character." The idea is that the several topics studied in computer science are of differing natures. This is why it is so hard to tell exactly what is the single, united focus of the science.

Example Question #131 : Natural Sciences

"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.

What is meant by the underlined word “coloration”?

Possible Answers:

Focus

Outline

Undertaking

Mood

Application

Correct answer:

Focus

Explanation:

To have a certain "coloration" is to have a character that is similar to something else. Something with a "religious coloration" likely reminds us of religious settings and realities. Something with a "practical coloration" has a practical focus or a practical appearance. Here, the point is more about the focus of these disciplines than about their appearance.

Learning Tools by Varsity Tutors