SAT Critical Reading : Comparing and Contrasting in Natural Science Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT Critical Reading

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Argumentative Science Passages

Adapted from “Introduced Species That Have Become Pests” in Our Vanishing Wild Life, Its Extermination and Protection by William Temple Hornaday (1913)

The man who successfully transplants or "introduces" into a new habitat any persistent species of living thing assumes a very grave responsibility. Every introduced species is doubtful gravel until panned out. The enormous losses that have been inflicted upon the world through the perpetuation of follies with wild vertebrates and insects would, if added together, be enough to purchase a principality. The most aggravating feature of these follies in transplantation is that never yet have they been made severely punishable. We are just as careless and easygoing on this point as we were about the government of the Yellowstone Park in the days when Howell and other poachers destroyed our first national bison herd, and when caught red-handed—as Howell was, skinning seven Park bison cows—could not be punished for it, because there was no penalty prescribed by any law. Today, there is a way in which any revengeful person could inflict enormous damage on the entire South, at no cost to himself, involve those states in enormous losses and the expenditure of vast sums of money, yet go absolutely unpunished!

The gypsy moth is a case in point. This winged calamity was imported at Maiden, Massachusetts, near Boston, by a French entomologist, Mr. Leopold Trouvelot, in 1868 or 69. History records the fact that the man of science did not purposely set free the pest. He was endeavoring with live specimens to find a moth that would produce a cocoon of commercial value to America, and a sudden gust of wind blew out of his study, through an open window, his living and breeding specimens of the gypsy moth. The moth itself is not bad to look at, but its larvae is a great, overgrown brute with an appetite like a hog. Immediately Mr. Trouvelot sought to recover his specimens, and when he failed to find them all, like a man of real honor, he notified the State authorities of the accident. Every effort was made to recover all the specimens, but enough escaped to produce progeny that soon became a scourge to the trees of Massachusetts. The method of the big, nasty-looking mottled-brown caterpillar was very simple. It devoured the entire foliage of every tree that grew in its sphere of influence.

The gypsy moth spread with alarming rapidity and persistence. In course of time, the state authorities of Massachusetts were forced to begin a relentless war upon it, by poisonous sprays and by fire. It was awful! Up to this date (1912) the New England states and the United States Government service have expended in fighting this pest about $7,680,000!

The spread of this pest has been retarded, but the gypsy moth never will be wholly stamped out. Today it exists in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, and it is due to reach New York at an early date. It is steadily spreading in three directions from Boston, its original point of departure, and when it strikes the State of New York, we, too, will begin to pay dearly for the Trouvelot experiment.

Howell’s story is different from that of Mr. Trouvelot’s in that __________.

Possible Answers:

Howell acted alone while Trouvelot worked with a group

Howell worked for a zoo while Trouvelot was a scientist

Howell sought to capture insects while Trouvelot sought to release them

Howell could be punished by law, while Trouvelot could not

Howell acted purposely while Trouvelot introduced the moths by accident

Correct answer:

Howell acted purposely while Trouvelot introduced the moths by accident

Explanation:

According to the passage, what did Howell do? He was caught skinning bison in Yellowstone National Park and there was no way to punish him, a point about which the author is frustrated. What did Mr. Trouvelot do? He accidentally released gypsy moths into the United States, where they’ve caused a lot of trouble since. Nothing in the passage says that Mr. Trouvelot worked in a group, so we can eliminate the answer “Howell acted alone while Mr. Trouvelot worked with a group.” Similarly, while the passage says that Mr. Trouvelot was a scientist (an entomologist), nothing says that Howell worked for a zoo, so “Howell worked for a zoo while Trouvelot was a scientist” can’t be correct. The author brings up Howell’s story as an example of someone who couldn’t be punished by law for what the author considers an egregiously bad act, so “Howell could be punished by law, while Mr. Trouvelot could not” can’t be correct either. Howell’s story has nothing to do with insects and Mr. Trouvelot released his gypsy moths on accident, so “Howell sought to capture insects while Trouvelot sought to release them” cannot be the correct answer. This leaves us with one answer choice, the correct one: “Howell acted purposely while Trouvelot introduced the moths by accident.”

Example Question #1 : Textual Relationships In 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.

How are two uses of the image of heliocentrism contrasted in this passage?

Possible Answers:

One calls for detached peace while the other is likely to breed wars.

One implies the insignificance of the human person while the other implies humanity's greatness.

One calls for scientific detachment while the other calls for engagement in the world of culture.

None of the other answers

One is primarily scientific while the other is religious at its core.

Correct answer:

One implies the insignificance of the human person while the other implies humanity's greatness.

Explanation:

The general contrast is between "man, the speck on a rock" and "man, the center of all things." The idea for one view is that the human person is insignificant in comparison to the rest of the universe, which dwarfs his little life on Earth. The other view makes the human person so significant that the study of human life is central.

Example Question #683 : Ssat Upper Level Reading Comprehension

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 types of hummingbirds.

They are all types of birds that eat insects.

They are all scientists who think hummingbirds eat flower nectar.

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

They are all scientists who think hummingbirds eat insects.

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.”

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