SAT Critical Reading : Summarizing and Describing Natural Science Passage Content

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT Critical Reading

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Example Question #233 : Natural Sciences

"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:






Correct answer:



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 #1 : Making Predictions Based On Narrative 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.

In which of the following would you most expect to find this passage reprinted?

Possible Answers:

A physics textbook

A how-to manual

A cookbook

An article in a biology magazine

A scholarly report about weasels

Correct answer:

An article in a biology magazine


Where would one most likely find this article reprinted? Well, we wouldn’t be likely to find it in “a how-to manual” as it doesn’t explain how to do anything; it conveys information about certain types of animals. Similarly, since it doesn’t discuss physics or have anything to do with cooking, we can ignore the answers “A physics textbook” and “A cookbook.” This leaves us with “A scholarly report about weasels” and “An article in a biology magazine.” At this point we have to consider how the weasel is discussed in the passage—it is discussed very little, only in the context of being compared to the stoat or providing an example of carnivorous animals that change their fur color, along with the stoat. Given that the weasel isn’t the main subject of the passage, “An article in a biology magazine” is the best answer choice.

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