SSAT Middle Level Reading : Determining Authorial Purpose in Narrative Science Passages

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

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Example Questions

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Example Question #21 : Authorial Attitude, Tone, And Purpose In Narrative Science Passages

Adapted from "Bats" by W. S. Dallas in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

Like the owls, with which they share the dominion of the evening air, the bats have a perfectly noiseless flight; their activity is chiefly during the twilight, although some species are later, and in fact seem to keep up throughout the whole night. As they rest during the day, concealed usually in the most inaccessible places they can find, and are seen only upon the wing, their power of flight is their most striking peculiarity in the popular mind, and it is perhaps no great wonder that by many people, both in ancient and modern times, they have been regarded as birds. Nevertheless, their hairy bodies and leathery wings are so unlike anything that we ordinarily understand as pertaining to a bird, that opinion was apparently always divided, as to the true nature of these creatures—“a mouse with wings,” as Goldsmith called it once, according to James Boswell, is certainly a curious animal, and very difficult to classify so long as the would-be systematist has no particularly definite ideas to guide him. The likeness of the bat to a winged mouse has made itself felt in the name given to the creature in many languages, such as the “chauvesouris” of the French and the “flitter-mouse” of some parts of England, the latter being reproduced almost literally in German, Dutch, and Swedish, while the Danes called the bat a “flogenmues,” which has about the same meaning.

The author mentions the various names of a bat in other languages to highlight __________.

Possible Answers:

the relationship between a bat and an owl

the likelihood of being attacked by a bat

the whimsical nature of animal naming

the similarities between a bat and a mouse in popular understanding

the fear of bats among early societies

Correct answer:

the similarities between a bat and a mouse in popular understanding

Explanation:

The author discusses "the likeness of the Bat to a winged mouse" immediately before he introduces the names of the bat in various languages. The English name is even “flitter-mouse,” so it is clear that the author is trying to highlight “the similarities between a bat and a mouse in popular understanding."

Example Question #21 : Science Passages

Adapted from "Birds’ Nests" by John Burroughs in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

How alert the birds are, even when absorbed in building their nests! In an open space in the woods, I see a pair of cedar-birds collecting moss from the top of a dead tree. Following the direction in which they fly, I soon discover the nest placed in the fork of a small soft-maple, which stands amid a thick growth of wild-cherry trees and young beeches. Carefully concealing myself beneath it, without any fear that the workmen will hit me with a chip or let fall a tool, I await the return of the busy pair. Presently I hear the well-known note, and the female sweeps down and settles unsuspectingly into the half-finished structure. Hardly have her wings rested, before her eye has penetrated my screen, and with a hurried movement of alarm, she darts away. In a moment, the male, with a tuft of wool in his beak (for there is a sheep pasture near), joins her, and the two reconnoitre the premises from the surrounding bushes. With their beaks still loaded, they move around with a frightened look, and refuse to approach the nest till I have moved off and lain down behind a log. Then one of them ventures to alight upon the nest, but, still suspecting all is not right, quickly darts away again. Then they both together come, and after much peeping and spying about, and apparently much anxious consultation, cautiously proceed to work. In less than half an hour, it would seem that wool enough has been brought to supply the whole family, real and prospective, with socks, if needles and fingers could be found fine enough to knit it up. In less than a week, the female has begun to deposit her eggs—four of them in as many days—white tinged with purple, with black spots on the larger end. After two weeks of incubation, the young are out.

In the final few sentences of the passage, the author highlights __________.

Possible Answers:

his experience of hiding himself from the birds

how quickly the birds go about their business

how many young the two birds can expect to have

how efficiently the birds prepare their nest

his reaction to seeing the manner in which the birds communicate with one another

Correct answer:

how quickly the birds go about their business

Explanation:

In the last few sentences of the passage, the author begins each of his sentences by using the phrase “In less than a . . ." This suggests that he is remarking on the speed with which each step is carried out. We may therefore infer that he is trying to highlight “how quickly the birds go about their business.” The author does mention the efficiency of the birds, and comments on the number of young they are going to have, but neither of these is the highlight of the concluding sentences.

Example Question #31 : Science Passages

Adapted from "Inhabitants of My Pool" by Arabella B. Buckley in Wonders of Earth, Sea, and Sky (1902, ed. Edward Singleton Holden)

The pool lies in a deep hollow among a group of rocks and boulders, close to the entrance of the cove, which can only be entered at low water; it does not measure more than two feet across, so that you can step over it, if you take care not to slip on the masses of green and brown seaweed growing over the rocks on its sides, as I have done many a time when collecting specimens for our saltwater aquarium. I find now the only way is to lie flat down on the rock, so that my hands and eyes are free to observe and handle, and then, bringing my eye down to the edge of the pool, to lift the seaweeds and let the sunlight enter into the chinks and crannies. In this way I can catch sight of many a small being either on the seaweed or the rocky ledges, and even creatures transparent as glass become visible by the thin outline gleaming in the sunlight. Then I pluck a piece of seaweed, or chip off a fragment of rock with a sharp-edged collecting knife, bringing away the specimen uninjured upon it, and place it carefully in its own separate bottle to be carried home alive and well.

Now though this little pool and I are old friends, I find new treasures in it almost every time I go, for it is almost as full of living things as the heavens are of stars, and the tide as it comes and goes brings many a mother there to find a safe home for her little ones, and many a waif and stray to seek shelter from the troubled life of the open ocean.

You will perhaps find it difficult to believe that in this rock-bound basin there can be millions of living creatures hidden away among the fine feathery weeds; yet so it is. Not that they are always the same. At one time it may be the home of myriads of infant crabs, not an eighth of an inch long, another of baby sea-urchins only visible to the naked eye as minute spots in the water, at another of young jelly-fish growing on their tiny stalks, and splitting off one by one as transparent bells to float away with the rising tide. Or it may be that the whelk has chosen this quiet nook to deposit her leathery eggs; or young barnacles, periwinkles, and limpets are growing up among the green and brown tangles, while the far-sailing velella and the stay-at-home sea-squirts, together with a variety of other sea-animals, find a nursery and shelter in their youth in this quiet harbor of rest.

And besides these casual visitors there are numberless creatures which have lived and multiplied there, ever since I first visited the pool. Tender red, olive-colored, and green seaweeds, stony corallines, and acorn-barnacles lining the floor, sea-anemones clinging to the sides, sponges tiny and many-colored hiding under the ledges, and limpets and mussels wedged in the cracks. These can be easily seen with the naked eye, but they are not the most numerous inhabitants; for these we must search with a magnifying glass, which will reveal to us wonderful fairy-forms, delicate crystal vases with tiny creatures in them whose transparent lashes make whirlpools in the water, living crystal bells so tiny that whole branches of them look only like a fringe of hair, jelly globes rising and falling in the water, patches of living jelly clinging to the rocky sides of the pool, and a hundred other forms, some so minute that you must examine the fine sand in which they lie under a powerful microscope before you can even guess that they are there.

The primary purpose of the second paragraph is to __________.

Possible Answers:

explain how the author carries out her research and examinations in the rock pool

relate the author’s own fears when she initially visited the rock pool

examine the author’s own effect on the ecosystem of the rock pool

introduce the incredible variety of life that is present in the rock pool

describe how frequently the author visits the rock pool

Correct answer:

introduce the incredible variety of life that is present in the rock pool

Explanation:

The first paragraph primarily deals with describing the author’s experience and the manner in which she carries out her examinations of the rock pool. In the second paragraph, the author introduces us what is probably the main idea of the text—namely that the rock pool has an incredible variety of life. This can be seen in excerpts such as “Now though this little pool and I are old friends, I find new treasures in it almost every time I go, for it is almost as full of living things as the heavens are of stars."

Example Question #1 : Science Passages

Adapted from "Birds’ Nests" by John Burroughs in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

The rarest of all nests is that of the eagle, because the eagle is the rarest of all birds. Indeed, so seldom is the eagle seen, that its presence always seems accidental. It appears as if merely pausing on the way, while bound for some distant unknown region. One September, while a youth, I saw the ring-tailed eagle, an immense bird, the sight of which filled me with awe. It lingered about the hills for two days. Some young cattle, a two year-old colt, and half a dozen sheep were at pasture on a high ridge that led up to the mountain, and in plain view of the house. On the second day, this dusky monarch was seen flying about above them. Presently he began to hover over them, after the manner of a hawk watching for mice. He then with extended legs let himself slowly down upon them, actually grappling the backs of the young cattle, and frightening the creatures so that they rushed about the field in great consternation; and finally, as he grew bolder and more frequent in his descents, the whole herd broke over the fence, and came tearing down to the house “like mad.” It did not seem to be an assault with intent to kill, but was, perhaps, a stratagem resorted to in order to separate the herd and expose the lambs, which hugged the cattle very closely. When he occasionally alighted upon the oaks that stood near, the branch could be seen to sway and bend beneath him. Finally, as a rifleman started out in pursuit of him, he launched into the air, set his wings, and sailed away southward. A few years afterward, in January, another eagle passed through the same locality, alighting in a field near some dead animal, but tarried briefly.

Which of these excerpts best captures the main idea and purpose behind the author’s writing of this article?

Possible Answers:

“One September, while a youth, I saw the ring-tailed eagle, an immense bird, the sight of which filled me with awe.”

“Indeed, so seldom is the eagle seen, that its presence always seems accidental.”

“It did not seem to be an assault with intent to kill, but was, perhaps, a stratagem resorted to in order to separate the herd and expose the lambs, which hugged the cattle very closely.”

“Finally, as a rifleman started out in pursuit of him, he launched into the air, set his wings, and sailed away southward.”

“A few years afterward, in January, another eagle passed through the same locality, alighting in a field near some dead animal, but tarried briefly.”

Correct answer:

“Indeed, so seldom is the eagle seen, that its presence always seems accidental.”

Explanation:

The author’s primary purpose in writing this article is to illustrate how rarely seen an eagle is. He also wants to convey some sense that because eagles are so rare and seem to linger only for a short time that they seem somehow like they do not belong, as if they are accidentally there and ought to be elsewhere. This combined purpose is best expressed by “Indeed, so seldom is the eagle seen, that its presence always seems accidental.”

Example Question #1 : Comparing And Contrasting 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 explain the basic aggressive nature of llamas that is so well-understood as a personality trait found in camels

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

None of the other answers

To provide an example of what llamas look like

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.

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