SSAT Middle Level Reading : Locating Details 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 #61 : Textual Relationships In Science Passages

Adapted from Cassell’s Natural History by Francis Martin Duncan (1913)

The penguins are a group of birds inhabiting the southern ocean, for the most part passing their lives in the icy waters of the Antarctic seas. Like the ratitae, penguins have lost the power of flight, but the wings are modified into swimming organs and the birds lead an aquatic existence and are scarcely seen on land except in the breeding season. They are curious-looking creatures that appear to have no legs, as the limbs are encased in the skin of the body and the large flat feet are set so far back that the birds waddle along on land in an upright position in a very ridiculous manner, carrying their long narrow flippers held out as if they were arms. When swimming, penguins use their wings as paddles while the feet are used for steering.

Penguins are usually gregarious—in the sea, they swim together in schools, and on land, assemble in great numbers in their rookeries. They are very methodical in their ways, and on leaving the water, the birds always follow well-defined tracks leading to the rookeries, marching with much solemnity one behind the other in soldierly order. 

The largest species of penguins are the king penguin and the emperor penguin, the former being found in Kerguelen Land, the Falklands, and other southern islands, and the latter in Victoria Land and on the pack ice of the Antarctic seas. As they are unaccustomed from the isolation of their haunts to being hunted and persecuted by man, emperor penguins are remarkably fearless, and Antarctic explorers invading their territory have found themselves objects of curiosity rather than fear to the strange birds who followed them about as if they were much astonished at their appearance. 

The emperor penguin lays but a single egg and breeds during the intense cold and darkness of the Antarctic winter. To prevent contact with the frozen snow, the bird places its egg upon its flat webbed feet and crouches down upon it so that it is well covered with the feathers. In spite of this precaution, many eggs do not hatch and the mortality amongst the young chicks is very great.

According to the passage, why are emperor penguins so bold in approaching Antarctic explorers?

Possible Answers:

They are not used to humans and have not been hunted by them. 

They want to seem brave to impress their mates.

They are territorial and each wants to protect the area it has claimed.

They are shy.

They think that the explorers might be prey.

Correct answer:

They are not used to humans and have not been hunted by them. 

Explanation:

The passage talks about emperor penguins approaching Antarctic explorers in its third paragraph, stating the following:

“As they are unaccustomed from the isolation of their haunts to being hunted and persecuted by man, emperor penguins are remarkably fearless, and Antarctic explorers invading their territory have found themselves objects of curiosity rather than fear to the strange birds who followed them about as if they were much astonished at their appearance.”

The most important part of this long sentence in answering this question is its opening phrase, “As they are unaccustomed from the isolation of their haunts to being hunted and persecuted by man . . .” The “as” is functioning like “because” and therefore telling us the reason why emperor penguins are so bold in this way. This means that while some of the other answer choices may sound reasonable and valid, the correct answer is “They are not used to humans and have not been hunted by them,” as this is what the passage states.

Example Question #141 : 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.”

What do Azara, Bullock, and Waterton have in common?

Possible Answers:

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

They are all scientists who think hummingbirds eat flower nectar.

They are all scientists who think hummingbirds eat insects.

They are all types of hummingbirds.

They are all types of birds that 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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