SSAT Middle Level Reading : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, and Arguments in Narrative Science Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #11 : Recognizing The Main Idea In Narrative Science Passages

Adapted from A Catechism of Familiar Things: Their History and the Events Which Led to Their Discovery by the Benziger Brothers (1881)

Twilight is the light from the first dawning of day to the rising of the sun; and again between its setting and the last remains of day. Without twilight, the sun's light would appear at its rising, and disappear at its setting, instantly; and we should experience a sudden transition from the brightest sunshine to the most complete obscurity. The duration of twilight is different in different climates; and in the same places it varies at different periods of the year.

This passage is primarily concerned with __________.

Possible Answers:

explaining the differences in duration of twilight in different parts of the world

ridiculing the ancient worship of sunlight

defining how twilight is experienced by people

highlighting the importance of twilight

providing a coherent and comprehensive definition of twilight

Correct answer:

providing a coherent and comprehensive definition of twilight

Explanation:

In this passage, the author is merely defining what exactly twilight is. It seems to be written as an introductory article for children who are first learning about the subject. The author briefly mentions how people experience twilight and how it is different in different parts of the world, but these are both part of the author’s attempts at “providing a coherent and comprehensive definition.” There is no mention of the ancient worship of sunlight, nor does the author particularly focus on highlighting the importance of twilight.

Example Question #52 : Comprehension

Adapted from "Some Strange Nurseries" by Grant Allen in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

Many different types of animals employ one of two strategies in raising their young. Certain animals, called “r-strategists,” turn out thousands of eggs with reckless profusion, but they let them look after themselves, or be devoured by enemies, as chance will have it. Other animals, called “K-strategists,” take greater pain in the rearing and upbringing of the young. Large broods indicate an “r” life strategy; small broods imply a “K” life strategy and more care in the nurture and education of the offspring. R-strategists produce eggs wholesale, on the off chance that some two or three among them may perhaps survive an infant mortality of ninety-nine per cent, so as to replace their parents. K-strategists produce half a dozen young, or less, but bring a large proportion of these on an average up to years of discretion.

Which of these extracts best captures the main idea of this passage?

Possible Answers:

"Other animals, called “K-strategists,” take greater pain in the rearing and upbringing of the young"

"K-strategists produce half a dozen young, or less, but bring a large proportion of these on an average up to years of discretion"

"R-strategists produce eggs wholesale, on the off chance that some two or three among them may perhaps survive an infant mortality of ninety-nine per cent, so as to replace their parents"

"Many different types of animals employ one of two strategies in raising their young."

"Large broods indicate an “r” life strategy"

Correct answer:

"Many different types of animals employ one of two strategies in raising their young."

Explanation:

The main idea of this essay is that there is a direct correlation between the number of offspring a species generally produces and the type of life strategy that species employs. This idea is really only captured in the first sentence, ""Many different types of animals employ one of two strategies in raising their young." Another sentence might be better if it compared both r-strategists and K-strategists, but the other four answer choices are less succinct and direct, and usually only make half the author’s point.

Example Question #11 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Narrative Science Passages

Adapted from "Rain and Snow" by John Tyndall in Wonders of Earth, Sea, and Sky (1902, ed. by Edward Singleton Holden)

At the equator, and within certain limits north and south of it, the sun at certain periods of the year is directly overhead at noon. These limits are called the Tropics of Cancer and of Capricorn. Upon the belt comprised between these two circles, the sun's rays fall with their mightiest power, for here they shoot directly downwards and heat both earth and sea more than when they strike slantingly. When the vertical sunbeams strike the land, they heat it, and the air in contact with the hot soil becomes heated in turn. But when heated, the air expands, and when it expands, it becomes lighter. This lighter air rises through the heavier air overhead.

When the sunbeams fall upon the sea, the water is warmed, though not so much as the land. The warmed water expands, becomes thereby lighter, and therefore continues to float upon the top. This upper layer of water warms to some extent the air in contact with it, but it also sends up a quantity of aqueous vapor, which being far lighter than air helps the latter to rise. Thus both from the land and from the sea we have ascending currents established by the action of the sun.

The primary function of this passage is __________.

Possible Answers:

define the limits of the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn

define how the Earth’s rotation around the sun affects the intensity of the seasons

explain how rising currents are caused by the position and power of the sun

explain the history of the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn

describe the sun’s position in relation to the Tropics and the equator

Correct answer:

explain how rising currents are caused by the position and power of the sun

Explanation:

The primary function of this passage is to explain how “ascending currents” are “established by the actions of the sun.” This is clear from the manner in which the author spends the entirety of the passage building up to the concluding sentence, which ties the rest of the passage together. It is an instruction in how to understand the cause of “ascending” or “rising” currents.

Example Question #1 : Comparing And Contrasting Ideas 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.”

How does the quotation from Mr. Gosse relate to the evidence provided by other scientists earlier in the passage?

Possible Answers:

It suggests that the earlier evidence applies not only to hummingbirds but to another type of bird as well.

It supports the same conclusions that the previous evidence supports.

It has nothing to do with the previous evidence.

It contradicts the previous evidence and supports a different hypothesis.

It suggests that some of the previous evidence may be true, but some may be false.

Correct answer:

It supports the same conclusions that the previous evidence supports.

Explanation:

Let’s consider what Mr. Gosse is saying. The passage says, “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.’”  Paraphrasing that, Mr. Gosse is saying that he has seen hummingbirds contort themselves in the air and he’s pretty sure they’re doing this in order to catch insects. The evidence provided by scientists earlier in the passage supports the idea that hummingbirds eat insects, just like Mr. Gosse’s does. We can’t say that Gosse’s evidence contradicts the earlier evidence, suggests that some of it may be false, or has nothing to do with the previous evidence. It also doesn’t suggest that the previous evidence can be applied to birds other than hummingbirds, because Mr. Gosse says that he is only discussing hummingbirds and we are to infer that the Polytmus is a hummingbird. So, the correct answer is that “it supports the same conclusions that the previous evidence supports.”

Example Question #1 : Comparing And Contrasting Ideas 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.”

Which of the following does the author contrast in this passage?

Possible Answers:

Hummingbirds with long tails and hummingbirds with short tails

The results of feeding a hummingbird insects and the results of feeding a hummingbird flower nectar

Hummingbirds that eat flower nectar and hummingbirds that eat insects

The author’s opinion about what hummingbirds eat and Mr. Gosse’s opinion about what hummingbirds eat

The beliefs of historical scientists and the beliefs of scientists of the author’s time

Correct answer:

The beliefs of historical scientists and the beliefs of scientists of the author’s time

Explanation:

Nowhere in the passage is the feeding of hummingbirds by humans mentioned, so “The results of feeding a hummingbird insects and the results of feeding a hummingbird flower nectar” cannot be correct. While a hummingbird with a long tail, the Polytmus, is mentioned, it is not contrasted with any short-tailed hummingbirds. The author appears to agree with Mr. Gosse’s opinion about what hummingbirds eat, so “The author’s opinion about what hummingbirds eat and Mr. Gosse’s opinion about what hummingbirds eat” cannot be correct either. This leaves us with “Hummingbirds that eat flower nectar and hummingbirds that eat insects” and “the beliefs of historical scientists and the beliefs of scientists of the author’s time.” While the passage is concerned with what hummingbirds eat, it doesn’t suggest that some types of hummingbirds eat only nectar and others eat only insects. Hummingbirds are considered as an entire group; they’re never divided into “hummingbirds that eat insects” and “hummingbirds that eat flower nectar.” This leaves us with one answer choice, the correct one: “The beliefs of historical scientists and the beliefs of scientists of the author’s time.” These beliefs are contrasted in the paragraph’s second sentence: “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.”

Example Question #1 : Identifying And Analyzing Details 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.

A stoat might also be called __________.

Possible Answers:

an ermine, depending on its fur color

a weasel, depending on what it eats

a weasel, depending on its fur color

an ermine, depending on where it lives

a weasel, depending on where it lives

Correct answer:

an ermine, depending on its fur color

Explanation:

The passage’s last paragraph provides the information we need to answer this question.  The paragraph begins by describing “the common stoat.” Eventually, it says, “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.” While this sentence is followed by “A similar example is afforded by the weasel,” this means that the weasel is another example of an animal that changes its fur color, not that a stoat can be called a weasel. It means that a weasel is a distinct type of animal. The correct answer is that a stoat might also be called “an ermine, depending on its fur color.”

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Cause And Effect 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 does the emperor penguin keep its egg balanced on its feet and covered by its feathers?

Possible Answers:

So that other penguins won’t try to steal it

The author is not sure why Emperor penguins do this.

So it won’t roll into the ocean

So that predators will not see it and try to eat it

So that it won’t touch the snow and get too cold

Correct answer:

So that it won’t touch the snow and get too cold

Explanation:

The author discusses these behaviors of the emperor penguin in the passage’s last paragraph:

“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.” 

The first part of the sentence is most important to answering this question correctly, as it tells us why the emperor penguins are motivated to act this way: “To prevent contact with the frozen snow.” This means that while many of the answer choices sound reasonable, the correct answer is that the emperor penguin protects its egg in the specified ways “so that it won’t touch the snow and get too cold.”

Example Question #1 : Identifying And Analyzing Details 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.

Where do emperor penguins live?

Possible Answers:

The Falklands

Greenland

On ice in the Antarctic seas

Kerguelen Land

Northern Canada

Correct answer:

On ice in the Antarctic seas

Explanation:

In its third paragraph, the passage states, “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.” The phrasing of this might be a bit confusing, so it’s good to pause and work it out. The author is referring to the king penguin when he says “the former,” since he mentions the king penguin first, and he is referring to the emperor penguin when he says “the latter,” since he mentions the emperor penguin second. This means that when the author writes “the latter [being found] in Victoria Land and on the pack ice of the Antarctic seas,” he is describing where the emperor penguin lives. This means that “On ice in the Antarctic seas” is the correct answer. “Kerguelen Land” and “the Falklands” are mentioned as places where the king penguin lives, and the passage doesn’t mention Northern Canada or Greenland at all. 

Example Question #2 : Analyzing Details In Natural Science Passages

"Cacti" by Ami Dave (2013)

Cacti are plants suited to the desert, and we must always keep this factor in mind when growing ornamental cacti in our gardens, for it helps us provide cacti with conditions that allow them to survive and thrive. For example, a cactus should never be watered over its body, as it will start to rot. This is because it is covered with a waxy coating which prevents water loss through evaporation. When one waters the cactus over its body, the waxy coating is washed away and the plant begins to rot. The amount of water that one must supply to the cactus is very much dependent upon the season and upon the climate of the place. During the summer season one should water cacti every four days, whereas in the rainy season, once every fifteen days is quite enough.

Cacti need a minimum of two and a half hours of sunlight per day; however, they should not be kept in the sun all day because they may wrinkle when exposed to too much bright sunlight. Unlike other plants, cacti produce carbon dioxide during the day and oxygen during the night, so they are ideal plants to be kept in bedrooms to freshen up the air at night.

If a cactus is to thrive and prosper, the size of the pot in which it is grown needs to be monitored carefully. The pot should always be a little smaller than the plant itself because it is only when the plant has to struggle to survive that it will thrive. If the pot is too spacious and the plant does not need to struggle, chances are that the cactus will die. Similarly, if a cactus shows no signs of growth, stop watering it. Watering should be resumed only when the plant begins to grow again.

The substrata of a cactus pot is ideally composed of pieces of broken bricks at the bottom, followed by a layer of charcoal above the bricks, and then coarse sand and pebbles above the charcoal. Leaf mould is the best manure.

Grafting cacti is very simple. A very small piece of the cactus plant should be stuck with tape to the plant that needs grafting. The smaller the piece, the easier it is to graft. To reproduce cacti, one has to simply cut off a piece of the cactus, allow it to dry for a few days, and then place it over the cacti substrate. It will automatically develop roots.

It is very easy to differentiate between cacti and other plants that look like cacti. All cacti have fine hair at the base of each thorn. The so-called “thorns” are in fact highly modified leaves which prevent loss of water through transpiration. If one ever gets pricked by cacti thorns, one should take tape, place it over the area where the thorns have penetrated the skin, and then peel it off. All of the thorns will get stuck to the tape and will be removed.

The first paragraph provides all of the following information EXCEPT __________.

Possible Answers:

watering the body of the cactus can be harmful to the plant

cacti can rot if watered incorrectly

cacti lack an outer coating to protect them from water loss

cacti are best suited to the desert

frequency of watering should vary based on the season

Correct answer:

cacti lack an outer coating to protect them from water loss

Explanation:

The passage states the opposite of the answer choice "it is covered with a waxy coating that prevents water loss through evaporation." The rest of the answer choices are all correct information, which is provided in the first paragraph.

Example Question #61 : Natural Sciences

"Cacti" by Ami Dave (2013)

Cacti are plants suited to the desert, and we must always keep this factor in mind when growing ornamental cacti in our gardens, for it helps us provide cacti with conditions that allow them to survive and thrive. For example, a cactus should never be watered over its body, as it will start to rot. This is because it is covered with a waxy coating which prevents water loss through evaporation. When one waters the cactus over its body, the waxy coating is washed away and the plant begins to rot. The amount of water that one must supply to the cactus is very much dependent upon the season and upon the climate of the place. During the summer season one should water cacti every four days, whereas in the rainy season, once every fifteen days is quite enough.

Cacti need a minimum of two and a half hours of sunlight per day; however, they should not be kept in the sun all day because they may wrinkle when exposed to too much bright sunlight. Unlike other plants, cacti produce carbon dioxide during the day and oxygen during the night, so they are ideal plants to be kept in bedrooms to freshen up the air at night.

If a cactus is to thrive and prosper, the size of the pot in which it is grown needs to be monitored carefully. The pot should always be a little smaller than the plant itself because it is only when the plant has to struggle to survive that it will thrive. If the pot is too spacious and the plant does not need to struggle, chances are that the cactus will die. Similarly, if a cactus shows no signs of growth, stop watering it. Watering should be resumed only when the plant begins to grow again.

The substrata of a cactus pot is ideally composed of pieces of broken bricks at the bottom, followed by a layer of charcoal above the bricks, and then coarse sand and pebbles above the charcoal. Leaf mould is the best manure.

Grafting cacti is very simple. A very small piece of the cactus plant should be stuck with tape to the plant that needs grafting. The smaller the piece, the easier it is to graft. To reproduce cacti, one has to simply cut off a piece of the cactus, allow it to dry for a few days, and then place it over the cacti substrate. It will automatically develop roots.

It is very easy to differentiate between cacti and other plants that look like cacti. All cacti have fine hair at the base of each thorn. The so-called “thorns” are in fact highly modified leaves which prevent loss of water through transpiration. If one ever gets pricked by cacti thorns, one should take tape, place it over the area where the thorns have penetrated the skin, and then peel it off. All of the thorns will get stuck to the tape and will be removed.

The passage addresses all of the following EXCEPT __________.

Possible Answers:

how often to water a cactus

what to do when pricked by a cactus thorn

how water flows through a cactus from the roots

how to tell cacti apart from other plants

ideal pot size

Correct answer:

how water flows through a cactus from the roots

Explanation:

The passage addresses that watering the body of the cactus can have harmful effects, and therefore one should water the roots only; however, it does not discuss the biological mechanism behind how the cactus transports water upward to the body (against the force of gravity).

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