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 #31 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Narrative Science Passages

Adapted from "Wasps" by Thomas G. Belt in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

One day I saw a small black and yellow banded wasp hunting for spiders; it approached a web where a spider was stationed in the center, made a dart towards it—apparently a feint to frighten the spider clear of its web; at any rate it had that effect, for it fell to the ground, and was immediately seized by the wasp, who stung it, then ran quickly backwards, dragging the spider after it, up a branch reaching to the ground until it got high enough, when it flew heavily off with it. It was so small, and the spider so cumbersome, that it probably could not have raised it from the ground by flight.

All over the world there are wasps that store their nests with the bodies of spiders for their young to feed on. In Australia, I often witnessed a wasp engaging with a large flat spider that is found on the bark of trees. It would fall to the ground, and lie on its back, so as to be able to grapple with its opponent; but the wasp was always the victor in the encounters I saw, although it was not always allowed to carry off its prey in peace. One day, sitting on the sandbanks on the coast of Hobson’s Bay, I saw one dragging along a large spider. Three or four inches above it hovered two minute flies, keeping a little behind, and advancing with it. The wasp seemed much disturbed by the presence of the tiny flies, and twice left its prey to fly up towards them, but they darted away with it. As soon as the wasp returned to the spider, there they were hovering over and following it again. At last, unable to drive away its small provocateurs, the wasp reached its burrow and took down the spider, and the two flies stationed themselves one on each side of the entrance, and would, doubtless, when the wasp went away to seek another victim, descend and lay their own eggs in the nest.

Why is the wasp annoyed by the presence of the flies?

Possible Answers:

The flies are an inconvenience to the wasp because they force the wasp to hide the spider more carefully.

The flies will lay their eggs inside the wasp’s nest, which will consume the food meant for the wasp’s young.

The flies are impossible for the wasp to catch and so the wasp will have to go hungry.

The flies will consume the spider’s body themselves, leaving the wasp without food.

The flies will alert spiders to the presence of the wasp, rendering the wasp’s endeavors less productive.

Correct answer:

The flies will lay their eggs inside the wasp’s nest, which will consume the food meant for the wasp’s young.

Explanation:

Answering this question is a simple case of reading for details. At the very end of the passage, the author says "the two flies stationed themselves one on each side of the entrance [to the wasp's burrow], and would, doubtless, when the wasp went away to seek another victim, descend and lay their own eggs in the nest.” You are also told earlier that wasps "store their nests with the bodies of spiders for their young to feed on.” So, the wasp is annoyed by the presence of the flies because the flies will lay their own eggs inside the spider’s nest, which will consume the spider and deprive the wasp’s young of food.

Example Question #32 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Narrative Science Passages

Adapted from "Wasps" by Thomas G. Belt in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

One day I saw a small black and yellow banded wasp hunting for spiders; it approached a web where a spider was stationed in the center, made a dart towards it—apparently a feint to frighten the spider clear of its web; at any rate it had that effect, for it fell to the ground, and was immediately seized by the wasp, who stung it, then ran quickly backwards, dragging the spider after it, up a branch reaching to the ground until it got high enough, when it flew heavily off with it. It was so small, and the spider so cumbersome, that it probably could not have raised it from the ground by flight.

All over the world there are wasps that store their nests with the bodies of spiders for their young to feed on. In Australia, I often witnessed a wasp engaging with a large flat spider that is found on the bark of trees. It would fall to the ground, and lie on its back, so as to be able to grapple with its opponent; but the wasp was always the victor in the encounters I saw, although it was not always allowed to carry off its prey in peace. One day, sitting on the sandbanks on the coast of Hobson’s Bay, I saw one dragging along a large spider. Three or four inches above it hovered two minute flies, keeping a little behind, and advancing with it. The wasp seemed much disturbed by the presence of the tiny flies, and twice left its prey to fly up towards them, but they darted away with it. As soon as the wasp returned to the spider, there they were hovering over and following it again. At last, unable to drive away its small provocateurs, the wasp reached its burrow and took down the spider, and the two flies stationed themselves one on each side of the entrance, and would, doubtless, when the wasp went away to seek another victim, descend and lay their own eggs in the nest.

Why does the wasp have to drag the spider up a branch before flying back to its nest with it?

Possible Answers:

Because the wasp is trying to avoid detection by any flies, or other interfering insects

Because the wasp needs to get away from the other spiders

Because the spider is not quite dead and has the advantage on the ground

Because the wasp is worried about remaining on the ground where it can be easily preyed upon

Because the spider is too heavy for the wasp to lift off the ground

Correct answer:

Because the spider is too heavy for the wasp to lift off the ground

Explanation:

Answering this question requires reading in detail and understanding a somewhat challenging word that the author employs. After mentioning that the wasp took the spider into a branch before taking off and flying back to its nest, the author says, “It was so small, and the spider so cumbersome, that it probably could not have raised it from the ground by flight.” The word “cumbersome,” in this context, means burdensome and heavy to carry. So the spider is “too heavy” for the wasp and therefore the wasp drags it into a tree rather than lifting it off the ground itself.

Example Question #33 : 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 Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn are __________.

Possible Answers:

the limits of where the sun’s energy can be properly absorbed by the water

the two warmest parts of the planet

the physical limits of where the sun can adequately make a difference in the regulation of earth’s atmosphere

the geographical limits of where the sun is sometimes directly overhead at noon

where the sun’s rays are least likely to fall during the winter

Correct answer:

the geographical limits of where the sun is sometimes directly overhead at noon

Explanation:

Answering this question requires reading the opening lines of this passage carefully, specifically where the author says, “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.” The author says “certain periods of the year,” which is the same as “sometimes,” and he says that the “certain limits north and south” are “called the Tropics of Cancer and of Capricorn."

Example Question #34 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Narrative 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 shy.

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 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 #42 : 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 types of birds that eat insects.

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.

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.”

Example Question #25 : 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 evidence does Mr. Gosse have to support the claim that hummingbirds eat insects?

Possible Answers:

He surmised that they must eat insects because he has never seen one eating flower nectar.

He observed one flailing around in the air and concluded that it was eating insects.

He examined the contents of a hummingbird’s stomach and found many insects in it.

A hummingbird got into his collection of live insects, and soon after, all of his insects were missing.

He read in a reputable scientific journal that they eat insects.

Correct answer:

He observed one flailing around in the air and concluded that it was eating insects.

Explanation:

To answer this question, we have to consider the quotation attributed to Mr. Gosse found at the end of the passage:

“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.’”

He doesn’t mention anything about having a collection of live insects, getting his information from a scientific journal, or dissecting a hummingbird’s stomach, so we can ignore those answer choices. He actively observes a hummingbird and surmises that they eat insects because of that, so the correct answer is “He observed one flailing around in the air and concluded that it was eating insects.”

Example Question #1 : 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.

What aspect(s) of the king penguin and the emperor penguin does the passage contrast?

Possible Answers:

The locations in which they live and their food sources

Their food sources and appearances

The locations in which they live

The locations in which they live, their food sources, and their appearances

Their appearances

Correct answer:

The locations in which they live

Explanation:

The passage mentions the king penguin and the emperor penguin at the beginning of its third paragraph, so we can look there to identify how the two are contrasted. Only one sentence in the passage talks about the king penguin:

“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.”

While the answer choices about for sources and appearances may seem likely, but the correct answer is “The locations in which they live,” as this is the only aspect of the king penguin and the emperor penguin that is contrasted in the passage.

Example Question #35 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments 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)

The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, is a luminous appearance in the northern parts of the sky, seen mostly during winter, or in frosty weather, and clear evenings; it assumes a variety of forms and hues, especially in the polar regions, where it appears in its perfection, and proves a great solace to the inhabitants amidst the gloom of their long winter's night, which lasts from one to six months.

What aspect of the Aurora Borealis does the author highlight in the underlined phrase “proves a great solace to the inhabitants amidst the gloom of their long winter's night, which lasts from one to six months”?

Possible Answers:

Its appearance only in winter.

The comfort it provides.

The beauty of it.

The illumination it provides.

The length of time it lasts.

Correct answer:

The comfort it provides.

Explanation:

The author says that the Aurora Borealis “appears in its perfection” and “proves a great solace . . . amidst the gloom of their long winter’s night." Something that provides “solace” provides comfort. “Solace” means comfort. The author is talking about how the winters are long and “gloomy” (sad and dark) and that the Northern Lights provide comfort to people during this miserable time. Although the author does talk about how the Aurora Borealis occurs in winter, this is not what is being highlighted.

Example Question #3 : Analyzing Details In Natural Science Passages

Adapted from "How the Soil is Made" by Charles Darwin in Wonders of Earth, Sea, and Sky (1902, ed. Edward Singleton Holden)

Worms have played a more important part in the history of the world than most persons would at first suppose. In almost all humid countries they are extraordinarily numerous, and for their size possess great muscular power. In many parts of England a weight of more than ten tons (10,516 kilograms) of dry earth annually passes through their bodies and is brought to the surface on each acre of land, so that the whole superficial bed of vegetable mould passes through their bodies in the course of every few years. From the collapsing of the old burrows, the mold is in constant though slow movement, and the particles composing it are thus rubbed together. Thus the particles of earth, forming the superficial mold, are subjected to conditions eminently favorable for their decomposition and disintegration. This keeps the surface of the earth perfectly suited to the growth of an abundant array of fruits and vegetables.

Worms are poorly provided with sense-organs, for they cannot be said to see, although they can just distinguish between light and darkness; they are completely deaf, and have only a feeble power of smell; the sense of touch alone is well developed. They can, therefore, learn little about the outside world, and it is surprising that they should exhibit some skill in lining their burrows with their castings and with leaves, and in the case of some species in piling up their castings into tower-like constructions. But it is far more surprising that they should apparently exhibit some degree of intelligence instead of a mere blind, instinctive impulse, in their manner of plugging up the mouths of their burrows. They act in nearly the same manner as would a man, who had to close a cylindrical tube with different kinds of leaves, petioles, triangles of paper, etc., for they commonly seize such objects by their pointed ends. But with thin objects a certain number are drawn in by their broader ends. They do not act in the same unvarying manner in all cases, as do most of the lower animals.

Worms are characterized as all of the following in this passage EXCEPT __________.

Possible Answers:

surprisingly intelligent

extremely prolific

greatly underappreciated

immensely strong for their size

None of the other answers

Correct answer:

None of the other answers

Explanation:

In this passage, worms are characterized as all of these answers. So, none of them is the exception. Early in the first paragraph, the author says, “In almost all humid countries they are extraordinarily numerous, and for their size possess great muscular power.” So, worms are “immensely strong for their size” and “extremely prolific.” “Prolific” and “numerous” both mean present in large numbers or plentiful. In the second paragraph, the author spends much of his time characterizing worms as “surprisingly intelligent,” as is shown in his focus on their ability to adapt to different circumstances when it comes to plugging their burrows. Finally, throughout the passage, worms are characterized as “greatly underappreciated.” This is notable in the second paragraph, where the author seems deeply impressed by the intelligence of worms, but most obviously notable in the first paragraph, where the author says “Worms have played a more important part in the history of the world than most persons would at first suppose.”

Example Question #36 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Narrative 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 was the herd of llamas that the author witnessed on the banks of the St. Cruz considered exceptional?

Possible Answers:

It was eating a type of food that is extremely uncommon for wild llamas to eat.

It was demonstrating a level of intelligence considered almost impossible for wild llamas.

It was exhibiting aggressive behavior that is highly unusual for a pack of llamas.

It was much larger than the typical size of herds that the author had observed.

It was found in an environment that was typically very uncommon for llamas to be found in.

Correct answer:

It was much larger than the typical size of herds that the author had observed.

Explanation:

Answering this question requires little more than reading in context and identifying relevant information. The author says, “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.” So, llamas are usually found in herds between six and thirty individuals, but the pack found near the banks of the St. Cruz river contained over five hundred individuals.

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