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

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Example Question #41 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Narrative Science Passages

Adapted from "What I Saw in an Ant’s Nest" by Andrew Wilson in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

The workers appear to perform a never-ending round of duties. They build the nests, make the roads, attend to the wants of the young, train up the latter in the ways of ant existence, wait on the sovereigns of the nest, and like diplomatic courtiers, duly arrange for the royal marriages of the future. As Mr. Bates remarks, “The wonderful part in the history of the termites is that not only is there a rigid division of labor, but that nature has given to each class a structure of body adapting it to the kind of labor it has to perform. The males and females form a class apart; they do no kind of work, but in the course of growth, acquire wings to enable them to issue forth and disseminate their kind. The workers and soldiers are wingless, and differ solely in the shape and armature of the head. The head in the laborers is smooth and rounded, the mouth being adapted for the working of the materials in building the hive. In the soldier, the head is of very large size, and is provided in almost every kind with special organs of offense and defense in the form of horny processes resembling pikes, tridents, and so forth . . . The course of human events in our day seems, unhappily, to make it more than ever necessary for the citizens of industrious communities to set apart a numerous armed class for the protection of the rest; in this, nations only do what nature has of old done for the termites. The soldier termite, however, has not only the fighting instinct and function; he is constructed as a soldier, and carries his weapons not in his hand but growing out of his body.” When a colony of termites is disturbed, the ordinary citizens disappear and the military are called out. “The soldiers mounted the breach,” says Mr. Bates, “to cover the retreat of the workers,” when a hole was made in the archway of one of their covered roads, and with military precision the rear men fall into the vacant places in the front ranks as the latter are emptied by the misfortune of war.

What is the “wonderful part in the history of termites”?

Possible Answers:

Their types are permanently and rigidly divided.

They work in harmony as one fully functional and self-sufficient unit.

They are not adverse to hard work and industry.

Their bodies are designed to maximize the function accorded to them.

They are able to defend themselves from attack.

Correct answer:

Their bodies are designed to maximize the function accorded to them.

Explanation:

In context, the author says, “The wonderful part in the history of the termites is that not only is there a rigid division of labor, but nature has given to each class a structure of body adapting it to the kind of labor it has to perform.” The author is remarking on how “nature has given . . . a structure of body adapting [each kind of termite] to the kind of labor it has to perform,” which could be restated as “their bodies are designed (by nature) to maximize the function accorded to them.” The author goes on to further explain this “wonderful” trait when he describes the different body parts of a worker and soldier termite.

Example Question #42 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Narrative Science Passages

Adapted from "What I Saw in an Ant’s Nest" by Andrew Wilson in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

The workers appear to perform a never-ending round of duties. They build the nests, make the roads, attend to the wants of the young, train up the latter in the ways of ant existence, wait on the sovereigns of the nest, and like diplomatic courtiers, duly arrange for the royal marriages of the future. As Mr. Bates remarks, “The wonderful part in the history of the termites is that not only is there a rigid division of labor, but that nature has given to each class a structure of body adapting it to the kind of labor it has to perform. The males and females form a class apart; they do no kind of work, but in the course of growth, acquire wings to enable them to issue forth and disseminate their kind. The workers and soldiers are wingless, and differ solely in the shape and armature of the head. The head in the laborers is smooth and rounded, the mouth being adapted for the working of the materials in building the hive. In the soldier, the head is of very large size, and is provided in almost every kind with special organs of offense and defense in the form of horny processes resembling pikes, tridents, and so forth . . . The course of human events in our day seems, unhappily, to make it more than ever necessary for the citizens of industrious communities to set apart a numerous armed class for the protection of the rest; in this, nations only do what nature has of old done for the termites. The soldier termite, however, has not only the fighting instinct and function; he is constructed as a soldier, and carries his weapons not in his hand but growing out of his body.” When a colony of termites is disturbed, the ordinary citizens disappear and the military are called out. “The soldiers mounted the breach,” says Mr. Bates, “to cover the retreat of the workers,” when a hole was made in the archway of one of their covered roads, and with military precision the rear men fall into the vacant places in the front ranks as the latter are emptied by the misfortune of war.

What aspect of humanity does the author compare to termites?

Possible Answers:

The natural tendency towards violence that requires all people to have at least a minimal understanding of fighting and warfare

The need to maintain a permanent portion of the population as soldiers to defend the collective group

The nature of complete obedience to an absolute ruler

The ease with which society can be organized in times of peace and times of war

The love of industry and hard work that has made humanity successful

Correct answer:

The need to maintain a permanent portion of the population as soldiers to defend the collective group

Explanation:

The author compares humanity to termites when discussing how termites maintain a permanent portion of the population as soldiers in order to provide for the defense of the rest of the population. The author says “The course of human events in our day seems, unhappily, to make it more than ever necessary for the citizens of civilized and industrious communities to set apart a numerous armed class for the protection of the rest; in this, nations only do what nature has of old done for the termites.”

Example Question #111 : Isee Lower Level (Grades 5 6) Reading Comprehension

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.

Why does the author consider the bat to be a difficult animal to classify?

Possible Answers:

Because it shares the appearance and characteristics of several disparate animals

Because scientists have spent far too little time studying bats

Because the popular understanding of bats has been affected by centuries of superstition

Because the mannerisms of bats make them very hard to study

Because the behavior of individual bats is often very different from the behavior of other individual bats

Correct answer:

Because it shares the appearance and characteristics of several disparate animals

Explanation:

The author says bats are “very difficult to classify so long as the would-be systematist has no particularly definite ideas to guide him.” Immediately before this, he says, “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.“ So, the bat is hard to classify because it shares characteristics with all types of birds, and with mice, and does not therefore fit neatly into existing classifications.

Example Question #6 : Understanding And Evaluating Opinions And Arguments In Narrative 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 this passage the author is primarily concerned with describing the __________ nature of birds.

Possible Answers:

vigilant

industrious

maternal

aggressive

timid

Correct answer:

vigilant

Explanation:

The beginning of this passage is concerned with the author’s attempts to hide from the birds and observe them whilst they build their nest. But, the author understands that the birds quickly notice him, and he spends the remainder of this passage describing how the birds “vigilantly” try to determine what it is that is amiss about the area in which they have chosen to build their nest. In the introductory lines, the author says, “How alert the birds are, even when absorbed in building their nests!” This highlights his concern with outlining how “vigilant” the birds are. “Vigilant” and “alert” are synonyms of one another. To provide further help, “industrious” means hard-working; “timid” means shy; “aggressive” means likely to attack; and “maternal” means acting like a mother or related to mothers.

 

 

Example Question #43 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Narrative 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 author primarily characterizes the rock pool as __________.

Possible Answers:

an abundant haven

a barren hovel

a living entity

a fecund annoyance

a cold and dismal nook

Correct answer:

an abundant haven

Explanation:

The author’s characterization of the rock pool broadly falls into two categories. Firstly, she characterizes it throughout the passage as “abundant” and “full of life.” This is the main point of this text. Her secondary characterization is that the rock pool serves as a haven for many small sea creatures who would otherwise dwell in the open ocean. This can be seen in excerpts such as "a variety of other sea-animals, find a nursery and shelter in their youth in this quiet harbor of rest" and “Or it may be that the whelk has chosen this quiet nook to deposit her leathery eggs."

Example Question #44 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Narrative 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 author primarily expects her audience to be __________.

Possible Answers:

excited

incredulous

disapproving

disenchanted

irritated

Correct answer:

incredulous

Explanation:

It might be reasonable to answer that the author expects her audience to be “excited”; after all, the author’s own attitude is clearly closest to “excited.” However, this is probably closer to what the author would want her audience’s reaction to be. There is one relevant clue that reveals what the author actually seems to think her audience’s reaction to her essay will most likely be. At the beginning of the third paragraph, the author says, “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.” This suggests she expects her audience to be disbelieving (“incredulous”) about the sheer vastness and abundance of life in the rock pool. To provide further help, “disenchanted” means having lost enthusiasm for something.

Example Question #45 : 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.

Why is the water heated more dramatically closer to the equator?

Possible Answers:

Because summer lasts much longer closer to the equator

Because the equator is heated from within the Earth’s crust

Because the moon exerts a gravitational pull on the water

Because the sun is much closer

Because the sun’s rays fall directly, as opposed to on a slant

Correct answer:

Because the sun’s rays fall directly, as opposed to on a slant

Explanation:

The author says, “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.” The “belt comprised between these two circles” is the area close to the equator, and the author is telling you that here, the “sun’s rays fall with their mightiest power.” The reason that author gives for this is that “they shoot directly downwards, and heat . . . more than when they strike slantingly.” The other answers may be true, although some clearly are not, but they are each less true than the correct answer or else not mentioned in the text.

Example Question #135 : Hspt Reading

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.

What “important part in the history of the world” does the author believe worms have played?

Possible Answers:

They provide food for birds, maintaining bird populations around the world.

They consume waste, keeping the earth clean and healthy.

They recycle the surface layer of soil, keeping it fresh and fertile.

They break up rocks, keeping the earth level and flat.

They demonstrate intelligence, providing evidence of non-human sentience.

Correct answer:

They recycle the surface layer of soil, keeping it fresh and fertile.

Explanation:

The first paragraph is essentially one long explanation about the very important role that worms have played in history of the world. The author begins by saying “Worms have played a more important part in the history of the world than most persons would at first suppose.” The author then goes on to describe the process by which they play this “important part.” And, finally, he concludes by saying “This keeps the surface of the earth perfectly suited to the growth of an abundant array of fruits and vegetables.” The key is to focus on the relationship between the opening and closing sentences of the first paragraph.

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