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

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

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Example Questions

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Example Question #11 : Determining Authorial Purpose 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 the final few sentences of the passage, the author highlights __________.

Possible Answers:

how efficiently the birds prepare their nest

his experience of hiding himself from the birds

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

how many young the two birds can expect to have

how quickly the birds go about their business

Correct answer:

how quickly the birds go about their business

Explanation:

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

Example Question #5 : Analyzing Passage Logic, Genre, And Organization In Science Passages

Adapted from "The Wild Llama" by Charles Darwin in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

The wild llama is the characteristic quadruped of the plains of Patagonia; it is the South American representative of the camel in the East. It is an elegant animal in a state of nature, with a long slender neck and fine legs. It is very common over the whole of the temperate parts of the continent, as far south as the islands near Cape Horn. It generally lives in small herds of from half a dozen to thirty in each, but on the banks of the St. Cruz we saw one herd which must have contained at least five hundred.

They are generally wild and extremely wary. Mr. Stokes told me that he one day saw through a glass a herd of these animals which evidently had been frightened and were running away at full speed, although they were so far away that he could not distinguish them with his naked eye. The sportsman frequently receives the first notice of their presence by hearing from a long distance their peculiar shrill, neighing note of alarm. If he then looks attentively, he will probably see the herd standing in a line on the side of some distant hill. On approaching nearer, a few more squeals are given, and off they set at an apparently slow, but really quick canter, along some narrow beaten track to a neighboring hill. If, however, by chance, he abruptly meets a single animal, or several together, they will generally stand motionless and intently gaze at him, then perhaps move on a few yards, turn round, and look again. What is the cause of this difference in their shyness? Do they mistake a man in the distance for their chief enemy, the puma? Or does curiosity overcome their timidity?

The primary purpose of the first paragraph is __________.

Possible Answers:

To characterize llamas as wild and unpredictable

To explain where wild llamas can be found in the wild

To provide some introductory information about wild llamas

To describe the size of herds that llamas like to move in

To introduce the author’s argument that llamas are dangerous

Correct answer:

To provide some introductory information about wild llamas

Explanation:

The primary purpose of the first paragraph is to provide some introductory information about wild llamas. Although the author does describe the size of the herds in which they move and explains where they can be found in the wild, the fact that he does each of these means that we cannot say that either is his primary purpose. Instead, both are part of the larger purpose of providing some introduction. The author does not go on to characterize the behavior of llamas until the second paragraph.

Example Question #4 : Understanding The Content Of Natural 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.

Why is the American hare mentioned in the passage?

Possible Answers:

It is a predator of the Scottish hare.

It is better at hiding than the Scottish hare.

It is another name for the Scottish hare.

It is a type of hare that does not change color.

Scientists have studied it to find out how a hare’s fur changes color.

Correct answer:

Scientists have studied it to find out how a hare’s fur changes color.

Explanation:

The American hare is mentioned in the last line of the passage’s second paragraph, “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.” Here, the American hare is mentioned because “investigations” “have been made” on it, and those “investigations” “seem to show that the phenomenon is due to” something. We can tell from this context that in these “investigations,” scientists have studied how a hare’s fur changes color, since they are about what “the phenomenon is due to.” This means that “Scientists have studied it to find out how a hare’s fur changes color.” None of the other answer choices are supported by the passage.

Example Question #2 : Passage Based Questions

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.

For what reason does the author describe the Irish hare as “vegetarian” in the underlined sentence?

Possible Answers:

To encourage the reader to switch to a vegetarian diet

To provide information about the hare's diet that the reader may not know

To help readers empathize with the hare

To contrast the hare with the stoat and the weasel

To provide insight about what food is available in arctic environments

Correct answer:

To contrast the hare with the stoat and the weasel

Explanation:

The underlined sentence is the last sentence of the third paragraph, “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. One could reasonably infer that a hare would be vegetarian, so “To provide information about the hare’s diet that the reader may not know” cannot be the correct answer. The section doesn’t aim to help readers empathize with the hare any more than the stoat and weasel, so “To help readers empathize with the hare” cannot be correct either. The sentence doesn’t specifically encourage the reader to do anything; it is merely providing information about certain animals; so, “To encourage the reader to switch to a vegetarian diet” cannot be correct. “To provide insight about what food is available in arctic environments” doesn’t make sense either, because we are not told about the food specifically available in arctic environments; we can’t even assume that there are only plants available, as the stoat and weasel eat meat. That brings us to the correct answer: “To contrast the hare with the stoat and the weasel.” The word “vegetarian” specifically contrasts with the word “carnivorous” used later in the sentence to describe the stoat and weasel. This contrast mirrors the contrast of defensive and aggressive/defensive color-changing adaptations which the author is discussing in the sentence.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Passage Logic, Genre, And Organization 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.

The purpose of the passage’s third paragraph is __________.

Possible Answers:

to provide an example color-change in animals that is both aggressive and defensive

to describe why stoats and weasels have a hard time hunting Irish hares in winter

to provide an example of an animal that goes by two different names depending on its appearance

to describe an animal that has adapted to an unchanging environment

to describe the appearance of a stoat in summer

Correct answer:

to provide an example color-change in animals that is both aggressive and defensive

Explanation:

When answering questions about a paragraph’s purpose, it’s helpful to consider how it relates to the rest of the passage as a whole, and to consider what each of the other paragraphs do in the context of the passage. For instance, in this passage, the first paragraph transitions from discussing animal adaptations in unchanging environments to discussing animal adaptations in changing environments. The second paragraph talks about Irish hares as an example of animals that change their fur color. So, what is the point of the third paragraph? While it does “provide an example of an animal that goes by two different names depending on its appearance” and “describe the appearance of a stoat in summer,” neither of these is its main point; these are details, and neither seems to relate that much to the points of the previous paragraphs. Stoats and weasels are not described as specifically hunting Irish hares, and the passage describes how their changing fur color helps them be better hunters, not why they have such a hard time hunting, so “to describe why stoats and weasels have a hard time hunting Irish hares in winter” cannot be the correct answer either. The point of the paragraph cannot be “to describe an animal that has adapted to an unchanging environment” either, because it describes stoats and weasels, animals that adapt to changing environments. This leaves us with one answer, the correct one: “to provide an example color-change in animals that is both aggressive and defensive.” The examples of stoats and weasels both fall into this category, which is contrasted with the purely defensive function of color-change in hares in the passage’s last sentence.

Example Question #1 : Textual Relationships In Science Passages

Adapted from "The Wild Llama" by Charles Darwin in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

The wild llama is the characteristic quadruped of the plains of Patagonia; it is the South American representative of the camel in the East. It is an elegant animal in a state of nature, with a long slender neck and fine legs. It is very common over the whole of the temperate parts of the continent, as far south as the islands near Cape Horn. It generally lives in small herds of from half a dozen to thirty in each, but on the banks of the St. Cruz we saw one herd which must have contained at least five hundred.

They are generally wild and extremely wary. Mr. Stokes told me that he one day saw through a glass a herd of these animals which evidently had been frightened and were running away at full speed, although they were so far away that he could not distinguish them with his naked eye. The sportsman frequently receives the first notice of their presence by hearing from a long distance their peculiar shrill, neighing note of alarm. If he then looks attentively, he will probably see the herd standing in a line on the side of some distant hill. On approaching nearer, a few more squeals are given, and off they set at an apparently slow, but really quick canter, along some narrow beaten track to a neighboring hill. If, however, by chance, he abruptly meets a single animal, or several together, they will generally stand motionless and intently gaze at him, then perhaps move on a few yards, turn round, and look again. What is the cause of this difference in their shyness? Do they mistake a man in the distance for their chief enemy, the puma? Or does curiosity overcome their timidity?

Why does the author equate llamas with camels in the passage's first sentence?

Possible Answers:

To show how camels and llamas have the same wild nature

To provide his audience with a comparison to something with which they are more likely to be familiar

To explain the basic aggressive nature of llamas that is so well-understood as a personality trait found in camels

To provide an example of what llamas look like

None of the other answers

Correct answer:

To provide his audience with a comparison to something with which they are more likely to be familiar

Explanation:

In context, the author says, “The wild llama is the characteristic quadruped of the plains of Patagonia; it is the South American representative of the camel in the East.” It seems then that the reason he equates llamas with camels is not to describe any traits or behavioral patterns common between the two, but rather to provide his audience (which is presumably unfamiliar with llamas) with a comparison with something with which they are much more likely to be familiar.

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