SSAT Upper Level Reading : Finding Context-Dependent Meanings of Words in Argumentative Science Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In Science Passages

Adapted from “Introduced Species That Have Become Pests” in Our Vanishing Wild Life, Its Extermination and Protection by William Temple Hornaday (1913)

The man who successfully transplants or "introduces" into a new habitat any persistent species of living thing assumes a very grave responsibility. Every introduced species is doubtful gravel until panned out. The enormous losses that have been inflicted upon the world through the perpetuation of follies with wild vertebrates and insects would, if added together, be enough to purchase a principality. The most aggravating feature of these follies in transplantation is that never yet have they been made severely punishable. We are just as careless and easygoing on this point as we were about the government of the Yellowstone Park in the days when Howell and other poachers destroyed our first national bison herd, and when caught red-handed—as Howell was, skinning seven Park bison cows—could not be punished for it, because there was no penalty prescribed by any law. Today, there is a way in which any revengeful person could inflict enormous damage on the entire South, at no cost to himself, involve those states in enormous losses and the expenditure of vast sums of money, yet go absolutely unpunished!

The gypsy moth is a case in point. This winged calamity was imported at Maiden, Massachusetts, near Boston, by a French entomologist, Mr. Leopold Trouvelot, in 1868 or 69. History records the fact that the man of science did not purposely set free the pest. He was endeavoring with live specimens to find a moth that would produce a cocoon of commercial value to America, and a sudden gust of wind blew out of his study, through an open window, his living and breeding specimens of the gypsy moth. The moth itself is not bad to look at, but its larvae is a great, overgrown brute with an appetite like a hog. Immediately Mr. Trouvelot sought to recover his specimens, and when he failed to find them all, like a man of real honor, he notified the State authorities of the accident. Every effort was made to recover all the specimens, but enough escaped to produce progeny that soon became a scourge to the trees of Massachusetts. The method of the big, nasty-looking mottled-brown caterpillar was very simple. It devoured the entire foliage of every tree that grew in its sphere of influence.

The gypsy moth spread with alarming rapidity and persistence. In course of time, the state authorities of Massachusetts were forced to begin a relentless war upon it, by poisonous sprays and by fire. It was awful! Up to this date (1912) the New England states and the United States Government service have expended in fighting this pest about $7,680,000!

The spread of this pest has been retarded, but the gypsy moth never will be wholly stamped out. Today it exists in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, and it is due to reach New York at an early date. It is steadily spreading in three directions from Boston, its original point of departure, and when it strikes the State of New York, we, too, will begin to pay dearly for the Trouvelot experiment.

Based on the context in which it is used, what is the most likely definition of the underlined word “entomologist”?

Possible Answers:

a scientist who studies invasive species

someone who draws pictures of insects

a type of insect that eats other insects

a scientist who studies insects

someone who causes and then solves a problem

Correct answer:

a scientist who studies insects


The word “entomologist” is used in the following part of the passage:

“The Gypsy Moth is a case in point. This winged calamity was imported at Maiden, Massachusetts, near Boston, by a French entomologist, Mr. Leopold Trouvelot, in 1868 or 69.” 

“Entomologist” is describing “Mr. Leopold Trouvelot,” so it cannot mean “a type of insect that eats other insects.” Nothing in the passage suggests that Mr. Trouvelot drew insects, so we can discard “someone who draws pictures of insects” as an answer choice. The answer “someone who causes and then solves a problem” doesn’t make sense either; while Mr. Trouvelot causes a problem by introducing the gypsy moth to the United States, he isn’t able to solve it. This leaves us with two answer choices: “a scientist who studies invasive species” and “a scientist who studies insects.” Nothing suggests that Mr. Trouvelot is a scientist who studies invasive species; indeed, at this point in the passage, the gypsy moth hasn’t even been released yet, so it is debatable whether we could call it an invasive species before it “invades.”

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