SSAT Upper Level Reading : Locating Details 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 #1 : Identifying And Analyzing Details In 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.

Which of worms' sensory organs is well-developed?

Possible Answers:

Hearing

Taste

Sight

Touch

Smell

Correct answer:

Touch

Explanation:

This question requires little more than careful reading in detail. In the second paragraph, the author says, “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.” So, they cannot hear at all, and cannot see or smell well. Their sense of taste is unmentioned, but the author says “the sense of touch alone is well developed.”

Example Question #3 : Identifying And Analyzing Details 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 was the herd of llamas that the author witnessed on the banks of the St. Cruz considered exceptional?

Possible Answers:

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 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 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.

Example Question #681 : Ssat Upper Level Reading Comprehension

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:

a weasel, depending on its fur color

an ermine, depending on where it lives

a weasel, depending on what it eats

a weasel, depending on where it lives

an ermine, depending on its fur color

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 #54 : Identifying And Analyzing Important Details In Natural Science Passages

Adapted from “Birds in Retreat” in “Animal Defences—Active Defence” in 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)

Among the large running birds are forms, like the African ostrich, in which the absence of powers of flight is largely compensated by the specialization of the legs for the purpose of rapid movement on the ground. For straightforward retreat in open country nothing could be more effective; but another kind of adaptation is required in birds like rails, which are deficient in powers of flight, and yet are able to run through thickly-growing vegetation with such rapidity as to commonly elude their enemies. This is rendered possible by the shape of their bodies, which are relatively narrow and flattened from side to side, so as to easily slip between the stems of grasses, rushes, and similar plants. Anyone who has pursued our native land-rail or corn-crake with intent to capture will have noted how extremely difficult it is even to get within sight of a bird of this sort. 

Certain birds, unfortunately for themselves, have lost the power of flight without correspondingly increased powers of running, and have paid the penalty of extinction. Such an arrangement, as might be anticipated, was the result of evolution in islands devoid of any predatory ground-animals, and a classic example of it is afforded by the dodo and its allies, birds related to the pigeons. The dodo itself was a large and clumsy-looking species that at one time abounded in the island of Mauritius, which, like oceanic islands generally, possessed no native mammals, while its indigenous reptiles were only represented by lizards. The ubiquitous sailor, however, and the animals (especially swine) which he introduced, brought about the extinction of this helpless bird in less than a century after its first discovery in 1598. Its memory is now only kept green by a few contemporary drawings and descriptions, certain museum remains, and the proverb "as extinct as a dodo.” A similar fate must overtake any organism suddenly exposed to new and unfavorable conditions, if devoid of sufficient plasticity to rapidly accommodate itself to the altered environment.

According to the passage, which of the following dates could have been the year in which the dodo went extinct?

Possible Answers:

1699

1832

1700

1711

1654

Correct answer:

1654

Explanation:

The only date discussed in the passage appears in the second paragraph, when the author refers to “the extinction of this helpless bird in less than a century after its first discovery in 1598.” As this is referring to the extinction of the dodo, it means that the dodo had to have gone extinct some time before 1698. The only answer choice that is a date before 1698 is 1654, so “1654” is the correct answer.

Example Question #683 : Ssat Upper Level Reading Comprehension

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 hummingbirds.

They are all types of birds that eat insects.

They are all scientists who think hummingbirds eat flower nectar.

They are all critics of the writer and disagree with his theory.

They are all scientists who think hummingbirds eat insects.

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 #31 : Locating Details In Narrative Science Passages

Adapted from "Taking a Second Look: An Analysis of Genetic Markers in Species Relatedness" by Joseph Ritchie (2014)

Phylogenetics is the study of genetic composition in various species and is used by evolutionary biologists to investigate similarities in the molecular sequences of proteins in varying organisms. The amino acid sequences that build proteins are used to construct mathematical matrices that aid in determining evolutionary ties through the investigation of percentage similarities. The study of these matrices helps to expose evolutionary relationships between species that may not have the same overt characteristics.

Species adapt and evolve based on the pressures that exist in their environment. Climate, food source, and habitat availability are only a few factors that act on species adaptation. These stressors can alter the physical characteristics of organisms. This divergence in evolution has made it difficult to determine the interrelatedness of organisms by analyzing their physical characteristics alone.

For instance, looking only at physical characteristics, the ghost bat resembles a pigeon more than a spider monkey; however, phylogenetics has found that the amino acid sequences that construct the beta hemoglobin molecules of bats are twenty percent more similar to those of mammalian primates than those of birds. This helps reject the assumption that common physical characteristics between species are all that is needed to determine relatedness. 

The differences produced by divergent evolution observed in the forest-dwelling, arboreal spider monkey and the nocturnal, airborne ghost bat can be reconciled through homology. Homologous characteristics are anatomical traits that are similar in two or more different species. For instance, the bone structure of a spider monkey’s wrist and fingers greatly resembles that of a bat’s wing or even a whale’s fin. These similarities are reinforced by phylogenetic evidence that supports the idea that physically dissimilar species can be evolutionarily related through anatomical and genetic similarities.

Which of the following choices represents the primary difficulty encountered in studies of interrelatedness based on physical features?

Possible Answers:

Climatic conditions

Physical fitness

Lack of fossil evidence

Complexity of beta hemoglobin 

Divergent evolution

Correct answer:

Divergent evolution

Explanation:

Divergent evolution is stated as the primary reason that physical appearances can change between species while genetic structure remains markedly similar. The passage states that this is an issue for those who study species evolution because some species may appear to be dissimilar in appearance but contain genetic commonalities.

Example Question #91 : Natural Sciences

Adapted from "Taking a Second Look: An Analysis of Genetic Markers in Species Relatedness" by Joseph Ritchie (2014)

Phylogenetics is the study of genetic composition in various species and is used by evolutionary biologists to investigate similarities in the molecular sequences of proteins in varying organisms. The amino acid sequences that build proteins are used to construct mathematical matrices that aid in determining evolutionary ties through the investigation of percentage similarities. The study of these matrices helps to expose evolutionary relationships between species that may not have the same overt characteristics.

Species adapt and evolve based on the pressures that exist in their environment. Climate, food source, and habitat availability are only a few factors that act on species adaptation. These stressors can alter the physical characteristics of organisms. This divergence in evolution has made it difficult to determine the interrelatedness of organisms by analyzing their physical characteristics alone.

For instance, looking only at physical characteristics, the ghost bat resembles a pigeon more than a spider monkey; however, phylogenetics has found that the amino acid sequences that construct the beta hemoglobin molecules of bats are twenty percent more similar to those of mammalian primates than those of birds. This helps reject the assumption that common physical characteristics between species are all that is needed to determine relatedness. 

The differences produced by divergent evolution observed in the forest-dwelling, arboreal spider monkey and the nocturnal, airborne ghost bat can be reconciled through homology. Homologous characteristics are anatomical traits that are similar in two or more different species. For instance, the bone structure of a spider monkey’s wrist and fingers greatly resembles that of a bat’s wing or even a whale’s fin. These similarities are reinforced by phylogenetic evidence that supports the idea that physically dissimilar species can be evolutionarily related through anatomical and genetic similarities.

According to the passage, which of the following is an environmental pressure that can result in species adaptation and evolution?

Possible Answers:

Predation

Climate

Physical characteristics

Competition

Correct answer:

Climate

Explanation:

"Climate" is the only answer choice supported by the passage. The passsage states that "climate," "food source," and "habitat availability" are environmental pressures that may cause adaptations. The choice "physical characteristics" is incorrect because they change as a result to these pressures. 

Example Question #686 : Ssat Upper Level Reading Comprehension

Adapted from "Taking a Second Look: An Analysis of Genetic Markers in Species Relatedness" by Joseph Ritchie (2014)

Phylogenetics is the study of genetic composition in various species and is used by evolutionary biologists to investigate similarities in the molecular sequences of proteins in varying organisms. The amino acid sequences that build proteins are used to construct mathematical matrices that aid in determining evolutionary ties through the investigation of percentage similarities. The study of these matrices helps to expose evolutionary relationships between species that may not have the same overt characteristics.

Species adapt and evolve based on the pressures that exist in their environment. Climate, food source, and habitat availability are only a few factors that act on species adaptation. These stressors can alter the physical characteristics of organisms. This divergence in evolution has made it difficult to determine the interrelatedness of organisms by analyzing their physical characteristics alone.

For instance, looking only at physical characteristics, the ghost bat resembles a pigeon more than a spider monkey; however, phylogenetics has found that the amino acid sequences that construct the beta hemoglobin molecules of bats are twenty percent more similar to those of mammalian primates than those of birds. This helps reject the assumption that common physical characteristics between species are all that is needed to determine relatedness. 

The differences produced by divergent evolution observed in the forest-dwelling, arboreal spider monkey and the nocturnal, airborne ghost bat can be reconciled through homology. Homologous characteristics are anatomical traits that are similar in two or more different species. For instance, the bone structure of a spider monkey’s wrist and fingers greatly resembles that of a bat’s wing or even a whale’s fin. These similarities are reinforced by phylogenetic evidence that supports the idea that physically dissimilar species can be evolutionarily related through anatomical and genetic similarities.

According to the passage, the hemoglobin structure of a bat is most similar to which of the following animals?

Possible Answers:

Pigeon

Spider monkey

Hummingbird

Eagle

Correct answer:

Spider monkey

Explanation:

The spider monkey is the only mammalian species listed in the choices. The other choices are birds, which the passage states are less similar to bats than mammals. Therefore, also being a mammalian species, spider monkey is the correct answer. 

Example Question #687 : Ssat Upper Level Reading Comprehension

Adapted from "Taking a Second Look: An Analysis of Genetic Markers in Species Relatedness" by Joseph Ritchie (2014)

Phylogenetics is the study of genetic composition in various species and is used by evolutionary biologists to investigate similarities in the molecular sequences of proteins in varying organisms. The amino acid sequences that build proteins are used to construct mathematical matrices that aid in determining evolutionary ties through the investigation of percentage similarities. The study of these matrices helps to expose evolutionary relationships between species that may not have the same overt characteristics.

Species adapt and evolve based on the pressures that exist in their environment. Climate, food source, and habitat availability are only a few factors that act on species adaptation. These stressors can alter the physical characteristics of organisms. This divergence in evolution has made it difficult to determine the interrelatedness of organisms by analyzing their physical characteristics alone.

For instance, looking only at physical characteristics, the ghost bat resembles a pigeon more than a spider monkey; however, phylogenetics has found that the amino acid sequences that construct the beta hemoglobin molecules of bats are twenty percent more similar to those of mammalian primates than those of birds. This helps reject the assumption that common physical characteristics between species are all that is needed to determine relatedness. 

The differences produced by divergent evolution observed in the forest-dwelling, arboreal spider monkey and the nocturnal, airborne ghost bat can be reconciled through homology. Homologous characteristics are anatomical traits that are similar in two or more different species. For instance, the bone structure of a spider monkey’s wrist and fingers greatly resembles that of a bat’s wing or even a whale’s fin. These similarities are reinforced by phylogenetic evidence that supports the idea that physically dissimilar species can be evolutionarily related through anatomical and genetic similarities.

According to the passage, which of the following does a bat most physically resemble?

Possible Answers:

Spider monkey

Owl

Pigeon

Whale

Correct answer:

Pigeon

Explanation:

According to paragraph three, the ghost bat most physically resembles a pigeon. This content of the passage seeks to disprove this observation, as a bat is genetically more closely related to a monkey or whale than a winged bird.

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