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Test Yourself: Reading, Age 13Reading, Age 13, Sample Questions

The following multiple-choice questions were included in the 2008 long-term trend reading assessment at age 9. In a multiple choice question, one or more introductory sentences are followed by a list of response options that include the correct answer and several incorrect alternatives.

INSTRUCTIONS: Answer the questions below, then click submit at the bottom of the page.

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See the full text for question 1 and 2.

Question 1: Where do the bull elephant seals get food when they are on shore during the mating season?


From hunting


From the females


From their stored fat


From winning fights with other bulls

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Question 2:  The article says, 

In 1911 it was a great surprise when a small herd of about 100 seals was found on a Mexican island near the coast of Baja California. Why was this a surprise?


Elephant seals had never been found so far south before.


It was known that elephant seals usually prefer being alone, not in herds.


Elephant seals were not usually found on land that time of year.


It was thought that by the 1890’s the elephant seals had all been killed.

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See the full text for question 3.

Question 3: Which of the following best describes the man’s fear?


He was worried that his dog was becoming ill.


He kept having fearful thoughts even though he knew there was no danger.


He suspected that there were dangerous animals outside.


He heard voices of people trying to break into the cabin.


 Click here to submit your responses.

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Question 1 and 2 full text

Elephant Seals

Elephant seals cannot always be found together or even on land. In fact, for most of the year they prefer to be alone and at sea. But there are two reasons these seals gather on shore each year.

One is to escape the stinging effect of saltwater when they molt, or shed their old hair for new hair. At this time large patches of skin are also shed with the old hair. That is what makes them so sensitive to salt. The other reason elephant seals come ashore is to give birth to their young and to mate. 

During the mating season, the seals are as heavy as they will ever be during the year. Females may weigh as much as 1,700 pounds. Males may weigh close to 6,000 pounds and be 17 feet long. 

Much of the weight of these animals is fat, which they gain from their diet of squid and other seafood. This fat insulates them from the cold and provides the energy for the long periods when they eat nothing at all. But unfortunately for the seals, their blubber is also a very rich source of oil. The fat from a large male may yield up to 210 gallons of oil. 

Although the animals are huge, they can be approached without fear, for on land they move fairly slowly. Unlike many other types of seals, elephant seals have little fear of people. Thus, when large-scale hunting of seals began around 1850, it didn’t take long to kill most of them. By the 1890’s scientists supposed that these seals had been hunted off. 

In 1911 it was a great surprise when a small herd of about 100 seals was found on a Mexican island near the coast of Baja California. This discovery was reported to the Mexican government, which immediately stationed soldiers on the island with orders to shoot anyone harming the seals. As you can imagine, the seals prospered and within another sixty years the size of the herd had greatly increased. 

One feature of elephant seal behavior may have aided this remarkable comeback. The males engage in savage fighting that leaves one bull “King of the Beach.” The winner is a champion prizefighter in the elephant seal world and, as a reward, he will have more “wives” on his part of the beach than any other bull. Farther down the beach, however, there are also other champions. This type of grouping helps the seals, for the strength of the most powerful bulls is passed on to the baby elephant seals. And in a vast ocean where these pups have to outswim an occasional white shark or killer whale, speed and strength are important. 

Most of the fighting among males takes place in early December. They arrive at the Mexican island and other areas several weeks before the females so their problems will be settled before their wives arrive. From this time until they leave in March, the bulls eat nothing at all. They stay on shore and live only on the food and water contained in their stored fat. 

Females arrive on the beaches in late December. Several days later each gives birth to a pup that weighs about 90 pounds. For one month the mother seal also eats nothing at all. In fact, she does very little other than nurse her pup. By the end of this 30-day period the pup may have tripled its weight, now weighing close to 300 pounds. At that time the mother leaves the pup to survive by itself. She then mates. One year later she gives birth to another pup. 

And so the story goes, just as it did for thousands of years before the hunters arrived. Now, with the hunters gone and the seals recovered, this story should continue for thousands of years more.

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Question 3 full text

Travels with Charley in Search of America

Even the cabin was dismal and damp. I turned the gas mantle high, lit the kerosene lamp, and lighted two burners of my stove to drive the loneliness away. The rain drummed on the metal roof. Nothing in my stock of food looked edible. The darkness fell and the trees moved closer. Over the rain drums I seemed to hear voices, as though a crowd of people muttered and mumbled offstage. Charley was restless. He didn’t bark an alarm, but he growled and whined uneasily, which is very unlike him, and he didn’t eat his supper and he left his water dish untouched—and that by a dog who drinks his weight in water every day and needs to because of the outgo. I succumbed utterly to my desolation, made two peanut-butter sandwiches, and went to bed and wrote letters home, passing my loneliness around. Then the rain stopped falling and the trees dripped and I helped spawn a school of secret dangers. Oh, we can populate the dark with horrors, even we who think ourselves informed and sure, believing nothing we cannot measure or weigh. I knew beyond all doubt that the dark things crowding in on me either did not exist or were not dangerous to me, and still I was afraid. I thought how terrible the nights must have been in a time when men knew the things were there and were deadly. But no, that’s wrong. If I knew they were there, I would have weapons against them, charms, prayers, some kind of alliance with forces equally strong but on my side. Knowing they were not there made me defenseless against them and perhaps more afraid.

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2008 Long-Term Trend Report Card 2008 Long-Term Trend Report Card