by Roe Sellers
New Alchemy Finalist

Mr. Johanson                                           Name____________________

Grade 9 English                                       Section___________________

Reading Comprehension Exam

Unit 1: Life and Loss


This is not a test of the readings provided by the long-term substitute in my absence. This test assesses your ability to read and comprehend written texts, so that I can gauge the class as a whole and know where to begin. Please read each paragraph below, and then choose the answer that best explains or examines the text. Mark your selection by circling the letter that  represents the answer you chose.


Please do not use pencil.


Please do not erase answers.


This is as much a test of intelligence as it is instinct.


1. Cygnus olor is not a species native to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, or even the American continent. Cygnus olor, or the Mute Swan, was introduced by European Immigrants in the late nineteenth century. Five captive swans fled their cages in 1962 and have reproduced exponentially, numbering more than four-thousand now. The high population of the invasive swans is possibly the reason for decreased growth of bay grasses inland. This abundance of swans (and decrease of submerged aquatic grasses, due to their overeating) has created a decrease in water habitats for brackish water creatures like aquatic bugs, fish, and Callinectes sapidus.

Callinectes sapidus, or Chesapeake Blue Crabs, are disappearing from the shoreline. In the 1950’s, they were pulled from the Bay in cages by the tons. The total population has dropped from over 900,000,000 to less than 300,000,000. In the earlier part of the 20th Century, bars in the Charm City served crabs for free during happy hour because they were so plentiful, and thus, cheap. In 2015, a dozen Jumbo crabs could cost over $120.00.

This passage is about:

    1. Mute swans invaded the Chesapeake Bay so easily because the native creatures didn’t have necessary adaptations to protect from the new species.
    2. Mute swans are directly responsible for the rising cost of Blue Crabs.
    3. The cost for crabs increased mostly because of inflation.
    4. Old Bay was invented in 1939 to make seafood salty, so free crabs at happy hour would encourage bar patrons to drink more.
    5. All of the above.

2. Producer Rodger Bain and Engineer Tom Allom manipulated the audio Black Sabbath recorded for their sophomore album Paranoid without the input of the band. Without the consent of the artists, the duo added sirens to “War Pigs’ and sped up the end of the song in post-production. Both Bain and Allom worked on Black Sabbath’s wildly successful debut self-titled release, but only Bain returned for the following record, Master of Reality. The band was reportedly pleased with the changes made, and the anti-war song, as modified, was the highest charting single in their influential career.

From this passage, we can infer:

    1. Protest songs perform well on Billboard charts.
    2. That war pigs were used in ancient wars to combat weaponized elephants, as the elephants were afraid of the squealing vocalizations of the pigs.
    3. Engineers lose future job opportunities when adulterating material without permission.
    4. The success of Paranoid was because of unapproved edits.
    5. Mr. Johanson wears Black Sabbath shirts on casual Friday because he is rebelling against something.

3. When I was seven and my father was thirty-seven years old, my grandfather, McKee Johanson, started to show early signs of Alzheimer’s. My father grew up with his father on the water, a small “crick” that fed the Patapsco, which ultimately fed the Chesapeake Bay. The memories changed with the water flow, first a trickle, then the Atlantic Ocean; it started with simple things: I would watch him ask my father whose car was parked in his driveway because he didn’t recognize my father’s car. Then he couldn’t recognize his own car. They took his keys. Then he could no longer recognize my father.

Once, when Pop mistook me as a friend of his from the War, he talked about the changes on the shoreline. He watched the sun set over the crick each and every night from the screened porch in his backyard. Children weren’t swimming in the water anymore, he said, but Mute Swans were swimming everywhere. All of the boats had electric motors. The oysters and barnacles appeared less frequently on the wooden pillars of the dock. The crab traps no longer yielded enough crabs for a Sunday afternoon with the family, or a Wednesday night alone. He felt like the world was changing around him, as he paddled his old rowboat out into the crick. He said the harder he paddled home, the further he felt from the shore.

The unfortunate truth is:

    1. Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that rots a person from the inside out, a sort of invasive species that takes memories first.
    2. Alzheimer’s disease can destroy the relationships between family members.
    3. Alzheimer’s is an adaptation some members of the human species experience to deal with the impact of the world changing around them, to forget the people that no longer exist, to make it hurt so much less.
    4. Just like the blue crabs and the swans, the oysters on my grandfather’s pier were not prepared for the changes to the chemical elements of the water caused by homo sapiens, an invasive species.
    5. My father is now the age my grandfather was when my father was thirty-seven.

4.   All stars eventually die. Some, like that which the Earth circles in orbit, will slowly die out as they consume every ounce of the fuel that burns within them. Our sun burns with nuclear fusion, combining hydrogen and helium; when no hydrogen remains, it will fuse helium with the other available elements until it cools to the room temperature of the universe.

Betelgeuse, in the constellation Orion, is an entirely different situation. It’s mass is far superior to that of our sun; if it were in the same place as the sun is in this universe, it would encompass the space taken up by Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, and Jupiter. At some point in the distant future it will collapse in on itself before exploding in a brilliant fire. Polaris, in the constellation Ursa Minor, is not large enough to become a supernova on its own, but it exists in a triple star system. When it collapses, the fuel of its companion stars Polaris Ab and Polaris B could create a supernova.

The scientific truth is:

    1. The word “sun’ is neither scientific nomenclature nor a proper noun, or it would always be capitalized.
    2. For no explainable reason, Scientists have named the distant solar bodies Betelgeuse and Polaris, but not our own sun.
    3. Our sun is very large, but also very small.
    4. Nuclear fusion is a resource man needs to harness in order to ensure survival.
    5. Everything, including crabs, swans, oysters, “War Pigs,’ Ozzy Osbourne, all of Jupiter’s Moons, Earth, and I, will eventually cease to exist.