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Amateur Naturalists IELTS Reading Answers

Updated on 07 November, 2023

Mrinal Mandal

Mrinal Mandal

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The 60-minute-long IELTS Reading Test requires candidates to quickly and accurately comprehend a given passage and demonstrate their understanding of the material. To help prospective applicants ace the examination, here is a free sample of the Amateur Naturalists Reading Passage, along with the correct answers and explanations. 

“Amateur Naturalists”

“From the results of an annual Alaskan betting contest to sightings of migra­tory birds, ecologists are using a wealth of unusual data to predict the impact of climate change.”

A Tim Sparks slides a small leather-bound notebook out of an envelope. The book's yellowing pages contain beekeeping notes made between 1941 and 1969 by the late Walter Coates of Kilworth, Leicestershire. He adds it to his growing pile of local journals, birdwatchers' lists and gardening diaries. "We're uncovering about one major new record each month," he says, "I still get surprised." Around two centuries before Coates, Robert Marsham, a landowner from Norfolk in the east of England, began recording the life cycles of plants and animals on his estate - when the first wood anemones flowered, the dates on which the oaks burst into leaf, and the rooks began nesting. Successive Marshams continued compiling these notes for 211 years.

B Today, such records are being put to uses that their authors could not pos­sibly have expected. These data sets, and others like them, are proving in­valuable to ecologists interested in the timing of biological events or phen­ology. By combining the records with climate data, researchers can reveal how, for example, changes in temperature affect the arrival of spring, al­lowing ecologists to make improved predictions about the impact of climate change. A small band of researchers is combing through hundreds of years of records taken by thousands of amateur naturalists. And more systematic projects have also started up, producing an overwhelming response. "The amount of interest is almost frightening," says Sparks, a climate researcher at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Monks Wood, Cambridgeshire.

C Sparks first became aware of the army of "closet phenologists”, as he de­scribes them, when a retiring colleague gave him the Marsham records. He now spends much of his time following leads from one historical data set to another. As news of his quest spreads, people tip him off to other historical records, and more amateur phenologists come out of their closets. The Brit­ish devotion to recording and collecting makes his job easier - one man from Kent sent him 30 years' worth of kitchen calendars, on which he had noted the date that his neighbor’s magnolia tree flowered.


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D Other researchers have unearthed data from equally odd sources. Rafe Sa­garin, an ecologist at Stanford University in California, recently studied records of a betting contest in which participants attempted to guess the exact time at which a specially erected wooden tripod would fall through the surface of a thawing river. The competition has taken place annually on the Tenana River in Alaska since 1917, and analysis of the results showed that the thaw now arrives five days earlier than it did when the contest began.

E Overall, such records have helped to show that, compared with 20 years ago, a raft of natural events now occur earlier across much of the northern hemi­sphere, from the opening of leaves to the return of birds from migration and the emergence of butterflies from hibernation. The data can also hint at how nature will change in the future. Together with models of climate change, amateurs' records could help guide conservation. Terry Root, an ecologist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, has collected birdwatchers' counts of wildfowl taken between 1955 and 1996 on seasonal ponds in the Ameri­can Midwest and combined them with climate data and models of future warming. Her analysis shows that the increased droughts that the models predict could halve the breeding populations at the ponds. "The number of waterfowl in North America will most probably drop significantly with global warming," she says.

F But not all professionals are happy to use amateur data. "A lot of scientists won't touch them, they say they're too full of problems," says Root. Because different observers can have different ideas of what constitutes, for example, an open snowdrop. "The biggest concern with ad hoc observations is how carefully and systematically they were taken," says Mark Schwartz of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, who studies the interactions between plants and climate. "We need to know pretty precisely what a person's been observing - if they just say 'I noted when the leaves came out', it might not be that useful." Measuring the onset of autumn can be particularly problem­atic because deciding when leaves change color is a more subjective pro­cess than noting when they appear.

G Overall, most phenologists are positive about the contribution that ama­teurs can make. "They get at the raw power of science: careful observation of the natural world," says Sagarin. But the professionals also acknowledge the need for careful quality control. Root, for example, tries to gauge the quality of an amateur archive by interviewing its collector. "You always have to worry - things as trivial as vacations can affect measurement. I disregard a lot of records because they're not rigorous enough," she says. Others suggest that the right statistics can iron out some of the problems with amateur data. Together with colleagues at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, environmental scientist Arnold van Vliet is developing statistical techniques to account for the uncertainty in amateur phenological data. With the en­thusiasm of amateur phenologists evident from past records, professional researchers are now trying to create standardized recording schemes for fu­ture efforts. They hope that well-designed studies will generate a volume of observations large enough to drown out the idiosyncrasies of individual recorders. The data are cheap to collect and can provide breadth in space, time and range of species. "It's very difficult to collect data on a large geo­graphical scale without enlisting an army of observers," says Root.

H Phenology also helps to drive home messages about climate change. "Be­cause the public understand these records, they accept them," says Sparks. It can also illustrate potentially unpleasant consequences, he adds, such as the finding that more rat infestations are reported to local councils in warmer years. And getting people involved is great for public relations. "People are thrilled to think that the data they've been collecting as a hobby can be used for something scientific - it empowers them," says Root.
 Read more about: Tips For Reading in IELTS Exam | IELTS Academic Reading | IELTS Reading Tips And Tricks | IELTS Reading Band Score IELTS General Reading Test | IELTS Reading Section |

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Questions 1 – 7

The Amateur Naturalists Reading Passage has eight paragraphs A - H. Which paragraph contains the following information? Write the correct letter A - H in boxes 1-7 on your answer sheet.

1. The definition of phenology

Answer: B

Explanation: The author concisely defines phenology in Line 2 of Paragraph B, stating it to be a study of cyclic biological or natural events. While the definition is not expansive, it is further supported by an example in Lines 3 and 4, where the author explains how seasonal timing can be affected by temperature changes.

2. How Sparks first became aware of amateur records

Answer: C

Explanation: The answer to this question is in Line 1, Paragraph C of the Amateur Naturalists Reading Passage. Specifically, the author reveals that Tim Sparks was made aware of amateur phenological records when a colleague presented him with the Marshams’ generational notes.

3. How people reacted to their involvement in data collection

Answer: H

Explanation: According to Terry Root, an ecologist from the University of Michigan, most people are excited about getting involved in data collection. As such, Root believes that supplementing scientific information with amateur phenological notes empowers the average person as it makes them feel that their hobby is helping a greater cause.

4. The necessity to encourage amateur data collection

Answer: G

Explanation: The entirety of Paragraph G in the Amateur Naturalists Reading Passage answers this question. Lines 1 and 2, for example, reveal how amateur phenological notes are fundamentally based on scientific observation, thereby making them valuable. And while there can be improvements made in the process, in the end, the author explains how it is almost only possible to gather massive volumes of data by enlisting the aid of the masses.

5. A description of using amateur records to make predictions

Answer: E

Explanation: The answer to this question lies in the example in Lines 6, 7 and 8 of Paragraph E. The author clearly states that Terry Root used the notes of amateur birdwatchers and combined them with additional records and predictive climate models. From there, Root surmised that the North American waterfowl count would drop due to global warming. 

6. Records of a competition providing clues to climate change

Answer: D

Explanation: The author mentions how Rafe Sagarin studied the results of an annual betting contest that was held since 1917 on the Tenana River, Alaska. Lines 3, 4 and 5 shed more light on how Sagarin analyzed the historical records to conclusively identify the signs of climate change based on the river thawing earlier than it previously did.

7. A description of a very old record compiled by generations of amateur naturalists

Answer: A

Explanation: According to the author, Robert Marsham began recording phenological data from his estate grounds in the 1700s. Following his passing, his descendants continued to add to his notes up until the mid-1900s. This is stated explicitly in Line 6, Paragraph A of the Amateur Naturalist Reading Passage.

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Questions 8-10

Complete the sentences below with NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS from the passage for each answer. Write your answers in boxes 8-10 on your answer sheet.

Guidelines To Answer These Questions: These are relatively simple types of Amateur Naturalists Reading Answers. The trick here is to identify contextual keywords in the question. For example, Question 8 begins by mentioning Walter Coates. So, candidates can skim through the passage for the first mention of Coates. From there, they need to look for the secondary keyword, which would be 'records'.

8. Walter Coates’s records largely contain the information of ___.

Answer: beekeeping

Explanation: Line 1 in Paragraph A of the Amateur Naturalists Reading Passage explicitly states that Walter Coates made notes on beekeeping between 1941 to 1969. The author uses this information to kickstart the core theme of the passage, highlighting how such records are still being used in modern ecological studies.

9. Robert Marsham is famous for recording the ___ of animals and plants on his land.

Answer: life cycles

Explanation: Line 4 in Paragraph A mentions Robert Marsham’s habit of studying and recording cyclical biological events on his estate grounds. The author also states how Marsham’s descendants kept up with their ancestor’s hobby for approximately two centuries, adding to his notes for the entirety of it.

10. According to some phenologists, global warming may cause the number of waterfowl in North America to drop significantly due to increased ___.

Answer: droughts

Explanation: The answer to this question is in Paragraph E, Lines 6 and 7 of the Amateur Naturalists Reading Passage. Specifically, Terry Root’s experiment, involving the notes of amateur birdwatchers and predictive climate models, helped reveal how the waterfowl count in North America would be significantly reduced due to the increasing number of droughts.

Questions 11-14

Choose the correct letter A, B, C or D. Write your answers in boxes 11-14 on your answer sheet.

Guidelines To Answer These Questions: These are some of the more challenging Amateur Naturalists Reading Answers because they require a thorough comprehension of the passage. A tip here is to understand the core idea behind the question/statement. For instance, Question 11 is related to why amateur records are problematic. From here, candidates need to identify specific parts of the reading sample that elaborates on the issues of using such data.

11. Why do a lot of scientists discredit the data collected by amateurs?

Answer: C

Explanation: As stated in Paragraph F, amateur records, though based on observational skills, are often subjective. There is also the issue of such information being problematic due to how they were recorded. As such, these notes are usually made by individuals who are unfamiliar with scientific methods of data collection.

12. Mark Schwartz used the example of leaves to illustrate that ___.

Answer: D

Explanation: Line 4 in Paragraph F has a direct quote from Mark Schwartz, where he mentions how it is not sufficient to merely state a phenomenon, such as leaves blooming. Instead, the focus should be on conveying the study's objective, what it is meant to achieve and the object of examination. Only the inclusion of such specifics makes information valuable.

13. How do the scientists suggest amateur data should be used?

Answer: D

Explanation: Lines 5 to 9 in Paragraph G of the Amateur Naturalists Reading Passage state how Arnold van Vliet, an environmental scientist, is pursuing the development of statistical methods of data collection alongside his colleagues. Their objective is to help eliminate the subjective errors in amateur phenological records. Meanwhile, other researchers are trying to introduce standardized schemes for recording information in the hopes that it will lead to the generation of massive volumes of data.

14. What’s the implication of phenology for ordinary people?

Answer: D

Explanation: The answer to this is in the first line of Paragraph H. The author quotes Tim Sparks, introduced at the beginning of the passage, to convey how the masses easily understand and accept phenological data. As such, the results of these studies directly reveal the adverse effects of climate change and, thus, raise awareness about it.

*Grammarly score at 97 because the app suggests changes in the reading passage. Didn’t want to tamper with the sample itself, so left it as it is.


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Mrinal Mandal

Study Abroad Expert

Mrinal Mandal is a study abroad expert with a passion for guiding students towards their international education goals. He holds a degree in mechanical engineering, earned in 2018. Since 2021, Mrinal has been working with upGrad Abroad, where he assists aspiring students in realizing their dreams of studying abroad. With his expertise and dedication, he empowers individuals to navigate the complexities of international education, making their aspirations a reality.

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