The Life of Sir Isaac Newton – IELTS Reading Passage 1

The Life of Sir Isaac Newton

A. Isaac Newton was born on January 4, 1643, in Lincolnshire, England. The son of a farmer, who died three months before he was born, Newton spent most of his early years with his maternal grandmother after his mother remarried. Following an education interrupted by a failed attempt to turn him into a farmer, he attended the King’s School in Grantham before enrolling at the University of Cambridge’s Trinity College in 1661, where he soon became fascinated by the works of modern philosophers such as René Descartes. When the Great Plague shut Cambridge off from the rest of England in 1665, Newton returned home and
began formulating his theories on calculus, light and color, his farm the setting for the supposed falling apple that inspired his work on gravity.

  BNewton returned to Cambridge in 1667. He constructed the first reflecting telescope in 1668, and the following year he received his Master of Arts degree and took over as Cambridge’s Professor of Mathematics. In 1671 he was asked to give a demonstration of his telescope to the Royal Society of London in 1671, the same year he was elected to the prestigious Society. The following year, fascinated with the study of light, he published his notes on optics for his peers. Through his experiments, Newton determined that white light was a composite of all the colors on the spectrum, and he asserted that light was composed of particles instead of waves. His methods were heavily criticized by established Society member Robert Hooke, who was also unwilling to compromise again with Newton’s follow-up paper in 1675. Known for his temperamental defense of his work, Newton engaged in heated correspondence with Hooke before suffering a nervous breakdown and withdrawing from the public eye in 1678. In the following years, he returned to his earlier studies on the forces governing gravity.
  C. In 1684, English astronomer Edmund Halley paid a visit to the reclusive Newton. Upon learning that Newton had mathematically worked out the elliptical paths of celestial bodies, such as the movement of the planets around the sun, Halley urged him to organize his notes. The result was the 1687 publication of “Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica” (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), which established the three laws of motion and the law of universal gravity. Principia made Newton a star in intellectual circles, eventually earning him widespread acclaim as one of the most important figures in modern science.

  D. As a now influential figure, Newton opposed King James II’s attempts to reinstate Catholic teachings at English Universities, and was elected to represent Cambridge in  Parliament in 1689. He moved to London permanently after being named warden of the Royal Mint in 1696, earning a promotion to master of the Mint three years later. Determined to prove his position wasn’t merely symbolic, Newton moved the pound sterling from the silver to the gold standard and sought to punish forgers.

  E. The death of Hooke in 1703 allowed Newton to take over as president of the Royal Society, and the following year he published his second major work, “Opticks.” Composed largely from his earlier notes on the subject, the book detailed Newton’s experiments with refraction and the color spectrum, and also contained his conclusions on such matters as energy and electricity. In 1705, he was knighted by Queen Anne of England.
   F. Around this time, the debate over Newton’s claims to originating the field of calculus, the mathematical study of change, exploded into a nasty dispute. Newton had developed his mathematical concept of ‘fluxions’ (differentials) in the mid-1660s to account for celestial orbits, though there was no public record of his work. In the meantime, German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz formulated his own theories and published them in 1684. As president of the Royal Society, Newton oversaw an investigation that ruled his work to be the founding basis of the field, but the debate continued even after Leibniz’s death in 1716. Researchers later concluded that both men likely arrived at their conclusions independent of one another.

  G. Newton was also obsessed with history and religious doctrines, and his writings on those subjects were collected into multiple books that were published after his death. Having never married, Newton spent his later years living with his niece at Cranbury Park, near Winchester, England. He died on March 31, 1727, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. A giant even among the brilliant minds that drove the Scientific Revolution, Newton is remembered as an extraordinary scholar, inventor and writer. His theories about the movement of bodies in the solar system transformed our understanding of the universe and his precise methodology helped to give birth to what is known as the scientific method. Although his theories of space-time and gravity were eventually superseded by those of Einstein his work remains the foundation stone of modern physics was built.

Questions

Questions 1–6

The text has seven paragraphs labelled A–G. Reading passage 1 has seven paragraphs, A-GChoose the correct headings for paragraphs B-G from the list of headings below. Write the correct number, i-viii, in boxes 1-6 on your answer sheet.

List of Headings

i.    Continued breakthroughs in research ii.   Competing claims of originality

iii.  The early years of Sir Isaac Newton

iv.   The legacy of an exceptional mind

v.    Routine life at a 17th century university

vi.   Heated academic disputes 

vii.  A new venture

viii. His crowning achievement

ix.   A controversial theory about planets

eg. Paragraph A : iii
Paragraph B1 ……………..
Paragraph C2  ……………..
Paragraph D3  ……………..
Paragraph E4  ……………..
Paragraph F5  ……………..
Paragraph G6  ……………..
The Life of Sir Isaac Newton

Questions 7-8

Answer the questions below. Choose NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS from the passage for each answer Write your answers in boxes 7-8 on your answer sheet.

  • With which scientific organization was Newton associated for much of his career?

7. ……………..

  • With whom did Newton live as he got older?

8. ……………..

Questions 9-13

Complete the notes below. Choose ONE WORD from the passage for each answer. Write your answers in boxes 9-13 on your answer sheet.

Sir Isaac Newton’s achievements 

  • Created first reflecting 9 …………….. , subsequently made a professor at Cambridge at the age of 25. 
  • Helped develop the scientific method with his experiments in 10 …………….., the study of light; showed that it is 11…………….. , not waves, that constitute light. 
  • Worked out the laws of the movement of bodies in space (planets etc.), published Principia Mathematica with laws of gravity and 12……………..
  • Joint founder (with Leibniz) of 13 …………….. , a new branch of mathematics. 

Answers

Questions 1–6

1. Answer: vi

  • Paragraph B mentions some of Newton’s achievements like the first reflecting telescope, his Master of Arts degree, his position as a professor at Cambridge and his election to the Royal Society. 
  • Some students may mistake that this is “His crowning achievement” but that is incorrect. The word “crowning” here means “the triumphant culmination of his work”, or in other words, most successful/most famous achievement. These initial achievements cannot be considered his greatest yet. 
  • The correct heading is vi – Heated academic disputes.  (‘Dispute’ means disagreement or argument).  Newton became a member of the Royal Society of London, a famous place where scientific ideas were discussed.  
  • Newton’s methods:
    • “…were heavily criticized by established Society member Robert Hooke, who was also unwilling to compromise again with Newton’s follow-up paper in 1675.  Known for his temperamental defense of his work, Newton engaged in heated correspondence with Hooke before suffering a nervous breakdown…”
  • The answer is vi.

2. Answer: viii

  • This paragraph describes the publication of Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, which earned him recognition “one of the most important figures in modern science”. In other words, this could be his most famous work and this is what people remember his name for. 
  • There are only two relevant headings for paragraph C, i and viii, because they are both about some kind of breakthrough or achievement (referring to this publication, which proposed Newton’s laws of motion and the law of gravity).  
  • However, the answer cannot be i – Continued breakthrough in research because Newton hadn’t written anything that can be considered “a breakthrough” prior to this publication. Therefore, it is the word ‘continued’ which means that this answer is not suitable.  This book was Newton’s first major contribution to scientific research, as well as the most important.
  • The most suitable heading is viii – His crowning achievement.
  • The answer is viii.

3. Answer: vii

  • This paragraph describes Newton in another context, away from his academic research, which is at the Royal Mint (the place where money was coined).  This was not only a new venture in terms of a completely different type of work, but it also meant a permanent move from Cambridge to London. Therefore, vii – A new venture is the most appropriate heading.
  • The answer is vii.

4. Answer: i

  • Paragraph E is about Newton’s Opticks. This publication was of such great value that Newton was subsequently knighted by Queen Anne of England. Note that this publication was his second major work after Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica.  
  • In 1704, Newton :
    • “…published his second major work, “Opticks”.  Composed largely from his earlier notes on the subject…”
  •  Therefore, i – Continued breakthrough in research is the correct heading.
  • The answer is i.

5. Answer: ii

  • This paragraph discusses the debate over the origin of calculus, whether Newton or Leibniz was the founder of this field:
    • “Around this time, the debate over Newton’s claims to originating the field of calculus, the mathematical study of change, exploded into a nasty dispute”.
  •  Hence, ii – Competing claims of originality is the correct heading.
    • originality ~ originating
  • The answer is ii.

6. Answer: iv

  • This paragraph is about the later years of Newton and his contributions to the world of science, including his theories about the movement of bodies in the solar system, his scientific method and many other works, all of which are considered “the foundation stone of modern physics”. 
    • “Newton is remembered as an extraordinary scholar, inventor and writer.  His theories about the movement of bodies in the solar system transformed our understanding of the universe and his precise methodology helped to give birth to what is known as the scientific method”.
  • These are his legacy – what he left behind, and the things for which he is remembered,  so the heading is iv – The legacy of an exceptional mind.
  • The answer is iv.

Questions 7-8

7. Answer: Royal Society

  • Key words: scientific organization, Newton, associated, career
  • In paragraph B, we know that Newton was elected to the Royal Society – a prestigious scientific institution, in 1671. Then, in paragraph E, we learn that Newton became the president of this Society in 1703, after 32 years of dedication, and continued his study there. Therefore, it can be said that Newton was associated with this Society for much of his career. The answer is “Royal Society”.
  • The answer is Royal Society.

8. Answer: niece / his niece

  • Key words: Newton, live, older
  • Because the passage follows the order of Newton’s life events, we can find information about his later life in paragraph G: 
    • “Having never married, Newton spent his later years living with his niece”. 
    • got older = spent his later years
  • The answer is clearly “niece” or “his niece”.

Questions 9-13

9. Answer: telescope

  • Key words: created, first, reflecting, professor, Cambridge, 25
  • Newton was born in 1643, so he was 25 years old in 1668. By using the scan skill, we can identify the position of “1668” at the beginning of paragraph B:
    • “He constructed the first reflecting telescope in 1668, and the following year he received his Master of Arts degree and took over as Cambridge’s Professor of Mathematics”.
  • Hence, the answer is “telescope”.
    • create = construct
    • subsequently = following
  • The answer is telescope.

10. Answer: optics

  • Key words: scientific method, experiments, not waves, constitute, light
  • In paragraph B, we learn about Newton and the study of light:
    • “…fascinated with the study of light, he published his notes on optics for his peers”.  
  • Following the information about Newton’s reflecting telescope is “the study of light”, where he published his notes about his experiments on optics. So we should fill in “optics

11. Answer: particles

  • Key words: scientific method, experiments, not waves, constitute, light
  • In paragraph B, we learn about Newton and the study of light:
    • “…fascinated with the study of light, he published his notes on optics for his peers”.  
  • The phrasal verb “compose of” means “make up, constitute”,  so we can understand that particles, not waves, constitute light, according to Newton.  The answer for question 11 is therefore “particles”.
    • constitute = compose of
  • The answer is particles

12. Answer: motion

  • Key words: movement of bodies, space, Principia Mathematica, gravity
  • In paragraph C, we learn that:
    • “…Newton had mathematically worked out the elliptical paths of heavenly bodies, such as the movement of planets around the sun…”  
    •  “…The result was the 1687 publication of Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, which established the three laws of motion and the law of universal gravity”.
  • Principia Mathematica is a proper noun (the name of a book by Newton), so we can easily locate it in the passage, which is in paragraph C.
  • Then, we know that in this book were “three laws of motion and the law of universal gravity” so the blank should be filled with “motion”.
  • The answer is motion.

13. Answer: calculus

  • Key words: founder, Leibniz, new, branch, mathematics
  • The only paragraph that contains information relating to Leibniz is paragraph F. There was:
    • “…debate over Newton’s claims to originating the field of calculus”.
  • This means it was uncertain if Newton was the founder of calculus or not, because both Newton and Leibniz were studying the same thing at the same time.
  • They were later considered by researchers to have “arrived at their conclusions independent of one another”.
  •  In other words, they are considered “joint founders” of the field of calculus.
    • branch = field
    • founder ~ originating
  • The answer is calculus.

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