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ACT Reading Practice
Case Western Univ., summa cum laude
Perfect scorer on the SAT & the ACT
Devorah is the founder of Advantage Point Test Prep and the author of the book “Boost Your Score” The Unofficial Guide to the Real ACT.
I don't want you to watch this episode unless you've just watched the episode about reading a passage because in this episode we're going to talk about question types and we're going to look at the questions that go with the passage we just read and see how great your reading in the passage will help us answer the questions. In this episode we'll talk about the six question types that you'll see on the ACT, we'll talk about common wrong answer traps and how not to fall for them and we'll look at examples from the passage in the previous episode.
There are six question types you'll see on the ACT and I go into every single one of them and look at examples, you'll know what to expect. But before I get started, let me tell you why it's so important to know about the six question types, three really good reasons. First of all, you'll just feel much more comfortable. It's a really good feeling to know how predictable the ACT is. We've talked about that a lot. You already know you've got your four predictable passages, you know what order they're going to come in, you know generally what the topic is going to be for each one. It's also a great feeling to know, there are only six question types you'll ever see on the reading section and I'll repeat consistently, so we'll go through them so you all know what you're going to see.
The next reason it's good to know about the question types is that you'll know what to look for in the passages if you know exactly what the questions are going to be asking, you'll know what to look for when you read and we did talk about that in the previous episode, but this is just going to reinforce that.
Last, pacing, knowing the question types is really good for pacing. After enough practice test, you'll have a sense of what question types are more your thing and which ones aren't so if you get your question and you know it's a type that takes you a really long time, you're having trouble figuring it out, you may want to just guess and keep going but that's why it's great to know what question types are which.
Detail questions is the first one, these are my favorites. They are the easiest to answer and comprise nearly a third of the reading section. These are the ones that you can spot really easily and they're just asking about details straight from the passage. No mental gymnastics here and no thinking "Huh, is it this? Is it that?" This is going to be straight in the passage and the words will let you know that's it's straight in the passage. The wording will be something like 'the passage states', or 'according to the passage', really clear wording to show you that it's straight in the passage and you don't have to do a lot of thinking about it.
Let's look at an example. 'The passage states that historically marriage was largely' what? And then we've got four choices. Now we're not actually going to go through this now, we'll do all the questions together at the end kind of like how you would see it on a real reading passage, but I just want to look at the wording here. So the passage states easy, straight from the passage detailed question and how cool is it that a third of the questions are this straight forward on the reading section?
Next 'Inference questions'. These are a little trickier. This is the second most common question type and these are the ones that require you to read between the lines. Remember we talked about reading the passage and we talked about 'I wonder' statements. Like "Huh! Why would the author be telling me that?" you know, "Why is that example there?" These are the questions that test your knowledge of kind of what happened between the lines when you were reading. The wording will be things like you know, "the author implies that" or "you can infer from the passage that blah, blah, blah" or "the passage suggests". You see and that wording also very clear and you know, it's not straight in the passage, it's something that it's almost straight in the passage and maybe it's like logical step. You don't want any logical leaps here. There's also only one right answer choice, it's not like it's an opinion.
Let's look at an example. Professor Trevelyan's phrase, 'so far at least as law and custom could make him' implies that: So what's being implied by this line that comes up here and again, the language makes it really easy to know. It's an inference question. When you see this on the ACT hopefully you'll think, "Huh, I know it's a little more technical and a little more complicated than a detailed question. I have to think a little more and I have to read between the lines to answer a question like this."
Next question type, 'main idea'. Remember we talked about [sweep] one 'point the main idea out of the passage' and we marked it up in [sweep] two. This is where that comes in handy. Main idea questions ask about the broader concepts in the passage. Things like the overall purpose. The author's main idea and then again you'll know from the language what it's testing. Here's an example, this passage is primarily concerned with what? So you know to answer these questions think big picture. Never get [buried] down in details.
Okay, next question type, 'structure questions'. These ask about the structure of the passage and they focus on the author's argument. Think like the author to answer these questions. These are questions like you know "why is this work here? Why is this example here? Why is this paragraph here?" You know, "How does this bolster the authors point? Here's an example; 'Phedra, Cressida and Rosalind are cited as examples of women portrayed by famous' what? So here, you know why did the author use these examples? So think like an author.
'Author's view questions', this is the next question type. They ask about the author's attitude or tone in the passage. Remember we looked at this when we looked through the passage. We looked for things like you know, "What's the author feeling about this? Is the author really invested?", you know "What's the tone here?" This is where the, this is where that's going to be tested and you'll know too from that wording. 'The author's feelings about the results of her research would most likely be described as' what? So we kept an eye out for this as we read and this is where that's going to be rewarded. They're asking, "Mh, how did the author feel about that?"
Last question type, don't worry about these if you're not crazy about them because they only show up once. 'Word-in-context questions'. These are easy to spot usually only one and the most common definition of the word will always be in the answer choices and it's always wrong. These are the ones that highlight a word from the passage and they'll ask you "What does it mean in context there?" So for example, as it is used in line 18 of the passage we read, 'the word "wanting" most nearly means', what? They pick up a word out of context and they ask you, "What does it mean in the context of the passage?" Easy to spot, only shows up once so in a nutshell, those are the six question types that you're going to see on the ACT.
So now let's talk about the common wrong answer traps that you'll see on the ACT. First, 'misused detail'. Students fall for this all the time, it's really tricky. 'Misused detail' means they'll take a really prominent detail from the passage and stick it in as an answer choice and you'll see it and you'll think, "Yes, I recognize that. I've seen it, I must be right". It's actually usually wrong. If something's straight from the passage and you really remember it, make sure it's answering the right question so the question might be asking something different and then you got this detail and you want to jump on it but make sure it's the right answer to your question. We'll look at some examples and I'll point them out. 'Too "out there"' is the next one. Some of them are just ridiculous, you know maybe they have a teeny thing that you recognize from the passage and the rest of it is just off their keeping out for those.
'Extreme' is the next type. If anything is ever too extreme, it's wrong and the ACT people usually aren't furious, they're just unhappy. If you see words like 'never', always, be really weary of picking those answer choices and sometimes they'll have answers that are correct but just taken to the extreme. In the passage maybe someone will be a little upset and the answer choice will be something like 'infuriated', don't fall for those.
Last, 'half right, half wrong', really, really tricky. These answers are what they sound like, half right, half wrong and you'll look at it, you'll want to pick it 'cause it's almost right and then maybe it's like twisted at the end and then it will be wrong so keep an eye out for those. Okay, those are the common wrong answer traps that you're going to see on the ACT.
So now that we've talked about the common question types you'll see and common pitfalls, let's try some real practice questions based on the passage that we read earlier. If you'll remember the passage was about women's roles as by Regina Wolfe and if you don't remember, go back to that episode and check it out.
Let's look at the questions about it. First question, this passage is primarily concerned with what? Let me tell you something before we actually look at answering this question. A good strategy that works for me and it works for a lot of students is to actually think about what the answer is going to be before you head to the answer choices. The reason this works is because then you have an idea of what you're looking for and then you won't fall for some of the traps. I tell students it's kind of like shopping. You know, you walk in a grocery store, you don't have a list, you'll probably come out with you know, the whipped cream that was on sale, that stuff at the counters that you don't really want and, "Did you pick up your eggs that you needed?" Maybe not but you walk in, you got your list, you know you need your eggs, you pick up your eggs, you leave, you're great. Same thing here, let's have an idea what we're looking for. We could say predict before you pick right? So think what you're going to look for and then we'll shop through the answer choices.
Okay, so we've got our question here, we've got, it's a main idea question the passage is primarily concerned. Well we talked about this, what was the passage primarily concerned with? Mh, the role of the women in England, right? And about how they look great in all the literature, you know really powerful women but in real life they were beaten, they were abused so it's really different than how they appeared in written works. Okay, which answer choice most sounds like that? So we predicted before we're going to look. We've got 'A', 'the absence of women in literature as authors compared to their prominence as characters'. Think about that for a second. That's kind of like what we just said, right? The passages are primarily concerned with how women were absent from literature but they were really prominent as characters. So the absence of women in literature as authors sorry, they weren't really writing anything but in literature they were prominent as characters.
Let's just check the other answer choices just to make sure. 'B' 'the factual accuracy of accounts of women in twentieth-century history books' this is really tricky. It's kind of misused detail, kind of half right, half wrong right? 'cause you may jump on it. 'Twentieth century history books' I know we've read about history books, historians, there's a lot of historical stuff and a lot of stuff about women. But read carefully 'the factual accuracy of accounts of women in twentieth-century books'. This is saying how, that how correct were the accounts of women in the books and that's not what she was talking about, right? She was talking about how women actually lived versus how they were portrayed and how they were portrayed in the literature not how they appeared in history books. Okay we can cross off 'B'. What about 'C'? 'The moral standing of characters such as Lady Macbeth and Becky Sharp' also misused detail. You might see these characters and you think, "Oh, I saw that. Maybe that's the right answer". Nope, 'moral standing' that's really out there that isn't common at all, we can cross that off. 'D', 'an autobiographical account of commercial failure as a female writer'. This is a totally author answer choice, right? Nothing else, nothing here is about commercial anything, so this is definitely wrong and we know the answer choice has to be 'A'. Great, let's go to the next one.
Number two, 'the metaphor of "a spider's web" is used to indicate that' what? Okay and if you remember when we read this, I said, "Let's mark it as an example, we might not even need it". Here, it looks like they actually want us to answer, what was up with that spider's web? So let's take a look at the passage. Because we marked it, we know where it is. It's in paragraph two and let's just skim quickly and see if we can get the gist. Let's find it, 'fiction is like a spider's web attached ever so lightly perhaps but still attached to life at all four corners. Often the attachment is scarcely perceptible: 'Shakespeare's play for instance seem to hang out there complete by themselves. But when the web is pulled askew, hooked up at the edge, torn in the middle, one remembers that these webs are not spun in mid-air but incorporeal creatures, but are the work of suffering human beings and are attached to grossly materials, things like health and money and the houses we live in'.
So think about this for a second what's the gist here? 'Fiction is like a web attached ever so lightly to life' and then just says remember these fictional stuff you think it's just standing there by itself but it's not. It's the work of suffering human beings and it's you know has to do their lives 'attached to grossly material things like health and like money and the houses that we live in'. So to go back to question two, if you were to predict before you pick, here, what was the whole spider web talking about? Kind of about how fiction, when you think about it, it does have connection to real life and the lives of the authors even though you might not think so it's just somewhat connected to what's going on in the real world.
Which of these answer choices sounds like that? Let's look at 'A', 'the literary arts are seductive but ultimately dangerous for women'. This is an extreme wrong answer trap 'ultimately dangerous for women'? Also just really kind of out there no where did you talk about literary arts. But you might think 'dangerous for women' there was some stuff about wife beating but too out there to be the right answer.
Okay 'B', 'women were trapped by patriarchy much as an insect caught by a predator'. This is kind of like a half right, half wrong sort of thing. 'Women were trapped' and you think, "Yeah, I saw that" you know "and they were trapped". But that's not what this metaphor is talking about much as 'an insect caught by a predator'. Wrong metaphor so this can't be the right answer.
What about 'C'? 'The creation of literature is dependent on the realities of writers' lives' this sounds better, right? It's this idea that fiction isn't in a vacuum it exists in a context and a lot of the writing has to do with the lives and their money and their health and things like that. It sounds good, let's just check 'D'. 'Unlike fiction, science can be conducted by either men or women'. Totally out there maybe science, the word science showed up once not important. Okay great, we can choose 'D', sorry we can choose 'C'.
Let's move on, the author points out that the year in 1470 was "soon after Chaucer's time" in order to:' We kind of picked this up with and 'I wonder statement'. As we were reading the passage we thought, "Huh, why she is telling us this if you remember". Let's look at the passage. Here we go, 'that was about 1470 soon after Chaucer's time' and we thought, "Why is she telling us this?" 'The next reference to the position of women is some two hundred years later in the time of the Stuarts'. So if you think, "Why is she telling me this?" Probably just to give you the context, the historical context when it was happening 'cause then she goes onto two hundred years later.
So which answer choice most sounds like that? We can look at 'A', 'indict Chaucer for causing the conditions fifteenth-century women faced' really extreme and also totally out there. 'B', 'provide a meaningful chronological point of reference for her well-read audience'. That sounds pretty good. She's saying this is when that happened. This is when Chaucer was around. Let's hold on with B and we'll try 'C' and 'D'. 'C', 'correct the misconception that Chaucer was a seventeenth century woman' crazy, okay totally out there. 'D', 'applaud Chaucer for contradicting the accepted gender stereotypes of his time another totally out there. Okay, perfect so we know the answer choice is 'B', 'provide a meaningful chronological point of reference'.
Great, let's go to the next one. 'Which of the following examples of a historian's work, if true, would most undermine the author's characterization of their profession?' This is interesting. We picked this up when we were talking about contrasts. If you look at the passage, she was talking about historians and there was a part where she said to ask the historian who records not opinions but facts. So this idea that a historian or someone who's just really, really factual, there's not opinion thrown in and not biased.
Okay, let's look at the question; "Which of the following would most undermine that characterization?" So most undermine this idea that historians write factual work. Well 'A', 'a biography produced on behalf of a presidential candidate's campaign'. Let's think about a biography. It's not very neutral if it's produced for a presidential candidate's campaign, right? So that would kind of go against it's what she said about historians being only factual. Let's check 'B', 'C' and 'D' just in case. 'B', 'an analysis of ballot returns in a Senate race' kind of factual no bias vibe here, let's cross that off.
'C' a study of the monetary cost of armaments in World War one. Again, that's kind of pretty factual and remember we're looking for the opposite of what a historian is so we're looking for something that has a biased opinion kind of vibe to it. 'D', 'an examination of meteorological trends in the Middle Ages' again, an examination pretty factual. We're looking for the opposite we can cross that off. So we see the answer choice is in fact 'A'. If a historian wrote a biography on behalf of a campaign that would be biased which would be exactly undermining the author's characterization of historian's profession.
Alright, onward number five, 'as it is used in line 41, the word "wanting" most nearly means:' Remember vocab in context, right? You've got a word in context of the passage what's it talking about? Okay, by the way you guys when you see a vocab in context, the synonym for the word is usually wrong so you're looking for a word that isn't the typical meaning of the passage. So already just by looking through the answer choices 'desiring' that's really, when you think 'want', you think 'I desire' I would even cross it off it's not going to be the right answer. Let's head to the passage and talk about in context what the word 'wanting' means and it's great that they tell us it's in line forty one.
Okay, line forty one here we go and I'll read a little bit in front just to give us context. 'Neither Shakespeare's women nor those of authentic seventeenth-century memoirs like the Verneys and the Hutchinsons seem wanting in personality and character'. So what does wanting mean there? Probably something like 'missing', right? The whole point where they're not missing personality. They've got umph! these characters. Okay, so which sounds most like that? Well, 'hungry' definitely not. 'Indifferent'' not really, 'lacking' is perfect. None of these characters were lacking in personality. Great, that's yes your one vocab in context.
Question six, 'according to the passage' so a detail question straight in the passage, 'the portrayal of women in fiction differs from the historical position in that:' what? So we see according to the passage we know it's a detail question not much thinking, right? This was straight in the passage. Okay but what did the passage say? She said women in fiction looked really powerful, really interesting. Women in real life they were really being thrown around and didn't have a lot of rights. Which answer choice sounds most like that? Let's look at 'A', 'real women did not conform to the subservient stereotypes illustrated by fiction'. We know in fiction they weren't subservient so this is half right, half wrong. 'B', 'literature never took account of the tragedy or violence in women's lives'. You see this word 'never' that's extreme and also this is a little out there, not the answer we're looking for.
'C', 'fictional women often had a heroic freedom of action that real ones lacked'. This sounds good. In fiction people had, all these women had a lot freedom to act, a lot of rights, in real life not so much. This sounds great but let's just check 'D', 'real women were not as physically attractive as characters like Rosalind', totally out there. You see her name and it's going to look familiar to you, misused detail but otherwise this is not the answer to this question. Great, so we can circle 'C'.
Onward, number seven, 'professor Trevelyan's phrase "so far at least as law and custom could make him" implies that:' what? And we did pick this up when we were reading, we said, "Huh, it kind of an interesting, qualifying phrase. He doesn't sound so confident about this, why? Why would he use a phrase like that?" Let's take a look and you'll see what I mean. Let's find it, here we go at the end. 'It was still the exception for women of the upper and middle class to choose their own husbands and when the husband had been assigned he was lord and master, so far at least as law and custom could make him'. So it almost sounds like yeah, the guys are in charge but that's what the law and the customs say and it almost sounds like there were maybe times when that wasn't the case.
Okay, back to the question, so what does that imply? This is an inference. Is it 'A', 'marriages in the seventeenth-century were not recognized by a law'? Totally out there, right? And we said even legally there were stuff going on so they were legal things involved with marriages, you can cross that off. 'B', 'women were the sole legal authorities in households' also, totally out there. 'C', 'regardless of legal technicality in practice a husband did not always maintain total dominance'. That sounds good, that explains that qualifier there, at least as far as law and the custom could make him, right? And it shows it wasn't always like that. 'C' sounds great let's just check 'D' to make sure. 'D', 'husbands had to receive special notarized permission for wife-beating'. Totally out there, you've got your misused detail but that's it. So 'D' is off and the answer is 'C'. Great, let's keep going.
Eight, 'the passage states that historically, marriage was largely:' what? Again, straight from the passage. So let's take a look, what did they say about marriage? Well, we actually this is something we did underline 'marriage was not an affair of personal affection'. So this was a contrast instead it was about 'family avarice' or 'greed' you know, the family just wanting money. Okay, which of these sounds like that? Is it 'A', 'a rebellious act of youthful abandon'? Definitely not. These women do not sound like they were people that have rebellious youthful stuff going on. 'B', 'based on personal affection', this is the opposite actually, right? We know that wasn't the case. What about 'C'? 'A financial arrangement between the parties' families'. This sounds better 'cause it was talking about the families' greed. Let's just check 'D', 'an illicit ceremony performed by historians'. You've this misused detail about the historians but this is wrong. Answer choice is 'C'.
Okay, number nine, 'Phedra, Cressida and Rosalind are cited as examples of women portrayed by famous:' what? So again let's look back at the passage and just figure out which one that is. So we have got a whole list here with 'Phedra, Cressida, Rosalind, Desdemona among the dramatists'. Okay, so these are characters that the dramatists used powerful women. Alright and we see that 'B' would be the one here so this is just straight from the passage.
Last, 'author's feelings about the results of her research would most likely be described as:' what? Remember we picked this up so many times when we read the passage, "What's the author's vibe"? Is she really investing and we said, "She really was" and if you remember right at the beginning, we underlined 'disappointing' 'cause she was really just disappointed that she wasn't getting the answers that she wanted and she headed back and did the research. So you know she's really, really disappointed but also we knew she did the research again. There were some reference to her going back again and looking. Okay, so which of these sounds most like the author's feelings?
We know we're looking for something like she's really bummed but she's also just seems really invested she's going to keep going. Okay, 'A', 'sanguine and optimistic'. She's often not optimistic. She's disappointed so we can cross off 'A'. 'B', 'defeated but apathetic'. 'Apathetic' implies she doesn't care and we know she does, she cares a lot. What about 'C'? 'Disappointed but unbowed', 'unbowed' meaning not wanted to give up. 'Disappointed' sounds great and actually that's even the word that's straight from the passage. So let's keep that and we'll just check 'D'. 'Caustic and sarcastic', definitely not. There's no sarcasm in this passage at all so we can circle 'C'. That's great. We just did all ten questions attached to our passage.
Just to recap, in this episode, we talked about different question types that you'll always see on the ACT and how they show up consistently. Remember, there are six of those. We talked about how to spot common wrong answer traps so you don't choose them on the ACT and last, we practiced on a real passage and remember, the key to your success on the ACT is practice, practice, practice on your own passages.
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