· My number-one tip? READ.
Read the English passages (seriously).
Read the Reading passages (doh!).
If you simply look at the underlined phrases in English, you will make silly mistakes…and the longish Critical Reading passages require overall comprehension; you will save time and energy by simply doing your job and reading them in the first place.
- NO CHANGE is, quite often, the answer on ACT English test questions. Don’t be afraid to choose NO CHANGE as the answer. Remember that most questions are asking you to choose an answer that best serves the passage. If an answer choice does NOT improve the writing or argument, it is incorrect, and thus, NO CHANGE.
- Redundancy is huge on the ACT English test--be able to recognize redundancies (these are sometimes easiest to spot once you notice that three of the answer choices are basically saying the same thing!). Remember that some redundancies are not apparent if you have not read the ENTIRE sentence, or even into the next sentence! A transition that repeats another nearby transition is also a redundancy…
- The most succinct answer is usually correct. The trap here is that this might almost look too plain, too simple, and you will be tempted to pick the answer choice with the more sophisticated wording (yet, this choice is also usually redundant—which is hard to see if you don’t know what the fancy words mean).
- Verb tense is a common question or concept tested—you MUST read the entire paragraph to really know which verb tense is correct. Do not make the mistake of simply reading the underlined phrase.
- Re: the dreaded “Overall” questions at end—these look daunting at first, but if you have taken my advice (advice which is good for ANY reading passage on this test, or in life) and you’ve stopped for 30 seconds after reading and self-tested, asking yourself, “What was that about? What was the subject and/or the argument?” you will be in great shape, and ready for these big, final questions.
- General strategy for overall questions is to know “yes” or “no”—but beware of hidden traps in these answer choices. Often, what comes after the yes or no is either wildly incorrect, or partially incorrect. MAKE SURE YOU READ THE ENTIRE ANSWER CHOICE.
- Re: Process of Elimination (POE). Always use this strategy for reverse questions, and for any questions that ask you style-related questions that have to do with relevancy.
- Style questions—you must read the entire paragraph to “get” the style (how things have been written and described). Often, simple answer choices are the best here.
- Occasionally, diction errors are tested. An example of this is the error “would of.” Many people do not know this is an error because it sounds almost exactly like “would’ve” (would have.) To avoid these traps, make sure you are familiar with how words sound and how they look (how they are spelled). You will also see questions that ask the difference between “than” and “then” or “could of” and “could have.” Be conscious of the fact that the ACT tests this.
- English passages can vary in terms of difficulty, but you will always be good to go if you have read and understood the passage.
One thing you might (and should) notice about ACT Critical Reading passages is that the excerpts might not immediately get to the point. The first few grafs may NOT be the about the primary subject or argument.
Just keep reading and looking for the purpose, the point, the reason why the passage was either written or included on this exam.
This section (the first part of Critical Reading) might either seem enjoyable and easy or relatively difficult. You really have to use your skills of inference to know what’s going on, what is being said.
Ask yourself (to check your understanding), ‘What was this piece about? Can I write a one-sentence summary?” If you can do this, then chances are that you really understood the passage.
Be sure to pay special attention to descriptions about a character’s reputation, thoughts, actions, etc. These are usually fodder for inference questions, so learn to anticipate this. (The ACT Prose Fiction section is testing your skills of inference; can you understand something that isn’t explicitly stated?)
On reading questions, you will be able to use POE for many of the questions.
· The purpose, the point of the passage, may not be apparent until mid-way through. Clearest purpose/argument is often found in the final paragraph or two, so, like a shark in the ocean, keep moving (keep reading), always hunting for the argument.
· Pay attention to shift words and questions. These will alert you to argument. For example, if a passage seems to be about one thing but you then see a “while” or “although,” you can expect a shift in argument.
· Sometimes the questions are confusing. To get around this problem, know that you can always paraphrase. I often paraphrase difficult quotes or concepts and write my paraphrases in brief margin notes.
· When you’re selecting answers, beware of partially correct answer choices that use exact words and phrases from the text. Read the entire answer choice because what looks good at first may include a false phrase or word by the end (or an extreme, absolute word that is not quite right).
Remember: the correct answer may be an odd paraphrase; it likely will NOT use exact words from the text.
· Once you’ve whittled your answer choices down to two, check the wording of each choice and eliminate one. Often, just one word or a few words (usually, toward the end of the answer choice sentence—be sure to read the ENTIRE sentence—will render that choice incorrect).
· This section can either be akin (similar) to Social Sciences or to Prose Fiction (it’s really like a hybrid of the two, and your approach to this passage demands both attention to detail AND inference).
· Brief margin notes may help—or may not be necessary.
· BE SURE that you test yourself on Purpose and Tone. Make notes about each and expect Purpose questions.
· POE can be your best friend here, too.
· A few “detail” questions will force you to hunt in the text. Look for the keyword noted in the question…making margin notes about the subject of each graf can help save you time when you’re detail hunting.
· Margin notes are your best friend here.
· This section is often rife with little details you may need to find.. Making margin notes that at least address the subject of various grafs will help you to hunt for details later.
· You might also look at questions, too, to get a sense of what you will need to know and find later.