07 June 2013

Read each ACT English passage entirely; don’t just jump from question to question

For those of you who are taking the ACT tomorrow and looking for some last minute, I just wanted to throw one quick tip out there. A lot of the time, when I first start working with an ACT student on English, one of the first things they’ll ask me is whether they actually really need to read the entire passage, or if it’s ok to just skip to the places that have questions about them.

My answer?

A resounding yes and no. (That is, yes, they have to read everything, no they can’t just skip from question to question).

Here’s why:

ACT English is a context-based test. Sometimes you’ll be asked about grammar, and sometimes you’ll be asked about content and structure. Both kinds of questions are often dependent on the surrounding sentence, however. A question testing verb tense may have four answers that are acceptable in isolation but only one answer that’s correct in context. If you don’t look at the surrounding sentences and see that they’re in the past, you might not realize that the verb in question has to be in the past as well.

Furthermore, it’s often impossible to answer rhetoric questions without a general knowledge of the paragraph or passage: if you’ve been reading the passage all along, you’re a lot more likely to be able to spot answers immediately since you’ll be able to tell whether a given choice is or is not consistent with the passage. If, on the other hand, you suddenly start reading surrounding sentences, you’re more likely to miss important information because you don’t have the full context for them.

In general, English is the section that poses the fewest time problems; I don’t think I’ve ever had a student fail to finish it on time. So do yourself a favor and just read everything. It might not constitute thrilling reading, but you’ll probably pick up a few more points (at least) than you would otherwise.

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