When a lot of students start studying for ACT English/SAT Writing, one of the first things they often wonder is whether they actually really need to read the entire passage, or whether it’s ok to just skip from question to question.

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 and SAT multiple-choice Writing are context-based tests. 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.