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ACT Reading Test Sample Question TypesPassages and Questions on the Reading TestThese four sample passages are accompanied by descriptions of the question types you’re likely toencounter, along with examples of these questions and methods for answering the sample questions.Our goal in offering you these descriptions and examples is to increase your familiarity with the typesof questions on the test. These descriptions are usually not heavy on suggested strategy. There arefew strategies you can use to answer individual questions on the Reading Test. The best thing youcan do to prepare is to know what the test will ask you.We’ve divided this section into two parts: Prose Fiction first, and the other three tests second. We’vemade this division because the Prose Fiction passage differs the most from the others in terms ofhow you read it and what you’re reading it for.The Prose Fiction PassageYou should not read the ACT Prose Fiction passage as you would a novel that you casually pick up ona Saturday afternoon. Treat the Prose Fiction passage as you would an English homeworkassignment. In addition to understanding the story behind the passage, you should also strive tounderstand the passage’s use of style and tone.The Sample PassageThe following sample is adapted from James Joyce’s short story “Grace” in Dubliners.She was an active, practical woman of middle age. Not longbefore she had celebrated her silver wedding and renewed herintimacy with her husband by waltzing with him to Mr. Power’sLine accompaniment. In her days of courtship, Mr. Kernan had seemed to(5) her a not ungallant figure: and she still hurried to the chapeldoor whenever a wedding was reported and, seeing the bridal pair,recalled with vivid pleasure how she had passed out of the Starof the Sea Church in Sandymount, leaning on the arm of a jovialwell-fed man, who was dressed smartly in a frock-coat and(10) lavender trousers and carried a silk hat gracefully balanced uponhis other arm. After three weeks she had found a wife’s lifeirksome and, later on, when she was beginning to find itunbearable, she had become a mother. The part of mother presentedto her no insuperable difficulties and for twenty-five years she(15) had kept house shrewdly for her husband. Her two eldest sons werelaunched. One was in a draper’s shop in Glasgow and the other wasclerk to a tea-merchant in Belfast. They were good sons, wroteregularly and sometimes sent home money. The other children werestill at school.Guilford County SchoolsPage 1

ACT Reading Test Sample Question Types(20) Mr. Kernan sent a letter to his office next day and remainedin bed. She made beef-tea for him and scolded him roundly. Sheaccepted his frequent intemperance as part of the climate, healedhim dutifully whenever he was sick and always tried to make himeat a breakfast. There were worse husbands. He had never been(25) violent since the boys had grown up, and she knew that he wouldwalk to the end of Thomas Street and back again to book even asmall order.Two nights after, his friends came to see him. She broughtthem up to his bedroom, the air of which was impregnated with a(30) personal odor, and gave them chairs at the fire. Mr. Kernan’stongue, the occasional stinging �pain of which had made himsomewhat irritable during the day, became more polite. He satpropped up in the bed by pillows and the little color in hispuffy cheeks made them resemble warm cinders. He apologized to(35) his guests for the disorder of the room, but at the same timelooked at them a little proudly, with a veteran’s pride.He was quite unconscious that he was the victim of a plotwhich his friends, Mr. Cunningham, Mr. M’Coy and Mr. Power haddisclosed to Mrs. Kernan in the parlor. The idea had been Mr.(40) Power’s, but its development was entrusted to Mr. Cunningham. Mr.Kernan came of Protestant stock and, though he had been convertedto the Catholic faith at the time of his marriage, he had notbeen in the pale of the Church for twenty years. He was fond,moreover, of giving side-thrusts at Catholicism.(45) Mr. Cunningham was the very man for such a case. He was anelder colleague of Mr. Power. His own domestic life was not veryhappy. People had great sympathy with him, for it was known thathe had married an unpresentable woman who was an incurabledrunkard. He had set up house for her six times; and each time(50) she had pawned the furniture on him.Everyone had respect for poor Martin Cunningham. He was athoroughly sensible man, influential and intelligent. His bladeof human knowledge, natural astuteness particularized by longassociation with cases in the police courts, had been tempered by(55) brief immersions in the waters of general philosophy. He was wellinformed. His friends bowed to his opinions and considered thathis face was like Shakespeare’s.When the plot had been disclosed to her, Mrs. Kernan hadGuilford County SchoolsPage 2

ACT Reading Test Sample Question Typessaid:(60) “I leave it all in your hands, Mr. Cunningham.”After a quarter of a century of married life, she had veryfew illusions left. Religion for her was a habit, and shesuspected that a man of her husband’s age would not changegreatly before death. She was tempted to see a curious(65) appropriateness in his accident and, but that she did not wish toseem bloody-minded, would have told the gentlemen that Mr.Kernan’s tongue would not suffer by being shortened. However, Mr.Cunningham was a capable man; and religion was religion. Thescheme might do good and, at least, it could do no harm. Her(70) beliefs were not extravagant. She believed steadily in the SacredHeart as the most generally useful of all Catholic devotions andapproved of the sacraments. Her faith was bounded by her kitchen,but, if she was put to it, she could believe also in the bansheeand in the Holy Ghost.The QuestionsBelow are the question types that you’re most likely to find on the Prose Fiction passage and how toanswer them. All of the examples below pertain to the above passage.Identify Specific Details and FactsSpecific detail questions are perhaps the most straightforward questions you’ll encounter anywhereon the test. As the name suggests, these questions ask you to find specific details within the passage.They are very common on the Prose Fiction passage and throughout the rest of the test. You’llprobably see three or four specific detail questions accompanying the Prose Fiction passage.Here’s an example of a relatively easy specific detail question:According to his friends, Mr. Cunningham resembles:A. Mr. Kernan.B. a policeman.C. Shakespeare.D. Mr. Power.If you know the answer to this question, you’re all set. If you don’t, you probably remember there wasa section near the end of the passage that discussed Mr. Cunningham and his background. To answerthis question, you should first look in that section because the answer is probably there. Have youlooked yet? Well, the answer is there, on line 49 (“his face was like Shakespeare’s”). The correctanswer is C.That question was fairly simple, partly because it had a one-word answer, but specific detailquestions can be more confusing when the answers are longer. Try another question about Mr.Cunningham:Guilford County SchoolsPage 3

ACT Reading Test Sample Question TypesAccording to the passage, people feel sorry for Mr. Cunningham because:A. he is sensible, influential, and intelligent.B. he was the victim of a plot by his friends.C. he has a long association with police courts.D. he is married to a drunkard.While this question is not too difficult, it is slightly more confusing than the previous one simplybecause the answers are longer. If you’ve read the passage reasonably carefully and you’ve quicklydouble-checked the answer in the passage, you can correctly identify D as the answer. Choices A andC are actually given as reasons why Mr. Cunningham is respected by his acquaintances, and choice Bapplies not to Mr. Cunningham but to Mr. Kernan.While specific-detail questions are generally straightforward, they can try to trick you by leading youto give an answer that seems correct if you read one sentence, but is revealed as incorrect by another.For example,How many children do the Kernans have?A. NoneB. OneC. TwoD. More than twoIf you remembered that the Kernans’ children were mentioned in the first paragraph, you’d lookthere, and perhaps your eye would fall on the sentence, “Her two eldest sons were launched.” A quickglance at this sentence may miss the word “eldest,” which indicates that there are younger children,so you may decide that there are only two children in the Kernan family and the answer is C. But theword “eldest” and the last sentence of the paragraph, “The other children were still at school,”indicate that there are other children in the family and that the correct answer is D.Draw InferencesInference questions ask for implied information. They want you to take a piece of information givenin the passage and use it to figure out something else. Because the answers are not given explicitlywithin the passage, these questions are often significantly more difficult than specific detailquestions. But they are just as common, so you need to get a handle on them.You can usually spot an inference question from a mile away. Inference questions frequently useverbs such as “suggest,” “infer,” “imply,” and “indicate.”As with specific detail questions, some inference questions are easier than others. Sometimes, theACT writers will feel extra nice and refer you to a specific portion of the passage. For example,The second paragraph (lines 20 -27) suggests that the Kernans’ marriage is characterized primarily by:A. Mr. Kernan’s violent behavior toward his wife.B. Mrs. Kernan’s patience with her husband.C. Mr. Kernan’s fondness for his wife’s beef-tea.D. Mr. Kernan’s willingness to go to the store for his wife.Guilford County SchoolsPage 4

ACT Reading Test Sample Question TypesIn some ways, this inference question resembles a specific detail question. Elements of all the answerchoices are mentioned in the paragraph. Your job is to figure out which answer choice best answersthe question. Perhaps choice A characterized the marriage at one point in time, but the narratornotes that Mr. Kernan “had never been violent since the boys had grown up,” so A is wrong. Nowherein the paragraph does it mention that Mr. Kernan likes the beef-tea his wife makes for him, so youcan rule out C. Choice D seems to be a true statement, since the last sentence of the paragraph states,“she knew that he would walk to the end of Thomas Street and back again to book even a smallorder.” But does this willingness adequately characterize their marriage? Not really. The specificityof the act makes it an unlikely candidate to be a characteristic. If choice D had said, “Mr. Kernan’scourtesy to his wife” or “Mr. Kernan’s consideration for his wife,” the choice would have a little morepromise as a characteristic (but then its validity would come into question). That leaves us withChoice B. Although we eliminated the other answer choices, it doesn’t hurt to make sure that B fitsthe bill. The key sentence in the paragraph that suggests B is the correct answer is the third one (lines18–20): “She accepted his frequent intemperance as part of the climate, healed him dutifullywhenever he was sick and always tried to make him eat a breakfast.” Words such as “accepted” and“dutifully” don’t suggest that Mrs. Kernan takes care of her husband because she thinks it’s fun;rather, these words suggest a patient resignation to her life and duties. So you can safely choose B asthe correct answer.Less direct inference questions will ask you to draw out character or plot details from theinformation given in the passage. These inference questions can be more difficult to answer than theone given above. Here’s an example of a character inference question:It can be reasonably inferred from this passage that Mrs. Ker nan’s attitude toward religion is:A. fervently pious.B. practical but faithful.C. skeptical.D. nonexistent.If you read effectively, you’ll remember that the last paragraph contains a description of Mrs.Kernan’s brand of religious faith. There are several key phrases in this passage that should help youchoose the correct answer: “Religion for her was a habit”; “Her beliefs were not extravagant”; “Shebelieved steadily in the Sacred Heart as the most generally useful of all Catholic devotions”; “Herfaith was bounded by her kitchen, but, if she was put to it, she could believe also in the banshee andin the Holy Ghost.” We can’t provide you with a strategy for interpreting this information. You mustbe able to comprehend the writing in order to get this question right. No matter what yourunderstanding is, you’ll probably realize that D is wrong because the existence of the phrasesindicates that Mrs. Kernan has some kind of attitude toward religion. If you understand what’s beingsaid in the phrases above, you can eliminate choice A (because “Her beliefs were not extravagant”)and choice C (because “she could also believe in the banshee and in the Holy Ghost”). So the correctanswer is B, “practical but faithful,” which is exactly what those phrases imply.Guilford County SchoolsPage 5

ACT Reading Test Sample Question TypesNow try this plot inference question:One can reasonably infer from this passage that the goal of the friends’ plan, mentioned in line 37, is to:A. make Mr. Kernan a good, practicing Catholic.B. cure Mr. Kernan of his alcohol abuse.C. turn Mr. Kernan into a better husband.D. go to Thomas Street for Mrs. Kernan while her husband recovers.The nice thing about inference questions is that they do the inferring for you. If you have no ideawhat the friends are plotting for Mr. Kernan, don’t worry: the ACT writers have given you the rightanswer already—along with three wrong answers. The best way to approach this question, and anylike it, is to read the sentences around the provided section (lin