Back To CourseACT Prep: Practice & Study Guide
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The ACT English has two question types: usage and mechanics and rhetorical skills. We've learned that usage and mechanics questions test you on punctuation, grammar, word usage, and sentence structure and that rhetorical skills questions cover style, strategy, and organization. In this lesson, we'll dig deep into rhetorical skills and learn exactly what strategy, style, and organization mean for the ACT.
Strategy questions comprise 16% of questions on the English section, which comes out to about 12 questions. For most strategy questions, you'll need to determine if a sentence should be added to the passage. In other cases, you'll be asked to look at the passage as a whole and determine the purpose of the passage. Strategy is a broad word, so let's look at some concrete examples of the types of strategy questions you might see.
Many strategy questions might ask you to identify a sentence that provides additional relevant details to the paragraph. For example, you might be asked to select a sentence that provides a specific example, such as in this question:
For all rhetorical skills questions, you should read the question very carefully, but this is particularly true for these types of questions because all of the answer choices could be correct. The question will tell you what type of detail needs to be added. In question 1, the question is specifically asking for sensory details. All of the answer choices are acceptable sentences, but choice B is the only answer choice that includes sensory details, such as 'warm vanilla' and 'spicy cinnamon.'
Once in a while, you'll see a question that asks about the purpose of the whole passage. Questions about the whole passage are always the last question of the passage and are always clearly labeled.
I normally recommend to not read the whole passage in order to save time, but the big exception to that rule is questions about the whole passage. Each time you start a new passage, flip to the end to check if there is a passage-as-a-whole question - if there is, you can read it as you answer the other questions. This strategy ultimately saves you time because you don't have to go through the passage twice.
Organization on the ACT English refers to the sentences, paragraphs, and the whole passage. When you think of organization in writing, you probably think about the structure of the essay, such as if the paragraphs are in a logical order. You'll see questions that ask you to order paragraphs on the ACT as well as questions that ask you about the order of sentences within a paragraph and transition, introductory, and closing sentences that best fit the content. Organization questions comprise 15% of questions, which is about 11 or 12 questions total.
Many organization questions ask you to choose the best topic or introductory sentence for that paragraph. Here's an example of how a topic sentence question might look on the ACT.
Do you see the correct answer? It's choice H. Since the rest of the paragraph describes three different types of baked goods, the sentence 'Every week, Uncle Mick showed me his recipe for a different treat.' best sets up the paragraph for details about the various treats. Notice that this question also has a slightly different format than many rhetorical skills questions. Instead of being indicated by the number in the box, it's indicated by underlining.
A related question type simply asks you to consider the beginning of a paragraph and determine the best sentence that transitions from the previous paragraph. Since a transition sentence is a bridge between two paragraphs, make sure to determine the main idea in the paragraphs both before and after the transition before choosing an answer.
You'll also see organization questions that ask you to choose the most logical order of paragraphs within the passage or sentences within a paragraph. Paragraph order questions typically appear at the end of the passage, and the question will clearly state that it is asking about the passage as a whole. This is your clue that you should read the whole passage and evaluate the ideas in each paragraph to determine the most logical order. When you see these questions, all of the paragraphs will be numbered, and you'll be asked to use the numbers to indicate the correct order.
Sentence order questions typically appear at the end of the paragraph. Like for paragraph order questions, the sentences will be numbered. You probably won't see sentence or paragraph numbering unless there is an organization question, so if you see numbers, pay attention to them! To answer sentence order questions correctly, make sure you read the whole paragraph!
Take a second to read the paragraph in example 3 and determine the correct answer.
Ready? The correct answer is B. This example is pretty straightforward because the sentences contain clue words like 'first', 'then' and 'finally.' You'll likely see trickier sentence order on the test, but if you read the sentences carefully and think about the most logical sequences of events, you should be able to determine the right answer.
When answering questions about paragraph or sentence order, be aware that the numbers always appear before the sentence or paragraph. Sometimes students get these questions wrong because they associate sentences with the wrong number. Read carefully so you don't fall into this trap!
You'll see a variety of style questions on the ACT. Some ask you to select the sentence that best fits the writer's style. Others ask you to choose a sentence that demonstrates clean and concise writing. About 16% of questions are style questions, which translates to about 12 questions. Your strategy will vary based on the type of question it is, so let's go into a little more detail.
Many style questions will ask you to determine which sentence best fits the style of the rest of the essay. Picture your science textbook. Can you imagine it saying, 'Meiosis is the coolest process ever!'? Probably not. Most textbooks have a more formal, academic style and are unlikely to call something 'cool.' To determine the passage's style, read the paragraph containing the sentence and compare the style with the answer choices.
Remember this paragraph from our last example? What's the writing style? It sounds fairly informal to me. The narrator is using the first person, another indication that the passage is an informal narrative. The first sentence of this paragraph is 'When we baked cookies, the first thing we did was butter the baking sheets.' What if we changed it to 'When baking cookies, the first thing a cook must do is butter the baking sheets'? How would that change the style? It sounds much more formal and is no longer in the first person. The new sentence sounds more like directions than a narrative. It's not a bad sentence - it just doesn't fit the style of the passage.
A general rule for English writing is that concise writing is good writing, and I can guarantee that you'll definitely see several questions many times on the ACT English that frequently test your ability to identify and spot concise and to-the-point writing. Let's back up. Were all the words I just said necessary? Let's look at that sentence again and see how we can make it less wordy.
'I can guarantee that you'll definitely see several questions many times on the ACT English that frequently test your ability to identify and spot concise and to-the-point writing.'
Looking at the sentence, I see there are words with similar meanings. For example, 'several,' 'many,' and 'frequently' all mean the same thing in this context. Do I really need to say all three of those words? Since 'questions' is plural, maybe we don't need those words at all. Take a moment to rewrite the sentence so that it's as concise as possible without losing any meaning. How much shorter can you get it?
OK, ready? Here's how I'd rewrite the sentence to make it more concise: 'You'll see questions that test your ability to spot concise writing.' This one's a lot shorter! It's also less wordy and redundant - we're not using multiple words that have the same meaning - but it gets the same point across.
These types of questions look a lot like usage and mechanics questions because they're about individual sentences, and you can often use your usage and mechanics strategies to find the correct answer.
We just learned a lot about the rhetorical skills questions on the test. It's important to understand and recognize the different types of questions because your approach will vary based on the question type. Let's do a quick review of the main types of rhetorical skills questions.
Strategy questions ask you big picture questions about the passage's purpose as well as questions about whether to add or remove specific details.
Organization questions cover transitional, introductory and concluding sentences, paragraph order within the passage, and sentence order within paragraphs.
Style questions will ask you to determine if a sentence matches the overall style of the essay and to evaluate sentences for wordiness, redundancy, and other elements of concise, clean writing.
After you have finished this lesson, you should be able to:
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Back To CourseACT Prep: Practice & Study Guide
43 chapters | 347 lessons