ACT Reading: Cause and Effect and Comparison Questions

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  • 0:01 Double Trouble
  • 0:57 Cause and Effect
  • 3:36 Comparison Questions
  • 5:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

Some ACT questions are tricky because they ask you about more than one piece of information at a time. In this lesson, you'll learn about two of those question types: cause/effect and comparison questions.

Double Trouble

ACT questions that cover just one part of a passage are bad enough. But sometimes, you're in for double trouble, with questions that ask you to analyze two different parts of a passage and find the relationship between them.

Sometimes, these questions are cause and effect questions, which ask about the logical relationship between two events or pieces of an argument. Other times, they're comparison questions, which ask you to compare or contrast two things in various ways.

Both types of questions are tough for many students because it's hard to keep two things straight in your head at once. But if you're smart about strategy, you can avoid a lot of this confusion and really bump up your score. In this lesson, you'll get an overview of cause and effect and comparison questions, plus some tips for beating them.

Cause and Effect

In cause and effect questions, you'll need to identify not just facts but logical relationships between two parts of a passage. This is where students who rely on skimming and word hunting often fail: glancing through the passage to simply see what's mentioned won't help you figure out the logical connections between all the items. Instead, you'll need to figure out where to look and then read that part carefully enough to understand how the author's logic is working.

Here's an example:

The low lighting and cobwebs gave the room a haunted, abandoned atmosphere. My skin prickled, and not just from the cold.

In this sentence, the author ascribes his nervousness primarily to...

(A) The temperature in the room
(B) His fear of spiders
(C) The creepy atmosphere
(D) The feelings on his skin

Even though it doesn't use the word 'cause' or 'effect,' the phrase 'ascribes to' is a hint that this is actually a cause and effect question, asking about the cause of the author's discomfort. In this case, the passage implies that it's the 'haunted, abandoned atmosphere,' so the correct answer is (C).

Not so bad, right? Here are some extra tips for making these questions as pain-free as possible:

  • Look for tricky words. Phrases like '...is a result of' or '...is responsible for' are just alternate ways of asking you about causes and effects.

  • Don't confuse cause and effect. Some questions will be phrased like, 'X is likely an effect of...', which is easy to misread as, 'What are the effects of X?' if you're skimming. Always be clear in your own mind what you're looking for. It may be helpful to rephrase the question as, 'What is the cause/effect of ________?' to make sure you're totally clear. In the example question, we could rephrase it as, 'What is the cause of the author's nervousness?' or simply, 'Why is the author nervous?'

  • Restate the answer in your own words. For the example question, you know you're looking for the cause of the author's nervousness. So make sure you can plug your answer choice into a sentence like, 'The author is nervous because...'.

Comparison Questions

Cause and effect questions ask you to analyze two pieces of information within a passage. Another question type that asks you to work with two things at once is the comparison question. As the name implies, comparison questions ask you to compare or contrast two or more pieces of text. You might be asked to say why they're similar or why they're different.

Here's an example:

Unlike cats, dogs, and hamsters, lizards are NOT...

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