ACT Reading: Detail and Word Meaning Questions

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  • 0:03 Detail Questions
  • 0:54 Step-By-Step
  • 1:50 Example Question
  • 4:15 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.

Easy points lurk in the detail questions on the ACT, so don't neglect them! In this lesson, you'll learn a 3-step method for answering these questions quickly and accurately.

Detail Questions

Detail questions on the ACT ask you about a specific word, line or detail in the passage. They don't talk about the passage as a whole.

That makes them good questions to tackle first, because you don't need to understand the entire passage to hit the detail questions effectively. You can use these questions to score points while you're getting a sense for the passage, which saves you precious minutes of reading time.

That doesn't mean detail questions are easy, though. In fact, they can be quite difficult, especially because the answer choices are often designed to trick you. In this lesson, you'll learn a method that you can repeat on all detail or word meaning questions to help you avoid tricky answer choices and answer the questions as efficiently as possible. Then we'll walk through a real practice question using the steps so you can see how they work in action.


To answer questions about details or specific words on the ACT, here's a 3-step plan of attack:

  1. Read the question. Read it slowly, at a speaking pace, so that you really understand what it's asking. Don't read the answer choices; only read the question. Cover the answers with your hand if you have to.
  2. Go straight to the passage, and answer in your own words. Again, don't read the answer choices! Find the part of the passage that the question is referring to and read enough to get a little context. Then come up with an answer to the question in your own words, without so much as a peep at the answer choices.
  3. Pick the answer choice that matches your answer. Now you finally get to look at your answer choice options. Pick the one that corresponds most closely to the answer you came up with.

Example Question

To help you put this into practice, next we'll look at an example question and go through it using the 3-step process.

Step one is to read the question but not the answer choices. In this example, our question is: 'In the context of the passage, mentioning the 'dehydrated meals and signal flares' serves to characterize Smith as…'

So, we're trying to find out what the 'dehydrated meals and signal flares' say about Smith.

Now we'll move on to step two, finding the relevant part of the passage and answering the question without looking at the answers. Here's the passage:

'Smith once brought a full survival kit complete with dehydrated meals and signal flares to a barbecue party in the park. He kept cold-weather emergency go bags in his car year-round, even in August when the heat was smothering and everyone broke a sweat walking outside for the newspaper.'

Reading this excerpt, what do you think the dehydrated meals and signal flares say about Smith? What kind of person does he sound like?

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