ACT Reading: Practice with Humanities

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  • 0:01 Humanities Passages
  • 1:15 Question 1
  • 3:15 Question 2
  • 4:55 Question 3
  • 6:22 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.

'Humanities' is such a vague name: learn what you'll be getting on this part of the ACT reading test and get some practice tackling it. We'll walk you through three practice questions with explanations.

Humanities Passages

Once you're done with the ACT and picking courses for your first semester of college, you'll learn that 'humanities' is an incredibly broad word: the 'humanities' in college can cover everything from history to music theory to gender studies. On the ACT, 'humanities' covers almost as much territory. Humanities passages on the ACT reading test cover art, literature, music, theater, ethics, language, philosophy, and related fields. In other words, it's kind of a catchall.

The questions on these passages are just like the questions on every other part of the ACT, and you don't need to know anything about the relevant fields to do well on the test. It's much more important to know about the questions - specifically, the types of questions you'll be asked and how to tackle them. All the questions will ask you specifically about the passage in front of you; you'll never need to know anything from outside reading.

Here's how to tackle the questions:

  1. Read the question but not the answer choices.
  2. Go to the passage for the answer.
  3. Read the answer choices and pick the best one.

It's a simple strategy, but it does take some practice. So, are you ready to try some practice questions?

Question 1

When we study a country's literature, we open up the book to read its soul. Diplomats lie, press releases lie, and even history books lie, but literature cannot help but tell the truth. That, at least, was the attitude of my literature teachers in college, who seemed overawed by the possibilities of 'truly knowing' a country through its great works.

The author's judgment of 'the attitude of my literature teachers' could best be described as…

(A) Skeptical

(B) Enraged

(C) Impressed

(D) Hostile

Let's first identify what the attitude of the literature teachers is. In other words, what do the teachers think? The teachers think that literature is a kind of window to a country's soul. But remember: the question doesn't ask us what the teachers think. The question asked us what the author thinks about that opinion.

So we'll go through and identify what the author has to say about the teachers. The word 'overawed' is one clue that the author finds her teachers a little too impressed by the possibilities of literature. The quotation marks around 'truly knowing' also indicate that the author isn't totally sure about this entire concept. Any time you see quotation marks like that, just picture the author using air quotes.

In other words, the author doesn't agree with the teachers that literature is really a way to see into a country's soul. Now let's look at the answer choices to see what fits.

We can cross off (B) right away because the author doesn't sound enraged or furious. We can also get rid of (C) because 'impressed' would imply that the author agrees with the teachers, when she clearly doesn't. (D) is also out, again, because 'hostile' implies that the author is being confrontational towards her teachers, when in fact she's just disagreeing with them.

(A) works, though, because 'skeptical' captures that attitude of 'I don't quite believe you, but I'm not being a confrontational jerk about it.' So (A) is the correct answer.

Question 2

Ready for the next question? Here's the next paragraph of the same passage.

For my part, I have always doubted my teachers' assumption that literature is more honest than other writing. If they acknowledge that diplomats and journalists and historians can lie, then why not fiction writers as well?

The author mentions 'diplomats and journalists and historians' as examples of…

(A) Professionals who make more money than most authors

(B) People whom her teachers trust less than fiction writers

(C) Writers who produce work more valuable than literature

(D) Authors who are often falsely accused of lying

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