ACT Reading: Practice with Prose Fiction

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  • 0:01 Prose Fiction
  • 1:24 Question 1
  • 3:13 Question 2
  • 4:59 Question 3
  • 6:58 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.

Don't be afraid of prose fiction passages on the ACT: they aren't any more difficult than any of the other types! Watch this lesson to get some practice answering questions on them.

Prose Fiction

On the ACT, prose fiction passages are excerpts from novels, short stories, or other fictional works. On each test, you'll get one passage with ten questions.

Prose fiction passages can seem intimidating because in most schools fiction is treated a little differently than nonfiction. With nonfiction passages, most students are used to answering ACT-type questions about facts and details, so the actual test is pretty familiar. But with prose fiction, many students expect different kinds of questions, maybe about themes, or plot structure, or symbolism.

That's a perfectly understandable assumption, but it's not accurate. ACT prose fiction questions have to have one objectively correct answer, just like the questions on every other passage type, and you can answer them with exactly the same methods.

Just like every other passage, for the prose fiction, we'll be using a 3-step process to answer the questions:

  1. Read the question.
  2. Check the passage and come up with your own answer.
  3. Read the answer choices and pick the best one.

With that in mind, let's take a look at three questions on a prose fiction passage.

Question 1

That summer, the dragonflies filled every dip and hollow of the land with tiny, iridescent flickers. I could sit on the back porch for hours watching them swarm in the yard. I dove into the pool and emerged to stare in awe at the sky through the sparkles and flecks of a hundred thousand lives.

The author's attitude toward the dragonflies could best be described as…

(A) Aggressively confrontational

(B) Impertinently curious

(C) Utterly enraptured

(D) Unusually laissez-faire

First, we'll come up with the answer in our own words. What are the clue words in this passage that let you know how the author feels about the dragonflies?

The author thinks the dragonflies are pretty neat and 'stare in awe' suggests something even more serious than that. So maybe we could describe his attitude as 'interested,' or 'pleased,' or something like that.

Now let's look at the answer choices.

We can get rid of (A) because 'confrontational' is too negative. We can also cross off (B) because 'impertinent' doesn't fit with 'stare in awe.' Choice (D) doesn't work for two reasons. First, there's nothing in the passage to suggest that this is unusual at all. Second, laissez-faire means 'leaving something alone,' which doesn't describe the author's behavior.

We're left with choice (C), utterly enraptured. This works fine as a description of someone who could 'sit…watching them for hours,' and it captures the connotation of 'stare in awe,' so (C) is correct.

Ready to try another one? Question 2 is on the next few lines of the same passage:

Question 2

'No-good dinosaurs,' muttered Aunt Callie as she hung the sheets out to dry. 'Dinosaurs?' My eyes widened. 'Dragonflies are dinosaurs?'

'Close enough,' groused Aunt Callie through a mouthful of clothespins, 'They're ancient enough. I got no use for them anyway. Bugs like that, they going to help me do this wash? They going to help me cook?'

Aunt Callie is dismissive of the dragonflies because…

(A) They are not practically useful.

(B) She finds them ugly.

(C) They live for too long.

(D) They get in her way when she does the laundry.

As usual, let's start by reading the passage and coming up with an answer in our own words. Why doesn't Aunt Callie like the dragonflies?

It seems like she doesn't really value anything that won't help her with her chores. So she dismisses the dragonflies because even though they might be pretty, they don't make her life any easier.

Now let's take a look at the answers.

(A) could be correct, so we'll keep that for now. (B) is out because she doesn't say anything about them being ugly. (C) also doesn't make sense because she never mentions how long they live. (D) sounds tempting but Aunt Callie never actually claims that the dragonflies get in her way. She just says that they don't help. So choice (D) doesn't actually work.

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