ACT Reading: Practice with Social Studies

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  • 0:01 Social Studies
  • 1:00 Question 1
  • 3:29 Question 2
  • 4:55 Question 3
  • 6:37 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.

Are you ready for the Social Studies reading passages on the ACT? They're tricky enough that you probably don't want to wing it. Here are some practice questions to help you get there.

Social Studies

On the ACT Reading test, Social Studies passages cover topics like economics, political science, history, psychology, and education. You'll get one Social Studies passage on every test, followed by ten questions about it.

If you're a history nerd or an economics whiz already, you might think this is going to be easy. After all, you do this stuff for fun, right? So how can it be so hard to answer a few questions on it? But hold that thought, because ACT questions aren't about how much you know about the subject. They're about how well you can extract information from the passage and use it to answer test questions.

To make sure you're doing this right, it helps to use a 3-step method:

Step 1: Read the question but not the answer choices.

Step 2: Look back at the passage to find the answer in your own words.

Step 3: Read the answer choices and pick one.

With that in mind, here are some practice questions on a mock Social Sciences passage.

Question 1

Here's your first excerpt and question:

'…Any of my first-year students could define 'political science' as 'the study of politics,' but that same student could likely recite Aristotle's famous quote: 'man, by nature, is a political animal.' So if human nature is political, doesn't the study of politics encompass everything within the human experience?'

The author's mention of 'Aristotle's famous quote' demonstrates that…

(A) His students' first definition of 'political science' is not very helpful.

(B) His students are ignorant of basic facts about famous politicians.

(C) His students have not covered the political thought of ancient Greece.

(D) His students do not understand Greek politics.

Remember that we're going to be answering the question before looking at the answer choices. Let's consider what this question is asking - why is the author quoting Aristotle?

It certainly looks like the author is using the Aristotle quote to make a point about his students' definition of political science. First, you read the students' initial definition of political science as 'the study of politics.' But then the Aristotle quote complicates that by pointing out that it doesn't actually say anything. If everything is political, then talking about 'the study of politics' doesn't really narrow it down.

Let's start with that as a working answer and come up with a quick answer in our own words. Maybe something like 'the study of politics' is not a good definition for 'political science' or something similar.

Next up: answer choices. Which of these is the best match?

Well, we can cross off (C) and (D) right away because the author isn't making a point about the ancient Greeks. Aristotle being Greek is just a coincidence. If this were Confucius' famous quote, the meaning of the passage would be the same.

(B) is out for the same reason. The author is talking about the definition of political science, not individual politicians or their biographies.

That leaves us with (A), which matches pretty well with the answer we generated. Quoting Aristotle shows that his students' definition of 'political science' isn't helpful because it's so broad that it's essentially meaningless.

Can you see how knowing a lot about Aristotle or political science wouldn't help you here? It's about reading the passage, not knowing the most facts from other readings.

Question 2

Now let's move on to the next question, still from this same passage.

'This leaves us with the question where do we draw the boundaries between political science and history, criminal justice, or psychology? Do the boundaries even exist?'

In this excerpt, 'history,' 'criminal justice,' and 'psychology' serve as examples of…

(A) Subjects that the author also teaches.

(B) Subjects that the author's students understand better than political science.

(C) Subjects closely related to political science.

(D) Subjects that failed to satisfy the author's students' curiosity.

Again, start by looking at the passage and coming up with your own answer. Why do you think the author mentions history, criminal justice, and psychology?

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