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David Recine

ACT Reading Multiple Choice Test Strategies


As I’ve mentioned before, there are two broad approaches (Multiple Choice Test Strategies for the ACT) you should take to multiple choice strategy on the ACT exam: eliminating answers that add errors to the information presented and ruling out answer choices that are not supported by the passage, graphic, or question prompt.

The first strategy, eliminating “mistake” answers, is the main strategy you should use in ACT English and ACT Math. These two sections test your ability to detect and avoid mistakes in the writing and math processes.

The second strategy, making sure that your answer is clearly supported by the information as it’s presented, is the key to most ACT Reading questions. Every question on the exam tests your ability to recognize and properly understand the information in the passage. Below, we’ll look at a passage paragraph with a question. To answer the question, we’ll go through the process of eliminating unsupported information, step-by-step. The paragraph is taken from page 34 the official free ACT Practice Test online, but the question after it is original to the Magoosh High School blog:

Only one thousand miles offshore, the Cramer has already sailed through some of Atlantic’s deepest waters. Contrary to what one might guess, Atlantic’s deepest waters, like those in other oceans, are along her edges. As we continue east, toward the middle of the sea, the bottom rises. The unmarked plains of the abyss, here flattened by layers of sediment, give way to rising foothills and then to mountains. The first maps of Atlantic seafloor noted, albeit crudely, this rise. Early efforts to plumb Atlantic’s depths proved outrageously inaccurate: one naval officer paid out eight miles (thirteen kilometers) of hemp rope from a drifting ship and concluded the sea had no bottom. Eventually, sailors more or less successfully calculated depth by heaving overboard cannonballs tied to bailing twine. When they hit bottom, the sailors measured and snipped the twine and then moved on, leaving a trail of lead strung out across the seafloor. These crude soundings, forming the basis of the first map of Atlantic’s basin, published in 1854, identified a prominent rise halfway between Europe and America.

According to the author, the first attempts to measure the varying depths of the Atlantic seafloor:

A) were a complete failure
B) indicated that the Atlantic is deepest in its exact middle
C) correctly detected a large elevated area within the ocean
D) led to the creation of a highly precise map in 1854

Like many ACT Reading questions, all but one of this question’s answer choices can be eliminated because the choice is not supported by the passage.

A doesn’t work because the maps weren’t a complete failure. The passage immediately states that we know “the bottom rises” near the middle. The passage then further states that early mapmaking efforts correctly identified this rise and its approximate location. B doesn’t work either because the passage immediately states that the Atlantic Ocean is deepest along its edges; B states the opposite, saying it’s deepest in the middle.

C seems correct. From the beginning, the passage mentions an underwater mountain ridge between the Atlantic’s western and eastern shores, and treats the existence of this ridge as a well-established fact. The passage then goes on to describe the way in which early surveyors detected and mapped this rise in the sea between Europe and America. However, to be absolutely sure this is the correct answer, it’s best to also check D. If both D and C seem like they could be true, then it will take additional scrutiny to choose the one right answer to the question.

D is a little tricky. The idea of an Atlantic basin map created in 1854 is directly supported in the text and the accuracy of the map is verified in the reading… but not the precision. In fact, the data that was used to create the map is described as “crude,” which is the opposite of precise. So C is a good option and a careful checking of D indicates that it almost matches with the information in the text, but falls short by describing the 1854 map as “precise.”

Elimination based on textual support is the best approach throughout the ACT Reading section. While there is a process to interpreting each reading passage, ACT Reading doesn’t really test for process-based mistakes. Instead the Reading section looks at whether or not you can arrive at the correct conclusions and recognize the correct information once you’ve read something.


About David Recine

David is a test prep expert at Magoosh. He has a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a Masters in Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has been teaching K-12, University, and adult education classes since 2007 and has worked with students from every continent. Currently, David lives in a small town in the American Upper Midwest. When he’s not teaching or writing, David studies Korean, plays with his son, and takes road trips to Minneapolis to get a taste of city life. Follow David on Google+ and Twitter!

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