ACT English essays are organization freaks; your English teacher would love them. If they don’t have clear topic sentences, they want one; if sentences aren’t in chronological order, they flip out. Well not really, but your score might if you don’t look out for these question types. So here are the most important things you need to know about organization questions on the ACT English section.
There are three particularly common types of organization questions:
- Ordering sentences or paragraphs
- Choosing the best introduction or conclusion
- Choosing the best transition word or phrase
Ordering sentences or paragraphs
If a question asks you to reorder sentences or paragraphs to present the most “logical” order, you are looking for one of two things: 1. chronology or 2. coherence.
Chronology is pretty straightforward. If the passage is working through a biography of a famous person’s life starting with their childhood and ending with their death, then you want to make sure a paragraph about their college years does not appear at the end. Sometimes, chronology questions will be about putting seasons or other things with a clear order in line.
Coherence means that every sentence should follow from the previous one in terms of how it builds on content. Take a look at this challenging example:
What is the most logical placement for sentence 2?
(1) Many scholars believe that Thomas Kyd wrote a play about Hamlet a decade before Shakespeare’s famous play. (2) Although Kyd’s “Ur-Hamlet” is now loss, it is believed that it probably bore many similarities to Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy, or rather that The Spanish Tragedy bore many similarities to it. (3) This is a revelation that surprises many fans who believe that Hamlet was solely a product of Shakespeare’s imagination.
This is a tricky one, and you need to look closely at it. The best way to tackle a question like this is to paraphrase the essence of each sentence in your head. Sentence 1 tells us Kyd wrote a play about Hamlet before Shakespeare. Sentence 2 tells us it bore many similarities to The Spanish Tragedy. Sentence 3 tells us that the fact that Kyd wrote a play about Hamlet surprises many Shakespeare aficionados.
Ah, ha, there’s the kicker. It’s not the stuff about The Spanish Tragedy (sentence 2) that surprises Shakespeare’s fans. It’s the fact that Kyd wrote a play about Hamlet. So this means sentence 3 should follow after sentence 1. And sentence 2 should be moved to after sentence 3.
Choosing the best introduction or conclusion
In order to answer these types of organization questions correctly, it’s important that you review the main idea of the paragraph and make sure you pick an option that best accomplishes two things:
- summarizes the main idea of the paragraph
- connects to what comes before and after it (this means the previous paragraph if we are talking about an intro sentence and the current paragraph and the current paragraph and following paragraph if we are talking about a concluding sentence.)
Be wary of answer choices that are too broad or too narrow: the ones that seem to encompass more than what the paragraph talks about or only give one specific detail.
Choosing the best transition
Let’s jump right into an ACT example for this one:
As she got older, Katerina did not find ice skating as appealing as she once did. Though, she cut back on her practice time and spent more time on other activities.
A. NO CHANGE
C. In fact,
On a question like this, we need to pick the transition that best communicates the relationship these sentences are trying to express. One way to handle this is to temporarily put a blank in the sentence where the transition is supposed to go, ignore the answer choices, and try to come up with your own connection → Katerina did not find ice skating appealing. ______, she cut back on her practice time and spent more time on other activities.
The connection between these two ideas is about cause and effect (Katerina didn’t like ice skating so much anymore, so she cut back on her training), so we need a word or phrase that communicates this. Words and phrases such as “so,” “as a result,” or “therefore” would best achieve this goal and, so, answer choice B “therefore” consequently fits in best with this group.
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About Kristin Fracchia
Dr. Kristin Fracchia makes sure Magoosh's sites are full of awesome, free resources that can be found by students prepping for standardized tests. With a PhD from UC Irvine and degrees in Education and English, she’s been working in education since 2004 and has helped students prepare for standardized tests, as well as college and graduate school admissions, since 2007. She enjoys the agony and bliss of trail running, backpacking, hot yoga, and esoteric knowledge.
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