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Answering ACT Reading Questions

Using Vocabulary in Context

On the ACT Reading Test, questions that ask about the meaning of specific words and phrases are called “Vocab-in-Context” questions. They are not called “Vocabulary Definition” questions, so that means that the question does not require us to necessarily know the textbook definitions of all the answer choices. A vocab-in-context question tests how the word is used in context of the passage so even if you see a confusing word, don’t panic!

English words often have many meanings, common and esoteric. A commonly used word often takes on a secondary definition within ACT passages. Do not assume that the common meaning is the correct answer; there may be several meanings you do not know. Always back to the passage and see how the word is being used in context.


Sample ACT Reading Question

Here’s a sample question, just like what you might see on Test Day:

Every one of our great industries–steel, oil, textiles, packing,

milling, and the rest–has its early story colored with pioneer

romance. The same romantic atmosphere gave a setting of lights and

shadows to merchandising and finance and most of all to transportation.

Whether we view these nineteenth-century activities from the standpoint

of private business or of public policy, they bear the same testimony

to the pioneer attitude of mind.

In line 2, “colored” most nearly means

(A) shadowed

(B) filtered

(C) permeated

(D) hegemonized

(E) actuated



This is a really challenging reading question, with lots of harder vocab. In the sentence, we’re looking for a verb that is something attributable to “pioneer romance” and the idea that the pioneer mindset bore influence on their business practice. If you chose (A), don’t be fooled by the word “shadows” in the following sentence. “To shadow” means to change by degrees, or to darken. We’re looking for a word like “influence” here.  If you chose (B), the “romance” itself wasn’t doing the filtering. Rather it was being filtered.  If you chose (D), to hegemonize means to dominate – this meaning is too strong for what is implied here. If you chose (E), to “actuate” means to bring forth, or move into action. This is too strong for what it implied.  The correct answer is (C).


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About Magoosh ACT

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