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How to Deal with “Except”, “Not”, or “Least” Questions on the ACT

You’ve probably noticed that some of the ACT Reading passages contain test questions with words like “Except,” “Not,” or “Least” in them. To start, rephrase the question in simpler terms. Try to figure out what it’s really asking.

Once you understand the question, write down your task. For example, if a question asks, “Which of the following does NOT match the tone of the passage?” your task might be to “eliminate choices that fit the tone.” This will give you a clear idea of how to approach the answer choices. Although these questions are typically open-ended, go back to the passage and make a prediction whenever possible. Even for a question like, “All of the following is true about Hamlet except:” you can still refer back to the passage and locate the paragraph that provides details about Hamlet.

You’ll need to examine these answer choices more slowly and critically than other Reading questions. Don’t rush through them. Carefully eliminate choices based on information from the passage.

Check out this same paragraph from an ACT Reading Test:


Which of the following does the author NOT mention as an example of animal intelligence?

A) The construction of shelter against the environment.

B) The storing of food for the winter.

C) The communication of emotions.

D) The mimicking of the environment for protection.

We can rephrase this question as:  what example is NOT given by the author? Our goal is to eliminate examples that ARE mentioned in the passage. Let’s examine the signs of intelligence provided by the passage:

  • Defense against enemies
  • Shelter against heat/cold
  • Building homes
  • Laying up food supply
  • Communication (signs, sounds, motions)

Now it’s easy to eliminate! A, B, and C clearly matches our predictions, so we can get rid of them. The correct answer is (D).


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