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ACT and SAT Reading “NOT/EXCEPT” Questions

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Many students struggle with ACT and SAT Reading questions that use the words “not” and “except.” These types of questions require you to identify the one right answer, as opposed to the one wrong answer. Because of their inverted nature, “not/except” questions can be time-consuming to answer and difficult to master. Like all types of questions, however, there are strategies you can employ to make these questions more manageable and increase your chances of success. Below are four strategies to help you improve your scores on “not/except” questions.


Answer “not/except” questions first

If you have difficulty remembering details from the passage, try answering “not/except” questions as soon as you have finished reading the passage. The passage will be fresh in your mind, making it easier to remember answers that you saw in the passage and where to look for answers that you do not.


Answer “not/except” questions last

If answering “not/except” questions first doesn’t work for you, try answering these questions last. The reasoning behind this strategy is the same as why you should save main idea questions for the end. By the time you have answered the other questions you will have closely read several smaller chunks of the passage. Chances are you will have gleamed details that you missed on your initial read through, including details that you need to successfully answer “not/except” questions.


Read “not/except” questions before you read the passage

If neither of the above approaches works for you, consider reading “not/except” questions and their answer choices before you read the passage. This strategy comes with some serious caveats, so you should only try it if other approaches are not working.


First, reading answer choices before reading the passage can lead to inadvertently reading wrong choices into the passage. Because “not/except” questions have you hunting for right answers, the chances of this happening are much lower than with other types of questions. Nevertheless, you should carefully mark “wrong” answers off as you find them.


Second, this approach gives you one more thing to keep track of during the Reading section. It’s easy to remember to read a certain type of question on the earlier passages, but it becomes increasingly difficult to keep in mind as you approach the later passages.


Eliminate two choices before looking at the passage

Like all types of questions, you should be able to eliminate two of the wrong choices before you have to look back at the passage. At the very least, try to cross out one choice that you remember reading in the passage before you begin hunting for the rest. Eliminating a single answer choice means that you only need to find two of the remaining three to reach the correct answer. Eliminating two means that you only need to find one of the remaining choices to answer the question correctly.

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