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ACT English Rhetorical Skills in Depth

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Early in the blog we talked about the ways that the ACT chooses to categorize English section questions. Today we’re going take a different, more in depth approach to one of those categories: Rhetorical Skills. This is the ACT’s blanket term for questions that deal with writing strategy, organization, and style. For this lesson we’re going to break the questions down by precisely what you need to do to correctly answer each type of Rhetorical Skills question.

Most Relevant Information
When a question asks you to provide the “most relevant information” about something, you need to pick the answer choice that talks about only what the question asks about. For example, if a question asks for the most relevant information regarding soccer balls, you’d want to pick the answer choice that deals solely with soccer balls. Answer choices that discuss other types of balls, other aspects of soccer, or anything else not directly related to soccer balls would be incorrect.

Best Conclusion
Questions that ask for the “best conclusion” to a passage are looking for the answer choice that focuses on the main idea of the passage. When more than one choice mentions ideas from the passage, you should go with the choice that occurs most frequently in the passage. Sometimes this type of question will ask you to choose an answer that will also tie the conclusion in with the beginning of the passage. In this case, the correct answer will mention both the main idea of the passage and something near the beginning of the passage.

Most Effective Introduction
This type of question wants you to provide the “most effective introduction” to a paragraph. The correct choice will be the one that mentions something already found in the paragraph. If more than once choice mentions ideas from the paragraph, pick the answer that includes the largest number of concepts found in the paragraph.

Watch out for incorrect answer choices that mention something from the previous or subsequent paragraph(s). Also be wary of choices that state a broad concept from the passage but don’t actually reference specific points found in the paragraph itself.

Most Effective Transition
The correct answer choice for a question that asks you to choose the “most effective transition” between paragraphs is simply the one that mentions concepts found in both paragraphs. If the first paragraph talks about how footballs are made and the second paragraph talks about how soccer balls are made, the correct choice will mention both football and soccer ball construction. Incorrect choices for transition questions include those that mention a concept from only one paragraph or that introduce irrelevant and/or overly broad information.

Sentence or Paragraph Placement
Sometimes a question will ask you the best location for a sentence or a paragraph. In this type of question, the ACT wants sentences and paragraphs to appear in a sequence that makes them refer to each other in a logical order. If an underlined sentence refers to an event that occurs after sentence 1 but before sentence 2, the best location for the underlined sentence would be between the other two sentences.

The ACT also wants related concepts to be grouped as closely together as possible and for pronouns to be as close to their antecedents as possible. Two sentences talking about the same person should be as close to each other as makes narrative sense. If one sentence calls a person by name and another uses a pronoun that clearly refers to the same person, the sentence containing the antecedent should come before the sentence using the pronoun.

Vocabulary in Context
This type of question doesn’t have a conventional prompt. Instead, a specific word in the passage will be underlined. You’ll then be given three alternate words to choose from to replace the underlined word. (The first choice will always be “NO CHANGE.”) The four words will typically be sufficiently similar that they could be used interchangeably in everyday conservation. However, the specific meanings of the words will be subtly different.

What the ACT is looking for here is similar to the “vocabulary in content” questions found in the Reading section. In other words, the exam is looking for the word with exactly the correct meaning for the context in which it is being used. Words with similar meanings will be incorrect choices. The key to answering these questions correctly is to think about what each of the four words actually means and what it can be used to describe. Let’s say a passage describes a person who is extremely angry, and gives you the words depressed, enraged, remorseful, and annoyed to choose from. The correct choice would be enraged because enrage is a verb that means “to make very angry.” Depressed and remorseful are commonly associated with similarly negative emotions but do not directly express anger. On the other hand, annoyed is not a strong enough word to convey the extreme nature of the emotion that the person is feeling.

Adding/Deleting a Phrase or Sentence
Some questions will tell you that the author is considering adding or deleting a particular sentence. You’ll then be asked what impact that addition or deletion would have on the passage. The most important thing to remember for these questions is that the ACT never expects students to perform any sort inferring or interpreting. Instead, you’ll want to pick the answer that simply describes what the sentence or phrase is doing. Ask yourself only what the passage would gain or lose content-wise with this decision. If an answer choice doesn’t address this in a manner that is both accurate and straightforward, it is incorrect.

Would This Essay Fulfill the Writer’s Goal?
At the end of some of the passages, a question states a possible goal of the writer in writing the passage. The question then asks if that goal was fulfilled the passage. Two of the answer choices will say “yes” and two will say “no.” Each will then offer a different reason supporting the yes or no answer. As with the rest of the ACT English Rhetorical Skills questions, the correct answer will be the one that directly and literally describes the passage and is relevant to the goal mentioned in the prompt.

These questions are actually much easier than they first seem. Begin by eliminating any of the answer choices that make statements not directly supported by the text. Often this will eliminate all of the incorrect answers. If you do have more than one choice left, just eliminate any choices that are not relevant to the “goal” described in the prompt. You’ll be left with only the correct answer.

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