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ACT Reading “Function” Questions

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On the ACT Reading section you may be asked what the “function” of a specific paragraph or paragraphs is in a passage as a whole. While these questions can seem vague and mysterious at first, the correct answers must, like all Reading questions, be directly supported by the passage. Here are some tips that will take the mystery out of ACT Reading “function” questions.


Recognize Common Wrong Answer Choice Patterns

Wrong answer choices on the Reading section follow certain consistent patterns. The wrong answers for “function” questions are no exception. Typically, two of the answer choices will be immediately, obviously incorrect. These two choices will fly in the face of the organization, structure, or word choice of the passage. Of the remaining two choices, one will accurately describe the function of the paragraph(s). The other might look correct at first glance but will be worded in such a way as to trick students who have only a partial grasp on the function of the selected text. To make sure that you don’t fall for this tricky wrong answer, look at the following aspects of the passage.


Look at the Language the Author is Using

Sometimes the function of a paragraph can be determined by closely-examining an author’s word choice. For example, a paragraph using inclusive pronouns, such as “we” and “us,” in the middle of a passage filled with “I/me” language might be attempting to draw connections between an author’s own experiences and the experiences of others in a similar situation. On the other hand, a paragraph that signals a permanent shift in the pronouns that an author is using might be making a transition from talking about the author’s personal experiences to universal experiences, or vice-versa. Similarly, the sudden introduction of “we should” language and positive examples in a mostly-negative passage might signal that the author has shifted from criticizing a problem to offering a solution for said problem.


Look at the Structure of the Passage

Beyond language choices, you should also look more broadly at the structure that the author has chosen to employ. If an author has chosen a particular organizational or narrative structure, he or she has done so in order to achieve a particular effect. An author might open a passage on a niche science topic with a broad summary of the field the topic is set in to provide background and context for why he or she is discussing a particularly esoteric subject. The author of a persuasive essay on a controversial topic might begin with his or her own experiences on the topic (an appeal to emotion) before outright stating his or her own position as a way to get the reader on his or her side.


Read the Whole Passage before Answering the Question

As with all ACT Reading question types, you need to take “function” questions literally. When the question says “in the passage as a whole,” make sure that you have read the entire passage before you answer the question. While it might be tempting to answer “function” questions as soon as you reach the cited paragraph(s), doing so can easily lead to picking an answer choice that is designed to trick students who haven’t read or at least skimmed the entire passage. In order to make sure that you do not fall for such “trick” answer choices, you need to understand what the author is doing before, during, and after the paragraph(s) that the question is asking about.


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