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ACT and SAT Reading Passage Introductions

Each passage on the ACT and SAT Reading sections is preceded by a brief introduction to the passage itself. The introduction provides the name of the author or authors, the work from which the passage is adapted (virtually all ACT/SAT passages are excerpts from other works), and the year the work was written, published, or copyrighted. The introduction also includes any additional information the test designers think a student should know before reading the passage.


While it’s tempting to skip over the introduction (especially if you’re pressed for time), pausing to read it can make understanding the passage easier, sometimes considerably so. Here are some examples of what you can read or infer from ACT and SAT passage introductions.



Knowing who wrote a passage and when it was written can give you a fairly good idea of what the passage is going to discuss and the positions it is going to take. This is especially true for SAT Great Global Conversation (founding documents, civil rights, and suffrage) passages. For example, a passage adapted from a work by Frederick Douglass or Elizabeth Cady Stanton will almost certainly advocate for the abolition of slavery or women’s suffrage.


Information in the Passage

The test designers will occasionally provide you with facts from the passage in the introduction. Such facts are important to the passage but are difficult to understand without further explanation, are buried in the middle of the passage, or come very late in the passage. One of the passages in the ACT’s collection of official Reading practice tests, for instance, does not tell you the name of the narrator until the third-to-last line of the passage. However, the introduction to the passage gives you narrator’s name outright.


The Relationship between Paired Passages

Understanding how passages relate to one another is essential for answering ACT and SAT Reading dual passage questions. The information in the introduction to a pair of passages can almost-always “jump start” your comprehension of this relationship.


For example, if the second passage was written as a response to the first, the test is required to tell you this. A less straightforward example would be if the two passages were written by prominent historical figures with very different opinions on civil rights. If you’re familiar with the general position of each figure, you probably guess why the passages were paired together and how the authors will agree and disagree on the topic.


Even the titles of the works the passages are adapted from can provide clues as to their relationship. For instance, if one passage has just “automobiles” in the title and the other passage names a specific make or model in the title, it is reasonable to assume that the scope of the first passage will be relatively broad while the second will be considerably more specific.


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