Tackling the Tricky “Best Answer”: 3 Steps to Succeed on the ACT Reading

writing essayUnlike the ACT Math, in which there is only one correct possibility, the ACT Reading will present multiple interpretations of a passage that are defensible. Rarely will one choice distinguish itself as the clear solution or, in the language of the exam, as the “best answer.”

Obviously, in literature classes, there really are no “best answers” for interpreting subjective art, poetry, and prose. But as far as the ACT Reading is concerned, here’s a simple formula for determining the correct multiple choice:

1. Identify which is wordier: the question or the possible answers?

If the question is longer, jump to 2A. If the possible answers are longer, jump to 2B.

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2A. Simplify the question.

*This sample question is excerpted from Passage 5.B of the ACT’s Sample Reading Questions. The original passage can be found here. Try it out for practice!

Distill the original question into its most significant question words. In this example, the question is very specific about the comparison. In this example, the correct answer will very specifically relate the narrator’s expectations to reality— be wary of options that open with the wrong claim, such as “similar,” but follow-up with a soundproof justification for why the expectations are dissimilar from reality.

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2B. Simplify the multiple choice.

*This sample question is excerpted from Passage 5.A of the ACT’s Sample Reading Questions. The original passage can be found here. Try it out for practice!

Before reading too deeply into the nuances of A, B, C, and D, break them down into their core essences (ideally 4-8 words). Using the example above, which best describes the transition? A description to a reflection? Or an overview to an explanation? The “best answer” will usually be the most apt summary of a passage, even in the simplest of terms.

3. Check your work

Confirm that all parts of the multiple choice selection are accurate. For instance, using the example question provided for 2B: If A, “a description of events,” was the best general summary, read the whole of option A to verify its accuracy.

If “a description of events leading up to sudden action by the narrator to a reflection on the intentions and meanings behind that action” is 100% correct, great! Bubble it in on the answer sheet.

If it’s not— in this case, the passage might not reflect on the meaning behind an action— don’t bubble it in. An answer must be 100% correct to be the “best answer.” If any part of a multiple choice selection is fallible, the whole thing is wrong. (One bad apple spoils the bunch.)

Just try again with another simplified summary!

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Madeline Ewbank is an undergraduate at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, where she produces student films, interns for the Department of State, and teaches ACT 36 courses. She is excited to help students achieve their college aspirations as a member of the Veritas Prep team.