3 Ways to Tackle ACT Reading Vocabulary Questions

In order to excel on the ACT Reading section, test-takers must understand the question types that they will encounter, as well as how to succeed on them. One question type on this 40-item portion is vocabulary.

As you prepare for the ACT, practice these three techniques for successfully tackling vocabulary questions.

Recognize that all vocabulary words are passage-based. It may come as a relief to you that on the ACT, you will never be asked to identify the meaning of a vocabulary word in isolation. Instead, ACT vocabulary words are passage-based. This implies that you must always consider the context when you deduce a word’s meaning. Even when you may know the typical meaning of a word, you should closely analyze whether the word takes on a different meaning in the passage at hand.

[Read: Hone Rhetorical Skills for Success on the ACT Reading Section.]

Some students fall into the trap of relying too heavily on background knowledge where ACT vocabulary terms are concerned. They may simply read the question and choose an answer without rereading the lines where the word is used. This approach is ill-advised, however.

Consider this example from Practice Test 1: Question 27 on page 46 passage states, “Or take something not so palpable. What glorious weather! When we woke this morning, drew aside our curtains and looked out, we said “It is a good day!”

Outside knowledge might tell you that palpable means “able to be touched or felt” or “tangible.” However, none of the answer choices available represent this idea exactly. You may not think of the weather as being tangible, but it is something we can see and observe. Therefore, “palpable” is closest in meaning to “apparent.”

To succeed on the ACT Reading section, you must be able to adapt the meaning of vocabulary words to the context.

Choose your own word and select the closest match. Many students misstep on the ACT because they use the answer choices as a crutch. It is crucial to remember that the answer choices are meant to trick you, not help you. It is for this reason that students’ strongest defense against tempting, yet incorrect, answer choices is making predictions.

[Read: Navigate 3 Common SAT, ACT Reading Section Mistakes.]

This is how the prediction technique works: The student should use his or hand to cover the answer choices for question 25 on page 46. Then, the student should read the question stem. (In this case, the question asks about the word “lucidly.”) The student would then reread lines 70-73, where the word is mentioned.

Next, the student should now substitute the word in question with his or her own word. “Clearly” or “precisely” could be two valid predictions. The student then reveals the answer choices. Neither of the predicted words are present, but “coherently” is the closest in meaning, so the student would select D.

Determine the author’s point of view, and allow it to guide you. If you have read a passage effectively, you should be able to summarize the author’s attitude in one sentence. Generally, the author is in favor of an argument or topic, against it or neutral. Once you determine the author’s stance on the topic, you should only select answer choices that align with that stance.

Imagine you read a passage and conclude that the author is taking a neutral stance. Just by knowing the author’s perspective, you could eliminate choices which appear too extreme. Your summary of the author’s attitude should act as a guiding hand as you answer questions about authorial intent.

[Read: College Students Share Their Best SAT, ACT Test Strategies.]

The key to success on ACT Reading vocabulary questions is using the right techniques. Consider context, predict answers, and determine perspective to ace these items.

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