ACT English : Revising Content

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT English

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Example Questions

Example Question #291 : Revising Content

Adapted from The Discourse on Method by René Descartes (1637; 1899, ed. Eliot)

From my childhood, I have been familiar with letters; and as I was given to believe that by their help a clear and certain knowledge of all that is useful in life might be acquired, I was ardently desirously for instruction in them. But as soon as I had finished the entire course of study, at the close of which it is customarily to be admitted into the order of the learned, I completely changed my opinion. I found myself involved in so many doubts and errors and was convinced that I had not advanced in all my attempts at learning. At every turn, ignorance and unknowing was to be discovered. And yet, I was studying in one of the most celebrated Schools in Europe. I thought there must be learned men in it, at least if such were anywhere to be found. I had been taught all that others learned there. However, not contented with the sciences actually taught us, I had, in addition, read all the books that had fallen into my hands, studying those branches that are judged to be the most curious and rare. I knew the judgment that others had formed of me. I did not find that I was considered inferior to my fellows, although there were among them some whom were already marked out to fill the places of our instructors. And, finally, our era appeared to me as flourishing and fertile with powerful minds as any preceding one. I was thus led to take the liberty of judging of all other men by myself. Furthermore, I concluded that there was no science in existence that was of such a nature as I had previously been given to believe.

To what does the underlined "one" refer?

Possible Answers:

None of the other answers

minds

era

instructor

Correct answer:

era

Explanation:

Consider the sentence in this light: "And, finally, our era appeared to me as flourishing and fertile with powerful minds as any preceding X." The "X" could easily be replaced with "era" to give us: "And, finally, our era appeared to me as flourishing and fertile with powerful minds as any preceding era." This is the referent for "one" in the sentence as written.

Example Question #292 : Revising Content

Adapted from Hard Times by Charles Dickens (1854)

A candle faintly burned in the window, to which the black ladder had often been raised for the sliding away of all that was most precious in this world to a striving wife and a brood of hungry babies. Stephen added to his other thoughts the stern reflection, that of all the casualties of this existence upon earth, not one was dealt out with so unequal a hand as death. The inequality of birth was nothing to it. For example, the child of a king and the child of a weaver were born tonight in the same moment. What would be the disparity between the death of any human creature who was serviceable to, or beloved by, another, while this abandoned woman lived on!

From the outside of his home he gloomily passed to the inside with suspended breath and with a slow footstep. He went up to his door opened it and so into the room.

Quiet and peace was there. Rachael was there, sitting by the bed.

She turned her head, and the light of her face shone in upon the midnight of his mind. She sat by the bed watching and tending his wife. That is to say, he saw that someone lay there and knew too good that it must be she. However, Rachael’s hands had put a curtain up, so that she was screened from his eyes. Her disgraceful garments were removed, and some of Rachael’s were in the room. Everything was in it’s place and order as he had always kept it. The little fire was newly trimmed, and the hearth was freshly swept. It appeared to him that he saw all this in Rachael’s face. While looking at it, it was shut out from his view by the softened tears that filled his eyes; however, this was not before he had seen how earnestly she looked at him, and how her own eyes were filled too.

To what does the underlined indefinite pronoun "one" refer?

Possible Answers:

reflection

person

casualties

earth

Correct answer:

casualties

Explanation:

To find the correct answer, it is helpful to read the sentence in its simpler form: "Stephen added to his other thoughts the stern reflection that not one was dealt . . ." The key is the verb "was dealt," which gives us a clue to the subject (as does the comparison to "the hand of death"). The pronoun "one" refers to the "casualties" mentioned in the subordinate clause preceding our pronoun.

Example Question #293 : Revising Content

Adapted from Sozein ta Phainomena: An Essay Concerning Physical Theory from Plato to Galileo by Pierre Duhem (translated by Matthew Minerd)

What are physical theories’ value? What relation does it have with metaphysical explication? These are questions that are greatly stirred and raised in our days. However, as with other questions, they are in no manner completely new. It is a question that has been posed in all ages. As long as there has been a science of nature, they have been posed. Granted, the form that they assume changes somewhat from one age to another, for they borrow their various appearance from the scientific vocabularies of their times. Nevertheless, one need only dismiss this outer vestment in order to recognize that they remain essentially identical to each other.

The science of nature offers us up until the 17th century at least, very few parties that managed to create theories expressed in a mathematical language. . . . If we leave aside several exceptions, an historical investigation places before our eyes strong evidence of a type science that would indeed be a prediction of modern mathematical physics. This science is astronomy. That is, where we would say, “Physical theory,” the Greek, Muslim, Medieval, and early Renaissance sages would say, “Astronomy.” However, for these earlier thinkers, the other parts of the study of nature did not attain a similar degree of perfection. That is, they did not express the laws of experience in a mathematical manner similar to that found in astronomy. In addition, during this time, the study of the material realities generally were not separated from what we would call today, “metaphysics.”

Thus, you can see why the question that concerns us takes two related, though different forms. Today, we ask, “What are the relations between metaphysics and physical theory?” However, in past days; indeed, for nearly two thousand years; it was formulated instead as, “What are the relations between physics and astronomy?”

To what does the underlined “it” refer?

Possible Answers:

The question of the relationship between experience and metaphysics

The question of the value of physical theory

The question of the relationship between physical theory and metaphysics

The question of the nature of astronomy

Correct answer:

The question of the relationship between physical theory and metaphysics

Explanation:

The author is comparing two forms of the general question with which the passage had opened. It is difficult to formulate the question in a way that is not the same as one of the two options that he provides. However, among the options provided, only "The question of the relationship between physical theory and metaphysics" adequately indicates what he means by "it" in the sentence in question.  

In particular, note that he is not merely discussing the relationship between experience and metaphysics. This is likely the most tempting wrong answer; however, nowhere does he discuss this question / problem.

Example Question #294 : Revising Content

Adapted from Sozein ta Phainomena: An Essay Concerning Physical Theory from Plato to Galileo by Pierre Duhem (translated by Matthew Minerd)

What are physical theories’ value? What relation does it have with metaphysical explication? These are questions that are greatly stirred and raised in our days. However, as with other questions, they are in no manner completely new. It is a question that has been posed in all ages. As long as there has been a science of nature, they have been posed. Granted, the form that they assume changes somewhat from one age to another, for they borrow their various appearance from the scientific vocabularies of their times. Nevertheless, one need only dismiss this outer vestment in order to recognize that they remain essentially identical to each other.

The science of nature offers us up until the 17th century at least, very few parties that managed to create theories expressed in a mathematical language. . . . If we leave aside several exceptions, an historical investigation places before our eyes strong evidence of a type science that would indeed be a prediction of modern mathematical physics. This science is astronomy. That is, where we would say, “Physical theory,” the Greek, Muslim, Medieval, and early Renaissance sages would say, “Astronomy.” However, for these earlier thinkers, the other parts of the study of nature did not attain a similar degree of perfection. That is, they did not express the laws of experience in a mathematical manner similar to that found in astronomy. In addition, during this time, the study of the material realities generally were not separated from what we would call today, “metaphysics.”

Thus, you can see why the question that concerns us takes two related, though different forms. Today, we ask, “What are the relations between metaphysics and physical theory?” However, in past days; indeed, for nearly two thousand years; it was formulated instead as, “What are the relations between physics and astronomy?”

To what does the underlined personal pronoun “they” refer?

Possible Answers:

The questions being considered

The sciences about which questions are asked

The values of physical theories

The ages in which such questions are asked

Correct answer:

The questions being considered

Explanation:

Both from meaning of the passage as a whole, as well as from the author's use of "they" in the sentence before this one, we can only assume that this "they" refers to the questions about physical theory. Considering the last sentence, the author states, "As long as there has been a science of nature, they have been posed." The verb itself ("posed") indicates that he is referring to the questions noted earlier in the paragraph. This pronoun ("they") functions as the referent for our sentence's pronoun ("they"), ultimately being tied back to "the questions" being considered.

Example Question #295 : Revising Content

Adapted from “Emerson’s Prose Works” in The Works of Orestes A. Brownson: Philosophy of Religion by Orestes Brownson (ed. 1883)

Mr. Emersons literary reputation is established and placed beyond the reach of criticism. No living writer surpasses him in his mastery of pure and classic English; nor do any equal himneither in the exquisite delicacy and finish of his chiseled sentences, or in the metallic ring of his style. It is only as a thinker and teacher that we can venture any inquiry into his merits; and as such we cannot suffer ourselves to be imposed upon by his oracular manner, nor by the apparent originality either of his views or his expressions.

Mr. Emerson has had a swarm both of admirers but also of detractors. With many, he is a philosopher and sage, almost a god; while with others, he is regarded as an unintelligible mystic, babbling nonsense fitted to captivate beardless young men and silly maidens with pretty curls, all of who constituted years ago the great body of his hearers and worshipers. We rank us in neither class, though we regard he as no ordinary man. Indeed, we believe he to be one of the deepest thinkers as well as one of the first poets of our country. Indeed, by long acquaintance have him and us been in mutual contact—if only from a distance at times. We know him to be a polished gentleman, a genial companion, and a warmhearted friend, whose' kindness does not pass over individuals and waste itself in a vague philanthropy. So much, at least, we can say of the man, and this do we base not only upon former personal acquaintance and upon our former study of his writings.

What is an acceptable replacement for the bolded word "many"?

Possible Answers:

many mistakes

many fools

many reasons

many people

Correct answer:

many people

Explanation:

The adjective "many" is being used substantively in this sentence. That is, it is being treated as though it were a noun. It implies a noun, though to ascertain what noun, we need to consider the broader context. Although the author is somewhat dismissive regarding Mr. Emerson's admirers, he is by no means completely negative. Therefore, the option "many fools" is inappropriate. However, the other two options are incorrect as well, for clearly he is referring to groups of human beings.  

Example Question #296 : Revising Content

Adapted from The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1774; trans. Boylan 1854)

That the life of man is but a dream, many a man has surmised heretofore. I, too, am everywhere pursued by this feeling. When I consider the narrow limits within which our active and inquiring faculties are confined, I am silent. Likewise, when I see how all our energies are wasted in providing for mere necessities, which again has no further end than to prolong a wretched existence, I find myself to be silenced. Indeed, discovering that all our satisfaction concerning certain subjects of investigation ends in nothing better than a passive resignation, while we amuse ourselves painting our prison-walls with bright figures and brilliant landscapes—when I consider all this Wilhelm—I am silent. I examine my own being, and find there a world, but a world rather of imagination and dim desires, than of distinctness and living power. Then, everything swims before my senses, and I smile and dream while pursuing my way through the world.

All learned professors and doctors are agreed that children do not comprehend the cause of their desires; however, nobody is willing to acknowledge that the grown-ups should wander about this earth like children, without knowing whence they come or whither they go, influenced as little by fixed motives but, instead, guided like them by biscuits, sugar-plums, and the rod.

I know what you will say in reply. Indeed, I am ready to admit that they are happiest, who, like children, amuse themselves with their playthings, dress and undress their dolls.  They are happiest, who attentively watch the cupboard, where mamma has locked up her sweet things, and, when at last they get a delicious morsel, eat it greedily, and exclaim, "More!" These are certainly happy beings; but others also are objects of envy, who dignify their paltry employments (and sometimes even their passions) with pompous titles, representing them to mankind as gigantic achievements performed for their welfare and glory. However, the man who humbly acknowledges the vanity of all this, who observes with what pleasure the thriving citizen converts his little garden into a paradise, and how patiently even the poor man pursues his weary way under his burden, and how all wish equally to behold the light of the sun a little longer—yes, such a man is at peace, and creates his own world within himself. Indeed, he is also happy precisely because he is a man. And then, however limited his sphere, he still preserves in his bosom the sweet feeling of liberty and knows that he can quit his prison whenever he likes.

To what does the bolded “others” refer?

Possible Answers:

other things

other adults

other children

other motives

Correct answer:

other adults

Explanation:

The referent for the pronoun "others" really goes back to the previous paragraph, in which the author compares certain adults to children. At the beginning of the paragraph, the author continues this theme, stating that those people are happiest who amuse themselves with what he calls "their playthings." It would perhaps be clearer even to say, "other such adults," or something similar.

Example Question #297 : Revising Content

Adapted from The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1774; trans. Boylan 1854)

That the life of man is but a dream, many a man has surmised heretofore. I, too, am everywhere pursued by this feeling. When I consider the narrow limits within which our active and inquiring faculties are confined, I am silent. Likewise, when I see how all our energies are wasted in providing for mere necessities, which again has no further end than to prolong a wretched existence, I find myself to be silenced. Indeed, discovering that all our satisfaction concerning certain subjects of investigation ends in nothing better than a passive resignation, while we amuse ourselves painting our prison-walls with bright figures and brilliant landscapes—when I consider all this Wilhelm—I am silent. I examine my own being, and find there a world, but a world rather of imagination and dim desires, than of distinctness and living power. Then, everything swims before my senses, and I smile and dream while pursuing my way through the world.

All learned professors and doctors are agreed that children do not comprehend the cause of their desires; however, nobody is willing to acknowledge that the grown-ups should wander about this earth like children, without knowing whence they come or whither they go, influenced as little by fixed motives but, instead, guided like them by biscuits, sugar-plums, and the rod.

I know what you will say in reply. Indeed, I am ready to admit that they are happiest, who, like children, amuse themselves with their playthings, dress and undress their dolls.  They are happiest, who attentively watch the cupboard, where mamma has locked up her sweet things, and, when at last they get a delicious morsel, eat it greedily, and exclaim, "More!" These are certainly happy beings; but others also are objects of envy, who dignify their paltry employments (and sometimes even their passions) with pompous titles, representing them to mankind as gigantic achievements performed for their welfare and glory. However, the man who humbly acknowledges the vanity of all this, who observes with what pleasure the thriving citizen converts his little garden into a paradise, and how patiently even the poor man pursues his weary way under his burden, and how all wish equally to behold the light of the sun a little longer—yes, such a man is at peace, and creates his own world within himself. Indeed, he is also happy precisely because he is a man. And then, however limited his sphere, he still preserves in his bosom the sweet feeling of liberty and knows that he can quit his prison whenever he likes.

To what does the bolded word “them” refer at the end of the second paragraph?

Possible Answers:

biscuits, sugar-plums, and the rod

motives

children

grown-ups

Correct answer:

children

Explanation:

The key phrase to note is, "that the grown-ups should wander about this earth like children." The author is stating that, in spite of what people would wish to say about adults, they are guided around by treats and punishments just like children. It is to the children that that the pronoun "them" refers.

Example Question #298 : Revising Content

Adapted from The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1774; trans. Boylan 1854)

That the life of man is but a dream, many a man has surmised heretofore. I, too, am everywhere pursued by this feeling. When I consider the narrow limits within which our active and inquiring faculties are confined, I am silent. Likewise, when I see how all our energies are wasted in providing for mere necessities, which again has no further end than to prolong a wretched existence, I find myself to be silenced. Indeed, discovering that all our satisfaction concerning certain subjects of investigation ends in nothing better than a passive resignation, while we amuse ourselves painting our prison-walls with bright figures and brilliant landscapes—when I consider all this Wilhelm—I am silent. I examine my own being, and find there a world, but a world rather of imagination and dim desires, than of distinctness and living power. Then, everything swims before my senses, and I smile and dream while pursuing my way through the world.

All learned professors and doctors are agreed that children do not comprehend the cause of their desires; however, nobody is willing to acknowledge that the grown-ups should wander about this earth like children, without knowing whence they come or whither they go, influenced as little by fixed motives but, instead, guided like them by biscuits, sugar-plums, and the rod.

I know what you will say in reply. Indeed, I am ready to admit that they are happiest, who, like children, amuse themselves with their playthings, dress and undress their dolls.  They are happiest, who attentively watch the cupboard, where mamma has locked up her sweet things, and, when at last they get a delicious morsel, eat it greedily, and exclaim, "More!" These are certainly happy beings; but others also are objects of envy, who dignify their paltry employments (and sometimes even their passions) with pompous titles, representing them to mankind as gigantic achievements performed for their welfare and glory. However, the man who humbly acknowledges the vanity of all this, who observes with what pleasure the thriving citizen converts his little garden into a paradise, and how patiently even the poor man pursues his weary way under his burden, and how all wish equally to behold the light of the sun a little longer—yes, such a man is at peace, and creates his own world within himself. Indeed, he is also happy precisely because he is a man. And then, however limited his sphere, he still preserves in his bosom the sweet feeling of liberty and knows that he can quit his prison whenever he likes.

To whom or what does the bolded “them” refer?

Possible Answers:

others

employments

beings

titles

Correct answer:

employments

Explanation:

Here, be careful not to be tempted by the closer word "titles." The people in question dignify their achievements, by means of titles. However, the relative participial clause returns to describe the other people as "representing their employments" as being "great achievements." Another clue is the fact that the main verb of the clause is "performed." Titles are not performed but achievements—if taken in the sense of "activities"—can be construed to be something performed.

Example Question #299 : Revising Content

Today, most Americans are familiar with the idea of purchasing music and movies online. While a number of these users continue to download these media files illegally, the overall public conscience had changed regarding this matter. Early in the history of digital media, most were far less certain about the legality and illegality of downloading such files. Today, matters are quite different, not only because of several important lawsuits but, indeed, because of the overall growth of relative inexpensive means of purchasing such digital content. This change of conscience has been accompanied by a simultaneously change in culture regarding online file-sharing. In the early days of illegal file-sharing, users would regularly host servers that were overtly and publically visible to users and potential enforcement personnel. Today, however, people utilize a number of carefully planned modes of obfuscation. Using encryption, indirection, and other means the contemporary illegal file-sharer shows clear awareness of the fact that their activity is illegal.

What is the implied noun for the bolded adjective “most”?

Possible Answers:

criminals

users

innocent people

confused people

Correct answer:

users

Explanation:

The adjective "most" is being used in a substantive sense. That means that it implies a noun or itself functions as a noun. There is a little bit of ambiguity here, for "most" could imply either "Americans" or "users." Since the latter option is the only one provided, we can select that as the correct answer. The sentence basically reads: "Early in the history of digital media, most users were far less certain about the legality and illegality of downloading such files." Since this substantive adjective is a bit ambiguous, it would be best to be explicit.

Example Question #300 : Revising Content

Passage adapted from G. K. Chesterton, "The Wrath of the Roses," in Alarms and Discursions (1910)

The position of the rose among flowers is like that of the dog among animals. It is not so much that both are domesticated as that we have some dim feeling that they were always domesticated. There are wild roses and there are wild dogs. I do not know the wild dogs; wild roses are very nice. But nobody ever thinks of either of them if the name is abruptly mentioned in a conversation or a poem. On the other hand, there are tame tigers and tame cobras, but if one says, "I have a cobra in my pocket," or "There is a tiger in the music-room," the adjective "tame" has to be somewhat hastily added. If one speaks of beasts one thinks first of wild beasts; if of flowers one thinks first of wild flowers.

But there are two great exceptions caught so completely into the wheel of man's civilization, entangled so unalterably with his ancient emotions and images, that the artificial product seems more natural than the natural. The dog is not a part of natural history, but of human history; and the real rose grows in a garden. All must regard the elephant as something tremendous, but tamed; and many, especially in our great cultured cities, regard every bull as presumably a mad bull. In the same way we think of most garden trees and plants as fierce creatures of the forest or morass taught at last to endure the curb.

But with the dog and the rose this instinctive principle is reversed. 

What two things does the underlined portion "two great exceptions" refer to?

Possible Answers:

roses and dogs

emotions and images

tigers and cobras

elephants and bulls

Correct answer:

roses and dogs

Explanation:

The author has just stated that whenever people talk about beasts or flowers they think instinctively of wild beasts and wild flowers. When he says, then, that there are two exceptions to this general tendency--that is, two things which we don't naturally picture as wild, but as tame--he refers to roses and dogs.

This is the main point of this entire passage, and it is reinforced by the final sentence "But with the dog and the rose this instinctive principle is reversed." The pronoun "this" refers us back to what the author has just said. The preceding sentence makes clear that he is contrasting the dog and the rose with all the other plants and creatures.

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