ACT Reading : Identifying and Analyzing Main Ideas in Humanities Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #762 : Passage Based Questions

Adapted from "Slang in America" in Vol. 141, No. 348 of The North American Review by Walt Whitman (November 1885)

View'd freely, the English language is the accretion and growth of every dialect, people, and range of time, and is both the free and compacted composition of all. From this point of view, it stands for Language in the largest sense, and is really the greatest of studies. It involves so much; is indeed a sort of universal absorber, combiner, and conqueror. The scope of its etymologies is the scope not only of man and civilization, but the history of Nature in all departments, and of the organic Universe, brought up to date; for all are comprehended in words, and their backgrounds. This is when words become vitalized, and stand for things, as they unerringly and soon come to do, in the mind that enters on their study with fitting spirit, grasp, and appreciation.

Slang, profoundly consider’d, is the lawless germinal element, below all words and sentences, and behind all poetry, and proves a certain perennial rankness and protestantism in speech. As the United States inherit by far their most precious possession—the language they talk and write—from the Old World, under and out of its feudal institutes, I will allow myself to borrow a simile even of those forms farthest removed from American Democracy. Considering Language then as some mighty potentate, into the majestic audience-hall of the monarch ever enters a personage like one of Shakespeare’s clowns, and takes position there, and plays a part even in the stateliest ceremonies. Such is Slang, or indirection, an attempt of common humanity to escape from bald literalism, and express itself illimitably, which in highest walks produces poets and poems, and doubtless in prehistoric times gave the start to, and perfected, the whole immense tangle of the old mythologies. For, curious as it may appear, it is strictly the same impulse-source, the same thing. Slang, too, is the wholesome fermentation or eructation of those processes eternally active in language, by which froth and specks are thrown up, mostly to pass away, though occasionally to settle and permanently crystallize.

Whitman's primary purpose in this passage is to __________.

Possible Answers:

defend slang against those who speak out against it

justify and praise the existence of slang

give examples of the use of slang

explain how slang came to be in English

Correct answer:

justify and praise the existence of slang

Explanation:

Most of Whitman's passage praises slang and explains the need for it rather than trying to defend it against those who would prefer "proper" English.

Example Question #31 : Content Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Swift" in Volume III of Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets by Samuel Johnson (1781)

In Swift's works, he has given very different specimens both of sentiment and expression. His Tale of a Tub has little resemblance to his other pieces. It exhibits a vehemence and rapidity of mind, a copiousness of images, and vivacity of diction, such as he afterwards never possessed, or never exerted. It is of a mode so distinct and peculiar, that it must be considered by itself; what is true of that, is not true of any thing else which he has written.

In his other works is found an equable tenor of easy language, which rather trickles than flows. His delight was in simplicity. That he has in his works no metaphor, as has been said, is not true; but his few metaphors seem to be received rather by necessity than choice. He studied purity; and though perhaps all his strictures are not exact, yet it is not often that solecisms can be found; and whoever depends on his authority may generally conclude himself safe. His sentences are never too much dilated or contracted; and it will not be easy to find any embarrassment in the complication of his clauses, any inconsequence in his connections, or abruptness in his transitions.

His style was well suited to his thoughts, which are never subtilized by nice disquisitions, decorated by sparkling conceits, elevated by ambitious sentences, or variegated by far-sought learning. He pays no court to the passions; he excites neither surprise nor admiration; he always understands himself, and his readers always understand him. The peruser of Swift wants little previous knowledge; it will be sufficient that he is acquainted with common words and common things; he is neither required to mount elevations nor to explore profundities; his passage is always on a level, along solid ground, without asperities, without obstruction.

Johnson's primary purpose in writing this essay is __________.

Possible Answers:

to show what makes Swift one of the best writers

to teach the reader how to write like Swift

to explain what the best characteristics of style in writing are

to praise what he sees as the best stylistic characteristics of Swift's writing

Correct answer:

to praise what he sees as the best stylistic characteristics of Swift's writing

Explanation:

Johnson writes this essay primarily to show what he thinks are Swift's best stylistic qualities, not to show that Swift is a great writer or to show the reader how to emulate him.

Example Question #51 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Ideas In Humanities Passages

The following is an excerpt from The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis (1794)

"Were it possible" said the Friar, "for man to be so totally wrapped up in himself as to live in absolute seclusion from human nature, and could yet feel the contented tranquillity which these lines express, I allow that the situation would be more desirable, than to live in a world so pregnant with every vice and every folly; but this never can be the case. This inscription was merely placed here for the ornament of the grotto, and the sentiments and the hermit are equally imaginary. Man was born for society. However little He may be attached to the world, he never can wholly forget it, or bear to be wholly forgotten by it. Disgusted at the guilt or absurdity of mankind, the misanthrope flies from it: he resolves to become an hermit, and buries himself in the cavern of some gloomy rock. While hate inflames his bosom, possibly he may feel contented with his situation: but when his passions begin to cool; when time has mellowed his sorrows, and healed those wounds which he bore with him to his solitude, think you that content becomes his companion? Ah! no, Rosario. No longer sustained by the violence of his passions, he feels all the monotony of his way of living, and his heart becomes the prey of ennui and weariness. He looks round, and finds himself alone in the universe: the love of society revives in his bosom, and he pants to return to that world which he has abandoned. Nature loses all her charms in his eyes: no one is near him to point out her beauties, or share in his admiration of her excellence and variety. Propped upon the fragment of some rock, he gazes upon the tumbling waterfall with a vacant eye; he views without emotion the glory of the setting sun."

Which of the following might the Friar be advocating, given the information in this passage?

Possible Answers:

That man should protect and preserve society

None of the other answers

A period of time for man to commune with nature and relax

That man should leave behind society for nature

That society ruins man and his goodness

Correct answer:

A period of time for man to commune with nature and relax

Explanation:

The Friar offers no moral lesson in this passage; instead, he implies that man, in relative solitude, might find himself relaxed and contented.

Example Question #41 : Analyzing Argumentative Claims, Bias, And Support In Humanities Passages

Adapted from "The Writing of Essays" in Certain Personal Matters by H.G. Wells (1901)

The art of the essayist is so simple, so entirely free from canons of criticism, and withal so delightful, that one must needs wonder why all men are not essayists. Perhaps people do not know how easy it is. Or perhaps beginners are misled. Rightly taught it may be learnt in a brief ten minutes or so, what art there is in it. And all the rest is as easy as wandering among woodlands on a bright morning in the spring.

Then sit you down if you would join us, taking paper, pens, and ink; and mark this, your pen is a matter of vital moment. For every pen writes its own sort of essay, and pencils also after their kind. The ink perhaps may have its influence too, and the paper; but paramount is the pen. This, indeed, is the fundamental secret of essay-writing. Wed any man to his proper pen, and the delights of composition and the birth of an essay are assured. Only many of us wander through the earth and never meet with her—futile and lonely men.

And, of all pens, your quill for essays that are literature. There is a subtle informality, a delightful easiness, perhaps even a faint immorality essentially literary, about the quill. The quill is rich in suggestion and quotation. There are quills that would quote you Montaigne and Horace in the hands of a trades-union delegate. And those quirky, idle noises this pen makes are delightful, and would break your easy fluency with wit. All the classical essayists wrote with a quill, and Addison used the most expensive kind the Government purchased. And the beginning of the inferior essay was the dawn of the cheap steel pen.

Wells suggests that the choice of writing instrument is important because __________.

Possible Answers:

a good essay cannot be written with a typewriter

each writing instrument writes its own kind of essay

one cannot write without a writing instrument

pens are better than pencils when it comes to writing

Correct answer:

each writing instrument writes its own kind of essay

Explanation:

Wells suggests that an essayist will write a different essay depending on the pen or pencil he uses, no doubt due to the difference in result that each instrument creates on the page and their ease of use. (Pencils do not have to be dipped in ink wells, whereas some pens would.)

Example Question #211 : Humanities Passages

Adapted from "The Philosophy of Composition" by Edgar Allan Poe (1846)

Nothing is more clear than that every plot, worth the name, must be elaborated to its dénouement before any thing be attempted with the pen. It is only with the dénouement constantly in view that we can give a plot its indispensable air of consequence, or causation, by making the incidents, and especially the tone at all points, tend to the development of the intention.

There is a radical error, I think, in the usual mode of constructing a story. Either history affords a thesis—or one is suggested by an incident of the day—or, at best, the author sets himself to work in the combination of striking events to form merely the basis of his narrative—designing, generally, to fill in with description, dialogue, or autorial comment, whatever crevices of fact, or action, may, from page to page, render themselves apparent.

I prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect. Keeping originality always in view—for he is false to himself who ventures to dispense with so obvious and so easily attainable a source of interest—I say to myself, in the first place, “Of the innumerable effects, or impressions, of which the heart, the intellect, or (more generally) the soul is susceptible, what one shall I, on the present occasion, select?” Having chosen a novel, first, and secondly a vivid effect, I consider whether it can best be wrought by incident or tone—whether by ordinary incidents and peculiar tone, or the converse, or by peculiarity both of incident and tone—afterward looking about me (or rather within) for such combinations of event, or tone, as shall best aid me in the construction of the effect.

Poe claims that the dénouement must constantly be kept in mind for all of the following reasons EXCEPT __________.

Possible Answers:

the writer gives the reader the feeling that everything in the story is meant to happen

the writer makes the tone of the story consistent with how it ends

the writer makes every incident in the story lead logically to the conclusion

the writer gives the ending a feeling of logical consequence

Correct answer:

the writer gives the reader the feeling that everything in the story is meant to happen

Explanation:

In the second sentence of the first paragraph, Poe writes, "It is only with the dénouement constantly in view that we can give a plot its indispensable air of consequence, or causation, by making the incidents, and especially the tone at all points, tend to the development of the intention." So, while the writer may indeed give the reader the feeling that everything in the story is meant to happen, the main purposes of keeping the dénouement in mind have to do with keeping the tone consistent and having the story proceed to a logical conclusion.

Example Question #23 : Understanding And Evaluating Opinions And Arguments In Argumentative Humanities Passages

Adapted from "The Philosophy of Composition" by Edgar Allan Poe (1846)

Nothing is more clear than that every plot, worth the name, must be elaborated to its dénouement before any thing be attempted with the pen. It is only with the dénouement constantly in view that we can give a plot its indispensable air of consequence, or causation, by making the incidents, and especially the tone at all points, tend to the development of the intention.

There is a radical error, I think, in the usual mode of constructing a story. Either history affords a thesis—or one is suggested by an incident of the day—or, at best, the author sets himself to work in the combination of striking events to form merely the basis of his narrative—designing, generally, to fill in with description, dialogue, or autorial comment, whatever crevices of fact, or action, may, from page to page, render themselves apparent.

I prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect. Keeping originality always in view—for he is false to himself who ventures to dispense with so obvious and so easily attainable a source of interest—I say to myself, in the first place, “Of the innumerable effects, or impressions, of which the heart, the intellect, or (more generally) the soul is susceptible, what one shall I, on the present occasion, select?” Having chosen a novel, first, and secondly a vivid effect, I consider whether it can best be wrought by incident or tone—whether by ordinary incidents and peculiar tone, or the converse, or by peculiarity both of incident and tone—afterward looking about me (or rather within) for such combinations of event, or tone, as shall best aid me in the construction of the effect.

Poe says that each of the following ways of constructing a story are common but erroneous EXCEPT for __________.

Possible Answers:

focusing on producing an overall feeling with the story

starting with an incident drawn from current events

putting together disparate elements to form the plot of a story

starting with an incident from history

Correct answer:

focusing on producing an overall feeling with the story

Explanation:

In the second paragraph, Poe writes, "There is a radical error, I think, in the usual mode of constructing a story. Either history affords a thesis—or one is suggested by an incident of the day—or, at best, the author sets himself to work in the combination of striking events to form merely the basis of his narrative—designing, generally, to fill in with description, dialogue, or autorial comment, whatever crevices of fact, or action, may, from page to page, render themselves apparent."

So, while Poe lists starting with an incident from history ("history affords a thesis"), starting with an incident from current events ("[a thesis] is suggested by an incident of the day"), and putting together disparate elements to craft a story ("the combination of striking events to form merely the basis of his narrative"), he says nothing about the writer starting with trying to produce a certain emotion in the reader, which is actually the way he constructs his stories, as he describes in the third paragraph.

Example Question #31 : Content Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from "The Philosophy of Composition" by Edgar Allan Poe (1846)

Nothing is more clear than that every plot, worth the name, must be elaborated to its dénouement before any thing be attempted with the pen. It is only with the dénouement constantly in view that we can give a plot its indispensable air of consequence, or causation, by making the incidents, and especially the tone at all points, tend to the development of the intention.

There is a radical error, I think, in the usual mode of constructing a story. Either history affords a thesis—or one is suggested by an incident of the day—or, at best, the author sets himself to work in the combination of striking events to form merely the basis of his narrative—designing, generally, to fill in with description, dialogue, or autorial comment, whatever crevices of fact, or action, may, from page to page, render themselves apparent.

I prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect. Keeping originality always in view—for he is false to himself who ventures to dispense with so obvious and so easily attainable a source of interest—I say to myself, in the first place, “Of the innumerable effects, or impressions, of which the heart, the intellect, or (more generally) the soul is susceptible, what one shall I, on the present occasion, select?” Having chosen a novel, first, and secondly a vivid effect, I consider whether it can best be wrought by incident or tone—whether by ordinary incidents and peculiar tone, or the converse, or by peculiarity both of incident and tone—afterward looking about me (or rather within) for such combinations of event, or tone, as shall best aid me in the construction of the effect.

The purpose of this passage is to __________.

Possible Answers:

explain why a writer must always have the dénouement in mind

explain what Poe feels to be the correct way to construct a story

explain why plot is more important than anything else in a story

explain what Poe feels is wrong with most stories that are written

Correct answer:

explain what Poe feels to be the correct way to construct a story

Explanation:

Poe is attempting here to explain what he feels is the correct way to construct a story. While the first paragraph of the passage deals specifically with why a writer should always keep the dénouement in mind, this topic is only addressed in that paragraph, and the other two continue to discuss supposedly incorrect and correct ways of writing a story.

Example Question #31 : Analyzing Main Idea, Theme, And Purpose In Humanities Passages

Adapted from "The Philosophy of Composition" by Edgar Allan Poe (1846)

I have often thought how interesting a magazine paper might be written by any author who would—that is to say, who could—detail, step by step, the processes by which any one of his compositions attained its ultimate point of completion. Why such a paper has never been given to the world, I am much at a loss to say—but, perhaps, the authorial vanity has had more to do with the omission than any one other cause. Most writers—poets in especial—prefer having it understood that they compose by a species of fine frenzy—an ecstatic intuition—and would positively shudder at letting the public take a peep behind the scenes, at the elaborate and vacillating crudities of thought—at the true purposes seized only at the last moment—at the innumerable glimpses of idea that arrived not at the maturity of full view—at the fully-matured fancies discarded in despair as unmanageable—at the cautious selections and rejections—at the painful erasures and interpolations—in a word, at the wheels and pinions—the tackle for scene-shifting—the step-ladders, and demon-traps—the cock's feathers, the red paint and the black patches, which, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, constitute the properties of the literary histrio.

I am aware, on the other hand, that the case is by no means common, in which an author is at all in condition to retrace the steps by which his conclusions have been attained. In general, suggestions, having arisen pell-mell are pursued and forgotten in a similar manner.

The main purpose of this passage is __________.

Possible Answers:

to list the reasons why writers write what they do

to explain why writers have so much trouble writing

to explain why an article by an author about the composing process has not been written before

to justify why Poe is writing an article about the composing process

Correct answer:

to explain why an article by an author about the composing process has not been written before

Explanation:

The primary purpose of the passage is to explain why an article by an author explaining the composition process has not been written before.

Example Question #1 : Context, Speaker, And Addressee

Thou ill-form’d offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth didst by my side remain,
Till snatched from thence by friends, less wise than true,
Who thee abroad, expos’d to public view,
Made thee in rags, halting to th’ press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judge).
At thy return my blushing was not small,
My rambling brat (in print) should mother call,
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
Thy visage was so irksome in my sight;
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, if so I could:
I wash’d thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw.
I stretched thy joints to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run’st more hobling then is meet;
In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
But nought save home-spun cloth, i’ th’ house I find.
In this array ’mongst vulgars mayst thou roam.
In critics' hands, beware thou dost not come;
And take thy way where yet thou art not known,
If for thy father askt, say, thou hadst none:
And for thy mother, she alas is poor,
Which caus’d her thus to send thee out of door.

All of the following emotions can be attributed to the speaker EXCEPT __________.

Possible Answers:

grudging acceptance

None of the other answers is correct.

embarassment

self-deprecation

justifiable pride

Correct answer:

justifiable pride

Explanation:

While Bradstreet at turns expresses embarassment and self-deprecation about her poetry, and finally accepts that her poems are now out in the world whether she wants them to be or not, she does not give evidence of any particular pride in this.

Passage adapted from "The Author to Her Book" by Anne Bradstreet (1678)

Example Question #51 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Ideas In Humanities Passages

Educators often speak of the “Depth of Knowledge” chart. This is a chart that breaks down all academic exercises into four categories that ascend in difficulty. The first category is “memorization.” The second is the basic processing of memorization, which consists of things like “comparing and contrasting.” Once students have been able to compare and contrast two things about which they’ve memorized facts, they will then be able to do things like “formulate hypotheses” based on the information they have. This is the third step. When students can use information to formulate hypotheses or make inferences, they can then move into the “analyze” or “design” phase, using the information to create new ideas, experiments, or stories. 

One part of the problem is that for many years now, educators have focused solely on the last two steps of this taxonomy because it is thought that this brings about higher level thinking abilities in students. I believe the job market has disproved this theory. The United States is losing its science and technology jobs to overseas markets, people that are more capable of these higher level cognitive skills in realistic areas such as math and science. We might be focusing on projects and statements that start with key words like “analyze” and “predict,” but we are still failing to produce students that can actually do those things in real analytical situations. 

The other part of this problem is the advent of immediate knowledge at our fingertips: the portable internet. Many educators feel that they can now skip the first two categories of academic exercises because the information is so readily available. Students don’t need to memorize or compare and contrast basic information because at any and all times, they can search anything online to access any and all information they don’t have memorized. We just need to teach them what to do with it. 

As new, better, and more accessible technologies become the norm, students are finding less and less motivation to undergo the basic exercises that a human brain must experience to truly expand, grow, and analyze. The problem with not teaching and not requiring students to achieve rote memorization is that when students do “create” and “synthesize,” all they are really doing is building upon emotion and sentiment. Without the basic principles of memorizing necessary facts and figures, a student cannot truly build anything of worth. A home cannot be built without a foundation, and no matter how flashy and beautiful the finished product would be, it would not function without the concrete foundation poured into the mud and clay of the earth. The nitty-gritty must take place before the art can be appreciated. 

Education must turn its eyes ground-ward if it ever wants to build something skyward that will last any sort of time. Requiring students to master basic functions even though they might be less interesting is necessary. Good teachers don’t skip those steps because they might be boring. Good teachers require those steps but find ways to motivate students to put in the effort and to make it fun.

What is "the problem" of which the author speaks in the first sentences of the second and third paragraphs?

Possible Answers:

That students in today's world seem to lack the ability to memorize important facts and figures, which would enable them to perform higher cognitive skills with greater effectiveness.

The reader cannot know what the problem is with the information the reader has been given.

Memorization is an educational exercise that is no longer needed.  Because teachers today are still pushing students to do this outdated task, students are falling behind in higher thinking skills.

Technology is causing students to lose sight of what is truly important.

Taechers must not only teach students what to think but how to think. Without the basic skills of knowing how to think, students will not make great contributions to society.

Correct answer:

That students in today's world seem to lack the ability to memorize important facts and figures, which would enable them to perform higher cognitive skills with greater effectiveness.

Explanation:

The author speaks of how the basic cognitive skills are still important to master in order to effectively perform higher level skills.  The problem, therefore, is that the author does not feel that students are given much responsibility for these areas.

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