While a few ACT and SAT Reading questions will ask you about the passage as a whole, many of the questions will send you back to the passage with a specific line reference. Consider some examples:
- According to the author, “those who win” (line 5) are people who...
- The customer’s comments in lines 45-50 (“When…sold”) indicate that a car is desirable when it...
Most test prep books will tell you to read a few lines above and a few lines below the line reference when returning to the passage. This is a good strategy for some questions, as the answer is contained in a line around the quoted text. But for other questions, this can be disastrous; the test makers know that most students employ this strategy and therefore set answer traps containing information found in the surrounding text.
So how do you know just what to read when returning to the passage?
If the line reference is a single word or a short phrase, start reading a few lines above the line reference and continue a few lines below it. Examples of these questions include:
- According to the author, “those who win” (line 5) are people who... [“those who win” is a short phrase]
- The passage indicates that the “separation” (line 61) was caused by... [“separation” is a single word]
- The author suggests that “playing by the rules in New York” can be... [“playing by the rules in New York” is a short phrase]
So for question 2 above, you should start reading a sentence that begins around lines 57 or 58 and continue reading until the end of a sentence around lines 64 or 65. The answer to the question is likely contained in or can be inferred from this surrounding text.
If the line reference is a complete sentence or more, however, read just the specific line reference and ignore the surrounding text. Examples of these questions include:
- The customer’s comments in lines 45-50 (“When…sold”) indicate that a car is desirable when it... [“When…sold” is a complete sentence or more]
- In lines 12-16, the author argues that graphic novels are literature because... [“Lines 12-16” is a complete sentence or more]
- According to the third paragraph, all of the following are examples of interpretive dance EXCEPT... [“The third paragraph” is a complete sentence or more]
So for question 1 above, you should only read from the word “when” in line 45 to the word “sold” in line 50. The answer to the question is contained in or can be inferred from this specific line reference. If you begin reading before line 45 or after line 50, you are likely to fall into an answer trap that contains information from the surrounding text.