ACT and SAT Reading Tips: The Author's Attitude

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As a teenager, Positive Attitude wooden sign with a beach on background .jpegyou've probably been told you have a bad attitude at least once. It's a rite of passage in these years of immense physiological change and social and parental pressure. But do you know how to recognize a negative attitude on the ACT or SAT?

Questions about the author’s attitude ask you to interpret the author’s feelings toward the subject of the article or a subject in the text. These questions are easy to recognize because they almost always employ the words attitude, tone, or feeling.  Consider a few examples:

The tone of the passage can best be described as

The author’s attitude toward school uniforms might best be described as…

Passage 1 and Passage 2 share a general tone of….

For most passages, the author’s tone will either be positive, negative, or neutral, depending on whether he is arguing for the topic, arguing against the topic, or just explaining the topic. While most students can easily recognize whether an author respects or despises his subject, many get caught up in the adjectives that the test makers use in the answer choices:

  1. The author’s attitude toward school uniforms might best be described as…

(A)    intrigued

(B)    scornful

(C)    nostalgic

(D)    appreciative

In the example above, intrigued (A), nostalgic (C), and appreciative (D) could be considered positive tones, but they have very different meanings. PowerScore students know, however, that one of these words is a common wrong answer and the other is a common right answer. And you, dear reader of the PowerScore ACT and SAT Blog, are about to know this as well.

Recognizing common attitude words can make these questions easier to answer, so you should familiarize yourself with the following possible answer choices. Words in bold are frequently used in RIGHT answers; words with an asterisk commonly occur in *WRONG answers.



admiring: feeling approval

appreciative: holding in high regards

*awed: overwhelmed with admiration (This is an extreme answer. While an author might admire her subject, it’s unlikely that she is overwhelmed with such admiration.)

*ebullient: overflowing with enthusiasm (Extreme)

*ecstatic: overflowing with delight (Extreme)

*euphoric: intensely happy (Extreme)

*nostalgic: showing desire to return to a happier time (This has never been used in any right answer I have encountered, but I see it frequently in wrong answers.)

respectful: showing esteem

*whimsical: fanciful or playful (When has the ACT or SAT ever been playful?)



critical: finding fault

*derisive: showing ridicule (The authors of the ACT and SAT passages are usually too mature to make fun of their subjects. This is why ‘mocking’ is also a common wrong answer.)

disdainful: regarding something as unworthy

*hostile: antagonistic; characteristic of an enemy (This is an Extreme answer. While an author may be critical, he rarely launches war on his subject.)

*irate: highly angry (Extreme)

*mocking: showing ridicule (See ‘hostile.’)

*outraged: feeling strongly offended (Extreme)

*resentful: showing displeasure at something that caused injury or insult (Being resentful can be seen as immature, and the authors of ACT and SAT passages are usually mature academics.)

*sad: showing sorrow (‘Disappointment’ is possible, but outright sadness is unlikely).

scornful: regarding something as unworthy

*somber: gloomy and dark (These are ACT and SAT authors, not the writers of Game of Thrones!)



*ambivalent: having mixed feelings (The authors of  ACT and SAT passages tend to be very opinionated!)

*apathetic: not interested (If the author wasn’t interested, why bother writing anything about the subject at all?)

detached: impartial and objective

*indifferent: not interested (See ‘apathetic’)

*nonchalant: coolly uninterested (See ‘apathetic’)

objective: unbiased


Keep in mind that any of these words with asterisks could be used in a right answer; some angry author could write a scathing article on pollution in which she says all polluters should be taken prisoner. Then hostile would be an apt description of the tone. But it’s unlikely.

There are many other attitude words that appear in Author’s Attitude questions, and a more complete list is coming soon in the new ACT and SAT Reading Bible. In the meantime, check out our ACT classes. And as always, if you have any specific questions about this post, please do not hesitate to email me!

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