ACT and SAT Reading Tips: Questions about the Author's Attitude

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"Don't give me thatAttitude attitude, young lady!" my mom used to yell when I rolled my eyes at something she said. The something she said was usually a jab aimed at my hair. She hated my bangs even though they added a full five inches to my height. It was the late 80s, and big bangs were in (as evidenced below). She deserved those eye rolls then. After all, the higher the hair, the closer to heaven.

Attitudes and teenagers have a long-standing relationship, which would make one think that ACT and SAT questions about an author's attitude should be easier to solve. But the subtleties of the passage text--as well as of the definitions of attitude words--can make these challenging questions for the average teenager. Let's look at how we can tame them and earn some quick points on the test.

Attitude questions are easy to spot, because they usually employ one of the following words:

attitude             tone             feeling

Questions about the general tone of the entire passage may look like the following examples:

1. The tone of the passage can best be described as...

2. Compared to the tone of Passage A, the tone of Passage B is more...

3. The author's attitude toward refurbished electronics might best be described as...

For most passages, the author’s tone will either be positive, negative, or neutral, depending on whether the author is arguing in favor of the topic, arguing against the topic, or simply explaining the topic. Recognizing common attitude words can make these questions easier to answer, so you should familiarize yourself with any of the following words you do not know. The bold words are commonly used in the right answer, while words with asterisks(*) are Extreme Answers that are rarely used in the correct choice on the ACT or SAT. The adjectives without notation do not appear frequently  in correct answers but they certainly could describe the tone of a passage and appear in a test question.

Note that the words in these lists are all adjectives, but that other forms of bold words may be used frequently and other forms of words with asterisks are not likely to appear in correct answers. For example, words like appreciative, appreciate, and appreciating may appear in the correct answer, but words like euphoric, euphoria, and euphorically are unlikely to be a part of a correct answer on your test.

Positive Attitude Words:
accepting: open
admiring: feeling approval
advocating: showing support
affectionate: showing attachment or devotion
amusing: humorously entertaining
appreciative: holding in high regards
*awed: overwhelmed with admiration
cheerful: pleasant
compassionate: showing deep sympathy
confident: sure
delightful: highly pleasing
earnest: having a serious purpose
*ebullient: overflowing with enthusiasm
*ecstatic: overflowing with delight
empathetic: understanding
encouraging: favorable or supportive
*euphoric: intensely happy
excited: emotionally charged
humorous: funny
intrigued: having a raised curiosity
jocular: joking
open-minded: receptive to new ideas
optimistic: hopeful
*nostalgic: showing desire to return to a happier time
proud: feeling satisfaction with one’s achievements
respectful: showing esteem
sympathetic: showing agreement in feeling
*whimsical: fanciful or playful

Negative Attitude Words:
admonishing: cautioning against something
alarmed: fearful
angry: showing a strong feeling of displeasure
annoyed: slightly irritated
concerned: troubled
contemptuous: regarding something as unworthy
contentious: tending to argue
critical: finding fault
cynical: distrustful
defiant: boldly resisting
*derisive: showing derision (ridicule)
disappointed: let down
disapproving: expressing that something is wrong
disdainful: regarding something as unworthy
dismayed: alarmed, fearful
dissatisfied: not pleased
doubtful: showing doubt and uncertainty
facetious: not meant to be taken seriously
*fearful: feeling dread
foreboding: predicting evil
frustrated: disappointed
*hostile: antagonistic; characteristic of an enemy
impatient: not accepting delay
incredulous: showing doubt and uncertainty
indignant: showing displeasure for unfairness
*irate: highly angry
lamenting: showing sorrow and regret
*mocking: showing ridicule
mournful: showing sorrow and regret
ominous: predicting evil
*outraged: feeling strongly offended
regretful: showing sorrow and regret
*resentful: showing displeasure at something that caused injury or insult
resigned: yielding; giving in
*sad: showing sorrow
sarcastic: bitter, but not meant to be taken seriously
sardonic: bitter, but not meant to be taken seriously
scornful: regarding something as unworthy
skeptical: showing doubt and uncertainty
*somber: gloomy and dark
sullen: gloomy and ill-humored
uncertain: showing doubt
wistful: longing

Neutral Attitude Words:
*ambivalent: having mixed feelings
analytical: breaking down into parts for closer study
*apathetic: not interested
detached: impartial and objective
didactic: instructive
*indifferent: not interested
inquisitive: intellectually curious
*nonchalant: coolly uninterested
objective: unbiased

Be wary of any of the words with asterisks in these lists, as they are common in answer traps on the ACT and SAT. Any word from the Neutral Attitude Words list that means indifferent is likely wrong, because if an author is indifferent to a topic, why bother writing about it? And words like euphoric (intensely happy) and outraged (strongly offended) have modifiers—like intensely and strongly—in their definitions, which make them Extreme Answers.  

Need more help preparing for the Reading Test on the ACT or SAT? Check out our newest book, The PowerScore ACT and SAT Reading Bible. I hear the author had a total attitude when she was a teenager.  And she may or may not be one of the 9th graders photographed below. Man, I miss the 80s.



Top image courtesy of Shutterstock.