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  • Writer's picturePhilip Martin

When Inferring is Deadly on the ACT

To infer means to read between the lines and reach a most likely conclusion. We do this in everyday life and is a reasoning skill that you and your son or daughter have been developing over a lifetime. However, on the ACT, there is one test where this skill is a crucial requirement, and another where it is a bit of a curse. We'll start with the curse (the test where this is necessary to come next time!).

One thing that makes the ACT Reading test so tricky (and which makes the active reading skill so necessary) is that many of the answer choices sound so good. In fact, I would say that many of these ACT Reading answer choices are likely to be true. This is why so many students take the ACT Reading test, feel like they probably did fine, and then, sadly, make a less-than-expected score. These students read the passage, chose answers that sounded right or that they inferred to be correct, then get the question wrong...why?

Well, it's because of this: the ACT Reading test (unless asked to do so) does NOT reward students who make inferences. Look at the Reading question here for example from a previously administered ACT test:

If you were to read this passage, you would find it to be about a man who started out as a talented musician playing gigs in clubs and then changed his career to be a wedding performer.

The question itself is pretty straightforward and asks for the student to identify the reason why Holmes started playing at weddings and private parties. If a student has only read the passage slowly and saved no time to go back and find right answers, he may be left with making a choice between 2 or 3 answers that sound good. In fact, I would bet that anyone who read this passage would be able to infer to letter B as a correct choice. After all, anyone who has been to a wedding knows that such an audience is easy to please!

The problem is this: the passage never says that B is a reason he changed. It only says that C is a reason for making the switch. What I am trying to say is this: if it doesn't say it in the passage, then inferring to a correct answer is one way the ACT will trick your son or daughter into getting answers false. They sound right, they're even likely to be true, but they are NOT stated in the passage. Unless the ACT Reading passage says it, you can't assume it to be true (unless the question asks for it, which happens occasionally).

It is crucial that you give yourself enough time to find correct answers on the ACT Reading test; it can't be overstated. Read the passage quickly so that you maximize the amount of time to answer the questions themselves. Why? So you can go hunting for these correct answers! If you've only got the time to think, and no time to hunt, you'll conclude answers to be true that aren't stated in the passage, get more questions wrong, and lower your score.

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