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Author Technique on ACT English: Passage Strategy

Posted by Justin Berkman | Jul 1, 2015 7:30:00 AM

ACT English

 

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Author technique is a specific type of reading comprehension question that appears frequently on the ACT English section. Author technique questions require you to analyze a specific sentence and determine if it fulfills an author's stated purpose.

Read this article for a thorough explanation of author technique and guidance on how to figure out author technique questions.

In this post, I'll do the following:
  • Define author technique questions.
  • Provide examples from real ACTs.
  • Offer detailed strategies for correctly answering these questions.

 

What Is Author Technique on ACT English?

Author technique questions ask you to determine if a sentence or phrase fulfills the author's stated purpose. Each author technique question is constructed in the same way. Knowing the basic construction of author technique questions will allow you to easily identify them and use the same efficient process for correctly answering them.

 

General Construction of Author Technique Questions

Author technique questions are phrased in this way:

 

Which one would best fulfill (some stated purpose)?

 

A portion of a sentence will be underlined, and you have to determine if the given phrase or the other answer choices will best fulfill the purpose given in the question. This type of question requires you to analyze phrases and determine whether they would satisfy the stated goal.

Now, let's look at examples of author technique questions from actual ACTs.

 

Real Examples of Author Technique Questions

Here are examples of author technique questions from the ACT English section.

Example #1

By nightfall a controlled inferno roars in the kiln.

The writer would like to indicate that at this point the fire is extremely intense. Given that all the choices are true, which one best accomplishes the writer’s goal?

F. NO CHANGE
G. the fire is stronger than ever
H. there is more heat being produced
J. a kind of intense blaze takes place

  

Example #2

As the potter takes bricks away to create an opening into the oven, an expanding view of gleaming shapes rewards the artist for months of hard work.

The writer would like to suggest the potter’s cautious pace and sense of anticipation in opening the kiln. Given that all the choices are true, which one best accomplishes the writer’s goal?

F. NO CHANGE
G. removes bricks by hand
H. removes one brick at a time
J. experiences great anticipation and removes bricks

 

Example #3

Dickinson stayed in contact with correspondents for many years.

Given that all of the choices are true, which one best develops the paragraph’s focus on the roles that letters played in Emily Dickinson’s life?

 
A. NO CHANGE
B. Her personal interests also included keen observation of the natural world around her.
C. Though she produced volumes of letters, none were shared publicly until after her death.
D. She enjoyed hearing their news and reflecting with them on political events.

 

Now, let's go through the process to correctly answer these questions.

 

body_steps.jpgFollow these steps!

 

Strategy for Author Technique Questions

 

#1: Determine What the Question is Asking

Here's our first example question again. 

 

Example #1

By nightfall a controlled inferno roars in the kiln.

The writer would like to indicate that at this point the fire is extremely intense. Given that all the choices are true, which one best accomplishes the writer’s goal?

F. NO CHANGE
G. the fire is stronger than ever
H. there is more heat being produced
J. a kind of intense blaze takes place

 

The question is asking which answer choice does the best job of indicating that the fire is extremely intense. The correct answer choice will make it obvious to the reader that the fire is extremely intense.

 

#2: Check the Answer Choices to See if They Acomplish the Intended Goal

For our example, go through each answer choice and determine if it indicates that the fire is extremely intense. The answer choice has to match the goal as closely as possible. The fire can’t be somewhat intense. We’re looking for extremely intense.

First, look at the original sentence. Does “a controlled inferno roars” accomplish the goal of showing that the fire is extremely intense? Yes. An inferno is a large, intense fire. And the verb “roars” further indicates that the fire is extremely intense.

However, go through the rest of the answer choices quickly just to make sure there isn’t a better answer.

Answer choice G, “the fire is stronger than ever,” indicates that the fire is more intense than before, but it doesn’t directly state that the fire is extremely intense.

Answer choice H, “there is more heat being produced,”  does not even reference the intensity of the fire.

Answer choice J, “a kind of intense blaze takes place,” is the trap answer. It has the word “intense” in the phrase, but we’re looking for a phrase that shows that the fire is extremely intense. A “kind of intense” fire is not extremely intense.

 

#3: Eliminate Wrong Answer Choices

Usually, it’s easier to eliminate the obviously wrong answer choices first before eventually arriving at the right answer. For our example, H could be eliminated right away since there isn't even a reference to the fire. Then, after looking more closely at the other answer choices, you should be able to eliminate G and J.

 

#4: Consider the Tone and Conciseness of the Answer Choices

Not only should the answer choice fulfill the purpose of the author, but the resulting sentence should be grammatically correct and match the essay’s tone.

Typically, sentences in ACT English are moderately formal. They’re not extremely formal or very casual.

Also, the ACT stresses that sentences should be as concise as possible.

For our example, we didn’t really need to consider tone and conciseness, but if you were considering answer choice F, “a kind of intense blaze takes place”, its construction makes the phrase sound awkward and wordy. You could convey the same meaning more succinctly.

 

#5: Select the Correct Answer

In our example, we are left with answer choice F,  NO CHANGE.

Going through all of these steps should take roughly 15-30 seconds.

We'll go through this process again with another question from a real ACT.

 

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Another Actual ACT English Example

Try to figure out the answer to the following author technique question.

 

At one point, Emily sent a draft of her poem “Safe in Their Alabaster Chambers” to Susan, who read the poem.

Given that all the choices are true, which one would most clearly describe an interaction between Susan and Emily during Emily’s writing process?

A. NO CHANGE
B. liked the poem tremendously.
C. considered and thought about the poem.
D. praised the poem but suggested revisions.

 

First, we determine what the question is asking. We need to choose a phrase that suggests interaction between Susan and Emily during Emily’s writing process. Therefore, if a phrase doesn’t show interaction between the two, it can be eliminated.

The original phrase, “read the poem," doesn't show interaction. If Susan “liked the poem tremendously," that doesn't show interaction between them either, so we can eliminate B. If Susan “considered and thought about the poem," that doesn't demonstrate any interaction so answer choice C can be eliminated as well.

However, if Susan “praised the poem but suggested revisions”, that does describe an interaction during the writing process. If she “suggested revisions,” Susan told Emily how to change the poem to make it better. That's an interaction during the writing process. The answer is D.

 

Quick Review of General Strategies for Author Technique Questions

 

#1: Determine What the Question Is Asking

#2: Go Through the Answer Choices to See if the Phrase Fulfills the Stated Purpose

#3: Eliminate Wrong Answer Choices

#4: Consider the Conciseness, Tone, and Formality of Answer Choices, if Need Be.

 

What's Next?

If you haven't done so already, I strongly suggest that you check out these articles on the best way to approach ACT English passages and five critical concepts to ace ACT English. Both posts provide you with extremely helpful strategies that will allow you to maximize your ACT English score.

For those of you looking to improve your ACT English grammar skills, you may want to read up on punctuation on the ACT.

 

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Justin Berkman
About the Author

Justin has extensive experience teaching SAT prep and guiding high school students through the college admissions and selection process. He is firmly committed to improving equity in education and helping students to reach their educational goals. Justin received an athletic scholarship for gymnastics at Stanford University and graduated with a BA in American Studies.



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