Generally, ACT English tests two things: grammar and reading comprehension. Author main goal is a specific type of reading comprehension question that appears frequently on the ACT. Having a systematic approach to correctly answer these questions will boost your score and help you maximize your limited time to complete the ACT English section. Read this article for a thorough explanation of and guidance on how to figure out author main goal questions.
In this post, I'll do the following:
- Define author main goal questions.
- Provide example questions from actual ACTs.
- Explain the process to answer specific author main goal questions.
- Provide general strategies for answering author main goal questions.
General Construction of Author Main Goal Questions
Author main goal questions are all presented in the same way, displayed bleow. Knowing the type of question you are being asked will help you to be able to answer it.
As you can see, these questions require you to understand the main idea of the passage.
To answer them, you first have to determine if the main idea matches the intended main idea that's presented in the question. Then, you have to determine why the passage fulfills the author's intended purpose or why it doesn't.
Now, let's take a look at specific author main goal questions from actual ACTs.
Real Examples of Author Main Goal Questions
Here are examples of three different author main goal questions from the ACT English section. You'll notice that all of the questions have the same construction.
Now that you can recognize an author main goal question, I'll teach you the process to correctly answer any author main goal question you may encounter on the ACT.
The arrow should be pointing down.
Strategy for Answering Author Main Goal Questions
On the ACT English section, always save the main idea questions for last. After doing the other questions, you should be able to more quickly determine the main idea and have a better sense of what the passage is about. Luckily, these questions are normally at the end of a passage's set of questions.
Remember that time is precious on this test, so we want to make sure that we have a strategy for approaching these questions that will be as efficient as possible. I believe that following these steps will help you maximize your time and arrive at the correct answer.
Step #1: Determine the Main Idea
So, how do you determine the main idea? Well, you should not reread the entire passage. Doing so will take way too much time, and it isn't necessary. If you're unsure about the main idea when you begin to tackle an author main goal question I recommend using the following strategies to quickly and efficiently identify it:
Look at the Title
The title often gives an indication about the scope or focus of the passage, allowing you to more easily determine the main idea. In Example #1 from above, the title is "An American Griot". Therefore, we know the focus will be on a griot from America. The passage defines a griot so we can incorporate that information in determining the main idea. Sentence #6 in the passage from the first example question provides the definition of a griot:
Indeed, she identifies strongly with the griots of West Africa—those village storytellers where they use songs, poems, and narration to help preserve and transmit culture and history.
So, based on the title, we know that the passage is about an American storyteller. However, what should you do if you're still unsure about the main idea?
If the Title Doesn't Give You the Main Idea, Reread the First Few Sentences of the Passage
Here are the first couple of sentences from Example #1:
 When storyteller Mary Carter Smith practices her art and everybody listens.  Wearing a brightly colored African dress, a large turban, and bracelets, the seventy-eight-year-old Smith seems to inhabit each of the different characters she describes.
Given these two sentences and the title, we know that the passage is about an American woman named Mary Carter Smith who does a specific type of storytelling.
In very rare instances, you may have to read more if you're still unsure of the main idea. Main ideas can also be found in the concluding paragraph or in the introductory sentences of other paragraphs. Remember, though, that you want to find the main idea of the whole passage. Just because something is mentioned in the passage doesn’t make it the main idea.
After identifying the main idea, this is the next step:
Step #2: Look at the Question Again
Here's our question from Example #1:
At this point we know the main idea and can use that information to answer the question. Identifying the main idea enables you to very quickly answer the first part of the question.
Step #3: Start With Just the Yes or No Portion of the Question
In our example, if we know that the focus of the essay is on Mary Carter Smith, who does a specific type of storytelling, would the essay fulfill a goal of focusing on the various ways that storytelling influences community values?
No. Even though the ways that storytelling influences community values can be part of this essay, that’s not the focus. The focus is on Mary Carter Smith.
After correctly answering the first part of the question, you have at least a 50% chance of getting the question right.
Step #4: Eliminate the Two Choices that State “Yes” if You Know the Answer is “No," and Vice Versa
In our example, we can immediately get rid of A and B. Now we're left with only two answer choices. All we have to do is determine why the passage doesn't fulfill the author's intended goal.
Step #5: In Your Own Words, State Why "Yes" or Why "No"
I would say that this essay wouldn't fulfill the goal of focusing on ways that storytelling influences community values because it focuses on Mary Carter Smith and her storytelling.
Now that we have a reason, we can select the answer to the question.
Step #6: Pick the Answer Choice That Most Closely Matches Your Reasoning
Answer choice D most closely matches our reasoning. It's the only “No” answer choice that mentions that the essay focuses on a specific person, Mary Carter Smith, and her storytelling.
While this may seem like a lot of steps, this whole process should take less than a minute, and these main idea questions typically take longer to answer than the sentence/paragraph reference questions in ACT English.
Let's go through this process again with another author main goal question from an actual ACT.
Unlocking the mystery of author main goal questions
Another Actual ACT Example
This is a real question from a real ACT. Check it out.
First, we'll determine the main idea. The title of the passage is "Notes From Underground". From the title, we do know that the focus is about something underground. However, the title tells us little else, so we'll have to read the first couple of sentences. Here they are:
A lot of people hate to ride the New York City subways, but I love them because I like to get places fast. A musician balancing a cello case, two Buddhist monks in saffron robes, and a group of stockbrokers in crisp, charcoal gray suits get on at Wall Street.
Just from the first two sentences we know that the narrator loves the subway because it’s fast and there are many different types of people who ride it.
After answering the other non-main idea questions, you would have probably noticed that the paragraphs are about the various people the narrator encounters on the subway. There's no mention of how economical the subway is in the introductory paragraph, so the focus is not that the subway is New York City’s most economical means of public transportation. Therefore, the answer is “no."
Immediately, we can get rid of A and B.
In our own words, the passage isn't about the subway being the most economical means of public transportation because it focuses on the author’s description of the many types of passengers on the subway and his encounters with them.
Finally, we'll look at C and D to determine which answer choice most closely matches our own reasoning. Answer choice D is definitely incorrect. From the title and the first couple of sentences, we know that author is focusing on subways. Answer choice C matches our reasoning and is the correct answer.
Let's review the process for answering author main goal questions.
Quick Review of General Strategies for Author Main Goal Questions
#1: Determine the Main Idea
#2: Use the Title and the First Couple of Sentences to Determine the Main Idea
#3: Answer "Yes" or "No" First
#4: Eliminate the Two "Yes" or "No" Answers
#5: Provide Your Own Reason for "Yes" or "No"
#6: Pick the Answer Choice that Most Closely Matches Your Own Reasoning
At this point, you should be much more comfortable with author main goal questions and one step closer to total ACT domination!
If you want to learn about another type of reading comprehension question on the ACT English section, check out this post on author technique.
Also, as you continue your preparation for the ACT, you most definitely want to read these articles on the best ACT prep books and learn from a perfect scorer about how to get a perfect score on the ACT.
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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.