ACT Questions of the Month

Tips from the Dec. 2019 official exam

Whenever an official ACT exam is released into the world, it’s an exciting time. At least for exam prep tutors. Recently, the December 2019 ACT was made public, allowing students and tutors to peruse the sections and practice strategies on the newest iteration of the test.

Let’s take a look at a selection of questions from English, Math, Reading, and Science on the December ACT. Play along and see how many you can score correctly!

English Questions on the December ACT

Our English question is #33. Take a look and see if you can come up with the correct answer.

Notice the NOT. The ACT generously highlights when they ask NOT or EXCEPT questions, but those questions still throw students off. Since most of the exam asks students for the correct answers, imagine how tough it is when you’re asked to pick the wrong one!

In this case, we have some very ACT-ish things going on. This particular question tests on punctuation, among other things, so it’s helpful to know what semi-colons, periods, and commas do. Specifically, it’s good to know that, while there is a subtle difference between semi-colons and periods, both of them are used to separate complete sentences. As a result, the ACT treats them as virtual equals. This helps us to eliminate choices C and D, since they are punctuationally identical. (Yes, I may have made up a word.)

Similarly, a comma with a conjunction–a connecting word like and or but–is used to separate two complete sentences, so A would be correct, as well. That leaves us with our choice: B.

Math Questions on the December ACT

For math, we have an oldie and a goodie: a midpoint question. The ACT asks about midpoint on nearly every test. Over my years as a tutor, I’ve seen many students balk at these questions because they don’t remember the Midpoint Formula. The trick is that you don’t really need to have the Midpoint Formula memorized to solve it. Try your hand at this one.

When students are faced with a midpoint question, I usually start by asking them what “midpoint” means. If you have two particular test scores in a class at school–let’s say you scored a 94 and an 80–if you wanted to find the midpoint, the middle point, how would you do it? Many students reply with something like, “I’d average them.” Yes! Midpoint is just another way of saying the average of two values.

So… if we average the x-values, -6 and 2, and the y-values, 9 and 5, what do we get? Averaging two numbers involves adding them together and dividing by 2. So -6 + 2 = -4. And -4/2 = -2. Do you see any answer choices with an x-value of -2? There’s only one! So B is our answer again. If we had to, we could average the y-values to get the 7, but we don’t even need to. Thanks, ACT!

Reading Questions on the December ACT

Because one of the best strategies for ACT reading is finding the main idea of a passage, it’s tough to single out one question to look at without needing to go through an entire essay. However, the ACT does ask some vocabulary-in-context questions, and these can generally be done without knowing the whole story. Check out #10, for example.

One of the best strategies to use for many of the questions on the reading section, vocabulary or otherwise, is to read the question carefully and predict the right answer. In this case, the question is asking us to decide what the word observe most nearly means in line 79. So first, we should read the sentence at line 79: “But her family did not consent: afraid of the Improper, they questioned his intentions, his failure to observe certain formalities, his ancestry, his habits and his character.”

Can you think of a word that could replace observe? Usually, when we refer to observing traditions, we’re talking about abiding by or following those traditions. Once we get that prediction figured, we can look at the answer choices and look for what works and what doesn’t. In this case, the word follow looms large, as it’s exactly what we predicted. So we select G and move on.

Science Questions on the December ACT

The science section of the ACT, as our students learn quickly, is not really about science. It’s much more about reading charts and graphs, identifying patterns, and inferring from data. A good example of this is #17 on the December test. Without even looking at the rest of the passage–and there’s quite a lot more information in the actual passage on the test–we can confidently answer this question.

First off, it asks us to look at Figure 2. I’ve provided that figure here, but if you had the entire passage in front of you, your first task would be to locate the right figure.

Second, we need to decode the question. As you can see, it’s asking us to go from the highest initial O2 level to the lowest initial O2. This is crucial, as two of the four answers will undoubtedly give the materials in reverse order. So if you misread that as “lowest to highest,” you’ll fall for the trap.

Looking at Figure 2, how do we know which material required the highest initial O2 level? Looking at the labels of the graph, we see that the bottom label is Initial O2, and the y-axis, the left side, is time in seconds. Without getting bogged down into all of the info–and, again, without even reading through the passage–we can deduce that the highest initial O2 would be the pine wood, represented by the circle. It’s furthest along the Initial O2 line, indicating it’s the highest. This eliminates A and B.

Notice, then, that the only difference between C and D is the order of the middle two materials. So which is the second-highest? This is a bit trickier, as two of the symbols overlap. However, if you look at the lines, you can see that the material that starts at the next highest value is the candle. The dry paper, represented by the star, actually starts at 14, even though it also hits at 15. Remember, we’re looking for the initial point. So our answer must be C.

In sum…

So how did you do with these questions from the December ACT? While students usually view the ACT as a challenging test–and taken as a whole, it can be–when you gain experience with the proven strategies that you can learn from the seasoned tutors at Huntington, it’s a challenge that can be overcome.

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