If you're a college freshman, you'll probably encounter the ACT Compass, a test that most institutions administer to students during orientation. The purpose of the Compass is to measure strengths and weaknesses in college-level courses like reading, which is one of the tests you can take. Upon completing the test, you receive a score that shows the college whether you're ready to take entry-level courses or require placement in developmental classes to improve your reading and vocabulary skills.
Critical Understanding Questions
Critical understanding questions require evaluating the meaning of a passage and its purpose. A typical question asks, "The title best expressing the theme of the passage is..." Before answering, consider the choice of words, relationships among ideas and order of their appearance, according to Georgia Perimeter College's test-taking strategy handout. Decide if the author is trying to compare or contrast, describe, define, persuade or tell a story.
For detail questions, you must find dates, names or line numbers that refer directly to statements in the passage, Austin Community College English instructor Becky Villarreal advises in her online overview, "Cracking the Reading Section of the Compass." Watch answers that refer to the passage but don't address the question; they are meant to trip you up. Avoid answers that directly quote a statement within the passage. Correct answers are usually given as paraphrases.
Terms like "intent," "meaning" or "purpose" exemplify inference questions that measure ability to interpret written material, Georgia Perimeter College's test-taking handout states. This type of question might read, "We can conclude that a student's attitude towards studying is a result of…" If you're unsure of how to answer, ACT Compass recommends rereading passages several times so that you understand the details. Find ideas, words or meanings that best complete the sentence. Don't leave a question blank, because there's no penalty for guessing. Otherwise, your score will yield less accurate placement information.
Main Idea Questions
As the term suggests, a main-idea question asks you to identify the key point in a passage. To find it, read the first line of a passage and each paragraph's first and last lines. Once you determine the content, eliminate overly broad or specific answers that are wrong. Answers that exceed a particular question's scope overstate the main idea, while those that are overly specific understate it.
Vocabulary in Context Questions
The purpose of vocabulary in context questions is to identify the correct meanings of words in sentences or paragraphs. Make educated guesses from surrounding words or sentences, Georgia Perimeter College's handout says. In some cases, you can draw conclusions from brief examples or explanations. In other instances, the test designers will pair familiar and unfamiliar words or provide a brief definition -- plus one or more words -- that hints at the meaning.