ACT Reading: Compare and Contrast

The ACT will test your ability to compare and contrast items within and between reading passages. Before answering any test prep questions, make sure you remember the following tips when answering compare and contrast questions on the ACT’s reading section:

  • Read the passage(s) before reading the questions

    This is so important because reading the questions first may mislead you when you’re reading the passage.

  • Don’t memorize a passage’s details

    When you’re reading, you want to understand the main idea, or purpose, of the passage. If the details are important, you’ll be asked about them. At that point, you’ll be able to return to the passage to find the information you need.

  • Skip questions you don’t know

    Your ACT score will be determined by how many questions you answer correctly. If a question is particularly difficult, skip it and come back to it later. Always make sure you answer all the easier questions first, as this will help you get the score you want.

  • Use process of elimination before you guess

    If you don’t know an answer, make sure to use process of elimination. Never randomly guess, since using process of elimination will increase your chances of guessing correctly. If you’re able to narrow it down to two choices, you have a 50% chance at getting the correct answer

Compare and Contrast Practice Question

Now you’re ready to look at a sample compare and contrast ACT question. Remember the tips you learned when answering this question:
The Rhine Gold is the least popular of the sections of The Ring of the Niblungs, the epic four-part opera by German composer Richard Wagner. The reason for this lack of popularity is that its dramatic moments lie quite outside the understanding of people whose joys and sorrows are all domestic and personal, and whose religions and political ideas are purely conventional and superstitious. To people like this the opera is no more than a retelling of a story from Norse mythology, a struggle between half a dozen fairytale characters for a ring, involving hours of scolding and cheating, with gloomy, ugly music, and not a glimpse of a handsome young man or pretty woman.
Only those of wider consciousness can follow the opera breathlessly, seeing in it the whole tragedy of human history and the whole horror of the dilemmas that the world was facing when the opera was written in the mid-nineteenth century. Once in Bayreuth, in the opera house built by Wagner especially for the performance of his operas, I saw a group of English tourists, after enduring agonies of boredom from the opera, rise in the middle of the third scene and almost force their way out of the dark theatre. And I saw other people, who were deeply affected by what was happening on stage, made furious by this disturbance. But it was a very natural thing for the unfortunate tourists to do, since in The Rhine Gold, there is no intermission between the acts for escape.
According to the second paragraph (lines 16-32), the “other people” in the audience, compared to the “English tourists,” can be described as:

  1. less able to tolerate the cultural differences between England and Germany.
  2. less able to appreciate the beauty of Wagner’s music.
  3. more able to find pleasure in the meaning of Wagner’s opera.
  4. more able to display patience when it was required.


OK, so we have to figure out what the relationship between the English tourists and the “other people” is. Clearly the English tourists do not like the play, meaning the “other people” enjoy Wagner’s The Rhine Gold. Further evidence that the “other people” enjoyed the play is the phrase “deeply affected by what was happening on stage.” Is there a choice that relays that? It’s not A, since there’s no mention of tolerating cultural differences in the passage. Choice B cannot be it, either, for the “other people” were in fact more able to appreciate the beauty of Wagner’s music. That’s why they stayed! Moving on: C looks correct because the “other people” stayed, and were thus more able to find pleasure in the opera. Although this looks correct, let’s make sure D isn’t a better answer: It’s true that the “other people” displayed more patience than the English tourists, but weren’t they also enjoying the play. Just displaying patience would indicate that they, too, disliked the play—something that’s not true. We can eliminate D, then, and we’re left with C as the correct answer.