ACT Reading Comprehension: Purpose Questions

Understanding a reading passage’s purpose, or main idea, means you must understand the overarching topic a reading passage is trying to convey. Not all purpose questions on the ACT will simply ask, “What’s the purpose of this passage?” Still, the following tips and strategies will work will all ACT reading comprehension questions. There you can take diagnostic tests, play interactive games, get advice from trained instructors, and chat with other high schoolers preparing for the ACT. It’s much better than studying alone!

Tips and Strategies for Purpose Questions

1)      Read the entire passage before trying to answer any question on any passage. By looking at the questions beforehand, you may not understand the overarching ideas in a passage.
2)      Take notes in your test booklet. When you’re taking notes, whether it’s underlining or annotating, you’re being an active reader. Make sure you mark off sections of the text that discuss the purpose.
3)      Remember to note if the author brings up items that contradict the passage’s original assertions. Does the author do this to make the argument more complicated? Or does the author do this to refute an opposing viewpoint?
4)      Read each and every answer choice before selecting your final answer. Sometimes these questions can be complicated and A, no matter how great it may sound, might not be as good of a choice as D.

Purpose Practice Question

If you use these tips when you practice and on test day, you’re score will be excellent. Now, let’s check out how to use these tips on a sample ACT question:

Early in the morning of May 7, 1869, an employee of the Union Pacific Company in Promontory Summit, Utah, received news that suggested at least a day’s delay for an important company event. According to the telegram, a powerful thunderstorm was approaching that promised to disrupt and interfere with the golden spike ceremony celebrating the First Transcontinental Railroad connecting the American East Coast to California.
Despite the threat of storms, that afternoon onlookers applauded as the final golden spike was placed over the last railroad tie. Almost forty years of planning and construction had come to an end, and a railroad now connected New York to San Francisco.

Suppose that the writer’s initial purpose was to write a brief essay describing the entire process of planning and constructing the First Transcontinental Railroad. Would this essay successfully fulfill that purpose?
A) Yes, because it offers important details including the path that the railroad took from Nebraska to northern California.
B) Yes, because it carefully describes each significant step in the planning and construction of the railroad.
C) No, because its primary focus is not on the entire process of building the railroad, but on one moment in its construction.
D) No, because it is mostly a study of difficulties in the initial stages of creating the railroad.

What was the purpose of the passage? It’s important to look at the different events discussed in it. Does it cover an entire history of building the transcontinental railroad? Actually, the passage covers the ceremony commemorating the completion of the railroad. So, A and B aren’t correct because there are not many details or careful descriptions about the building process. C looks right, since the focus, as we decided above, was on one event. Still, we have to make sure D isn’t a better answer. But, since the passage doesn’t touch upon any difficulties at the project’s inception, we now know the answer’s C.
Remember the tips and strategies to ensure you understand every passage’s purpose.