How to: Answer Style Questions on the ACT Reading Passage

In today’s edition of our ACT student weakness series, we turn our attention back to the Reading section of the ACT, looking at a particular type of question that poses some unique difficulties.  Some ACT Reading questions do not test content at all; instead, they ask us to identify the style of a particular sentence or paragraph.  These questions can be especially difficult if a student is simply not familiar with the terms in the answer choices.  In order to complete these questions properly, there are certain literary terms that every student needs to know.  Let’s take a look at some of the most common ones, along with examples of each.

Alliteration—the repetition of a sound at the beginning of a group of adjacent words.

Ex: She sells seashells at the seashore.

Personification—the attribution of human characteristics or emotions to something non-human.

Ex: The roaring river danced through the forest.

Simile—a comparison of two seemingly unlike things using the words like or as.

Ex: My love is like a rose.

Metaphor—a comparison of two things without using the words like or as.

Ex: All the world is a stage.

Allegory—a story that illustrates a hidden meaning, usually a moral or political one.

Ex: The Lord of the Flies and Animal Farm are two well-known allegorical novels.

Analogy—a comparison between two situations for the purpose of explanation.

Ex: Last-minute studying for an exam is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. (I.e. both actions look like you’re being productive, but there is no real benefit.)

Omniscient—to know everything; in literature, a narrator who knows the inner thoughts of all characters.

Ex: Nathaniel Hathorne’s The Scarlett Letter is told by an omniscient narrator; the reader learns each character’s views and feelings intimately.

Rhetorical question—a question that is posed with the intent to make a point (as opposed to being answered).

Ex: After all of this back-and-forth argument, one can only ask, “Why should we care?”

Figurative language—any language used in a non-literal way. (Within this category, there can be overlap with other literary terms.)

Ex: My head was spinning with confusion.

Now that we have these definitions down, let’s take a look at a passage and a question:


As a child I remember skipping gleefully through the puddles in my driveway after evening rainstorms. The trees swayed back and forth like a seesaw, and in the hills I heard the screeching wind, an opera singer of nature. The setting sun shone sparingly, but its time was nearing an end: the moon was the King of the night.

1. Which word or phrase is used more figuratively than literally?

A. Puddles (line 1)
B. Trees (line 2)
C. Opera singer (line 3)
D. Time (line 3)


Recall that the definition of figurative language is “any language used in a non-literal way.”  Which of these words is used literally? The puddles and trees both actually exist, and “time” is used in a literal way.  Only the opera singer is used figuratively, as a metaphor for the screeching wind.  Answer C is correct.  For extra practice, try to identify a simile, alliteration, and another metaphor from this passage.

There is no magic pill for answering these questions properly.  Students simply need to know the proper terms and practice applying them to a variety of passages.   If you spend 20 minutes memorizing these terms and looking at examples, you’ll be well on your way to completing style questions with ease.

Related Posts

How To: Answer Specific Detail Questions
How To: Deal with Rhetoric Questions

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About Owen

Owen earned a B.A.from the University of Pennsylvania, where he majored in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. Owen has experience tutoring in a variety of academic areas, but he specializes in the SAT, ACT, and GRE, as well as Math and Physics SAT Subject Tests. His background and test prep experience bring a valuable component to ArborBridge’s curriculum and program development team.

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