How To: Approach Double Passages on the ACT Reading Section

In our last two student weakness blogs, we’ve looked at how to approach "point of view" and "purpose" questions. Today, we look at a general approach for a type of passage that has appeared on the ACT in the last couple of years: the double passage. Instead of having a set of ten questions referring to one long passage, the ACT has been splitting one passage into two shorter passages and separating the questions into those that concern only passage A, those that concern only passage B, and those that concern both. While these passages appear to be drastically different from traditional ACT Reading passages, all of the techniques that we have discussed so far apply equally well to double passages. However, there are a few special strategies that you should employ when faced with a double passage.

First of all, you should not attempt to read both passages consecutively and then answer all of the questions. Doing so requires you to read and digest too much information and to recall too wide a variety of content when answering questions. Instead, read passage A and complete the questions that are specific to that passage. Then read passage B and complete the questions that are specific to that passage. Finally, complete questions that require you to consider both passages. The ACT helps you in this regard by clearly labelling which questions fall into which category.

While the two passages will always contain similarities in terms of their content and focus, they will differ in the way each author approaches or describes the material. Thus, it is imperative that you identify the authors’ primary purposes for writing the passages. After you read each passage, ask yourself “Why did the author write this passage? What was he or she trying to accomplish or convince me of?” Differences in authors’ purposes form the basis of many of the questions that ask about both passages.

Finally, be aware of the authors’ tones and points of view. Does each author have a positive, negative, or neutral view of the topic? Is the author an objective observer or someone who is speaking from first-hand experience? A common theme in ACT double passages is to present one passage from an academic (a historian, scientist, psychologist, etc.) and one passage from a participant (a historical figure, explorer, etc.).

Let’s look at two excerpts from a sample double passage. After reading each one, try to identify the author’s purpose, tone, and point of view.


Passage A

When I think back to the rock ‘n’ roll days of my youth, I realize how little of it I actually remember. Sure, I can recall shows we played in this city or that, television appearances, the odd radio interview. But the speed with which things moved then seems so distant now. It was like living an entire life in a five-year window. Looking at images of myself from fifty years ago, I almost see myself as a different person.


Passage B

The 1960s represented a paradigm shift in modern America. The placid post-war period was officially gone, and with it went many of the truths that Americans had held dear. The “bobby soxers” of the 1940s were adults, and as they watched the swift movements of the next generation, they felt something they never thought they would: left behind.

19. The passages differ in their outlook in that:

(A) The author of passage A conveys regret while the author of passage B presents information       without emotion.
(B) Passage A is told from the perspective of someone who lived during a particular time period       while passage B is told from the perspective of someone who studied it.
(C) Passage A attempts to persuade the audience while passage B does not.
(D) Passage A celebrates a time period while passage B criticizes it.


Only answer choice B fits the purposes, tones, and points of view of the passages. Answer choice A incorrectly identifies the tone of passage A, answer choice C identifies the wrong purpose of passage A, and answer choice D mentions an overly negative tone for passage B.

Keeps these three keys in mind of the double passages, and you’ll view them as just a straightforward manner as you do the regular passages. Good luck!

Related Posts

How To: Answer Purpose Questions
How To: Answer Inference 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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