In last week's blog, we discussed how to approach “purpose” questions on the ACT. Today we will turn to another frequently tested question type: point of view questions. These questions are particularly prevalent in the fiction passage of the ACT Reading section, but they appear in the non-fiction passages as well. The techniques we want to employ on these questions depend on the passage type. Today, we’ll look at two well-developed examples of point of view questions and discuss the differences between fiction and non-fiction passages.
In fiction, “point of view” refers to who is narrating a story. For ACT questions, I might expand that definition to “the person narrating the story and his or her current relationship to the events in the story.” Let’s jump right in to a sample fiction passage.
As a child, I remember the hot summer evenings spent outside with my parents, naming the birds we heard but could not see. In the dying light, our perception was limited to only one sense—our hearing. From tree to tree echoed a cacophony of calls: Was that a blue jay? A Baltimore oriole? Or that chameleon of birds, the mockingbird? As I tested my fledgling ear I turned to my father for reassurance. Behind his discerning eyes lay something that I wouldn’t be able to identify until many decades later. Was it…. “Dinner is ready!” Mother called. Our Audubon expedition would have to be continued another day.
- The point of view from which this passage is told is best described as:
Before we look at answer choices, let’s talk about what perspective we want to have on these questions. The best tip I have for fiction point of view questions is what not to do. Do not confuse “point of view from which the passage is told” with “the main character of the passage”. This is the one biggest mistake I see a majority of my students making. On to the answers:
(A) a young child communicating his emotions and perceptions.
(B) a third-person narrator who is aware of every character’s emotions.
(C) an adult reflecting appreciatively on his youth.
(D) a third-person narrator who tells the story through only one perspective.
Notice that answer choice A identifies the main character of the passage as the events are happening. Answer choice A is incorrect. If we think back to the advice I gave earlier, that our answer choice should reflect the narrator’s current relationship to the story, C is the only answer that works.
Now let’s look at non-fiction passages. In some ways, our outlook is the same on these questions. We want to identify the author’s relationship to the subject matter. However, because the topics are less personal, we are less likely to observe an emotional connection. Second, we are less likely to have a long passage of time between the events being described in the passage and the time that the author chose to write about them. Authors don’t tend to wait thirty years to write a non-fiction passage. Let’s look at a sample non-fiction passage.
Most of the “alternative” theories of Shakespeare’s authorship center on the Oxfordian theory, which suggests that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, wrote all of the plays attributed to Shakespeare. While this theory has little evidence and has been widely rebuked, it still persists in today’s day and age. The ironic aspect of the Oxfordian theory is that while most of its proponents focus on their doubtfulness that one person (Shakespeare) could produce such a large volume of work, they do not explain how Edward de Vere himself could have produced these works in his lifetime. This blindness to self-criticism disproves their original position.
13. The general perspective of the passage is that of:
For nonfiction passages, we want to consider the author’s likely perspectives. On the ACT, it’s unlikely that an author has a viewpoint that is extreme in either way. Therefore, try to find an answer choice that fits with a neutral or slightly positive author’s point of view. Usually, non-fiction authors write from a perspective that is trying to inform or persuade us. Let’s look at answer choices:
(A) a scientist who is overly dismissive of alternative viewpoints.
(B) a casual reader who has little to add to an academic discussion.
(C) an academic who dismisses Edward de Vere’s contributions to literature.
(D) an observer who uses an example to demonstrate the faults of another group.
Answers A, B, and C are all either overly negative or too extreme; D is the only answer choice that is neutral and reflects the author’s point of view. So as always, keep your answers conservative and you’ll do well on the ACT Reading section!