Pillar IV: Focus on the Question

Words of “Wiz-dom”—Test takers often lose points because they don’t answer the right question! Instead of answering the question they are asked, they answer the one they expect! Don’t fall into that trap. Be sure to underline the question and answer what you are asked. In addition, the question tells you what information that you are given is important. So the question can help you focus your thoughts.


You need to focus on the underlined word or group of words. However, be sure you pay attention to the sentence in which the underlining occurs. Sometimes you’ll even need to read additional information before and after that sentence. For example, is it “it’s” or “its”? Only by knowing the rest of the sentence will you know. (_____ a funny thing that happened on the way to class!)

Answer to “It’s” or “Its”

Pillar IV is especially important for the English Test “purpose” questions. “Purpose” questions are not about grammar. Rather, they pose a purpose and then ask which of the possible answers best fulfills that purpose. Focus on the following question. Without having read a passage a passage to go with it, you’ll be surprised how easily you can eliminate some of the answers.

32. Suppose a newspaper editor had assigned a reporter to write an article about how high school proms are different today than they were twenty-five years ago. Is the passage consistent with the assignment?A. No, because the reporter didn’t describe the styles of dresses worn twenty-five years ago.
B. No, because the reporter only described what proms were like twenty-five years ago and didn’t describe current proms.
C. Yes, because many characteristics of proms from today and twenty-five years ago were contrasted.
D. Yes, because the reporter described how her high school prom and that of her daughter were alike.

Words of “Wiz-dom”— To answer “purpose” questions successfully you must pay careful attention to the purpose described in the question. That is, you must make sure you are answering the question that is being asked. It will help to underline the purpose part of the question.

Words of “Wiz-dom” for answering questions


Words of “Wiz-dom”— In the Mathematics Test, there are two reasons to focus on the question. First, you need to make sure you are answering the question that is asked. Second, recognizing what the topic of the question is often tells you what you need to do.

For example, “At Murphy High, there are 1000 students. 300 are freshmen, 250 are sophomores, and 250 are juniors. What percent are seniors?” You might expect the question to ask how many are seniors. What is the question asking?

Words of “Wiz-dom” on mathematics

In addition, if a question asks you to solve for the radius of a circle, you know that you can answer it if you are given the diameter, circumference or area of the circle. In this case, focusing on the question (What is the radius?) reveals what information is important. During this course, you will frequently be told how to complete the following statement: If the question is about _______ then the KEY to unlocking the question is ________. In the example above, “circles” and “radius” fill in the blanks. When you get to ratio questions, “ratios” and “sum of the parts” complete the statement. The next page is a form you can use to keep the key statements in one place. Use it for the following question

ACT “Keys”

Throughout the program, I talk about “keys” to answering questions.  Watch the boxes throughout the math materials in which I tell you about them.  For example, the key to answering ratio questions is the sum of the parts.  I also refer to “flags” and “signals.”  For example, if you see a triangle and there’s a line inside of the triangle that is parallel to one of the sides, then the question is about similar triangles.  Be alert for these signals and flags and you’ll know the key to answering the question.

If the question is about ________ then the key to unlocking it is __________.

Question Type the Key Question Type the Key

Try this question.


If circle O has a circumference of , and OC is 6, how long is AB?(A) 8
(B) 10
(D) 16
(E) 18
Words of “Wiz-dom”— On the ACT, unlike the SAT, you cannot assume the figures are drawn to scale!

Answer to question #15


Words of “Wiz-dom”— Key words in the question guide you to answering the right question. For example, “according to the passage,” reminds you to answer the question based on what the passage says and not some prior knowledge you have. “The author implies” (underline added by The Wiz) signals that the answer is not directly stated in the question; rather you need to draw an inference from what is said.

Words of “Wiz-dom” on reading

Science Reasoning:

Words of “Wiz-dom”— Begin each science question by focusing on what is being asked. Is the answer directly stated in the passage? Do you need to reach a conclusion? Are you looking for a relationship? Watch out for “if…then” questions since they ask you to determine what would be true IF something occurred that is not described in the passage. Similarly, some questions are concerned with the identification of assumptions that are made in an experiment. Watch for them since assumptions are not necessarily stated.

Words of “Wiz-dom” on science reasoning

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