Author Intent on ACT English


Rhetorical Skill: Author Intent on ACT English


Author Intent (aka technique) is a type of a rhetorical skill questions that frequently appears on the ACT English section. Author technique questions require you to analyze a specific sentence, paragraph, or passage as a whole and determine if it fulfills the author’s stated purpose.

In this article, we will define what author intent is, provide real ACT examples, and offer strategies you can use to correctly and confidently answer author intent questions.


What is Author Intent?

Each author intent question on the ACT English are constructed in the same way and ask you to determine if a sentence, a paragraph, or a passage fits within the author’s stated purpose. Familiarity with basic construction and content of author intent questions will help you navigate through them easily and accurately.

General Construction of Author Intent Questions

Author intent questions are phrased in this way:

Which one would best fulfill (a stated purpose)?

A portion of the sentence will be underlined and it will be your job to determine if the underlined phrase, or one of the other answer choices fulfills the purpose stated in the question. In order to answer this type of question, you have to be able to analyze phrases and determine which one is best for the task of each of these questions. The examples will look like this:

ACT Examples

Example #1:



Example #2:



Example #3:



Strategy for Author Intent Questions

#1. Determine What the Question is Asking

Let’s look at our first example question again:



The question is asking which answer states that the fire is extremely intense and the correct choice will make the answer to this question obvious to the reader.

#2. Check the Answer Choices to See if They Accomplish Intended Goal

Let’s analyze each choice one by one to determine which one fulfills the goal of stating that the fire is extremely intense. Remember, the fire cannot be somewhat intense, it has to be extremely intense.

Choice F states that “a controlled inferno roars.” Does this phrase accomplish the goal of showing that the fire is extremely intense? Yes. An “inferno” means a really big, intense fire. The verb “roars” indicates that the fire is extremely intense.

This answer seems appropriate, but let’s go through the other choices to see if there is a better answer.

Choice G says that “the fire is stronger than ever” which indicates that the fire is stronger or more intense than before, but it doesn’t directly state that the fire is extremely intense.

Choice H says that “there is more heat being produced,” but we don’t know compared to what. Also, it says nothing about the intensity of the fire.

Choice J “a kind of intense blaze takes place” is a trick answer.  A word “intense” is present, but the descriptive phrase “kind of” does not evoke a vision of “extremely intense” fire.

#3. Eliminate Wrong Answers

It is usually easier to eliminate the obviously wrong answers before eventually arriving at the correct answer choice. For example, because H doesn’t even mention fire, we can eliminate it immediately; and after closer inspection, we can also eliminate choices G and J.

#4. Consider the Tone and Conciseness of the Answer Choices

As we mentioned above, the correct answer choice must fulfill the author’s stated goal, but that is not all. It also has to be grammatically correct and match the essay’s tone.

Usually, the ACT English section are moderately formal which means they are neither very formal nor very casual. In addition, the ACT stresses that answers should be as concise as possible and grammatically correct while maintaining the meaning of the sentence (or passage).

In our example, we didn’t really need to consider the tone and conciseness, but if you were thinking that choice J is the correct answer, “a kind of intense blaze takes place,” it’s construction is awkward and wordy and the same meaning can be conveyed more succinctly.

#5. Pick the Correct Answer

For this example, we are left with only choice F.

If you think this is too much work, be aware that the actual process should take no more than 15-30 seconds.  Let’s apply this process to another example.

ACT Example



First, we need to determine what the question is asking. We need to choose an answer that suggests Emily and Susan’s interaction during Emily’s writing process. This means that if any phrase does not show interaction between them, it can be eliminated.

The original phrase “read the poem” does not show interaction, so we can eliminate A. Choice B states “liked the point tremendously,” but it doesn’t suggest that Susan interacted with Emily, so we can eliminate B. Choice C states that Susan “considered and thought about the poem,” which also does not demonstrate that they interacted, so we can eliminate answer C.

However, choice D says that Susan “praised the poem but suggested revisions” which describes interaction during the writing process. If Susan “suggested revisions,” she told Emily her opinion about how to change the poem to make it better. That is an interaction during the writing process. The correct answer is D.

Summary: Rules and Strategies for Author Intent Questions

#1. Determine what the question is asking.

#2. Go Through Each Answer Choice to Determine Which Phrase Fulfills the Stated Purpose

#3. Eliminate Wrong Answer Choices

#4. If Necessary, Consider the Tone, Formality, and Conciseness of the Answer Choices.

Next Steps

If you haven’t done so already, I suggest you read the articles about 5 critical concepts you need to know and what exactly is tested on the ACT. Both provide useful information that will help you maximize your ACT English score.

If you need to improve your grammar skills, consider reading the articles about commas and subject-verb agreement.

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