Rhetorical Skill: Relevance Questions on ACT English


Rhetorical Skill: Relevance Questions on ACT English

Rhetorical Skill: Relevance Questions on ACT English

We have all probably had a teacher who liked going off on tangents – he (or she) would start lecturing on one topic and then go off in a completely different direction. Although the stories may have been interesting, they were not usually relevant to the topic discussed in class.

Similarly, the ACT English tests your ability to identify places where the passage veers off topic. As usual, these questions are presented in the sometimes-tricky ACT way. To confidently approach relevance questions, you need to understand: what relevance means on the ACT English section; how you can identify relevance questions; and how you should decide whether the information is relevant.

What is Relevance on the ACT?

Rhetorical Skill: Relevance Questions on ACT English

Although ACT English passages may seem wordy and convoluted to some students, the exam expects conciseness from the students. This means that the passages should not include any unnecessary information. Sometimes, the ACT will test your ability to determine if the phrases and sentences are necessary or are extraneous. The questions that test this skill are relevance questions.

Relevance questions are very similar to much more common redundancy questions. Both types of questions have the same basic principle – get rid of anything you don’t need – but relevance questions are about whether information adds to the point of the passage while redundancy questions are about whether a word or a phrase is repeating or restating something that has already been said.

How to Identify Relevance Questions

Rhetorical Skill: Relevance Questions on ACT English

Relevance questions on ACT English can be a little difficult to identify because their construction does not vary significantly from the majority of other ACT English questions. In order to identify relevance questions, there are two specific clues you should watch for: some answers are much wordier than others and answers provide information not mentioned anywhere else in the passage. For example,



Looking at the sentence that contains the underlined section, we notice that there is not anything obviously wrong with it. So, we need to look at how the answer choices differ from each other as well as within the context of the passage. All of the other answer choices provide additional information about the Navajo.

Notice that the information in all of the answer choices is the same – they all add extra information about the Navajo – but the wording is different. It would be easy to decide that this is a wordiness question, choose the shortest option that makes sense within the context and move on. However, we must consider the possible relevance of the extra information.

All three options – B, C, and D – describe the size of the Navajo. This information is not redundant since it isn’t provided anywhere else, but that does not mean that it is necessary or relevant.

The first sentence says that “the Navajo developed and memorized the code.” Creating and remembering a linguistic code has absolutely nothing to do with the physical size of the Navajo people. Because of this, the extra information is irrelevant and should not be included.

So far, we’ve established that relevance questions are ones in which some of the answers introduce new information. Let’s talk about how to decide which information is relevant.

How to Determine Relevance

Rhetorical Skill: Relevance Questions on ACT English

The key to answering relevance questions correctly is that you cannot assume that more information is necessarily better. Although you are asked to provide as many details as possible in your writing for school, doing so on the ACT English section will almost guarantee to hurt your score.

So how do you determine if additional information is relevant? There are two points to consider:

  1. Is the information related to main topic of the sentence or paragraph?
  2. Does the sentence or paragraph still make logical sense without it?

If your answer to the first question is no, you don’t need to worry about the second one – the information is irrelevant and should be omitted.

ACT English test questions that require you to consider the second point are a little bit more challenging. If information seems like it might be relevant, consider whether it is necessary for your understanding of the passage. For example, does it clarify a previously made point or introduce an important detail? If not, it is probably not relevant.

This concept may seem difficult, but it really isn’t. Let’s look at some examples:

Irrelevant:       Steven Hawking, a disabled scientist played by Eddie Redmayne in the  movie ‘The Theory of Everything’, was the director of research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology.

Relevant:         Steven Hawking, an English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author, was the director of research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology.

The first underlined section adds information but Steven Hawking’s disability and the actor who portrayed him in a movie are not relevant to the fact that he was the director of research.

The underlined information in the second sentence provides Steven Hawking’s qualifications that clarify why he was the director of research.

Let’s look at another ACT Example:



Here, the passage discusses one student’s belief that his constitutional right to wear jeans was violated. The topic of the underlined portion is the “educational process.”

At first glance, this question might appear to be a wordiness question, since option D shortens the original underlined phrase. However, if you look closely at the answer choices, you will notice that each provides different information – this makes it a relevance question.

Our first step is to summarize the main idea of the sentence: wearing jeans did not impede the student’s educational process.

Options A, B, and C all add information about management of the “educational process” that does not add to the main point and are irrelevant. The correct answer is D.

Summary: Strategies for Answering Relevance Questions on the ACT English

#1. Watch out for underlined phrases in which some of the answers include extra descriptive information

#2. Omit information that is not relevant to the main idea of the sentence or paragraph.

#3. Keep additional information if it clarifies an important point or introduces a key concept.

Next Steps

Congratulations on making progress on the rhetorical skills questions on ACT English section. Make sure to be familiar with the frequently tested rhetorical skills topics such as author intent and author’s main goal.

Make sure you know the 5 most important concepts to ace ACT English.

If you need additional help with grammar, be sure to read our complete guide on what is tested on ACT English.

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