In writing, not only is the content important, but so are the ways that the content is written. Authors constantly have to make choices to ensure that their ideas are being portrayed exactly as they want. Just as visual artists have at their disposal a plethora of paint colors to create the perfect hue, authors have the entirety of the English language to paint their perfect written portrait. The words that an author chooses can not only affect the meaning of the work, but also the reader’s overall impression. Therefore, authors will sometimes choose to use a particular word, phrase, or literary device that they feel best conveys their purpose. Sometimes authors may use words that are unfamiliar to the reader, in which case the reader must use context clues to determine the meaning.
The following is an example passage from the ACT Reading section, followed by a Word Meanings and Word Choice question.
To infer the meaning of an unknown word or phrase, it is important to not just look at the word or phrase itself, but the sentences surrounding it.
We can use the structure of the sentence which contains the phrase to help determine the meaning of the phrase. The sentence states that “experiences after birth, rather than something innate, determine” the wiring of the human brain. The use of the word “rather” suggests that something innate means the opposite of “experiences after birth.” The opposite of “experiences after birth” would be “experiences before birth.” This may involve conditions in the womb or genetics, both of which are determined before birth. Choice D, “an inherited trait,” most closely matches this. Lines 32-25 further support choice D, stating that previously scientists had assumed that by the time babies are born, the structure of their brains had been genetically determined.
While the previous question was about word meanings, the following question involves determining the reason behind the author’s choice of specific words or phrases.
Just like with word meaning questions, it is helpful for word choice questions to read the sentences surrounding the phrase in question.
The author is using a simile to compare the image of the areas of a baby’s brain turning on through PET to city neighborhoods having their power restored after a blackout. The author then goes on to describe how the neurobiologist can observe the different areas of the brain through PET, such as the visual cortex and the frontal cortex, as they develop after birth. The visual of the power being restored to neighborhoods is used to emphasize the image of the different areas of the brain lighting up with activity. Therefore, the answer is F.