One of the more difficult question types in the ACT English Section is organization questions, which mainly ask students to give the most logical ordering of sentences for a given paragraph. These questions are harder than normal because they require you to read an entire section of a passage and understand its intended meaning and purpose. It is especially important to understand how different sentences interact with each other. Let’s look at a short sample passage to illustrate this point.

 

After publishing his debut novel at the age of 26, William Styron produced only a few major works over the next thirty years. But while not prolific, he was brilliant. Sophie’s Choice and The Confessions of Nat Turner stand as two of the most influential and beautifully written books of the 20th century.

 

The second sentence here is key to the structure of the paragraph and illustrative of what the ACT is looking for on organization questions. The second sentence refers to the previous sentence and previews the subsequent one. It refers to the previous sentence by saying that Styron was “not prolific”, which mimics “produced only a few major works.” It previews the subsequent one in that his “brilliance” is later explained through the “influential and beautifully written books.” On the ACT, you should try to place a sentence so that if refers to each sentence on either side of it. Now let’s look at an actual ACT question.

 

[1] By early 1966, the Beatles had completed their evolution from their teenybopper days and were poised to become the innovators that we now know them as.  [2] No longer content with simple, 3-minute guitar-driven hits, they branched out on their next few albums.  [3] Sitars featured prominently on the song “Love You To,” and backwards music was used on “Tomorrow Never Knows.”  [4] The albums Rubber Soul and Revolver featured several new instruments and effects.  [5] This experimentation continued up until their disbandment in 1970.

 

    1. Which ordering of sentences preserves the logical order of the paragraph?
      1. NO CHANGE
      2. 4, 1, 2, 3, 5
      3. 1, 2, 4, 3, 5
      4. 1, 5, 2, 4, 3

 

If you follow the methodology I described above, you can see that answer choice C is correct. Sentences 1 and 5 are good natural bookends to the paragraph, as they mention dates in chronological order. Within those two sentences, sentence 4 refers to something mentioned in sentence 2: The Beatles “next few albums” are explained to be Rubber Soul and Revolver. Sentence 4 previews sentence 3 in that in mentions “several new instruments and effects”, which are clarified as sitars and backwards music.

If you employ this method of linking sentences on the ACT English section, you’ll be well on your way to answering them quickly and accurately!