When one of my former students reviewed my SAT and ACT prep book, he noted that I hadn’t covered how important intros are. Since he was preparing to teach his own ACT prep course over the summer, this absence stood out to him because I’d been so adamant about reading introductions when he studied with me.
After thinking it over, I realized that what he was looking for was me to announce in all caps that INTROS MUST BE ACCOUNTED FOR. He has a fair point. The intros are an essential thing to note. I do, in fact, allude to the value of intros in my book’s first “Private Training” chapter, but my allusion could easily be glossed over given the core lesson in that chapter. Even more to my former student’s point, my allusion involves me tsk tsking over a student possibly overlooking a title instead of harping on overlooking an intro when I address the lesson he so well remembers. I myself neglected to explicitly account for the intro. Tsk tsk on me.
There is a key difference between “title” and “intro,” though I must admit that 90% of the reason I tell people to read the introduction is to have them look for the title. You see, introductions almost always include the title. Nevertheless, they can also include the author’s name, dates, background information, and key figures in what you’re reading. Those pieces can be pivotal when you’re trying to navigate passages in a hurry.
I can’t tell you how many students I have had who started working with me after taking an SAT or ACT course at their local high school (or some random, inexpert tutor) and were never ever taught that glancing at the intro was a thing. They simply glossed over the intros at best and normally ignored them altogether. But if the introduction gives you essential background information or the title of the work you’re reading (for those unclear about this, titles = main purpose of a work), then the introduction should be your best friend.
Here’s the great thing about intros: they appear on the ACT English, SAT Writing and Language, ACT Reading, SAT Reading, and ACT Science sections. Once you train yourself to be an intro hawk, many formerly trippy questions will be much easier for you.
ACT English: Well hello there, title of each passage I’m supposed to edit. Between fifteen and twenty percent of your ACT English score will be determined by Rhetorical Skills questions that deal with “strategy.” Many of those “strategy” questions literally ask you to select an answer choice that directly relates to the main point of the passage you’re supposed to edit. Since the main point of the passage is almost always mirrored by the title of the essay, a quick glance back at the passage’s title will make those particular Rhetorical Skills questions much easier. I’d say a quarter of my students have found that their Rhetorical Skills scores improved significantly just by looking at the title of the passage they were editing. It’s simple and ridiculously effective.
SAT Writing and Language: Several of the SAT’s “Command of Evidence” and “Expression of Ideas” questions function almost identically to their ACT “strategy” counterparts. The title of the passage is your golden ticket to eliminating terrible answer choices and finding the only one that actually accords with the title or main purpose of the passage.
ACT Reading and SAT Reading: let me highlight the fact that the first paragraph is not the intro. The intro comes right before the first paragraph, though you should still read the first paragraph. The intro is the part with the goofy-looking font. For the reading sections, this is where the whole smorgasbord of benefits appears that I mentioned earlier: author, publication date, main idea, background info, and key figures. For some reason, most of my students are never introduced to this idea before working with me. It’s also worth a free question or two, particularly if you’re someone who struggles with the reading speed of the ACT or SAT.
ACT Science: I address this further in QuotEd ACT Science, but I’ll simply note that skipping intros to passages has ruined many a student. I realize some tutors teach their students to skip the intros; I think those tutors err. Because essential information (i.e. the scientific or hypothetical controls on the following arguments or data sets) is often given in passage introductions, it’s a killer when you skip them. If you’d like insight on how to approach science intros most efficiently, check out the test prep hints in my app.
Now, just in case you somehow missed the point after reading all of the above: don’t forget about the intro!