ACT reading practice test 37

DIRECTIONS: Each passage is followed by several questions. After reading a passage, choose the best answer to each question and fill in the corresponding oval on your answer document. You may refer to the passages as often as necessary.


This passage is adapted from the essay "Why Nerds Are Unpopular" by Paul Graham (©2003 by Paul Graham).

I know a lot of people who were nerds in school,
and they all tell the same story: there is a strong correlation
between being smart and being a nerd, and an even
stronger inverse correlation between being a nerd and
05being popular. Being smart seems to make you unpopular.
Why To someone in school now, that may seem an
odd question to ask. The fact is so overwhelming that it
may seem strange to imagine it could be any other way.
But it could. Being smart doesn't make you an outcast
10in elementary school, or harm you in the real world.
Nor is the problem so bad in most other countries. But
in a typical American secondary school, being smart
is likely to make your life difficult. Why?
The key to this mystery is to rephrase the question
15slightly. Why don't smart kids make themselves popular?
If they're so smart, why don't they figure out how
popularity works and beat the system, just as they do for
standardized tests One argument says that the smart kids
are unpopular because the other kids envy them for being
20smart, and nothing they could do could make them popular.
I wish. If the other kids in junior high envied me, they did
a great job of concealing it. And if being smart were
really an enviable quality, the girls would have broken
ranks. The guys that guys envy, girls like.
25In school, being smart just didn't matter much.
Kids didn't admire it or despise it. They would have
preferred to be on the smart side of average rather than
the dumb side, but intelligence counted far less than
physical appearance, charisma, or athletic ability. So if
30intelligence is not a factor in popularity, why are smart
kids so consistently unpopular The answer, I think,
is that they don't really want to be popular.
If someone had told me that at the time, I would have
laughed at him. Telling me that I didn't want to be popular
35would have seemed like telling someone dying of thirst
that he didn't want a glass of water. Of course I wanted to
be popular. But in fact I didn't, not enough. There was
something else I wanted more: to be smart. To design
beautiful rockets, or to write well, or to understand how
40to program computers. In general, to make great things.
At the time I never tried to separate my wants and
weigh them against one another. If I had, I would have
seen that being smart was more important. If someone had
offered me the chance to be the most popular kid in
45school, but only at the price of being of average
intelligence (humor me here), I wouldn't have taken it.
Much as they suffer from their unpopularity, I don't
think many nerds would. To them the thought of average
intelligence is unbearable. But most kids would take that
50deal. For half of them, it would be a step up. Even
for someone in the eightieth percentile, who wouldn't
drop thirty points in exchange for being loved and
admired by everyone?
And that is the root of the problem. Nerds serve two
55masters. They want to be popular, but they want even
more to be smart. And popularity is not something you
can do in your spare time, not in an American secondary
school. I wonder if anyone in the world works harder at
anything than American schoolkids work at popularity.
60Navy SEALs and neurosurgery residents seem
slackers by comparison. They occasionally take vacations;
some even have hobbies. An American teenager may work
at being popular every waking hour, 365 days a year.
For example, teenage kids pay a great deal of
65attention to clothes. They don't consciously dress
to be popular. They dress to look good. But to who? To the
other kids. Other kids' opinions become their definition
of right, not just for clothes, but for almost everything
they do, right down to the way they walk. And so every effort
70they make to do things "right" is also, consciously or not,
an effort to be more popular.
Nerds don't realize this. They don't realize that it
takes work to be popular. In general, people outside some
demanding field don't realize the extent to which success
75depends on constant effort. For example, most people
consider the ability to draw as some kind of innate
quality, like being tall. In fact, most people who "can
draw" like drawing, and have spent many hours doing it;
that's why they're good at it. Likewise, popular isn't
80just something you are or you aren't, but something
you make yourself.
The main reason nerds are unpopular is that they
have other things to think about. Their attention is drawn
to books or the natural world, not fashions and parties.
85They're like someone trying to play soccer while
balancing a glass of water on his head. Other players
who can focus their whole attention on the game beat
them effortlessly, and wonder why they seem so incapable.
Even if nerds cared as much as other kids about
90popularity, being popular would be more work for them.
The popular kids learned to be popular, and to want to be
popular, the same way the nerds learned to be smart, and
to want to be smart: from their parents. While the nerds
were being trained to get the right answers, the popular
95kids were being trained to please.

1. This passage is best described as being told from the point of view of a:

A. former nerd attempting to analyze his childhood predicament.
B. former popular kid trying to figure out what was wrong with the nerds.
C. school guidance counselor proposing measures that might help kids get along better.
D. parent wondering whether it is his fault that his son is a nerd.

2. Based on the passage, it seems that the author first noticed that the American system of popularity makes no sense when he was:

F. in elementary school.
G. in high school.
H. in college.
J. an adult.

3. The main purpose of the last paragraph is to:

A. encourage parents to do more to help their children be popular.
B. explain that most nerds are never taught the inclination to seek popularity.
C. suggest that nerds make better parents than people who were popular in school.
D. admit that most nerds probably couldn't even be popular if they tried.

4. The passage indicates that most kids in the author's former high school:

F. actively wanted to be smarter than average.
G. would have preferred to be less intelligent than average.
H. did not especially care about intelligence.
J. pretended to be dumber than they were.

5. The author mentioned Navy SEALs and neurosurgery residents primarily to suggest that:

A. nerds and popular kids grow up to have very different types of careers.
B. new technology is making nerds more valuable to society than ever before.
C. students should be paid to attend high school.
D. even these demanding occupations require less effort than popularity in an American high school.

6. In the fifth paragraph (lines 33-40), the author characterizes popularity as something:

F. he never really wanted.
G. he wanted, but not very badly.
H. that is not really important.
J. that should be based on skill.

7. Viewed in the context of the passage, the statement "They're like someone trying to play soccer while balancing a glass of water on his head" (lines 85-86) is intended to suggest that:

A. nerds are typically bad at sports.
B. nerds tend to make everything more complicated than it actually is.
C. nerds are trying to do two things at the same time.
D. high school in America is an absurd experience.

8. The author's purpose in using the parenthetical phrase (humor me here) in line 46 is to:

F. insist that the reader should believe him about a point that most people would find difficult to believe.
G. ask the reader's indulgence because the point he is about to make is a long and complicated one.
H. apologize for the fact that, in order to make his point, he needs to state that he is exceptionally smart, which is considered rude.
J. make it clear to the reader that the point he is making is intended to be funny, rather than serious.

9. In the context of the passage, lines 75-79 are best characterized as presenting:

A. a popular misconception.
B. a motivational anecdote.
C. a bittersweet memory.
D. instruction in a useful skill.

10. Which of the following does NOT reasonably describe the transition the author presents in lines 18-24?

F. A rebuttal to a popular idea
G. A bit of sarcasm based on an observation
H. An inference based on a belief about girls
J. A condemnation of gender stereotypes