ACT Reading

SAT Question of the Day

The SAT question of the day is an Algebra Question that has already been addressed on this blog: click here to see an explanation.

ACT Reading Question of the Day

ACT reading passages are long, but if you know what kind of information you need, you usually don't have to read very much to answer the question.  Look down at the question before you start reading.

SOCIAL SCIENCE: This passage is adapted from Leonard W.
Levy's Origins of the Fifth Amendment: The Right Against Self
 (©1968 by Clio Enterprises Inc.).

    Community courts and community justice pre-
vailed in England at the time of the Norman Conquest 
[1066]. The legal system was ritualistic, dependent 
upon oaths at most stages of litigation, and permeated

by both religious and superstitious notions. The pro-
ceedings were oral, very personal, and highly con-
frontative. Juries were unknown. One party publicly 
"appealed," or accused, the other before the community 
meeting at which the presence of both was obligatory.


To be absent meant risking fines and outlawry. After 
the preliminary statements of the parties, the court ren-
dered judgment, not on the merits of the issue nor the 
question of guilt or innocence, but on the manner by 
which it should be resolved. Judgment in other words


preceded trial because it was a decision on what form 
the trial should take. It might be by compurgation, by 
ordeal, or, after the Norman Conquest, by battle. 
Excepting trial by battle, only one party was tried or, 
more accurately, was put to his "proof." Proof being


regarded as an advantage, it was usually awarded to the
accused party; in effect he had the privilege of proving 
his own case.

    Trial by compurgation consisted of a sworn state-
ment to the truth of one's claim or denial, supported by


the oaths of a certain number of fellow swearers. 
Presumably they, no more than the claimant, would 
endanger their immortal souls by the sacrilege of false 
swearing. Originally the oath-helpers swore from their 
own knowledge to the truth of the party's claim. Later


they became little more than character witnesses, 
swearing only to their belief that his oath was trust-
worthy. If he rounded up the requisite number of com-
purgators and the cumbrous swearing in very exact 
form proceeded without a mistake, he won his case. A


mistake "burst" the oath, proving guilt.

    Ordeals were usually reserved for more serious 
crimes, for persons of bad reputation, for peasants, or 
for those caught with stolen goods. As an invocation of 
immediate divine judgment, ordeals were consecrated


by the Church and shrouded with solemn religious mys-
tery. The accused underwent a physical trial in which 
he called upon God to witness his innocence by putting 
a miraculous sign upon his body. Cold water, boiling 
water, and hot iron were the principal ordeals, all of


which the clergy administered. In the ordeal of cold 
water, the accused was trussed up and cast into a pool 
to see whether he would sink or float. On the theory 
that water which had been sanctified by a priest would 
receive an innocent person but reject the guilty, inno-


cence was proved by sinking—and hopefully a quick 
retrieval—guilt by floating. In the other ordeals, one 
had to plunge his hand into a cauldron of boiling water 
or carry a red hot piece of iron for a certain distance, in 
the hope that three days later, when the bandages were


removed, the priest would find a "clean" wound, one 
that was healing free of infection. How deeply one 
plunged his arm into the water, how heavy the iron or 
great the distance it was carried, depended mainly on 
the gravity of the charge.


    The Normans brought to England still another 
ordeal, trial by battle, paradigm of the adversary 
system, which gave to the legal concept of "defense" or 
"defendant" a physical meaning. Trial by battle was a 
savage yet sacred method of proof which was also


thought to involve divine intercession on behalf of the 
righteous. Rather than let a wrongdoer triumph, God 
would presumably strengthen the arms of the party who 
had sworn truly to the justice of his cause. Right, not 
might, would therefore conquer. Trial by battle was


originally available for the settlement of all disputes 
but eventually was restricted to cases of serious crime.

    Whether one proved his case by compurgation, 
ordeal, or battle, the method was accusatory in char-
acter. There was always a definite and known accuser,


some private person who brought formal suit and 
openly confronted his antagonist. There was never any 
secrecy in the proceedings, which were the same for 
criminal as for civil litigation. The judges, who had no 
role whatever in the making of the verdict, decided only


which party should be put to proof and what its form 
should be; thereafter the judges merely enforced an 
observance of the rules. The oaths that saturated the 
proceedings called upon God to witness to the truth of 
the respective claims of the parties, or the justice of


their cause, or the reliability of their word. No one gave 
testimonial evidence nor was anyone questioned to test 
his veracity.


Which of the following factors did all the trials discussed have in common?

·         I. A definite and known accuser

·         II. Secrecy

·         III. Oaths and invocations of divine assistance

This question asks you about all three types of trials.  Which paragraph has information about all three types of trials?  The last one!  It mentions all the types of trials in the topic sentence.  Look for a mention of I (key word: accuser).  Line 74 confirms that I is true because there was “always” a known accuser.  Now look for II (key word: secrecy).  Lines 76 through 77 tell you that there was never any secrecy so you can eliminate II.  Look for evidence of III (key word: oaths).  Line 82 tells you that oaths “saturated” the process.  Even if you don’t know that “saturated” means “filled completely,” you can still see that the oaths are used in three different situations in the same sentence, implying that each situation corresponds to one of the three different types of trials.  That means that I and III are both correct.  Look down at your answer choices.

A. I only

B. II only

C. I and II only

D. I and III only

The correct answer is (D).

For the ACT Question of the Day, visit

To get help preparing for the SAT, PSAT, or ACT Exam, visit