ACT English Passage Question 01: What Elephants Learn

Cynthia Moss has been studying elephants, since 1972 (1) when she started the now-famous (2) Amboseli Elephant Research Project in Amboseli National Park in Kenya. An author, lecturer, filmmaker, and a fierce advocate for elephants - which face a daunting array of threats to their survival, from droughts to human encroachment (3) Moss is widely considered an expert on the social behavior of these creatures. (4)

A key finding from her intensive, field, studies (5) is the extent to which elephant survival depends on learned behavior.

As Moss has observed, however, (6) a calf must learn how to use its trunk. At first a young elephant will drink by kneeling down at the water’s edge and it sipped (7) directly with its mouth. The habit of pulling water into its trunk. Then (8) releasing that water into its mouth develops only after months as if witnessing (9) other elephants doing so.

On occasion, Moss will see a calf stick its trunk into the mouth of its mother and pull out a bit of whatever plant material she is eating. In this way, the calf learns what kinds of vegetation are safe to eat on the savanna, where poisonous plants also grow.

[1] Elephants live in family groups, each one headed by a matriarch. [2] This senior female teaches adolescent females by modeling proper care of younger elephants. [3] One of Moss’s most memorable observations in which this regard (10) involved three elephants. [4] These were a matriarch, Echo, and two offspring: Enid, a ten-year-old female, and Ely, also named by Moss. (11)

[5] Echo showed Enid how to care for Ely by staying close to him when he was feeding and sleeping and by running to his aid when he signaled his distress.

[6] Ely not only overcame his early limitations, but he also grew (12) up to be a confident young bull.

[7] Ely was born with deformed feet that initially prevented him from walking. (13)

Moss has brought compelling stories and information about elephants is provided to (14) an ever-expanding audience. She hopes others will in turn become advocates for the animals she admires and understands in ways few others do.



B. elephants, since 1972,
C. elephants since 1972,
D. elephants’ since 1972


G. more-then-famous
H. now famously
J. famously


B. encroachment-
C. encroachment:
D. encroachment,

4. At this point, the writer is considering adding the following true statement: Humans are among the threats to the animal’s survival. Should the writer make this addition here?

F. Yes, because it presents a crucial factor in determining Moss’s interest in working with elephants.
G. Yes, because it introduces the idea that becomes the focus of the rest of the essay.
H. No, because the essay is focused on elephants and does not otherwise mention a human presence in their lives.
J. No, because this information is already provided in the paragraph.


B. intensive field studies
C. intensive field studies,
D. intensive, field studies


G. for instance,
H. as always,
J. by now,


B. which it sips
C. and sipping
D. that sips


G. trunk and then
H. trunk then by
J. trunk


B. when witnessing
C. of witnessing
D. then witness


G. in this regard
H. ones that
J. which


B. a baby male.
C. an elephant.
D. the third.


G. he also will have grown
H. he also had grown
J. also growing

13. For the sake of logic and cohesion, the best placement for Sentence 7 would be:

A. where it is now.
B. before Sentence 1.
C. after Sentence 3.
D. after Sentence 4.


G. is given by her to
H. is reaching
J. to

Question 15 asks about the preceding passage as a whole.

15. Suppose the writer’s goal had been to write a brief essay focusing on some aspect of animal behavior in the wild. Would this essay accomplish that goal?

A. Yes, because the essay focuses on Moss’s research on how elephants on the savanna learn to identify their various family members.
B. Yes, because the essay focuses on elephants on the savanna and some of the behaviors they display, as studied by Moss.
C. No, because the essay focuses instead on how elephants have evolved in Kenya as compared to how they have evolved in other parts of Africa.
D. No, because the essay focuses on elephants that Moss studies in zoos around the world.


1. The best answer is C because a comma is appropriate between the noun 1972 and the dependent, relative clause that begins with the word when.

2. The best answer is F because the choice correctly forms the adjective now-famous to modify “Amboseli National Park,” the compound noun that follows.

3. The best answer is B because the parenthetical information about the various threats to elephants’ survival interrupts the main clause and needs to be set off with appropriate punctuation (commas, parentheses, or em dashes). The parenthetical is introduced with an em dash, and therefore the parenthetical must end with an em dash.

4. The best answer is J because the preceding sentence mentions “human encroachment” as a threat to elephants, and inserting this sentence would add redundant information to the essay.

5. The best answer is B because no punctuation is needed. The absence of punctuation creates a grammatical, clear, and understandable sentence.

6. The best answer is G because the phrase “for instance” offers the most logical transition from the claim about elephants and learned behavior at the end of the preceding paragraph to a specific example of learned behavior in elephants in this paragraph.

7. The best answer is C because the gerund phrase “and sipping” maintains parallelism with the gerund kneeling, avoiding faulty and potentially confusing constructions within the prepositional phrase that begins with “by kneeling.

8. The best answer is G because the prepositional phrase that starts with “of pulling water” contains a compound object: “pulling and releasing.” The phrase “trunk and then” correctly joins the two objects with a conjunction and most clearly describes the elephant’s habit.

9. The best answer is C because “of witnessing” creates a prepositional phrase that most clearly and logically describes what the elephant has been doing for months.

10. The best answer is G because the phrase “in this regard” adds a prepositional phrase that creates a clear and complete sentence.

11. The best answer is B because the phrase “a baby male” is the only choice that adds new and relevant information to the sentence.

12. The best answer is F because the phrase “he also grew” avoids an unnecessary tense shift within the sentence.

13. The best answer is D because this placement makes it clear why Echo needed to take special care of Ely and why Ely might signal distress.

14. The best answer is J because all that is needed to complete the main clause of the sentence and make its meaning clear is the preposition to (connecting the phrase “an ever-expanding audience”).

15. The best answer is B because the essay does focus on Moss’s observations of specific learned behavior in elephants in Kenya.