act reading tips

10 Must-Know ACT Reading Tips

The ACT Reading section is thirty-five minutes, four ~750-word passages with ten questions each. Scared? Don’t be. Like any section on the ACT, it may seem daunting. But in reality ACT reading is conquerable. You are capable of getting through each question. You just have to be methodical, quick, and resourceful.

There are many ways to prepare for the Reading test, but the best way is to read. Read as much and as widely as you can and try to understand what you are reading. Pick up an article on biology or physics, and try to explain the authors’ findings to a friend. The more eclectic a reader you are, the better you will do on this section.

Check out these posts for top tips in every section: 10 Must-Know English Tips, 10 Must-Know Math Tips, 8 Must-Know Science Tips

 

ACT Reading Tip #1: Know the structure of the test

The ACT Reading Test is a 35-minute Reading section that starts immediately after a 15-minute break. Use this to your advantage by using your break to relax.

There are four ACT reading passages that have 10 questions each, which equals a total of 40 multiple-choice questions that each have four answer choices. There are four different passage types that are always in the same order: Prose Fiction, Social Studies, Humanities, and Natural Sciences. You can do the passages in any order, so start with your strongest passage type and work from there.

ACT Reading Tip #2: The ACT is an open-book test

On Test Day, you will encounter four very different passage types: Prose Fiction, Social Studies, Humanities (history and fine art), and Natural Science. One or two passages could be unfamiliar to you. Don’t get discouraged, though. You don’t need any outside knowledge to answer ACT Reading questions; they’re all based on the passage in front of you.

ACT Reading Tip #3: Follow Kaplan’s Method for ACT Reading Comprehension

  1. Read the passage and write short notes next to each paragraph.
    1. Focus on the topic and purpose of the passage
    2. Keep track of different people and opinionS
  2. Read the question and identify helpful hints.
    1. Line references and keywords can help you find the answer
  3. Predict an answer BEFORE you look at the answer choices.

ACT Reading Tip #4: Always read the passage first

It is a common myth that you should read the questions first. It is almost impossible to remember to look for the answer to 10 different questions while reading an unfamiliar passage containing 750 words and trying to synthesize the big ideas. A much better use of your time is to read the passage and grasp the main idea and purpose before even glancing at the questions.

ACT Reading Tip #5: Use the line references

Memories can be faulty; don’t waste energy trying to rely on yours during a timed, high stakes test. The line references are provided for a reason, so use them, and don’t forget to read around the line reference for context. If a question references line 12, for example, read lines 10-14. The correct answer will always have support in the passage.

ACT Reading Tip #6: Eliminate incorrect answer choices

There will always be answers to eliminate, so look for them. Sometimes, just one word makes an entire answer choice wrong. Find the flaw in the answer choice, and cross it off.

ACT Reading Tip #7: Find support

Always choose the best answer choice (based on support in the passage), not the one you think sounds most intelligent. You must find textual evidence supporting the right answer. The correct answer will be flawless.

ACT Reading Tip #8: Know how the test is scored

There is no wrong answer penalty, so make sure you answer every question, even if you cannot eliminate any answer choices or if you run out of time.

Have a pre-specified “Letter of the Day” like (A)/(F) or (B)/(G) to fill in automatically so you don’t spend extra time deciding which answer choice you want to bubble in.

ACT Reading Tip #9: Know the ACT reading comprehension question types

  1. Global questions – Ask about the passage as a whole
  2. Inference & Writer’s View questions – Ask you to understand something that isn’t directly stated in the passage
  3. Detail questions – Ask about specific parts of the passage
  4. Vocab-in-Context questions – Ask about a word as it is used in the passage
  5. Function questions – Ask about the purpose of a specific part of the passage

ACT Reading Tip #10: Know the ACT reading comprehension trap answers

  1. Distortion – twists details from the passage so they are no longer correct
  2. Misused detail – a true statement from the passage, but one that doesn’t answer the question
  3. Out-of-scope – includes information not included in the passage
  4. Extreme – too extreme to reflect the author’s purpose (often includes words like always, never, best, worst, etc.)
  5. Opposite – contradicts the information in the passage