act reading tips

10 Must-Know ACT Reading Tips

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


  • Read the questions first

    This will give you some advance knowledge and help you find the important stuff in the passage. Reading all of the passage is very important, but knowing what to focus on is crucial to finding the right answers.

  • Become an Expert

    This is a difficult one because the passages cover four very different subjects:  natural science, humanities (history and fine art), social science, and literature. One or two could be unfamiliar to you. Nevertheless, press ahead, and do not be discouraged. Just because a passage is on the life cycle of the gecko does not mean that it is too abstruse to understand. You can understand it and it is on your level; do not be intimidated.

  • Always read the entire passage

    You may think this contradicts my first point, but it does not. There are always context clues you can pick up in the passage. That means that while Neil Armstrong’s biography has little to do with the passage on space travel you may find a question that addresses that very thing.

  • Eliminate one or two answer choices

    There will always be answers to eliminate, so look for them. The answer choice that mentions Leonardo da Vinci following a question on the painting of the roof of the Sistine Chapel is not going to be right, no matter how well written. That said, before you eliminate any answer…

  • Read the lines in the passage mentioned in the question

     You never know how well your memory will serve you, even if you read the passage mere minutes ago. You can never be sure of your answer until you know exactly what the question is referring to.

  • Stay specific

    Always choose the best answer choice, not the one you think sounds most intelligent. The question, “What is the author’s feeling on the future of space travel” will have a very specific answer. You must find textual evidence supporting the right answer. Never assume from context. Find the sentence in the passage that reads “I think space travel will be very common in the future.”

Check out these posts for top tips in every section! 10 Must-Know English Tips10 Must-Know Math Tips8 Must-Know Science Tips

There are many ways to prepare for the Reading section, 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. Unlike the SAT, you know the subjects ahead of time (there are four) and you only have four answer choices. That is an advantage, so use it. The ACT Reading may seem more difficult than its SAT counterpart, but with a little practice, it is possible to conquer it.

ACT Reading Tip #7: 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 your 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 use extra time deciding which answer choice you want.

ACT Reading Tip #8: Know the section structure

Section 3 is a 35-minute Reading section that starts immediately after a 10-minute break.

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 #9: Follow the recommended ACT reading comprehension method

1. Read the passage and write short notes next to each paragraph.

     -Focus on the topic and purpose of the passage

     -Keep track of different people and opinions

2. Read the question and identify helpful hints.

     -Line references and keywords can help you find the answer

3. Predict an answer BEFORE you look at the answer choices.

ACT Reading Tip #10: Know the ACT reading comprehension question types

Main Idea questions – Ask about the passage as a whole

Inference & Writer’s View questions – Ask you to understand something that isn’t directly stated in the passage

Detail questions – Ask about specific parts of the passage

Vocab-in-Context questions – Ask about a word as it is used in the passage

Function questions – Ask about the purpose of a specific part of the passage

ACT Reading Tip BONUS: 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