The ACT Reading Test

Being an Ace in the ACT for Reading

Written by tutor Hilary S.

The ACT Reading section consists of a test with forty questions divided into four passage types. These four are English, Mathematics, Social Studies and Natural Science. You will need to complete these questions in 35 minutes. If you divide this properly you can conclude that you will have four-fifths of a minute to answer each question. Factoring in the actual reading of the text, that 80% of a minute will probably have to be shaved down to a half a minute. Somewhere out in the distance, we hear many groans of despair, deciding that this would be near to impossible. Cast aside your discouragement and let’s look at the reading section in more detail. There are four reading passages, covering Social Studies, Natural Sciences, Prose Fiction and Humanities. Be aware the content of the passage will be dense but don’t dwell on whether you are not as good in a particular subject. That’s not point. All you have to do is use those comprehension skills that have being drummed into your head since elementary school.

The questions on the reading section will cover many different comprehension skills, most of which you are familiar with from English class. You will be looking for the main idea, finding important details, sequencing events, comparing story elements, drawing conclusions, figuring out the meaning of words in context, analyzing the author’s voice and understanding cause versus effect. Again, you have learned all of this from your English teacher. You just need a speedy way of zipping through the passages and pinpointing pertinent information to answer your questions.

Strategy for the Reading Test

Active Versus Passive Reading

Many of the passages on the ACT are taken out of class textbooks, scientific journals and classic literary works. Some of the passages will be rather esoteric in nature and will appear to use a lot of jargon related to the subject. You need to use active reading skills. Passive reading is just reading the passage through and then at the end wondering what it was about. When you are reading difficult prose with obscure vocabulary words, you cannot expect the information to seep into your brain with just one superficial readthrough.

The SQ4R Reading Method

The following method follows an active reading approach. It is called the SQ4R Method (from Olson’s Reading Now). Before doing any reading you Survey the passage you have to read. Look for words that give you an idea about what you’re reading and underline them. After you finish reading, which should not take more than forty seconds, read the questions quickly. You don’t have to fully understand them, just skim them to know what you are getting into. Next jot down a couple of quick Questions you have about the story. Don’t worry about bad handwriting! Nobody will read this but you! The questions give you some buy-in to the story. The question writing should take you a minute and no more. Now it is time to Read! Highlight important information or words that will help you to answer the questions. Write a few quick notes in the margins that may point towards an answer. Recite to yourself what you have learned from reading the passage. If you do this whispering, I am sure nobody else will look at you like you are crazy. Review what you have written down for notes or highlighted in the passage and check to see if any other words or phrases jump out at you.

Finding the Answer with Process of Elimination

Use the Process of Elimination to figure out what definitely does not belong and choose between two choices. Usually there is one choice that is glaringly wrong and can be crossed off immediately. The other three choices will appear to be similar in nature, although only one of them is right. Read through the prompts and questions carefully until you are sure of what is being asked. Use the notes you made as you read to help you decide which choice is correct. Try not to leave a question blank if you can help it, but if you are at a loss for the answer, don’t fear. There is no penalty for leaving a question blank. Your score is determined by the questions that you answer correctly. If you use this method, answering the questions will probably take you no more than 30 seconds! Good luck and happy reading!

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