ACT Reading Section: Everything You Need to Know

A student on the ACT Reading section.

Taking the ACT can be intimidating, but it can be easier with the right strategies. One place to start is by breaking down each of the four sections to better understand the exam as a whole. In this article, we’ll review the key elements of the ACT Reading section, share tips for making the most of it, and discuss some common pitfalls to watch out for.

With this knowledge, you’ll be able to sail through this section and get the best score possible. Doing well on the ACT Reading will bring you closer to getting the overall score you’re aiming for.

Breaking down the ACT Reading section

In the ACT Reading test, you’ll get four passages with ten multiple-choice questions for each one. You have 35 minutes to answer 40 questions. That comes out to about eight and a half minutes per passage and the related questions. Here is an example of what a passage looks like on the exam.

An example of an ACT Reading passage.
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Question formats

A good grasp of the different types of questions you may encounter in ACT Reading can help you tackle them efficiently.

These can range from the main idea, detail, inference, and vocabulary in context inquiries to queries about the author’s purpose and more. Also, note that only six out of every ten questions are in the proper chronological order during the ACT Reading test.

What is tested on the ACT?

The ACT Reading section tests your skills in comprehending the main idea, making inferences, and assessing the author’s tone and purpose.

Additionally, it tests a high school student’s ability to recognize supporting details and judge the passage’s structure and effectiveness.

Strategies for the ACT Reading section

Here are some beneficial ACT Reading strategies:

Skim the passage

Take a few moments to quickly scan the passage to get a basic understanding of the ‘read’ material and its main points. Pay attention to how the ACT Reading section is organized overall. Look for headings, subheadings, and topic sentences to understand the structure.

Doing this will give you a better sense of the ACT passage and help you understand it as you read. You may also read the first and the last paragraph before reading the entire passage. Your ability to scan through important details will determine your fate as a potential college student.

Read the questions first

Here is a good ACT Reading tip: take a few moments before you start reading the passage to check out the questions related to it. This can help you figure out which details you need to read attentively. It will allow you to read more quickly and not have to redo any ACT passages, saving you time.

Annotate the passage

Annotations have many benefits during the ACT Reading test.

Actively underline or highlight key points, circle unfamiliar words, and make brief notes in the margins as you read the passage. This not only helps you stay focused and identify important information but also allows you to quickly refer back to the text you read when answering questions.

Furthermore, annotation can aid in your comprehension of the ACT passage structure, tone, and purpose.

Be mindful of the time

Managing your time during each section of the test is critical. Give yourself a specific period of time to read each passage and stick to it. If you find yourself spending too much time on a single question, just throw in an educated guess and keep going.

You want to answer as many questions as possible in the ACT Reading section within the time limit. However, make sure you don’t sacrifice accuracy for speed. This is a marker of a college student.

Carefully read the passage

Once you’ve skimmed the passage and have read the questions, take your time to read the passage thoroughly. Pay particular attention to all the details, evidence, and the author’s tone and point of view.

Spend time comprehending the main ideas, arguments, and how it all flows together. Being actively engaged with the passage will help you understand and remember the information better, so you can answer the questions correctly.

Key considerations

Create the same environment when practicing

To prepare for the ACT Reading section, finding a distraction-free zone that mimics the test environment is ideal. This way, you can focus on the ACT passages and questions without interruptions. It will help you practice the concentration you’ll need when taking the actual exam. Make sure to take a few complete ACT practice tests too.

Manage your time

It’s important to stay on top of time management regarding the ACT Reading section. To prep, use a timer during the ACT practice tests, just like on the actual exam, and set goals to finish each passage and its questions within the allotted timeframe.

This will help you work on the speed at which you read. It’ll also ensure you don’t spend too long on any one passage or question. The ability to manage your time is crucial to crack college admissions.

Focus on accuracy

When taking ACT practice tests, accuracy should be your top priority, not speed. Don’t rush through questions; instead, take your time and apply a systematic approach to each question type. When in doubt, read again.

Carefully examine the answer choices before making a decision. As you become more familiar with the ACT question formats, you can answer them accurately and faster. Also, even though accuracy is essential, you should answer every question when it comes down to it. There is no penalty for guessing.

Analyze your mistakes

Take a few minutes to read your practice tests and see where you went wrong. Figure out which types of questions or passages gave you trouble and why. Did you misread the passage? Was your question reading sloppy?

Once you understand why you made mistakes, you can strategize better and work on your weaknesses.

Review answer explanations

When looking at your practice tests, ensure you’re paying attention to their answer explanations. Figure out why the correct answer is right and why the wrong ones are wrong. Doing this can help you better recognize question formats, give you better reasoning abilities, and help you remember the topics that appear on the ACT reading part of the test.

Build endurance

Building your reading endurance is important to prepare for the ACT Reading section. After all, college can be very demanding.

Start with one or two practice passages and work up to a full-length practice test. Doing this will help you improve your focus and the mental stamina needed to do well on the exam. Gradually increasing the number of passages you do in one sitting will help you get there.

Track your progress

Keep track of your practice test scores and watch your progress over time. Pay attention to how accurate and fast you are. Set some goals to get better and be proud of each success. Looking over your progress will boost your self-confidence and inspire you to strive for the score needed to crack college.

What to avoid?

Overlooking contextual clues

Be sure to take note of the other words around you while you’re answering questions. Those can give you hints which will help you get the right answers.

Second guessing

Go with your gut when picking an answer. Messing around your choices without a good reason usually leads to mistakes.

Making assumptions

Take only what the passage tells you into account when you answer. Don’t guess or use any information that you know outside of it.

Leaving questions unanswered

Even if you’re not sure, give it a go and answer all the questions. There’s no downside to guessing, so it’s better to take a stab at it than to not answer.

The big picture

You need to hone your comprehension and analysis skills to do well on the ACT Reading section. Knowing the passages’ structure, question formats, and content will help you approach the test strategically.

In addition to this, keep these points in mind:

  • Skim the passage
  • Read the questions first
  • Annotate the text
  • Practice consistently
  • Manage your time
  • Strive for accuracy

All these points will help you become a better reader. Don’t make the mistake of ignoring contextual clues or changing your answers – that’s a surefire way to lower your score. With regular practice and a thorough understanding of the section, you can confidently take the exam and get the best possible result.

For more tips for preparing for the ACT Reading section, check out Lessonpal’s online ACT Reading tutors. High school students can easily find quality tutors on the platform at affordable prices. There are also tutors for other sections and the entire ACT exam overall. Lastly, if you or your child will need testing accommodations, check out the process for getting them.

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