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ACT Reading Tips

The keys to the ACT Reading test are: 1) strategy and 2) pacing. You’ll need to have a plan for how you approach reading each passage, tackling the questions, and finishing the section – otherwise you’ll never achieve your highest possible score!


ACT Reading Tips I: Strategy

Find the author’s point of view as you read.

Do you find yourself getting lost in the details or reading too quickly and missing some of the important information? For the ACT Reading Test, you’ve got to strike a balance between reading for the author’s point of view and for the function of each paragraph, and also noting the location of important details in case you need to come back later.

Make sure you underline anything that seems significant to you.

Look for words and phrases that reveal the author’s opinion or summarize or give the main idea of each paragraph. The test booklet is basically one large piece of scratch paper, so it doesn’t matter is you write all over it.

For Vocab-in-Context questions, go back to the passage.

A commonly-used word often takes on a secondary definition within ACT passages. Do not assume that the common meaning is the correct answer; there may be several meanings you do not know. Go back to the passage and see how the word is being used in context.

Always pre-phrase an answer.

Before you look at the answer choices, use the passage to predict your own answer. Then match your prediction to the answer choices. This will save you time. Don’t get stuck weighing answer choices. Match your prediction and move on!

Dumb down complicated questions.

If you read a question and it is confusing or unclear to you, rephrase it in simpler terms. Think of it like you were going to explain the question to a small child. What is it really asking?


ACT Reading Tips II: Pacing

Time yourself as you practice.

If you are spending more than 3 minutes reading and marking passages, you are risking not being able to finish all of the questions on test day. As you become more and more confident with your accuracy, try to get as precise as possible with the timing of your note-taking.

Do at least ten ACT Reading practice tests.

Full-length practice tests are available in ACT practice books at local bookstores, at your local library, and are even downloadable online. Find a quiet place where you can take the practice session and clear off the table or desk. Try and eliminate any distractions and do the best you can to mimic your test-day environment. Keep a clock or timer in front of you so you can periodically check and see how you are doing. You may want to set the timer to go off every 9-10 minutes. Don’t rush, but make sure you can move confidently from one passage to the next and answer ALL questions in the time allotted.

After 9 minutes, move on to the next passage.

The ACT Reading Test is 35 minutes long and contains 40 questions (10 questions on each passage). This means you’ll have slightly less than 9 minutes to spend on each of the 4 passages, so pacing yourself is essential.

Do the passages in any order.

You will always see 4 passages and you must always answer all 40 questions, but that doesn’t mean you have to approach them in the order in which they are presented on the test. As you practice, you will start to realize which passages are easier and which are more challenging for you. For example, if Prose Fiction is your strong point but Natural Science passages make you nervous, it may make sense for you to do the Prose Fiction passage first and save the Natural Science passage for last.

Fill-in your answer carefully.

If you do decide to skip around, make sure you are still bubbling in your answers into the corresponding numbers on the answer grid. You don’t want to lose points because you bubbled incorrectly!


About Magoosh ACT

Magoosh is a company of passionate educators, located in Berkeley, CA. We are here to provide you with everything you need to prep for the ACT, SAT, GRE, GMAT, and TOEFL! Be sure to follow us on Twitter @Magoosh.

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