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Thomas Broderick

5 Most Frequently Tested ACT Reading Topics

So you’re having some trouble studying for the ACT Reading Test, or maybe the ACT’s tomorrow and you’re looking for some shortcuts to success. Either way, you want to know what to expect. You’ve come to the right place, my friends.

Luckily for you, there are only five topics on the ACT Reading Test. In this article I’ll touch on them all, and teach you how to identify them on the test. No matter the passage (Literary Narrative, Social Science, Humanities, and Natural Science), you’ll see a mix of these topics throughout.

Note: Topics are listed from those occurring most to least frequently on the ACT Reading Test.


Little Details


5 Most Frequently Tested ACT Reading Topics -magoosh

Hint: Little details aren’t actually little.


Like the fine print on a credit card application, it’s the little detail questions on the ACT Reading Test that carry the most weight. The good news is that these questions are the classic ‘treasure hunt’ questions. You’ll be asked to find a single piece of information from the passage. There should be no guesswork involved.


Development and Function

“The main function of the fifth paragraph (lines 54-62) is to…” See something like this and you have yourself a development and function question. The point of these questions is to see if you can figure out the purpose of a particular paragraph within a passage.

As you read the paragraph, ask yourself, “Why does this passage exist?” If you can answer that question in your own words, see which answer choice reflects your answer.



Ah yes, now things are getting a little harder. As the name implies, inference questions are going to ask you to infer information from the whole passage. Though subjective in nature, the answer choices should be different enough as to not cause confusion.


Big Picture

You can count the number of big picture (and vocabulary in context) questions on one hand. Even so, getting big picture questions incorrect can have a big impact on your composite score. Expect one big picture question per article. Look for the phrase “main theme” or “main idea” to identify these passages.


Vocabulary in Context

Lastly there are the vocabulary in context questions. Though you might think these are questions that should be on the ACT English Test, the difference is is that vocabulary in context questions require you to figure out how the word is used in the passage rather than just the dictionary definition.

The question will always give you the line the word appears in, so skimming the line (and surrounding sentences) should reveal what the author meant.

That’s all for today, ACT Reading scholars. Now go read a book for fun!


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About Thomas Broderick

Thomas spent four years teaching high school English, social studies, and ACT preparation in Middle Tennessee. Now living in Northern California, he is excited to share his knowledge and experience with Magoosh's readers. In his spare time Thomas enjoys writing short fiction and hiking in the Sonoma foothills.

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