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Thomas Broderick

5 Most Frequently Tested ACT Reading Topics

Knowing what you’ll see on the ACT Reading Test is one of the best ways to start boosting your score. After all, once you know what you’ll see on the exam, you can create a study plan to address your strengths and weaknesses. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the 5 most frequently tested ACT reading topics.

Actually, there are only five topics on the ACT Reading Test. In this post, we’ll look at them all, and show you how to identify them on the test. No matter the passage type (Literary Narrative, Social Science, Humanities, and Natural Science), you’ll see a mix of these question types throughout the exam.

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

Little details aren’t actually little when it comes to the ACT.


Like the fine print on a credit card application, it’s the 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. That means that the information has to be in the passage in the first place. No guesswork here!

Development and Function

“The main function of the fifth paragraph (lines 54-62) is to…” If you see something like this, you’ll know that you’re smack in the middle of 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? And how does this paragraph help it do that?” If you can answer those questions in your own words, see which answer choice reflects your answer. Chances are, you’ll find a good match.


As the name pretty much tells us, inference questions ask you to infer information, either from the whole passage or from selected lines. Though seemingly subjective in nature, the answer choices should be different enough as to not cause confusion. Remember that the answer lies somewhere in what you’ve read—now just focus on reading between the lines.

Big Picture

You can count the number of big picture questions per ACT test on one hand. Even so, getting big picture questions incorrect can have a, well, big impact on your composite score. Expect one big picture question per passage. Look for the phrase “main theme” or “main idea” to identify these passages.

Vocabulary in Context

Finally, we have the vocabulary in context questions. Though you might think these are questions that should be on the ACT English Test, rather than the ACT Reading Test, the difference is is that vocabulary in context questions require you to figure out how the word is used in the passage.

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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