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David Recine

How to Get a 36 in ACT Reading

ACT Reading can seem a little intimidating, with its dense passages and many questions. But you really can master this section and get a 36.The trick is to do great reading practice and understand the basic facts of the exam. In today’s post, we’ll look at the kinds of reading practice you should be doing as you work toward your perfect score.

Read novels and short stories for your perfect 36

One thing that’s fun about ACT Reading is that it includes fiction. You get to read the work of acclaimed novelists and storywriters. You’ll meet a lot of colorful characters, enjoy intriguing plots, and read vivid descriptions of fictional settings.

But this reading, entertaining as it is, is not light reading. The fiction excerpts in the ACT Reading section are well-written classics that use sophisticated narration and a rich range of vocabulary. So as you practice, you’ll want to read novels and fiction that are not marketed as light, hastily-written entertainment. Look for work from authors that have critical acclaim, or writers that are regarded as “classic.” Websites like Classic Reader, Read.gov, and Literature.org are good for this kind of reading practice. You should also ask your teacher or local librarian for advice on good reading practice for the ACT. (You may want to show them some ACT sample materials for comparison.)

Read educational texts from a variety of subjects for an ACT reading top score

Fiction is definitely an important part of ACT reading, but nonfiction is really the backbone of the section. Three of the four passages will be nonfiction in the Reading Section. The subjects covered in ACT Reading nonfiction are social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences. So be sure to practice reading passages in these subjects.

High school and first-year college textbooks provide some very nice ACT-like reading practice in these three academic fields. But the reading you do as you aim for your 36 score does not have to be quite so dry and scholarly. Popular informative websites can also work as reading practice for the academic passages in the ACT.

Just be sure to read sites that are geared more toward an adult audience—the adolescent and teen reading sites that are good for ACT Writing won’t match the level of the Reading Section. Sites such as Popular Science and Live Science are good for natural sciences reading practice. For humanities, there’s some excellent practice material on popular-yet-serious websites like National Geographic and Smithsonian.

For humanities reading, you can even go to relatively unscholarly websites such as Entertainment Weekly, as well as the arts and entertainment sections of major newspaper websites like the Chicago Tribune. Stick with writings that analyze and review movies, TV, books, and the like though. Avoid celebrity gossip, unless you’re reading just for entertainment and not for test prep.

Now let’s look at the specific knowledge you’ll need for that 36.

Get your ACT Reading 36 by learning the question types

You’re probably already familiar with the basic question format in ACT Reading. The multiple choice questions in this section are a lot like ones you might encounter in reading comprehension quizzes from your high school English textbooks. There will be no huge surprises in terms of how the questions are structured. The real challenge here is being familiar with the format and content of ACT Reading’s multiple choice questions.

There are quite a few different question types on the ACT Reading assessment—8 to be exact. You’ll find questions on information details, the meaning of vocabulary in context, comparative relationships (connections between conflicting opinions and viewpoints within a single passage), cause/effect relationships and sequences of events, inferences, main ideas, the tone an author takes, and the purpose of an author’s writing. For a good shot at a perfect 36, learn these ACT Reading question types and have a good command of them by test da.

Understand how writing works

As I’ve mentioned before, reading and writing are very interconnected activities. When you go through practice reading materials for the ACT Reading Section, be sure to think like a writer. Think about what the author is really trying to say and do, and how the author is achieving this.

Think like a reader too—give some real conscious thought to the impact a piece of writing has on you as you read it. What information do you see? What do you feel you are learning? What tone or attitude do you sense from the author? What inferences are you able to make, based on what the author says and how he or she says it? What is your takeaway—what main ideas leave a lasting impression on you? And why do you recognize certain information, ideas, tones, and implications? How is the author achieving this?

This awareness of the author’s techniques and your role as a reader, will really help with questions on inference, main idea, relationships between information and events, author tone, and author intent. Moreover, thinking in this way when your read will also help you better recognize the finer points of a piece of writing—detailed information, the meaning of vocabulary in context, and so on.

The takeaway

ACT Reading Practice is “heavier” and more scholarly than the lighter reading that’s suitable for ACT English reading practice. However, it’s still possible to find enjoyable practice reading for the Reading section. You can choose science articles that cover fun facts about natural science, or articles that focus on natural science topics you’re interested in. And when you read up on social sciences and the humanities, feel free to seek out writing on social issues and things in the arts that matter to you. The idea here is to get comfortable with reading and really enjoy it. Enthusiasm for reading boosts your reading skills and your confidence on test day.

Reading practice is just one part of getting to a perfect 36 in ACT Reading. To get a top score in this section, you also need to understand how your reading skills will be tested in terms of question types. And you need to really understand the principles of reading and writing. Together, test knowledge and an academic understanding of reading will boost your performance and get you a top score in this part of the ACT.

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About David Recine

David is a test prep expert at Magoosh. He has a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a Masters in Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has been teaching K-12, University, and adult education classes since 2007 and has worked with students from every continent. Currently, David lives in a small town in the American Upper Midwest. When he’s not teaching or writing, David studies Korean, plays with his son, and takes road trips to Minneapolis to get a taste of city life. Follow David on Google+ and Twitter!

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