If you are preparing for any test involving reading, chance are you’ve encountered the phrase “active reading” somewhere along the way. Maybe TOO many times along the way. Maybe so many times that it’s lost any appeal for you–like “cover your ears and chant la-la-la at the top of your lungs” lost its appeal). But ok, ok, hear me out. Uncover your ears and watch this video because I’m going to walk you through exactly what active reading means for the ACT; what you need to do for just 35 minutes of the test to make sure you get your best score. You can do it; I believe in you.
Here are the key active reading strategies you need to know:
Tip 1: Find the Main Idea
The first thing you absolutely HAVE to look for as you read is the main idea. Keep checking in with yourself as you read and ask yourself “What is the major point of the essay?” You are going to find the main idea come up again and again in the questions. Even if a question doesn’t explicitly ask you “What is the main idea?” you will find that the correct answer choice often has something to do with the main idea. As a result, correct answer choices will become all the more obvious once you practice honing in on the main idea.
Tip 2: Find the Author’s or Narrator’s Purpose and Attitude
This is a little trickier than main idea, but as you are reading, try to also pick up on why the author or narrator is telling you what they are telling you as well as how he or she feels about the topic. There will certainly be questions on this as well. Check out the video for more on how to discern tone and attitude in an ACT reading passage!
Tip 3. Briefly Annotate the Passage (aka Underline as You Read)
I’ve seen some ACT prep guides that advise you to jot down copious notes, paraphrase each paragraph, mark how they connect together, underline practically everything… no one has time for that on the test.
However, brief, purposeful annotation as you read can help keep your brain from wandering, which is equally as much of a time-waster as over-annotating. Ultimately, the point is not to worry about whether or not you are underlining the “right” things: the very act of looking for what you should underline forces you to pay attention to the passage. And that’s the point.
So there you have it: the three keys to ACT active reading → look for the main idea, look for the author’s purpose and attitude, and annotate the passage. Once you start doing this, you are going to see that the right answers start to jump right out at you.
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About Kristin Fracchia
Dr. Kristin Fracchia makes sure Magoosh's sites are full of awesome, free resources that can be found by students prepping for standardized tests. With a PhD from UC Irvine and degrees in Education and English, she’s been working in education since 2004 and has helped students prepare for standardized tests, as well as college and graduate school admissions, since 2007. She enjoys the agony and bliss of trail running, backpacking, hot yoga, and esoteric knowledge.
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