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Kristin Fracchia

ACT Reading: Comparison Passages

Comparison passages (or dual passages) are relatively new on the ACT Reading test (they only popped up in the last couple of years). But they are now customary, and you can expect to see one as one of the four sections on the ACT Reading test. These passages tend to intimidate students, but they aren’t nearly as scary as you might think they are. Most of the questions you will encounter will only apply to one of the two passages in the set and you’ll only see 2 to 4 questions that have to do with both.

Here’s how to strategically tackle these comparison passages:


1. Know in advance that there are going to be certain obvious ways in which these two passages compare or contrast.

This is why they were chosen, after all! So read the first passage as you would any other passage–looking for main idea and key points. Then, when you read the second passage, look specifically for the ways in which it is similar to and different from the first one in how it approaches its topic. Make note of these similarities and differences; I guarantee the questions will ask about them.


2. Read the first passage and then answer the questions on it, then read the second passage and answer the questions on it, and then answer the questions on both.

The upside to the dual passage section is that you can break up your reading into smaller chunks. There will be a clearly marked list of questions that pertain only to the first passage, so you will have all the information you need to answer those questions after you have read the first one. So take a break at this point and do those first. This also helps you avoid any distractor answer choices that appear in the second passage because you won’t even have read it yet. Follow the same procedure for the second passage and then answer the questions that are about both passages.


3. Know that almost all of the questions on both passages will have to do with big ideas, namely main idea, tone, and purpose.

You might see questions that compare details, but most of the questions that are on both passages have to do with big ideas. So you want to be extra sure on these passages that you have the main idea, tone/attitude, and purpose of each passage straight. Jot them down after you finish reading. So, for example, on a natural sciences passage examining the connections between meditation and heart rate, you might jot down something like “New studies show meditation increases heart rate (main idea); skeptical (tone); to inform (purpose).” Do this for both passages, and it will become MUCH easier to answer those questions on both passages. Promise.


4. If timing is an issue for you or comparison passages are not your thing, leave this one for last and strategically use the time you have left.

If you are prone to running out of time on the ACT Reading test, the dual passage is a great one to leave for last. Check the list of questions before you begin to see which passage has the most questions on it and do that passage first (they might have the same number, in which case read the shorter passage first). Then do the other passage and questions. This will help you make the most of the precious dwindling minutes at the end of the Reading test.


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About Kristin Fracchia

Kristin 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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