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Kristin Fracchia

ACT Reading Passage Types

The ACT Reading test is very predictable: Four passages in four different “genres,” always in the same order.

First, you will see a Literary Narrative passage (the fiction passage), followed by three non-fiction passages: one on a social science topic, one on a humanities topic, and one on a natural science topic. Each passages is around 700 to 850 words long and has 10 questions following the passage.

Here’s what to specifically hone in on as you read each one:

Literary Narrative Passages

Literary Narrative passages generally include a narration of events and revelation of character. You should be particularly looking for the passage’s mood or tone, the relationship of the characters, and the emotions and perspective implied by what the characters say and how they say it. Fiction passages often ask questions about how an author often uses dialogue to both explain a situation to a reader and reveal character.

Social Science Passages

Social Science passages present information gathered by research. As you are reading, focus on names, dates, and concepts. You should pay close attention to which name goes with which concept in a discussion and keep track of who said what. You should also particularly watch for cause-effect relationships, comparisons, and sequences of events.

Humanities Passages

Humanities passages describe or analyze ideas or works of art. Some humanities passages that are from memoirs or personal essays may seem a bit like fiction passages, but they are treated as fact here. You should pay close attention to the author and point of view. Sometimes a question will ask students to predict the author’s likely response to a hypothetical argument or situation. In these passages, the kinds of relationships students are asked to infer or identify are those between events, ideas, people, trends or modes of thought.

Natural Science Passages

Natural Science passages usually present a science topic and an explanation of the topic’s significance. In a natural sciences passage, the author is typically concerned with the relationships between natural phenomena. As with social science passages, you should pay special attention to cause-effect relationships, comparisons, and sequences of events. You always need to keep track of any specific laws, rules and theories–so underline them as you go!

Tips for All ACT Science Passages

Many of the nonfiction passages, especially natural science passages, will include some specialized or technical language. But don’t worry, the passage should provide clues to the word’s meaning (if it doesn’t, you’ll often find a footnote with a definition; the ACT Reading test does not explicitly test difficult vocabulary).

As with every subject on the ACT, remember you can do the passages in any order. Some students are not fans of fiction and prefer to leave the literary narrative passage for last. Work with your preferences and strengths and complete the four passages in that order!


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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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